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Defining terms – what is the Americanist heresy? July 23, 2013

Posted by Tantumblogo in abdication of duty, Basics, catachesis, disaster, episcopate, error, foolishness, General Catholic, Papa, sadness, scandals, secularism, self-serving, Society.

Even though the Americanist heresy that was identified and condemned by Pope Leo XIII in 1899 was directed at these United States, it is amazing how few Catholics have any idea what the heresy means, how it affected the Church, and whether they should be on the lookout for Americanists.  I know I had never heard of this heresy, even after years of studying the Faith, until a couple years ago.  Certainly, it is almost totally ignored in this country, GibbonsJameswhich shows that the change of heart Pope Leo XIII (how can he not be at least a venerable?  I can tell you, it has much to do with this declaration of heresy) desired has not been forthcoming.

Pope Leo XIII defined Americanism in his 1899 apostolic letter Testem Benevolentiae.  The document was addressed specifically – by name! – to Baltimore’s Cardinal James Gibbons, certainly the arch-Americanist of his time, and possibly ever.  Gibbons tried to block the letter’s publication, but failed. As an aside, it is interesting to note that Baltimore – prior to 1899 always viewed as the US’s primatial see, has never had a bishop gain a red hat since Gibbons, and has been shunted into relative obscurity, after nearly 200 years as the nation’s most important see.  Popes have interesting ways of working, even 110 years after the fact.

In Testem Benevolentiae, Pope Leo identifies certain doctrines (his word) which it promotes.  These include:

  • Christian perfection can be attained without external spiritual guidance (revived Pelagianism, and certainly very ecumenical, very “universal salvationist”)
  • natural virtues are superior to supernatural ones and should be extolled over them. And active virtues like social justice are superior to “passive” ones like prayer, contemplation, etc
  • Religious vows are out of ken with the times in which we live because they limit human liberty
  • traditional methods of evangelization should be replaced with new ones

Pope Leo XIII condemned all the above as counter to the Faith and destructive of both the good of the Church and souls.  Certainly, all are very grave pope-leo-xiiiproblems. Is it not obvious that the first laid the foundations for the “fundamental option,” or universal salvation theories of today and the last several decades?  By stating that Christian perfection can be achieved of man’s own volition, without the need for guidance from Church or priest, an essentially protestant position is adopted. And from the belief that man can achieve perfection on his own, it’s not a very far walk to claim that all can achieve perfection, and thus all are saved.  The notion that perfection can be attained on one’s own, absent Sacraments, absent the Church, is an essentially protestant claim.  The Church in the US has never escaped the yawning shadow of the protestant/enlightenment edifice on which this country was built.

Once again, protestants, especially in this country, would tend to find the 2nd and 3rd items listed above congenial to their outlook. The ecumenical dimensions of this emphasis on natural, active virtues is obvious.  Protestants don’t stress living lives of deep contemplation and regimented prayer apart from the world.  And, it is those more supernatural virtues that especially highlight the differences between protestant and Catholic belief.  Feeding the poor is a virtue protestants and Catholics share, while physical mortification is something almost unheard of among protestants, at least towards supernatural ends.

Leo_XIII-240x300The first three of course feed into the last – if you’re going to suddenly believe that anyone can work themselves to salvation (again, straight up Pelagianism), and radically de-stress supernatural virtues while overemphasizing natural ones, it’s going to take a heavy toll on the practice of the Faith.  In essence, the Americanists – which included Gibbons but also men like John Keane and Denis O’Connell (all Irish) – believed that the evangelization of a protestant nation suspicious of “undemocratic” Catholicism and shameless Popery would be difficult, perhaps too difficult.  So, they proposed the “Americanization” of the Faith as a means to avoid arousing protestant ire at the Church – an ire which had been all too real, and often violent, throughout the history of the Church in this country. The “undemocratic” beliefs, like the Real Presence, the Social Reign of Christ the King, and the necessity of the Church for salvation, would “have to” be ignored, because they cut against the very core of the “enlightened” beliefs on which this country was founded.  And that is why, even today, such beliefs are almost never taught to Catholics, and why the bishops of this country make the HHS mandate an issue of “religious liberty,” rather than what it really is, a full frontal assault by the same secular pagans who have been waging unremitting war against the rights of the Church, and Her very existence, for over 200 years.

