We have come to the final part of this reflection. In the first five installments, we examined the tendencies that constitute what Pope Leo XIII called Americanism. While we should not conclude that holding only one or two of these tendencies constitutes Americanism (a single tendency could apply to many other errors and heresies); to possess all of them at once is the definition of Americanism.

We have already examined the ways American Traditionalists display each of these tendencies. Notice how they align with Pope Leo’s observations.:

  • Americanists censor magisterial teaching to better conform to both the spirit of the age and American Protestantism. American Traditionalists censor magisterial teaching to better conform to the spirit of the age in the form of American conservatism and the Republican Party, and to the American Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who shape America’s conservative culture.
  • Americanists disregard the Church’s guidance on matters of evangelization. American Traditionalists disregard the Church’s call to the New Evangelization.
  • Americanists confound license with liberty and show “passion for discussing and pouring contempt upon any possible subject, the assumed right to hold whatever opinions one pleases upon any subject and to set them forth in print to the world…”[1] American Traditionalists have displayed similar passion in critiquing the pontificate of Pope Francis.
  • Americanists disregard the necessity of the external teaching authority of the pope and the Church, and they are overconfident in their ability to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit. American Traditionalists show disregard for the teaching authority of the living Magisterium and discern for themselves what they believe is true doctrine and the will of God.
  • Americanists hold contempt for religious vows, because they believe “they limit the bounds of human liberty” and “are more suitable to weak than to strong minds.”[2] American Traditionalists hold contempt for religious submission to the pope for the same reasons.
  • Americanists exhibit a Pelagian attitude toward activity, elevating it above contemplation. American Traditionalists exhibit the New Pelagianism defined by Pope Francis.[3]

This comparison would not be compelling if American Traditionalists shared only some of the Americanist tendencies. After all, some Americanist tendencies apply to Traditionalists in general, not only to those in America. In Europe, especially, it is not hard to find opponents of the pope. But resistance to Pope Francis has taken on different characteristics in different nations, and Traditionalism has found fertile ground abroad for very different reasons than it has in America. What is remarkable, is that, in the U.S., there is no tendency of Americanism which American Traditionalists do not also possess in their own fashion.

Traditionalism has been able to flourish in America precisely because there was already strong compatibility between Traditionalism and Americanism. Traditionalism in America has also been infused with peculiarly Americanist tendencies that are not common to all Traditionalists, such as concessions to American Protestantism. Only in the U.S. do Traditionalists display all of the Americanist tendencies simultaneously.

Therefore, the striking similarities between Americanism as described by Pope Leo XIII and contemporary Traditionalism shed light on American Traditionalism. American Traditionalism, though not all Traditionalism, is, undoubtedly, a new form of the old Americanist heresy: the marriage of Americanism and Traditionalism.

The Remedy is Unity with Rome

Throughout Testem benevolentiae, Pope Leo XIII repeatedly and forcefully encourages unity with Rome as the alternative to Americanism.

Wherefore, if anybody wishes to be considered a real Catholic, he ought to be able to say from his heart the selfsame words which Jerome addressed to Pope Damasus: “I, acknowledging no other leader than Christ, am bound in fellowship with Your Holiness; that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that the church was built upon him as its rock, and that whosoever gathereth not with you, scattereth.”[4]

Note that Pope Leo says the person who can say he is gathering with the pope “from his heart” is the “real Catholic.” Americans reading this might wonder how many people in this country match Pope Leo’s description of a “real Catholic.” How many can say from the heart that they gathered with both Benedict XVI and Francis in a spirit of fellowship?

I believe many people in the U.S. already do. Their voices are not always loud, nor are they a majority, but they exist. I also believe many more would love and follow every Pope (whomever he may be) and submit to all the teachings of the Church, if only they knew such a way existed. Instead, liberal Catholics who are united with the Democratic Party, or conservative Catholics and Traditionalists who are united with the Republican Party, are often viewed as the only options for the faithful in America. Good people align themselves with ideological camps because they don’t know of any other way. Often, they become so disgusted by one side that they flee to the other. Sometimes they simply leave the Church.

Presenting authentic Catholicism, which is, as Pope Leo wrote, wholly united to the pope, may be a pathway for the New Evangelization in America. Americans must be shown that they can become detached from ideology and rise above partisanship to simply follow Christ in His Church with authentic filial love for the pope. The enthusiasm shown by so many for Saint John Paul II is perhaps a good model. In this way, the faithful could rediscover authentic Catholic spirituality, which is focused on the Divine Persons and the sacraments, committed to ecclesial unity, reliant on grace and mercy, tending towards contemplation, and characterized by joy, simplicity, and inner peace in both the liturgy and private prayer. We can rediscover authentic Catholic social justice, the fruit of this spirituality, which defends all life: the unborn and the migrant, the poor, the worker, the prisoner, the elderly, the family, the environment. Until we do, Pope Leo’s prediction will remain fulfilled: that the Church in America would be “different from what it is in the rest of the world.”[5]

[1] Pope Leo XIII, Letter Testem benevolentiae (January 22, 1899) At Holy See. https://www.papalencyclicals.net/leo13/l13teste.htm.

The original Latin can be found here: http://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/la/letters/documents/hf_l-xiii_let_18990122_testem-benevolentiae.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, 57-58.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

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Patrick is a layman who lives in North Carolina with his wife and children. He holds a bachelor’s degree in theology from Belmont Abbey College and a master’s degree in theology and Christian ministry from Franciscan University of Steubenville.

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