Friday, August 5, 2005


Readers familiar with my website on The Catholic Church and the Liberal Tradition will note that the debate between the so-called "Whig Thomists"(Novak, Neuhaus, Weigel - and the journal First Things) and "Augustinian Thomists" (Dr. Robert Kraynak, Tracy Rowland and David Schindler of Communio) over the compatibility of the Catholic Church with the classical liberal tradition and the "American experiment" of democracy, human rights and the free market.

Not having the benefit of a grad school education (or the privileged access to an academic library), this is a debate I've been attempting to keep abreast of through what articles I'm able to access online and books I'm able to find in the used bookstores and public library (the latter being one of America's greatest institutions, I must say).

I'm grateful for those publications like First Things, Crisis and Commonweal that have generously put their back issues online (it's my hope that Communio will follow suite at some point).

This month I was also fortunate enough to find copies of Michael Novak's Freedom with Justice: Catholic Social Thought and Liberal Institutions and On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding. To aquaint myself with the Augustianian Thomists I've ordered David Schindler's Heart of the World, Center of the Church (Eerdmans, 1996).

I'd love to get my hands on a copy of Rowland's Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II but it's a little pricey (Perhaps I'll treat myself this Christmas?).

Having finished Novak's Free Persons and the Common Good, I've started on Weigel's Soul of the World: Notes on the Future of Public Catholicism (Eerdmans, 1996) and Thomas Rourke's A Conscience as Large as the World: Yves R. Simon Versus the Catholic Neoconservatives (Rowman & Littlefield, November, 1996).

Novak's presentation of the "common good" in the liberal and Catholic traditions (via analysis of the Federalist Papers and the writings of Toqueville, Maritain, Yves R. Simon and Vatican II) was an invigorating read. I'm finding Weigel's book very refreshing. Focusing on the Church's social witness and relationship to the world, it covers some of the same topics as Schindler's Heart of the World, drawing on von Balthasar and John Paul II as much as he does John Courtney Murray, SJ.

Thomas Rourke's book,"a systematic critique of Catholic neoconservatism using the work of Yves Simon as a theoretical and practical lens of analysis," looks interesting as well. The rather curt First Things review notes that

"Yves Simon (1903-1961) was a very distinguished Catholic thinker who is, in fact, frequently and sympathetically employed by Novak, but Rourke thinks Novak got him all wrong. It is hard to know what to make of a book such as this, since it seems more than possible that Simon's views of forty and fifty years ago would have changed in the light of subsequent discoveries about the limits of the welfare state and the strength of market economies. Rourke himself is not much impressed by those discoveries, being a more or less unreconstructed "social democrat" of a markedly anticapitalist bent. What is clear enough, but hardly seems to warrant book-length exposition, is that the author does not like the gang of three. Whether or not Yves Simon is also "versus the Catholic neoconservatives," only Simon can say. We may hope for the answer to that in a better time and place.

Despite their skepticism, it seems like a novel approach and Rourke deserves better. I'll see how it goes. (BTW, a more detailed presentation of Rourke's thoughts are found in Neo-Conservatism: New Insights into Catholic Social Teaching, or just Old Liberalism in new Garments?, an assessment by Russel Sparks [.pdf format]

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In the past several years of blogging I've had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with a number of fellow Catholic / Christians interested in this imporant debate as well. In addition to the familiar faces of St. Blog's Parish -- Chris Burgwald ("Veritas") and Kevin Miller ("Heart, Mind and Strength"), I'd like to give special mention to the following (relatively new) voices in our online discussion:

  • la nouvelle thèologie by David Jones -- focusing of course on Hans Urs von Balthasar, Pope Benedict XVI and the ressourcement school of theology and the contributions of David Schindler, Tracy Rowland, et al. David keeps tabs on all aspects of this debate and is fast-becoming the "Drudge Report" of the WT/IT debate -- by that I mean, always on top of things with the most recent news and links.

  • My friend Santiago, who currently blogs at Cahiers Peguy but has his own blog as well (Constantly Risking. As a Paraguayan studying English literature and philosophy at a midwestern Jesuit college, Santiago is blessed with an appreciation of our nation's history and a desire to learn about our founding fathers that is rarely found in most native-born Americans these days.
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Occasional notes on my readings will be posted to Religion and Liberty. However, if you notice a lag or altogether lapse in blogging, it's because I'm (Lord willing) engaged in serious study and making productive use of these remaining summer evenings. Peace!


  • A reader notifies me: "Communio does provide some of their articles online in PDF format. Just go to the back issues order page. Starting from Winter 2000, you can click on the issue and a few of the articles will be available. Not enough, but better than nothing!" -- Thanks!

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