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The dangerous and false dichotomies of George Weigel December 10, 2013

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, blogfoolery, Christendom, disconcerting, error, foolishness, General Catholic, sadness, scandals, secularism, self-serving, shocking, the return.

I’m sure George Weigel needs no introduction to my readers.  It is amazing that a man whose claim to fame was writing a middling and often uncritical biography of Pope John Paul II now seems to arrogate to himself some leadership role in defining the “new evangelization.”  In fact, Weigel’s prescriptions have always seemed to me like a sad mish-mash of American fundamentalist protestantism with a weak sacramental theology dumped on top.  The great Boniface at Unam Sanctam Catholicam has also examined Weigel’s proposed “evanglical Catholicism” and found it not just wanting, but founded on false premises from the beginning.  The portion quoted below is part of a longer piece that shows that the feared and dreaded Catholic “integralism” (an epithet used to tar faithful Catholics) is really nothing more than Catholicism as it always was.  Boniface argues persuasively that those who try to present Vatican II as an absolutely necessary break point in the Church’s history are forced to attempt to discredit the pre-conciliar Church, because if Vatican II was so great, obviously something had to be very much wrong before the Council.  I highly encourage reading the whole thing.

Boniface on Weigel:

A prime example of this tendency is Mr. George Weigel, who has consistently been trumpeting the rise of what he calls “evangelical Catholicism”, which he places as a middle road between liberal progressivism and “restorationist” integralism.   [heretofore known as simply being Catholic] Never mind that all authentic Catholicism has always been evangelical! Weigel, taking the distinction between binding and customary traditions much too far, proposes that “What can be changed in the Church must be changed” and sees only a small core of fundamental teachings, aspects which he considers part of the Church’s “constitution”, which should not be changed.  [This is where I have a huge problem with Weigel. He is an Americanist.  He thinks the good ‘ol USA is the greatest country in the history of ever, and the very ideal form of government for the Church to cooperate with.  He is very wrong, of course. But he seems at times to have gone so far as to try to force the American governmental model on the Church, reducing the core beliefs of the Church to something like the US Constitution, and the rest just so much frippery. Weigel’s proposals seem as radical as anything most of the modernist set has ever produced, to me.]  The rest is up for grabs. [1] He mocks the pre-Vatican II doctrinal conservatism of such prelates as Cardinal Ottaviani, whom he uncharitably compares to Obama HHS Director Kathleen Sebelius [2]. He scoffs at the idea that traditional Catholicism could have anything to offer the modern world, saying that “The challenge also won’t be met by Catholic traditionalists retreating into auto-constructed catacombs.” [3]  [I have to wonder whether Weigel is blind. Can he not read the signs of the times?]

Central to Weigel’s thought is the presumption that Catholicism consists of two fundamental parts: a central core of eternal, non-changeable elements, which Weigel calls the Church’s “constitution”, and an outer core of practices, theories and cultural trappings which are time-bound and subject to change. Weigel creates a dichotomy between a liberal progressivism that seeks to change the Church’s fundamental ‘constitution’ and a “neo-triumphalist restorationism”, which insists on strictly maintaining the outer core of the Church’s cultural trappings. Progessivism thus denies authority where it exists, while “restorationism” creates authority where it does not exist. The true Catholic, the “evangelical Catholic”, must walk the via media between these two extremes. [First of all, the notion that there are only “two ways” in the Church right now – progressive heresy or integralist restorationism, is ludicrous.  There are all kinds of intermediate currents, and even people who possess aspects of both extremes.  The simplicity in this argument is just silly.  And it’s incredibly wrong-headed, for as Boniface shows, so-called “integralism” is nothing more than Catholicism as it was believed and practiced for many, many centuries.  And in reality, Weigel has absorbed so many progressive/modernist beliefs through his rampant Americanism that his middle way would have been considered incredibly radical and dangerous only a few decades ago.]

