It is truly amazing how quickly—in terms of the human life span—history changes completely and the conditions for human habitation on the earth with it.
It was only a few lifetimes ago that our world was still primarily agricultural in its financial foundations and many of the strange financial instruments that lay at the heart of the recent financial troubles were barely conceived and the ways in which people were helped who had fallen on hard times was pretty much the province of the Church.
This came to mind as I completed volume one of the two volume series that is the single best expression of the social teaching of the Church.
Written by Rodger Charles S.J., the two volume work was published in Great Britain in 1998, Christian Social Witness and Teaching: The Catholic Tradition from Genesis to Centesimus Annus (Volume 1) & (Volume 2) The Modern Social Teaching Contexts: Summaries: Analysis.
An excellent review of the work is at the Acton Institute’s Journal of Markets & Morality.
Last I checked, the best place to find both volumes is either through Abe Books or through the publisher, Gracewing Publishing, both in the UK.
Here is the excerpt from the first volume that struck me.
“Meanwhile the increasing social impact of the industrial revolution on society in nineteenth-century Europe generally from after the end of the Napoleonic wars produced problems of a scale and a nature which were unique in man’s history. There had been urban civilizations of great wealth and complexity before but the economic base of society had remained agricultural. By the first half of the nineteenth century the town in Britain had become the main centre of economic activity; industrialization ensured that soon more people lived in urban than country areas; this was going to become increasingly the pattern in the nations of Europe. In the countries where the Church’s presence remained strong, in France particularly, there were active private social charity initiatives to meet the growing need, and individuals were becoming aware that more than charitable action was needed; the result was that the 1848 revolution had the distinction of being the only one in the country’s modern history which was not anti-clerical. The tensions in French society, however, were bitterly reflected in the Church and she could not build on their early positive success, so that one of Leo XIII’s first problems was how to get the Catholics of France to see the positive side of republicanism and take their full part in making it work.” (pp. 360-361)