Not As the World Gives
The Way of Creative Justice

By Stratford Caldecott
Angelico Press, 2014
292 pages, $16.95
To order: angelicopress.com

 

The British art critic Walter Pater wrote that the Christian greeting in the catacombs — “Pax Tecum — peace be with you” — wrought a revolution in a jaded ancient world. 

The peace Christ brought broke the pessimism of the Roman Empire and created a new world. Does the witness of the Church do that today? 

Discussions of Catholic social teaching are too often cast in the political language of a particular country or debate. Yet the Church’s moral vocabulary must begin not with contemporary political concerns, but with the person and words of Christ.

In this new book, Stratford Caldecott reminds us of the power of the Church’s gift of peace. But, as Christ said in John 14:27, his peace is not that of the world. 

The risk in ignoring this otherworldliness is that what is sometimes called Catholic social thought (CST) “becomes functionalized, and the secular world is treated as primary,” in a way hardly separable from any other sociological theory. According to Caldecott, “We can prevent this not only by avoiding the acronym, but by refusing to separate the subject itself from ethics, spirituality and the creation of culture.” 

Caldecott, a prominent British Catholic intellectual who died this July, puts together a number of articles and essays as a guide to understanding how different Catholic thinking is from its secular counterparts.

The book is divided into nine chapters. The first three address Catholic social doctrine through the notion of relationships: The message of the Gospel is that God wants us to be happy, and the way to be happy is to develop a relationship with him. The second set of chapters explores “the present-day challenges to this teaching,” including the dominance of a technological way of seeing the world, rather than the Catholic vision of the human person, which is metaphysical and relational. The final set of chapters looks at evangelization, that is, how to build a new Catholic culture. 

Drawing on the work of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, Caldecott argues that evangelization does not mean only introducing individuals to the Gospel, but changing the culture: “Evangelization is not a program for action, but a mode of being personally present to and for others.”

Secular culture, focused on personal autonomy and liberation from all restraints, the author points out, cannot meet the human need for relationships with one another and with the Divine, which are rooted in a gift of self. Thus, for Catholics, the model for evangelization is the Trinity, “the only possible basis for the unity of the one in the many and the many in the one” and a model of self-giving love. 

Lay Catholic movements such as Focolare provide a way to understand the connection between personal encounter and culture change. Intellectual argument and apologetics, as important as they remain, are not enough in a culture that simply cannot understand them; Christians must once again become martyri — witnesses — a process that Caldecott calls “slow evangelization,” referring to the “creative justice” that has become a theme of the current pontificate.

The book closes with appendices on issues like same-sex “marriage,” economic justice and the roots of modernity. Caldecott writes with easy grace and deep theological meaning. On the problem of consumerism, for example, he writes that “economic values in the market should be determined not simply by what happens to be desired” — since such desires can be wrong or disordered — “but what leads to our true end.” In this sense, then, the “free market” is not value-free, and if it is not to be imbued with a Christian sense of the person, it will be filled with something much more dangerous to human flourishing.

Although the book at times assumes the reader has the same broad knowledge of Caldecott himself, Not as the World Gives reminds us of that revolutionary call of pax tecum and how it can change the world.

Gerald J. Russello is editor of
The University Bookman (KirkCenter.org).