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

1
The 1920s: A Time of Troubles

To understand the origins of the Catholic literary revival in the United States, we may usefully contrast the American movement with earlier European Catholic literary movements. Most western European countries experienced late nineteenth century Catholic revivals that produced a great outpouring of Catholic apologetic and creative literature. The most far-reaching actions occurred in France, England, and Germany. Reacting, in large part, to the extremes of late nineteenth century positivistic science and philosophy, these revivals also had similar social antecedents; they occurred at a time when Catholics in these countries were suffering from low intellectual and cultural prestige.

The French Catholic revival occurred against the background of the Third Republic, and, according to Richard Griffiths, coincided with "the first great period of Republican action against the Church." 1 Griffiths writes that the anticlerical policies of the Third Republic, namely the decrees on the congregations and on education (resulting in the laicization of the schools and the suppression of the teaching orders) and other reforms restricting the traditional powers of the French Church, "generated in the average Catholic of the time a spirit of violent opposition." 2

At the same time, the French Catholic intelligentsia fumed over the antireligious rationalism that had been undermining their status since the days of the eighteenth centuryphilosophes. Particularly infuriating to Catholic intellectuals was the smug attitude among Sorbonne positivists who refused to concede a man "could be intelligent and Catholic." 3 The disapprobation suffered by the Church during the Dreyfus affair, when many influential French Catholics sided with the anti-Dreyfusards and

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