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The Church Confronts Modernity: Catholic Intellectuals and the Progressive Era First Edition Edition

4.9 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0231131865
ISBN-10: 0231131860
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Editorial Reviews


Precociously wise... magnificent.

(Paul Gottfried The American Conservative)

A lucid and accessible book

(Eugene McCarraher A Christian Review)

This book will be a valuable resource...Highly recommended.

(P. J. Hayes Choice)

The Church Confronts Modernity is provocative, well-written, and deserves to be read.

(Margaret Mary Reher Catholic Historical Review)

It is written with great clarity and fluency, making the complex philosophical and theological concepts approachable... This is a very important book which will be indispensable reading for scholars interested in the history of religion.

(Frank Lennon Journal of American Studies)

It moves briskly and gracefully through the thorny issues confronting the Church during the first two decades of the 20th century... An effective and detailed examination of Catholic intellectual life during a little studied period.

(Thomas G. Guarino Theological Studies)

This book is well worth reading. It is well written, well researched, and the thesis put forth is well argued.

(Patrick W. Carey Journal of American History)

Provocative... Woods thoughtful study casts new light on the Catholic response to the culture of progressivism.

(Michael J. Lacey American Catholic Studies)

Well written... Worthwhile contributions to the literature.

(Deirdre Moloney American Historical Review)


Though he is writing about the Progressive Era, Thomas Woods deals with issues that are still both timely and relevant. He explores how American Catholics redefined the limits of faith and doctrine in an age of social and intellectual transformation, a time when cherished orthodoxies seemed ever more at odds with secular assumptions. The Church Confronts Modernity is thoughtful, well-written and rewarding.

(Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies, Pennsylvania State University)

The implications of the thesis put forth by Thomas E. Woods, Jr., are potentially revolutionary for the academy, the Catholic Church, and American society. The author makes a compelling case that the Catholic intellectual critique of the scholarship of the progressive era was characterized not only by theological commitment but by philosophical sophistication and a selective and well thought out openness to whatever was useful in secular educational approaches. Furthermore, he argues that this substantial critique laid the seeds for a period of outstanding Catholic academic accomplishments from the 1920s through the 1950s. Thus does Woods demolish simultaneously the smug progressive secular charge that the idea of a "Catholic intellectual" represented a contradiction in terms and the self-serving claim made by contemporary masochistic American Catholic progressives that pre-conciliar Catholic scholarship in the United States represented an intellectual wasteland. The Church Confronts Modernity might actually serve to jump start, once again, the Catholic intellectual attempt to "restore all things in Christ" at a time when more and more thoughtful citizens are starting to seriously question the fruits of secular modernity.

(Joseph A. Varacalli, director, Nassau Community College Center

for Catholic Studies and cofounder, Society of Catholic Social Scientists)

A brilliant study, The Church Confronts Modernity illumines a period of recent American history too long neglected by first-rate scholars. We all stand indebted to Professor Woods' deep and insightful analysis of Catholic thought in what was the increasingly hostile milieu of the Progressive Era. Indispensable!

(Donald J. D'Elia, State University of New York, New Paltz)

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Product Details

  • Series: Religion and American Culture
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; First Edition edition (June 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231131860
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231131865
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,398,289 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Woods' book is an amazing display of erudition and insight in less than 200 pages. For too long, postconciliar Catholics have been led to believe that the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church in America was intellectually barren, reactively hostile to new ideas, and fully deserving of being labelled a "ghetto." Some scholars, such as historian James Hitchcock, had previously revealed problems with that view. But Woods has gone even further in exploring our not-so-distant past. He has systematically and thoroughly examined the American Catholic response to "Progressivism" and philosophical pragmatism in the early 20th Century and found that the response was cogent, coherent, intellectually sound, and orthodox. Not all Progressivist ideas were bad, and some of its "forms" could readily be assimilated, but the essential "matter" was rejected. The Catholic intellectuals of the time (to include the Jesuits at the magazine America) could tell the difference.

