American Catholic Dilemma: An Inquiry into the Intellectual Life

By Thomas F. O'Dea | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER IV
The American Catholic Heritage

So far in our analysis two elementary points have been made, and they provide the basis for the whole of our future discussion. First, the relation of reason to life is characterized by a fundamental ambiguity, and this ambiguity will be reflected in the role of the intellectual in any society which accords reason a place among its central values. Secondly, because of its altogether unique solution to that fundamental ambiguity and its defense at the same time of the role of reason, the basic tension between thought and living will, for Christianity, often take the form of a tension between reason and faith. Yet, vital though these two starting points are for our analysis, it is not sufficient to see these major aspects of the problem in the abstract. Consideration must also be given to their concrete manifestations in the context of American Catholic history. All that we have already said has implied that past experiences have an important effect in conditioning present actions. Hence it is necessary at this point to examine some of the salient aspects of our past which bear directly on our present concerns. We cannot hope to do anything like justice to this immense and important topic, but we can at least indicate the broader lines of influence which are involved.

Let us proceed directly to the basic historical problem. It must be recognized that in the task of developing a native intellectual tradition the Catholic community in this coun

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