Monday, November 24, 2008

Revising History

The famous and reputable Smithsonian National Museum of American History listed an interesting (but INACCURATE) item on their webpage:

It is a coffin for Dominican nuns and belonged to the Italian parents of a Dominican Sister who joined the Monastery of the Blessed Sacrament in Oullins, France. In America, she and another woman founded the first Dominican monastery in 1880 in the United States, the Monastery of Saint Dominic in Newark, New Jersey.

Where the Smithsonian needs some remedial history lessons can be found in the opening paragraph of their web page where this casket is portrayed:

Though this country was founded in part by European religious communities rebelling against an ornate and hierarchical Catholic faith to which they had been forced to adhere , this trunk reminds us of other Catholics adhering to a simpler monastic life.

America was founded by dissident Catholics? I thought the PILGRIMS were members of the PURITAN sect of the Church of England (Anglican). Since Henry VIII formally severed ties from Rome in 1534, one could hardly classify these men and women as CATHOLIC. In fact, the Pilgrims were a branch of Puritans (formed in the 1560's under Edward VI) who sought to separate themselves from the Anglican Church (already separated from the RCC). The Church of England still had a hierarchy of bishops and priests and a formal worship ritual the Puritans found 'pope-ish' nevertheless, one cannot state that New England or the colonies were founded by disenchanted or disenfranchised Catholics fleeing their overbearing Magisterial taskmasters in Europe.

Most of the immigrants who were Protestant fled Protestant countries for political or economic reasons. Catholic immigrants were not fleeing from Rome or from Magisterial 'control' over their beliefs. The colony of Maryland was founded by Charles Calvert, 1st Lord Baltimore, in 1629 (when he applied to Charles I) and fulfilled under his son, Cecil Calvert, 2nd Lord Baltimore (who received the charter in 1632). Maryland was the ONLY British colony where Catholics were legally free to practice their religion, own land and hold public office. Once Virgina made the Anglican religion (Church of England) mandatory for citizenship, then Puritans fled north to Maryland which had religious tolerance. Once they settled, however, the quaint colonial pilgrims decided to seize authority and subsequently outlawed both Anglicanism and Catholicism in Maryland.

The article on the Smithsonian web page is MISLEADING at best since it implies that Catholic immigrants were seeking assylum from Vatican control. On the contrary, EUROPEAN (French, Italian, Irish, German, Polish, Slovak, Spanish, Portugese, etc.) Catholics came to the New World AS Catholic Christians and sought to maintain ties with Rome, theologically and ecclesiastically. Their motivation to come to America was mostly economic or political in the sense that they often fled Protestant controlled parts of Europe which persecuted Catholics OR secular rulers who made life miserable by their abuse of power. Claiming that Catholics came here to flee Roman authority is PURE and SHEER NONSENSE.

True, the Pilgrims wanted to flee the high church Anglicans in England and start their own Puritan brand religion in the colonies. They would have resented being called "Catholics" however.

The Dominican (and Franciscan, Benedictine, Carmelite) nuns and later the Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of Saint Joseph (to name just a few) lived SIMPLE lives because they took solemn vows of POVERTY, CHASTITY and OBEDIENCE. Unlilke the Amish and the Menonites, the Dominican nuns did not impose their spirituality on all members, just the consecrated women who lived in the monastery. The neighboring Catholic laymen and laywomen and diocesan clergy were not forced or coerced to embrace the charism of poverty where there is no private ownership. So, it is wrong to infer that the Dominican casket was a sign of contradiction to defy Papal teaching on private property ownership. Look at the simple pine box the pope is buried in at his funeral ceremony.


Baron Korf said...

"Never let the truth get in the way of a good story."

It just wouldn't match up with the misconceived notion of the Church that the world has of us. I particularly like the phrase "forced to adhere to", that's not biased...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this.
It is disheartening that most text books also take a similar slant so the Institution probably comes by it honestly. Did you write them to let them know of their error?

Anonymous said...


Can you post a link where we can "educate" the Institution on this? (Politely, of course)



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