John Hugo and an American Catholic theology of nature and grace

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Theology


Department of Religious Studies


Advisor: William Portier


This dissertation examines the theological work of John Hugo by looking at its roots within the history of Ignatian spirituality, as well as within various nature-grace debates in Christian history. It also attempts to situate Hugo within the historical context of early twentieth-century Catholicism and America, particularly the period surrounding the Second World War. John Hugo (1911-1985) was a priest from Pittsburgh who is perhaps best known as Dorothy Day's spiritual director and leader of the retreat" she memorialized in The Long Loneliness. Throughout much of American Catholic scholarship, Hugo's theology has been depicted as rigorist and even labeled as Jansenist, yet it was embraced by and had a great influence upon Day and many others. Hugo was also significant beyond his association with Day and the Catholic Worker, in that he represented a unique theological impulse within American Catholicism. This inquiry reveals that not only is the Jansenist caricature of Hugo's theology false, but also that that caricature itself is rooted in the particular theological perspective of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century neo-Thomism. Hugo offered a critique of this once dominant theological perspective, and indeed his theology shared many similarities with the work done by Henri de Lubac, S.J. during the same period. This project ultimately intends to show that Hugo's theology of nature and grace remains relevant to contemporary American Catholic discourse, as it provides a corrective and an alternative to the somewhat intransigent debates between thinkers who tend toward a "Thomistic" stance and those who take a more "Augustinian" approach."


Hugo, John Criticism and interpretation, Theologians United States 20th century Criticism and interpretation, Catholic Worker Movement

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Copyright 2011, author