Catholicism and Citizenship

Political Cultures of the Church in the Twenty-First Century

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Massimo Faggioli
  • Collegeville, MN: 
    Liturgical Press
    , March
     188 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


There are a numerous strong and intriguing insights presented in Massimo Faggioli’s Catholicism and Citizenship: Political Cultures of the Church in the Twenty-First Century. However, these insights are not always presented in a manner that is easily discernible, nor well defined within a clear line of argument. As a result, this monograph, perhaps understandably due to its multiple sources drawn from a diverse selection of Faggiolo’s articles and lectures, has the overall feel of a bricolage. Thus, as a caveat, it must be noted that this monograph could generate divergent reviews. Another tension is that the title can be misleading, with the exception of its avowed accomplishments in the brief conclusion. Although issues of citizenship, in the civic ecclesial sense of the word, and its relationship to Catholicism are mentioned, the subtitle, with its invocation of political cultures within the Catholic Church, is more representative of the monograph’s content. This framing points to how Catholicism and Citizenship can be read as work of ecclesiology with socio-political content. Subject matter addressed in this light includes the influence of new religious movements within Catholicism, the importance of theological developments, Catholic Social Teaching—both the exercise of the magisterial office by popes and the influence of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council—and the significance of other choices and emphases made by popes in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries.

 A prominent theme in all of this is the reception of Vatican II. In this regard, Faggioli frequently turns to Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council’s pastoral constitution on the role of the Catholic Church in the modern world. That document identifies a dual-citizenship for Catholics that, to adapt Augustinian terms, can be taken to advocate for allegiance to both the heavenly and earthly cities for all Catholics. Faggioli argues that the process of reception has shifted the ecclesiology of the Catholic Church in sometimes different, and frequently competing, directions. Particularly during the reign of John Paul II and, even more amplified in Benedict XVI’s papacy, it is suggested that these shifts, active in their teachings and actions, were in the direction of the heavenly city and back towards a view of Catholicism as providing a sort of refuge from the world. Tinges of a pre-modern view of the Catholic Church as a perfect society abounded in these shifts. Faggioli also relates the line of thinking concerning a proportionally greater heavenly allegiance to another area of his expertise, that of new religious movements within Catholicism, naming Opus Dei amongst others, and their contrast with both: 1) a pre-Vatican II movement, Catholic Action, which cast a relatively wider net in terms of its membership, and 2) the established religious orders, such as the Jesuits. Building on some of his earlier contributions, Faggioli additionally suggests some intriguing ways in which Pope Francis is shifting the political culture of Catholicism back in line with the intensions of the council fathers at Vatican II, for instance, towards a resourcement of an earlier Church example that looks to the periods both before and beyond Christendom for inspiration. Helpful here is Catholicism and Culture’s treatment of Francis’s culture of encounter and dialogue as an antidote to the self-appointed guardians of Catholic orthodoxy. Active, in this regard, is what Faggioli names as Francis’s ecclesiology of mercy, which the former proposes provides a path for overcoming left and right divisions within both Catholicism and larger societies. Faggioli also analyzes other phenomena within the current socio-political context, including instances amplified by the blogosphere—Catholic opposition to Pope Francis’s example and contributions to Catholic Social Teaching from circles where it would not have been expected during John Paul II and Benedict XVI’s papacies. As he comments on that, and other aspects of the new media, some poignant analysis emerges when Faggioli unfolds the need for some Catholics to learn “faithful dissent.” He re-introduces that concept in light of the need for critical interaction within Catholic traditions, and names it as something liberal theologians had to practice during the reign of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, yet opining that such a reverent approach to dissent is not evident in the blogosphere. Touching on the culture wars in the US, and the crisis in democracies manifest in the style of politics practiced by Donald Trump, Faggioli suggests that Francis’s teaching and pastoral example can serve as a path to heal the politics of division in both ecclesial and larger, socio-political contexts.

Indeed, Catholicism and Citizenship upholds the potential of a prophetic pope employing remnants from the times in Christendom and concordats in order to defend the common good amidst manifestations of a politics of exclusion. Faggioli rather provocatively adds that a key space for such a prophecy grows from the freedom a pope has to be undemocratic. Tangibly, this was expressed when, in April 2016, Pope Francis journeyed to a refugee camp on the Greek Island of Lesbos and drew on the advantages of the Vatican State’s extra-territoriality to take twelve Muslim refugees from Syria back to Rome with him on his papal plane. As a textual basis underlying such actions, Faggioli frequently cites the Apostolic Exhortation on the joy of the Gospel, Evangelii Gaudium (2013), as a sort of constitution for Francis’s papacy. Perhaps most poignantly in terms of this analysis, Faggioli returns multiple times to Evangelii Gaudium’s image of the Catholic community as a polyhedron, representing a deep embrace of diversity, which has implications that spill over into diverse socio-political contexts and, further, that require Catholics to be active in the public square in order to both overcome the culture of exclusion and actively support the common good.

This last example is indicative of how Catholicism and Citizenship, although at points frustrating for its lack of structure, is certainly worthwhile reading if only for the way it connects the theological and the political in often innovative ways. While Faggioli sometimes makes under-supported or grandiose claims, for instance, reporting that in the twentieth century—prior to Vatican II—Catholic Action was the movement within the Roman Catholic Church, thus seemingly sweeping away the significance of other examples such as the Catholic Worker, this monograph frequently features interesting turns of analysis that will hold the attention of the reader who has previously considered aspects of its varied material. In such moments, Faggioli’s undeniable brilliance shines through.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Christopher Hrynkow is associate professor in the department of religion and culture at St. Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan.

Date of Review: 
July 13, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Massimo Faggioli is professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University and a contributing editor for Commonweal. Among his books with Liturgical Press are True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium (2012); Pope John XXIII: The Medicine of Mercy (2014); and Sorting Out Catholicism: A Brief History of the New Ecclesial Movements (2014).



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