Catholic Social Thought in Proper Context | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Ignatius Insight | September 29, 2011
Brian Benestad, Church, State, and Society: An Introduction to Catholic Social Doctrine
Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011.
"The concept of justice as order in the soul of the individual needs to be rediscovered today." — Benestad, 144.
"Nowadays, service to others is often presented as the distinguishing characteristic of a Catholic university; but without linking that service to the prior task of seeking truth and achieving some order in one's soul through prayer, a sacramental life, acceptance of the Catholic creeds, and the practice of Christian morality. It seems naïve to me, and even Pelagian, to think that Christ-like service can be informed and embrace without a foundation in Christian doctrine and a basis in learning." — Benestad, 284.
We have been waiting for this remarkable book for a long time, one that knows not just episcopal and papal thought but the whole history of theology, political philosophy, and philosophy at large. This book has roots not only in the Greeks and Romans, but also in Scripture and the great theologians of the Church. And it is aware of the pitfalls of language and ideas that often steer Christian thinkers into the heady, dangerous realms of ideology. Dr. Brian Benestad knows his Locke and Hobbes, his Marx, and the more modern liberal relativist theories associated with Rawls and other American writers.
Benestad, at the University of Scranton, is the best qualified and able of American scholars to write an overall understanding of Catholic Social Thought, which has tended to become a rather narrow and isolated body of knowledge. Benestad's mentor, whom he often cites and whose collected essays he edited, was the late Father Ernest Fortin, A.A. Fortin, along with Heinrich Rommen, Jacques Maritain, Yves Simon, John Courtney Murray, and Charles N. R. McCoy, was certainly the most critical and acute mind in the intellectual circles of his time. Fortin covered the whole gamut of thought from Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, to the Fathers of the Church, Aquinas, Aquinas, Dante, and into the modern world. Fortin was familiar with Strauss and Bloom and their critiques of modernity.
This book is more than the "introduction" of its sub-title. It is nothing less than a critical, philosophical reflection on the whole tradition of what is loosely called "social thought or doctrine." It knows its way through the relation of reason and revelation. Its range includes economics, environmentalism, universities, political institutions, war, life and family questions, subsidiarity, and culture. Metaphysics is always just below the surface.
Benestad, to be sure, unlike Plato, Aristotle, and the current pope, does not have much to say about music. But he makes remarkable use of classic literature and novels to illustrate virtues and vices. He is obviously a broadly learned man in the tradition of liberal education. This overlook of social thought is doubly necessary as many of the basic words and notions that are found in modern thought and in political usage are anything but neutral or friendly to what Catholicism is and what it holds.