Christian Ethics and the Problems of Society by Rodger Charles, SJ (Catholic institute of Social Ethics, £1.75 paperback)
Regular readers of the Catholic Herald will have learn ed something from its pages about the Catholic Institute of Social Ethics which was founded nearly three years ago by Fr Charles. Any Catholic — and in particular someone, like the reviewer, who is employed by the Welfare State — will welcome the initiative that the institute represents and the, promise of ,a concise textbook on the Church's social teaching.
Moreover Christian Ethics and the Problems of Society has many good qualities, not least of which is the way in which it is thoef Ohlidstoanryd, New Testaments, mediaeval dsteraulcintugriendtuinrntweritnhis
Christianity, the rise of modern society and the Church's response to it.
Nevertheless, I have three major objections to it. First, the tone of the book is brisk and school-bookish. This may make it useful in some teaching situations: I found it irritating. Secondly, it is inadequate in
the way it relates ethics to salvation and, more immediately, spirituality. The primary imperative of the Gospel is not, after all, one that is ethical in the normal sense, but "Repent for the Kingdom Of Heaven is at hand."
This is not merely a matter of dealing with one subject at a time, for this isolation of ethical questions introduced distortions of perspective even when objection cannot be made to statements taken singly.
Thirdly, while much of the historical discussion in the book is good in points of detail, some basic elements in the interpretation are open to question. Fr Charles is frank about what was wrong with mediaeval society, but tends to ascribe all that was good to Christianity.
Yet at a time when all values
were articulated in terms of Christianity (because it provided the only available language), it is difficult to disentangle what was specifically due to the Ch ur chha:Th This se evaluates eos M r t an at rxsi since
Fr Charles morally in terms of what has so far happened in Communist societies. There is no historical reason for refusing to ascribe their Virtues to the Communist Party when one ascribes the virtues of mediaeval Europe to the Church.
It disappointing that though there is a chapter entitled "The development . of the capitalist ethics" the special nature of that ethic is not delineated. While Marxism is seen as a quite separate and hostile ethical system, capitalism is condemned merely in terms of lack of moderation
in some things. PD