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Andrew Sorokowsky

“The Glory of the Cosmos” (a book review)

Glory of the Cosmos: A Catholic Approach to the Natural World. Edited by Thomas Storck. Waterloo, Ontario: Arouca Press, 2020. 152 pages. ISBN 978-1-989905-26-5 (paperback)

The Glory of the CosmosOn this one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Lesya Ukrainka, Ukrainians are again prompted to consider their attitude towards the natural world. For one of the principal themes of her most famous play, “The Song of the Forest” (1911), is man’s relationship to nature. It is not merely a matter of folk beliefs about water nymphs and wood sprites, or of pagan notions of divine immanence. The contrast between Lukash’s fashioning a flute from a birch tree, and his attempt to cut it down, symbolizes two opposing attitudes towards nature: loving, reverent use and heedless destruction.

The conflict between these two attitudes is a central theme of The Glory of the Cosmos. In this collection, eight Catholic thinkers explore the theological underpinnings, as well as some practical applications, of the Church’s teaching about the natural environment. Editor Thomas Storck introduces the volume and contributes essays on relevant portions of the Catholic Catechism as well as on Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’. Pater Edmund Waldstein of the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz near Vienna lays the philosophical foundation by contrasting the conceptions of Aristotle and Descartes. While Susan Waldstein criticizes the neo-Darwinian neglect of natural hierarchy and proposes a new natural science that takes into account the insights of Swiss zoologist Adolf Portmann, Christopher Shannon considers the relationship of nature and “culture” in Romano Guardini’s Letters from Lake Como. Christopher Zehnder examines relevant scriptural sources, especially the book of Genesis; David Clayton relates numerical patterns in the cosmos to divine beauty. In a chapter entitled “Brother Wolf or Robo-Dog?” Michael Hector Storck critiques modern physics, chemistry, and biological science through the lens of Thomist philosophy; his observations are particularly relevant to contemporary robotics. Turning to another application of modern science and technology, Peter Kwasniewski casts a critical eye on the ethics of genetically modified organisms. He completes the volume with some reflections on Aristotle and Descartes as well as St. Thomas Aquinas, Leibniz and Heidegger.

What is the contemporary secular view of the universe? Susan Waldstein describes it in these words:

No being in this universe has more value than any other being; indeed, no being has any intrinsic value at all. All value judgments are imposed arbitrarily by human will. Nature is seen, as Pope Francis says, as “something formless, completely open to manipulation.”[1] It is investigated in order to be used. The universe is a meaningless assemblage of bodies moving according to natural laws, from which life and man emerged by chance. We came to be for no reason and have no reason to live for any particular goal. (p. 35)

In his essay on genetically modified organisms, Kwasniewski shows how this world view has permitted us to develop and deploy technology that intrudes into the heart of nature, dominating rather than cooperating with it. He connects this attitude with Western capitalist culture (pp. 125-26). Quoting St. John Paul II, Kwasniewski characterizes biological experimentation by powerful First World nations and private interests in Third World countries as a new form of colonialism (pp. 116-19). Ukrainians should take note: colonialism has more than one shape and source.

Indeed, one of the lessons of this book is that environmental issues are connected with a whole range of problems beyond the purely scientific. As Thomas Storck points out in his analysis of Laudato Si’, the Catholic attitude toward Creation is inseparable from the Church’s social and economic teaching. Contemporary secular attitudes towards nature even affect issues of sex and gender. For example, the “technocratic paradigm” gives rise to the belief that we are entitled to manipulate our bodies in accord with our own notions of our “gender identity” (pp. 131-32).

One may object, however, that we should not idealize nature, for the created world is imperfect. In fact, the notion of “perfect” appears several times in the book before we are given a definition. Referring to Thomas Aquinas’ discussion of beauty, David Clayton states that “perfection” relates the form of a thing to its intended purpose. Since the Fall of man, however, the perfect order of the material universe has been disrupted, “so that it is no longer perfect.” Yet despite this “disorder,” where the universe no longer corresponds to the divine pattern, it is still good and beautiful, and points to the ideal of what it ought to be (p. 105). Christopher Zehnder notes that man, as “bridge-builder,” can unite this degraded material universe with the perfect spiritual world in the process of his own theosis (p. 85). Theosis, of course, is a key concept in Eastern Christian theology. It may offer a key to an Eastern Christian understanding of ecology. This could be a fruitful project for our theologians.

At first glance, this collection seems to present two contradictory views of the role of mathematics in our understanding of the natural world. We read in the introduction that the presuppositions and methodology of modern science, which can be traced to philosophical nominalism and were developed in the mathematical thought of Rene Descartes, reduced nature to what is quantifiable. As C. S. Lewis observed, this “substituted a mechanical for a genial or animistic conception of the universe,” with the resultant loss of the mythical imagination. It also separated nature from God and subjected it to exploitation, particularly during the Industrial Revolution and modern capitalism (pp. xii-xiii). On the other hand, as David Clayton argues, a mathematical description of the natural order reveals the “heavenly liturgy,” which the “earthly liturgy” ought to reflect. This means not only the liturgy per se, but church architecture, art, and music – even the liturgical actions of “kneeling, praying, standing” — all of which mirror natural proportions that can be expressed by numbers (pp. 89-90). In his essay on Romano Guardini, Christopher Shannon agrees, going so far as to say, “Structured as it is according to the hours of the day and the days of the year, the liturgy is the most ecological of cultural practices.” (p. 62) (It should be evident that this observation is at least equally applicable to our Kyivan Byzantine tradition.) Thus, the contradiction in the role of mathematics is only apparent, for the determining factor is our intent in mathematical measurement: do we intend to control and exploit the natural world, or to understand, praise, and protect it?   

