Christianity, Roman Catholic, Issues in Science and Religion

views updated May 18 2018

Christianity, Roman Catholic, Issues in Science and Religion

The most distinctive features of Roman Catholicism that influence the religion-science dialogue are its hierarchical and authoritative structure and its emphasis upon the rational foundations for religious belief. Many of the divisions that have occurred within Christianity in the course of history have their origins in one or both of these characteristics of Roman Catholicism. The history of the interaction within Roman Catholicism between science and religion has been dominated by its hierarchical structure. On the other hand the insistence on reason as fundamental to the relationship of human beings to the universe and, therefore, to the creator of the universe has played an important role in the birth of modern science and provides a platform for the dialogue between the belief system of Roman Catholicism and other disciplines, especially science.

Views of nature

The Catholic belief system includes the fundamental affirmation that nature has a rational structure which human intelligence is capable of probing and, in fact, is driven to probe. The basis for this affirmation lies principally in the Johannine tradition of the Logos. John the Evangelist confronted early Christian belief with the world of Greek philosophy. In addition, early Christian reflection upon lived, historical events, especially those recorded in John's Gospel, sees in such events the insertion of God's plan, thought, and word into the universe. Thus John's use of the word Logos, inherited from the Greeks: "The Word (Logos) of God became flesh." This revelation, which the Judeo-Christian tradition believes is spoken by God through his chosen spokespersons, has enormous consequences for one's judgment upon scientific knowledge of the universe. The Judeo-Christian experience affirms emphatically the enfleshment of the divine and, since God is the source of the meaning of all things, that meaning too becomes incarnate.

Some see in this religious belief the foundations of modern science. A rigorous attempt to observe the universe in a systematic way and to analyze those observations by rational processes, principally using mathematics, will be rewarded with understanding because the rational structure is there in the universe to be discovered by human ingenuity. Since God has come among human beings in his Son, humans can discover the meaning of the universe, or at least it is worth the struggle to do so, by living intelligently in the universe. Religious experience thus provides the inspiration for scientific investigation.

To varying degrees this "Logos theology" is at the roots of all Christianity. What in it is peculiar to Roman Catholicism? In addition to the strong affirmation of this "transcendence become incarnate" by the robust system of sacraments in Roman Catholicism (shared, perhaps, also by Anglicanism), there is in Catholicism a long tradition of analogical knowledge. This reached its peak in medieval Scholasticism, and, although it has taken on many forms, is still very prominent in Catholic thought. It seeks to come to a knowledge of God, the creator, through knowledge of creation. In creation, perfections are always mixed with imperfections. If, at least in thought, the two can be separated, the perfect can then be applied to God. This analogical knowledge is also referred to as the via negativa because, even as one applies knowledge of the perfect to God, one must deny that God can be limited to this knowledge. So, the philosopher Thomas Aquinas (c. 12251274) could rightly say upon the completion of his Summa Theologica that "it was all straw."

Analogy refers to a relationship of similitudes, or of things that are similar. For instance, God is perfect love, and that can be compared with other kinds of love that one witnesses, such as the love of a mother for her child, or the long-standing love of a husband and wife for one another in a stable marriage. But then one sees imperfections in human love, and one must deny that these are present in God's love. That is the use of analogy. The implication is that God wishes to tell humans about himself/herself in creation. It follows, therefore, that a scientist, one who is also a religious believer, must find in science one way to seek to know God. Roman Catholicism in its view of nature is profoundly convinced of this.

It is important to note the logical sequence here. It is not that one comes to believe in God by proving God's existence through anything resembling a scientific process. God is not found as the conclusion of a rational process like that. One believes in God because God gave himself/herself to one. Faith is a personal relationship of love with God and God initiated gratuitously that relationship. No one merited it. No one reasoned to it. Faith is "arational." It does not contradict reason, but it transcends it. Once one has entered into that relationship, one can seek to deepen it through a scientific knowledge of God's creation. This is a very characteristic stance of Catholic intellectuals.

History of the interaction between science and religion

Because of the dominant hierarchical and authoritative structure of the Catholic Church the history of the interaction between science and religion will necessarily focus upon that structure. This is not to deny that influential Catholic thinkers, such as the paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (18811955), the astronomer and cosmologist George Lemaître (18941966), and others, have not had an impact, but they are not typical of Catholicism in regard to the interaction with science.

Four case histories indicate that the relationship between religion and science in Roman Catholicism has, in the course of three centuries, passed from one of conflict to one of compatible openness and dialogue. The four periods of history are: (l) the rise of modern atheism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; (2) anticlericalism in Europe in the nineteenth century; (3) the awakening within the Church to modern science in the first six decades of the twentieth century; and (4) the Church's view at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The approach of science to religion in each of these periods can be characterized respectively as: (l) temptress, (2) antagonist, (3) enlightened teacher, (4) partner in dialogue.

