Catholics in Post-Revolutionary America – Marcus Grodi
Focusing on an aspect of American Catholic history that doesn’t get a lot of attention, Marcus Grodi looks at the way that Catholics adapted to life in the United States in the years immediately following the Revolutionary War. A new nation meant a new environment for Catholics to navigate, culturally, politically and evangelistically. Religious liberty was now enshrined in Constitutional law- but how would it apply to Catholics?
Particularly challenging was the fact that the country was founded upon, among other things, principles informed by the Enlightenment- a humanist philosophy that prioritized reason over faith. In this lecture from our 2008 Deep in History conference, Marcus tries to briefly understand what it must have been like to be a Catholic during the first years of an independent United States.
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-What does Marcus Grodi confess that, up until his late thirties, he was ignorant of? What was Grodi previously taught about the Catholic Church in America? Can you identify with his experience?
-How did Marcus Grodi understand “life as an American”? Can you identify? What problems arise as a result of this belief?
-Did Grodi’s description of the spiritual beliefs of many of the American Founding Fathers surprise you? If so, in what way(s)?
-Americanism is one of Grodi’s “Eight Influences that Have Most Shaped American Catholicism.” Consider the words of Pope Leo XIII in regards to the heresy of Americanism:
The underlying principle of these new opinions is that, in order to more easily attract those who differ from her, the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient vigor and make some allowances to new opinions. Many think that these allowances should be made not only in regard to ways of living, but even in regard to doctrines which belong to the deposit of the faith. They contend that it would be opportune, in order to gain those who differ from us, to omit certain points of her teaching, as if of lesser importance, and to tone down the meaning which the Church has always attached to them. It does not need many words, beloved son, to prove the falsity of these ideas if the nature and origin of the doctrine which the Church proposes are recalled to mind. (Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae)
Have you experienced the effects of Americanism in the Catholic Church or in the overall Christian culture today?
-Choose one of Grodi’s seven remaining “Influences that Have Most Shaped American Catholicism” (itemized on the following page) and consider how the Catholic Church in America still suffers from this influence today.
Marcus Grodi’s “Eight Influences that Have Most Shaped American Catholicism since 1789″
- The victory of the Enlightenment and Deism
- That human reason is the most trustworthy source of knowledge, not faith, nor the authority of God’s revealed Word and His Church, thus the social and physical sciences and the natural virtues were emphasized over revealed religion and the supernatural virtues; the laws of nature were held and promoted over the laws of God.
- That Man is not fallen, that there is no such thing as original sin, and, thus, man has no need of a savior or a divinely revealed religion. Jesus was simply a great moral teacher. In the Enlightenment, man, and his own interests, became more important than man knowing God, loving God, and serving Him; rights became more important than duty.
- That the concept of freedom would no longer be defined as primarily the freedom from sin, falsehood, and error (which includes the power to overcome sin, do God’s will, and know the truth), but rather freedom was redefined as the freedom to believe and live the way one wanted — liberty from authority outside oneself and liberty from the Church and the king; hence, the concept of self-government.
- That politics and social life would no longer be governed by the laws of God and the Church; thus, men could invent their own laws, morals, and beliefs. The movement upheld the liberty to decide for oneself how one would live the way one thinks and feels is best.
- The Constitutional religious toleration was only skin deep.
- Catholic Americans were poorly catechized.
- Catholic Americans lacked sacramental graces, due to limited access to the sacraments.
- The increase in Catholic immigration brought division among American Catholics through Old World cultural prejudices.
- Regional English-American accents exacerbated these divisions.
- Trusteeism, which is the right to administer church property belonging to the Church that can be delegated to others — whether cleric or lay. These deputies have traditionally been known as church wardens or trustees. Due to the extreme lack of priests in early America, lay trustees often interfered in the spiritual rights of the pastors and people. This issue led to the confusion of who was truly in charge of the local parishes.
Deism: Belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe. This belief is on the evidence of reason and nature only, with rejection of supernatural revelation, such as Scripture.
Catechize: To systematically instruct someone in religious education.
Americanism: The movement propagated in the United States in the late 19th century which claimed that Catholic Church should adjust its doctrines, especially in morality, to the culture of the people. It emphasized the active virtues of social welfare and democratic equality and underrated the passive virtues of humility and obedience to ecclesiastical authority. Americanism was first condemned by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical of January, 1899, Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae.