Ten Commandments, One Text
What do you do when your bishop asks you to write a textbook of Catholic social teaching especially geared to the high-school level?
If you’re Arthur Hippler, you sit down and write no ordinary text but Citizens of the Heavenly City.
Hippler says the project began in 2001 when Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, who at the time was bishop of La Crosse, Wis., where Hippler is director of the diocesan office of justice and peace, asked him to write this catechism on Catholic social teaching.
Because textbooks available at the high-school level were disappointing in different ways — and lacking in references to key encyclicals, according to Hippler — he presented the basic Catholic social teaching that spans the millennia.
Hippler’s hope is to see this new text adopted in schools nationwide in the coming years.
Already field tests in a few schools, including one in Anchorage, Alaska, and one in Wichita, Kan., along with the backing of some top churchmen, make his hope more than a well-intentioned wish.
In his foreword to the textbook, to which he granted an imprimatur, Archbishop Burke presents the book specifically in the context of the new evangelization.
“Citizens of the Heavenly City is directed to helping our youth carry out the pastoral program of the Church in their lives,” the archbishop writes, “especially to helping them to understand and observe the pastoral priority of witnessing to Christ in their ordinary Christian living.”
Holy Cross Father Edward Krause, professor of social ethics at Gannon University in Erie, Pa., and official chaplain of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, agrees.
“It’s the peace plan of John Paul II and his successor for the 21st century,” says Father Krause, “and Jesus’ peace plan for the rest of earthly life.”
Not Dumbed Down
How does Hippler perk up youthful ears and give them a clear understanding of Catholic social teaching?
“In a very clear, very basic way, this book addresses the central point of Catholic social teaching,” explains Hippler, “not only from the Scriptures but also from the Fathers of the Church, the doctors — especially St. Thomas and St. Augustine — and the social encyclicals of the past 100 years — not just Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum novarum (On the Condition of the Working Classes), but also John Paul’s encyclical on marriage. These are important social teachings.”
There’s much more to the Church’s social teaching than what’s a just wage or just war, says Hippler. Following Archbishop Burke’s wish to see a text developing the social teaching out of the moral law, Hippler shows social teaching flowing from the Ten Commandments. And he follows the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Hippler knew how to gear the language to high-school students. Before his present position he taught religion at the high-school level.
“I wrote this picturing my ninth and 10th graders, knowing what level they were at, what they could understand,” he says. “It’s simple without being simplistic.”
At the same time, as Archbishop Burke noted, the text can be fruitfully studied by adults.
At Kapaun Mount Carmel High School in Wichita, a Catholic co-ed school, theology teacher Alan Green is pleased by the text’s readability.
“It’s not so complicated students will want to put it aside,” Green says, “and yet it’s not talking down to them.” He’s used it for three years in his Catholic social-doctrine course for seniors, beginning with the draft form.
Green finds Hippler’s many references to Scripture very helpful because many of his students associate with Protestant friends.
“They hear the Protestants referring to Scripture all the time,” says Green. Now this text stands his students on firm Scriptural ground.
By using the Ten Commandments, Hippler brings in lots of Catholic social teaching that people pass over: He doesn’t gloss over the Fifth and Sixth Commandments in order to emphasize the Seventh.
“There has to be the protection of life, and the protection of marriage and family flowing from the Sixth, then the protection of property,” he says. “These commandments are given in the order of primacy and importance: God then neighbor, life before marriage, marriage before property.”
He likes the example of marriage because that’s something people don’t think of as Catholic social teaching. “But,” he says, “the family and marriage is part of Catholic social teachings flowing from the Sixth Commandment, the moral law, and applies to society.”
He cites Leo XIII’s Arcanum (Christian Marriage) and Pius XI’s Casti Connubi (On Christian Marriage). Throughout the text, nine popes hold forth in more than 40 encyclicals and several other letters. Catchy illustrations of the Holy Fathers, along with thumbnail bios, humanize the readings.
By grounding social teaching in the commandments, Hippler also focuses on areas like society’s duty to honor and worship God.
“The Catechism makes that point very clearly in No. 2105,” he says, “as it talks about the obligation of individual and society to honor and worship God.”
Countering Cultural Drift
In Citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom, the social reign of Christ is right up front.
“True to what our Holy Father sets forth for us in Novo Millennio Ineunte, which is the perennial teaching of the Church,” writes Archbishop Burke, “Dr. Hippler sets his presentation of the Church’s social teaching in the context of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who reigns in the world through the piercing of his most Sacred Heart out of love for all.”
Green homes in on that chapter, discussing the merits and flaws of democracies, monarchies and dictatorships.
“In monarchy you get a common bond behind the monarchy,” Green explains. “I ask, ‘What if you have the perfect monarch, who is Christ the King?’”
Father Krause has no doubt this is an important textbook on basic Catholic social teaching.
“It’s especially helpful given the cultural drift, the culture of death, hedonism, and materialism,” says the priest. “The average students in high school have to know the Christian alternatives to the secularism, atheism and hedonism they see on TV.”
Hippler’s vision is similar. “It’s so important these kids get social formation from the Church,” he says, “or they’re going to get a social teaching from somewhere else. They’ll end up being Catholic schizophrenics, materialists, socialists, or communists because they don’t have any formation of what the Church says about society.”
Joseph Pronechen writes from
Citizens of the Heavenly City
- January 1-7, 2006