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

5
The Revival as Reaction, II: Newman, Chesterton, and Babbitt, Catholic Revivalists

Each age rewrites history to coincide with its own view of reality. Twenieth century Catholic studies of John Henry Newman and Gilbert Keith Chesterton illustrate this point while typifying the keen philosophical and theological differences separating the pre- and post-Vatican II Churches.

Post-Vatican II scholarship has customarily portrayed Newman and Chesterton as religious progressives. Some modern scholars have characterized Vatican II ( 1962-1965) as "Newman's Council" while proclaiming that Newman Grammar of Assent ( 1870, a phenomenological analysis of the origins of religious faith) and Essay on Development ( 1845, stressing the unfolding Of religious doctrine through time) both anticipated and directed some of the Council's most imaginative reforms. These included the Church's new openness toward ecumenism, theologies of religious experience, and historicist understandings of doctrinal development. 1

Chesterton likewise has spoken to Catholics in newly different ways since the early 1960s, as scholars have abandoned the journalistic and controversialistic Chesterton in favor of the philosophical and theological one. In Chesteron, Man and Mask ( 1961), for example, Gary Wills--writing during an era when many Catholic thinkers were attempting to reconcile Chesterton's orthodoxy with the insights of post-World War II existential philosophies--argued that Chesterton should be understood as one of the first modern Christian existentialists. As proof, Wills cited Chesterton's deeply humanistic appreciation for the mystery and totality of human experience, in contrast to the narrowly empiricist and idealistic characterizations of mankind's nature and destiny typifying the major secular philosophies of his age. 2

-63-

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