The Church Confronts Modernity: Catholic Intellectuals and the Progressive Era

The Church Confronts Modernity: Catholic Intellectuals and the Progressive Era

by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
     
 

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As the twentieth century opened, American intellectuals grew increasingly sympathetic to Pragmatism and empirical methods in the social sciences. The Progressive program as a whole--in the form of Pragmatism, education, modern sociology, and nationalism--seemed to be in agreement on one thing: everything was in flux. The dogma and "absolute truth" of the Church

Overview

As the twentieth century opened, American intellectuals grew increasingly sympathetic to Pragmatism and empirical methods in the social sciences. The Progressive program as a whole--in the form of Pragmatism, education, modern sociology, and nationalism--seemed to be in agreement on one thing: everything was in flux. The dogma and "absolute truth" of the Church were archaisms, unsuited to modern American citizenship and at odds with the new public philosophy being forged by such intellectuals as John Dewey, William James, and the New Republic magazine. Catholics saw this new public philosophy as at least partly an attack on them.

Focusing on the Catholic intellectual critique of modernity during the period immediately before and after the turn of the twentieth century, this provocative and original book examines how the Catholic Church attempted to retain its identity in an age of pluralism. It shows a Church fundamentally united on major issues--quite unlike the present-day Catholic Church, which has been the site of a low-intensity civil war since the close of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Defenders of the faith opposed James, Dewey, and other representatives of Pragmatism as it played out in ethics, education, and nationalism. Their goals were to found an economic and political philosophy based on natural law, to appropriate what good they could find in Progressivism to the benefit of the Church, and to make America a Catholic country.

The Church Confronts Modernity explores how the decidedly nonpluralistic institution of Christianity responded to an increasingly pluralistic intellectual environment. In a culture whose chief value was pluralism, they insisted on the uniqueness of the Church and the need for making value judgments based on what they considered a sound philosophy of humanity. In neither capitulating to the new creed nor retreating into a self-righteous isolation, American Catholic intellectuals thus laid the groundwork for a half-century of intellectual vitality.

Columbia University Press

Editorial Reviews

Catholic Historical Review - Margaret Mary Reher

The Church Confronts Modernity is provocative, well-written, and deserves to be read.

Journal of American Studies - Frank Lennon

It is written with great clarity and fluency, making the complex philosophical and theological concepts approachable... This is a very important book which will be indispensable reading for scholars interested in the history of religion.

Theological Studies - Thomas G. Guarino

It moves briskly and gracefully through the thorny issues confronting the Church during the first two decades of the 20th century... An effective and detailed examination of Catholic intellectual life during a little studied period.

Journal of American History - Patrick W. Carey

This book is well worth reading. It is well written, well researched, and the thesis put forth is well argued.

American Catholic Studies - Michael J. Lacey

Provocative... Woods thoughtful study casts new light on the Catholic response to the culture of progressivism.

American Historical Review - Deirdre Moloney

Well written... Worthwhile contributions to the literature.

The American Conservative - Paul Gottfried

Precociously wise... magnificent.

A Christian Review - Eugene McCarraher

A lucid and accessible book

Choice - P. J. Hayes

This book will be a valuable resource...Highly recommended.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231506878
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
08/05/2004
Series:
Religion and American Culture
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
File size:
1 MB

What People are saying about this

Philip Jenkins

Though he is writing about the Progressive Era, Thomas Woods deals with issues that are still both timely and relevant. He explores how American Catholics redefined the limits of faith and doctrine in an age of social and intellectual transformation, a time when cherished orthodoxies seemed ever more at odds with secular assumptions. The Church Confronts Modernity is thoughtful, well-written and rewarding.

Joseph A. Varacalli

The implications of the thesis put forth by Thomas E. Woods, Jr., are potentially revolutionary for the academy, the Catholic Church, and American society. The author makes a compelling case that the Catholic intellectual critique of the scholarship of the progressive era was characterized not only by theological commitment but by philosophical sophistication and a selective and well thought out openness to whatever was useful in secular educational approaches. Furthermore, he argues that this substantial critique laid the seeds for a period of outstanding Catholic academic accomplishments from the 1920s through the 1950s. Thus does Woods demolish simultaneously the smug progressive secular charge that the idea of a "Catholic intellectual" represented a contradiction in terms and the self-serving claim made by contemporary masochistic American Catholic progressives that pre-conciliar Catholic scholarship in the United States represented an intellectual wasteland. The Church Confronts Modernity might actually serve to jump start, once again, the Catholic intellectual attempt to "restore all things in Christ" at a time when more and more thoughtful citizens are starting to seriously question the fruits of secular modernity.

Donald J. D'Elia

A brilliant study, The Church Confronts Modernity illumines a period of recent American history too long neglected by first-rate scholars. We all stand indebted to Professor Woods' deep and insightful analysis of Catholic thought in what was the increasingly hostile milieu of the Progressive Era. Indispensable!

Meet the Author

Thomas E. Woods Jr. is senior fellow in American history at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.

Columbia University Press

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