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Citizens of the Heavenly City: A Catechism of Catholic Social Teaching.

Citizens of the Heavenly City A Catechism of Catholic Social Teaching WRITTEN BY Arthur Hippler PUBLISHED BY Borromeo Books, St. Paul MN, 2005, ISBN: 0976309823, Softcover, pp. 154, $15.95 USD

Dr. Hippler sets out to examine "the most basic precepts of Catholic social teaching" as they come from the Bible, the Church Fathers and Doctors, and the Popes. Intended to introduce high school students to the subject, his catechism is written at a level his readers should readily understand. What he says is excellent and at times inspiring. What he fails to say, however, is surprising and unfortunate, as there are regrettable omissions. A more systematic approach proceeding from fundamental principles would have produced a better teaching manual.

Not that he lacks a system. He centres his catechism on the Commandments, the ten from the Old Law and the two from the New. In light of these, he focuses on the two sources of Catholic social teaching, the Bible and Church tradition. This approach shows the continuity of Catholic doctrine and is a corrective to the common impression that what happened before Vatican II has been superseded and may no longer be relevant.

But while it is wide ranging, his approach lacks specificity where it is most required. To say, as he does, that the Church's social teaching addresses all matters that pertain to the common good is true. But for pedagogical purposes, it is a very broad basis from which to view the subject. A narrower focus highlighting permanent principles and essential concepts would have been preferable in a short book aimed at introducing young people to a much-neglected part of our Catholic heritage.

A narrower approach, it might be objected, could risk isolating specifically social doctrine from other teaching. But this need not happen, as the unity of Catholic thought could be established at the start and linkages between social and other teaching could be noted along the way.

He does note linkages, but in a manner that seems to dissolve boundaries between different subjects. The boundaries that divide knowledge, of course, are only mental constructs. But they introduce order to facilitate teaching.

As indicated, he introduces his readers to the common good, one of the permanent principles of Catholic social doctrine. The Catecism of the Catholic Church defines it as "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily." He also mentions solidarity, a permanent principle and a moral virtue, which commits us to the common good.

But he fails to mention subsidiarity, also a permanent principle, which upholds the autonomy of individuals and communities at the level on which they are able to function. It is incredible that a manual on Catholic social teaching should omit this principle. Together with the dignity of the human person, the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity constitute the very heart of Catholic social teaching.

These principles and associated values provide a basis for systematically analyzing political and economic questions. Social life, of course, is not limited to the political and economic. As Dr. Hippler points out, it also includes the spiritual as our universal common good is God. But it is in the political and economic spheres that Catholic social teaching might have an immediate impact on all people of good will, if only it were better known. They can embrace it without being Catholic or even religious.

There are other surprising omissions. He mentions communism and socialism, but not capitalism. He discusses private property, but not private means of production, the virtue of enterprise and the creation of wealth. Nor does he mention the welfare state, which contains elements of both socialism and capitalism. The welfare state, it seems to me, is a living lesson on the uses and abuses of solidarity and subsidiarity.

Dr. Hippler recognizes the centrality of the family in Catholic social teaching. Intact families, he maintains, are necessary for the good of couples, their children and society at large. Consequently, he says, the Catholic Church has always steadfastly defended the permanent bond of matrimony and Vatican II condemned divorce as a "plague."

True, but in many jurisdictions, Catholic authorities have embraced permissive annulment. The consequences for couples, children and the larger society have been devastating. By failing even to mention annulment, while singing the praises of Church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, Dr. Hippler does his young readers a disservice. Many of them will have experienced, directly or indirectly, the sad legacy of permissive annulment, and will surely be confused by a discussion of marriage and the common good that fails to address it.

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Author:Campbell, Joseph
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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