Monday, January 12, 2015

Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching and Defending Marriage (Sophia Institute Press and Saint Benedict Press)

Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching is a recent book by Dr. Anthony Esolen which dives into the writings and teachings of Pope Leo XIII and seeks to offer "a defense of the Church's true teachings on marriage, family, and the state." The first chapter is entitled "Man, in the Image of God." Dr. Esolen describes this as the most fundamental truth and states that "any society built upon other premises will be radically deficient." He then goes on to explain what would happen to society if we completely removed God from the picture. The next chapter discusses free will and human liberty. His explanation of Dante's vision of Satan in hell is chilling, to say the least, but it gives us a good example of how we think we are free when we are too blind to see we are not.

Esolen then dives into topics of marriage and the family, as he views them as the building blocks of society. In these two chapters, again shows the dignity of the person and explains how society is twisting views of marriage and the family. He doesn't come out and directly blame one issue for this, i.e., divorce or homosexuality, but instead puts them all on equal ground and states that "Every sin against marriage is a sin against the very possibility of any kind of society." The chapter on the family shows how a rightly ordered family mirrors a rightly ordered society, discusses education of children, and explains what the family is for. The remainder of the book discusses social life, the Church as society, work, and the state.

The text in this book is heady material, and the way Dr. Esolen writes comes off that way as well. That's not to say that it wasn't brilliantly written, because despite the philosophical tone of the book, I still found it quite readable without feeling the need to have a dictionary for every other word. He also did a nice job of explaining both the big picture and the details that make up the big picture. I also found it fascinating just how astute Pope Leo XIII was when it comes to society and the direction he saw it heading. I definitely plan to re-visit this book and read it a little more slowly the second time through so that I may absorb more of it. If you have an interest in Catholic social teaching or are looking for a good homeschool text on the subject, I recommend this book!

Defending Marriage is another recent book by Dr. Anthony Esolen, with the sole purpose of defending traditional and natural marriage. To do this, Dr. Esolen presents twelve arguments that every Catholic, every Christian should make in defense of marriage. Some of the arguments are, "We must recover the virtues of modesty and purity," or "To celebrate an abnormal behavior makes things worse, not better, for those inclined to engage in it." Dr. Esolen uses art, literature, theological, and cultural arguments to make his point. When you grow up hearing, "Because God said so," as the main argument for why some things are sins, Dr. Esolen's argument make for a refreshing read.

All of the arguments made were very convincing and compelling. However, one stuck with me more than others. The first argument that really rang true was. "We must not condone all forms of consensual activity among adults." In this chapter, Dr. Esolen starts by telling us that no culture, not even the ancient Greeks ever approved of homosexual "marriage" or activities, but that they instead engaged in pedophilia which too is morally wrong. He then explains that if our society accepts homosexual "marriage," a union which cannot create life, then we have passively said that polygamy is acceptable. As Dr. Esolen succinctly says, "You can't have half a jungle." If we want a moral civilization with traditional and natural marriage, we must uproot all sin against marriage.

The great thing about this book is that Dr. Esolen doesn't focus solely on one issue as a danger to marriage. In our given day and age, it would be easy to blame homosexual "marriage" as the thing that is killing traditional marriage. Dr. Esolen is much wiser than that, though, and he blames a combination of the sexual revolution, no fault divorce, and homosexual "marriage" for the death of traditional marriage. There are some books that every Catholic should own, and I firmly believe that this is one of them. In our growing secular age, we need to be able to articulate and defend our core beliefs, and marriage is one of those core beliefs. Read this book. Read it again. Teach your children the arguments for traditional marriage, and instill in them the right beliefs of a moral society.

These books were provided to me for free by Sophia Institute Press and Saint Benedict Press, respectively. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!