To Promote, Defend, and Redeem: The Catholic Literary Revival and the Cultural Transformation of American Catholicism, 1920-1960

By Arnold Sparr; Henry Warner Bowden | Go to book overview

Series Foreword

As early as the national census of 1850, statistics showed that the Roman Catholic Church was the largest single denomination in the United States. Despite that preponderance, or possibly because of it, Protestant groups refused to accept Catholicism as compatible with American religion and culture. Protestant nativists viewed Catholics as unassimilable immigrants, undemocratic residents whose parochial schooling and "loyalty to the pope, a foreign power" precluded participation in republican life. This exclusionist rhetoric lasted into the twentieth century, and most Catholics seem to have accepted it at face value. They flourished in increasing numbers due to more immigration, but they also accepted isolation in cultural ghettos formed jointly by Protestant suspicion and their own acquiescence in secondary citizenship.

In this volume, Arnold Sparr chronicles and analyzes the emergence of Catholic thinkers from their minority status. As they integrated literature, philosophy, and theology in the modern period, they provided educated American Catholics with a unified viewpoint, one that defended the faith and criticized a drifting, fragmented, secular culture. This viewpoint also gave them confidence that they had something valuable to contribute to American culture as a whole.

By 1935 Catholic literary expressions reiterated a simple historical truth, viz., that Americans have always been part of a transatlantic religious community. Up to that time American Catholics had utilized a rigid scholasticism which provided a secure and clear self-definition but at the same time made them appear defensively parochial and moralistic. After 1935 they joined with prominent French and German scholars to see their faith as a cultural force that could transform all of western

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