We, of course, do not deny that the Church is a composite of binding and non-binding traditions and teachings; there is a hierarchy of truth, and not all teachings and practices are of the same authority. But what we do deny is that the central and the ephemeral, the necessary and the disposable, can be sorted out so neatly and with such ease. In fact, the whole tragedy of the post-Conciliar period was a vast underestimation of the degrees to which these ‘secondary’ or ephemeral aspects of Catholicism (music, architecture, etc.) were actually deeply bound up with substance of the faith itself. Weigel, who states boldly that “What can be changed in the Church must be changed”, believes that what is central and what is secondary are so easily distinguished that one can partition them up with a fair degree of confidence. The difference between “Big T” and “Small T” tradition is not just a distinction but a chasm, and the “Small T” tradition can be discarded at will.  [And I’ll agree with Boniface again, ALL the wreckage caused in the Church in the past 50 years has occurred without one formal change of Doctrine, which we know is impossible.  If so much damage can be done with only the changes made to “tradition” thus far, what Weigel proposes is an entirely new religion, a culturally convenient (but theologically and salvifically deranged) mashup of neo-conservative Catholicism and protestant fundamentalism.]

What Weigel and the others of his kind have forgotten is that the Church is fundamentally understood as a Body, and in a Body, there is nothing extrinsic. Sure, there are members of more or less centrality. A man can still live with no fingers, but he cannot live with no head. Yet, if we were to propose chopping all a man’s fingers off on the premise that they were “not necessary” for his survival, would we not be foolish to expect the fingerless man to do the same things he could before?   And when we found, to our consternation, that the fingerless man could not write, play music, or do many of the things he could before we chopped his members off, would we not be even more foolish to suggest the remedy was to further dismember him by chopping off his feet, ears, nose, and anything else not strictly “necessary” on the premise that what can be discarded in the Body ought to be? Yet this is precisely the folly Weigel and those who fail to understand the Church as a Body find themselves in[And Weigel and his ilk would be just the type to express shock when the fingerless man starved to death for want of an ability to feed himself.] 

————End Quote———–

Great stuff, as always, from Boniface.  Boniface goes on to show that the dreaded “integralism” so denigrated by Weigel was nothing more than an epithet developed by modernist heretics to bash Catholics in the early 20th century.  Weigel’s free use of this term would seem to point to a rather shocking lack of knowledge of Church history.

Boniface’s post closes with some background on the great American theologian Fr. Joseph Clifford Fenton and his deconstruction of the “integralist” slur. Weigel would do well to research Fenton and his works.  The very things Weigel claims he wants – a culturally relevant and influential Church that is growing and attracting new members – is shown by Fenton (as it has been by so many others) to be none other than that good old fashioned Catholicism the Church practiced for 1900+ years.  

We don’t need new programs, or agendas designed to sell books.  We just need to practice the Faith as it was handed down to us.  

That, and nothing more, is Catholicism.


1. TG - December 10, 2013

There is something about Weigel that rubs me the wrong way. Agree with your comments. I can’t stand that he’s always on EWTN.

2. Lorra - December 10, 2013

Weigel isn’t interested in what the late and great Father Joseph Clifford Fenton has to say. Those days are passe. We now belong to a with-it and hip Church.

3. Codgitator (Cadgertator) - December 11, 2013

Yes, I admit, the euphoria these days about “Evangelical Catholicism” completely sets my teeth on edge, not the least because I have seen it promoted as the only viable path forward now that “Tridentine Catholicism is dead.” False dichotomies seem to be the order of the day, with no less a model than Pope Francis on many occasions.

4. gc5341 - December 11, 2013

George Weigel speaks with a condescending arrogance. EWTN might be giving him a large platform but Weigel’s positions don’t seem to have roots. In a few years he will be marginalized if not forgotten.

5. St. Benedict's Thistle - December 11, 2013

Having come from a mish-mash of evangelical/charismatic protestantism, I can say that I am quite familiar with Mr. Weigel’s ideas. One need only visit the evangelical protestant sect down the street to hear the exact same thing. I became a Catholic, in part, because I saw the errors of such ideas. Tragic to see them being advanced within the Church. And gc5341 is correct, in a few years this latest ‘lio’ will be marginalized and hopefully forgotten.

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