After reading this, one may feel that if the Church as a whole had taken a similar approach during the Second Vatican Council, and not simply kowtowed to modernity so much, the Church would not be in such a mess as it is now.

Put simply, this book is gracefully written, thoroughly researched, sober, and balanced--reminiscent of the great Catholic historian Christopher Dawson. Any American Catholic, seeing the disarray of a Church mired in scandal, dissent, and heterodoxy, and interested in the "old days" should pick this book up and read it. If he does, he may find himself asking at the end: "What happened to make it all go so wrong?"
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This precisely written, well researched book compares and contrasts Catholic and Progressive intellectual thought during the early 1900's. On some issues, such as organized labor, Catholics and Progressives reached similar conclusions. On others, such as education, they could not have been further apart. On all issues, a great fundamental difference applied: does man exist to serve man, or to serve God? So, although both sides might settle on similar remedies for social problems, their underlying principles were so different that conflict was inevitable. Progressives viewed dogma of any kind as a social nuisance or something to be dispensed with entirely. Catholics naturally held dogma to be fundamental to a well-ordered society. Progressives (generally) viewed man as a servant of the state; Catholics viewed society as the servant of man. Progressives were primarily concerned with the advancement of the state; Catholics with the salvation of the soul. Woods does a thoroughly excellent job of articulating these and other philosophical differences. In doing so, he gives us a remarkably clear picture of that time in America, as well as allowing us to judge how things have progressed--or regressed--on issues like education over this last century.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have just finished reading THE CHURCH CONFRONTS MODERNITY - Catholic Intellectuals & the Progressive Era by Thomas E. Woods Jr., taking the time to highlight in detail this excellent work for future reference in the fight for the heart and soul of the Church being waged by Catholics who know their faith, as opposed to those who are having it subtly stolen from them. Before I was even a third of the way through the book I had gone through a highlighter, which gives an indication of the importance of what Dr. Woods is saying to what is left of the Catholic world, post the ambiguities of Vatican II, in particular, post the efforts of those who would destroy the Church from within.

To be technically correct, in THE CHURCH CONFRONTS MODERNITY, hereafter referred to as CCM, Woods not only tells it like it is, but how it used to be, and, if the Church is going to survive as a viable institution in serving as the world's repository of Perfect Truth, Who is a Someone, not a something for salvations sake, which is the only reason for the Church's existence, how it must be again. Woods is right to persuasively insist that looking back to how Catholic giants in America confronted the modernists in the progressive era in combating the work of the devil is our only hope of escaping the modern catacombs in order to convert the world to the one true faith, per Christ's admonition to His disciples in the last paragraph of the Gospel of Matthew. THE problem, as Woods so clearly points out, is that "how it used to be," in reference to the Church in America, was orders-of-magnitude better than "how it is now" with the prospects for "how it will be" no better, if the lessons from the past are not learned.
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Format: Hardcover
It's a shame Columbia University Press, like most university presses, charges so much for its books. But don't let that dissuade you here. This is a brilliant and important book.

In this book, Professor Woods looks at the Catholic Church in America during the first 20 years of the twentieth century, which roughly coincide with the pontificate of St. Pius X. The book gives you an idea of what it was like to be a Catholic before the deluge of dissent and disaster that afflicted us in the '60s. That in itself is something worth doing.

But Woods does much more here. He shows that the pictures people often paint of the pre-conciliar Church are not accurate. It was not opposed to all new ideas, etc. Catholics engaged with the culture, but unlike today they did not permit themselves to be overwhelmed by it. They even said that America needed to be converted to Catholicism - and other forbidden statements no one will ever hear from an American bishop today.

Now bear in mind, this is a demanding book. If you've read Professor Woods' delightful Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and are expecting something similar, think again. This is a serious scholarly work, as its many endorsements in respected historical journals attest.

At the same time, it is intended not only for academics but also for the educated general public. It shows us a Catholic Church in America in which Catholics actually spoke and acted like Catholics - shocking! Professor Woods is to be commended for this brilliant study.
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