Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Catholicism Returns To Dixie
THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: One hundred and fifty years after the war that devastated the Nation of Dixie, the economy of the Antebellum South is returning, even in the midsts of this terrible recession/depression. With this economic revival comes a call to look back to the antebellum heritage of Dixie and what it means for us today. Through it all, more evidence is mounting that the American Southeast (Dixie) is becoming the fastest growing region for Catholicism in the United States (read more here, here, here and here).
The Antebellum South was built almost exclusively on Western European Christianity. The only Pagans that existed were among the Native American tribes, many of whom voluntarily converted to Christianity eventually. The only Muslims that existed were among some of the slaves who were imported from Africa, but these gave way to Christianity within a generation or two. Of course, there are always a smattering of Jews in every culture, but they are always a tiny minority. Without question, Christianity created the dominant culture of the South, regardless of how well people practised it. The dominant form of Christianity in the Antebellum South was Anglican Protestantism (Protestant Episcopal Church USA), and if you investigate the trends of North American Anglican Protestantism in the late 1700s to early 1800s, you will find they were overwhelmingly Anglo-Catholic (or what many called "high church") in practice and liturgy. This "high church" Anglo-Catholic movement was practically invented by the Protestant Episcopal Church USA after the American Revolution, and later spread to England where it became known as the Oxford Movement. The English contributed to the intellectual side of Anglo-Catholicism, while the Americans contributed to the practical side of it. The mindset of "high church" Anglo-Catholicism is what many referred to as the “third way” — or an organic bridge between Protestantism and Catholicism. Church services were highly liturgical, mirroring the Catholic mass in almost every way, with subtle changes in the wording of prayers to fit traditional Protestant theology. Anglicans (Episcopalians) were sympathetic to Catholic sensibilities, and while their devotion to Mary and the Saints was not nearly as profound as among Catholics, it did nevertheless exist in some small forms. Visit any Episcopal Church of the time period, and this will be apparent in the iconography and architecture. This was the religion of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, as well as countless other Confederate founders.
Catholicism also played a significant role in the Antebellum South, especially in Louisiana, Texas and the urban portions of Atlanta, Charleston, Richmond and Baltimore. One simply cannot understand the Antebellum South without appreciating this religious influence on the culture of the period. Of course that doesn’t mean you have to agree with it, far from it, but you do have to understand it and appreciate it. The War of Southern Independence (what I would like to call the "Dixie-American War") brought with it radical changes in religion both during and after. Because of the horrors of battle, many soldiers and their families sought a religious message that offered them immediate comfort and a personal relationship with God. The evangelical message of the Baptists fit the bill for the time, and later (in the 20th century) the Pentecostals expanded on this. That’s not to say you can’t find the same message within Anglicanism and Catholicism, you can, but it shows that the Baptists and Pentecostals did a much better job marketing it. That is indisputable. After this evangelical awakening in Dixie, both Anglicanism and Catholicism virtually disappeared from the mainstream of Southern religion. This would remain the case until the early 21st century.
As we enter the 21st century, we are beginning to see a convergence of these two religious systems, especially in the South. The Anglo-Catholic wing of the Episcopal Church is moving back toward Catholicism as many of them take advantage of the pope’s ordinariate program. A large number of general Evangelicals, from various denominations, are converting to Catholicism as well. Meanwhile a growing number of Baptists have seen the advantages of practising Lent, and some congregations have formerly adopted the season starting with Ash Wednesday. There is also a small contingency of Pentecostals who have seen the advantages of Anglican liturgy, and have created for themselves the Charismatic-Episcopal Church. All of these movements are still in their infancy stage, but I see in them a great deal of hope, in that they recognise the advantages of both Evangelical and Catholic traditions, attempting to draw from the best of both worlds. I see something strikingly “Southern” in this mindset. This not only opens the door for renewal of Dixie's antebellum culture in a much grander form than ever previously existed, but it likewise paves a road forward toward greater ecumenical relations between Southern Christians and Rome. By that I mean authentic ecumenism which results in eventual doctrinal unity, not the phoney liberal ecumenism which just dreams of unity without any real substance.
As the system of Yankee and British capitalism implodes all around us, we are sure to see a resurgence in everything from micro-currencies, to sovereignty movements (including Dixie independence), to a resurgence in Distributist thinking. Catholicism basically rejects the Northern ideal of industrialism and materialism. This is most clearly seen in Pope Leo XIII encyclical “Rerum Novarum” which flat out rejects Yankee (and English) Capitalism and the growing Marxist (Socialist) theories of the time. In response, the pope proposed the remedy of a return to rural self-sufficiency and cooperative (instead of corporate) industry -- or Distributism -- which is a very Antebellum Southern ideal. Since then, all social encyclicals of the popes have followed this model.
When it comes to the issue of Catholicism in general, it is interesting to note that the Catholic Church in America seems to follow the cultural trends of the North and South. In the North, Catholicism is in trouble, as more Catholics embrace the liberal Yankee mentality of modernism and relativism ("Cafeteria Catholicism"), they move further and further away from Rome. Thus the Church is retreating in the North, as parishes are forced to close, parochial schools are shutting down, and dioceses are going bankrupt. This is not to mention the priest shortage in those regions. Meanwhile, the exact opposite is true in the South. Dioceses in the South are booming, as the prevailing culture in the South is more in line with traditional Catholic thinking. Instead of closing, new Catholic parishes are opening, and old ones are expanding with new building projects. Parochial schools are thriving in the South as well, just as they did in antebellum times. While priestly seminaries are busting at the seams, as well as convents and monasteries. Catholicism is finding a natural home in Dixie, just as it did before the War, and with the rise in Catholicism, the South will see the social teachings of the popes played out here, as rural independence and cooperative industry is encouraged by Catholic bishops and priests. There are of course bastions of liberal Catholicism in the South as well, but they are dying fast, as they have two things working against them, both in the renewal movement of Pope Benedict XVI and the prevailing Southern culture which is anti-liberal. In my opinion, Catholicism (authentic traditional Catholicism that is, not the Modernist version up North) will be the key to the cultural revival of the Antebellum South, and insofar as the convergence of Evangelicalism and Anglicanism goes, that will play a very big role for the South too.