Catholic Social Thought? Not Your Father's Encyclopedia!JEFFREY A. MIRUS
Would it not be wonderful to have an encyclopedia of Catholic social thought?
In these days of constant public controversy, such a volume would be extremely useful. We might even be able to figure out what we and others are talking about or perhaps, as the expression goes, where we're coming from — or even where we're headed.
But wait. Let us imagine for a moment that such a comprehensive effort could be undertaken. It would not do to have it written and edited by what we might justly call standard, cookie-cutter professors who all share the same standard, cookie-cutter prejudices. If we want to understand how some thinker (say John Dewey) or some widespread social fashion (say Feminism) or some philosophical approach (say economic personalism) or some particular Church document (say Rerum Novarum) fits into Catholic social thought, we necessarily want our encyclopedia to convey not only facts but a proper orientation to the truth about man, especially as articulated by the Catholic Magisterium. We would require the editors and writers to have the mind of the Church, so that they could "test everything and hold fast to what is good" (1 Thes 5:21).
These days I believe that would be something new under the sun! That would not be your father's encyclopedia. And if we will put our collective powers of imagination to work, harness them to our deepest desires, squeeze our eyes tightly shut, cross our fingers, and whisper the incantation Society-of-Catholic-Social-Scientists, then trust me, the very work will appear in three large, well-crafted hardback volumes. I'm referring to the Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy edited by Michael Coulter, Stephen Krason, Richard Myers, and Joseph Varacalli. The publisher is Scarecrow Press.
In addition, you will have to go to a good library or pay $234.10. But it is worth either the trip or the dollars, or both.
Starting with an entry on Feminism, we find another on Feminism in the Church. Then we learn of William Frederick Joseph Ferree, SM (an influential social justice scholar of the mid-twentieth century), followed by Fides et Ratio (John Paul II's encyclical from 1998), which in turn is followed by St. Lucy Filippini (a social reformer and foundress who lived from 1672 to 1732). Then we can linger over an entry on Film (starting in the 1890s) before going on to John Mitchell Finnis, the outstanding Australian legal and ethical philosopher born in 1940. The next entry focuses on Thomas Fitzsimmons, a merchant-statesman and friend of George Washington at the time of the American Revolution. And Fitzsimmons, as you might imagine, brings us to the very brink of Foreign Policy.
These are not little one-paragraph summaries. Many of the entries run between a thousand and three thousand words; complex topics are generally broken down into multiple entries. Moreover, each entry concludes by identifying its author (there is a list of the academic affiliations of the contributors at the end of the second volume), and by offering suggestions for further reading.
But I should not forget the supplement, which is arranged in the same way. Between "Fem" and "For" — the brief sequence I recounted two paragraphs back — what was added in the supplement volume? Four more outstanding entries: Ludwig Andreas Feurbach (author of a nineteenth century sourcebook for dedicated atheists) is followed by Fideism, which in turn is succeeded by Film and Catholic Social Thought (many readers will recognize its author, Steven Greydanus), and finally by St. John Fisher — the lone episcopal martyr when Henry VIII nationalized the English Church. That event posed all kinds of problems for Catholic social thought, social science, and social policy.
Just to be clear, let us see how these terms are being used:
This is the kind of breadth we were looking for. Moreover, while the editors rightly maintain that "Catholic orthodoxy . . . leaves plenty of room for prudential disagreements and scholarly debates", they have insisted, in recruiting their expert contributors and shaping the reference work as a whole, on respect and support for "the constitutive role that magisterial thought plays in authentic Catholic scholarship."
It really is magic — or, far more accurately, a work of great grace — and it is only sensible to hope that this material will one day be made available online where it can be far more easily enlarged and updated, and will also do far more good. Meanwhile, I advise every institution with responsibility for a library, every individual who truly values his own private library, and all those who presume to write on these complex and contentious topics, to invest quickly in the Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy — and to keep it close at hand.
Jeffrey A. Mirus. "Catholic Social Thought? Not Your Father's Encyclopedia!" Catholic Culture (January 16, 2013).
Reprinted with permission of Jeffrey Mirus and Catholic Culture.org.
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Jeffrey A. Mirus received a Ph.D. in Intellectual History from Princeton University in 1973. In 1977, Mirus collaborated with Warren H. Carroll in founding Christendom College. Jeff Mirus served as a professor, founded the apologetics program, was the first Director of Academic Affairs, made Faith & Reason the College's journal and founded and directed Christendom Press. He also co-authored the apologetics text Reasons for Hope and authored The Divine Courtship (Franciscan Herald Press). Jeffrey Mirus now spends a majority of his time managing Trinity Communications and developing the CatholicCulture.org website.
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