Friday, October 18, 2013

BkRev: Weigel's Evangelical Catholicism

George Weigel, Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church, New York, Basic Books, 2013, 291 pages

Who is George Weigel? The author, born 1951, is a lifetime Catholic. He studied in Catholic schools. He taught theology in a Catholic seminary. He has written seventeen books, beginning in the mid-1980s. All of the books are about Catholicism, the Catholic movement, or applications of Catholicism to subjects such as "just war" theory. 

George Weigel is not a recluse. After teaching, he became a scholar-in-residence at the World Without War Council of Greater Seattle, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the founding president of the James Madison Foundation, a chairman of Catholic studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and a co-signer of the "[Protestant] Evangelicals and Catholics Together" document in 1994.[1] George Weigel is thus an activist, specifically an intellectual activist, one who applies the fundamental principles of his worldview to current problems.

To whom is Weigel writing in this book? In Evangelical Catholicism, Weigel writes to Catholics interested in reforming the Church to make the whole movement focused on identifying the message of Christ and then taking that message to the world. The Catholics he writes to, however, are not thoroughly educated in Catholicism. He explains his terms, especially those terms he draws from history. He educates as he proceeds. His instruction, however, is "in-line," that is, presented in small bites as he presents his main argument.

Most of all, Weigel is talking to intellectuals. In Ch. 11, he speaks about reforming professional intellectuals in the Church; examples are theologians teaching in seminaries and universities. However, Weigel's approach throughout the book is geared to intellectually inclined Catholics in all areas of the Church. It is they who will advocate reform and carry it through into action. Weigel is a strong supporter of the principle that ideas cause human actions. See, for example, pp. 173-174, for Weigel's brief discussion of the destructive effects of "bad theology" on even the most dedicated Catholics.

What is the purpose of the book? Weigel wants to reform the Catholic Church, that is, the whole movement of Catholics. He wants the Church to be focused on what Jesus asked his followers to do: Spread the "good news" (gospel) of Jesus to the entire world. To do that effectively, the Church must be evangelical, that is, geared for propagating the gospel. Changing the Church will require "deep" reform, which means reform at every level of the Church and down to fundamental principles of the Church.

What are the subject, theme, and structure of the book? Weigel is a writer's writer. His table of contents is not merely a listing of headings. It is an outline of the book, showing part, chapter, and section headings.

The overall structure of the book is simple. The book has two parts. The first part presents Weigel's view of the reform that the Catholic Church has been supporting for 125 years and is still undergoing, though haltingly and without clarity and consensus. (p. 2) The essence of the reform is reaching back to the time of Jesus, when he charged his followers with the duty of following his commands, including evangelism. In its reform, the Church should be guided by two values, Weigel says. The first is the truths which God revealed, and the second is the mission of spreading Christianity. (p. 92)

The second part of the book suggests ways for Catholics to reform the Church. Weigel offers reforms for each segment of the organized Catholic movement—from the pope down to the great mass of lay Catholics around the world. Weigel does not, however, begin with the top or bottom but with the middle of the hierarchy, the bishops. They, Weigel says (for example, pp. 70, 79, 111-112) are the individuals in the Church who are most directly responsible for the Church in each geographic area (a bishopric, also called diocese).

Weigel next presents reforms for: priests (administered by bishops), the liturgy (the ceremonial rituals), "consecrated" Catholics (nuns, monks, friars), "lay" Catholics, intellectuals, the various individuals who advocate the Church's "public policies," and the papacy (the pope, the College of Cardinals, and the Roman Curia, who are the advisors to the pope).

How does this book relate to the war between reason and mysticism in the USA today? In the perspective of this weblog, the important point about the book is that an experienced, popular, Catholic intellectual is providing a blueprint for improving the Catholic movement's ability to spread mysticism—in the forms of faith, revelation, and holy scripture. His blueprint is educational and orderly, making it the sort of document that can influence other mystics to take action to spread their ideas. His audience includes professional intellectuals, but he appeals mainly to nonprofessional intellectualizers who are transmitters of ideas to the broadest audience, the man in the street. 

Should advocates of reason read this book? I recommend this book only to a few readers, those who are activist advocates of reason and who want to complete their portrait of the Catholic movement—its history, its present state, and its ongoing trends—by looking closely at one influential Catholic intellectual's program of reform to make the Church more evangelical.

For a start on the history of the Catholic movement in the USA, see: Aug. 5, 2013, "BkRev: O'Toole's The Faithful, and March 30, 2013, "BkRev: Carroll's The New Faithful,

For a start on the present state of the Catholic movement in the USA, see: Aug. 25, 2013, "BkRev: Shaw's American Church,"

For a start on the ongoing trends of the Catholic movement around the world, and their effect on Catholicism in the USA, see: Sept. 25, 2013, "BkRev: The Future Church,"

Burgess Laughlin
Author of The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described here:

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome all pertinent comments and questions from readers who follow my strict rules of etiquette. I will not publish improper comments. If your screen name is not your first and last real name, be sure to include your name -- first and last -- in the body of your comment. Example acceptable forms of a name are: Burgess Laughlin; B. Laughlin; and Burgess L. or something similar that would be recognizable. The burden is on you to identify yourself.