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The Whore of Babylon and the Abomination of Abominations: Nineteenth-Century Catholic and Mormon Mutual Perceptions and Religious Identity1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2009

Matthew J. Grow
Affiliation:
doctoral candidate in the department of History at the University of Notre Dame.

Extract

In 1846, Oran Brownson, the older brother of the famed Catholic convert Orestes A. Brownson, penned a letter to his brother recounting a dream Orestes had shared with him much earlier. In the dream, Orestes, Oran, and a third brother, Daniel, were “traveling a road together.” “You first left the road then myself and it remains to be seen whether Daniel will turn out of the road (change his opinion),” Oran wrote. At approximately the same period in which Orestes converted to Catholicism “because no other church possessed proper authority,” Oran joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because he believed that “proper authority rests among the Mormons.” Indeed, in an era characterized by denominational proliferation, democratization, and competition, Catholic and Mormon claims to divine authority proved appealing to some Americans, like the Brownsons, wearied by the diversity and disunity of the Protestant world. Oran cautioned Orestes to not trust polemical literature against Mormonism, but to “get your information from friends and not enemies.” Orestes could have repeated the same warning about Catholicism, given the number and intensity of nineteenth-century attacks on both Catholics and Mormons. Leaving mainstream Christianity to join the most despised religions in nineteenth-century America, the Brownson brothers embarked on spiritual quests that few contemporary Americans would have understood, much less approved.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © American Society of Church History 2004

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References

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89. Gibbons, James Cardinal, Our Christian Heritage (Baltimore, Md.: John Murphy, 1889), 484–86.Google Scholar In this popular book, Gibbons echoed the assertions he had made two years earlier in “Some Defects in Our Political and Social Institutions,” North American Review 145 (October 1887): 345–55.Google Scholar An important Church congress held in Baltimore in 1889 endorsed Gibbons' views. See Official Report of the Proceedings of the Catholic Congress, Held at Baltimore, Md., November 11th and 12th, 1889 (Detroit, Mich.: William M. Hughes, 1889), 127–28.Google Scholar

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91. Shipps, , “From Satyr to Saint,” in Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years Among the Mormons (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 66.Google Scholar Shipps bases her conclusion on an exhaustive survey of Mormon image in the American periodical press beginning in 1860. In so doing, she challenges earlier interpretations, most prominently associated with historian Klaus J. Hansen that the “true target of the anti-polygamy campaign was not polygamy so much as it was the temporal (social, economic, and political) power of the Mormon church hierarchy”; see Shipps, “From Satyr to Saint,” 62, and Hansen, , Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1967).Google Scholar Other studies that closely examine the Mormon image in the nineteenth century largely support Shipps' position, including Givens, Viper on the Hearth; Lyman, Edward Leo, Political Deliverance: The Mormon Quest for Utah Statehood (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986)Google Scholar; and Bunker, and Bitton, , Mormon Graphic Image, 3435.Google Scholar

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95. Richardson to Hudson, 19 March 1902.

96. Richardson to Hudson, 5 September 1898.

97. Richardson to Hudson, Notre Dame, Indiana, 25 March 1900, Hudson Collection, Notre Dame Archives.

98. Richardson, Morrison, Colorado, to Hudson, Notre Dame, Indiana, 17 January 1902, Hudson Collection, Notre Dame Archives.

99. Richardson, Grand County, Utah, to Hudson, Notre Dame, Indiana, 16 December 1899, Hudson Collection, Notre Dame Archives. Besides those already cited, see the letters from Richardson to Hudson dated 11 October 1898, 12 March 1899, 20 November 1899, 27 January 1900, and 26 March 1902.

100. “The Menace of Mormonism,” Ave Maria 50 (March 24, 1900): 370–73.Google Scholar

101. The best treatment of this period is Alexander, Thomas, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890–1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986).Google Scholar See also Shipps, Jan, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1985), 109–49.Google Scholar

102. For the most famous incident, see Walker, Ronald W., Wayward Saints: the Godbeites and Brigham Young (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998).Google Scholar

103. For good accounts of the debates between liberals and conservatives, see McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom, and Dolan, Jay P., In Search of an American Catholicism: A History of Religion and Culture in Tension (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

104. While Philip Gleason's contention of thirty years ago that “Americanization is the grand theme in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States” has been mitigated by the rise of studies emphasizing the distinct experiences of ethnic Catholics, his observation still reflects Catholic historiography. See Gleason, , “Coming to Terms with American Catholic History,” Societas 3 (autumn 1973): 305Google Scholar; Moore, , Religious Outsiders, 4850.Google Scholar

105. Wallace, Les, Rhetoric of Anti-Catholicism: The American Protective Association, 1887–1911 (New York: Garland, 1990), 120–60Google Scholar; and Kinzer, Donald L., An Episode in Anti-Catholicism: The American Protective Association (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1964).Google Scholar

106. Moore, Religious Outsiders, quote on 59; see also 48–71. On the Americanist controversy, see also Dolan, , The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992), 294320Google Scholar; and Appleby, R. Scott, “Church and Age Unite!” The Modernist Impulse in American Catholicism (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992).Google Scholar

107. The Catholic World supported the Americanists, while the American Quarterly Catholic Review was generally conservative, though often refrained from explicitly taking sides. The Ave Maria was generally viewed as independent and supported both sides on particular issues. See McAvoy, Thomas T., The Great Crisis in American Catholic History, 1895–1900 (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1957), 7980, 376–77.Google Scholar

108. Givens, , Viper on the Hearth, 15.Google Scholar For a perceptive essay on the “narcissism of minor difference,” as applied to the Bosnian War, see Ignatieff, Michael, The Warrior's Honor: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1997), 3471.Google Scholar

109. The relationship of Mormons and Catholics has continued to evolve in the twentieth century as both have largely entered the American mainstream. A future study could profitably examine how their rhetorical strategies towards each other have changed as both have gone from despised outsiders to (in the view of many observers) quintessential Americans.

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