Replying to a Poor Dismissal of Integralism

Too much perhaps is being made of a recent article appearing in Civiltà Cattolica by Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Argentine Presbyterian Pastor Marcelo Figueroa entitled “Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism.” (A copy of the piece is archived at Rorate Caeli.) That it would call to the carpet certain aspects of American political life and culture, including the current presidential administration, is far less troubling than the manner in which it (unintentionally?) distorts Catholic integralism.

For instance, the article states that “[b]oth Evangelical and Catholic Integralists condemn traditional ecumenism and yet promote an ecumenism of conflict that unites them in the nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state.” While there are certainly some conservative and traditional Catholics who likely endorse this “ecumenist of conflict,” anyone familiar with authentic integralist writings will know that intregalists would find the idea of a generic “theocratic type of state” that embraces the interests of both fundamentalist Protestants and the Catholic Church nauseating. Integralism, at its core, concerns the relationship between the spiritual and the temporal, that is, the Church and state. It is only the proper relationship of the state to the one Church of Christ, which is the Catholic Church, which integralism promotes; the relationship between the state and some watered-down, ecumenically constructed, and generic “Christianity” is not part of the integralist project.

It is doubtful the authors of the piece set out with any intention to be precise in its limited discussion of integralism. Before the article ends, integralism has been conflated with fundamentalism even though nothing could be further from the truth. Fundamentalism, at its core, is fideistic, antirational, and needlessly reactionary. Integralism, by contrast, embraces the whole of the Western intellectual tradition, from Athens to Jerusalem. It drinks deeply from the well of reason in the service of upholding the truth of revelation. Integralism, when it is authentically Catholic, does not call for Christians to flee the world, but to transform it—to restore all things in Christ.

Granted, there are certainly socio-political matters which are of grave concern to not only integralists, but all Christians of good will. For instance, the reemergence of militant Islam, both in the Middle East and the West, threatens the very survival of Christianity. Secular-liberal culture, with its emphasis on individualism, liberty, and relativism, threatens the common good. This only makes sense since it was not long ago that Catholics and most Protestants shared a common moral vocabulary despite the grave theological and philosophical differences which divided them. And though Protestantism must carry the blame for helping to usher in some of the worst aspects of modernity, it cannot be denied that some today still hold true to the precepts of the Decalogue and the message of the Gospel.

In the coming years it will be necessary for integralists to present a stronger, more united front against its uncultured despisers. Unsophisticated dismissals such as the one presented by Spadaro and Figueroa are easily refuted. More pressing perhaps are the well-intentioned, though often misinformed, critiques emanating from Catholics who, despite rejecting liberalism, still remain beholden to both liberal categories of thought and an unfortunate desire to “fit in” with certain secular academic currents that are still perceived as “edgy” and “hip” by a typically youthful segment of the Catholic population. The challenge is not so much to defeat them in a battle of ideas so much as to convert them to the cause of upholding the social rights of Christ the King.


1 Comment

  1. Thomas Storck
    July 31, 2017

    I finally got around to reading Spardaro’s article. It is certainly uninformed, not least in its conflation of Integrist Catholicism with conservative American free-market Catholicism. It also I think confuses two groups of Protestants, so-called Christian Reconstructionists who, I believe, are mostly Calvinists, and ordinary fundamentalists, such as Baptists, who tend to have a very different approach to the social order from the Reconstructionists, who want to impose Old Testament law on everyone.

    Did you see the article in Commonweal commenting on Spardaro’s article? It’s much better informed, and I fear contains much that is true, though the part at the end about Pope Francis I take issue with.

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