Sorting Out Catholicism

A Brief History of the New Ecclesial Movements

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Massimo Faggioli
Demetrio S. Yocum
  • Collegeville, MN: 
    Michael Glazier
    , November
     240 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In the last two decades, Massimo Faggioli has become one of the most voluminous chroniclers of the legacies of the Second Vatican Council, exploring the council and its key players, as well as the ways in which its legacies have been appropriated in an increasingly global Church. In this revised and expanded version of the 2008 edition, Faggioli turns his attention to the numerous ecclesial movements of the Catholic Church. In tracing out the multiplicity of these movements over the course of the last 150 years, Faggioli provides an invaluable look at the various ways in which the laity of the Catholic Church have engaged not only society but the hierarchy as well.

Faggioli’s story begins in the years following the First Vatican Council (1869-70), connecting the vertical-hierarchical ecclesiology articulated there to the development of the first major lay movement within Catholicism, Catholic Action. Catholic Action, in contrast to a variety of other lesser-known movements also present in Italy at the time, was given favorable treatment by the Vatican, for according to Catholic Action, faithful action in society depended upon proper supervision and counsel from the hierarchy. While the contours of Catholic Action have been documented elsewhere, Faggioli’s placement of the organization alongside other lesser-known—and less favored—Catholic organizations is helpful in terms of seeing the ecclesiological assumptions underlying Catholic Action. In being an extension of the hierarchy’s vision, Catholic Action succeeded where lesser-known organizations either ceased operation or were actively suppressed. By the end of the First World War, Catholic Action’s existence as a lay apostolic movement dependent on the hierarchy began to receive challengers, as newcomers such as Opus Dei, the Legionaries, and the Cursillos de Cristianidad began to emerge across Europe. Reacting to their own cultural context, these newer groups were more interested in political engagement than was Catholic Action, which Faggioli describes as “somewhat removed from the social and political sphere…absorbed by the ecclesiastical one” (49).

This tension between social engagement and hierarchical dependency runs throughout the development of ecclesial movements in the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Here Faggioli identifies an “increasing diversification of Catholic action (lowercase)” (62). It is no accident that during Vatican II, statements on the relation between Catholicism and non-Christians, on the liturgy, and on the Church’s relation to the modern age appeared alongside many new ecclesial movements. Encouragement for the laity, who desired to engage their increasingly diverse cultures, accompanied a variety of other reforms which acknowledged the plural world in which a late 1960s Catholicism found itself. The struggle between whether these lay movements should be “ecclesiocentric” (ordered primarily toward the renewal of the internal life of the Church) or ordered toward engaging the world in a distinctly Catholic way continued through the papal tenures of the 20th century. Along the way, Faggioli describes not only the various approaches taken by the late 20th century popes, but the various movements which emerged during that time, and how they differ from their earliest predecessor, Catholic Action.

Faggioli’s book is tremendously helpful, offering not only a guide to the various movements—many of which are relatively unknown beyond European Catholic communities—but also a map of the ways in which various popes have engaged with these communities. In doing so, Faggioli offers a distinctly populist dimension that is lacking in many histories of Catholicism which focus only on official social teachings or papal encyclicals. By tracing the ways in which these lay movements relate to the hierarchy, Faggioli describes the ways in which they are both deeply contextual, and at times contradictory to one another. The methodological decision to analyze these movements along the axis of charism-institution is one deeply indebted to sociological debates of an earlier generation belonging to Weber, and one wonders what distinctions would appear if another axis for comparison had been chosen, such as their mode of internal organization, their relation to their host nation-states, or their scriptural reading habits. By describing these movements as they relate to the hierarchy, Faggioli secures a compelling history of internal ecclesial concerns, but tells us less about these movements as internally organized social bodies or agents of social witness. Nonetheless, Sorting Out Catholicism is an indispensable starting point to understanding the various lay movements within Catholicism, both as they relate to one another and as they relate to the Catholic hierarchy.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Myles Werntz is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at Hardin-Simmons University.

Date of Review: 
February 12, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Massimo Faggioli is Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, Minnesota). He has written extensively on modern Church history and on the Second Vatican Council. He is the author of True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium (2012), and John XXIII: The Medicine of Mercy (2014), both from Liturgical Press



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