Chicago Studies Fall 2021/Winter 2022

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St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Social Catholicism as Agent of Societal Reconciliation? By William F. Murphy, Jr., S.T.D. Introduction and Context In my first Paluch Lecture, I spoke on the theme of “Liberalism, Conservatism and Social Catholicism for the 21st Century?” 1 In it, I articulated a broad narrative to locate social Catholicism with respect to the main social and political perspectives of our day. I showed that, although “liberal” and “liberalism” has pejorative connotations for many contemporary Americans, often because of reactions against the perceived excesses of the illiberal left, it can be understood primarily as a political and economic arrangement centered in a constitutional democratic state with a market economy. I also discussed how “conservatism” can be understood as a basic disposition to preserve valued institutions, traditions, or social conditions. On this basis I discussed how it can range from a perspective that reasonably and helpfully moderates social change to radical illiberalisms of the right, which are in significant conflict with constitutional democracy and Catholic social teaching. On this basis, I argued that Catholics should live out their social tradition in a way that helps us to renew our sadly polarized democracy so we can address the pressing challenges of our times. In my third lecture, to be presented next semester, I will discuss some of the alternative approaches that especially American Catholics are currently taking regarding the social and political realms. One of the more influential of these alternatives is focused on opposing intrinsically evil acts, especially elective or procured abortion, which is seen as the preeminent issue of our day, surpassing others such as the collapsing social and political situation, and the existential climate crisis. Another alternative is focused on cultivating intense forms of Christian community and practice to withstand what is seen as a new dark age characterized by a soft totalitarianism of the left. Still another alternative is a new Catholic integralism in which the coercive power of the state is employed as an essential resource in fostering faith and morals. Other alternatives entail radical critiques of liberalism that offer essentially no plausible alternative polity, and no path to implement one if it existed. Each of these alternatives, I would argue, entails a departure from the actual social teaching of the Church, is inferior to it, and distracts Catholics from the need for their collaborative participation in the political and international communities to address the grave challenges of our time. The goal of this lecture is to illustrate how the renewal of moral theology encouraged by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council can help us to see how our living out of the social Catholicism that follows from the Social Doctrine of the Church should be seen as a vital part of the charity that is the defining characteristic of Christian morality according to the most trusted sources of the tradition ranging from St. Paul, through the Medieval synthesis of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Second Vatican Council and the Renewal of Moral Theology Given the tumultuous contemporary social context in which so many citizens—including Catholics—are divided into warring tribes, the first paragraph of Lumen Gentium: The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church offers an intriguing vision of the Church that merits our notice. It