The Teachings of Modern Christianity on Law, Politics, and Human Nature - Vol. 1

By John Witte Jr.; Frank S. Alexander | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Introduction to Modern Catholicism

RUSSELL HITTINGER

In his opening allocution to the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1963, Pope John XXIII urged the bishops to heed what may be learned from history, “the teacher of life.”1 He recalled, for example, that previous councils were “often held to the accompaniment of the most serious difficulties and sufferings because of the undue interference of civil authorities.” The more senior bishops assembled in 1962 could remember that at the papal conclave of 1903, the emperor of Austria effectively exercised the so-called ius exclusivae, the right of vetoing a papal candidate. The pope reminded the council that whatever the problems and challenges of the contemporary world, it is not true that in former times “everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and life and for proper religious liberty.”

All of the Catholic thinkers and writers in this volume were born and came of age prior to the Second Vatican Council and lived through different phases of the problematic history recalled by Pope John. Gioacchino Pecci, the future Pope Leo XIII, was the oldest of these Catholic “titans.” He was born in 1810, as Napoleon's armies were reconstituting the political geography of Europe. The youngest is Karol Józef Wojtyla, who would become Pope John Paul II in 1978, exactly a century after Leo's election. Born in 1920, just two years after the end of World War I had swept away the last ruling families of Christendom (Hohenzollerns, Wittelsbachs, Romanovs, and Habsburgs), Wojtyla would live to see the political map drastically change yet again in 1939, 1945. and 1989. Remarkably, Pecci and Wojtyla's respective lives encompass nearly two centuries of lived experience, covering almost the entirety of what we would consider the “modern” situation of Catholicism.

These Catholic thinkers are notable for the contribution to the development of Catholic legal, political, and social thought and doctrine—“social teachings,” as they are conventionally called, which have been one of the

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