May 1991

Unlikely Allies: The Christian-Socialist Convergence.  By Gary MacEoin. Crossroad. 117 pages. $10.95.

Gary MacEoin has strong credentials, with more than 20 books, including studies on social conflicts and changes in Latin America. In Unlikely Allies he presents a compact history of Christian involvements with socialism. In a challenging Preface he questions the prevalent view that recent events in Eastern Europe portend the demise of socialism. These events, MacEoin counters, while they may indeed demonstrate the failure of a dictatorial socialism, may lead to a truer, democratic socialism. Christianity will be challenged to choose between capitalism and the possibility of a more promising form of socialism. As background data for making such a choice, MacEoin presents a series of chapters tracing the history of Christian encounters with socialism.

MacEoin studies the Catholic response to socialism contained in papal social encyclicals. Pius IX reacted strongly against all movements of social change, seeing only hatred of religion as their motivating force. Leo XIII strove to make some alterations in this view. MacEoin reads Leo’s Rerum Novarum — too simply, in my judgment — as an accommodation with capitalism. Pius XI added some socialist elements to the Church’s teachings and acknowledged a difference between revolutionary Marxist socialism (which he rejected) and a more evolutionary, reformist socialism (which promised more hope). Pius nevertheless opted for capitalism, despite strong denunciations of its abuses, and he carried over Leo’s view of a “natural order” (ruler and subjiects, owners and workers) intended by God.

MacEoin notes John XXII’s method of reading the “signs of the time,” his move away from assuming a “fixed natural order,” and the limits he placed on the right to property. Paul VI made some important distinctions about both socialism and Marxism. John Paul II, despite a strong aversion to Communism, incorporates a good deal of socialism into Catholic thought, and thus contributes to the socialist-Christian dialogue.

A chapter on utopian socialists deals primarily with Christian socialist movement or figures in England, Germany, and the U.S. MacEoin wrote an earlier book on the Allende years in Chile (1970-1973), so he brings a wealth of background material to his discussion of the Christians for Socialism movement. His final chapters discuss the Christian-Marxist dialogues in Europe and Latin America’s liberation theology.

MacEoin writes well, and so Unlikely Allies could serve as a useful introduction to readers unfamiliar with the ground he covers. However, I frankly found the book quite disappointing. Though it begins on a contemporary note, it reads — for the most part — Iike a book written a decade or more ago. Except for two or three pages on the Vatican’s criticisms of liberation theology, a couple of paragraphs on John Paul II’s writings, and a few other items, the book contains little about the ongoing debates about Marxism, socialism, or liberation theology that occurred during the 1980s. One would certainly expect more than part of one page on John Paul II’s views. The Christians for Socialism movement has faded, disappearing entirely in the U.S. Even the concluding chapter draws almost entirely on views formulated by Roger Garaudy and others in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

Approached simply as a historical study, the book does succeed in bringing together in concise form some interesting and relevant data. Yet even at this level I found it disappointing, though I would acknowledge a personal factor influenced my judgment. MacEoin’s book struck me as one plowing ground already planted, in my own writings, as well as in works by Gregory Baum, John Cort, Paul Mojzes, and othere. Nonetheless, I can still recommend the book as a well-written, compact, historical introduction to the fascinating field of Christian-socialist encounter.

- Arthur F. McGovern



Why Catholics Can’t Sing: The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste.  ByThomas Day. Crossroad. 183 pages. $19.95.

With this book Thomas Day has rung the bell on what we can all hope is the final round in the ongoing fight among liturgists and musicians in the post-conciliar American Catholic Church. Intemperate, boisterous, and sarcastic in places (as only a passionate and injured lover can be), Day calls the antagonists back into the ring to throw their best punches and let the judges (the U.S. bishops?) decide.

Why Catholics Can’t Sing is the first book to explain so vividly why the predominant American Catholic culture, which is Irish, has stifled all but the treacly sweet music which until recently poured forth from the post-conciliar music publishers. If I retain only one image from Day it will be of the silent, soggy crowd of farmers secretly gathered around a hunted priest whispering the Mass in a tiny stone hut in post-Reformation Ireland. This picture explains the resistance of ordinary folk to being disturbed by liturgical renewal and by any papal efforts to get them to participate, musically or otherwise. Irish Catholicism defiantly defined itself over against “Protestant” enthusiasm and music-making.

