Spring 2012 Editorial
Editor: Bruce Bradley, SJ
Studies enters its second century in the wake of the recent publication of the 2011 census findings. As we move through the second decade of the 21st century, what does this official snapshot tell us about who we are as a national community? The foundation of Studies, a journal which has concerned itself with that and similar questions from the beginning, coincided with a period of momentous change in Ireland and a series of events destined the mark the country's identity far into the future. A host of centenaries now beckons – among others, Home Rule legislation, the Great War, the 1916 rebellion, the War of Independence, the Civil War. 'All commemorations serve an educational purpose', as John Bruton pointed out when launching Bryan Fanning's commemorative volume, An Irish Century: Studies 1912-2012, in Newman House in March. What have we learnt? Who are we becoming? What is our way forward?
In this issue, Alan Titley writes about Patrick Dinneen and two other Irish Jesuits who educated themselves to recover something of the country's invaluable but then faded (and still fading?) linguistic and literary memory a century ago. Brian Murphy remembers the pivotal moment of the 1916 rebellion from the oblique angle of how some journals - the Catholic Bulletin and Studies itself – found ways of circumventing British censorship at the time in order to disseminate some word of what had happened and provide some understanding of the key figures involved. One of the very greatest Irish writers in English, James Joyce, who certainly saw himself as called to teach us who we really were, was finally achieving publication for his work in these years. Regarding Dubliners, which appeared in 1914, Joyce famously told Grant Richards that his intention was 'to write a chapter of the moral history of my country'. In his own lifetime, he felt himself rejected in his native country. Now, in April 2012, Dubliners has been chosen by Dublin City Council under its 'One City, One Book' initiative as the book everyone should read. Reviewing Gordon Bowker's major new Joyce biography in this issue of Studies, John McCourt remembers the writer, highlights the need to go beyond Richard Ellmann's classic biography, once thought definitive in the strict sense, and considers the current, somewhat uncertain state of Joyce studies in general, as Ireland at last comes to terms with the his rich legacy. Our Gaelic roots, 1916, Joyce – these and many other elements are all part of that history and our image of who we have become.
Religion, specifically Christianity, and being Irish have been intimately linked over the centuries. Of particular interest in the census findings is who we say we are now in religious terms. When offered options under this heading, including 'other' and 'no religion' as well as a variety of other Christian and non-Christian categories, 3.86 million respondents out of a total population of 4.58 chose to describe themselves as 'Roman Catholic' – this despite the grievous problems, too many of its own making, which have beset the Catholic church in recent decades. The figure actually represents an increase of almost 4.9% since the previous census of 2006, partly, it is true, owing to immigration from traditionally Catholic countries such as Poland and the Philippines, but due also to a small increase in native numbers. What this means is that those willing to call themselves Catholics still make up 84% of the Republic's population. Overall, the figures seem to show that, in the words of the Irish Times, 'Ireland remains a predominantly Catholic country rooted in tradition'.
Superficially at least, then, religiously there might appear to be a considerable degree of continuity with an earlier Ireland. Such continuity may seem partly surprising. Certainly, it is not quite what some media commentators had led us to expect. Nor is it what - the numerically few but often highly vocal - campaigners for an Irish republic denuded in all its public expression of any religious vestiges at all may have wished to see emerging at this point. Continuity there may certainly be, yet, a closer look quickly reveals that this is a very different country, religiously, from the one which the likes of Father Dinneen and Padraig Pearse and James Joyce thought they knew. Much less is this the monolithically Catholic country of Cardinal Cullen, about which Daire Keogh and Albert McDonnell have recently produced a valuable collection of essays, Cardinal Cullen and His World, reviewed in the current issue by Bryan Fanning.
In a period when the total population itself was growing by almost 350,000, the census figures indicate that religion beyond the confines of Catholicism has also grown. This applies not only to other Christian denominations (notably the Orthodox, up – albeit from an admittedly small base – by 117%) but also to Islam in particular, whose numbers, also from a low starting-point, have doubled to almost 50,000 since 2006. Ireland is an increasingly multi-cultural country. This clearly does not mean one that is, for that reason, less religious and it is, in any case and for many reasons, to be welcomed. But it does pose new challenges for community harmony and mutual tolerance and understanding, as Dr Martin Mansergh underlines in his review-article here, prompted by Father Micheál MacGréil's newly-published survey, Pluralism and Diversity in Ireland. Religion in the modern world has a huge responsibility to show that it is part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Christian churches, despite their unhappy distance in less ecumenical times, have progressively grown together. They have also thrown up admirable instances of leadership in divided communities, none more notable than Bishop Edward Daly, whose memoir, A Troubled See, about his experiences in Derry in the difficult years after Bloody Sunday is sympathetically reviewed in this Studies by his Church of Ireland colleague, the Bishop of Meath and Kildare, Richard Clarke.
