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Gustave Wiegel

The Relevant Reverend, by Rev. Dr. Herbert F. Vetter

Gustave Wiegel

An American priest at Vatican Council II was the relevant Rev. Gustave Weigel, a major contributor to the affirmation that religion is ecumenicity. It properly unites “the inhabited world” in its confrontation with the perils of both poverty and power. In his Catholic Primer on the Ecumenical Movement, Dr. Weigel noted that this movement is undoubtedly the most striking ecclesiological event since the 16th century Reformation.

Fr. Weigel published both an introductory book originally prepared for Catholic high school students on various non-Catholic Churches in North America, as well as a scholarly Survey of Protestant Theology in Our Time. This work is not regarded as weakening the Catholic position, for Weigel swiftly states that, “The inevitable authoritarianism of Catholicism makes communication with anti-authoritarians difficult for the Catholic.” No less sharp is his declaration of ecclesiastical allegiance, for he says: “From the Catholic view there is no church except the Catholic Church.”

Such honest bluntness is an aid to the dialogue in which Weigel was engaged across the barbed wires of Christian faith. If anyone doubts the practical relevance of such conversation, he might ponder the fact that in the brief obituary concerning Gustave Weigel in Time, the leading sentence is “Played a major role in the 1960 Kennedy campaign stating that the church would not interfere with a Catholic president.” One might also note that in 1962, Yale awarded him the first honorary degree it had ever given to a priest because he had broken through the Reformation wall and pioneered in Catholic-Protestant dialogue.

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