The Church and Unbelievers

“At the present time, more than in any previous age, we find Catholics turning into unbelievers . . . Catholicism seen from the inside seems to be losing, but seen from the outside, to be gaining. There is a reason for this. Our contemporaries are naturally little disposed to belief, but once they accept religion at all, there is a hidden instinct within them which unconsciously urges them toward Catholicism. Many of the doctrines and customs of the Roman Church astonish them, but they feel a secret admiration for its discipline, and its extraordinary unity attracts them. If Catholicism could ultimately escape from the political animosities to which it has given rise, I am almost certain that the same spirit of the age which now seems so contrary to it would turn into a powerful ally and that it would suddenly make great conquests.”

From Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”, 1835

You know that old saying, “there’s nothing new under the sun?”

Found while perusing reading Magnificat, tonight.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.ramblingfollower.blogspot.com Allison S

    Wow. Thank you for sharing this!

  • kenneth

    It would be interesting to know the context of what he was talking about at the time. As far as I know, Catholicism didn’t become a real force in the states until the German immigrants in the 1840s and then the waves of Irish and Italians in the latter part of the century.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    Wow is right. de Tocqueville had such foresight in so many things. That quote is amazing.

  • NBW

    ” its discipline, and its extraordinary unity attracts them. ” The extraordinary unity has been considerably weakened by Vatican II.

  • Greta

    Also interesting info
    The Catholic League summarizes revealing data from a project involving the number-crunchers at Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate:

    The latest findings by the “Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership” project, a collaborative effort with Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, are illuminating. In the last 40 years, the Catholic population has increased by 75 percent; it has grown by 50 percent since 1990. More important, Catholic attendance at Mass is up 15 percent since 2000. And in the last five years, contributions have increased by 14 percent. It is also important to note that there has been a 40 percent increase in Latinos in the Church over the past five years.

    Shedding more light on the statistics is a study released a few months ago by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion. Its “Landscape Survey” found that of those Catholics who have left the Church, roughly half became unaffiliated while the other half became Protestant. Regarding the latter half, only 23 percent did so because of the Church’s teachings on abortion and homosexuality; only 16 percent left because of the way women are treated. Importantly, two-thirds of these Catholics elected to join a Protestant evangelical church.

    In other words, disaffected Catholics who left for another religion opted to join a more conservative church. That they did not run down the block in search of a mainline denomination—one that entertains the liberal agenda on issues governing sexuality and women—is telling.

    I think if you look at this post by Anchoress saying “Many of the doctrines and customs of the Roman Church astonish them, but they feel a secret admiration for its discipline” and the above, it would seem that focusing in on the very essence of what makes Catholic really Catholic is something the Bishops should focus on. Most of this flies in the face of the more liberal side of the church demanding we surrender the Catholic traditions for a more modern or left wing protestant approach fostered by the spirit of vatican II. Rather it would seem we should be following the opposite road led by Popes JPII and Benedict XVI.

    [Yes, it's odd...the Church of England is imploding despite all of it's "openness" to modernity (or, more likely because of it) yet some are determined to see the Catholic church embrace all of that failure. It's just like the folks pushing for America to become "more like Europe" while Europe is beginning to push away from their socialist experiments. A determination to fully deconstruct. -admin]

  • dry valleys

    You see, that’s one of the reasons why I don’t support open borders, because immigrants tend to be much more conservative and religious, which I don’t care for. Left to its own devices, America would be going towards being as secular as Europe is, or was before recent Muslim and African Christian immigration changed the game.

    You are talking about the church’s strength in places like Africa but I fundamentally don’t see these as models anyone would want to follow. The extreme is a country like Uganda, and even more moderate places go well beyond anything I’d want.

    That’s something for conservatives and leftists to think about, if immigration is putting people in pews and ultimately social conservatives into society and then into ballot boxes.

  • James

    (dry valleys said – “America would be going towards being as secular as Europe is, or was before recent Muslim and African Christian immigration changed the game.”)

    In other words America should embrace the secular failings of Europe in spite of the fact that secularism has been a failure.

    Apparently we unsophisticated Americans have much to learn from the continent that (in one century alone) pulled the entire world into two global wars less than 25 years apart, and spawned such societal atrocities as Nazism and the ongoing scourge of Communism.

    Yes. We have much to learn.

  • Verity

    “If Catholicism could ultimately escape from the political animosities to which it has given rise,”

    What is he referring to?

    “then the spirit of the age which seems so contrary to it would turn into a powerul ally and that would suddenly make great conquests.”

    Did Americans attend church less in 1835 than they do now?

    I do not see much Sabbath observance these days. In my youth most stores were closed on Sundays; Jewish stores were closed on Saturdays. After church I frequently hear people talking about going to the store as if the Sabbath were already over. So what kind of conquest is he talking about since almost no one keeps the Ten Commandments anymore?


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