In his detailed study of the origins of modern atheism, Michael Buckley concludes that it was, paradoxically, precisely the attempt in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to establish a rational basis for religious belief through arguments derived from philosophy and the natural sciences that led to the corruption of religious belief. Religion yielded to the temptation to root its own existence in the rational certitudes characteristic of the natural sciences. This rationalist tendency found its apex in the enlistment of the new science, characterized by such figures as Isaac Newton (16421727) and René Descartes (15961650), to provide the foundation for religion. Isaac Newton marks the real beginning of modern science. Although the Galileo case, as it is called, provides the classic example of confrontation between science and religion, it is really in the misappropriation of modern science by Isaac Newton and others to mistakenly establish the foundations for religious belief that the roots of a much more deep-seated confrontation can be found. From these roots, in fact, sprung the divorce between science and religion in the form of modern atheism. Thus, science served as a temptress to religion. The certainties born of the scientific method gave birth to the desire for identical certainties as a foundation for religious belief. That desire was radically misplaced and led to a lengthy period of misunderstanding between religion and science.

Certain episodes during the nineteenth century reveal aspects of the second movementanticlericalism. Its influence on the development of the relationship between science and religion in Catholicism are described by Sabino Maffeo in the second edition of his history of the Vatican Observatory. In fact, the founding of the Observatory in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII is set clearly in that climate of anti-clericalism, and one of the principle motives that Leo XIII cites for the foundation of the Observatory is to combat such anticlericalism. However, after having shown clearly the prevailing mistrust of many scientists for the Church, he terminates the document in which he established the Observatory by stating:

. . . in taking up this work we have put before ourselves the plan that everyone might see that the Church and its Pastors are not opposed to true and solid science, whether human or divine, but that they embrace it, encourage it, and promote it with the fullest possible dedication (quoted in Maffeo, p. 315 ff.)

Although the historical circumstances did not provide a healthy climate for a dialogue between religion and science, the founding of the Vatican Observatory, even if couched in triumphalistic terms, proved to be a positive contribution to the dialogue, both at the time of its foundation and in its subsequent history.

When one speaks of the awakening of the Church to science during the first six decades of the twentieth century, one is really speaking of the personage of Pope Pius XII. The Pope had an excellent college-level knowledge of astronomy and he frequently discussed astronomy with researchers. However, he was not immune to the rationalist tendency and his understanding of the then most recent scientific results concerning the origins of the universe led him to a somewhat concordant approach to seeing in these scientific results a rational support for the scriptural, and derived doctrinal, interpretation of creation. It was only, in fact, through the most delicate but firm interventions of Georges Lemaître, the father of the theory of the primeval atom that foreshadowed the theory of the Big Bang, that the Pope was dissuaded from following a course that would have surely ended in disaster for the relationship between the Church and scientists.

The specific problem arose from the tendency of Pope Pius XII to identify the beginning state of the Big Bang cosmologies, a state of very high density, pressure, and temperature, which was, at that time, thought to have occurred about one to ten billion years ago, with God's act of creation. Lemaître, in particular, had considerable difficulty with this view. Although he was a respected cosmologist, he was also a Catholic priest, and, since solid scientific evidence for his theory was lacking at that time, he was subject to the accusation that his theory was really born of a spirit of concordism with the religious concept of creation. In fact, it was only with the discovery in 1965 of cosmic background radiation that persuasive scientific evidence for the Big Bang became available. Lemaître insisted that the primeval atom and Big Bang hypotheses should be judged solely as physical theories and that theological considerations should be kept completely separate.

Galileo and Darwin

There are two episodes in the history of the interaction between Catholicism and science that merit special attention. The cases of Galileo Galilei (15641642) and Charles Darwin (18091882) have, at least in the popular mind, become myths that are thought to exemplify the interaction.

In view of Galileo's increasing promotion of Copernicanism the Congregation of the Holy Office of the Catholic Church in 1616 issued a decree that declared that the Copernican theory that the sun moved was absurd in philosophy and heretical, and the theory that the Earth was not immovable was absurd in philosophy and suspect of heresy. These carefully honed distinctions between philosophy and religious belief reveal the exaggerated rationalism of Catholicism at that time. Philosophy, of course, referred to the philosophy of nature, what people today call physics. Heretical meant that the philosophy contradicted Scripture. The physics was that of Aristotle; Scripture was limited to the literal meaning and to the understanding of the Church Fathers. On both accounts the decree was, by hindsight, grossly in error. This is touted as a conflict between science and religion, but of all things it was clearly not that. Science was never a partner in the discussions. Galileo's telescopic observations, which convincingly supported Copernicanism even though they were not proofs, were never subjected to discussion. Furthermore, religion in the name of Scripture was not a principal protagonist. A philosophical conviction that Aristotle was correct led to an insistence on a literal interpretation of Scripture. Uncritical and untested convictions about the nature of the universe dominated the scene on the part of the Church. In 1633 Galileo was condemned to house arrest for life because he had disobeyed, by his publication of the Dialogue, a private edict given to him in 1616, as a consequence of the above decree, not to support Copernicanism. A final judgment upon this case must be that the Church erred gravely at that time in not allowing an internationally renowned scientist to pursue his research. It did so because its authoritarian structure embraced a renunciation of reason. Aristotelian natural philosophy was the standard, not because it was reasonable but because it was imbedded in all Catholic theological thinking of that epoch. A fracture had occurred between reason and authority, two basics of the Catholic way.

