Catholic Social Teaching, 1891-Present

A Historical, Theological, and Ethical Analysis

Charles E. Curran

"[Curran] is a master teacher whose writing gives wonderfully clear expression to the careful, comprehensive, and yet critical approach he brings to theological ethics."
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Charles E. Curran offers the first comprehensive analysis and criticism of the development of modern Catholic social teaching from the perspective of theology, ethics, and church history. Curran studies the methodology and content of the documents of Catholic social teaching, generally understood as comprising twelve papal letters beginning with Leo XIII's 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum, two documents from Vatican II, and two pastoral letters of the U.S. bishops.

He contends that the fundamental basis for this body of teaching comes from an anthropological perspective that recognizes both the inherent dignity and the social nature of the human person—thus do the church's teachings on political and economic matters chart a middle course between the two extremes of individualism and collectivism. The documents themselves tend to downplay any discontinuities with previous documents, but Curran's systematic analysis reveals the significant historical developments that have occurred over the course of more than a century. Although greatly appreciative of the many strengths of this teaching, Curran also points out the weaknesses and continuing tensions in Catholic social teaching today.

Intended for scholars and students of Catholic social ethics, as well as those involved in Catholic social ministry, this volume will also appeal to non-Catholic readers interested in an understanding and evaluation of Catholic social teaching.

Table of Contents


Part I Methodology
1. Theological Methodology
2. Ethical Methodology
3. Ecclesial Metholodology

Part II Content
4. Anthropology
5. The Political Order
6. The Economic Order
7. Further Political Aspects




"[Curran] is a master teacher whose writing gives wonderfully clear expression to the careful, comprehensive, and yet critical approach he brings to theological ethics."—Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"Curran's strongest book in years. It is a fresh, original, and balanced analysis, one that shows Curran's careful scholarship and discerning judgments in a striking way. It may create more controversy for Curran, but its existence is an argument for academic freedom as well as the values promoted in Catholic social teaching. It is a welcome addition to Curran's mature work and deserves wide attention inside and outside the tradition in which he writes."—Journal of Religion

"This work by Charles E. Curran is scholarly, accessible, and committed. The presentation of the content and methodologies of Catholic social teaching is energetic and insightful. His own proposals regarding both possible future developments and the resolution of existing tensions are constructive and engaging. This work makes a valuable contribution to ongoing reflection on Catholic social teaching and is a 'must' for anyone interested in that area of scholarship."—Irish Theological Quarterly

"This book shows why peers regard Charles Curran as the most important Catholic moral theologian working in the U.S. today. This volume is likely to become a standard point of reference for scholars seeking a succinct presentation of the most important aspects of Catholic social teaching as well as a sympathetically critical assessment of its shortcomings. It will very likely remain for many years the best overview of the tradition of modern Catholic social thought through the early 21st century. All who want to appreciate that tradition's strengths and limits should study this book with care."—Theological Studies

"Here Curran is at his most creative as he assesses the ethical and theological presuppositions upon which Catholic social thought is based. A valuable contribution to the study of Catholic social thought that will be informative to the historian and moral theologian alike. . . . Insightfully conveys both the strengths and limitations of a major strand of Christian ethical deliberation."—American Catholic Studies

"The best one-volume exposition and analysis of Catholic social teaching in our time."—Richard P. McBrien, general editor of The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism

"Charles E. Curran is one of the church's greatest moral theologians. His latest book is a wise exploration of the grand tradition of Catholic social teaching since Pope Leo XII's Rerum novarum."—J. Phillip Wogaman, author of Christian Ethics: A Historical Introduction

"A volume filled with true insights, balanced assessments, and astute criticism."—Kenneth R. Himes, OFM, past president, Catholic Theological Society of America

"[Curran has] a keen and well attuned eye for the foundational dimensions of Catholic teaching . . . A comprehensive, exhaustively documented overview and a perceptive interpretation."—Edward Long Jr., James W. Pearsall Professor Emeritus, Drew University


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Charles E. Curran, a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Rochester, New York, is Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values at Southern Methodist University. He was the first recipient of the John Courtney Murray Award for Theology and has served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, the Society of Christian Ethics, and the American Theological Society. In 2003, Curran received the Presidential Award of the College Theology Society for a lifetime of scholarly achievements in moral theology, and in 2005, Call to Action presented him with its leadership award. He is the author of Loyal Dissent: Memoir of a Catholic Theologian, The Moral Theology of Pope John Paul II and Catholic Social Teaching, 1891-Present, all published by Georgetown University Press.

272 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-0-87840-880-1
Mar 2002

272 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-0-87840-881-8
Mar 2002

272 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-292-9
Mar 2002

Moral Traditions series
David Cloutier, Darlene Weaver, and Andrea Vicini, SJ

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