I’m switching gears now with my dissertation and moving into writing about two historical case studies: The Salvation Army and the Paulist Fathers. While these two particular movements might seem like an odd pair, there are a number of reasons why I’m looking at them.
First of all, there are a number of similarities between their two founders, William Booth and Isaac Hecker. They were near-contemporaries in age (Booth lived 1829-1912 and Hecker 1819-1888). Both have Methodist roots, with Booth originally ordained in a Methodist tradition and Hecker raised at Forsyth Street Church in New York City. Both are, in many respects, men of their time, typifying the optimistic, industrious, world-encompassing spirit of the nineteenth century. Both were “home missionaries,” who brought a missionary approach to ministry in their native countries, and each could be classified as “revivalists” in their respective traditions. Both Booth and Hecker began their ministries in other movements – Booth the Methodist New Connexion, Hecker the Redemptorists – and both ended up branching out to found their own missionary societies because of conflicts with established leadership of those movements. Finally, both eventually developed comprehensive visions for the worldwide mission of the Church.
I’m also interested in these two movements because they both raise interesting questions about unity and diversity in the church – questions I think might be addressed using the theology of ecclesial charisms.
The Salvation Army is an interesting case because of its original insistence that it was a missionary movement, and not a church, even while it remained independent of any formal ties to a church. Its members were not members of any other churches, creating the strange situation where Salvationists could claim to be Christians but to not be part of any church. A decisive historical moment in the movement’s history came in 1882, when a series of serious discussions with the Church of England caused William Booth to ask himself if The Salvation Army should remain an independent mission or be placed under the auspices of the Church (if you’re interested in this episode see Roger Green, The Life and Ministry of William Booth, 140-145). The fact that such discussions took place shows that Booth was not completely sure whether or not he wanted the Army to remain autonomous. The fact that they decided to remain independent was the result, I believe, of a lack of clarity regarding ecclesiological questions (noted by Green, p. 144-145). The Army’s independence was of decisive significance for its future course, including its non-sacramental stance and its slow progression towards claiming “churchly” status.
The Paulists, on the other hand, were never outside of the Church’s fold, but rather press the question of unity and diversity from the side of the Church’s authoritative discernment. First of all, very early in their history they were forced to make a compromise regarding their specific mission. The founding members wanted to be an exclusively missionary society, but they could not find a Bishop who would support them unless they took on a parish. This meant that they had to divert some of their energy to traditional parish concerns. It seems that the bishops they approached did not recognize the particular gift of the Paulists, and so, in order to remain a part of the Catholic church, they were forced to compromise. Another Paulist “gift” that wasn’t recognized was Hecker’s progressive ecclesiology, in which he saw the Spirit at work, adapting the Church to particular cultures and places, in concert with the providential developments in each society. In Americathis meant making Catholicism more “American,” by becoming more democratic and embracing the separation of Church and state. This was not received well by a Catholic hierarchy which was struggling to ensure uniformity around the world, and had been marginalized by democratic governments throughout the nineteenth century. After Hecker’s death, his ideas were taken out of context and twisted into the “phantom heresy” of “Americanism,” which was censured by Pope Leo XIII in Testem Benevolentiae, issued in 1899.
If the theology of charisms is in fact useful in helping us to understand reform movements as a legitimate form of diversity in the Church, then it should be able to be applied to these two cases. My hope is that a study of their history and self-understanding, along with a sustained critical engagement with the theology of charisms in the context of the question of the church’s visible unity, will clarify some of the questions surrounding the limits of legitimate diversity in the church.