Originally published in the 28 September 2019 issue of the Wall Street Journal.
The Irony of Modern Catholic History
by George Weigel
Basic Books, 330 pages, $30
A pun inspired the title of George Weigel’s latest book. The sociology professor Peter Rossi was fond of the phrase “many ironies in the fire.” Mr. Weigel sees many ironies in the Catholic Church’s confrontation with what he calls “the fiery brook of modernity.”
By modernity he means the period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries during which a liberalizing, rationalist outlook challenged traditional precepts, creating conflicts over Catholic doctrine and the church’s attitude toward secular democratic governments. This conflict was sometimes fought with guns, as when Garibaldi’s soldiers put an end to the papal states by conquering them for a united Italy; at other times, only with encyclicals, such as the one from Pius X in 1907 that declared modernism “the synthesis of all heresies.”