Nicaragua's Other Revolution: Religious Faith and Political Struggle

By Michael Dodson; Laura Nuzzi O'Shaughnessy | Go to book overview
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Five
Tradition and Change in the Christian Churches

Roman Catholicism and the Challenge of Modernity

While the Latin American Catholic church functioned at the nargins of the universal church, and looked to the state to protect its religious status and social prerogatives, it depended on Rome for its doctrinal orientation. This dual dependency posed a dilemma for the church in Latin America when Pope Leo XIII and such successors as Pius XI and Pius XII pushed the church in Europe toward an accommodation with industrialism and the social and political changes brought on by modernization. The concern for the working class articulated in Rerum Novarum ( 1891), for example, implied a strong critique of the economic and political elites upon whom the institutional church relied so heavily in Latin America. To take up the pope's critique was to jeopardize the very foundation of the church's position in society. For this reason, the social doctrines of the Roman Catholic church that emerged in Rome during the seventy years between Rerum Novarum and Vatican II found only a faint echo in Latin America. While that teaching reached Latin America, it lay dormant for decades awaiting conditions that would bring it to life.

At the end of the nineteenth century the Catholic church in Europe still viewed society through a largely medieval lens. As a religious institution the church had once been coextensive with secular society, and that aspiration persisted across the centuries that brought the Reformation, the French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution to challenge the church's historic "Constantinianism." 1 The church's response to these challenges had long been one of hostility and resistance because each of these "revolutions" attacked fundamental aspects of the church's very identity, as well as its authoritative role in society. Yet society continued to be transformed by these events, and the traditional Roman Catholic church became more and more anachronistic, refusing to relinquish its "Christendom" world view long

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