Written with a minimum of scientific or theological jargon, this slim volume should be accessible to anyone with a good reading knowledge of English. In fact, the plain language of the authors, most of whom have taught undergraduates, suggests that they do not pursue abstruse or fashionable theologies of the academic “establishment,” but seek rather to present authentic Catholic teaching.  

For today’s Ukrainians, proper attention to environmental issues cannot be limited to protecting the wetlands of Lesya Ukrainka’s Polissia, or what remains of the Carpathian forests, from predatory exploiters – though these necessary tasks are daunting enough. The Churches should foster a deep environmental consciousness among their clergy and faithful rooted in a Christian understanding of the created world and our obligations to it. In that vital enterprise, this stimulating and inspiring book serves as a dependable guide.

Lviv, Ukraine - Boim ChapelAndrew Sorokowski


1 Andrew Sorokowski is retired from the U.S. Department of Justice, where he served as a researcher in the Environment and Natural Resources Division. He is president of the Ukrainian Patriarchal Society in the USA.

[1] Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, no. 106.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church in the USA: Challenges and Responses

Andrew Sorokowsky

Lviv, Ukraine - Boim Chapel

In 2019, under the direction of Professor Oksana Mikheyeva, the Ukrainian Catholic University Department of Sociology conducted a sociological survey of Ukrainian Catholics in five locations in the United States. This survey has produced both quantitative and qualitative conclusions, which will eventually be made public. Certain basic facts and statistics, however, are already available. In light of these, we can outline several challenges that the Church faces, and suggest some responses. 

Demographic and Social Challenges

The Ukrainian Catholic Church in the USA is a minority within a minority. In 1980 there were some 700,000 people in the United States who considered them of Ukrainian or partly Ukrainian origin.[1] In 1981 our Church had about 245,000 members.[2] In 2010, Ukrainian Americans numbered over 931,000[3] and today exceed a million. According to our eparchial websites, however, the number of Ukrainian Catholics has fallen to about 52,000. In 1981, we had 3 high schools and 27 elementary schools (Procko 262-63). Today, our schools number six (Metropolitan Borys in “The Way” September 20, 2020, p. 2), and St. Basil Academy in Philadelphia is due to close at the end of this academic year. In 1981, the Archeparchy of Philadelphia had 98 active eparchial and mission priests;[4] today, it has 37. These statistics should be regarded, however, in the context of the decline of the Catholic Church as a whole in the United States. 

True, size and numbers aren’t everything. In a radio address on Christmas Day 1969, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (today Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) foresaw a smaller, poorer, but purer Church. Moreover, trends often reverse themselves. Even the Covid-19 pandemic could, by reminding us of the reality of death and the limitations of science and technology, lead to a revival of religion.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church in the USA includes members from three demographic groups:

First, there is the American-born diaspora, mostly descended from three “waves” of immigration from Ukrainian lands (1870-1914, 1922-1936, 1945-1953). Second, the “fourth wave” of immigration (since 1988), according to the Center for Demography of the Shevchenko Scientific Society in New York, numbers (as of 2018) 320,000 people, constituting 28 percent of the 1.128 million Ukrainian Americans. Third, a smaller group comprises converts of various religious and ethnic origins.

The American-born diaspora, however, should be understood not simply in terms of “waves” of immigration, but also in terms of socio-economic class. Each sub-group has its own characteristics with regard to religion.

Typically, descendants of working-class immigrants are culturally and linguistically assimilated, yet many remain in our Church. Others have become Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, or simply “secularized.”

Descendants of intelligentsia immigrants (primarily the post-war immigration, which had already experienced secularization in Western Ukraine and often held anti-clerical attitudes) tend to identify culturally as Ukrainian Americans. The post-war revival of religiosity (in solidarity with the catacomb Church, and as a conduit for frustrated political energy) among their parents and grandparents has affected these newer Ukrainian Americans. But with Ukraine’s attainment of independence in 1991, the political motivation for cultivating a Ukrainian identity and preserving the Ukrainian Church has practically disappeared. This leaves a sometimes weak religious commitment.

The Fourth Wave is also not a uniform group. Few of those over 50 had contact with the underground Church (one estimate is 5 percent). Those under 50 knew the post-Soviet Church, which in some ways still followed the Russian Orthodox model and lags behind other European Catholic churches in various ways.

The Fourth Wave working-class immigration appears to retain the somewhat Latinized traditional Ukrainian religious habits and attitudes of the village. The Fourth Wave intelligentsia can be divided into those over and those under 50. The first group, having grown up in Soviet conditions, often have a secular world view, with strong nationalist attitudes and an anti-clericalism born of their distaste for the Russian Orthodox Church. For the same reason, they may have an aversion to Byzantinism, even when it appears within the Greco-Catholic Church, and a sympathy for everything Western, including the Latin-rite Catholic Church. Because of their Soviet experience, they are often wary of organizations and programs imposed “from above,” and harbor a suspicion of all authorities – ecclesiastical as well as civil. In some, an upbringing and education marked by limited and selective access to Western culture may have aggravated a dearth of Christian moral and ethical principles (e.g., on such matters as abortion).

While some Fourth Wavers under 50 may have belonged to the Church in post-Soviet Ukraine, many grew up outside it. Here, they readily assimilate to post-Christian American culture. Those who enter the professional, managerial, and technical elite (e.g., in Information Technology) are reported to be generally indifferent to religion, or at least to the Church, though some may seek non-traditional forms of spirituality.

