Donal DORR, Option for the Poor and for the Earth: From Leo XIII to Pope Francis. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2016. 4th ed. Pp.548. $26.68 pb.ISBN 978-1-62698-162-1. Reviewed by Nathan KOLLAR, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY 14618.


What a treasure!  This is a necessary book for any Catholic theologian looking for a substantive review of magisterial teaching about cultural injustice for the last one hundred and twenty-five years.  Many of you are probably aware that this valuable book was first published in 1983, revised and expanded in 2012 and now, in 2016, further revised and expanded to include the teaching of Pope Francis.  It is a clearly written, contextually acute, and substantially developed explanation of why “the term ‘option for the poor’ … has become the most controversial religious term since the Reformers’ cry, ‘Salvation through faith alone.’ ” As such, Christianity is once again dividing into diverse organizational visions of the Gospel message. To know how we got here and what the phrase means is pivotal for understanding religion in general and Roman Catholicism in particular.

Dorr sees this understanding of the Church’s role in dealing with cultural injustice as developing over the years as it slowly begins to realize that it is no longer part of the political establishment in the developed world: the pontificate of John XIII begins the official recognition that it no longer speaks with the established power of the state and now must speak with the power of the people, especially the poor; it no longer speaks from the center of political power but from the margins of society.  It must take its stand from where Jesus stood when it all began – from not being of this political world but from the new, developing one, of the reign of God.

The teaching of the popes reflect this development in their descriptions of what we all must recognize and do to enable the building of just cultural institutions.  These teachings offer a pattern of seven values and three truths which are part of the Catholic heritage of social justice.

Door describes values that are part of this pattern “…  as human dignity, the value of the person as a worker, the right of everybody to the conditions required to be free and responsible, the importance of human community and solidarity, the importance of subsidiary levels of organization, the notion of the common good as meaning the welfare of all, and, most recently, the extension of the understanding of the common good to include nonhuman creatures as well as humans.” The fundamental  truths, he suggests, are that “every person is called by God to share in the divine creative work, the redemption of the world, and the promotion of the Reign of God; that human cooperation in creation, redemption, and furthering of God’s Reign is brought about through an integral development that has social, economic, environmental, political, cultural, and religious aspects; that an integral development is one where the spiritual and the temporal are not sharply opposed to each other and where the mission of the Church is not limited to purely religious matters.”

I began to read the social encyclicals in my late teens. It was a hard go but I read them all under the tutelage and inspiration of a teacher who was dedicated to helping the poor and unrepresented.  I wish I had something like this book to both enliven the reading and clarify the deaden language of the encyclicals. This book provides both inspiration and clarification of past writings with a clear challenge to help develop the context for future magisterial guidance. Take and read. Help prepare for the future.