Commonweal Confronts the Century: Liberal Convictions, Catholic Tradition

Commonweal Confronts the Century: Liberal Convictions, Catholic Tradition

by The Editors of commonweal magazine, Peter Steinfels

For 75 years, Commonweal magazine has sought to bring Catholic faith and modern life — especially the experience of American freedom and diversity — into fruitful contact. Now Commonweal Confronts the Century not only marks the anniversary of this distinguished journal, it also


For 75 years, Commonweal magazine has sought to bring Catholic faith and modern life — especially the experience of American freedom and diversity — into fruitful contact. Now Commonweal Confronts the Century not only marks the anniversary of this distinguished journal, it also traces the ways in which the Catholic intellectual tradition has struggled with modernity, democratic institutions, and American culture while remaining faithful to its heritage.
Collected here are many of the most provocative essays the journal has published by a number of the century's most distinguished writers and thinkers. Together they confront controversial issues of continuing relevance within both the Catholic Church and American society in general. In the pages of Commonweal, liberal Catholics have carried on a dialogue about American culture and politics, the arts, religious pluralism, domestic upheaval, war and peace, liberal freedoms, and new moral and sexual sensibilities. Here is a feast of argument, observations, and good writing that will appeal to both the religiously informed and the intellectually curious. Highlights of Commonweal Confronts the Century include:
Dorothy Day on poverty
Graham Greene on his religious conversion
Thomas Merton on nuclear war
Jean Bethke Elshtain on gay marriage
Daniel Callahan on health care

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Jack Miles author of God: A Biography For a distillation of what the Catholic identity has meant over the last 75 years to American intellectual life, Commonweal Confronts the Century will not soon be topped.

Garry Wills Liberal Catholicism could hardly have existed but for Commonweal, as this eloquent collection demonstrates.

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Peter Steinfels

The first issue of The Commonweal was dated November 12, 1924 — a week after Calvin Coolidge was elected president of the United States, ten months after the death of Lenin, and barely six weeks before Adolf Hitler was released from the rather comfortable prison to which he had been sentenced for his failed putsch of the year before and where he had occupied himself in dictating the first volume of Mein Kampf.

Within the coming year, Eisenstein's Potemkin would appear, as would Charlie Chaplin's Gold Rush, Shostakovich's First Symphony, and Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway (receiving a rave review in The Commonweal). In 1925 Sinclair Lewis's novel of biomedical dedication, Arrowsmith, also positively received in The Commonweal, won a Pulitzer Prize — and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby did not (in itself "a mediocre novel," wrote The Commonweal reviewer, but "an important stepping stone toward a literary excellence, which Scott Fitzgerald ought some day to achieve"). Alfred North Whitehead's Science and the Modern World was only one of that year's books on the meaning of science to get the magazine's attention. And why not? In the summer of 1925, Michael Williams, founding editor and presiding genius of the new magazine, trundled off to Dayton, Tennessee, where H. L. Mencken and a horde of other journalists were making a quasimythological event out of John T. Scopes's trial for violating a recent Tennessee ban on teaching human evolution.

This was the world that The Commonweal (the magazine's title was shortened simply to Commonweal in 1965) was created to engage. It was a world that had superficially returned to the "normalcy" announced by Coolidge's predecessor and where, as silent Cal put it, "the business of the United States is business." It was also a world of promising but puzzling science and technology, of embryonic totalitarianism, of novel and disconcerting art, of new forms of mass entertainment. Finally, it was a world where much of the cultural elite and, in the United States, much of the populace viewed Roman Catholicism as an alien and sinister force. The magazine had scarcely begun publishing when it was caught up, somewhat reluctantly, in a controversy about whether the election of a Catholic as one of seven fellows at Harvard posed a danger to the republic. About the same time, the Christian Century, a voice of liberal Protestantism, recommended taxing religious institutions because that might prove particularly onerous to the Catholic Church and therefore contribute toward "removing that menace to democratic civilization." At a less polite level of society, the Ku Klux Klan was making anti-Catholicism a major plank in its agitation; the KKK's campaign to ban private (read, Catholic) schooling had succeeded in Oregon and was proceeding apace elsewhere, until the Supreme Court's landmark ruling Pierce v. Society of Sisters declared such measures unconstitutional.

