The papacy in mid-nineteenth century American Catholic imagination

Sandra Ann Yocum Mize, Marquette University

Abstract

The symbolic force of the papacy is found in the public statements of five prominent American Catholic apologists of mid-nineteenth century (c. 1838-1888): Francis P. Kenrick (1796-1863); John Joseph Hughes (1797-1864); Orestes Brownson (1803-1876); Martin John Spalding (1810-1872); and Isaac Thomas Hecker (1819-1888). Peter's successors, according to their accounts, safeguard the unity and doctrinal purity of Christ's church and oversee the political, social, and cultural progress of human civilization. The dissertation argues that their representations of the papacy provided a locus of communal identity within a mid-nineteenth century American Catholic "public theology." The authors' common papal images are examined as theological assertions of an universal Catholic spiritual reality and as socio-historical indicators of an emerging American Catholic world-view. The term "public theology" indicates the texts' dominant character. They exemplify nineteenth century "rational discourse" that answer public warnings against the "papist" threat by claiming Catholicism's right and duty to participate in American society. The arguments follow from a complex, Catholic theological matrix in which the Church functions sacramentally, i.e., through visible, effective signs, to extend the Incarnation's transformative effects into the present. The papacy, as Christ's vicar, is the visible, effective sign of the Catholic mission throughout the world. After providing an overview of the period's socio-political and intellectual climate and biographical sketches of the five apologists, the next five chapters examine five papal images. They are: the leader of triumphant Catholicism; the uncompromising champion of liberty; the savior of Western civilization; the assertor of the Church's spiritual freedom; and the locus of infallible authority. Every image affirms Roman Catholic tradition and American republicanism to be mutually enhancing. The papacy personifies a divinely protected Catholic order that grounds civil liberty and social progress. The American political system, on the other hand, guarantees Catholicism's spiritual independence so that it flourishes despite nativists' opposition. In the final analysis, the papacy as center of Catholic unity demonstrates to a struggling community its own internal solidarity depsite ethnic diversity and its uniqueness amidst a religiously pluralistic society.

Recommended Citation

Sandra Ann Yocum Mize, "The papacy in mid-nineteenth century American Catholic imagination" (January 1, 1987). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI8811065.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI8811065

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