The term “diaspora” implies an aspiration to someday return to the homeland. This is now rarely the case. Ukrainians are becoming Americans and joining American communities. In the suburbs, where more and more of our people live, parishioners often live far apart and do not know each other, nor do they encounter each other in daily life. Thus, both “community” and “parish” have lost much of their significance. Since the quarantine conditions during the Covid-19 epidemic have favored on-line (virtual) networks, which have become the prime communities for many people, the virtual parish may be the trend of the future.

The Church also traditionally, and naturally, focuses on those who are already its members. But in a recent article in the magazine America, Fr. Tomás Halík, SJ urges the Church to find Jesus among the “seekers” beyond the Church.[5] Indeed, the Church needs to seek out the “seekers” both within her ranks and outside them. In doing so, it must compete with a plethora of other forms of religion and spirituality.

The American Social and Cultural Context[6]

The American socio-cultural context must also be considered. Catholics will never be entirely comfortable in a secular state, society, or culture. The United States is not a confessional state: the Constitution declares that political authority is derived from the people, and its preamble does not mention God or religion. True, as reflected in the Declaration of Independence, the United States’ Founding Fathers evidently presumed that a secular state embedded in a Christian society would have sufficient moral purpose to succeed. But American society and culture, once predominantly Protestant, have now become secular, with especial rapidity since the 1960s. The stability of our constitutional structure is consequently showing signs of stress.[7] Nevertheless, even a secular culture can produce converts, as Christopher Guly’s report on Ukrainian Catholic converts in Canada illustrates.

In the past two centuries, Western elites have largely abandoned Christianity. The combined influences of the popular understandings — and misunderstandings — of Darwin (reducing humanity to just another species arising from nature rather than divine creation), Marx (reducing history to economically based class conflict), Nietzsche (reducing human relations to a struggle for power), and Freud (reducing human feeling, thought, and behavior to sex and aggression), have undermined the Judaeo-Christian tradition by removing the notion of sin — and thus the need for redemption — as well as rejecting the existence of good and evil, of an immortal human soul, and of God himself. These modern ideas are not new – they were probably dominant among the Western intelligentsia by the mid-20th century – but it is only in the past few decades that with the spread of education and communications, they have become prevalent among the masses in the West and, to some extent, beyond it.

We seem to live today in a sort of Nietzschean “Game of Thrones” society, where the bottom has dropped out of ethics and morality, and life is reduced to a Hobbesian struggle of all against all. In such a society, the rule of law – not to mention the force of the moral law — is increasingly disregarded, and power exerted through violence becomes the only value — as we saw in several cities last summer and in Washington, DC on January 6, and as evidenced by the fact that 2020 was a record year for firearms sales. We are left with a morally empty space, where all “noble” and loving human feelings are mere calculation or at best, evolutionary adaptations to ensure brute survival. In such a world, there is no place for love.

True, there have always been countercurrents, including brief revivals of Christianity. Thus, for example, modernism’s stress on the individual psyche was reflected in the Catholic current of personalism. Today’s post-modernism, which is already penetrating mass consciousness, is to some degree a reaction against modernism. In this sense it can be seen as religion’s ally in the struggle against modernism, clearing the air by, for example, overthrowing such modernist structures of thought as Marxism. But while modernism denied Christianity and sought to overthrow its institutions, post-modernism regards them as irrelevant. Its rejection of broad synthetic concepts negates the very idea of religion, while its deconstructive, anarchic posture militates against religious or any other institutions (or the consensus needed to create them). Obsessed with sexual, racial, and other identities (currently reflected in American politics), post-modernism disposes of religion in their terms (e.g., branding European Christianity as essentially “White” and racist). Suspicious of all claims to truth and recognizing power as the only motive of human behavior, post-modernism adopts its predecessor’s commitment to personal freedom as an ultimate goal.

It is thus no wonder that college students exposed (as they should be) to both modern and post-modern ideas – or high school students taught by college-educated teachers – typically lose their faith and leave the Church. For few have the mental and moral equipment to subject recent Western intellectual trends to critical appraisal.  Even fewer have the imagination to chart a new course. Christian philosophers, scientists, and other scholars who have done so have been relegated to the sidelines of both popular and academic discourse.

For many Americans today, politics has displaced religion. For young people on the Left, politics has become a “religion without God.” (Andrew Sullivan, “Why is Wokeness Winning?” The Weekly Dish, October 16, 2020). For Evangelicals and Catholics on the Right, religion has been subsumed by politics (Andrew Sullivan, “Christianism,” The Weekly Dish, December 11, 2020). All this can be seen as part of secularization.

In North American society, our Churches offer only one of many options on what to believe and how to live. To the modern mind, notions that we take for granted — the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, permanently valid ethics and morality, an apprehensible Truth, the value of private or community worship and ritual – are alien and bizarre. They have been challenged — and rejected.

This does not mean that we should dilute our message to suit the times; quite the opposite. A robust, clear, and challenging message attracts with its truth; a flaccid, opportunistic and accommodationist one elicits yawns. Tradition reminds us that the Church is for all times and places, not just ours. But we should keep the contemporary social and cultural context in mind, and find ways to convey our message in terms that today’s society can understand.

Family Challenges

The Church generally, and naturally, envisions its flock as a parish centered on the family, both being part of a wider Ukrainian community. Based on Christian anthropology and the concept of an “immigration” or “diaspora,” this concept seems reasonable. But it is no longer adequate. The statistical probability of any Ukrainian Greco-Catholic marrying and founding a family with someone who is also Ukrainian and also Greco-Catholic is minimal. The parishioner of tomorrow may be the only Ukrainian Greco-Catholic in his or her family. The closer such parishioners come to the Church, the farther they will be from their families. Ministering to this new type of parishioner will most likely require a new pastoral approach.

