Click here to advertise on CatholicCulture.org

identity crisis

By Diogenes (articles ) | Sep 14, 2003

Remember Bill Clinton's decision to take his cabinet on a secular "retreat" midway through his first term in order to "discover our core values"? One might well wonder whether any man who had reached the age of 50 without awareness of his own principles would be likely to discover them through a guided meditation exercise. An even more radical incongruity runs through a laudatory review of Peter Steinfels' recently published book A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America:

Steinfels argues that discerning a meaningful Catholic identity does not occur either from a return to pre-Vatican Council II certainties or from "vague affirmations of good intentions from which anything distinctively Catholic has been drained." He quotes Georgetown theologian Monika K. Hellwig's comment regarding Catholic higher education as applying to other institutions: Catholic identity "is not a matter of something we have lost and must retrieve. It is a matter of discovering how we do something we have never done before." ...

Steinfels' hero is the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Chicago who died in 1996. Bernardin's ill-fated initiative to overcome polarization between liberal and conservative, clerical and lay, by finding "Common Ground" for all Catholics is the correct strategy, he argues.

Got that? We Catholics have to huddle together and forge a consensus, Bernardin-style, as to what our identity is -- what our "core values" are. Those who believe that the only meaningful common ground has already been given us once-for-all by Christ are patronizingly dismissed as hankering after "a return to pre-Vatican Council II certainties."

Well lads, if Catholic identity is something yet to be achieved, "something we have never done before," then how can we connect ourselves with the Catholicism that Newman and Ignatius Loyola and Aquinas and Augustine thought they had in common with the fathers of Nicaea and with original Apostles themselves? Either the doctors of the Church are wrong, or Steinfels and Hellwig are (for a preview of the Pope's take on the subject, go here). Moreover, even if the Common Ground crew succeed in achieving a (synchronic) consensus, by their own principles this consensus couldn't connect with Catholics of the future, including the immediate future, since new Catholics and new experiences would necessarily make the earlier treaty obsolete. The kind of unity sought by Steinfels is a perpetually moving target, and, as Chesterton remarked, you can't step into the same stream once.

To make the same point in another way: if you take up the documents of Vatican II, and study the footnotes, isn't it clear beyond doubt that these documents ground themselves in every respect on "pre-Vatican Council II certainties"?

An appeal from our founder, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus:

Dear reader: If you found the information on this page helpful in your pursuit of a better Catholic life, please support our work with a donation. Your donation will help us reach seven million Truth-seeking readers worldwide this year. Thank you!

Our Fall Campaign
Progress toward our year-end goal ($24,902 to go):
$150,000.00 $125,097.96
17% 83%
Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Sep. 15, 2003 3:54 PM ET USA

    Eureka! You're aware Diogenes that Chesterton's remark goes back to another Hellenist like yourself - Heraclitus. It brought things together for me. Recently, reviewing Call To Action's agenda for their upcoming national conference here in Milwaukee, I couldn't put a name on the claptrap I found there. Now I can - it is Heraclitan! With their talk of 'deep waters' and 'Tibetan singing bowls' they - and liberals like them - epitomize Heraclitus' view that the world is in a state of flux. Perfect!

  • Posted by: Pseudodionysius - Sep. 14, 2003 6:44 PM ET USA

    Value talk. How Nietszche [sic?]. Sick. They have become a Show About Nothing. Side Show. Which begats a theological freakshow.

Fall 2014 Campaign
Subscribe for free
Shop Amazon
Click here to advertise on CatholicCulture.org

Recent Catholic Commentary

The cardinal who can't let go 5 hours ago
Denial of Service Attack: Success! December 19
Federal debt as a social-justice concern December 19
Another side of Francis: US-Cuba role shows Pope's diplomatic muscle December 18
Silly season: a Christmas approaches, a scholar questions whether Jesus ever existed December 18

Top Catholic News

Most Important Stories of the Last 30 Days
Pope Francis: Europe seems 'elderly and haggard' CWN - November 25
Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch sign joint declaration, lament persecution of Christians CWN - December 1
Consistory for new cardinals scheduled for February CWN - December 11
Vatican report on US women religious calls for further self-assessment CWN - December 16
Pope brokered deal to open US-Cuba ties CWN - December 17