It is a cliché in Catholic circles that the Catholic Church’s social teaching is her “best kept secret.” But like many clichés, there’s a great deal of truth to it. Few Catholics seem aware that the Church even has a body of social teaching and fewer still seem to know what that teaching includes. That shouldn’t surprise us, really, since surveys of Catholics over the last thirty years reveal a general decline in knowledge of the faith. Why should knowledge of Catholic social doctrine be exempt from the trend?
Well, that’s the bad news. The good news is that Oxford’s Jesuit Father Rodger Charles wants to reverse the trend and has done something about it. A decade and a half ago, he wrote The Social Teaching of Vatican II (Ignatius Press), a large-scale summary of Catholic social teaching in light of the Council. Recently, he published a hefty two-volume work, Christian Social Witness and Teaching: the Catholic Tradition from Genesis to Centesimus Annus (Gracewing). That monumental contribution to Catholic learning won’t make much of an impact at your local parish–at least not right away. Written primarily for those doing graduate work in theology, the two tomes that comprise the project would probably be as intelligible to the average, even otherwise well-educated Catholic as an academic paper on quantum mechanics. And not because Father Charles’ prose is dense—it isn’t. But because the average, even otherwise well-educated Catholic must start from scratch when it comes to Catholic social teaching, while Father Charles’ two-volume work necessarily assumes a fair amount of theological background.
Not so the hundred-and-so-page distillation of Father Charles’ work recently published by Ignatius Press. Titled An Introduction to Catholic Social Teaching, the book is a much-needed primer on the subject, written for the non-theologian. In fact, a good deal of the book consists of excerpts from magisterial documents, so the layman can become acquainted with the original doctrinal sources as he gains a basic overview of Catholic social teaching. … Read More
- You can browse the content of Christian Social Witness and Teaching Vol. I and Vol. II via GoogleBooks.
- Fr. Charles’ Christian Social Witness and Teaching received high marks in the Acton Institute’s Journal of Markets and Morality, the very fact of which I suppose will be seen as damning to our left-of-center readers.