The case of Darwin is different; in confronting Darwinian evolution, it was Catholic doctrine that was at stake. There are two fundamental doctrinal assertions that appeared to be under attack: The human being is a special creature, in whose origins God directly intervenes; and the supernatural cannot be reduced to the natural.

Since the time of Darwin, as biological, chemical and physical evolution became ever more acceptable scientifically, the Catholic Church has struggled to understand its doctrinal heritage in light of the new science. On October 22, 1996, a message of John Paul II on evolution was received by the members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on the occasion of a meeting sponsored by the Academy on The Origin and Evolution of Life. This message is in continuity with the posture of openness characteristic of modern Catholicism. Whereas the encyclical of Pope Pius XII in 1950, Humani Generis, considered the doctrine of evolution a serious hypothesis, worthy of investigation and in-depth study equal to that of the opposing hypothesis, John Paul II states in his message:

Today almost half a century after the publication of the encyclical [Humani Generis ], new knowledge has led to the recognition that the theory of evolution is no longer a mere hypothesis.

The Pope wished to recognize the great strides being made in the scientific knowledge of life and the implications that may result for a religious view of the human person. For him, however, some theories of evolution are incompatible with revealed, religious truth. These include materialism, reductionism, and spiritualism. But at this point the message embraces a true spirit of dialogue when it struggles with the opposing theories of evolutionism and creationism as to the origins of the human person. And this is obviously the crux of the message.

The dialogue progresses in the following way: (1) The Church holds certain revealed truths concerning the human person; (2) Science has discovered certain facts about the origins of the human person; (3) Any theory based upon those facts that contradicts revealed truths cannot be correct. Note the antecedent and primary role given to revealed truths in this dialogue; yet note the struggle to remain open to a correct theory based upon the scientific facts. The dialogue proceeds between these two poles. In the traditional manner of papal statements, the main content of the teaching of previous popes on the matter at hand is reevaluated. And so the teaching of Pius XII in Humani Generis that, if the human body takes its origins from preexistent living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God. Is the dialogue therefore resolved by embracing evolutionism as to the body and creationism as to the soul? It must be noted that the word soul does not reappear in the remainder of the dialogue. Rather the message moves to speak of "spirit" and "the spiritual."

If the revealed, religious truth about the human being is considered, then there is an ontological leap or an ontological discontinuity in the evolutionary chain at the emergence of the human being. Is this not irreconcilable, wonders the Pope, with the continuity in the evolutionary chain seen by science? An attempt to resolve this critical issue is given by John Paul II's statement in his 1996 message that:

The moment of transition to the spiritual cannot be the object of this kind of [scientific] observation, which nevertheless can discover at the experimental level a series of very valuable signs indicating what is specific to the human being.

The suggestion is being made, it appears, that the ontological discontinuity may be explained by an epistemological discontinuity. Is this adequate or must the dialogue continue? Is a creationist theory required to explain the origins of the spiritual dimension of the human being? Are we forced by revealed, religious truth to accept a dualistic view of the origins of the human person, evolutionist with respect to the material dimension, creationist with respect to the spiritual dimension? In the last paragraphs concerning the God of life, the message gives strong indications that the dialogue is still open with respect to these critical questions.

The dialogue at the beginning of the twenty-first century

Although there are many others, the sources for deriving the most recent view from Roman Catholicism concerning the relationship of science and faith are essentially three messages of John Paul II, two of them given in 1979 and 1986 to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and the third in 1988 to the Vatican Observatory. The public has emphasized the statements made by the Pope concerning the Copernican-Ptolemaic controversy of the seventeenth century. In his statements concerning Galileo the Pope essentially does two things: He admits that there was wrong on the part of the Church and apologizes for it, and he calls for a serene, studious, new investigation of the history of that time. However, there are matters that are much more forward-looking and of much more significance than a reinvestigation of the Galileo case.

Especially in the 1988 message, given on the occasion of the tricentennial of Newton's Principia Mathematica, John Paul II clearly states that science cannot be used in a simplistic way as a rational basis for religious belief, nor can it be judged to be by its nature atheistic or opposed to belief in God.

... Christianity possesses the source of its justification within itself and does not expect science to constitute its primary apologetic. Science must bear witness to its own worth. While each can and should support the other as distinct dimensions of a common human culture, neither ought to assume that it forms a necessary premise for the other. (quoted in Russell et al., p. M9).

The newest element in this view from Rome is the expressed uncertainty as to where the dialogue between science and faith will lead. Whereas the awakening of the Church to modern science during the papacy of Pius XII resulted in a too facile an appropriation of scientific results to bolster religious beliefs, Pope John II expresses the extreme caution of the Church in defining its partnership in the dialogue: " Exactly what form that (the dialogue) will take must be left to the future" (quoted in Russell et al., p. M7).