Born in that climate, the new magazine felt compelled to defend the faith and its institutions, certainly with civility and a keen awareness that much united Americans across religious lines, but nonetheless with a great confidence in its beliefs. As it said at the end of its first six months of life, "nothing can do so much for the betterment, the happiness, and the peace of the American people as the influence of the enduring and tested principles of Catholic Christianity."

At the same time, some things immediately set The Commonweal apart from most other expressions of the largely immigrant Catholicism of that era. The magazine was unquestionably the creation of an educated elite, not scornful of the immigrant fervor that had built and filled Catholic parish churches but nonetheless convinced that something more was needed than the narrow understanding of "religious duties" — the fulfillment of ritual obligations and the avoidance of personal immorality — that often dominated popular Catholicism. What was that something more? It was to engage the faith with contemporary thought, literature, art, and public affairs, and to do so at a distinctly higher intellectual level than was then typical of American Catholicism. Indeed, the need for Catholic thinking equal to the culture's best would only increase, the editors believed, as the church prospered in the United States.

The Commonweal was not a "church organ," blessed or burdened by any official sponsorship. It was an independent journal edited by laypeople, and this, too, was distinctive. It reflected the further conviction that such a broad engagement in the political and cultural life of the society was preeminently the task of the laity and constituted a sphere of activity where Catholics could not carry out their religious calling without exercising a good deal of independent judgment.

Seventy-five years later, some aspects of that earlier world remain strikingly similar: The very first issue of The Commonweal, after all, carried an article by G. K. Chesterton titled "Religion and Sex"! Other aspects were fated to fester and turn gangrenous. The totalitarian regimes would wreak their cruelty on millions of bodies and souls; war would engulf the planet, and armaments swell to the point of potential global annihilation. Both developments put traditional codes of morality and their institutional representatives on trial but simultaneously stripped modernity of a confident glitter that not even the trench warfare of the Western front had quite dulled in 1920s America. And in a fashion virtually unprecedented for any religious body of such size and age, Catholicism itself would undertake a massive stocktaking at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), deciding that among its "enduring and tested principles," not all had been, or deserved to be, so enduring, and some required new testing.

Throughout all of this, Commonweal strove to bring Catholic faith and modern life, especially the experience of American freedom and diversity, into fruitful contact. In doing so, it offered a unique perspective on its nation, its church, its century, a perspective that students of American politics, intellectual life, or religion cannot afford to ignore.

Over the years Catholic and non-Catholic readers have repeatedly testified to the excitement of their first encounters with the magazine and to the loyalty that resulted. Identification with the magazine and its special perspective was such that, within the church, the term "Commonweal Catholic" came into vogue. In a way, that enthusiasm might seem puzzling. After all, this was a journal distinguished precisely by moderation and nuance, not alarm and censure. The New York Times had greeted the first issue, as Rodger Van Allen notes in his invaluable two-volume history of the magazine — The Commonweal and American Catholicism (1974) and Being Catholic: Commonweal from the Seventies to the Nineties (1993) — as a journal that promised to pursue its purposes "with a moderation of language and a command of facts" that certainly contrasted with the church's critics. "Suavity not ferocity marks The Commonweal style," said the Times, and "the usual bitterness of theological controversy is missing."

For many readers of the magazine, this breadth of vision and tone of reflective reasoning was attraction enough. But more was involved. Although the initial issue included an admiring article on Louis Veuillot, the nineteenth-century archconservative French Catholic journalist, inevitably the magazine found itself thinking within the opposing tradition, often labeled "liberal Catholicism," that urged the church to build on democracy, freedom, and the spirit of change rather than doggedly battle them. Ultimately, Commonweal was known as a liberal journal; and even as the L-word, derided by sixties radicals and eighties conservatives alike, went into disfavor, the editors never backed away from it. From the Depression years on, the identification had been deepened by a commitment to government activism in regulating the economy and redistributing its benefits, a commitment quite in keeping with traditional Catholic social thought. Commonweal's liberalism was similarly reflected in its opposition to censorship and the anti-Communist hysteria of the McCarthy period, its consistent support for organized labor and for consumer and cooperative movements in their heyday, its condemnations of anti-Semitism (the magazine had launched a major campaign for an American boycott of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin) and of racial discrimination.

