Leonard Feeney stated there was no salvation exterior the Catholic church. Then he was excommunicated.

The title Leonard Feeney has pale considerably into historical past, however there was a time when he made headlines round the USA for his ideological battle with the Catholic Church and his eventual excommunication. Lengthy earlier than the pugnacious Jesuit priest insisted that the notion that “there isn’t any salvation exterior the church” was a tough and quick rule and shaped his personal schismatic neighborhood, he was the literary editor of America and an completed poet and satirist.

He stays to this point the one America literary editor to be excommunicated. (Fingers crossed.)

Leonard Feeney was type of a Jesuit Michiko Kakutani, an intimidating reviewer with robust opinions and a willingness to deride even cultural icons like Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway.

Feeney labored at America from 1936 to 1942, writing guide critiques, brief tales, poems and the occasional broadside in opposition to fashionable tradition. He had beforehand revealed Fish on Friday, a group of humorous essays on theological subjects that is still in print at present; Cardinal John O’Connor, the archbishop of New York from 1984 to 2000, stated in 1994 that he learn Fish on Friday each Lent. After a quick stint at Weston Faculty exterior Boston to function (await it) a “Professor of Sacred Eloquence,” in 1943 Feeney was appointed the religious director of the Saint Benedict Heart, a Catholic scholar heart adjoining to Harvard College in Cambridge, Mass.

Feeney was instantly fashionable for his wit and his rousing sermons; even whereas at America, he had preached usually at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in addition to on the radio. Catholic college students from Harvard and Radcliffe have been displaying up in droves for the primary few years of Feeney’s tenure, with some leaving college to turn into full-time devotees of the Saint Benedict Heart. By one estimate, the middle prompted over 200 converts to Catholicism and over 100 vocations to spiritual life underneath Feeney.

Feeney’s downfall started along with his interpretation of “additional ecclesiam nulla salus,” the Catholic doctrine that there isn’t any salvation exterior the church. Catholics had lengthy allowed for exceptions and for the presence of God’s grace to deliver salvation to nonbelievers—in any other case the overwhelming majority of people who’ve ever lived are in hell—however Feeney wouldn’t have it. To interpret the educating as something however an absolute rule smacked to him of spiritual indifferentism and of a failure to uphold everlasting teachings. His sermons and talks on the topic took on an uglier and extra pugnacious tone. (Two individuals who didn’t take care of Feeney’s rhetoric have been Robert F. Kennedy, who stormed out of certainly one of Feeney’s lectures, and Evelyn Waugh, who after listening to him converse referred to as Feeney “a case of demonic possession.”)

By 1951, Feeney was delivering weekly speeches on the Boston Widespread, railing in opposition to Cushing and the Jesuits but additionally taking vicious and bigoted swipes at perceived enemies proper and left.

In late 1948, Feeney’s Jesuit provincial transferred him to the Faculty of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. Feeney refused to go. When 4 lecturers at Boston Faculty and Boston Faculty Excessive Faculty have been fired for educating Feeney’s hardline method to salvation, Feeney revealed a fiery protection of the 4—and urged each his Jesuit superiors and Cardinal Richard Cushing, archbishop of Boston, have been advocating heresy. Cushing eliminated his colleges as a priest and forbade Catholics to go to the St. Benedict Heart. The Jesuits dismissed Feeney for disobedience. Lastly, in 1953, Pope Pius XII excommunicated him.

Rome strikes slowly. Already by 1951, Feeney was delivering weekly speeches on the Boston Widespread, railing in opposition to Cushing and the Jesuits but additionally taking vicious and bigoted swipes at perceived enemies proper and left. The Harvard Crimson reported that Feeney had vowed to “rid our metropolis of each coward liberal Catholic, Jew canine, Protestant brute, and thirty third diploma Mason who’s making an attempt to suck the soul from good Catholics and promote the true religion for bucks.”

Leonard Feeney stays to this point the one America literary editor to be excommunicated. (Fingers crossed.)

He and lots of of his devoted followers—then often called the Slaves of the Immaculate Coronary heart of Mary—finally moved to Nonetheless River, Mass. Whereas some members later shaped a brand new schismatic neighborhood in New Hampshire, the Nonetheless River neighborhood is in full communion with the Catholic Church.

After Feeney’s dying in 1978, Avery Dulles, S.J., wrote an extended encomium for America, noting that Feeney had been reconciled to the church in 1974. “There are specific texts from the Bible that I can by no means learn with out listening to, in my creativeness, the voice and intonations of Leonard Feeney,” wrote Dulles, who had been among the many founders of the Saint Benedict Heart. With Feeney’s dying, “the USA misplaced certainly one of its most colourful, gifted and devoted clergymen. The obituary notices, on the entire, tended to miss the brilliance of his profession and to pay attention solely on the storm of doctrinal controversy related along with his title within the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.”

Dulles referred to as him one of the vital expert orators he had ever met, saying “he had an incomparable present for placing the deepest mysteries within the easiest phrases.” ​​Whereas acknowledging that issues had gone awry for Feeney, Dulles remained appreciative of him for his items but additionally for his willpower. “In an age of lodging and uncertainty, he went to extremes to be able to keep away from the very look of compromise,” Dulles wrote. “With unstinting generosity he positioned all his abilities and energies within the service of the religion as he noticed it.”

Leonard Feeney, S.J., on Robert Frost: “It’s onerous to imagine that he chops almost as a lot wooden as he pretends to.”

Throughout his tenure at America, Feeney was already displaying a number of the pugnacity that will turn into his trademark; he was type of a Jesuit Michiko Kakutani, an intimidating reviewer with robust opinions and a willingness to deride even cultural icons like Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway. One 1937 essay was titled “Resentments and Raptures Regarding My Contemporaries,” and its contents didn’t disappoint.

What did he consider the aforementioned Hemingway? “Have you learnt a great way to persuade women who adore he-men that you’re a he-man and never a sissy? Increase a difficult mustache,” Feeney wrote. “Write a humorless guide stuffed with unabridged hells and damns and kindred phrases within the area of intercourse, after which come out blatantly in favor of the Loyalists’ trigger in Spain.”

Do you keep in mind the comic Ed Wynn? He was so huge within the Thirties that he turned down the position of the wizard in “The Wizard of Oz,” believing it too minor. For many years he additionally had a radio present. Feeney didn’t take care of it: “Ed Wynn: The one factor worse than him on the radio is all static.”

Nevertheless it was Robert Frost who actually made Feeney grind his gears. In a 1936 evaluate, Feeney made his emotions clear. “It’s onerous to imagine that he chops almost as a lot wooden as he pretends to, or that cows, hens, and barnyards are his chief loves. He has been recognized to benefit from the tea lifetime of social England and is at current a professor of poetry in a school,” he wrote. “There may be proof in A Additional Vary that Robert Frost is in peril of mistaking his personal powers. His Construct Soil— A Political Pastoral is exceptionally unhealthy.”

“His is just not a wit,” the evaluate concluded, “and his ten epigrams inserted on this assortment aren’t profitable.”

The person, it was clear from an early age, knew his method round an anathema.

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On this area each week, America options critiques of and literary commentary on one explicit author or group of writers (each new and outdated; our archives span greater than a century), in addition to poetry and different choices from America Media. We hope it will give us an opportunity to supply you extra in-depth protection of our literary choices. It additionally permits us to alert digital subscribers to a few of our on-line content material that doesn’t make it into our newsletters.

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Completely happy studying!

James T. Keane