The argument of the present essay is that the pragmatic pressures of contemporary circumstances that lead to Catholic social doctrine – as set out in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church, for example, – to being strongly emphasized in Catholic law schools should not be permitted to create a doctrinal hegemony severing doctrine from the contextualization from which it draws its meaning. Catholic social doctrine depends, for its coherence and truth, as do all of the doctrinal formulations within Catholicism, on its relation to both philosophical and theological understanding and, for the purposes of my present inquiry, to a larger narrative. The case for this thesis rightly begins with trenchant criticism of the peculiar complacency that currently exists within circles of legal thought devoted to Catholic Social Thought, with respect to the assumption of an habitual, basically a doctrinaire point of view. It next offers a contrasting vision of doctrine as merely partial, and as properly dependent for its ground on reference to a fuller normative Christian narrative. It goes on to explain that this necessary ground is found in cosmic Christian narrative and narratives, but that linkage to the cosmic dimension of Christian narrative depends on an auxiliary bridging narrative that serves to translate the cosmic into appropriately temporal terms. Specifically, it offers an account of the narrative of social reconstruction which became current in Western social life in the later part of the nineteenth century as precisely this bridging narrative. Finally, it proposes that respect for narrative ground, context and framework “unlocks” Catholic social doctrine, allowing access to its normative content both in se and for purposes of application on contemporary issues in political and legal theory and of law and public policy.
William J. Wagner, Unlocking Catholic Social Doctrine: Narrative is Key, 7 J. CATH. SOCIAL THOUGHT 289 (2010).