Catholic Social Thought

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 8.22.50 PMIn my experience the most influential theories of Christian political thought are those of Abraham Kuyper (with an important American version in Niebuhrianism) and the long tradition of Catholic social thought. Both are theologies of creation; both are comprehensive (though each is not exhaustively complete) in that both the religious life and the more “secular” life are given their due; both care about the poor and both operate on the basis of some kind of capitalism or modified capitalism (from regulations to a more extensive regulation as is seen today in “social democracy”).

I recently posted about J.K.A. Smith’s excellent sketch of Kuyperian social theology so today a sketch will be given of one version of Catholic social thought, that of Michael Novak.

Novak, in his Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is, with Paul Adams, offers sixteen elements of Catholic social thought. Yes, no less than 16.

What is missing? What should be missing? How does Kuyperian thinking compare?

The Five Cs

l. The First C: Caritas
2. The Common Good
3. The Cause of Wealth
4. Creativity
5. Community of Work

The Five Rs

1. The Right to Give to Caesar What Is Caesar’s, But to God the Things That Are God’s
2. The Right to Worship God and Practice One’s Faith
3. The Right of Association
4. The Right to Private Property
5. The Right to a Living Wage

The Six Ss

1. The Subjectivity of the Human Person
2. The Subjectivity of Society
3. Subsidiarity [what can be done locally ought not to be done federally]
4. Solidarity
5. The Social Destination of All Created Goods
6. Social Justice [From the previous post on Novak:] Social justice is a personal virtue, not a social vision; its “specific character is social in two ways: the skill in forming associations, and the aim of benefiting the human community” (24-25). As such — and this is big for Novak — it turns to the federal government as little as possible.

Furthermore, Novak is intensely concerned with social welfare policies that lead to dependence on the federal or state governments; dependence here is contrasted with responsibility and creativity. Thus, “Social work at its best has always understood that one does little good to clients—and perhaps great harm—by making them more dependent, less motivated, and less able to think through their own problems than they already were.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.