Monday, July 11, 2016

New Catholic Encyclopedia: Activism

[83] A teaching or orientation that emphasizes action in contradistinction to passivity. Thus, in a learning situation, the functionalism advocated by John Dewey or the method of teaching children promoted by Maria MONTESSORI [sic] is sometimes called activism. As a philosophic notion, it is opposed to intellectualism and gives precedence to practice and activity over theory. In this sense contemporary EXISTENTIALISM [sic] can be called activism in that it repudiates speculation in favor of action.

However, in Catholic circles, particularly in the U.S., it has come to denote an excessive activity of the apostolate that is detrimental to the spiritual life, especially in religious orders and congregations: exterior work of the apostolate absorbs the interest of the one engaged in it to the extent that his interior life suffers as a consequence. [84] It is also referred to as naturalism. Although such activism is not a formal doctrine, but rather a tendency of human nature, it is sometimes called the "heresy of action" and may be said in a general way to have a spirit opposed to the QUIETISM [sic] promoted by Miguel de MOLINOS [sic] and condemned by Innocent XI in 1687 (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. Schönmetzer, 2210-69).

Activism should not be confused with the salutary work of the apostolate performed with the proper spiritual motives. Far from being an obstacle to spiritual growth, the giving of oneself in the service of others out f charity fosters the interior life of the soul. Activism, therefore, should not be equated with activity or a multiplicity of works. In its modern connotation, it has reference only to spiritual activity prompted by an indiscreet zeal and lacking a spiritual foundation. In the encyclical Menti nostrae Pius XII refers to it as "that kind of activity which is not based on divine grace and does not make constant use of the aids provided by Jesus Christ for the attainment of holiness" [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 42 (1950) 677].

Safeguards against activism include proper spiritual formation, the constant exercise of humility and prayer, and a wholesome spiritual outlook concerning the work of the apostolate. Those engaged in the apostolate should keep the words of St. Paul foremost in mind: "So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the growth" (1 Cor. 3.7). The avoidance of activism should not, on the other hand, give way to a negativism characterized by a turning away from the performance of good works. In fact, there is great necessity for an increase in apostolic work to counteract growing materialistic tendencies.

Activism is also called AMERICANISM [sic]. Such a spiritual pragmatism was condemned by Leo XIII in the apostolic letter TESTEM BENEVOLENTIAE [sic], addressed to Cardinal James Gibbons in 1899. While the pope praised the Church and the people of the U.S. for their spirit of progress and accomplishment, he nevertheless cautioned them, among other things, not to place too great an emphasis on externals and outward activity to the detriment of the spiritual life. Thus the term Americanism is often used, especially by European writers, to denote an excessive apostolic activity lacking the proper spiritual motivation.


Source: L. F. Bacigalupo, "Activism," in New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 1, ed. Thomas Carson and Joann Cerrito (Detroit: Thomson-Gale, 2003) 83-84.

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