Dr. Darryl Hart has posted a thought provoking piece on the acquiescence of Roman Catholic ecclesiology to “Americanism” here. He cites the work of the 19th century Presbyterian minister, Lyman Beecher who foretold that the intermingling of Roman Catholics with the then predominant Protestant culture of America would “wear away” the caste system of Romanism. And the evidence for that “wearing away” is another piece written by a Roman Catholic writer Joseph Pearce entitled Faith and Freedom.
One of the truths of Christendom which lays the very foundations of freedom is the Christian insistence on the mystical equality of all people in the eyes of God and the insistence on the dignity of the human person that follows logically, inexorably and inescapably from such an insistence.
And Dr. Hart notes that this line if thinking is wholly remarkable because, “it is precisely the one that Protestants used to use against Roman Catholics.” But why? Because this “mystical equality of all people” is an innovation in 20th century Catholic anthropology. The Roman Church has historically been built on a caste system. So it was the Protestants who had to call Rome back to the doctrine which Mr. Pearce finds so dear.
The most blatant evidence for this caste system is the ruthless treatment that Jews received at the hands of the Roman Church. Professor David Kertzer describes the extent of this abomination:
Where the popes acted as temporal rulers, as they did in the Papal States until the States’ absorption into a unified Italy over the period 1859-70, discrimination against Jews was public policy…The popes and the Vatican worked hard to keep Jews in their subservient place…and they did all this according to canon law and the centuries-old belief that in doing so they were upholding the most basic tenets of Christianity. [i]
So Pearce’s “mystical equality of all people” is historical amnesia within the context of the Roman Church.
But “equality”, mystical or otherwise, is belied by even a cursory examination of papal documents with regard to people “inside” the Catholic Church. We can see this very clearly from the writings of Pope Leo XIII to the American church in 1895:
Now if, on the one hand, the increased riches and resources of your cities are justly attributed to the talents and active industry of the American people, on the other hand, the prosperous condition of Catholicity must be ascribed, first indeed, to the virtue, the ability, and the prudence of the bishops and clergy; but in so slight measure also, to the faith and generosity of the Catholic laity. Thus, while the different classes exerted their best energies, you were enabled to erect unnumbered religious and useful institutions, sacred edifices, schools for the instruction of youth, colleges for the higher branches, homes for the poor, hospitals for the sick, and convents and monasteries. (bold added).[ii]
You see, credit for “prosperous Catholicity” is to be given first to the clergy and only in “slight measure” to the laity. Leo’s language of “different classes” of Catholics negates any legitimate, historical claim by Rome to equality.
Lastly, Dr. Hart notes that Rome’s assimilation into “Americanism” was preceded by the Protestant assimilation. But we should note that “Americanism” to Catholics must carry a special meaning. You see, the very same Leo XIII mentioned earlier declared “Americanism” to be a heresy. According to one Catholic scholar, Leo XIII
…invented a phantom heresy, providing a model for the heresy-hunting that would reach a fever pitch under his successor. To the long list of heresies bravely resisted by the church – Docetism, Arianism, Pelagianism, Patripassionism, and so on – a new one was added in 1899, sounding very strange in this exotic company: Americanism. It is a heresy without named heretics, one that no one was aware of professing. It can be explained only by the Vatican’s long war on democracy, which made many cardinals in Rome very uneasy about a pluralist and secularist society like that of America.[iii]
While it may be true, as Mr. Pearce writes that, “One of the truths of Christendom …is the Christian insistence on the mystical equality of all people in the eyes of God”it is also true that that “truth” is not historically evident in the Roman Church. Rather the Nietzschean “ ṻber/unter menschen” is more clearly visible within the walls of the Vatican.
Which is why we must rejoice that Lyman Beecher is a prophet.
Soli Deo Gloria.
[i] Kertzer, David I. The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. P. 11
[iii] Wills, Garry. Why I am a Catholic. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2002. Pgs. 202-203.