See also Darwin, Charles; Galileo Galilei; Science and Religion, Models and Relations; Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre


buckley, michael j. at the origins of modern atheism, new haven, conn.: yale university press, 1987.

hesse, mary b. models and analogies in science. notre dame, ind.: university of notre dame press, 1966.

john paul ii. "message to the pontifical academy of the sciences," october 23, 1996. published in the original french in l'osservatore romano, 23 october 1996. english translation available in origins (washington, d.c.: catholic news service) 26, no. 22 (14 november 1996).

lemaître, george. "the primeval atom hypothesis and the problem of clusters of galaxies." in la structure et l'evolution de l'universe. bruxelles, belgium: xi conseil de physique solay, 1958.

maffeo, sabino. the vatican observatory: in the service of nine popes, trans. george v. coyne. vatican city: vatican observatory publications, 2001.

pedersen, olaf. the book of nature. vatican city: vatican observatory publications, 1992.

pius xii. humani generis: encyclical letter concerning some false opinions which threaten to undermine the foundations of catholic doctrine, august 12, 1950. in acta apostolicae sedis, vol. 44. vatican city: tipografia poliglotta vaticana, 1950.

pontifical academy. discourses of the popes from pius xi to john paul ii to the pontifical academy of sciences. vatican city: pontificia accademia scientiarum, scripta varia 66, 1986.

russell, robert john; stoeger, william r.; and coyne, george v., eds. physics, philosophy, and theology: a common quest for understanding. notre dame, ind.: university of notre dame press, 1988.

teilhard de chardin, pierre. the phenomenon of man, trans. bernard wall. new york: harper, 1959.

turek, j. georges lemaître and the pontifical academy of sciences. vatican city: vatican observatory publications, 1989.

wallace, william a. the modeling of nature: philosophy of science and philosophy of nature in synthesis. washington, d.c.: catholic university of america press, 1996.

george coyne

Roman Catholicism

views updated Jun 27 2018

Roman Catholicism

Catholicism is the largest of the world's Christian denominations, with nearly a billion members entering the millennium. Derived from the Greek word for "universal," "catholic" has long been considered a defining characteristic of Christianity. The adjective "Roman" initially came into use during the Reformation as a deprecatory term for loyalty to the papacy. "Roman" is properly used to describe Catholics of the former Latin rite, as distinct from the various language traditions of other Catholic traditions. Thus, for instance, the Ukrainian Catholic Church, also called "Uniate," professes loyalty to the papacy but uses a liturgy that is not based on Latin. The common usage, which refers to Christianity linked to the papacy, is followed here.

Contemporary Catholicism is considered older than Protestantism because after the sixteenth-century Reformation, Catholicism preserved many of the institutions of medieval Christianity such as the mendicant orders, Marian devotions, and belief in Purgatory. Most of these owe their modern survival to approval by Church authorities. At the time of Francis of Assisi, for example, the mendicant orders emerged from among various movements urging return to evangelical poverty and popularizing lay preaching. But approval by the hierarchy allowed Franciscans, rather than Waldensians, to prosper. Although not found in Scripture, belief in Purgatory was derived from a theological premise that anyone not fully perfect in the faith would escape eternal punishment in Hell but still required purification to enter Heaven. As attested by Dante's epic poem, this was an important element in medieval Christian piety. Continuity with medieval Christendom is not absolute, however, because Catholicism allows for modification of institutions and beliefs to reflect social change. As a result, Purgatory is not as central to contemporary Catholic piety as it was when fear of punishment was generalized throughout society.

Catholicism in the United States

Roman Catholicism was the first Christianity brought to the Americas, in 1493. Puerto Rico, presently under U.S. rule, had its diocese of San Juan established in 1511, and the first bishop to take possession of his diocese in what is now the United States was Alonso Manso in 1513. Catholicism was established in Florida in 1526, and the parish at St. Augustine (1565) is the oldest continuous Christian congregation in the fifty states. The Catholic faith entered New Mexico in 1598, radiating from there to other parts of the Southwest, Texas, and California.

English-speaking Catholics came to America under the leadership of Cecil Calvert, second lord of Baltimore, who founded the colony of Maryland in 1634. However, England's antagonism against Catholicism carried over to the American colonies, and prohibitions against the establishment of Catholic churches was a key facet of the prejudice against Catholics that characterized the colonial period. The 1776 War of Independence and the enactment of the U.S. Constitution in 1789 brought greater tolerance for Catholics. The vitality of this postrevolutionary American Catholicism counted among its members a convert, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and notable clerical immigrants, such as St. John Neumann and Blessed Felix Varela.

Expansion into Louisiana after 1803 and the settlement of territories beyond the Alleghenies brought the U.S. church jurisdiction over the preexisting Catholicism of parishes and mission churches that had been established by the Spanish and the French. The large number of incoming Protestant and English-speaking settlers reduced the original Catholic population of these conquered areas into minorities, who were inclined to conform to a subordinate role in a predominantly Protestant country.

