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CHURCH AND REVOLUTION by Thomas Bokenkotter

CHURCH AND REVOLUTION

The Quest for Social Justice in the Catholic Church

By Thomas Bokenkotter

Pub Date: Aug. 17th, 1998
ISBN: 0-385-48754-1
Publisher: Doubleday

An ambitious but disjointed exploration of social justice in the Catholic Church. How did the Roman Catholic Church, which before the French Revolution was one of the world’s most conservative (and landed) institutions, become the 20th century’s most vocal advocate for the poor? This is the opening question of Bokenkotter’s new book (he’s the author of Essential Catholicism, 1985, etc.). His approach differs slightly from more traditional examinations of Catholicism’s social transformations; he narrows his lens to individual activists who have pushed the Church to this relatively new stance for human rights. The book adopts a roughly chronological approach, profiling more than a dozen Catholic activists, such as Italy’s Don Sturzo, an outspoken opponent of Mussolini; Michael Collins and the Irish quest for independence; and America’s own Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker movement. At its best, this multibiography format is so broadly based that it offers a rudimentary introduction to the history of modern Western civilization. At its worst, the collection suffers from chaos, with biographical tidbits referring only tangentially to Catholicism and even less to other chapters. Bokenkotter’s biographical sketches are impressively researched in secondary sources but neglect primary investigations into these thinkers’ complex intellectual development. Then, too, the book ends abruptly with Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement for Polish workers. There is no conclusion to tie the tome’s many disparate threads together, no effort to analyze some of its lingering questions: what intellectual and religious commitments link these very different activists to one another? In what directions might the Church have headed without them? Would Vatican II, for example, have ever occurred? Why is violence embraced by some justice activists and eschewed by others, like Day? This is valuable for its short biographical sketches, but its disunity leaves the reader wishing for more intellectual meat. (b&w photos, not seen)