The fate of the Ukrainian American Catholic family must be seen in the context of the decline of the family itself in the United States. While in 1940, 90% of American households were families, only 66.4% were families in 2010. Fertility has dropped from 3.4 children per woman to 1.8. Since 1960, single-parent births have risen from 6% to 43% in 2010. [8] In a recent international study of socio-economic conditions for raising a family, Los Angeles-based researchers Asher and Ferguson found that of the 35 members of the Organization on Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranked 34th.[9] Ukrainian Greco-Catholic evangelization must take these realities into account.

Modern technological civilization has in many ways disrupted the natural order. This has widened the gulf between Christian morality, which draws on natural law as well as revelation, and the accepted norms of contemporary life, which violate natural law in many and various ways. This is most evident in the central human issues of marriage, sex, and family. Very few young people are willing to choose between the acceptable Christian options of (1) chastity until marriage and (2) lifelong continence, or in case of marriage, among (1) early and frequent child-bearing, (2) natural family planning, and (3) some combination of both. Consequently, many if not most of those who remain in the Church find themselves in an ethically and psychologically untenable situation, which can only be overcome by either adjusting their conduct to Christian moral precepts or adjusting their precepts to their conduct. Many choose the latter, and thus effectively leave the Church.

The Challenge of Re-evangelization in a Post-Christian Society

We speak of “re-evangelization” because there are few instances in North America when we encounter someone who is utterly ignorant of the Christian message. True, that message has been distorted – the very term “Christian” has been appropriated by Evangelicals, so that our faith is now associated in the public mind with them (and with their political stance). Moreover, anti-Christian bias has infested much of American culture. Anti-Catholic bias, which has a long history in the United States, has been aggravated in recent decades by the sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. It now pervades so-called popular culture. At the same time, secular education and a post-Christian culture have resulted in a youth that is often woefully uninformed about religion in general, and about the Catholic faith in particular.

Nevertheless, in most cases what we are called to do is better described as re-evangelization. In some ways, this is more difficult than evangelization. Those who have simply left the Church out of carelessness or neglect might be persuaded to return. But those who have consciously rejected the Church, and even the faith itself, cannot so easily be brought back, or even approached. There is little that the clergy can do, for their very identity causes them to be avoided. The task thus falls to us, the laity.

There is one form of re-evangelization that can best be pursued by laity acting in concert with bishops and clergy. That is “public theology.” There are many issues in the public discourse where a Christian voice is needed. In the United States, many executive orders, legislative acts, and judicial decisions on both the federal and the state level involve issues of ethics or morality on which the Church ought to comment. Our Church does not have the resources to issue theologically grounded opinions on all or even many of these, and tends to follow the Roman Catholic lead. But from time to time, our bishops, theologians, and laity could work together to put forth an Eastern Catholic understanding of some major public issue. This would be a work of evangelization as well as a fulfillment of our duty of Christian witness. Statements by our metropolitan and bishops on last summer’s civic disorders and on the presidential succession crisis were steps in that direction.

Traditionally, our clergy have addressed their preaching to those who already believe in God and the Church. Those who do not believe in religion, God, or the Church are not likely to listen to them in the Church or outside it. The task of spreading the Gospel to them is thus left to the laity. But is our laity prepared to take up this task?  It takes considerable knowledge and sophistication. The laity must be prepared not only to meet and overcome the arguments of agnostics and atheists. They must also be able to explain and defend the most fundamental religious concepts. To many members of the most recent generations, whether born in post-Soviet Ukraine or in post-Christian America, the very notions of religion, church, and worship are utterly foreign. At the same time, the laity must teach by example and by sharing faith through friendship.


America’s Ukrainian Catholics can work together with Orthodox and Evangelicals to create a new Christian culture — a sort of parallel universe — in a new spirit. In doing so, we can dismiss three false dichotomies. First, we need not choose between a committed, activist core and a broad, inclusive church. Only the former can produce the latter.

Second, we need not oppose the principles of hierarchy and authority to synodality and conciliarism. True, the church finds herself in circumstances vastly different from the epochs in which its organizational structure, its administrative and pastoral style, were developed. Today, “authentic” horizontal relations are replacing formal, vertical, hierarchical ones. But hierarchy and authority remain essential.

Third, we need not choose between tradition and modernity. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out, traditionalists are innovators too. The only difference is between progress informed by the past, and blind progressivism which, ignoring the past, only repeats its mistakes. We must be both traditional and contemporary.

Our churches can take several concrete steps in this direction. They can propagate monasticism, perhaps proposing “elders” as counsellors for the laity. They can cultivate pilgrimages – including long treks for the young and fit. They can engage with contemporary culture, involving Ukrainian American artists, writers, and musicians. The first initiatives in online adult education, promoting liturgical literacy, are promising; they should continue. Our laity can form book discussion clubs, remotely if necessary. Our church hierarchies can revitalize the laity by inviting it to elect representatives to church councils.

We have a great deal to learn from American Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Evangelicals, and others. Many American intellectuals are interested in the Eastern churches. But where are our own intellectuals? Historian Paul Johnson has pointed out the importance for religion of interaction between a society’s intellectual elite and its masses.[10] Such an interaction can be seen among Latin-rite Catholics in the US, where public intellectuals such as George Weigel communicate with committed, educated Catholics on the pages of journals like America, Communio, and First Things. We have nothing of the sort. In Canada, a handful of Catholic intellectuals are gathered about Canada’s Sheptytsky Institute, but there is no American publication comparable to Patriyarkhat. This is unfortunate, for if we could draw on both our theological sources as Eastern Christians and on our national experience, we could contribute richly to religious life in the United States.

