On Triumphalism

| | Comments (6)

My thanks to T. S. O'Rama who has pointed out a lack of clarity in some comments that I left chez Alicia. It seems that I somehow managed to give the impression that "Steven Riddle seems to see triumphalism as saying what you are thinking."

What I intended to say, and apparently did not make clear, is not that triumphalism is "saying what you are thinking." Rather the worst aspects of the thing meant by the derogatory connotation of "triumphalism" is the kind of in-your-face, I-told-you-so, rhetoric that often accompanies it. There are perfectly civil and courteous means of expressing any thought you have.

The specific example I used was some of the rhetoric seen in various places accompanying the November Debacle in the Episcopalian Church. I quite wrongly charged Fr. Jim with something that "smacked of triumphalism." But I had grown overly senstive to the blasé and callous statements that amounted to "What can you expect from a bunch of heretics?"

I liken it to being on the other side of the rhetoric as when during the height of the sexual abuse scandal we were often hearing, "What can you expect from a religion of woman-hating, self-loathing, non-marrying, clergy." It does not feel good to be on that side of triumphalism.

Moreover, I need to make clear, this only is associated with the derogatory connotation of the word. It has nothing to do with the denotation of the word at all.

So my bottom line is that the worst aspects of triumphalism lay not in the doctrine or theory but in its discourteous practice and the lack of charity that often accompanies its demonstration. There is a qualitative difference between saying "Serves you right for that mess during the reign of Henry the Eighth." And, "The separation from the Church over disagreement on one point of doctrine necessarily paved the way for future disagreements of which this is the latest demonstration." Even then, unless requested, such an explanation should not be offered until after such time as you have tried to help console the person who is reeling from a substantial blow to their worldview. St. Josemaria Escriva reminds us that one of the seventeen evidences of a lack of humility is:"to give your opinion when it has not been requested or when charity does not demand it."

You can say what is on your mind, but you can say it in a way that demonstrates what you mean without detracting from the dignity of the person or their belief (however incorrect it may be) and in a way that can be more healing and charitable than a simple record of the error.

Hope that clears up my intent. I did not mean to say you shouldn't speak what you think (although there are times when this is true as well) but that such speech should take place with consideration and courtesy. I think I'm sensitve over this issue because more than anything else, I want people to express what they're thinking in a way that invites conversation and even vigorous debate but which encourages charity and respect. I want to hear what people are thinking--but I want to hear the substance of it, not the surface of it--reasoning not sloganeering.

Bookmark and Share


St. Josemaria Escriva reminds us that one of the seventeen evidences of a lack of humility is:"to give your opinion when it has not been requested or when charity does not demand it."

I think we bloggers are in trouble...

Thanks for the clarification. I thought I might well have been mischaracterizing your comments.

Dear Steven,

I very much agree with what you say about "consideration and courtesy." But I wonder if the worst aspects of triumphalism do indeed lie in "doctrine and theory." Let's take your example of speaking to non-Catholic Christians.

In Ut Unum Sint, the Holy Father wrote of the need for ecumenical dialogue to be a real "dialogue of conversion" in which "each individual must recognize his own faults, confess his sins and place himself in the hands of the One who is our Intercessor before the Father, Jesus Christ" (n82). Doesn't triumphalism, with its denigration of the other as merely "a bunch of heretics," and consequent exaltation of oneself as - in stark contrast - right and already perfect prevent any true and honest examination of conscience from taking place? I fear that this may very well be true, with rather disastrous results, even if triumphalism were to suddenly discover manners.

Here's a bit more from Ut Unum Sint that gets across what the Pope had in mind:

"Thanks to ecumenical dialogue we can speak of a greater maturity in our common prayer for one another. This is possible inasmuch as dialogue also serves as an examination of conscience. In this context, how can we fail to recall the words of the First Letter of John? 'If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness' (1:8-9). John even goes so far as to state: 'If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us' (1:10). Such a radical exhortation to acknowledge our condition as sinners ought also to mark the spirit which we bring to ecumenical dialogue. If such dialogue does not become an examination of conscience, a kind of 'dialogue of consciences', can we count on the assurance which the First Letter of John gives us? 'My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world' (2:1-2). All the sins of the world were gathered up in the saving sacrifice of Christ, including the sins committed against the Church's unity: the sins of Christians, those of the pastors no less than those of the lay faithful. Even after the many sins which have contributed to our historical divisions, Christian unity is possible, provided that we are humbly conscious of having sinned against unity and are convinced of our need for conversion." (n34)

Again, this strikes me as the very opposite of triumphalism.

Thank you.

- Neil

Dear Neil,

As usual, you make good points. But I was working from this definition:

Triumphalism is a pejorative designation for "the doctrine, attitude, or belief that one religious creed is superior to all others". (definition from m-w.com)

Now, I would say that that is the normal state of affairs if we assume better = more reflective of the truth. If we did not feel this way about the faith to which we belong, why would we belong.

That the Catholic Church has in the deposit of faith the "fullness of the truth" in no way excludes others from participation in the truth.

But the way I was working, it is not the doctrine you describe above but the action taken on the doctrine. Not all action taken on the doctrine is bad. I attend Mass, go to Confession, and pray as a result of believing that the faith I engage in is more reflective of the truth than any other.



Dear Steven,

Fair enough, I suppose, if we can read Merriam-Webster's definition of "triumphalism" as consistent with believing that "the one Church of Christ ... subsists in the Catholic Church" (Lumen Gentium 8).

But it does seem that the word "triumphalism" these days is commonly used in pejorative contexts even by those who adhere to Lumen Gentium. For instance, I went to Google and typed in "John Paul II" and "triumphalism" and the very first listed occurrence of "triumphalism" drawn from (a translation of) the Holy Father's online writings was:

"For this reason the Church rejoices today, exulting in the summons of Isaiah: “Arise, shine forth, for your light has come... And nations shall come to your light” (Is 60:1, 3). This sense of joy contains no vain TRIUMPHALISM. How could we possibly succumb to this temptation, precisely at the end of such an intensely penitential year?" (Homily, 1.6.01) (my emphasis)

The other incidences of "triumphalism" that came up, from his writings and those of others, seemed pretty consistently negative.

Go figure. I defer to your greater expertise in these matters. Good talking to you, as always.



You make some very good points. And I must admit that I have always regarded triumphalism as an attitude as something that lacked charity. However when faced four-square with a definition, I can't really find anything to object to in it.

But that you, as always it is a genuine pleasure.





About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on January 30, 2004 12:32 PM.

In the Interest of Complete Disclosure was the previous entry in this blog.

More On Presidential Selection is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll