Americanism: the old heresy that is perfect new
In 1800s the americanists were raging upon all that meant inequality and subjection of one man to another. For them all men was guided directly by God therefore would be equal.
At the end of the last century (19th), a new doctrine scandalized Catholics: it was Americanism. It was condemned in 1899 by Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter "Testem Benevolentiae", addressed to Cardinal James Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore and Primate of the United States. Despite this condemnation, Americanist errors were taken up and widely disseminated by other movements, such as "Sillon" and modernism, both condemned by Saint Pius X.
If read today, Americanist writings give an impression of surprisingly current content. These are old disapproved doctrines that we currently encounter in sermons, conferences and documents by ecclesiastics and lay people. What yesterday was condemned, today is taught.
Has the Church changed? Isn't her truth always the same? Does the editor of the presentation by Fr. Comblin has reason? On the cover of his book "Theology of the Revolution", he says:
"But yesterday's heresy is often tomorrow's truth"
J. Comblin ("Théologie de la Révolution", Ed. Universitaires, 1970)
Certainly (this is) not (true). The Church has an immutable doctrine, and if someone changes his doctrine, he is no longer a Catholic.
The history of Americanism is ultimately linked to that of Father Isaac Thomas Hecker.
He was born in New York in 1819. His mother was a Methodist, and Methodism greatly influenced him throughout his life.
At the age of fourteen he began to be concerned with politics and philosophy and left Methodism for Kantianism. At the age of 24, he joined the Brook Farm movement — a community built on the theories of the philosopher Fourier — where he imbibed even more of Kant's philosophical and Saint-Simon's social doctrines, having previously passed through all the Protestant sects of America, and militated in the communist-leaning Labor Party of his home state.
He later converted to Catholicism and went to ask the Bishop of New York for baptism, being baptized on August 1, 1844. He said: “I slipped into the Church” (Maignen, p. 89).
Hecker then thought he was guided directly by the Holy Spirit. He claimed that he had supernatural visions and inspirations for a long time and that the voice of God was speaking to him.
In 1845, Hecker joined the Redemptorist Congregation. It took him weeks to learn the "Pater" in Latin. He spent three years without being able to read or study. He had no spiritual director, as he would never have later, because he said that the Holy Spirit himself directed him.
Hecker remained in the Congregation of St. Alphonsus of Liguori until 1857, when he was excluded for having violated the vows of poverty and obedience by going to Rome without permission from the Superiors and at his own expense.
In 1858, he founded the Paulist Fathers, a free community without vows. The founder, in fact, was against religious vows and wanted a new type of Priest, adapted to the way of being of “men full of just confidence in themselves” as the North Americans saw it (Maignen, p. 66).
Father Hecker spent the last sixteen years of his life with many illnesses. After his death, his ideas had great influence in the United States, and even more so in France. Catholic liberalism, with all the movements that grew out of it, welcomed the so called Americanist of Father Hecker and the Paulist Fathers; the ground was well prepared for the new mistakes.
In 1894, the “Life of Father Hecker” appeared in the United States, authored by Father Elliot, of the Paulist Fathers, and with an introduction by Monsignor Ireland, Archbishop of Saint Paul of Minnesota.
The work had little repercussions in the United States. Three years later it was published in Paris in a translation by Father Klein, a young professor at the Catholic Institute, whose preface summarized Hecker's ideas. This translation had enormous repercussions in France and also in the Vatican.
The Americanists (as the followers of Father Hecker were called), had already caused a great stir when Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Spiritists, etc., took part in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.
At the end of 1898, the news spread that the Pope would publish a document on the case. Monsignor Ireland left for Rome in January to, it was said, try to stop the papal pronouncement.
He interviewed Leo XIII, and afterwards declared that the Pope had assured him that the document would not come out.
In February 1899, however, an Apostolic Letter to Cardinal James Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, dated January 22, came to light, condemning Americanism.
On the occasion of the fourth centenary of the discovery of America, the newsletter of the Catholic Institute of Paris published an article by Monsignor Keane, Rector of the Catholic University of Washington, a former disciple of Father Hecker and one of the most outstanding leaders of the Americanist movement.
“ Since a distinctive feature of the mission of the United States is, by the destruction of the barriers and hostilities that separate the races, the return to unity of the children of God long divided, because nothing analogous could be done with regard to the religious divisions and hostilities? Why would not religious congresses lead to an international congress of religions, where all would come together in mutual tolerance and charity, where all forms of religion would rise together against all forms of irreligion? ” (Maignen, p. 212).
