A High Catholic Imagination

Originally posted November 23, 3006 on Theosnob.blogspot.com

Just finished reading Greeley’s The Catholic Imagination. Greeley is making an interesting argument that Catholicism infuses one with an “imagination,” or an awareness of a “haunted presence of the Holy Spirit and grace in all of creation.” He claims that this awareness shows up most clearly in high culture. Greeley spends an entire chapter on just the church building as an example of this Catholic imagination in high culture.
Greeley also makes the distinction between high tradition and popular tradition. High tradition is what comes from the leaders and the theologians of the religious movement. Popular tradition is what one learns as one is “coming home from school.” This work is a good example of sociology taking the front seat to theology. There is a theology implicit in Greeley’s work, but the cultural studies have become more important that the idea itself of a “sacramental consciousness.” All Greeley cites is David Tracy’s Analogical Imagination; a good work, but only one in the field.

I wonder if Greeley is closing his sample set when he is looking only at “high culture” for the Catholic imagination. Granted, Greeley is looking at movies as well, but leans towards those which may be less accessible. What about the Catholic imagination in Notre Dame Football – not a high culture endeavor? Or what about the Catholic imagination in neighborhood ethnic club in Chicago or Philadelphia? These would have been primarily Catholic strongholds in the 1920s and on, but ones that would have been separate from the Catholic church. It is interesting that Greeley holds up “popular tradition” as, in a sense, the true Catholic religion, but does not look at “low culture.”

Finally I wonder if these implications carry into the Baptist movement. Greeley makes a lot of general Protestant claims in comparison to the Catholic claims, yet because of the scope of the work, does not look more closely at the different strains of the Protestant movement. What would the Baptist imagination look like if there is one? What aspects of the Baptist movement would be found in the popular tradition? Perhaps, we need to look seriously at that which Greeley argues maintains the Catholic tradition – the story tellers. People to pass on the stories, the narrative and the values of the Baptist movement encourage and enrich the popular imagination. We need to claim our movement as just that to tell the stories of who we are, and why we are as Baptists.