This liberalism frequently riled at least some vocal leaders of American Catholicism, particularly when a new generation of editors, taking over the magazine in 1938, pointedly repudiated the identification of Christian civilization with Franco's supposed crusade against communism in Spain. Within a year, the magazine lost more than 20 percent of its subscribers. The Jesuit weekly America was aghast at what it considered Commonweal's neutrality between "the champions of a Christian social order" and "the protagonists of a Sovietized state." Commonweal came under similarly fierce attack in the 1950s for its steady criticism of the anti-Communist antics of Joe McCarthy. In neither case was the magazine at all neutral between communism and Christianity or dictatorship and democracy. But looking to the positive American experiment in church-state separation and to the unhappy alliances of throne and altar in Europe, Commonweal believed that faith and freedom were endangered, not upheld, when temporal causes or social orders, particularly those enforced by state power or claiming priority over individual rights, were uncritically baptized as the work of God. Politics, the editors believed, was a worthy engagement on behalf of the common good, but it was also an all-too-human sphere of prudential judgment and compromise. One could not move directly from scriptural injunctions or church documents to specific political measures without carefully weighing the immediate circumstances and consequences. "Crusade" was not a good word in Commonweal's vocabulary.

This predisposition did not keep the magazine from taking definite positions. But to the disappointment of allies, it usually argued those positions in pragmatic terms, reserving the emotive power of endorsement or condemnation in explicitly religious language for only the most compelling cases. From the time of France's postwar attempt to crush Ho Chi Minh's movement for Vietnamese independence, for example, Commonweal had warned that Southeast Asia could prove a quagmire. Its early criticisms of American involvement focused on specific excesses — what the ethics of just and unjust wars consider the morality of means rather than the morality of ends. It was prepared to approve one of President Lyndon Johnson's bombing initiatives if that could facilitate a negotiated settlement. Only as the failures of both means and ends became overwhelming did the editors, in 1966, brand the war as flatly "unjust" and "immoral" — "a crime and a sin."

On another life-and-death question, abortion, Commonweal has consistently affirmed that the unborn human life deserves protection and strongly criticized those who strive assiduously to remove that reality from public debate. But recognizing that this debate could not be governed by norms derived from one group's revelation, the magazine has published arguments made in terms of general reasoning, and it has distinguished between the morality that any individual may observe and the morality that can be effectively written into law as an expression of a pluralistic society's moral consensus.

If Commonweal's liberalism did not always sit well with some Catholics, neither did it agree with some liberals. At issue, occasionally, was the journal's religious commitment. Of course, liberals disdained the entrenched Reformation claim that the pope was the Antichrist, but they were less resistant to the companion stereotype that the Catholic Church was deliberately breeding a mindless flock whose growing numbers, hopelessly in thrall to papal orders, imperiled American liberties. In the 1950s, Paul Blanchard's diatribes, arguing that Catholicism was no more compatible with freedom than was Soviet communism, appeared in the Nation, and the historian John McGreevey has documented just how seriously they were taken among the country's intellectual elite, influencing at least one member of the Supreme Court. Commonweal forcefully rejected Blanchard's accusations at the same time as it warned Catholic advocates of censorship or bloc voting that they were carrying grist to his mill.

Yet fissures between Commonweal and other liberal intellectuals were more apt to open up over religion in general than Catholicism in particular. At least some forms of liberalism held that freedom was safeguarded only by a rock-bottom skepticism about ultimate truth, or that separation of church and state implied separation of religion and politics or even religion and society, so that religious convictions and institutions might subsist, at most, as private sources of comfort and inspiration, but with no legitimate role in public discourse about politics and social norms. As liberalism shifted in recent decades from the egalitarian bread-and-butter issues of the New Deal and the War on Poverty to the defense of personal freedoms, especially concerning reproduction and sexuality, it has relied more and more on the principle that the government should scrupulously abstain from judgments about the good life (including decisions regarding its beginning and end), leaving them instead to the individual. This is a position that Commonweal has found faulty in principle and illusory in practice. A gulf has accordingly opened between it and much of American liberalism, without especially closing the gap dividing it from conservatism.

