Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Church and Society in the Modern Age

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Church and Society in the Modern Age

Article excerpt

Church and Society in the Modern Age. By Alf Tergel. Translated by Craig McKay. [Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis: Uppsala Studies in Social Ethics,Vol. 17.] (Uppsala University Press; distributed by Almqvist & Wiksell International, Stockholm.1995. Pp. 275.)

This work condenses into one volume in English the gist of the author's four previous volumes in Swedish (dated 1981,1983,1987, and 1991).The subject is the history of social Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic, from the Industrial Revolution to the mid-1980's-more specifically, Christian social thought or ethics, rather than the practical social movements that have developed under the aegis of the churches.The central issue is seen to be social justice, predominantly in economic terms, and hence in particular the assessments given and the attitudes assumed by social Catholics and Protestants in regard to the two dominant economic systems during this period, capitalism and socialism.

One can wonder if this single-minded approach best serves the cause of historical understanding, especially since the author admits that "the choice between capitalism and Socialism or their intermediate forms became steadily less relevant for the Churches (p. 268; cf. already pp. 60,134).These alternatives had been, all the same, prominent enough previously. Confronting them led repeatedly to the quest for a "third way" for a modern political economy; just as regularly it gave rise to the notion that it was not the churches' mission to design an economic system, but to point to possibilities of greater justice to be achieved in actual circumstances, pragmatically.

For what readership is this book intended? It lacks all documentation, referring the reader instead to the four preceding monographs, two of which do not even seem to have been acquired by any library in the United States. It could perhaps serve as a quick overview of modern social thought in the Christian churches. …

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