Tomorrow, God willing, I will examine the Americanist heresy from the standpoint of the last 100 years, and especially the last 50, in the entire Church.



1. Chad Arneson - July 23, 2013

This is excellent. When you get time, would you mind emailing me?

2. Agellius - July 23, 2013

Well done. I’m curious, where is that last picture from? Does it depict anyone in particular?


tantamergo - July 26, 2013

Pope Paul VI.

3. The Pope said……. | A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics - July 23, 2013

[…] even providential, that I would find this post from CMR, on this subject, on the same day I posted this!  Does what the Pope said have any relation to that post?  Could it have something to do with […]

4. james jordan - July 23, 2013

“Christian perfection can be attained without external spiritual guidance…”

Most priests, pastors, preachers will hinder you from moral advance with their negative “you can’t do it” crap, so I agree, although I wouldn’t use the term “perfection.”

“natural virtues are superior to supernatural ones and should be extolled over them. And active virtues like social justice are superior to ‘passive’ ones like prayer, contemplation, etc”

I hate the phrase social justice, but negative moral virtues like not committing adultery, not smoking, not drinking, do trump ceremonial virtues like prayer. AMEN!

“Religious vows are out of ken with the times in which we live because they limit human liberty”

Jesus said “swear not at all” — he outlawed vows. Vows are so Old Testament.

“traditional methods of evangelization should be replaced with new ones”

If you mean the preaching of original sin and other similar hogwash should be got rid of, then AMEN!

tantamergo - July 23, 2013

Original sin: hogwash? You just wiped out the need for the Incarnation, and the entire basis of the Faith.

Impressive, full on apostasy in the first comment.

james jordan - July 24, 2013

Its amazing how Jesus himself never mentions what to moron is the very purpose of his coming. Where does he say “I am come to undo original sin”? That’s all Pauly come lately. Define Jesus’ mission by the way Jesus himself defines it and you won’t run into all these problems.

tantamergo - July 24, 2013

Oh, yes, I forgot about you. The “St. Paul as arch-arch-heretic” guy.

That won’t play here. Go sell Gnosticism somewhere else.

5. TG - July 24, 2013

“Jesus said “swear not at all” — he outlawed vows. Vows are so Old Testament.” – so why did Jesus say what God has joined no man can separate -basically saying marriage is a vow with God and it cannot be broken.
“Pope Leo XIII (how can he not be at least a venerable?” – I agree. He had a vision of what was going to happen to the church and wrote the St. Michael prayer. He was a great pope.

6. Boko - July 24, 2013

William Cardinal Keeler.

David - July 24, 2013

I haven’t heard too many good things about Cardinal Keeler either. I’ve also heard that Keeler’s predecessor, Archbishop Borders, was pretty “liberal”. I still don’t know if St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore (no, this is NOT the same place at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmittsburg) has been cleaned out. Some dioceses have gotten smart and stopped sending seminarians there (thank you Bishop Burbidge from Raleigh).

I sure hope that Archbishop Edwin O’Brien (by the way, O’Brien was Archbishop of Baltimore for a short time after Keeler retired, and O’Brien was elevated to Cardinal not long ago and is now Grand Master of the Holy Sepulchre. IMHO, I think O’Brien was one of the better bishops, particularly when he was at the helm of the Archdiocese for the Military Services. However, I hope both O’Brien and now Archbishop Lori took steps to facilitate cleanout at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.

I do know that when O’Brien was Archbishop, he spoke out against same-sex marriage, and had private meetings concerning the life issues with Governor Martin O’ Malley, who unfortunately is about as Catholyc as Nancy Pelosi.

I would have liked to have seen Archbishop Lori show more discipline on a priest who was in the news last fall. However, I do know that Lori’s former diocese (Bridgeport, Connecticut) was one diocese with a reputation for orthodoxy and an abundance of vocations.

7. Phlogiston - July 24, 2013

I find it odd that this encyclical does not appear to be available on the vatican website (vatican.va) although many other of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclicals and apostolic letters are.

tantamergo - July 24, 2013

Yah, go figure. It may not be in English, not sure of other languages. But searching in Latin doesn’t return anything from vatican.va.

8. Americanism and the Church universal | A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics - July 24, 2013

[…] said yesterday that I would follow up on the post that defined the Americanist heresy.  In that post, I noted that Pope Leo XIII identified certain doctrines which defined the […]

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