If You Really Want to Understand Catholic Social Doctrine, You Must Read …

If You Really Want to Understand Catholic Social Doctrine, You Must Read … November 4, 2018

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The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. When I have written about Church social teaching on this blog, that’s the only text I have ever cited. (Well, okay, I’ve also cited Gaudium et Spes and papal encyclicals that comprise Church social teaching, such as Rerum Novarum or Quadragesimo Anno or Caritas in Veritate.) But my point is: When I write about Church teaching, I cite Church documents. When I want to know what the Church teaches, I read the Church.

Now, the reason I bring this is up is because, earlier today, I read on Facebook, from a Catholic blogger with a large following, this: that, if you want to avoid “counterfeit” presentations of social justice, you need to read Tony Esolen’s book on the topic.

No.

Now, I’ve not read that particular book, and for all I know, it might be very good. It’s not my point to say that Esolen’s book is full of distortions or errors. Perhaps it is; perhaps it’s not. But you know for a fact you won’t get distortions and errors if you find out what the Church teaches by reading Church documents.

When I was in graduate school, I learned to never—never—read a secondary source on anything until I had first read the primary source. C.S. Lewis wrote a very good book on Milton called A Preface to Paradise Lost. But I would never tell anyone, “Hey, if you want to understand Milton, go read Lewis.” No. To understand Milton, read Milton. When you know Paradise Lost well, then pick up C.S. Lewis’s book.

If you want to know what Augustine thought, read Augustine. If you want to know something about Faulkner, go to the library and get yourself a copy of The Sound and the Fury. If you want to know what the Church teaches in its social doctrine, you can read the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Satan can not cast out Satan; the Church can not counterfeit the Church.

Just make sure, of course, that you read the whole thing; don’t scan around for stuff to cherry-pick that confirms whatever you already think. I mean, Evangelium Vitae is about much more than abortion, after all.

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