Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

William J. Kelly

Second Advisor

Robert W. Lambeck

Third Advisor

Keith J. Egan


This work is an attempt to bring to light the major elements in the ecclesial thought to John Lancaster Spalding. It will also treat his understanding of religious truth since it plays a central role in explaining the development of his ecclesiology. The issue of late nineteenth century Americanism as it was the subject of Leo XIII's encyclical Testem Benevolentiae will be treated in relation to Spalding's writings to bring to light his understanding of the church and the thought and life styles which he deemed appropriate to it.

No critical edition or collection of Spalding's published works exist. In book form some seventeen volumes are in print. Much, but not all, of this consists in collections of articles whose original locus is not indicated. A certain amount of source criticism was necessary to determine the original locus of this material so that dates could be assigned to the individual articles. It was not always possible to determine original dates, but the date of the collection could always be determined. When this source criticism was deemed critical, it was put in a footnote. Generally the date of an article is included in the citation in parentheses. When no such date occurs, it means that either it was undeterminable or that the work cited was determined to be contemporary with the publication date of the work in which it was contained. In these cases merely the abbreviation for the' major work is listed. The date of this may be found by reference to the page of abbreviations.

Spalding's literary output has been divided into five periods. Each period has been limited by major events in his career and a particular adjective has been used in the course of the work to refer to these periods: Earliest (pre-1877); early (1877-1884); middle (1884-1894); late (1894-January 22, 1899); latest (January 22, 1899-1905). The events which divide these periods are: Consecration as bishop of Peoria, May, 1877; Baltimore III, November 1884; letter of reprimand from Leo XIII, 1894; Testem Benevolentiae, January 22, 1899; incapacitating stroke, January, 1905.

The complete corpus of Spalding's works has been read. This was begun by reading the ecclesiological essays of Lectures and Discourses (1882). From this tentative notions about his ecclesial thought were hypothesized. Then, all the remaining works were read with a special sensitivity to ideas and motifs present in his obviously ecclesiological essays. From the reading and re-reading of this material the following work was constructed. Archival material was utilized as it touched upon notions and ideas found in reading the primary sources.

Secondary material on Spalding is scarce, but what has been done was employed as often as it was relevant. Secondary material related to the period of his career and to the theological currents likely to have been current in his time were utilized as background material prior to taking up Spalding's work itself.

It must be admitted that Spalding's ecclesiology is truncated. He wrote no formal ecclesiological essays after 1884. He discussed papal infallibility as well as episcopal authority on a number of occasions prior to that date, but rarely afterward. He turned his intellectual energies to the question of religious truth and tried to work out its meaning, in fits and spurts, for the next twenty years. Nowhere does he indicate complete satisfaction with any of his efforts in this regard.

However, he did come to what appears to have been an insight into the unity of the Holy Spirit in the church and in the world, which may well have been a theological predecessor to "secular" Christianity. Despite the ad hoc character of most all of his work, Spalding, toward the end of his career, reveals a true grasp of the theological enterprises. Perhaps this, more than anything else, witnesses to his worth for today's intellectual Catholic Christian.



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