Day deplores the wolves of Ego Renewal: narcissistic presiders (Father or Bishop Histrionicus, according to Day) and self-important cantors (Mr. or Ms. Caruso, whose voice box seems wired for microphones) with their “moaning and self-caressing music.” The pre-conciliar Church didn’t want to sing because singing belonged to the heretics and the arty; the post-conciliar Church doesn’t sing because the sensible person-in-the-pew isn’t going to be coerced into endorsing all of this self-centered sentimentality.

If this is why American Catholics won’t sing, why can’t they? “The Roman Catholic Church, back in the 1960s, tried to launch the musical equivalent of the Great Leap Forward. One week there was silence at Mass; the next week the congregation was supposed to sing four hymns which took Protestants four centuries to develop. Congregations in the United States, with rare exceptions, never struggled through a stage of musical apprenticeship or even infancy.”

Day’s prescription is on the mark: “Most parishes should go back…and try to go through a stage of development that they missed. They need to lower their expectations. This could begin with two important steps: reducing the artificial lighting and reducing the amplification. With lighting and amplification lowered, a greater use of unaccompanied chantlike singing would make sense.” What puzzles me, though, is why Day does not support his insight with official church documentation. Musicum Sacram, the 1967 Vatican instruction on music, singles out the sung dialogues between priest and people and cantor and people as the most important parts to be sung at every (yes!) Mass.

Thomas Day on the Solemn High Explanation Mass (too much visual and aural brightness and clarity), on the McDonaldized liturgette, on layer-cake Catholicism — you will have to read the book to learn why I am gleeful as I cite these representative phrases. And Day’s comparison of cultures of American Catholicism with the cultures displayed on any large magazine rack is one of the funniest things I have ever read.

However, the debate Day wishes to rekindle and move onto a higher plane could well have been done without “The Bitter Half,” his diatribe against those who see or think they see in the sign of the time called feminism at least a tiny echo of the liberation declared by St. Paul in Galatians 3:28. And his suggestion of bad motives in the two liturgist-suicides he mentions in passing is outlandish, cruel, and unwarranted.

The most encouraging thing about this book is Day’s refreshing and insightful perspective on issues and situations I quite frankly understand better for having sparred with Why Catholics Can’t Sing. His proposed solutions are some of the best I have read. He gives me courage to continue my use of plain music in my own cantoring and to continue, in my seminary teaching, to instruct future priests in the sung dialogues hidden away in the back of the Sacramentary.

- Paul F. Ford



The Complete Plays of Henry James.  Edited by Leon Edel. Oxford University Press. 846 pages. $45.00.

Readers of NOR should cherish their James; this volume, now back in print, will make them at once sophisticated and American. And Catholic, if they take note of Guy Domville (1895), James’s most ambitious play, for which he was booed at first-night curtain-call and remanded to writing fiction. It concerns a young man intending to be a priest, momentarily seduced to the perpetuation in matrimony of a family line (how Catholic! how British!). Ultimately he embraces his vocation. “The Church takes me!” are his words. All characters are Catholic, priests off stage.

On the day of disaster, Henry wrote William James, “I am counting on some Psychical intervention from you — this is really the time to show your stuff…. Domine in manus tuas — ! This is a time when a man wants a religion.” Not literally, of course. James was Catholic mainly when pen was in hand. After the disaster he wrote Mr. and Mrs. William James: “Don’t worry about me: I’m a Rock.” The audience, he griped, “couldn’t care one straw for a damned young last-century English Catholic, who lived in an old-time Catholic world and acted, with every one else in the play, from remote and romantic Catholic motives.” James fancied the Americans might have liked the play better. In any event, here is our chance come round at last, just in time for the centenary of Guy Domville.

- Edwin Fussell





Back to May 1991 Issue


©