BREAKING BREAD: The Catholic Worker and the Origin of Catholic Radicalism in America by Mel Piehl

BREAKING BREAD: The Catholic Worker and the Origin of Catholic Radicalism in America

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A sober, sympathetic overview of the group that was (and is?) ""at once a social and political movement, a utopian experiment, and a force for change within American Catholicism."" Piehl covers the same ground as William Miller did in A Harsh and Dreadful Love: Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker (1972), but in a much more analytic and much less anecdotal manner. Given the highly individualistic-anarchic style of the CW, Piehl has to pay some attention to co-founders Day and Peter Maurin (who provided a living link with European Catholic radicalism), as well as to the leading figures influenced by them, people like Michael Harrington, Thomas Merton, and Daniel Berrigan. But Piehl convincingly suggests that the CW's ultimate significance lies in the new territory it staked out on issues of social justice, particularly exploitation of the poor and the arms race. By appeaiing to a variegated skein of traditions (the Gospels, early monasticism, romantic agrarianism, distributism, personalism, the more left-leaning papal encyclicals, the work of Berdayev, Mounier, Maritain, etc.), and then bearing witness to this homemade ideology by living in voluntary poverty, founding settlement houses, protesting against war, and occasionally going to jail, CW members practically invented American Catholic radicalism. Piehl admits that the CW's exalted idealism (which inevitably attracted a goodly share of cranks), combined with its lack of interest in practical politics, has limited its influence. But at the same time this deep-dyed unworldliness (Peter Maurin's medieval assault on the banking system, CW conscientious objectors to WW Il) has undoubtedly inspired thousands of liberals, Catholic or otherwise, who would not or could not go so far in rejecting the bourgeois capitalist order. Piehl's scholarship is thorough, and the historical context is both broad and illuminating. A solid contribution.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Temple Univ. Press