Thomas Storck on Pope Leo XIII & Vatican II

From Christendom to AmericanismThomas Storck asks a very important question,

“No doubt Leo’s teaching strikes one as sufficiently bold and even confrontational to have been uttered in the age of Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud; but to republish that teaching, with a commentary that makes no attempt to hide or even water it down, in the age of Bertrand Russell and Sartre, might seem insane indeed. But regardless of the effect of such words on those outside the Church, do they represent a proper stance for communicating the Gospel today? Was it true that ‘the Council had to determine in a new way the relationship between the Church and the modern era?’ To put the question in its strongest and most precise form: who was addressing modern man most effectively and most correctly, Leo XIII and Etienne Gilson or the post-Conciliar Church?

One can argue that because of this important cultural change, a radically new kind of apostolate is necessary. But when Leo XIII set forth his program of a deliberate restatement of fundamental Catholic positions concerning philosophy, the political and social order, and the family, modernity was already well entrenched throughout the Catholic world. Despite this, Leo did not hesitate to restate Catholic teaching in ways that without doubt were jarring to the dominant liberal mind of the nineteenth century. But the middle of the twentieth century, however, this approach no longer seemed sufficient to many even within the Church. Their reading of the sings of the times was that something new was necessary. Were they correct?”

Storck continues and answers this question,

“Whatever can be said for and against both Leo XIII’s program and that of the Council and its aftermath, the best way, it seems to me, by which we can evaluate whether the new approach was a realistic reading of the times is by examining how it has contributed to the success of the Church’s mission. Although it is often said, and rightly, that we are called to be faithful, not successful, nevertheless it is both natural and sensible to hope that the Church’s apostolate will be both. The program that Leo XIII inaugurated, which was in the main a restatement of the Church’s historic positions, did seem to be a success. The Catholic intellectual revival, which had begun under Pius IX or even earlier, received new energy and not only attracted converts of high quality but also forced those outside the Church to take notice of Catholic positions on any number of questions. A chief feature of Leo’s program was clarity about what the Church believed. That clarity had a twofold effect, an effect on those outside the Church and on her own members. As I noted above, it managed to attract numerous talented and learned people to the Faith, and it gave those already Catholics a sense of identity.”


– Lucas G. Westman

*From Christendom to Americanism and Beyond: The Long, Jagged Trail to a Postmodern Void, Pg. 109, 110

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