The Worldview of New Ecclesial Movements

In recent weeks I’ve been reading Sorting Out Catholicism: A Brief History of the New Ecclesial Movements by Massimo Faggioli, the 2014 translation of his 2008 original Italian volume. It has been a fascinating read, and one particular part I read this afternoon is worthy of being shared in its entirety:

In terms of worldviews, it can be said that the new Catholic movements are a product of 1968 more than of Vatican II. That is to say that their worldviews reflect a variety of cultural and political elements that are not only theological.

A first element, quite new if compared with the culture of the Catholic movement in the early twentieth century, is the centrality of the found and/or leader of the movement. The worldview of the founder is the worldview of the members of the movement, and the attitude of the movement toward inclusion or exclusion is driven by the word of the found or his or her successor, usually elected in order to perpetuate the fidelity of the movement to the charism of the founder.

A second element, relevant for the issue of inclusion and exclusion, is the drive to rebuild Catholicism around the sociological idea of “community” more than on the theological concept of “communion.” This element is sustained, in many cases, by a negative worldview, in which the rejection of the Rahnerian term “world Church” matches an idea of the world as inherently negative and threatening the Christian identity. It is clear that the inclusiveness of the “political theologies” of the early postconciliar period are no longer part of the theological identities of the new Catholic movements, their self-definition no longer being attached to any political reading of the historical-political reality of the world.

A third element relevant to the issue of inclusion and exclusion, and part of the Weltanschauung of the most important new Catholic movements imported from Spain, is a “spirituality of the reconquista” that drives these movements’ indifference or hostility toward ecumenism, their marked clericalist identity, and their aggressive relationship with the local churches in which they operate.

A fourth element of their theological culture, which can be seen as a perversion of ressourcement, is the conspicuous nostalgia for a premodern world or for a modernity tamed by ecclesiastical ideology, a sort of regressus ad uterum that longs for a pure origin in the pre-Vatican II period, in the pre-French Revolution period, or in the Council of Trent – more rarely in the patristic era or in early Christianity, for theologically obvious reasons. The material (if not formal) rejection of the liturgical reform by some of the new Catholic movements is nothing but a visible way to reject the ecclesiology of Vatican II, especially its ressourcement and rapprochement.

These cultural-theological options reveal a basic “apologetics of enmity” that receives its theological justification from a fundamentally negative worldview. It is interesting that the negative prejudice against the modern world also affects the new Catholic movements’ perception of the universal dimension of contemporary Catholicism, which they see as theologically sustainable only if closely identified with Roman identity, and therefore they judge it as grave risk when associated with “inculturation.”

Massimo Faggioli, Sorting Out Catholicism: A Brief History of the New Ecclesial Movements, trans. Demetrio S. Yocum (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014), pp 183-185. ISBN 978-0-8146-8305-7.