Saturday, August 9, 2014

Orestes Brownson

Orestes Brownson: Sign of Contradiction by Robert A Herrera, 192 pages
Cover image for Orestes Brownson : sign of contradiction / R.A. Herrera.Orestes Brownson was an American autodidact, politician, clergyman, and journalist of the nineteenth century.  Ordained as an Unitarian minister, he slid into socialism (he gave lectures at the New Harmony and Nashoba communes) before becoming associated with Transcendentalism (he was a founding member of the Transcendental Club, and Thoreau taught at a school he ran).  Throughout these intellectual travels, he published a series of newspapers to advance his ideas and engage his opponents, becoming so influential that his radicalism is sometimes blamed with costing Martin van Buren (whom he supported) the 1840 election.  
Brownson's greatest preoccupation was the Church of the Future, a universal body which would seek to draw all mankind into a communion of charity.  In 1844, he announced that he had found the elusive Church of the Future in the last place he would have thought to look for it, in the Church of the Past, the Catholic Church.  Brownson's conversion did not diminish his combativeness.  Many considered him a traitor for converting to an alien religion.  Brownson himself tended to view the Irish who were flooding into Boston and New York as, at best, half-civilized.  He was "a Catholic against Americans, and... an American against Catholics."  He denounced the Oxford Movement (Bl John Henry Newman converted a year after him) for being overly intellectual and fussily aesthetic, "Brownson thought that a man could not be telling the truth unless he bellowed it."  He detested slavery but considered Lincoln a demagogue.
Herrera's biography reveals Brownson as an internally conflicted man perpetually driven into external conflicts, but one who nonetheless remained a trenchant observer of his nation and his Church, with pointed criticism - and prophetic warnings - for both.

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