Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Catholic liturgical patriotism in the early Republic

One of the important religious developments in the early American Republic involved the rapid embrace of Catholics by many of the Founding Fathers. While many of the Founders remained personally hostile to Roman Catholicism -- John Adams and Thomas Jefferson certainly spring to mind -- in the public square the federal government and most state governments observed an even-handed and tolerant attitude towards the formerly despised religion. Part of this embrace was fueled by French support for Americans during the Revolution, part was fueled by the outstanding efforts of Catholic patriots to support the Cause during the war, and part was fueled by the idea of non-establishment that took root after the ratification of the current Constitution and the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

In addition to this embrace of Catholics, there was an embrace by Catholics of the new Republic. Freed from the legal disabilities and overt persecution that many Catholics had experienced in colonial America, the (then) tiny Catholic Church in America quickly adopted a very positive and patriotic attitude towards the new government. Nowhere can this embrace of robust patriotism be seen better than in the life and work of John Carroll (1735-1815), the first Roman Catholic bishop appointed in the United States. In 1791, while Carroll was Bishop of Baltimore (effectively the bishop of the entire United States as the diocese at that time constituted the entire country), he composed this prayer, which he ordered prayed in all parishes throughout the diocese after each Mass on Sundays:

We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.

We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope N., the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, N., all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.

We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance. To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen.
While not technically a formal part of the Catholic liturgy in the United States, its repition by each congregation after Sunday Mass resulted in it being a critical part of the Sunday worship experience of Catholics throughout the country. This prayer helped to both express and reinforce the patriotic feelings of Catholics in the new Republic. This in turn helped to cement a commitment to patriotism within the Catholic Church in America, a strong patriotism that helped to countered slanderous allegations of dual loyalty hurled at Catholics by nativists and other anti-Catholics all the way up to the election of JFK to the presidency.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Fascinating, Mark. I just ran across similar stuff the other day and it's in my posting queue.

Once the French papists were allies of the revolution, Gen. Washington even forbade the troops observing the anti-Catholic Guy Fawkes Day!

Order in Quarters, November 5, 1775:

As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope–He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada.

Geo. Washington was a practical kind of guy. As are Americans as a whole...

Mark in Spokane said...

I had read about the prohibition on the Guy Fawkes celbration, but I hadn't seen the text of the actual order. Thanks for sharing!

It is interesting American attitudes toward the French shifted both in the colonial period and in the early Republic. From foe to ally to friend to foe to ally again -- all within the space of a few decades.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, and foes again as European Catholics started infecting the Protestant order with waves of immigration throughout the 1800s.

The Know-Nothings, fer instance.

Now 6 of the 9 justices on the Supreme Court are ostensibly Roman Catholic, including the black guy. And there's a Jew to boot!

I love America.

Mark in Spokane said...

The Supreme Court's religious breakdown is as follows:

1) Catholics: 6
2) Jews: 2
3) Protestant: 1

This is a remarkable demographic shift in the Court. Within living memory, there was one "Catholic seat" on the Court -- William Brennan was appointed to that seat by Eisenhower. That was it. It was a quota -- one Catholic, and that was it. The same with Jewish appointees. There was a "Jewish seat" and that was that. Once it was filled, no more Jews needed to apply. Now, there is only a single Protestant on the Court -- John Paul Stevens.

Looking at how the religious demographics intersect with the racial/ethnic demographics on the Court demonstrates that the presence of white ethnics and racial minorities on the Court has helped to further the rise of Catholics on the Court. Outside of the two Jewish members (Breyer and Ginsburg), all of the white ethnics on the Court are Catholic: Scalia & Alito (both Italian), Kennedy (Irish), Roberts (German-American). The two non-white members of the Court are also Catholic: Thomas and Sotomayor.

Ironically, as the Court has started to "look more like America" (to borrow a phrase from former President Clinton), it has become disproportionately Catholic.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I think this also relates to the content of Mark Noll's book "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind."

Noll is an evangelical himself; but Roman Catholics have Notre Dame (where he now teaches), top notch intellectuals and magazines like "First Things" (for which I published one tiny piece and for which Justice Scalia has written). And what do Protestant evangelicals have? Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, John Hagee, etc.

As an intellectual, he's rightly embarrassed by them.

I think it also relates to Noll's criticism of Francis Schaeffer. Noll noted Schaeffer was a top notch theologian; however he was not a "scholar," especially not of history. And Schaeffer got an attorney to research the parts of his work where he endorsed the "Christian America" thesis.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I'm certainly not going to get Francis Schaeffer's back, but at least he engaged a professional to research the parts of his argument he wasn't sure about.