Few might accuse Orbis Books of regularly publishing works clearly reflecting the magisterium’s teaching on world religions. Now, something may be changing.

One thing recent work, Catholic Engagement With World Religions: A Comprehensive Study, aspires to do just this. Engagement is a thoroughly engaging work on the “state of the question” of ecclesial reflection within the sphere of Catholic interreligious dialogue. This is examined in light of that restatement of Catholic teaching — by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — entitled Dominus Iesus (“The Lord Jesus.”)  Though this is the latest installment in the Orbis “Faith Meets Faith” series (which has offered works not only by such problematic authors as Raimundo Pannikar and Jacques Dupuis, but one by the somewhat notorious Paul F. Knitter), Engagement is not only refreshingly Christ-centered, but unapologetically Catholic.

Chapter 1 deals with a history of Western thought on the question of “religion” generally, and of non-Christian religions in particular, from Cicero to Friedrich Schleiermacher in the early 19th century. Part I (confusingly following Chapter 1 and beginning instead with Chapter 2) is entitled “The Destiny of the Non-Christian: From Early Reflections to the Contemporary Magisterium.” Chapter 2 of Part I deals with the theological treatment of non-Christians from the Epistle of Barnabas (an early, non-canonical text read at Mass in early centuries, reflecting early Christian theology) up through St. Augustine. Chapters 3-6 begin with medieval theology’s engagement with the concept of religion and the fate of non-Christians in the history of Western thought and continuing into the contemporary era. The last chapter culminates in the magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI on these subjects.

Part II, “Framing a Theological Consideration of Religions,” spanning Chapters 7-14, is not only unexpected, but pleasantly so, offering an exhaustive exposition of Catholic doctrine on its own terms. Intended as catechetical for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, this part features chapters by such scholars as Luis Ladaria and the late Cardinal Avery Dulles. Part III, “Theology of Religions After Vatican Council II,” begins, in Chapter 16, by serving up an increasingly visible author on the topic of “theology of religions,” Gavin D’Acosta. D’Acosta tackles the hyperpluralist thought of John Hick and the aforementioned Paul Knitter head-on. (Chapters 17 and 18 irrenically reinforce this critique.) Part IV, “Particular Religions in Their Own Right and in relation to the Catholic Faith,” encompasses Chapters 19-24 before ending with a conclusion by the volume’s editors. (This is where the actual content of the most senior major religious traditions — Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam — is dealt with both on its own terms and from a Catholic perspective.)

As the series’ current editor William R. Burrows writes in the “Foreword,” “The ordinary ‘magisterium’ of the Church separates solid teaching from weak teaching like wheat and chaff are separated. … I can personally testify to having been asked often by Catholics, Protestants and followers of non-Christian traditions to distinguish between the opinions of theologians and the official teaching of the Church. Catholic Engagement With World Religions attempts to do just that. … (E)verything is not … ‘up for grabs.’… (P)luralists often disregard the uniqueness of the entire Christian construal of human nature and its destiny … [yet] the Christian gains nothing if she or he gives up Christian particularity.”

Throughout the book, the “polar star” of Dominus Iesus shines as a guiding thread, stressing the necessity of Christ’s centrality and life in the Holy Spirit as the Church understands it.

Catholic Social Teaching

Orbis has also updated a nearly 20-year-old compendium of Catholic social teaching. Catholic Social Thought: The Documentary Heritage, which first appeared in 1992, is now republished in an expanded edition (eds. David J. O’Brien and Thomas A. Shannon, 2010, 816p.) It begins with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum and ends with “Economic Justice for All,” the U.S. bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter on Catholic social teaching and the U.S. economy. As such, it is obviously, therefore, not the entire documentary heritage of Catholic social teaching, which would have to embrace the contribution of several episcopal conferences the world over. Rather, its intended readership is Catholics resident in the United States.

The advantage of this new edition over its predecessor is that it includes both Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate and the 1979 letter of the U.S. bishops on racism entitled “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” which was overlooked in the previous edition.

One’s first instinct might be to wonder why such a volume is needed when the entire papal magisterium is found on the Vatican’s website and the letters of the U.S. bishops are found on the USCCB website. The answer is both simple and duplex.

First, this volume constitutes one-stop shopping. (Instead of wading through the multiple document links of a given Pope to locate his social teaching, you get all the Popes in one place.) Second, Internet surfing’s fine for research, but having a portable text is better for reflective reading. Using an iPad or equivalent? Then you may like to make sure it can access this book if you don’t intend to buy it.

Several decades ago, Father William J. Ferree claimed Catholics (apparently with Catholic businessmen in his sites) suffered from an “invincible ignorance” regarding Catholic social teaching regarding: the solidarity of management with labor; a refusal to reduce workers to commodity status; the right to a just “family” wage; arranging to make workers property owners rather than merely wage-dependent (as figures from Fulton Sheen to Orestes Brownson to Ronald Reagan urged). The overwhelming majority of Catholic graduates of American business schools still receive all of this as being in an exotic foreign language. At best, highly abstract. At worst, smacking of the socialist rhetoric of a European or third-world welfare state.

Yet, there is arguably little that such stellar CEOs as Vineet Nayar or such blockbuster authors as Jim Collins would find to disagree with in this volume.  The question is: Will it continue to be just theology majors who wind up reading this text, 120 years after Rerum Novarum? Or will it be clergy, political-science majors and, especially, MBAs who finally take up the challenge?

Register correspondent Peter Mango writes from Somers, New York.



A Comprehensive Study

Edited by Karl J. Becker and Ilaria Morali

Orbis, 2010

648 pages, $45.00

To order: orbisbooks.com

(800) 258-5838