Modern Catholic Social Teaching: The Popes Confront the Industrial Age 1740-1958

By Misner, Paul | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2004 | Go to article overview

Modern Catholic Social Teaching: The Popes Confront the Industrial Age 1740-1958


Misner, Paul, The Catholic Historical Review


Modern Catholic Social Teaching: The Popes Confront the Industrial Age 1740-1958. By Joe Holland. (New York and Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. 2003. Pp. xii, 404. $29.95 paperback.)

This is an original and notable treatment of the modern teaching of the popes on economic and political society. It seems the time has come for retrospective syntheses on the mutual interaction of Catholicism and modern society, another example being Kirche auf dem Weg in eine veränderte Welt (Münster: Lit, 2003) by Heinz Hurten. Hürten's work examines movements of Catholics in regional and national settings, whereas Holland complements it by restricting himself to an examination of the papal encyclicals.

Those wishing for a quick introduction to the view taken here could read pages 1-3 for the overall scheme of three successive strategies pursued by popes in coming to terms with modern culture. Then one would turn to pages 298-310; here the author sums up the second of the three periods, that from 1878 to 1958, dubbed "Leonine." The thesis is that the popes of this period were on the whole consistent in trying to reform (not reject in toto) "liberal" "bourgeois" society, loosening the Church's ties to the previous aristocratic ascendancy and favoring lay and labor activism in a very broadly understood "Christian democracy." In other words, papal teaching in the Leonine period took modernity as a given and with it a mitigated capitalism but not socialism. The popes set out to rechristianize society within that existing framework. Through an examination of all the pertinent encyclicals, many more than are usually cited in studies of Catholic social teaching, Holland grounds and explains his thesis persuasively. This without palliating the authoritarian tendencies that were part and parcel of the program but now seem quite inconsistent with any "liberal" democracy. …

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