The Americanist spirit inspired these lines, carried over from an irenic ecumenism that jumps over any dogmatic difference, as long as “union in love” is achieved.
At the International Scientific Congress of Catholics, held in Brussels in 1894, the same Monsignor Keane said:
“ Humanity is beyond question striving for gentler manners and a greater extension of charity. But is it not the aim of religion to unite man with God and his fellow men? Religion is charity. Even though we could not agree on creeds, was it not possible to be in accord about charity? ” (Maignen, pp. 213 and 215).
The thesis exposed is that more important than dogmas is charity, as if true charity were possible without faith. It is clear that this charity, this love that Monsignor Keane speaks of, capable of bringing about the union of all religions above doctrinal differences, is not the love of man for the love of God. It is the love of man for man and is nothing but Masonic philanthropy.
And the ecumenical Americanist Bishop continues:
“ It would be no small thing to teach even Christians this lesson: that in order to love God, it is not necessary to hate your brother who does not love him as we do; that, to be faithful to our Faith, it is not we must remain at war with those who understand the Faith differently from us ” (Maignen, p. 216).
Egalitarianism level all religions. This is confirmed by the words of Monsignor Redwood, Archbishop of New Zealand, in the Parliament of Religions, gathered in Chicago in 1893:
“ In all religions there is a large element of truth, otherwise they would not have cohesion. I believe that this Parliament of Religions will promote the great brotherhood of humanity and, in order to promote this brotherhood, it will promote the expression of truth. I don't pretend, as a Catholic, to possess the whole truth or to be in a position to solve all the problems that arise for the human spirit. I know how to appreciate, love and cherish every element of truth existing outside this great body of truths. In order to destroy the barriers of hatred that exist in the world, we must respect the elements of truth and the elements of morality contained in all religions ” (Barbier, p. 246).
It is surprising how these words resemble certain speeches today. Mistakes are monotonous in their repetitions…
It was the thesis that all religions are inspired by God that Monsignor Keane defended at the scientific congress in Brussels in 1894:
“Sometimes it was claimed that the founders of pagan religions were sent from the devil, charged with making the truth abandoned and error embraced. This is a historically false point of view. To all, God has given the truth in sharing. When the poor human family dispersed, they forgot religious and moral principles. So God raised up even among the pagan men to remember the truth. Such were the sages of antiquity: Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates were not servants of the devil; they were instruments of Divine Providence, they saw the truth, but only in part, mixed with errors; they did the best they could. Why not pay homage to his goodwill and all that is good and beautiful in his teaching? ” (Barbier, p. 246).
Evolutionism led Americanists not to accept a religion of static dogmas. Their entire religious conception was evolutionist.
In 1897 an article entitled "Liberal Catholicism" was published in London in the "Contemporary Review" and signed by Romanus, which constituted a true party manifesto and a summary of Americanism. It read at one point:
“The modern doctrine of evolution, considered in a theistic spirit, flattens and removes all difficulties, showing how partial and inevitable errors have providentially served the advancement of the spiritual well-being of mankind. All these new truths can find their place in the Catholic Church, which should not be afraid to accept and assimilate them, just as in the past it gradually accepted other new truths and even vital changes ” (Maignen, pp. 309-310).
The consequence of egalitarianism, of "prophecism" and of evolutionism was an interfaith and irenic position.
The Americanists wanted the union of all religions without any giving up their creed. This is why Father Hecker said it was necessary to abolish the "customs" of the Church (Maignen, p. 90).
He explained his new apologetics in the work entitled "Questions de l'âme": "I would like to open the doors of the Church to the rationalists; these doors seem to me closed to them. I feel that I am the pioneer who will open the way. I snuck into the Church as contraband" (Maignen, p.89). And further on: "I wanted to help Catholics with my left hand and Protestants with my right hand" (p.90).
This ecumenism of Father Hecker was not limited to Protestants, schismatics and rationalists. It also extended to Hindus, Muslims, and pagans. He was not lacking in reason in calling himself a pioneer. We know well that others followed him later.
“The profound feeling of divine immanence, which the Hindus have, impressed him, and he saw in the intimate union of God with man through the Eucharist, one of the main means by which our faith could reach them in the future. As for the Muslims, who had studied in Egypt, they had impressed him with the intensity of their belief in the one God ”,
(Written by an admirer of his, Father Dufresne, in Maignen, pp. 68-169).
