Massimo Faggioli is an Italian who came to this country in 2008. He is a professor of theology at Villanova and writes for Commonweal magazine.
Back in August he wrote an ill judged piece criticizing converts which unhappily popped up just about the time Austen Ivereigh wrote his unpleasant article accusing converts of being mentally ill.
Massimo’s tweets and articles are definitely from the same stable as Austen’s, albeit with more intellectual weight and insight. His most recent article at Commonweal is an interesting read. It is entitled “Was it Better Back Then?”
He rightly observes that there is no golden age of Catholicism in the past. Massimo is a church historian as well as theologian and he is right. Folks who are biting their nails about the current crises in the church should read more church history. For that matter they should read the Acts of the Apostles. There have always been crises in the church.
I was at EWTN this week recording some programs and over venison steak with their resident hunter-scholar, asked Fr Mitch Pacwa if he agreed that in every age the barque of Peter sailed across stormy seas. He laughed and said, “Of course. There has always been persecution from without and corruption from within. There have always been heterodox and even heretical leaders in the church.”
Massimo Faggioli’s article is one I can agree with. If you’re nervous about the state of the church–read church history. Get used to it, and if you feel seasick on the stormy waves, get your sick bag, then look across the storm and see the one who walks on the waves and gather your courage and your faith and see if you can walk on the waves with him. It sounds like it could be dangerous fun.
I don’t agree with Faggioli, however, that there is any sort of widespread nostalgia for the Middle Ages among conservative Catholics. It is true that books like Regine Pernoud’s Those Terrible Middle Ages! redresses the contemporary myth that calls the Middle Ages the Dark Ages, and revisionist historians like Eamon Duffy and Jack Scarisbrick have set right the Protestant myth that the religion of the late Middle Ages was moribund, hidebound and superstitious.
Massimo refers to Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option as a signal of this nostalgia for the Middle Ages, but that’s not the point of Rod’s book at all. Sure, Rod’s a conservative so you would expect him to look to the past for answers to contemporary problems, but that should not be equated with nostalgia for the past. Rod isn’t calling for everyone to head for the hills, grow a beard a vegetable patch and schola cantorum. He’s mining the wisdom of St Benedict for an abundant Christian life in the world today.
Maybe Massimo, as an immigrant, is still trying to get his head around American conservatism. Having lived on his side of the Atlantic for twenty five years, I realize that European conservatism and American conservatism are very different breeds. European conservatism tends to be monarchist, elitist and aristocratic. It belongs to the establishment class, whereas American conservatism is intrinsically working class, revolutionary and egalitarian.
American Catholic conservatism–love it or loathe it–is a curious mix of American patriotism with its eighteenth century rationalism, robust egalitarianism and the “Don’t Tread on Me” suspicion of the upper class, the intelligentsia and the establishment–all of this mingled with a love of Catholic tradition and truth.
Within this stream are, of course, well educated and articulate conservative thinkers and writers. One place they have a voice is the Imaginative Conservative website. Those of us who write there are trying to engage with the public square and contemporary culture by exploring the riches of the past in a way that illuminates and engages modern culture.
We’re not all rednecks “clinging to our guns and our religion” nor are we medievalist junkies dreaming of Arthurian romance, neo Gothic architecture and the glories of Charles the Bald. We simply believe, like Massimo, that the people of the past also had their struggles, trials and tribulations, and that some of them happened to have had some good solutions to those problems, and many of those solutions are still valid (mutatis mutandi) in our world today.
If we criticize certain directions in the church today, that’s part of the tug of war that always goes on in the church. Without subscribing completely to the Hegelian ideology, it is true that from the struggle between the thesis and antithesis often comes a synthesis.
So, in the spirit of dialogue (so beloved in our church today) I would suggest that Masssimo–who seems a good and sensible sort of chap–take time to explore further the genuine points of agreement with conservatives rather than throwing stones at imaginary demons.
Are there some ignorant wacko right wing extremists in the conservative movement? Of course. They are an easy target–just as the ignorant wacko left wing extremists in the church are an easy target.
But why don’t we leave the easy targets for the less talented marksmen?