The above-cited statistics suggest that the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the USA is at risk. Perhaps we need to get back to basics — to the eucharistic community. As Metropolitan Borys has pointed out, the Soviet-era catacomb church offers useful lessons. It may even serve us as a model. We may lose some of our real property. Having failed to nourish vocations in our own families, we are becoming dependent, like the Latin-rite Catholics, on “imported” clergy raised and educated in what is, after all, a very different society. But we cannot always rely on Ukraine, where vocations are falling, and where pastors are needed for the mission territories in the South and the East. The occasional visit by an itinerant priest celebrating the liturgy in a private home may represent the diaspora church of the future. Perhaps that would not be such a bad thing. It could give birth to a more vibrant and authentic faith.


The Ukrainian Catholic Church in the USA must, of course, care for immigrants – not in order to conserve their ethnic-national identity (that is not the Church’s task), but to preserve and develop their ecclesial identity. It should do so with the full awareness that immigrants to North America will become Americans. It must therefore use the English language as well as Ukrainian, and help immigrants find their place in American culture – all the while remaining Greco-Catholics in the Ukrainian Byzantine tradition.

Whether our Church can carry on evangelization, understood as a cooperative lay-clerical enterprise, in American society depends in part on how we envision the Church itself. If its mission is only to provide for recent immigrants a replica of the Church in Ukraine – or a bulwark against “Americanization” — it will soon lose those immigrants as they assimilate into American society, and it will certainly lose their children. The Church will not abandon the immigration, but the immigration will abandon the Church. The Church will also be unlikely to evangelize the broader society, for the linguistic and cultural barriers will be too high.

If, on the other hand, the Church’s mission is to help preserve and develop our Kyivan-Byzantine Christianity in the new American context, then it will serve as a home to immigrants as they assimilate into American culture and society. Only such a Church – fully conscious of its identity as a Kyivan-Byzantine Church sui juris, developed in Ukraine yet rooted in American soil – can evangelize not only its own people, but the broader society as well. Such a Church will be both Ukrainian and American. It will be precisely its Ukrainian identity that empowers it to participate in the re-evangelization of America.

The post-war diaspora and its progeny, to which many of us belong, set itself the task of preserving the Ukrainian language, culture, and faith until they could be restored in Ukraine. Patriarch Josyf Slipyj called upon his faithful to maintain the Ukrainian Catholic Church, with its language and traditions, in the diaspora. As the diaspora’s contributions to Ukraine in various fields, including religion, have shown, it succeeded in this task. Today, it is time to set ourselves a different goal. For Ukrainian Catholics, that goal should be to develop a truly patriarchal and evangelizing church in the lands of settlement.

[1] Oleh Wolowyna, Atlas of Ukrainians in the United States (2019), p. 23.

[2] Bohdan P. Procko, Ukrainian Catholics in America: A History, 2nd rev. ed. (2016), p. 263.

[3] Oleh Wolowyna, op. cit.

[4] Procko 262.


[6] An recent study of contemporary world religious trends, including a section on the United States, is Khose Kazanova, Relihiia v suchasnomu sviti: pliuralizm, sekuliaryzatsiia, hlobalizatsiia, Lviv 2019.

[7] For a brief critical discussion of religion in the American constitutional order, see S.M. Hutchens, “Law and Gospel, Constitution and Church,” Touchstone, January/February 2020, pp. 9-11.

[8] Michel Gurfinkiel, “Christian Democracy,” First Things, August-September 2020, p. 31.


[10] Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity (1976), pp. 95-96.

The Intelligentsia and the Church

Andrew Sorokowski

Is a Catholic intelligentsia possible in Ukraine? What could be done to help create one?

Before we try to answer these questions, we must define our terms. Readers of this journal do not need to be reminded of the definitions of the term “Catholic.” But who are the intelligentsia? Though of Latin origin, the term is modern, and originated in Russia. The word интеллигенция, which gained currency in the 1860s and 1870s, was defined in Dal’ as “разумная, образованная, умствено развитая часть жителей” (Владимір Даль, Толковый словарь живаго великорускаго языка, том 2, С.-Петербургъ-Москва,  1881, передрук Москва, 1979). However, it “came to be associated with a critical approach to the world and a protest against the existing Russian order” (Nicholas V. Riasanovsky, A History of Russia, 2nd ed., New York, 1969, pp. 423-24). In other words, it designated both a group and an attitude. In the Soviet period, however, the Ukrainian word інтелігенція was defined broadly and neutrally as «люди розумової праці, що мають спеціальні знання з різних галузей науки, техніки й культури». There was thus little distinction between “інтелігент,” a member of the intelligentsia, and “інтелектуаліст” – «людина розумової праці». (Академія наук Української РСР, Словник української мови, Київ 1973). The English word “intelligentsia” comes from the Russian, and means “intellectuals who form an artistic, social, or political vanguard or elite.” “Intellectual,” in turn, is defined as a person “given to study, reflection, and speculation” or “engaged in activity requiring the creative use of the intellect.” (Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, 1965).

Current use of the term “intelligentsia” seems to vacillate between a broad definition that would include professionals such as physicians and engineers, and a narrow one that would be limited to artists, writers, scholars, philosophers, and political thinkers. Whether current definitions include the clergy is uncertain, though theologians surely qualify. While the term has lost the socio-political connotation it had at its origins, it does retain the notion of a distinct social group. 

