Dietrich von Hildebrand

Exploring Americanism and the Catholic Counter-Culture

My recent essay on the Papacy’s historical attitude towards the Catholic Church in the United States prompted more than a few queries and arguments, most them of friendly I am happy to say, with some traditional Catholic friends and acquaintances of mine. They were determined to get me to understand, however, that whatever kind things the Papacy may have had to say about America were really overshadowed by its war against the heresy of Americanism.

A cursory glance at encyclopedic overviews of the controversy, including that of New Advent, which was written not long after the controversy actually occurred, did not convince me that it had any bearing on the arguments I had set forth in my own essay. Upon further examination, I realized that my initial impression was absolutely correct, and that my traditionalist friends have misunderstood the Americanism controversy.

Bear in mind that these traditionalists, one and all, believe that the critique of Americanism was tantamount to a rejection of the American political principle of religious liberty, which I demonstrated was originally imported to North America by Catholic refugees from Britain in 1649, and established as US law upon the ratification of the Bill of Rights over a century later.

There are also leftish Catholics who, along with traditionalists and when it suits them, will invoke and condemn “Americanism” as a set of values or ideas that is somehow inherent, or at least specially pronounced, in American culture: individualism, resistance to Church authority and ecclesiology, acquisitiveness, etc.

Before delving into Americanism, I wish to state once again that I do consider myself a liturgical traditionalist. I attend Latin Mass and I am disgusted and appalled by the “cultural revolution” initiated by subversive elements in the Church in the late 60s and early 70s. But I follow in the steps of Dietrich von Hildebrand, whom Pius XII dubbed a “20th century Doctor of the Church”, and not the schismatic Marcel Lefebvre, in my critical approach to these matters.

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When the Saints Go Marching Out

The faithful on earth, through the communion of saints, should honor the blessed in heaven and pray to them, because they are worthy of honor and as friends of God will help the faithful on earth. — The Baltimore Catechism, 1941

I am trying these days, as best I can, to come to terms with the Church’s reform of the liturgy. But when one truly examines the differences between the “Tridentine” liturgy and the “Novus Ordo” liturgy, and furthermore, compares the “Novus Ordo” liturgy to what Protestant “reformers” (if that’s what you want to call violent iconoclasm) have tried to introduce into the liturgy for the past 500 years, it is hard to remain sympathetic.

On the surface the liturgical revisions of Vatican II were aimed at “increasing participation” of the congregation in the liturgy. I’ll leave aside my complaints about that motive for now. If this were indeed the goal, however, what I cannot understand are some of the other changes that were made, changes that apparently, to my untrained eye anyway, have nothing to do with participation. When, however, I reflect upon the some statements made by Annibale Bugnini, who was at the forefront of liturgical revisions during Vatican II, the changes do make sense. Bugnini is often quoted as having said:

“We must strip from our … Catholic liturgy everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren, that is, for the Protestants.”

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