- The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins
This well-crafted work lives up to the promise of its title. Both authors write from an advantageous position, for as co-founders of the Houston Catholic Worker and the Houston Catholic Worker newspaper, they write from within the movement as well as from their research. Zwick and Zwick build upon previous studies and offer a fresh perspective rather than a great deal of new information.
Peter Maurin is given fine treatment throughout the book. The authors acknowledge Maurin's influence on Dorothy Day, particularly in terms of his grounding in Catholic tradition, including its social teaching, and the contribution of the French personalists Jacques Maritain and Emmanuel Mounier. Nor is Dorothy Day's role minimized. Her advocacy for others is aptly underscored, whether by providing food, shelter, and clothing, retreats for the laity, intellectual stimulation, a life close to the land, or as witness for peace. [End Page 297]
The Zwicks' first chapter provides a fine entrée for the book. Written clearly, it provides short yet substantial introductions to Day and Maurin as well as to the Catholic Worker movement. Readers unfamiliar with the material profit from having a good introduction and, through it, an invitation to read further. Most likely, experienced readers will enjoy a review of the materials.
Three chapters—five, six, and fifteen—are particularly good. Chapter five, on the Russian philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev, recounts his critique of the bourgeois spirit, which threatened to undermine Christian principles of belief and action. Rather, Berdyaev's understanding of true freedom was faith-based on the paschal mystery of Christ. The Russian's influence upon Day and Maurin was considerable, though no single philosopher or social movement alone guided them. Chapter six summarizes the several connections between Christian personalist philosophy and the early Catholic worker movement. The authors rightly credit Emmanuel Mounier as the dominant force in the Christian personalist movement during his lifetime. Introduced to Mounier by Maurin, Dorothy Day applied the former's emphasis on human dignity and responsibility in this world while on pilgrimage toward the next. Chapter fifteen, the third of these remarkable chapters, emphasizes Day's role in retrieving and defending the pacifist tradition. In a well organized chapter, the Zwicks substantiate their claims with elegant ease. They observe that, especially from 1933 on, Day persistently lived and taught "the active nonviolence of love" (p. 253). An absolute pacifist, she spoke out against violence in any form, from obliteration bombing in World War II to the use of napalm in Vietnam.
Conversely, the chapter on Jacques and Raïssa Maritain suffers from a lack of focus. However, it is redeemed by a magnificent last chapter on the Catholic Worker's legacy in a troubled world. The authors rightly note the movement's gospel radicalism and the integration of spiritual and social life that it offers. They also demonstrate well that Day and Maurin have modeled an unflagging commitment to transform the world, one step at a time.