The Reception of the Social Thought in the Catholic Church in the First Half of the 20th Century

From the beginning of the 19th century we witness a new strategy in the sphere of pastoral care (France - heritage of Vincent de Paul, Turin - Don Bosco, Cologne - Adolf Kolping, Union de Fribourg, École de Liège, etc.). These approaches participate in the creation of the Catholic Church’s social teaching which we can understand as a doctrinal corpus born from moral theology. Moreover, social teaching is also the background and inspiration for collective practices which are developed in different public institutions (political parties, charitable works, unions, movements and organizations) in the situation when the Church was confronted with new or changing structures (aftermath of the industrial revolution, new social and economic problems).
At the end of the 19th and in the first half of the 20th century, the social teaching of the Church was, on the official level, established mainly by papal encyclicals "Rerum Novarum" and "Quadragesimo Anno" which bring new ideas and answers to the Catholic debate on changes in society. They formed the frame of reference, strong background and inspirations for different movements, organizations, trade unions or political parties.
The social teaching of the Church, created primarily for urban areas, played several roles. It can be understood as an alternative project of society, social utopia, reaction against the social inequality, ideology or as a critical instance of modernity. One of the main themes of Church’s social teaching is the issue of workers.
In my project I would like to grasp the reception, adaptation and development of social thought in the Church in two quite different environments: in Belgium (Belgian Catholicism played a key role in the social teaching of the Church) with some overlap in France, and Central Europe, mainly in the territory in which the Czechoslovak Republic was to be created in 1918.
I focus on the reception of catholic social thought and reform program on the theoretical level and on the practical everyday pastoral care. The reception of social thought and papal teaching can be seen from the internal position of the Church – development among catholic’s social experts, and from external position of society – interactions and conflict situations. The changes in the motivations, goals and actors of the discussion around the strategies in the social program are significant. In my opinion, the changes in the definition who can play the role of experts are very interesting, because they offer a new perspective on the religious community. These views allow using of concepts such as intellectual migration, mobility, cultural transfer and creation of networks of social reformers. They also allow us to look at social teaching of the Catholic Church as a point of intersection of political, social and religious interest in transnational perspective.
On the level of social practice and adaptation in the pastoral care I would concentrate my reflections especially on the creation of organizations and associations for young workers such as Young Christian Workers and the specialized catholic action. This movement was participating in the creation and development of associations directed to young workers in industrial urban areas. We can see the innovation in the apostolate among working class, also activization towards Christian life and active citizenship, construction of the new type of identity (Catholic workers' associations as part of class consciousness) or educational ambitions.
Catholic social program took many forms and had a relatively important impact. Inside the community, it may be presented as a "weapon" against secularism and as an instrument of legitimation. I understand the social teaching of the Church as a project of socio-political transformation and a vision of the ideal society (utopia), but also as an alternative social reform program that is in a competitive position against other reform concepts of the time. For me it is also an interesting example of interaction among political, social, economical and religious life. I consider that the transdicsiplinary approach is here absolutely indispensable as well as application of transnational and trans-societal concepts.
My research focuses on the life of the Catholic community in a very dynamic period based on the internal development of Catholicism, accompanied by a change of political power. I would like to find answers to the question of the role of the social program for Czechoslovak Catholic milieu in the end of the 19th century and the interwar years. Movements inspired by this source participated in the mobilization of Catholics, but in the interwar period they did not play an important role in the central European region. We can notice that in Western Europe, social Catholicism was one of the main concerns of the Catholic Church. If this is not the case in our Central European space, then we must ask ourselves what concern has held its place.

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