With the recent presidential campaign, and the post-election analysis about "moral values" one appreciates all the more the quality of debate in Carey's text. Here one can find a depth of thought and analysis absent in the current rhetoric. The editor of this fine collection of primary texts introduces the work as material for a course at Marquette University. If he taught the course this fall of 2004, it must have been a wonderful experience for his students.
Before moving into the collection of writings, Carey provides an excellent survey of American Catholic thought. He notes correctly that the great theological works from the shores of this "new land" come not from the speculative musings of systematic minds, but rather from attempts to articulate the "right place" for the Catholic Church in a pluralist society. As in the present moment, the finding of that right place in American culture simultaneously holds the Church in tension with Roman culture. This historical and cultural reality provides the field in which some of the best American Catholic theology grows.
Carey's overview of American Catholic thought from 1784 to 1960 captures all of the major movements. With clarity of language and precision of thought he explains the subtleties of Americanism, Modernism and Neo-Thomism. The text gives a heavy accent to Social Justice noting the diversity of Catholic opinion on slavery and the right of a worker to a just wage.
The great variety of genre in the collected works can challenge the reader to shift from a popular sermon or column from The Catholic Worker to the more abstract philosophy in an apologetic text or an address to a learned audience. A short biography for each author along with the identification of key ideas that introduces each primary source alleviates the challenge for the reader not using the text in a university course.
The great variety of authors includes the better-known giants—John England, Orestes Brownson, Isaac Hecker, Martin Spalding, John Ireland, Dom Virgil Michel and John Courtney Murray. He also includes some better and lesser well-known figures, not all of them great theologians, Fathers Charles White and Edward Purcell, John Cooper, Edward McGlynn and John Zybura among others. Quite enjoyably one gets to sit with the words of the only woman, Dorothy Day.
While no part of the text should be left unread, in our current political climate the words of some authors speak loudest. John England writes, "I would not allow to the Pope, or to any bishop of our church, outside this Union, the smallest interference with the humblest vote at our most insignificant balloting box. He has no right to such interference" (129). He argues forcefully for the distinction between spiritual authority and the regulation of human government and civil concerns.
Similarly, especially for those who long to hold the mantle of Thomas Aquinas, Zybura's "Foreward" to his translation of Bruni's text Progressive Scholasticism provides stirring insight. Reflecting on the great achievements of scholastic thought and its revival under Pope Leo XIII, Zybura writes, "It is this same viewpoint which teaches us that even the most precious achievements must be understood as historically conditioned. It is a remedy against a merely slavish reiteration of the past, and keeps the eye steadily fixed on the real problems" (384). He continues, "We are to rethink the doctrines of Aquinas, or better, to think as he would think, to work as he would work, to employ the methods that he would employ..." (389).
Frustrated perhaps by a kind of rubricism in current liturgical debate, one might be heartened by Michel's insistent connections between the communion of the Eucharist and the communion of the human family in justice. Every reader ought to be moved with Day's reminder from St. Francis de Sales, "we are all called to be saints" (406). Likewise, echoing words she uses to define her own life, Day draws on Dostoyevsky, "Love, it is a beautiful word, but as Fr. Zossima said, LOVE IN PRACTICE IS A HARSH AND DREADFUL THING COMPARED TO LOVE IN DREAMS" (416).
Carey makes it perfectly clear that when American Catholics think - whether cleric or lay—a healthy tension arises. Living the tension constitutes life, a life that always demands further thought. One might liken campaign slogans to beautiful words and dreams. Perhaps the greatest gift that Catholics might bring to the contemporary pluralist American scene is the gift of that harsh and dreadful thing - a love that includes rather than excludes.