Gramsci and the Monochromatic Church

Collen Kochivar-Baker quoted Antonio Gramsci in a terrific blog post today. You should read her blog post, but I want to share the Gramsci quote, because it concerns something that I find very interesting and important:

“The strength of religions, and of the Catholic Church in particular, has lain, and still lies, in the fact that they feel very strongly the need for the doctrinal unity of the whole mass of the faithful and strive to ensure that the higher intellectual stratum does not get separated from the lower. The Roman church has always been the most vigorous in the struggle to prevent the “official” formation of two religions, one for the “intellectuals” and the other for the “simple souls” … That the Church has to face up to a problem of the “simple” means precisely that there has been a split in the community of the faithful. This split cannot be healed by raising the simple to the level of the intellectuals (the Church does not even envisage such a task, which is both ideologically and economically beyond its present capacities), but only by imposing an iron discipline on the intellectuals so that they do not exceed certain limits of differentiation and so render the split catastrophic and irreparable.” (emphasis added)

I’ve written before about the differentiation in the church, which I think can be largely attributed to differences in spiritual development, and we see a similar idea here. (Admittedly, Gramsci, a well-known early 20th-century Marxist thinker, probably would not have found the idea of “differences in spiritual development” particularly meaningful.)

Joseph Ratzinger has long regarded the protection of the “simple faithful” as a priority. These are people who occupy the earliest stages of spiritual development, up to and including James Fowler’s third stage, “Synthetic-Conventional.”

Forms of religious faith beyond this stage have always been resisted by church authority. The anti-modernist hysteria of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was largely a reaction against the development of a fourth stage, “Individuative-Reflective,” form of Catholicism. They couldn’t actually stop it, of course, and much that was resisted in the past was later allowed and even promoted, beginning with Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943), which encouraged the use of methods of biblical criticism that had previously been forbidden. The climax of this openness to Stage 4 thinking was, of course, Vatican II; but we all know what the last two popes have done with that.

I’m going to return to this problem in the near future. In the meantime, you might enjoy what I think is one of my favourite posts from my previous blog, Far from Rome, entitled “The Problem is Orange.” (The title makes more sense when you read it.)

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