The Via Media to Vatican II: Liberalism, Socialism, and Transatlantic Catholic Social Thought, 1912 to 1961
Dennis, H. Robert
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Following the Capture of Rome and suspension of the First Vatican Council in 1870, the Roman Catholic Church, as a global institution, desperately needed to rethink its relationship to modernity. Catholics had attempted to do so throughout the nineteenth century: applying faith-based principles to matters of social and economic organization and reorienting traditional notions of charity to ones based on social justice. ‘Social Catholicism’ became a groundswell within the Church, culminating in papal encyclicals such as Rerum Novarum (1891) and later Quadragesimo Anno (1931). Concurrently, Catholic scholars had been looking to the medieval philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas for inspiration to confront post-Enlightenment Western Civilization, an initiative reflected by Pope Leo XIII’s Aeterni Patris (1879). These developments became intertwined. These encyclicals argued for a ‘third way’ most often associated with an economic and social philosophy of ‘corporatism.’ However, a corporatist reading came alongside other interpretations in Catholic social thought, which included British distributism and French personalism. Outside of fascist regimes, moreover, the idea of a ‘third way’ must more accurately be repositioned as occupying a ‘liminal’ space between the liberal and socialist traditions. Within this conceptual space came an engagement with modernity—one which created the preconditions for Vatican II. This dynamic affected the universal Church, but, as a via media, one that developed within local and national experiences of Catholicism. Using this framework, this study explores social Catholicism within English Canada from 1912 to 1961. It discerns three streams of social Catholic thought and action associated within the Antigonish Movement of Nova Scotia, the work of Henry Somerville in the Archdiocese of Toronto, and the educational initiatives of the Congregation of Priests of St. Basil. Through these streams, social Catholics experience a space of liminality between a social order predicated on liberalism and attempts by the left to live outside of an established set of economic and social relations conditions created by liberalism and capitalism since the 1840s in Canada. For the Canadian Church, this engagement leads to intellectual and institutional restructuring—a middle way, experienced in concert with Catholicism throughout the west, which led to the Second Vatican Council.
URI for this recordhttp://hdl.handle.net/1974/12263
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