In this volume, O’Brien and Shannon aim to present the “documentary heritage” of Catholic social thought as represented in papal, conciliar and North American documents, so that the ideas therein may continue to give purpose and life to their readers and hearers. Those interested in documents pertaining more broadly to the global or Latin American community will need to look elsewhere, but this much is acknowledged in the preface; this volume is unapologetically addressed to the church in the United States which, on a purely practical level, serves to keep its already prodigious size at least slightly at bay. The authors have in this volume undertaken a Herculean task, and the fruit of their labor is an impressive and valuable anthology.
This work begins with a brief yet sufficient overview of the history and basic ideology of Catholic social thought. The historical section of the introduction documents the development of Catholic social thought from ideas present in Scripture, the patristic and medieval periods, as well the Reformation. This section is followed by another that puts forth some advice and guidelines for reading the various documents in the anthology in terms of their historical contexts and their intended readership.
The anthology itself is divided into five sections, and each section is prefaced by a brief introduction detailing the time period and texts covered. In addition, each text is prefaced by its own introduction that outlines the political and philosophical climates out of which the respective texts arose. The first section, “The Classic Texts of Leo XIII and Pius XI,” includes Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891) and Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno (1931). The second, “Catholic Social Thought in Transition,” includes two works from John XXIII: Mater et Magistra (1961) and Pacem in Terris (1963). The third section, “Vatican II and Post-Conciliar Catholic Social Teaching,” begins with the Vatican II pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes (1965), and is followed by Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio (1967) and Octogesima Adveniens (1971). This section also includes Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975) as well as Justice in the World, issued by the Synod of Bishops in 1971. The fourth section, “The Social Teaching of John Paul II and Benedict XVI,” includes John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens (1981), Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987) and Centisimus Annus (1991). New to this expanded edition is Benedict XVI’s recent Caritas in Veritate (2009). The fifth and final section, “The U.S. Bishops and Catholic Social Teaching,” includes three documents penned by the U.S. Catholic Bishops. The first, Brothers and Sisters to Us (1979), a pastoral letter on racism, is new to this expanded edition and is a much-welcomed addition. The section draws to a close with two additional texts, The Challenge of Peace (1983) and Economic Justice for All (1986).
The layout of this anthology is clear and, for the most part, user friendly. Each of the texts retain their original notes, which are presented in this work as endnotes following each text. The anthology includes a short topical index that, despite its brevity, covers many topics that will be of interest to readers. Future editions of this work would benefit from a Scripture index, the inclusion of which would be especially attractive to those interested in the biblical roots of Catholic social thought.
To present the phenomenon of Catholic social thought in one volume, in a way that does justice to the richness and particularities of its long history, is no small task. O’Brien and Shannon have approached this task boldly, and they have produced a volume that will be valuable to anyone interested in this essential component of the Catholic faith.