Skip to comments.A 'Hispanicized' Catholic Church?
Posted on 12/29/2006 8:37:29 AM PST by Alex Murphy
TUCSON -- The New York Times magazine Sunday suggested that American Catholicism is being "Hispanicized." As usual, when the subject is the Catholic Church, the "good, gray" Times is tone-deaf. The Irish Catholic model of Catholicism, which sometimes for weal and sometimes for woe has shaped the American church, is adjusting to a new and powerful model. Catholicism always tries to do that since it is a pluralistic church that believes, in principle any way, that Catholic means, as your man Jimmy Joyce put it, "here comes everyone." The outcome will be neither Mexican nor "Anglo" (which is what they call us Celts out here in the desert) but a combination of both, a blend of "Irish" rules and "Mexican" celebration. Catholicism means "both/and" not "either/or".
The popular religion of Mexico is a rich rain forest of devotions, saints, customs, celebrations and theological insights such as "God is part of our family, and when we celebrate as a family, God comes and celebrates with us."
At the center of it is the figure of Our Lady of Guadalupe, once perhaps a pagan goddess, but now unquestionably the patron of the Mexican peon with whom she identifies. I tell students that if they want to understand what Catholicism was like before the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, they should look at Mexican popular Catholicism and read the plays of Shakespeare. The "religion of the border" (as my colleague James "Big Jim" Griffith calls it) does not need, for example, the approval of the Congregation for the Making of Saints to proclaim their saints -- just as Catholics did for a thousand years.
Sometimes these saints disturb us Celts. I have in my possession (but never wear) a medallion of San Juan Malverde, the patron of the narcotrafficantes. In Perez-Reverte's great novel "The Queen of the South," the protagonist prays fervently to both Malverde and Guadalupe without any sense that there might be an inconsistency in such devotions.
The project as Latino Catholicism and North American Catholicism absorb one another is to retrieve some of the fervor and enthusiasm and energy and, yes, the freedom of Christians before the Council of Trent.
From the fall of Rome to the beginning of the 16th Century, outside of the monasteries and some of the cathedral cities and the occasional feudal court, Christianity was more of a religious culture than a formal church. It was a mix of stories, songs, art, deep faith, angels and saints, the Madonna, festivals, celebrations, and local devotions and customs, many of which might be thought today to be superstitious. In times of economic and social chaos, this was the best an illiterate population, often led by only semi-literate clergy, could do.
In the later Middle Ages, a demand emerged for "reform," which meant organizing, regularizing and purifying this religious "blooming, buzzing" culture. There was a Catholic "reform" in England, for example, well before Henry VIII. However, the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter Reformation both strove to impose discipline, order and orthodoxy on a recalcitrant peasant population. The Council of Trent at the end of the 16th Century made a vigorous and systematic attempt, not always successful, to transform popular religious culture into a church. Trent was an utterly necessary turning point in Catholic history.
However, the Conquistadors left Spain before the Council. Despite the efforts of the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries, Trent had little impact on Hispanic America. The church in the United States mostly is the post-Trent Church; the Church in Latino America is mostly a pre-Trent Church.
Despite what many church leaders try to persuade themselves, Vatican Council II was as dramatic a turning point in Catholic history as was Trent. Among its many achievements was the creation of a greater openness. Trent was not repealed but adjusted to be more tolerant of diversity. Hence efforts of many parish priests (Latino and Irish -- some of them even Irish-born!) to absorb the best of Mexican-American religion into American Catholicism are not attempts to return to the religious chaos of the Middle Ages. They, rather, are efforts to retrieve and integrate into American Catholicism all that is good and true and beautiful in Latino Catholicism, especially its joy, its love of celebration, its delight in festival.
As I tell Latino students, rules are necessary, but celebration and joy are more important -- even for us Celts. Our ancestors in the Middle Ages had one thing right: Jesus had preached good news, which demands celebration.
Interesting read. Thanks.
Trent was not a dramatic "turning point in Catholic history". It was a reaffirmation of Catholic doctrine in opposition to the Reformation's affirmation of Protestant heresy.
The "greater openness" is not an achievement of Vatican II but one of its bad fruit: it has given way to false oecumenism and to abusive inculturation.
Actually, Trent did have a significant impact on the Church in Latin America, and Greely's theory that it was all just a hunky dory ball of syncretist superstition approved by Rome is ridiculous. The Inquisition was sent to Latin America to root out just such things, and while relatively few common people were punished - the Indians were considered too poorly instructed to be wilfully heretical - many of the Spanish and criollo clergy were punished and even put to death for doctrinal and moral infractions.
