The Vanishing Catholic Intellectual

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jan 16, 2005

This teamwork, by groups of young Catholic philosophers and theologians who prefer anonymity to renown -- in France as elsewhere -- is also a result of the climate of suspicion surrounding Catholic intellectuals under the present pontificate. When such luminaries as Congar, Küng, Schillebeeckx, Gutiérrez or Boff did not escape the inquisitorial eye of Cardinal Ratzinger and his watchdog Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it is hardly surprising that lesser mortals should shun the limelight.

Tablet contributor Alain Woodrow deplores the contemporary feebleness of Catholic intellectual life, suggesting that the finest minds have gone underground to wait out the storm. Three things about his list above are striking. First, all his intellectuals are theologians (no philosophers, no historians, no scientists). Second, all of them are leftists. Third, all of them are TV stars.

This last feature deserves comment. None of Woodrow's luminaries has done any ground-breaking, first-order work -- comparable say to Barth or Rahner. Their fame is due, principally, to their fame. They are great signers of petitions. They became conspicuous not in virtue of profound or original thought but by being self-described Catholics who professed bits and pieces of anti-Catholic (or, in the case of Schillebeeckx, extra-ecclesial) ideologies. Moreover, they are all gluttons for the Klieg-lights, soliciting and exulting in media attention. Each is more easily recognized -- among admirers and critics alike -- by his photo than by his prose.

Sound Off! 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 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Jan. 17, 2005 3:39 PM ET USA

    << Each is more easily recognized -- among admirer and critic alike -- by his photo than by his prose. >> I'm not intellectual. But, from where I come from, that was a major head butt.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 16, 2005 10:28 PM ET USA

    Whether it is English socialism or French Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, the result is the same: the smothering of everything outside mendacity. As much as possible only those who attack and slander the traditions and culture that the Mediaevals handed to the modern world are published and celebrated. Most of their stuff is not even coherent and derives its power only from its unanswered repetition. It is pure ideology devoid of thought.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jan. 16, 2005 7:22 PM ET USA

    I would say that true intellectuals are more like cacti than "Delicate Fern." As my father used to say about Mountain Pinks,. "The more you run them over with the lawn mower the more they seem to grow better." Whether for good or for evil, they tend to be stubborn... "Let the gardner beware..."