The African Epoch

A Georgetown University blogger (Paul Elie, Everything That Rises) was recently reminded of Waugh’s 1949 Life Magazine article “The American Epoch in the Catholic Church” (Essays, Articles and Reviews, p. 377). What called it to his mind was the story that Nigerian-American novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, had returned to the church in response to the teachings of Pope Francis. Elie explains that in his Life article Waugh had:

spelled out what might be called a geographic or tectonic account of the movements of religious faith in different eras: “It seems that, in every age some one branch of the Church, racial, cultural, or national, bears peculiar responsibilities toward the whole,” he declared, and went on to say that responsibilities had shifted away from Europe and toward the United States – taking Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton as two examples.

Adichie’s action suggests to Elie that another such shift has taken place. Given the problems that have roiled the Roman Catholic Church in the United States since Waugh’s visits, during what may have been its “Golden Age” in the 1940s, it may well be the case that Waugh would agree. Indeed, as was once suggested to me by the late John Howard Wilson, Waugh himself seems to have foreseen this shift in his 1933 story “Out of Depth”  (Complete Short Stories, p. 146).

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