Peter J. CASARELLA, ed. Jesus Christ: The New Face of Social Progress. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 2015. pp. 380. $45.00 pb. ISBN 978-0-8028-7113-8. Reviewed by Kathleen BORRES, Saint Vincent Seminary, Latrobe, PA 15650
Jesus Christ: The New Face of Social Progress is a well-rounded and well-written selection of essays reflecting upon and addressing in varying ways the significance of Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Caritas in Veritate. The essays aim to move readers, social conservatives andprogressives alike, to consider or reconsider anew three things. First, to re-imagine the social and political orders (and actual governing structures) to reflect what is essentially their foundation, a distributed, gratuitous order. Second, to consider truth and gift (love) as fundamental guiding economic policies - interchangeable ones at that - that ought to flow from this reality. Third, to respect the interconnectedness of human and natural resources in realizing what is, essentially, one world.
Before the authors move into a deeper exploration of these three fundamental points in Parts 2-4 (Part 2: Reimagining Social and Political Order; Part 3: Rethinking the Economy as Gratuitousness; and Part 4: A Green Pope? Ecology in Caritas in Veritate), five other authors look closely at the historical and theological underpinnings of the Pope's encyclical, setting down some foundational principles that flow through the entire work. The authors in Part 1, which is aptly entitled Historical and Theological Approaches, note among other things the Pope’s use of Scripture, his traditional and in a very real sense ground-breaking personalist approach to Catholic Social Thought, and the pneumatological promise that "I am with you always" guiding Benedict's very historical and expansive approach to Catholic Social Teaching. These essays are a very fine and rich selection of essays that help provide a framework for the rest of the book, which details in an extended way how we might realize in concrete ways Benedict's traditional and progressive hopes for the world. The essays in Parts 2-4 build upon Part 1 and the theological portrait of reality imagined by the Pope in his deep appreciation for the Word that grounds and informs all reality. Like the essays in Part 1, the essays in Parts 2-4 offer ample material for rich, thoughtful conversation.
A two-page preface that sets the stage for the entire work opens the volume: we live in a divided world but we must engage in respectful discourse if we are to move beyond the impasse. Following this clear and very appropriate preface is a very informative introduction by the editor of the volume, Peter J. Casarella, who, along with the essayists, participated in a conference held at DePaul University in 2010. The Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at DePaul University brought together men and women from both sides of the aisle so to speak to re-think and re-imagine the possibilities for the Church and world alike. It did so because we are at an impasse as human beings, thinkers and politicians. In some places and cases, we are seeing great decline in justice and order. The Center wanted participants to revisit the fundamental truths themselves that the Pope explores and expounds upon in Caritas in Veritate and to do so as philosophers, theologians, biblical scholars, politicians, economists, scientists, etc. As such, the dialogue among the essayists (and readers) is more than a utilitarian means to progress. It is a back to basics discourse about what is most real and proper and about what people can rightly call authentic development, which the author of the Epilogue addresses. The author of the Epilogue, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in his own way sums up the purpose of the book in his essay, "Loving in Truth for the Sake of Humanity."Altogether, we have a very fine collection of essays pulled together into a well-ordered volume by Peter J. Casarella. I recommend this book for upper level undergraduate and graduate classes in Catholic Social Ethics. It would be especially appropriate in a seminar setting that would allow for more student presentations and in-depth discussions. It really is a well-structured, moving book. Each essay is worth reading, and altogether the collection of essays form one very cogent work that will leave readers touched by the sensitivities and hopes of fellow sojourners.