Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Hittinger on "Reading the Tradition" the "Roman way"

Rick blogged last month about Russell Hittinger's essay, The Coherence of the Four Basic Principles of Catholic Social Doctrine: An Interpretation. In an introductory section "On Reading the Tradition," Hittinger distinguishes three contributing strands of theology, philosophy, and social science. He identifies the varying emphasis given to these different strands over time as a source of complexity. The whole concluding paragraph of this section is worth quoting in full:

Finally, the project is complex because all three factors – the theological, philosophical, and social scientific – are given different emphasis over the course of decades since 1878. The tradition is not only multi-disciplinary, but internally multi-faceted as one pope introduces new themes even while circling back upon the work of his predecessors. It is the Roman way to introduce new considerations while at the same time tightening their connection to the preceding tradition. Old things are made to look new, and new things look old. John Paul II referred to the scribe trained for the kingdom, who is compared to ‘a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old’ (Mt. 13:52). This is not mere pious sentimentality. The Pope meant it as a hermeneutical principle suitable for reading the tradition of social doctrine. Someone who reads the magisterial documents as bits of ‘news’ or as ad hoc pieces of Church policy on a particular social issues will understanding something, but not very much.


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