Pioneer and Prophet: Ozanam and Modern Catholic Social Theory

by | May 15, 2012 | Formation, Vincentian Family

In “Pioneer and Prophet: Frédéric Ozanam’s Influence on Modern Catholic Social Theory” Dr. Thomas O’Brien writes

“…this article is going to focus on two facets of Ozanam’s thought that will either directly influence, or  indirectly prefigure seismic shifts in the way the Catholic Church thinks  about itself and the social, political, and economic worlds it inhabits….

The first facet has to do with practical theology and the preferential option for the poor. Ozanam was one of the earliest of the nineteenth-  century Catholic Action reformers who claimed that Christian discipleship  demanded direct involvement in the critical issues facing French society…

The Church, according to Ozanam, should not be standing on the sidelines,  or worse, allying itself with oppressive and anachronistic powers that were  perpetuating the suffering of the people. He was also convinced that this call  to discipleship was not reserved for a few elite individuals who constituted  a professional clerical class within a larger, passive Church, but rather, was a  call that went out to all Christians, sacerdotal or lay. Service to the poorest of  the poor was, for Ozanam, the clearest and most compelling sign of Christ’s  presence in the life of the Church. This kind of service was not something  that could be accomplished by proxy, as if Christians could hire this task out  to someone else. It was the kind of service that required direct immersion by  all Christians in the lives of the poor and suffering…

The second facet of Ozanam’s thought examined in this essay is methodological and concerns his use of an historical hermeneutic to interpret the appropriate standpoint of the Church towards a rapidly changing and seemingly hostile world. I will relate Ozanam’s utilization of this historical hermeneutic to later developments in Catholic social theory, like Pius XI’s implicit recognition of doctrinal development in the encyclical Quadragesimo  Anno, and John Courtney Murray’s construction of an historical hermeneutic to explain the trajectory of Catholic social thought and begin his lifelong defense of religious liberty…

This discussion will conveniently lead into the final facet of Ozanam’s thought that will be analyzed in this article, which is his support of religious liberty. Ozanam’s defense of religious liberty was part and parcel of his larger commitment to liberalism and democracy. It was Ozanam’s conviction that liberal democratic notions of religious liberty were not only not detrimental to the Catholic Church, but actually could benefit the Church overall if these ideas were embraced by the hierarchy…

O’Brien, Thomas W. (2012) “Pioneer and Prophet: Frédéric Ozanam’s Influence on Modern Catholic Social Theory,” Vincentian Heritage Journal: Vol. 31: Iss. 1, Article 1.
Available at: http://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol31/iss1/1

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