However, the Church in the US may become a little more pre-VatII, thanks to Latin Americans, who never gave up the processions, devotions and other things that the Irish and German Catholics here dutifully abandoned when told to do so by their bishops (or maybe by the "Spirit of Vatican II"). Spain also never abandoned them, and the Spanish build their huge Nativity Scenes, have their Holy Week processions and Corpus Processions, and now finally even the bishops are back on board with encouraging this.
As for superstition, that is not to be encouraged in any group. One of the problems with the Church in Latin America is that the politicization of the Church and its decision that its real mission was left-wing politics and not religion left vast numbers of already undereducated believers without any religious instruction or guidance at all. This resulted in some of them going off to Protestant groups, while others busied themselves in the "mystical" world of santería and other Latin American syncretist superstition cults.
Priests here are going to have to do a lot of work to correct that. At the same time, perhaps if the Church in the US goes back to the visible, dramatic expressions of the Faith that are popular in Latin countries (including Spain, which is not ignorant and is the source of some of the most profound but scholarly mysticism in the Church), more Catholics of any background will be attracted back to the True Faith and once again learn the riches and depth of it.
VIVA CRISTO REY
Sounds like the Roman Church is heading full bore to an Orthodox phronema! :) The description of the Mexican Church could be a description of Greek Orthodoxy in many ways.
We're working on it! May God bless you and yours, our Orthodox brethren, at this holy time of the year and always.
What is a "phromena"?
phromena=phronema in #8
"What is a "phromena"?
Religious mindset or world view.
What more can you ask? (Well, the music was wretched ... you could ask for better music, I guess.)
I just hope it stops being a 'GAY'icized Catholic Church.
"(including Spain, which is not ignorant and is the source of some of the most profound but scholarly mysticism in the Church)"
25+ years ago I had a lot of business in southern Spain and spent quite a bit of time there. Aside from falling in love with the place, which is very much like southern Greece, I particularly enjoyed the religious festivals with their great processions through the towns and cities. The outpouring of The Faith was just magnificent. And as for profound and scholarly mysticism, well you've certainly got that right. +John of the Cross and +Teresa of Avila are magnificent reading and even though theologically I have some problems with their views here and there, the depth of their spirituality and their acceptance of "mystery" in The Faith is great stuff.
Welcome to Free Republic.
I'm no fan of Greeley, but he is right in the sense that Trent attempted to regularize and clarify a lot of things that were, theretofore, rather "messy". While the educated churchmen generally avoided it, popular Medieval religious practice could be very eccentric, with the ill-educated peasants in isolated villages dreaming up all kinds of superstitions and novelties and mixing things up with old pagan beliefs. This was an ongoing problem that became more apparent as European society became more prosperous, urban and stable. Both the Protestant and Catholic Reformations tried to address it. The Catholic Reformation clarified a great deal of doctrine, provided more education for priests and attempted to squelch entrenched superstitions and abuses. The Protestants, and especially the Puritans, took everything overboard and ended up pillaging cathedrals and banning Christmas. Not in the Bible and so forth.
Greeley, of course, wants to somehow use this history to justify "progressive Catholicism" as a way to re-open stuffy "Tridentine Catholicism" to the organic, populistic "celebratory" Catholicism of the Middle Ages and Mexico, when it's about as far removed from that as it is from the doctrinal rigor of Trent. Just look at their "progressive" church architecture. Biege wood and utilitarian carpeting equals Puritan meeting hall, not the blessing of farm animals and kissing statues of the Virgin Mary.
Oh, you're talking about the "sensus Catholicus"!
"Oh, you're talking about the "sensus Catholicus""
Somehow I doubt it, but maybe. One of the greatest differences between Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism lies in the way we look at The Faith and by extension the world around us so we have different phronemai. Maybe the sensus Catholicus is gradually becoming the "sensus Orthodoxus et Catholicus".
"If you take "catholic" in it's older meaning of "universal" as in "universal Church", it ought to span both on some level. People ask: Catholic or Orthodox? But the True Church must be both catholic and orthodox."
Agreed as to all points.
I haven't started it yet. Have any of you read it?
Spain is wonderful. Interestingly, after the devastation wrought by Vatican II, it was the people and not the clergy who kept alive the devotions, processions, etc. that actually left Spain in better shape than most of Europe. While the Spanish Church is not what it used to be, it never had the moral collapse that was typical of America; the only thing that Spaniards did, unfortunately, adopt was birth control, leading to their current problems. But orthodox Catholics managed to hang on in Spain, and now that most of their "Spirit of Vatican II" clergy have gone on to other careers and a new generation of non-political, genuinely religious clergy is moving into power, I think Spain is going to be a significant player in the Catholic world. Spain has some very good Catholic philosophers and theologians, lots of religious orders involved in a revival of chant, and a population that really and truly wants to bring back or keep that "old time religion."
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