In view of the term’s history, it hardly makes sense to speak of a pre-modern intelligentsia. In the middle ages, what we call the intelligentsia was mostly clerical. Its Christian outlook presupposed the unity of the sciences, which was reflected in the university. As its name implies, this institution, as developed in the high middle ages, taught the “universe” of knowledge. Just as the universe was understood as a system of interrelated parts created by God, so the university conceived of, and taught, knowledge as a system of interrelated disciplines, with theology and philosophy at the center (see generally Alasdair MacIntyre, God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition, Lanham, MD, 2009).

With the Protestant Reformation, the “Scientific Revolution,” and the “Enlightenment” came a gradual separation of natural science from religion. To a considerable extent, the Catholic Church dropped out of (or was excluded from) European philosophy, and even intellectual life, between 1700 and 1850 (see MacIntyre,op. cit., 135-36). As European and American universities became secularized during the nineteenth century, Catholics often found themselves outside of, and opposed to, cultural and intellectual trends. True, romanticism, as a reaction to Enlightenment rationalism and a revival of sympathetic interest in the middle ages, in some ways favored religion. But trends like positivism, nihilism, naturalism, and materialism worked against it. None of this, of course, had much effect on the masses, which generally remained Catholic or Protestant. That would only change in the following century.

Thus, the “long nineteenth century” (1789-1914) saw the rise of a Russian and a western European intelligentsia in many ways at odds with Christian thinking, even if some of its members remained formally members of their respective churches. At the same time, the possibility of a Christian intelligentsia naturally arose. The Oxford Movement that sprang up around John Henry Newman, who later converted to Catholicism, is one example of an active group of Christian intellectuals. But for the most part, it was only the occasional artist who expressed a Christian sensibility contrasting with the temper of the times — in the land of dejected skeptics such as Thomas Hardy (Гарді) and Matthew Arnold, the English Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins (Гопкинс) and the troubled poet Francis Thompson; in the fatherland of Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche, the dramatist-musician Richard Wagner; in the anti-clerical France of Auguste Comte and Guy de Maupassant, François-René de Chateaubriand, Paul Verlaine, and Charles Péguy [Пег’і]; in Orthodox Russia, novelists Lev Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky and poet-philosopher Vladimir Soloviev.

In the twentieth century, this dialectic between Christian and secularizing intellectuals continued, though the latter prevailed. Indeed, with the rise of mass communication and mass politics, the secularization of the intelligentsia began to penetrate the masses. Important (at least according to the present-day canon) and influential thinkers like Sigmund Freud (Фройд), Bertrand Russell, and Jean-Paul Sartre, artists like Pablo Picasso, film directors like Luis Buñuel, and novelists from Anatole France (Nobel Prize, 1921) to José Saramago (Nobel Prize, 1998) openly rejected Christianity or religion altogether. Only here and there, now and then, did networks of like-minded thinkers coalesce into clusters of Catholic or other Christian intelligentsia. In the two decades before the revolution, Russian intellectuals experienced a spiritual awakening that sought radical reform in both Church and State. Despite the Bolshevik coup, a constellation of Orthodox thinkers, most of whom emigrated, revived theology as well as philosophical, socio-political, and cultural thought. As a counterpoint to England’s more celebrated Bloomsbury group, the Catholic writers G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire (Гилер) Belloc, and somewhat later J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as Anglicans T.S. Eliot and C.S. Lewis, gave a new impulse to English Christianity, while Christopher Dawson forged a Catholic understanding of history. In secular France, a Catholic intelligentsia developed between the world wars, including theologian Jacques Maritain and the Jewish converts Raisa Maritain, Edith Stein, and Max Jacob. Catholic novelists Georges Bernanos and François Mauriac joined composers Francis Poulenc and Olivier Messiaen.

In the years after World War II, such clusters of Catholic intellectuals practically died out, while celebrity-scientists like Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking (Гокінг’) and popular writers like Christopher Hitchens helped make agnosticism, if not atheism, socially acceptable. Only isolated figures, like American novelists Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, British novelist Graham Greene, the reclusive French poet Pierre Reverdy, and British philosophers Peter Geach and his wife Elizabeth Anscombe (both converts), represented the Catholic tradition. In the irreligious and politically leftist world of art, the somewhat erratic Catholicism of surrealist Salvador Dalí and Rusyn-American Andy Warhol was exceptional. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union a small Russian Orthodox intelligentsia did form around such dissident intellectuals as Alexander Ogorodnikov, Fr. Gleb Yakunin, and Fr. Alexander Men’, while Alexander Solzhenitsyn remained influential after his exile to America.

In the 1840s in Russian-ruled Ukraine, an Orthodox Christian native intelligentsia formed around Taras Shevchenko (even if his chief poetic concerns were ethno-social), Panteleimon Kulish, and other members of the Society of SS. Cyril and Methodius. But later, Mykhailo Drahomanov, and Ivan Franko in Austrian-ruled western Ukraine, imported Western European positivism along with socialism, steering the Ukrainian intelligentsia onto a secularizing path. Even after the demise of the Soviet experiment, Ukraine’s intelligentsia has remained mostly secular. This is so despite the survival of a Christian sensibility among some western Ukrainian intellectuals during the inter-war period (notably the poet Bohdan Ihor Antonych), in the postwar diaspora (the poet Vasyl Barka) and, after 1991, in such scattered ex-dissident intellectuals as Yevhen Sverstiuk, Ihor Kalynets, and Myroslav Marynovych. Moreover, the prioritizing of political independence over other considerations – now intensified by the Russian invasion — has tended to eclipse, or appropriate, religious themes. While western Ukrainian intellectuals are generally friendly toward their Church, in central and eastern Ukraine the experience of a Russian Orthodox Church hostile to the national movement has left a lasting distance between intelligentsia and church. This distance appears to be reinforced by secularizing Western influences.

