Christopher Clark’s historical myopia. Queer Atheist comments

While I was waiting, with a friend, to have her tires changed, I read this review in the May 10, 2018 edition of the London Review of Books titled ‘God bless Italy’  by Christopher Clark. And was surprised, and not just disappointed, but left wondering about the competence of Prof. Clark as an historian. The last two paragraphs of his essay sounds just like Catholic apologetics :

But even as his temporal domain shrivelled, Pius IX, as priest and spiritual leader, presided over a remarkable revival of Catholic moral authority in Europe and the wider world. In 1850, he became the first pope to launch a semi-official newspaper, the Civiltà Cattolica, still in operation today. His decision, in 1854, to raise the Immaculate Conception of Mary to the status of Catholic doctrine reflected his sensitivity to the devotional culture of more humble Catholics. His charismatic gifts were undiminished and he continued to receive and address delegations of pilgrims and admirers, whose numbers sharply increased in the era of steamships and railways. He became the first pope whose speeches were printed for general consumption. His image, endlessly reproduced in cheap colour lithographs, could be seen in millions of Catholic homes. This pope was a polarising figure, to be sure: in the Syllabus of Errors of 1864, he aligned the Church with a trenchant rejection of the liberal version of modernity. But his success in galvanising Catholic opinion and building a transnational community whose depth and extent exceeded anything achieved by his predecessors can scarcely be denied. For all his flaws, Pius IX was one of the most media-savvy figures of the 19th century.

One could object that his successes were achieved in the name of a worldview that was essentially unmodern in its attachment to mystery and miracle, and its insistence on the pope’s absolute authority in matters of doctrine. But the point, if we are talking about the ‘emergence of modern Europe’, is surely that the culture wars that raged across the latter part of the 19th century between the Church and its secular-liberal-Protestant opponents shaped the evolving political culture of the continent in myriad ways. The Catholic parties that emerged in many European countries helped to mobilise poor urban and rural voters, drawing them by degrees into the secular calculus of modern interest politics. In the 20th century, the Catholic matrix that Pius IX had renewed and rebuilt survived the debacle of the nation-state. Divesting itself of its earlier affiliations with authoritarianism, political Catholicism became, along with social democracy, one of the supporting pillars of the postwar order in Europe. Perhaps that is what Pope John Paul II was getting at in 2000 when he combined the beatification of Pope Pius IX with that of Pope John XXIII, convenor of the Second Vatican Council and hero of the liberals.

I recall reading How the Pope Became Infallible: Pius IX and the Politics of Persuasion’ by August Hasler, with a Forward by Hans Kung many years ago.


Pope Pius IX was the pontiff that held the College of Cardinals captive, and subjected them to coercion as the ‘in-order-too’ of  obtaining their ‘consent’, to the promulgation of the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility, in matters of Faith. Why did this history, published in 1981, escaped the notice of  historian Prof. Clark?

Queer Atheist




About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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