Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Archbishop Chaput reviews Gregory's "Unintended Reformation"

At Public Discourse (link).  The review is called "Life in the Kingdom of Whatever" and, unlike some reviews of and reactions to Prof. Gregory's book that I've read, it reflects clearly the author's effort to identify correctly and engage closely the author's arguments.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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I bought a copy of "The Unintended Reformation" a few weeks ago and look forward to reading it less now that I have read Archbishop Chaput's review. It sounds like the subtitle might rather have been "How the Catholic Church Lost Control over Human Thought and Everything Else Important." As I remarked elsewhere, Archbishop Chaput seems to blame the Reformation for the poor choices Catholics are allegedly faced with in today's election, but it seems to me there would be no United States of American had it not been for the Reformation and the Enlightenment.

Perhaps some Catholic author of fiction who laments the Reformation and the Enlightenment should write an alternate history in which they never happened to show us how much better off we would all be.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 6, 2012 2:58:31 PM

David, I'm not sure why you would think, from the review, that your subtitle would fit the book. In any event, it doesn't. Anyway, read the book and see!

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Nov 6, 2012 3:00:08 PM


I hope someone more knowledgeable than I am will comment. (Not that you aren't more knowledgeable than I am!) I can understand books that purport to show how we got from any given time in the past (be it 50 years or 500) to where we are now, but I don't quite understand books that purport to say (as I take it The Unintended Reformation does) this is were things went OFF TRACK 500 years ago, and look how wrong everything has been since then. It implies an ability to discount the past 500 years as if one could somehow get outside of them and imagine things as they should have been. It implies the ability to rise above everything one was taught and "objectively" reevaluate it. And it seems to me to imply that if one can see where things went wrong 500 years ago, one can somehow bring things back onto the correct course. To resort to a cliche, it somehow sounds like an effort to put the genie back in the bottle. As I said, you can hardly claim American voters have such poor choices in elections because of the Reformation and the Enlightenment when there would be nothing resembling the United States if there had been no Reformation and Enlightenment.

Aren't the Catholic Bishops today trumpeting the importance of the First Amendment and religious freedom when it was only during Vatican II that the idea of religious freedom was embraced by the Catholic Church? And isn't the United States founded on principles that those who lament the Reformation and the Enlightenment believe are misguided?

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 6, 2012 5:52:30 PM

Sadly, Gregory accepts without question the blackening of Duns Scotus' reputation by contemporary theologians. One might wish a capuchin would know better. But as is always the case, what is important is the now. The narrative is just dressing.

Posted by: lee faber | Nov 6, 2012 11:49:04 PM

I do think there is a reasonable argument about how the reformation took us down a bad path, but I claim such a path has been laid out by Catholicism's relationship ignomious to secular power. Catholicism was overly friendly in many ways to secular power, ignoring its usury laws, promoting slavery, oppressive colonialism, and indecent treatment of native populations in America. These were the Catholics. Also, one can think of the indecency of Catholic countries (with approbation of the Vatican) of South and Central American countries during the 1970's and 1980's. Catholic thought and leadership was not friendly to the side of politcallly oppressed in Argentina.

The only problem with Chaput's historic criticism is his conservative bent. He never can see any other side and develop the opposing argument's clear reflection of truth. An example is his view of the ascendancy of atheistic rationalism in political discourse and itsnhostility to faith. He seems to ignore the backlashing consequences of the Moral Majority and the 1980's as having any directive impact of the consequences of this reactionary atheistic trend (which merely uses the tools and the tone of the Evangelical Right of the 1980's). As such, I have trouble reading this extremely man without immediately looking at what he refuses to tell us. His analysis seems willfully blind.

Posted by: Dan C | Nov 7, 2012 12:20:17 AM

I haven't read Gregory's book. I did read Abp. Chaput's review, and he certainly doesn't whitewash the Catholic Church of any period, whether the Middle Ages or since. I do have a couple of questions, which can only be questions (because I haven't read the Gregory book).

(1) I understand how one can argue that "sola scriptura" led to individualism. But I don't really get the argument (if one is being made) that the loss of other elements of Catholic doctrine--like the real presence in the Eurcharist, the sacramental view of life, etc.--led to this result.

(2) I do overlap a bit, I think, with one of David Nickol's questions, which is: can we really say something like "the Reformation led to all this" without dramatically oversimplyifying, and without making questionable "but for" claims? Even if the medieval Church had cleaned up its act, and the Reformation hadn't happened, wouldn't there likely have been some other movement that would have emphasized human individuality and to which the Church would have had to react? The development of printing, the consequent spread of books, the general development of nations outside the temporal orbit of the Church--as well as the general human impulse toward individuality--may well have led in roughly the same direction, although obviously with some different configuration of results. How many secular Enlightenment thinkers came our of Catholic societies: would none of that intellectual rebellion against clerical teaching have happened without the Reformation?

Part of my question #2 is (without getting all Marxist) whether theological/intellectual history is enough to provide a "but for" explanation for such a fundamental, centuries-long set of changes. Part of it is whether, even if theology/intellectual history can explain it, the Reformation itself can really fill the role of "but for" cause ("but for the Reformation, all of this wouldn't have happened").

Posted by: Tom Berg | Nov 7, 2012 1:07:14 AM

I suppose if one wants to begin a discussion on the effects of secular humanism in the History of Mankind, you should probably begin in The Beginning, when Adam and Eve, believing that apart from The Wisdom of God, they could declare what is Good and what is evil, no longer clothed in The Word of God, found themselves naked.

Posted by: N.D. | Nov 7, 2012 8:28:47 AM

With all due respect for Galileo, in this Year of Faith, why not put the whole Galileo affair to rest, for, although it may be true that the Earth does move in a Universe that appears to be expanding, the Earth can not be moved, nor can it be relocated.

God Has placed the Earth in the perfect location because, from The Beginning, it Has been His intention, to affirm and sustain Human Life.

Posted by: N.D. | Nov 7, 2012 10:25:08 AM

I think power politics is the fruit of the Tree, not the Reformation. While such may have yielded our current state, it is hard to suggest that Catholic-dominated pre-Reformation societies were particularly stellar moral beacons, or, actually, had even actual functional believers.

Posted by: Dan C | Nov 7, 2012 1:07:35 PM

The fruit of the Reformation, like The East-West Schism, is division, a result of the sin of pride, for Christ was baptized into His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and promised to remain with His Church until the end of Time. Without His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church to guard The Deposit of Faith, there can be no final authority to speak for Christ. Without a final authority, there can be no cohesiveness of belief, without a cohesiveness of belief, we can not challenge the issues of the Day in light of our Christian Faith, which is why allowing those who have left Christ's Church spiritually, to remain within His Church physically, causing chaos and confusion, while making it appear that there is more than one Magisterium in The Catholic Church, is a scandal to Christ, and The Church He Has Founded. The Charitable anathema existed before the false aggiornamento of Vatican II, for the sake of Christ, His Church, all those who will come to believe, and that person who, like all prodigal sons and daughters, have separated themselves from The One Word of God, and hopefully, will return to The Fold.

Posted by: N.D. | Nov 8, 2012 10:55:20 AM