Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Reading Patristic Texts on Social Ethics: Issues and Challenges for Twenty-First-Century Christian Social Thought

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Reading Patristic Texts on Social Ethics: Issues and Challenges for Twenty-First-Century Christian Social Thought

Article excerpt

Reading Patristic Texts on Social Ethics: Issues and Challenges for Twenty-First-Century Christian Social Thought. Edited by Johan Leemans, Brian J. Matz, and Johan Ver strae ten. [CUA Studies in Early Christianity.] (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press. 201 1. Pp. xviii, 272. $34.95. ISBN 978-0-813-21959-5.)

The eleven papers in this volume originate from a seminar organized by the Centre for Catholic Social Thought of the Catholic University of Leuven in 2007. They are arranged under four headings: "Approaching Patristic SocioEthical Texts," "Contexts for Patristic Socio-Ethical Texts," "Issues in Patristic and Catholic Social Thought," and "Reflections on the Theme." In part 1, Reimund Bieringer undertakes a quick survey of modern hermeneutical theories, highlighting Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur, to justify a reading of patristic texts that is future-oriented rather than centered on the world of the text. By contrast, Pauline Allen offers a more conventional overview of patristic writings on social ethics, emphasizing the challenges involved for contemporary theology in making constructive use of patristic writings that support property, slavery, and class distinctions, but at the same time highlighting the limited engagement with patristic thought to be found in official Catholic social teaching documents.

In part 2, Peter Van Nuffelen discusses the encounter between classical and Christian attitudes to care for the poor, with reference to writers of the fourth to sixth centuries. He affirms the "transformative impact" of Christian caritas on ancient society, but argues that caritas was itself transformed by its encounter with the Greco-Roman tradition of liberalitas as a public virtue. Helen Rhee surveys pre-Constantinian eschatology for evidence of God's judgment on the wealthy and the eschatological benefits of almsgiving. Wendy Mayer focuses on St. John Chrysostom, arguing that his strictures against the wealthy were directed at outsiders as well as his immediate audience, so that his vision for Christian social ethics was evangelistic.

In part 3, Susan R. Holman discusses Cappadocian ideas about the common good, identifying St. …

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