Father Victor Charbonel — one of the main Americanists in France, who would later apostatize from the Church — planned to gather in Paris, during the Universal Exhibition of 1900, a congress of religions. Wanting to summarize in a few lines the fundamental principle of the congress (which never took place), wrote in the “Revue de Paris”:
“Couldn't we try what would be called the moral union of religions? A pact of silence would be made regarding all the dogmatic particularities that divide minds, and a pact of common action regarding what unites hearts, by virtue demoralizing and consoling that there is in every faith. It would be the abandonment of old fanaticism. It would be the rupture of this long tradition of chicanery that keeps men clinging to subtle dissensions of doctrine, and the heralding of new times, where men would be less concerned about separating into sects and churches, digging ditches and erecting barriers, than that of spreading the social benefit of religious sentiment through a noble concord. The time has come for this supreme union of religions” (Delassus, pp. 142-143).
It was natural for Americanists to have sympathy for all heresiarchs. These too would have been inspired by God. His mistake would not have been that of professing new dogmas, but only that of breaking unity. Monsignor Keane, in his previously quoted Chicago address, stated the following in connection with this point: "Men of good faith and ardent men embodied good and noble ideas in organizations separate from the Church and created by them. They were right in their ideas, were wrong in their separation" (Delassus, p.138).
“The time has come for this supreme union of religions,” wrote Father Charbonnel in the "Revue de Paris". “Among believers of different faiths, or even among believers and philosophers, one is tired of hateful quarrels, polemics — ‘polemos’, war! — in which the noblest convictions always lose what makes them great: serene tolerance. Here's the project. It is a sign of the times to have been able to simply expose it. This would not have been possible two years ago. Because, finally, the universal congress of religions will be, in our old Europe, the first council in which there will not have anathemas ” (Maignen, p.243).
Father Charbonnel no longer believed in the Catholic Church, as he no longer had anything in common with his pan-church. Shortly after, as a natural result of so many errors, he officially renounced the faith of his baptism and abandoned Catholic communion. How many today do not defend the same ideas! How many, today, led by a false ecumenism, have ceased to be Catholics, to become faithful of the "new Universal Church", alongside schismatics, heretics, Jews and pagans!
Father Hecker and his followers frowned upon all that meant inequality and subjection of one man to another. All men, guided directly by God, would be equal. The Spirit would speak in every man. Consequently, spiritual direction and religious obedience would be unnecessary, and would even constitute an obstacle to the action of the Spirit. Moreover, obedience would be contrary to human dignity.
At the Ecclesiastical Congress of Reims in 1896, so sympathetic to the theses of Americanism, some exclaimed:
"Among us, hierarchy kills the individual" (Barbier, p.316).
Americanists were naturalists. What was important to them was not Heaven and supernatural life, but the present world and the natural perfection of man.
Father Naudet, for example, said in Angers in 1895: "Citizens, I belong to the Church of today and tomorrow, not to the Church of a hundred years ago... I want to give paradise immediately while waiting for the other". Father Naudet was wrong: he was not of the Church "of tomorrow", but of almost a hundred years later. He was already a "post-conciliar" Church, of the New Church.
As Henri Bargy notes, the religion of the Americanists was "a religion of humanity grafted onto Christianity." It "no longer teaches how to die, but how to live, it is a school of practical energy. [...] Religion is more and more concerned with saving society and less and less with saving individuals. In place of Paradise, it offers a reward: social improvement. Christianity becomes a mutuality, it is reduced to a fraternity" (La religion dans la societé aux Etats-Unis, 1902, apud Barbier, pp.243-244).
Americanism was very well defined as the cult of humanity.
Father Naudet affirmed that
“the formation of the clergy is too exclusively clerical and insufficiently human. The young are too accustomed to seeing in their future ministry only the supernatural role, or more precisely the purely religious side” (Delassus, p. . 174).
Basically, what Father Naudet asked for is that the Seminaries teach less theology and more sociology and economics. Today this reform is being carried out in many places: in these, the ecclesiastics have left aside the supernatural and the care of souls, and they want to understand the production of onions…
Americanism was condemned by Leo XIII, but it did not die. It lived in “Sillon”... The same ideas, and other similar ones, resurfaced in modernism. Is modernism dead?
What was most impressive about the texts of Americanist authors — we insist — is their relevance. Reading them gives the impression that they were written by adherents of the “post-conciliar” New Church. Americanism, Sillonism, Modernism, Progressivism, "Propheticism", Liberation Theology, are nothing more than branches of the same tree. They are tentacles of the same octopus that for centuries has sought to envelop the Church. Against this heresy we must invoke Her who is the Throne of Wisdom and the Help of Christians, She who will at last crush the head of the ancient serpent.
Subscribe for free to receive the letters, papers and articles from Orlando Fedeli in english
This essay was written in the 20th century, so the “last century” means 19th century,