A steady stream of Catholic immigrants pushed the church in the United States to develop new institutions of service, such as Catholic schools, and new attitudes toward religious practice in a pluralistic society that imparted a recognizable character as uniquely American. The mass immigration of Irish Catholics during the potato famines (1846–1848) and the expansion westward after the conquests of Texas (1838) and Mexico (1848) were events that ushered in a new era for the church that increased its membership and material resources. This influence became national, particularly after the Civil War.

Gains in social power came at a price for Catholics. The U.S. church faced a virulent anti-Catholicism during the nativist movement and the Know-Nothing riots (1844) that projected Protestantism as the only truly "American" religion. There were also doubts as to the loyalty of Catholic soldiers in U.S. armies who would have to fight Mexican Catholics in 1848, a fear expressed fifty years later in the 1898 war against Spain. Following the model previously used to incorporate Florida, Indiana, and Louisiana, the English-speaking Catholic bishops, most of whom were U.S. citizens, emphasized their commitment to the United States and its form of government. This embrace of the United States meant that Catholicism rejected a role as irridentist defender of the natives in the conquered Mexican Catholic areas of Texas, the Southwest, and California. Unlike Poland and Ireland, where Catholicism became a nationalist religion in resistance to foreign invasion, the U.S. Catholic Church fostered the assimilation of the resident peoples to the newcomers. Named "pious colonialism," this policy harmonized concern for ministry toward the conquered peoples with maintenance of their social and cultural subordination to the foreign invader, the United States. Although Catholicism did not totally ignore its preexistent Spanish heritage—as, for instance, in the adoption of a Spanish colonial architectural style for church buildings—Spanish-speaking Catholics were often treated as if they were newly arrived "immigrants" to come to the United States, rather than the inhabitants of a conquered land.

Catholicism and Americanization

Throughout its history, the U.S. Catholic Church has wrestled with its identification as an institution of immigrants. Outspoken nineteenth-century intellectuals such as Orestes Brownson and ecclesiastics such as John Ireland, archbishop of Minneapolis-St. Paul, considered the survival of cultural traits from the homeland as detriments to full assimilation of immigrants into American society. On the other hand, many bishops feared that the loss of immigrant culture would lead to the loss of the Catholic faith. Both sides came together, however, to repudiate the suggestion in 1891 of Peter Paul Cahensly, a German layman, that called for the creation of multiple ethnic parishes under ethnic bishops in the United States. On the premise that once English was learned, ethnic differences would disappear, bishops preferred to funnel immigrants into scattered national parishes that celebrated Mass and offered services in the native tongue of immigrants. The Vatican saw dangers in conforming Catholicism too closely to loyalty to the government and in 1899 issued Testem Benevolentiae, condemning an ill-defined tendency called "Americanism" as a distortion of Catholic faith in the United States.

Catholics prospered in early twentieth-century America and built an impressive network of churches, universities, schools, hospitals, and social services in major U.S. cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago. Immigrant leaders often spearheaded these efforts, such as St. Frances Cabrini, helping preserve traditional loyalty to Catholicism in a new land. The Depression added the ferment of a Catholic radicalism in the person of Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement, and the New Deal reflected many of the premises of Catholic social teaching as embodied in papal encyclicals. In the 1950s the television show Life Is Worth Living, with Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, brought the clarity of Catholic doctrine into the consciousness of mainstream U.S. society. As the fault lines of ethnic neighborhoods collapsed, frictions among groups such as the Irish, Italians, and Polish diminished, Catholics entered late into the civil rights movement, but they entered it nonetheless, although faced with the difficult task of educating their own members to oppose the de facto segregation of many northern cities.

Restructuring of American Catholicism

The Cuban Revolution and the election of John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, ushered in the 1960s, and the decade closed with U.S. society deeply divided about the Vietnam War, civil protest, the War on Poverty, race, and ethnicity. Catholicism worldwide undertook a critical restructuring of its organization, rituals, and doctrines in the Second Vatican Council (1962–1964). By redefining the church's relationship to the modern world, the council molded a new way of thinking about the mission of Catholicism. Ecclesiastical authority was challenged when it attempted to control debate about matters such as birth control and abortion. Vatican II also mandated the creation of national councils of Catholic bishops to mediate between the papacy and local needs, thus establishing a greater degree of local autonomy in every country. Today various activist groups, such as Pax Christi on the political left and Catholics United for the Faith on the right, address contemporary social issues by appealing to Catholic teaching. But although differing in the interpretation of Catholic teachings, each professes loyalty to the church.

In the United States, Vatican II had a profound impact on the number of men and women dedicating themselves to church service as priests and brothers, nuns and sisters. Between 1970 and 1990 the number of priests and sisters in the United States dropped precipitously. This loss of personnel produced a severe problem in Catholic agencies, particularly Catholic schools. Faced with rising tuition to accommodate the salaries of lay teachers replacing the free labor of sisters, many parochial schools were forced to close because they had become too expensive for the parish members.

