Remembering our innovative past: a look at the Catholic Church

Faith communities, historically, have been responsible for some of the world's most significant social innovations. Many people today are asking, "what happened?" In this article in America Magazine, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry examines the Catholic Church in particular and doesn't hold back. What happened to the Church that introduced social welfare, the hospital, agricultural technology, and more world-changing innovations in Roman times and beyond? Have we lost our boldness of vision? Have we become complacent? Have we settled for good intentions? We are children of an abundantly creative God with a mandate to advance the transformative work of God here on earth. Are we acting like it?

The point is this: Historically speaking, the church has produced countless innovations, both social and technological. It did so prolifically, unabashedly, naturally, relentlessly. More than any particular invention—social welfare, the hospital, the university, the post-slavery economy—what stands out is the mind-set that made all of it possible, a mind-set whose closest contemporary equivalent is much more to be found in the Bay Area of California than in the Vatican or the vast majority of Catholic dioceses, parishes or ministries. Moreover, that Silicon Valley mind-set was crucial, central to performing the church’s work of feeding the hungry, instructing the ignorant and effecting broad-based social change.

We should expect God’s grace to lead not only to holiness, but also to greater intelligence, creativity and resourcefulness in getting the work of the church done. And through the Spirit we should expect, if we follow Jesus, to accomplish absolutely novel and startling things.