Halfway through Commonweal's history, Roman Catholicism entered a new era. In many ways, the Second Vatican Council was the fulfillment of the magazine's hopes. It endorsed the vocation of the laity to be active participants in the liturgy and bearers of the gospel in society. The council dismantled the barricades Catholicism had thrown up against the modern world. The Eucharist and other sacraments were restored to the center of the church's prayer life, where they had sometimes been overshadowed by popular devotions. Scripture was likewise restored to the center of the church's consciousness, where it had sometimes been overshadowed by church decrees and various schools of theological and philosophical reasoning. The council extended a hand to other branches of Christianity, began purging Catholicism of the stain of anti-Jewish ideology, and acknowledged the value of other world religions. It solemnly affirmed the inviolability of conscience and the right to religious freedom.

To Commonweal this last affirmation was especially satisfying, a vindication of the editors' twofold defense of Catholicism's place in American intellectual life and of the significance of the American experiment, especially of religious freedom, for the church's life. The magazine was similarly vindicated by the council's elevation of dialogue over apologetics and polemics. Dialogue had been Commonweal's keynote from the start, and a chief reason some Catholics had periodically accused the magazine of lacking fervor. The first article of the first issue had been by a non-Catholic. That essay was sympathetic to the magazine's outlook, but the editors have always published pieces at odds with their own views, regularly resorting to the debate or symposium format. (For example, the defense of liberal Catholicism by William Clancy, included in this collection as representative of the magazine's viewpoint, was originally paired with an attack on liberal Catholicism by William F. Buckley Jr.) Individual editors have offered signed dissents to the unsigned editorials that express the editorial staff's collective judgment. The magazine often retained columnists who consistently challenged the prevailing editorial policy.

Vatican II was followed in detail by Commonweal — more than one editor traveled to Rome to observe the proceedings firsthand, and there were writers for the magazine, primarily Gregory Baum and Robert McAfee Brown, among both Catholic and Protestant experts and observers. But ironically this minute attention made it impossible to select any one or two articles among the many detailed dispatches for reprinting here. Even when an author like Hans Küng surveyed the forest rather than the trees at the end of the council in December 1965, he did so in almost telegraphic style, assuming perhaps that his readers had already studied the trees one by one. The council, in fact, appeared to be a culmination of Commonweal's hopes, so much so that Eugene McCarthy, a friend of the magazine since his days as a Minnesota congressman, once ruminated that it faced the problem of the March of Dimes after the polio vaccine: success had removed its raison d'être.

The reality proved otherwise. If the council is not represented here by any direct report or commentary, it is thoroughly reflected in the controversies it left in its wake. Commonweal published numerous articles on the impact of liturgical reform; the prolonged debate over contraception and widespread objections to Pope Paul VI's reiteration of its condemnation in his 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae, swelling into a full-scale crisis of authority; the role of women in the church, including their ordination (as well as that of married men) to the priesthood; new issues of church and state, morality, law, revolution, and resistance raised by liberation theology, by the war in Vietnam, by abortion and euthanasia. Meanwhile, the 1960s had erupted — in some ways quite to Commonweal's liking, such as the religiously inspired civil rights movement and student activists' criticism of a liberalism that was strictly "procedural" and lacking in substantive commitments, but also in ways that grated against the journal's whole tradition, like the radicals' apocalypticism and the counterculture's exaltation of hedonism and immediacy over reason and reflection.

The council, the 1960s, and the tumultuous years that followed introduced two discontinuities into Commonweal's history. In its first three decades, the editors had not focused much on the church's internal life except to defend it against its cultured despisers. They occasionally voiced disappointment in church authorities but rarely discussed doctrines, and only in the most deferential tones. By the middle fifties, the staff included editors trained in philosophy and theology and resolved to add a lay perspective where the ordained had long held a near monopoly. They were blunt about the church's historical failures. They probed basic questions of faith and morals. The difference can be measured by comparing the enthusiastic reception the journal gave Pius XI's condemnation of contraception in his 1930 encyclical Casti connubii with its frankly critical reception of Humanae vitae. Although "the new encyclical must be taken seriously and weighed soberly," the editors predicted that it would bitterly divide the church and "fail the test of history."

