Curt CADORETTE, Catholicism in Social and Historical Contexts: An Introduction. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009. xi + 276 pages. $20.00 pb. ISBN: 978-1-57075-872-0.
Reviewed by Robert P. RUSSO, Lourdes College, Sylvania, OH 43560

Father Curt Cadorette, a Maryknoll priest, and the John Henry Newman Associate Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Rochester, has previously contributed to the field of Liberation Theology with such works as From the Heart of the People: the Theology of Gustavo Gutierrez and Liberation Theology: An Introductory Reader. His latest publication is designed for use on the undergraduate level and, to that extent, it succeeds in reaching its’ target audience. Father Cadorette’s writing is mature, and to the point. He readily admits the difficulties in trying to present two thousand years of Catholic social thinking and history in two-hundred-and-seventy-five pages. However, the real impetus behind Cadorette’s latest work is the attempt to clarify the general lack of awareness regarding the Catholic Church’s social teaching. He affirms that, “When I would ask students about their knowledge of Catholic teaching at the beginning of a semester, they would often refer to the church’s position on sexuality and reproductive issues, rarely aware that there is a rich tradition that focuses on economics, politics, and social structures” (p. ix).

Father Cadorette has dedicated chapters to Jesus, Justice and God’s Reign, Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi as Medieval Icons, Reforms and Revitalizations, and the Ambiguity and Challenge of Modernity. He has given excellent treatment to chapters devoted to Augustine and the Second Vatican Council.

In the chapter entitled “Augustine and the Complexities of Genius,” the reader sees the world of sin through the Bishop of Hippo’s eyes. Until his death in 430 C.E., Augustine had “remained an active bishop watching his flock with a wary eye. Augustine was terrified about his own salvation and that of those he was charged with pasturing. As an old man he still hurled fire and brimstone at his flock; some listened as others fell asleep” (p. 82). He had come a long way from his days of viewing sin as predestined. His views had been formed from his youth, embracing neo-Platonism and, later, Manichaeism. Towards the end of his life, Augustine came to view our sins as felix culpa, “a necessary and ultimate redemptive failure that led to Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. For Augustine, then, sin and salvation are intrinsically linked” (p. 84).

Cadorette’s most powerful work is found in the chapter entitled “Reassessment and Regeneration: the Second Vatican Council.” Here, the author details the struggles of the Tridentine Church of the Council of Trent and the modernity of the post-atomic age. Changes to both the internal and external Catholic Church did not come easy. In fact, “Many Vatican bureaucrats were intensely conservative and resistant to any change in the church’s theology or social teaching” (p. 193). However, the Conciliar document Lumen Gentium, or Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, bears witness to the exciting vision of Catholicism. Cadorette professes that the 1963 document “set the tone for the remainder of the Council. No longer defined as a ‘perfect society’ as it had been up until the 1950’s, the church is described as the ‘people of God,’ a community of believers involved in a journey toward God meant to be experienced within the church for sure, but also in relationship to the larger human family” (p. 200). Although the vision of the Catholic Church as the “Light of the World” has yet to be perfected, it remains an ideal worthy of aspiration.

Father Cadorette’s book is highly recommended for undergraduate students, and for those interested in a condensed version of Catholic history and ideology. Unfortunately, those reading Cadorette’s latest publication must wade through numerous grammatical errata. However, this in no way should detract the reader from the author’s clear and concise message regarding Catholicism and its’ place in the social and historical fabric of our society.

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