For Immediate Release
Contact: Deborah Gilleran
A New Catholicism for a New World: Consultative and Representative
Georgian Court University Theology Professor Re-Examines the Life and Times of John England, American Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston 1822–1842
Lakewood, N.J., Dec. 18, 2008—What happens when a hierarchical church and the democratic tradition meet face to face? American Catholicism. In his new book Recovering American Catholic Inculturation: John England’s Jacksonian Populism and Romanticist Adaptation, Lou F. McNeil, Ph.D., associate professor of theology and religious studies at Georgian Court University, has re-examined the role of early-nineteenth-century American bishop John England. “After Vatican II there was a realization that theology cannot simply be statements of universal, a-cultural truths,” Dr. McNeil explains. “The gospel can be able to be inculturated, become a part of every culture without destroying the culture and without being subsumed by it.”
This 260-page book published by Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, Maryland, in August 2008, analyzes the ministry, life, and times of John England, who without any agenda but carrying out the Church’s mission, inculturated the Catholic faith in America starting in 1820.
John England—an Irish native who was educated by Ireland’s ruling class English, but who identified with the Irish in ethnicity, temperament, and loyalty—became the first Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Charleston. His populist views and inclusive style of diocesan governance earned him dismissive criticism from some scholars. Bishop England’s critics have suggested that he was “uncritically motivated by Enlightenment values,” said Dr. McNeil. “These critics suggest that these accommodations were, in fact, a process of assimilation that represents the failure of religious conviction in the face of secularism and rationalism.” Dr. McNeil’s book demonstrates that this is not the case.
Bishop England’s actions and writings, especially his support for the separation of Church and State, his consultation with laity in running the diocese, and reaching out to the larger Protestant community were at odds with some in the Church. The Vatican, however, never censured England during his career, and in fact chose him for a high-profile mission as papal nuncio to Santo Domingo.
“Compromise is not relativism. Practical theology is not relativism,” said Dr. McNeil. The underlying principle that informed England’s ministry was to create community by creating “the beautiful and the good, by threading together the theoretical and the practical,” he continues. “The standard is the good and the beautiful. That standard, in fact, is the God who is ONE, GOOD, and the BEAUTIFUL. It is a community governed by a theological aesthetics.”
Dr. McNeil’s book paints a picture of an intelligent pastor with astute leadership skills, committed not only to the Church but to the Church’s mission of reaching out to the outside world with the Gospel. “A man of his times, the bishop engaged the culture and chose not to flee it,” says Dr. McNeil. Perhaps this man of his times may be a model for our own.
Recovering American Catholic Inculturation: John England’s Jacksonian Populism and Romanticist Adaptation by Lou F. McNeil may be obtained through your local bookstore or on amazon.com and other online booksellers.
About the Author
Lou F. McNeil, raised in Detroit, received his Ph.D. in theology from the University of St. Michael’s College, in the University of Toronto (1982). Prior to his graduate studies, he had spent a number of years in Mississippi and Georgia. He served as director of the Glenmary Research Center in Atlanta from 1986 to 1994, and served a stint as associate and then director of the United States Catholic Mission Association in Washington, D.C. He is currently associate professor of religious studies-theology at Georgian Court University.
Other Recent Books by GCU Faculty
Judith Schubert, RSM, Ph.D., GCU professor of religious studies and theology, recently published The Gospel of John: Question by Question, a guide produced by Paulist Press in 2008 for their series The Bible: Question by Question. Dr. Schubert’s book is also available at your local bookstore or on amazon.com or other online bookstores.
Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is a comprehensive university with a strong liberal arts core and a special concern for women. A forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, Georgian Court serves over 3,000 students of all faiths and backgrounds in a residential Women's College and a coeducational University College with undergraduate and graduate programs. Georgian Court's main campus is located at 900 Lakewood Avenue, Lakewood, N.J., on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, now named a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court also offers classes at its site at 90 Woodbridge Center Drive in Woodbridge, at Coastal Communiversity in Wall, and at Cumberland County College in Vineland.
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