One reading of the high 'Catholic' figure in the census, especially when taken in conjunction with the precipitous decline in Mass attendance in Dublin and elsewhere, as well as other indicators, is that it shows in increasing measure cultural rather than genuinely religious adhesion. Are we dealing here with merely emotional attachment, a kind of nostalgia, somewhat after the model of Joyce, once described by Michael Paul Gallagher as possibly 'Ireland's most famous atheist', who, as is well known, continued to haunt churches and attend liturgical ceremonies long after he had, in his own words, 'left the church, hating it most fervently'. He had his own reasons for such strongly negative feelings, some of them possibly to be laid at the church's door, more of them probably not. In our own time, alas, there is no doubt that the church as an institution has given cause for alienation and rejection to too many, compounding the problem it already faced of a gradual drift away for other reasons, even before the abuse scandals surfaced.
‘We have this strange situation', sociologist Grace Davie wrote some years ago about the UK, 'where people continue to be religious in terms of sentiment, but have lost the knowledge base. We are now in a society that has lost its religious grammar and any awareness of the Christian narrative – but which has not entirely lost its religious sensibility’. Are there not growing signs that this is happening in Ireland too? What is particularly alarming is the growing evidence of what might be called a knowledge deficit in Irish Catholicism, a lack of basic knowledge of what the church teaches and – crucially – why, and, beyond that, of very much philosophical or theological understanding – the 'grammar' of faith - at all. One indicator of this grievous lacuna in the past few years has been the extent to which the arguments against religion in Richard Dawkins's book, The God Delusion, which had very high sales in this country, were found persuasive by supposedly well-educated Irish Catholics. The census records a substantial increase in the number of those describing themselves as of 'no religion', 269,11 in 2011, up by 44.8% from five years ago, and, of these, the largest number were in the 25-to-29 age group, and most of them, presumably, from 'a Catholic background'. In an extended review of one of the theologian Alister McGrath's latest books, Why God Won't Go Away: Engaging with the New Atheism, Michael Paul Gallagher, who has written widely on the subject himself, lucidly analyses the false foundations of Dawkins's regrettably 'philosophy- and theology-lite' approach. But are Catholics in Ireland, even those well-educated in other respects, to say nothing of the journalism which is all many people ever know about religious questions, equipped to grapple adequately with this overwhelmingly important issue? And, if not, why not?
A more hopeful reading would detect in the census figures not mere sociological religion but the underlying influence of a residual sense of the transcendent on those who chose to tick the religious, and specifically the 'Catholic', box, when they had other choices. Such a sense may be thought to have been especially active over the centuries in the Irish in particular. But, when further questions are asked, going beyond the sociological, it can be argued that the religious sense is actually constitutive of human beings as such. As Johannes Metz has written, ‘When the mask falls and the core of our being is revealed, it soon becomes obvious that we are religious by nature, that religion is the secret dowry of our being’. Such innate religiousness, however, requires nurture of various kinds if it is to blossom into mature faith. It would seem that, in this as in other ways, the Irish church, open to the accusation of having given too much attention in the past to external observance and moral precept at the expense of transmitting its rich cultural, intellectual and spiritual treasury, may have fallen short. Inadequate preaching and weak religious education leave people at the mercy of slogans and half-truths and what often poorly informed public media choose to tell them.
The early 20th century lay theologian, Friedrich von Hügel suggested there were three 'elements' in the proper development of religious faith. Being institutionalised through growing up in an overtly religious environment, within the family or in a wider context, is the first of these. Such an environment can be less and less taken for granted in Ireland today and new forms of community are needed to provide it. When and as the need to appropriate (or reject) such religious upbringing rationally and responsibly arises, as, especially in a church membership which has become more sophisticated in so many ways, it quite properly does, an adequate intellectual response is required, von Hügel's second 'element'. If, in its turn, this occurs, we may integrate what von Hügel called the 'mystical element' in our lives, when we grasp that religion means being called, beyond outward practice or theoretical understanding, into a personal relationship with the transcendent mystery we call by the name of 'God', to be 'illumined', to use Dag Hammarskjöld words, 'by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason’. Only such so-called mystical faith is, as Karl Rahner once pointed out, likely to be viable in a more and more secular age.
Many Irish people do still live out of a faith like that. But Catholic faith and practice in this country now faces many challenges. In a recent address at Mater Dei Institute, Cardinal Cullen's latter-day successor in Dublin, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, went so far as to say that 'the years between now and 2020 will be the most challenging that the Irish church has had to face since Catholic emancipation. The goal posts have changed and changed definitively'. Much more effective religious education and the emergence of strong lay leadership within the church are among the issues in continuing need of address. There is much work to be done to create a community of mutual trust among all the church's members, lay and clerical alike, and to repair breaches in that trust where they have occurred, not least through the wretched history of abuse and the ways in which it was responded to, but in other ways as well, so that renewal and authentic development can take place. There is also an urgent need to listen and, in teaching, to find a language and a tone of voice that is as much concerned to manifest the compassion of the Gospel of Jesus as it must necessarily be to safeguard the divine truth which he has entrusted to his church. The effectiveness with which some of these challenges are confronted by all concerned will have a large say in who we turn out to be, in religious terms, when the next census figures appear in five years' time.
Cover: Copies of former Jesuit Father Patrick Dinneen's influential Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla (1927), with, in the background, Newman House in St Stephen's Green, where many of the early Jesuit editors of Studies and its contributors lived until 1908, when it became part of the National University.