These social factors produced a pragmatic need to reshape many of the institutions of U.S. Catholicism and to legitimate changes with theological arguments. There is organized support for the restoration of a married clergy in the Roman rite and for the ordination of women to the priesthood. The Theology of Liberation, which began in Latin America, introduced Marxist terminology into the analysis of church responsibility, thus reinforcing the responsibility of church leaders to frame policy by reference to global issues of injustice. The National Council of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) has advocated a government-run universal health care system and has produced several significant documents that articulate church teaching on issues of particular importance in the United States. Economic justice, racism, and homosexuality have been addressed as matters for pastoral concern. The Catholic Church has been an outspoken opponent of anti-immigrant legislation and government measures designed to rob the poor of needed assistance.

The reforms of Vatican II have radically altered the style of Catholic worship. When required to provide services in "the language of the people," the NCCB decided to develop one official liturgy in English and another in Spanish, each fitting the linguistic uses common in the United States. Because this decision virtually coincided with a radical change in immigration law, the introduction of bilingual education, and the creation of political power for the Spanish-speaking people of the United States through the War on Poverty, the way was cleared for a Latino religious resurgence. In fewer than two decades, Latino militancy within the church and rapid demographic growth have made U.S. Catholicism into a bilingual, bicultural church. Of the estimated 61 million Catholics in the country in 1998, an estimated 23 million (38 percent) were Latinos. In some cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and San Antonio, Latinos are the majority of Catholics. Demographic projections suggest that within twenty years a majority of U.S. Catholics will be Latinos, marking a change as significant as the Irish immigration of the nineteenth century.

The Catholic Church in the United States entered 1998 with 19,677 parishes and 3,051 missions. Catholics run 590 hospitals, 17,165 elementary schools, 1,357 high schools, and 241 colleges and universities. Church-affiliated social service centers treat 24 million clients annually. Although prosperous, Catholicism has not ceased to be an immigrant church in the United States. Current trends include outreach to new and diverse ethnic groups and a return by second- and third-generation Catholics to elements of a lost, preconciliar piety. The church has undertaken the professional training of large numbers of lay Catholics to assume ministerial roles in Bible study, charismatic prayer, the pursuit of social justice, and a permanent diaconate for married men. The future holds the prospect for a U.S. Catholicism that is clergy-poor and lay ministry–rich, with strong attachment to material aspects of religion and a rootedness in social justice concerns, characteristics long exhibited by Latino Catholicism. The challenge will be to mesh the interests of different Catholic constituencies within the same national institution.

See alsoBelonging, Religious; Catholic Worker; Celibacy; Church and State; Ecumenical Movement; Encyclical; Freedom of Religion; Mestizo Worship; Papacy; Religious Communities; Religious Persecution; Rome; Sociology of Religion; Vatican; Vatican Ii.


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Díaz-Stevens, Ana María, and Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo. Recognizing the Latino Resurgence in U.S. Religion: The Emmaus Paradigm. 1998.

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Schoenherr, Richard, and Lawence A. Young. FullPews and Empty Altars: Demographics of Priest Shortagein U.S. Catholic Dioceses. 1993.

Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo

Roman Catholicism and Roman Catholic Missions

views updated May 23 2018


Native Middle Eastern groups or individuals or those who established religious institutions there to convert people to Roman Catholicism.

The term Catholic is ambiguous in the Middle East. In Arabic, it refers to the Melkites; in English, it refers to Christians of the Latin rite, usually called Roman Catholics in the United States.

Since the Christian Church evolved in the Middle East, differences in theology and ritual that had existed for centuries between the eastern and western parts of the Roman Empire led to a schism in 1054. In the West (Europe) the Latin rite became basic to the Roman Catholic church. In the East (Byzantium) the Byzantine state church prevailed until the rise of Islam in the seventh century c.e. The expansion of Islam was rapid, with Muslims conquering North Africa and the Iberian peninsula by the eighth century and ruling until the fifteenth century. In 1009 Muslims destroyed the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem; in 1095 Pope Urban II called for a holy war to "rescue the Holy Land from the Muslim infidels." To do this, the First Crusade was organized in 1096. The Crusaders, under Godfrey of Bouillon, succeeded in conquering Jerusalem in 1099. Seven more Crusades followed, with successes and failures, until the Mamluks of Egypt conquered Acre in 1291, evicting the Crusaders.

The Roman Catholic Church was reestablished in the Middle East in 1099, when a hierarchy under a Latin partriarchate at Jerusalem was established. By the end of the thirteenth century, however, after the Crusaders were evicted from the region, only the Franciscan Brothers stayed on as custodians of the shrines. As the Crusader venture collapsed, the pope's contacts with the Mongols in central Asia inspired the Franciscan and Dominican orders to work among them, in the Ilkhanate of Persia, during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Then after the fall of Constantinople (now Istanbul) to the Ottoman Turks in 1453which ended the Byzantine EmpireFranciscan, Capuchin, Dominican, Carmelite, and later, Jesuit missionaries went to the provinces of the Ottoman Empire under the protection of European powers to try to convert Eastern Christians to Roman Catholicism.