Today, with the virtual disappearance of a Christian intelligentsia in the Euro-Atlantic West and its failure to materialize in Ukraine, can there be any prospects for such a phenomenon in the latter country? There is no point in guessing. If Ukraine is to have a Christian culture, it must have a Christian intelligentsia. What can be done to promote one? I propose three paths.

First, communication through the internet, including social media, has already created networks of conscious and committed Catholics. These can be diversified so as to separate serious intellectual exchange from merely social applications, and expanded to promote contact with Orthodox intellectuals willing to enter into dialogue with Catholics who share their Kyivan-Byzantine heritage.

Second, a Catholic university can provide a focal point for the development of a Catholic intelligentsia. Unfortunately, Western universities do not offer an adequate model. As Alasdair MacIntyre has observed, today’s secular research university is focused on preparation for specialization and professional training, not on education in the true sense. Financially vulnerable and dependent on wealthy donors, it is subject to corporate influence on its academic program. Whereas the late medieval university reflected a philosophical and theological vision of a unified universe (universum), the modern secular research university reflects the lack of such a vision, or a fragmented vision. Thus, subjects and disciplines are not seen as related to each other and forming a harmonious and coherent whole. Philosophy and theology, which should be at the center of the curriculum, are marginalized or eliminated altogether. Thus, a student leaves such an institution with nothing resembling a Christian understanding of the world. A Catholic university (indeed, any true university) would have to be very different. Yet most Catholic universities in the United States mimic the secular research university. (MacIntyre 175, 179). Only here and there, in scattered institutes or small colleges, is anything like a Catholic education to be found. What Ukraine needs, then, is not poor imitations of Harvard, Yale, or Princeton with religious coloring, but true universities which – whether or not they call themselves Catholic or Orthodox – can educate a Christian intelligentsia.

The third path is through publications, both print and electronic. Historically, journals offering social, cultural, political, and economic criticism from a Christian viewpoint, sometimes combined with philosophical and theological discussion, have served as gathering points for Catholic and other intellectuals. T.S. Eliot’s interwar Criterion, while not formally religious, succeeded in promoting traditional Christian thought and culture. The Russian émigré journal «Путь», published in Paris in the same period, did the same for Orthodoxy. More recent Catholic examples are the Polish Znak and Więź, the British Tablet, and the American First Things and Image. The journal in which this article appears could certainly play such a role in Ukraine. By connecting thinkers, writers and readers with each other, such journals create a community, which with time can develop into an intelligentsia.

This article represents the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of the editors of “Patriyarkhat”

Gaudete et Exsultate: A Call to Lay Action


Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation “Gaudete et Exsultate: On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World” (19 March 2018) is addressed to all of us. Its purpose is “to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time” (no. 2). Francis emphasizes that the call to holiness is for everyone. And while an apostolic exhortation does not have the dogmatic, defining quality of an encyclical, Francis’ intent here is not to define doctrine. Rather, it is to exhort us – to encourage each of us to aspire to holiness.

Pope Francis’ thinking has been described as typically Jesuit. Ukrainians have a negative historical memory of the Jesuits, whom they associate with centuries of Polish Roman Catholic colonization. But “jesuitical” casuistry was in fact a flexible and perhaps humane approach to moral and ethical problems, taking each case individually rather than imposing strict rules with unbending uniformity. In any case, according to one observer, a mark of Pope Francis’s thinking is that he favors practical discernment of situations over statements of abstract concepts – he has a “preference for situations over ideas.”[1]

 The exhortation is long (177 sections), but I would encourage everyone to read it in full. It might be best to take each of its five chapters separately. Chapter One, “The Call to Holiness,” introduces the subject. Chapter Two, “Two Subtle Enemies of Holiness,” discusses Gnosticism and Pelagianism – ancient heresies that represent two common and persistent errors in the human quest for salvation. Indeed, both are in full evidence today. Chapter Three, “In the Light of the Master,” discusses the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11), the first part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which for Pope Francis are the core of the Christian message (nos. 65-94). Indeed, the title of the exhortation, “Rejoice and be Glad,” comes from the conclusion to the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:12). Francis focuses next on the conclusion of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse (Matthew 25:31-46), which he terms “the Great Criterion” (no. 95-99). This leads to a brief discussion of two false ideologies of our time regarding social engagement, one of which over-emphasizes it, while the other neglects it (nos. 100-103). In Chapter Four, “Signs of Holiness in Today’s World,” Pope Francis comments on five expressions of the love of God. Finally, in Chapter Five, he discusses “Spiritual Combat, Vigilance, and Discernment.”

While every human being should find this exhortation of relevance to his life, several passages seem particularly relevant to Ukraine and Ukrainians. One in particular is striking. In Chapter Three, discussing the Beatitudes, Francis says:

In living the Gospel, we cannot expect that everything will be easy, for the thirst for power and worldly interests often stands in our way. Saint John Paul II noted that “a society is alienated if its forms of social organization, production and consumption make it more difficult to offer this gift of self and to establish this solidarity between people.” In such a society, politics, mass communications, and economic, cultural and even religious institutions become so entangled as to become an obstacle to authentic human and social development. As a result, the Beatitudes are not easy to live out; any attempt to do so will be viewed negatively, regarded with suspicion, and met with ridicule. (no. 91)

The quotation from Saint John Paul II refers to his encyclical Centesimus Annus at no. 41 (cited in note 78 of the exhortation). The Polish pope’s encyclical was issued in 1991, the hundredth anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum (the first of the great modern papal documents on the social doctrine of the Church[2]) and, as it turned out several months later, the year of the collapse of the USSR.

