Catholic Medical Quarterly

The Journal of the Catholic Medical Association (UK)

Building knowledge. Building faith. Protecting the vulnerable.

Book Review

Church, State And Society: An Introduction to Catholic Social Doctrine

J. Brian Benestad
The Catholic University Of America Press
ISBN 978-0-8132-1800-7

Book CoverThis wonderful work is much more than an introduction to Catholic social doctrine. It is a profound analysis of the human person, the political community and the common good, rooted in the great social encyclicals from Pope Leo XIII to Pope Benedict XVI and in the teachings of Augustine and Aquinas.

The work begins with our understanding of human rights.  It is clearly argued that human rights ought not to be defined in purely secularist terms. Rather, human rights stem from the truth that man is made in the image of God.  It is also argued that the common good justifies the promotion of virtue and the rejection of vice.  Again we note the rejection of the secularist view.

The author argues that virtue is far more significant than rights.  This makes good sense: an abortion advocate, for example, frequently argues in terms of promoting "rights" but hardly ever in terms of promoting virtue.  Virtue is something that the individual ought to live by.  Social justice, for example, is a virtue which begins with the individual and only then can it be seen in relation to society.

The author is rightly critical of the "seamless garment" theory which proposes that if one is genuinely pro-life, one ought to oppose abortion, the death penalty and much more.  The author rightly argues that the right to life cannot be equated with a prudential judgement such as rejecting capital punishment.  Acceptance of a seamless garment position inevitably leads one to view President Obama as being more pro-life than Rick Santorum!

The author examines the role of the family in great detail.  His comments on contraception are entirely in harmony with Church teaching.

This is an excellent work which may be read from cover to cover but it is also a valuable source of reference.