- The Catholic Thing - https://www.thecatholicthing.org -

The Adventure of Catholic Social Doctrine

Catholic Social Doctrine depends crucially on the adjustment of “middle axioms,” which gear unchanging first principles to changing times. It also depends crucially on an instinct for the particular and the concrete, the accurate formulation of the new facts in play, and the shifting self-interests of all the players.

On sin and self-interest, in my experience, the great Protestant theologian of my youth, Reinhold Niebuhr, had more to say, and said it better, than any Catholic theologian I have read. Except for St. Augustine, of whom Niebuhr was a close reader.

For such reasons, Catholic Social Doctrine experiences “development” in two especially acute areas. Middle axioms need to be constantly reformulated to mesh with new sorts of institutions and regimes. Further, the shifting grounds of historical change need to be noted sharply, so as to reflect reality as it is, not as it was, nor as utopians wish it were.

Catholics know in their bones that history is strewn with ironies and tragedies, strange twists, monstrous actions by deranged individuals, the lassitude of the good, the collapse of the center, the rapidly spreading infection of destructive ideas. Even saintly leaders acting with good intentions have sometimes brought about ugly consequences they did not intend.

In other words, Catholic Social Doctrine is anything but cut and dried. It is a great field for young talent, full of energy and originality. It is also a hugely demanding discipline, because any practitioner (either on the theoretical or on the practical side) must learn an immense amount in the very short period of a human life. –from The Catholic Thing [1]