In the passage from which the quote is taken, St. Pope John Paul II discusses the concept of “alienation” as a reversal of means and ends. Alienation is a result of an inability to find one’s true nature as a human being created in the image of God. Only by discovering this true nature can one transcend oneself, making a “free gift of self” to others. It is the inability to make this gift that causes alienation in the individual. The same, he continues, applies to society. Thus, an alienated society is one that cannot create solidarity through the “free gift of self.”

Is Ukrainian society “alienated”? Do its “forms of social organization, production and consumption” prevent it from establishing social solidarity? Do its “politics, mass communications, and economic, cultural and even religious institutions,” in Pope Francis’ words, form a tangled “obstacle to authentic human and social development”?

There is evidence that they do. While a full discussion would require a monograph, for our purposes four brief examples, chosen almost at random, should suffice. They come from the fields of agriculture, labor, ecology, and culture.

Agriculture is an area where the forms of production and consumption are changing radically. The traditional Ukrainian rural way of life, based on the village economy, was disrupted first by the imposition of serfdom, then, under the Soviet regime, by collectivization and forced famine. In western Ukraine, small farming survived through the organization of cooperatives, until postwar Soviet rule destroyed that system too. Today, circumstances often compel small farmers to sell their land to enormous multinational agribusinesses in return for supposedly steady wage labor, which turns them into employees rather than proprietors and producers. Moreover, these new latifundias often produce crops not for Ukraine, but for export, while the profits chiefly benefit not the producers, but international shareholders. Thus, the system of small farmers producing for their families and for the local market – a system which builds social solidarity – is destroyed.

Many villagers, unable to compete with agribusiness, go abroad as guest workers. Here again, the traditional forms of social organization and production are disrupted. Husbands and sons leave to labor in agriculture or industry, wives and daughters to work as domestics or caregivers, in places like Italy, Portugal, or France; children are often left with only one parent or neither. The family, the community, the society itself is disrupted. People become “trans-national,” without firm roots in either their country of birth or their country of employment; many, indeed, remain in illegal status. Under such conditions, there can be no social solidarity, no “authentic human and social development.”

Meanwhile, the natural resources of Ukraine fall prey to oligarchs who use political levers to extract economic gains, often illegally. Thus, the Carpathian Mountains have been denuded of a considerable portion of their forests. The degradation of the environment prevents authentic human development because man is called to live in harmony with God’s creation, exerting stewardship over natural resources and sharing them with others, rather than exploiting them in an unsustainable manner for private profit.

Ukraine has attracted international attention in its attempts to counter Russian influence in mass communications and “popular” culture. The problem, however, is broader than that. Church leaders have long noted the negative moral effects of Western as well as Russian entertainment products – to call them “culture” would hardly be appropriate – on the general public and on youth in particular. Meanwhile, the native film industry, for example, languishes. Liberal cultural and media policies threaten authentic human and social development because they effectively favor well-funded “entertainment industries,” which specialize in violent and sexually exploitative products, over genuine art and culture.  

Can the church do anything to overcome the resultant alienation of individuals and society itself, to re-establish social solidarity and authentic human development? This is not the place to provide more than a hint of an answer in the four problem areas we have cited. In agriculture, for example, foreign investment could be beneficial. But laws and policies that protect the small farmer as well as the village community should be designed and implemented. In labor, radical economic reform is needed to provide jobs at a family wage for Ukraine’s workers, removing the temptation to seek higher wages abroad. Effective enforcement of environmental regulations – admittedly easier said than done – is a matter of national economic as well as social survival. In the area of mass media, various tax, tariff, and other legal and economic tools could restrict the import of morally toxic entertainment products, while affirmative policies could foster the growth and development of authentic culture. These answers are not, of course, sufficiently specific or complete, and they may be altogether wrong. The point, however, is that answers can be fashioned and put into practice – not by the church hierarchy or clergy, of course, but by the broader church in the full sense – that is, by an active and engaged laity. 

Of course, such answers inevitably call forth the objection that in Ukraine’s present condition, defending itself from foreign aggression while remaining in the grip of a rapacious oligarchy with no concept of the common good, they are simply unrealistic. Certainly, this author, as a citizen and resident of the United States, is in no position to judge their likelihood of success. But the point is that all such initiatives – political, legislative, economic — are the task of the Catholic laity — not just as Ukrainian citizens who happen to worship in a Catholic church, but as Catholics who seek holiness through social action as well as personal sanctification. For it is a false though common idea that separation of church from state means that the church, as the entire body of believers, cannot take positions on public affairs, or that its workaday civic and economic life is separate from its faith. Pope Francis emphasizes that faith without practical action is not true holiness. Catholic faith, as reflected in the Beatitudes, must inform the laity’s civic, political, economic, social and cultural activity.

Centered on the Beatitudes, holiness as described by Pope Francis requires social as well as personal transformation. This transformation is akin to the metanoia of the Byzantine tradition, but applied to society as a whole. It cannot happen by words, thoughts, or ideas alone. It requires action.

[1] Andrew M. Haines, Talking with Jesuits, Ethika/Politika, June 7, 2018).

[2] For a commentary on Centesimus Annus, see Thomas Storck, An Economics of Justice and Charity: Catholic Social Teaching, Its Development and Contemporary Relevance, Kettering, Ohio, 2017, chapter five and appendix II).

This article represents the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of the editors of “Patriyarkhat”