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  • Modern Catholic Social Teaching: The Popes Confront the Industrial Age 1740–1958
  • Paul Misner
Modern Catholic Social Teaching: The Popes Confront the Industrial Age 1740–1958. By Joe Holland. (New York and Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. 2003. Pp. xii, 404. $29.95 paperback.)

This is an original and notable treatment of the modern teaching of the popes on economic and political society. It seems the time has come for retrospective syntheses on the mutual interaction of Catholicism and modern society, another example being Kirche auf dem Weg in eine veränderte Welt (Münster: Lit, 2003) by Heinz Hürten. Hürten's work examines movements of Catholics in regional and national settings, whereas Holland complements it by restricting himself to an examination of the papal encyclicals.

Those wishing for a quick introduction to the view taken here could read pages 1-3 for the overall scheme of three successive strategies pursued by popes in coming to terms with modern culture. Then one would turn to pages 298-310; here the author sums up the second of the three periods, that from 1878 to 1958, dubbed "Leonine." The thesis is that the popes of this period were on the whole consistent in trying to reform (not reject in toto) "liberal" "bourgeois" society, loosening the Church's ties to the previous aristocratic ascendancy and favoring lay and labor activism in a very broadly understood "Christian democracy." In other words, papal teaching in the Leonine period took modernity as a given and with it a mitigated capitalism but not socialism. The popes set out to rechristianize society within that existing framework. Through an examination of all the pertinent encyclicals, many more than are usually cited in studies of Catholic social teaching, Holland grounds and explains his thesis persuasively. This without palliating the authoritarian tendencies that were part and parcel of the program but now seem quite inconsistent with any "liberal" democracy.

The thesis must be properly understood, however, to gauge its historical validity. In my view, it is an insightful and not uncritical view of a continuity in papal teaching heretofore not elucidated in these categories. At first sight, it would seem to be a direct challenge to much European scholarship of recent decades, summed up in the title of one of Emile Poulat's books,Eglise contre bourgeoisie (1977). But it is not a throwback to the initial wave of investigations into the roots of Christian democracy after World War II, which tended to interpret the papal strategy in liberal Catholic terms. It may well contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the epochal tensions and problems that Catholicism [End Page 520] and European liberalism represented for each other. Perhaps the incompatibilities in the two accounts (Holland's and Poulat's) are less than fundamental.

The organization of the book is didactically effective; a chapter on the historical context precedes a chapter on the encyclicals of one or more popes. Summaries are frequent and the style is direct and uncomplicated. Students unfamiliar with the territory may nevertheless fall into some traps. Among names misspelled are those of the famous precursor of Leo XIII, Bishop Emmanuel von Ketteler, and the editor of the papal encyclicals, Claudia Carlen (except in the listings of permissions to reprint). Only the encyclicals are analyzed, not other papal statements. In the case of Pope Pius XII, for example, the omission of any consideration of his wartime Christmas messages skews the chronology of his declarations about political democracy. On the whole, however, the insights into the papal mentality and strategy of rechristianization make up for any other historical flaws in the work.

Paul Misner
Marquette University (Emeritus)


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