Daniel MCDONALD, SJ, editor, Catholic Social Teaching in Global Perspective.Daniel MCDONALD, SJ, editor, Catholic Social Teaching in Global Perspective. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010. pp. xxii + 218. $17.24 pb. ISBN 978-1-57075-896-6.
Justice Rising: The Emerging Biblical Vision. .
Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010. pp. xviii + 188. $13.98 pb. ISBN 978-1-57075-884-3.
Reviewed by Joel WARDEN, The Brooklyn Oratory of St. Philip Neri, Brooklyn, NY 11201.
Two new offerings from the Maryknoll community’s Orbis Press apply Catholic social reflection to contemporary issues of peace and justice. Daniel McDonald’s carefully curated collection of essays from authors around the world examines basic principles of Catholic Social Teaching (specifically, the Common Good and Solidarity) in relation to on-the-ground political and economic circumstances in both the developed and developing worlds. John Heagle’s exploration of the evolution of theories of justice beginning with the witness of scripture and ending in the social upheavals of the twentieth-century also addresses contemporary political circumstances but does so more as an inter-weaving of biblical exegesis, social critique and personal reflection from one authorial voice. Yet, both books help to expand the current attempt to apply aspects of contemporary social theory as found in CST to modern-day dilemmas. Both also, in various ways, point to where further work can be done in the field of Christian social ethics.
The essays in Catholic Social Teaching in Global Perspective come from various authors, most of whom give what amounts to reports on the current political and economic challenges in disparate parts of the world (India, Australia, North America, and East Asia, for example) and locate some value of CST at work in their observations. Emphasis is placed on “global” in these essays. Indeed, one of the challenges faced by those engaged in applying CST to concrete circumstances is how to translate values that have arisen through the intellectual tradition of the West — and the Church’s traditionally Aristotelian and Thomistic teleological model of human flourishing — into non-Western cultural experiences. As usually happens in collections of essays written by multiple authors, there is an unevenness of tone as the book progresses. Yet, the inclusion of a variety of voices helps to remind the reader of the obstacles that are faced by proponents of CST in the global situation; each set of political or social circumstances requires a different approach and a different tone, as it were. This means that the volume is a good place to start for anyone interested in seeing how values such as the preferential option for the poor and subsidiarity (two of the staples of CST) are at work when such notions may be foreign. And while it would be helpful for the authors to make more explicit connections between the foundation of CST in papal documents of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (after all, that is where many say the tradition begins), one gets the sense after reading the volume that people engaged in the application of CST have found in its body of thought not only wide-ranging, abstract values but also some practical solutions to the social problems they face.
Heagle develops an argument in Justice Rising which is more unified than that found in McDonald’s volume. Heagle offers a series homilistic reflections set within the context of contemporary anxiety over terrorism and war. In tracing the emergence of notions of justice in scripture he reminds his readers that mechanisms of violence have always been part of the human social condition. Heagle digs down into what lies beneath the age-old concerns for security-within-fairness and, by interspersing his analysis of scriptural texts with quotations and reflections from (mostly twentieth century) poets and theologians he does a good job of inviting the reader to engage in her own reflection on such things. The author is both a priest and psychotherapist and so, apart from the social critique one would expect from a book on as socially mediated a value as justice, he also constructs a theory as what is psychically at the root of injustice. Granted, the transitions the author makes from the sharing of his personal history back and forth to theological concepts and political tragedies of the twentieth century can sometimes jar, the rich texture of such reflections make this much more of a work of devotional reading than a dry social treatise. Perhaps, then, Justice Rising would make an excellent source of spiritual reflection while the essays of McDonald’s book provide a more statistically based social analysis. As such, both of these volumes are useful and interesting contributions to the work being done within the contemporary tradition of CST.