Waugh’s Article on Catholics in America Quoted

Author and critic Terry Teachout who writes for the Wall Steert Journal and Commentary has posted on his arts news weblog, without comment, a quote from Evelyn Waugh’s 1949 Life Magazine article entitled “The American Epoch in the Catholic Church”:

The United States does not form part of Christendom in the traditional sense of the word. She is the child of late 18th Century ‘enlightenment’ and the liberalism of her founders has persisted through all the changes of her history and penetrated into every part of her life. Separation of church and state was an essential dogma. Government, whatever its form, was looked upon as the captain of a liner, whose concern is purely with navigation. He holds his command ultimately from the passengers. Under his immediate authority the public rooms of his ship are used for religious assemblies of all kinds, while in the bar anyone may quietly blaspheme.

This article was the result of two trips Waugh made to the USA in late 1948 and early 1949 spending about four months in the country in total. Although Waugh usually turned such extensive trips into travel books or novels (or both) in this case the primary result was this article. He was hosted by Time-Life and Roman Catholic colleges and universities where he lectured and may have thought it improper to satirize those targets. In any event, he had already satirized the USA in The Loved One and several articles based on his previous trip to Los Angeles in 1947. The Life Magazine article is rather stiff and humorless compared to Waugh’s other writings, and its depiction of Roman Catholicism during what in retrospect may seem its “Golden Age” in the USA is dated. No one writing in 1949 could have foreseen the changes in the American Catholic Church that would occur due to the election of John F Kennedy, Vatican II and the sex abuse scandals in the years since then. The article was also published in a slightly different version in The Tablet and that version was collected in Waugh’s Essays, Articles and Reviews. The original Life Magazine article (19 September 1949, p. 134) complete with the lavish illustrations typical of that publication can be viewed on the internet at this link.

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