On September 8, 1907, Pope St. Pius X brought the simmering Roman Catholic Modernist crisis to a boil with his encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis. In Pascendi's terms, recent biblical, historical, scientific, and philosophical attempts to take seriously subjective mediations of God's revelation led only to subjectivism and agnosticism. Pius X condemned these as "Modernism" and the "synthesis of all heresies." This Modernism threatened the very human capacity to know and believe in God as a reality apart from human consciousness. Prior to 1907 no Catholic thinkers had used the term Modernism to designate the theological or biblical work they were doing. Pascendi , with its provisions for diocesan vigilance committees and censorship of books, combined with the subsequent Oath against Modernism (1910), created a climate of suspicion and fear.
In two sets of intertwined biographical portraits, spanning two generations, Divided Friends dramatizes the theological issues of the modernist crisis, highlighting their personal dimensions and extensively reinterpreting their long-range effects. The four protagonists are Bishop Denis J. O'Connell, Josephite founder John R. Slattery, together with the Paulists William L. Sullivan and Joseph McSorley. Their lives span the decades from the Americanist crisis of the 1890s right up to the eve of Vatican II. In each set, one leaves the church and one stays. The two who leave come to see their former companions as fundamentally dishonest. Divided Friends entails a reinterpretation of the intellectual fallout from the modernist crisis and a reframing of the 20th century debate about Catholic intellectual life.
"…he makes a strong case that academic theology programs in the United States have unduly favored European theologians and shortchanged the vision and accomplishments of the homegrown Hecker… In presenting the stories of four interesting, complicated men, Portier exposes the regrettable consequences of allowing anxieties about authority to trump the faithful search for deeper understanding. In highlighting the crucial place of Hecker, he may inspire a younger cohort of scholars to reclaim this visionary’s legacy."~James P. McCartin, Commonweal Magazine
"This insightful, thoroughly researched work will be of great interest to scholars of American religion."~John F. Quinn, The Journal of American History
"Not only did Portier rescue McSorley from obscurity, but his splendid study has also rediscovered an important chapter in American Catholic intellectual life."~America Magazine
"William L. Portier is the 2015 winner of the American Catholic Historical Association's Distinguished Scholar Award. My reading of Divided Friends leave sme heartily applauding the ACHA's choice… this impeccably researched and well-written narrative offers a more deeply personal understanding of the crisis than one finds in the usual historical treatments."~David Schultenover, SJ - Marquette U, Journal of Jesuit Studies
"'Divided Friends' is carefully crafted… The choice to focus on the life-stories of these four participants and the quite different consequences for each is a good one; it allows for very helpful insights into the overall topic… Portier is a reliable guide. This is an informative book, with valuable historical and theological insights. It is well worth the read."~Darrell Jodock, American Catholic Studies
"a successful, sometimes stunning, blend of biography,… church history, the history of spirituality and deeply felt theological and ethical reflection on the tension between loyalty to the church and the demands of personal integrity… this impressive work offers to all of us the example of a seasoned historian and thoughtful Catholic who is not afraid to raise the troubling and perplexing moral questions embedded in this tale of men of faith challenged to decide how, or whether, to remain loyal to an institution whose claims to divine inspiration and guidance they came to regard as ambiguous at best."~R. Scott Appleby, University of Notre Dame, Church History
""A splendid study. Portier has unearthed a wealth of new material which he interprets brilliantly. His account of how the Modernist crisis affected four significant individuals combines historical sensitivity, theological insight, and deep—but not uncritical—sympathy. In analyzing the dilemmas they faced, he illuminates the situation of American Catholicism in that era and at the same time suggests new lines of inquiry for the future."—Phillip Gleason, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Notre Dame"