American Catholic Religious Thought: The Shaping Of A by Patrick W. Carey

By Patrick W. Carey

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During his Catholic period (1844-76), although he continued to accept the insights of romanticism, he tried to steer his theological train between the excesses of Romanticism and Enlightenment Scottish Realism. Like the romantics, he emphasized the unity but not identity of grace and nature, the organic nature of history and the church, and intuition in the human knowledge of God. Unlike some romantics, he rejected both the superficial attempts of some of his fellow Catholics to restore medieval Christendom and the “excessive” subjectivism of the Transcendentalists and their “pantheistic” synthesis of the finite and the infinite.

For Brownson, to live is to manifest. This means that life itself is defined as the interaction or intershock of the me with the not me. ”43 That which provides for the unity of as well as the distinction between subject and object in thought and life is, Brownson eventually discovered, the divine creative act. 46 Although Brownson’s doctrine of life by communion, grounded as it was in the divine creative act, provided some objective grounds for knowledge of God as cause, and explained how sin could be transmitted from one generation to another and how human persons could influence one another, it could not explain how God could intervene in the historical process.

The church was, after all, a mixture of the temporal and the eternal, the changeable and the permanent. Some accidentals in the church’s structure and mission could easily be modified and changed to meet modern needs. Like many of the romantics, the Americanists had a providential and organic view of history, but one that was significantly conditioned by the evolutionary mentality of the day. The impact of the evolutionary impulse is especially evident in the addresses and speeches of Archbishop John Ireland.

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