Catholicism and Americanism (I)

The following text by Professor Miguel Ayuso comes from a congress organized in August 2012 by the Italian magazine Instaurare omnia in Christo. It was published in Italian, without notes, in the July-December 2012 issue of this magazine. And in Spanish, with notes, n. 511-512 (2013) of the Spanish magazine Verbo. This is the version we have translated into English.

1. Omnia instaurare in Christo

The title of this review, taken from St. Paul’s exhortation to the Christians of Ephesus (Eph 1:10) and chosen by St. Pius X as the motto of his pontificate, says it all. With regard to the social order, which is the specific subject of this review, St. Pius X himself elaborated on it in some famous paragraphs of his letter Notre Charge Apostolique, which remind us that Christian civilization has existed and continues to exist (in part) so that it is only a matter of establishing it and restoring it unceasingly, on its natural and divine foundations, against the renewed attacks of the revolution. 

For fifty years, this text of St. Pius X has been the epigraph of the magazine Verbo, which I have the honor of directing after the death of its principal inspirer, Juan Vallet de Goytisolo. There is therefore not only a deep but also an external harmony between Verbo and Instaurare. This has been made more concrete over the last twenty years by the frequent collaboration of the director of Instaurare, Professor Danilo Castellano, in the pages of Verbo, who has generously agreed to add my humble name to the editorial board of Instaurare.

You will understand, then, that it is a true honor, on the one hand, but also a due act, on the other, to participate in this meeting with which we reach our fortieth issue. It is not easy for a group of lay people, faithful to the doctrine of the Church, but without any mandate or organic or functional dependence on its hierarchy, and therefore without its administrative or financial support.

2. Initium doctrinae sit consideratio nominis

Let us begin, then, following the advice of the classics, by paying attention to the term Americanism. It is by no means univocal; on the contrary, it conceals a multiplicity of meanings. Of differing meanings, moreover.

In philological terms, Americanism is, first of all, a “word, phrase, phonetic, grammatical or semantic feature belonging to or coming from an indigenous language of the Americas”, as well as a “word, phrase, phonetic, grammatical or semantic feature peculiar to or coming from Spanish spoken in any country of the Americas” (1). If, instead of approaching it from Spanish, we approach it from English, it is equally useful, and this is what English dictionaries include, as “a word, phrase, or linguistic feature that is especially characteristic of the English spoken and written in the United States”.

Second, there is a theological use of the term. This was forged in the last third of the nineteenth century and acquired its meaning with two documents of Pope Leo XIII: the encyclical Longinqua Oceani (1895) and the letter Testem Benevolentiae (1899), addressed to Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, in which the errors of Americanism were condemned (2). Errors of a theological order, but with relevant political and social repercussions that we will have to reflect on later.

From a philosophical point of view, this name was also given to the project developed in the twentieth century of elaborating a distinct philosophy for Hispanic America (generally referred to as “Latin America” by those who participate in it), which reflected, among other things, on a “national or continental identity” (3).

In the face of these three more or less precise meanings, there is a fourth, more diffuse one, which, although it seems to be limited to a purely pious devotion to the United States, immediately transcends such reasonable – for Americans – limits, settling right at the heart of the ideology, that is, more emotional and rationally incomprehensible. And again, with a clear political correlate.

In what follows, and taking care not to insist on matters that Professor Rao will deal with later, we will look at some presuppositions of American political culture and recall the foundations of its political constitution. Finally, we will examine its unique conception of secularism.


(To be continued)


(1) REAL ACADEMIA ESPAÑOLA, Diccionario de la Lengua Española, 22nd ed., Madrid, 2011, “americanismo”. The Royal Academy itself, together with the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language, has a specific Dictionary of Americanisms, Madrid, 2010.

(2) The tendency of historians has long been to disdain papal intervention, which would have been produced out of apprehension, since the heresy condemned either did not exist or had no weight in American Catholicism. As an example of this position, see the canonical book by Thomas MCAVOY, The Great Crisis in American Catholic History (1895-1900), Chicago, Henry Regnery, 1957. More problematic, though not entirely convincing, is the approach of Thomas E. WOODS, The Church Against Modernity: Catholic Intellectuals and the Progressive Era, New York, Columbia University Press, 2004. For a view that I believe to be correct, see John C. RAO, Americanism and the collapse of the Church in the United States, Charlotte, Tan Books, 1994. The first edition was published in 1984.

(3) Cf. for example, the synthesis of Augusto SALAZAR BONDY, ¿Existe una filosofía de nuestra América?, 15th edition, Mexico City, Siglo XXI editores, 2001. The first edition dates from 1968.

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