In the nineteenth century the Latin-rite presence in North Africa increased because of the French occupation of Algeria. The ancient see of Carthage was restored in 1876. Cardinal Lavigerie was named primate of Africa, with more than one million Catholics in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisiawhere he founded the White Fathers and White Sisters to work in the region.

In 1847 the Latin patriarchate of Jerusalem had been reestablished and numerous missionaries, engaged in education and nursing, had been sent to Ottoman Palestine. During the twentieth century, however, with the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire by the Allies after World War I and the postWorld War II independence of Israel, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, the Roman Catholic presence dwindled both in North Africa and in Palestine.

In 1990 the number of Latin-rite Roman Catholics throughout the Middle East was estimated to be 1.3 million (about 35 percent are migrant workers from Sri Lanka, India, and the Philippines). Some 566,000 Roman Catholics are indigenous to Sudan and more than 60,000 live in the West Bank and Jordan. These discrete communities are unusual for the region; most of the other Catholics form small communities or are family groups who left other local Christian churches, especially one of the Eastern Orthodox (which include the Nestorian and the Monophysite churchesthe Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, and the Mar Thoma of India) or Uniate churches.

Arabia and the Gulf

The jurisdiction of the apostolic vicar for Arabia extends to the countries of the Arabian peninsula and the Gulf, excluding Kuwait, which has its own vicar. There are few local Catholics, but there are large
numbers of Palestinian, Indian, Sri Lankan, and Filipino workers in the region. The Annuario Pontificio counts 470,000 for 1990. There are parishes in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and Bahrain and Catholic schools in the U.A.E. and in Kuwait. In Saudi Arabia chaplains for foreign workers are allowed to operate "clandestinely," although this provokes occasional troubles. In North Yemen the government has called in nursing sisters to staff hospitals, and there are a few priests to care for expatriate Catholics.


The three vicariates in Egypt had been reduced to one at Alexandria. While the official count of Latin Catholics is only 8,000, there are some 200 men and 1,000 women members of Latin orders and congregations, mostly engaged in education.


Syria, with a vicariate at Aleppo, lists 12,000 Latin Catholics, with about 250 men and women engaged in social and apostolic work since Catholic schools were closed in 1967.


Baghdad is an episcopal see with an archbishop, but Latins number only a few thousand, and since Catholic schools were closed in Iraq, only a few Latin-rite religious orders remain, staffing a seminary, a parish, and a hospital.


Lebanon has a large number of Latin-rite religious orders and congregations, with about 250 men and over 1,000 women working in 150 Catholic schools, a university, several hospitals, and numerous social ministries. The community numbers about 20,000.

West Bank and Jordan

In the West Bank and Jordan a substantial Palestinian community of 60,000 Roman Catholics has its own patriarch and diocesan clergy (about 60) who celebrate the Latin rite in Arabic. There is a Catholic University at Bethlehem and over 270 educational establishments. As this region is the Holy Land, it is a center for several Catholic religious orders.


The largest Middle Eastern indigenous Roman Catholic community is found in Sudan. Some 217,000 Roman Catholics are in Juba and some 348,000 are in Khartoum. Each city has its local ordinary with a growing diocesan clergy aided by a few hundred men and women in non-Sudanese orders. The famine in the south has caused the displacement of many Sudanese Catholics.

North Africa

Morocco has two residential sees, one in Tangiers and one in Rabat, caring for some 40,000 Catholics, including over 200 men and women in religious orders engaged in a variety of social and educational works.

Algeria has a metropolitan see at Algiers with suffragan bishops in Oran and Constantine ministering to over 40,000 Catholics. Men and women in religious orders number about 350, many engaged in secular roles. In both Morocco and Algeria the diocesan clergy is substantial (about 50 in each) but of European origin.

There has been a prelature in Tunis since 1964, when a Vatican accord with the government suppressed the see of Carthage and closed all but 7 of its 100 churches. Catholics number over 15,000, cared for by 15 priests. Over 200 men and women in religious orders work in a variety of apostolates, including the research institute and library of the White Fathers.

Libya has a vicar apostolic and about 30 women in religious orders working in hospitals. Four religious men and one diocesan priest care for the spiritual needs of the 30,000 or so expatriate Catholics.

Iran and Turkey

Iran has a bishopric at Isfahan and a few priests and nuns caring for the Latin-rite community of 2,000. Turkey has an episcopal see in İzmir and a vicariate in Istanbul for some 7,000 Catholics. The number of Roman Catholic expatriates fluctuates with economic conditions; still, their presence in the Middle East, which had been relatively stable, is now in decline. Missionary vocations are sparse, and the need for educational and social help from expatriates is narrowing. At the same time, the Vatican is concerned about the increased emigration from indigenous Latin communities that has been provoked by political constraint and the resurgence of pan-Islamic sentiment.


Atiya, Aziz S. A History of Eastern Christianity, enlarged and updated edition. Millwood, NY: Kraus Reprint, 1980.

Betts, Robert Brenton. Christians in the Arab East: A Political Study, revised edition. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1978.

john j. donohue

Roman Catholics

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Roman Catholics


Spanish. The Catholic Church and the Spanish state were a team in the early exploration and settlement of America; conquest and conversion were assumed to go together. The Pope had granted such ecclesiastical power to the Spanish monarchs that they became virtually vice popes, and their religious fervor prompted them to evangelize and promote the church throughout their empire. The major Spanish settlements, however, were south of the present-day boundaries of the United States, although they did maintain footholds around Florida and in the Southwest. San Miguel in Virginia did not long survive its founding in 1526, but its chapel remained. Saint Augustine, Florida, prospered after its founding in 1565. Jesuits and Franciscans established missions, hospitals, and convents. By 1634 there were thirty-four Franciscan friars maintaining forty-four missions and ministering to over twenty-five thousand Native American converts within the present boundaries of the United States. In the Southwest the Spanish ventured into New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas after 1598 and slowly established missions whose existence was made precarious because of Indian hostility, jurisdictional conflicts within the church, and political intrigues in Spain which necessarily involved the church. Also, many missionaries refused to learn the language of the Indians and demanded that they abandon their traditional ways and adhere to the Spanish culture. They gathered their converts into missions, assigning their work and controlling their lives in a system that often approximated slavery. Especially in the borderlands, missions took on the militaristic characteristics of frontier forts. Because it embarked on an empire a full century before other countries, Spain transmitted a religion and culture that was more medieval in flavor, having been little affected by the Renaissance, Reformation, or commercial expansion.

French. The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century shattered the unity of Christendom and ushered in religious wars in France that impeded her efforts at colonization in the New World. When the dust settled in the early seventeenth century, French Catholicism underwent a resurgence of piety and the growth of old, and founding of new, orders dedicated to purifying the French church. In this new France the faith and institutions of the Roman church gained a centrality and importance that was equaled in no other country. This coincided with a renewed search for empire and the prominence of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, in making religion an integral part of this venture. The first Jesuit priests arrived in Canada in 1625 and, although most of their efforts were directed at settlers and Native Americans there, they spread out among the Iroquois and Hurons in the Great Lakes region. Some, such as Father Jacques Marquette, became explorers themselves. Unfortunately, when they ventured into the boundaries of the present-day United States and encountered the hostile English and Spanish, trade and military considerations often took precedence over religious objectives. This situation, plus the resistance of the Native Americans toward the adoption of European culture as a price for conversion, led the Jesuits in 1647 to relax their requirements for baptism, become more tolerant of traditional practices, and adopt stances admired in the native culture. Jesuits displayed oratorical skills, generosity with possessions, moral integrity, and patient suffering of adversityall characteristics which the Indians admired. They also played on their ability to predict natural phenomena, such as eclipses, and on their ability to read and write, which seemed magical to members of an oral culture. They substituted religious icons for traditional charms, ascribing to a crucifix the power of healing simple diseases and flinging sulfur into campfires to illustrate their supernatural powers. Their effect on the religious beliefs of outlying tribes was questionable, but they left a legacy oí piety and Christian commitment among French settlers in Canada and the northern boundaries of the United States.

English. Roman Catholics provided the foundation on which Maryland was founded and formed enclaves in New York, Pennsylvania, and other tolerant colonies, where they often were denied political rights. Charles I granted the Catholic Calvert family the proprietorship over Maryland in 1632 to settle debts, allow the persecuted Catholic population an outlet, and conciliate the European powers of the Counter-Reformation. Lord Baltimore instructed his governors to give Protestants no offense and advised Catholics to worship privately. Such toleration of other denominations was the only way that Catholics enjoyed any rights at all. A church building was immediately erected in Saint Marys, the first settlement, in 1634, and within five years at least four other parishes had been erected. For the first decade the conduct of church affairs was in the hands of Jesuit priests, who converted both Protestants and Native Americans. However, their success antagonized the growing numbers

of Protestant setters, and the Calverts quietly began to limit their activities and invite the ministrations of other orders. The Catholic-dominated assembly passed an Act Concerning Religion in 1649 putting the long-practiced policy of toleration into precise and legal terms. Even though a Protestant Association arose during the Glorious Revolution and held power until 1691 when Maryland became a royal province, the colony reverted to the Calverts in 1715, by which time they had returned to the Anglican fold. Nevertheless, they maintained their earlier policy of toleration, and the small core of Catholics continued to attract priests and practice their faith in the face of Protestant threats. They were a landed and moderately wealthy group and enjoyed sufficient social prestige to sustain the work and worship of their church.


W. J. Eccles, France in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1972);

John Tracy Ellis, Catholics in Colonial America (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1965);

Colin M. MacLachlan, Spains Empire in the New World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

Roman Catholicism

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Roman Catholicism

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Roman catholicism

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Roman catholicism. See catholicism.