At the same time, Commonweal's place on the map of American Catholicism began to shift. As long as demands for change in the church had to struggle even to get a hearing, Commonweal had provided a sympathetic forum. Only the anarchist, pacifist Catholic Worker, with which Commonweal shared many historical and personal ties, and the similarly allied but more academic quarterly Cross Currents, consistently stood to Commonweal's left. The postconciliar period saw the flourishing of other independent lay platforms, especially the National Catholic Reporter, a weekly newspaper founded by Robert G. Hoyt, now a senior writer at Commonweal. More important, it saw the birth of enthusiasms, sometimes among friends who had looked to Commonweal for leadership, that now provoked the journal's skepticism. As never before, the magazine found itself caught between two fronts. Not only was there a Catholic right that had yet to come to terms with the council's reforms; there was a Catholic left that seemed determined to push them over a precipice. Commonweal tried to keep its own counsel. It published misgivings about the reformed liturgy, criticized aspects of liberation theology, challenged the idealization of Sandinista Nicaragua, favored nuclear deterrence over unilateral disarmament, and cast a cool eye on optimistic proposals for new sexual moralities. At the same time, the magazine resisted the sweeping reversals of disillusioned neoconservatives who found happiness in Ronald Reagan's "morning in America" and backed Contra warfare in Central America and the Star Wars antimissile system in the stratosphere. Commonweal refused to organize its thinking around a dichotomous culture war that wrapped feminism, legalized abortion, gay rights, affirmative action, the ACLU, pop music, welfare, environmentalism, Hollywood movies, TV sitcoms, the network news, the National Endowment for the Arts, and liberal Democrats into a single, seamless enemy — or likewise recoiled from every exemplification of military intervention, the religious right, family values, right-to-lifers, means testing, work requirements, decency ratings, and sexual restraints in mass entertainment. Tellingly enough, when a group of scholars designed a major foundation-funded study mapping the "Catholic Right" and the "Catholic Left," they found it impossible to place Commonweal in either camp.

Independence, in short, has been a Commonweal hallmark, independence from church structure or subsidy, independence from liberal orthodoxy, independence from the post-sixties factions, whether Catholic or secular. For most of its history, this independence has made the magazine a financially precarious operation, disregarded by the wealth that backs many Catholic or liberal causes, sustained instead by the modest donations of loyal readers and by the thrift and sacrifices of its editors and writers.

For Commonweal's history is one of people as well as ideas, starting with the visionary and self-styled romantic Michael Williams. It was his genius and energy that launched the magazine, even if his mood swings and weakness for alcohol and Generalissimo Franco ultimately alienated him from his colleagues. George N. Shuster, educator and journalist, left the staff in 1937 after clashing with Williams over the Spanish Civil War but not before putting his own irreversible stamp on the magazine. His German-American roots prepared him to report on the conditions that bred Nazism and warn Catholics in no uncertain terms of the moral as well as political toxicity of German, Austrian, and Spanish fascism. He went on to serve as president of New York City's Hunter College, then the largest all-women's college in the world. After carrying out government assignments in wartime, he spent eighteen months in 1950-51 as state governor of Bavaria for the American occupation government. His final years were spent assisting the Reverend Theodore A. Hesburgh at Notre Dame, where Shuster had studied and taught before going to Commonweal.

Edward S. Skillin was one of "Shuster's boys," hired by the then managing editor in 1933 along with Philip Burnham. The two of them would take over the magazine as coeditors five years later, but Skillin would remain as editor and publisher, a quiet, unfailing caretaker of The Commonweal legacy, for no less than sixty years more, retiring in the summer of 1998 and ceasing his regular commute to the office only at year's end — at age ninety-four. From his home in New Jersey, he continues to proofread each issue.

Two more generations of editors deserve mention. A post-World War II generation was represented by John Cogley and James O'Gara, founders of a Catholic Worker house in Chicago who broke with Dorothy Day over pacifism and served in World War II. Unlike many of their predecessors on the staff, they were educated in parochial schools and, with the help of the G.I. Bill, Catholic universities. (Burnham and Skillin were Phi Beta Kappa graduates of Princeton and Williams respectively; and both had attended Eastern prep schools.) Cogley and O'Gara brought to the magazine something of the struggling, urban milieu of immigrant Catholicism, as did James Finn and William Clancy, two other 1950s editors, who combined liberal politics with strong literary interests. O'Gara remained at the magazine as managing editor and editor until 1984; he and Skillin, the two long-distance runners of Commonweal's history, guided the magazine through the tumultuous years following the council. Cogley moved on to positions at the Fund for the Republic, the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, and the New York Times. Throughout the fifties, however, he continued his one-page columns in the magazine, and those assembling this collection had to struggle to include only three of these fine-cut gems of lucid, unassuming argument.

What could be called the Cold War-and-council generation was installed at Commonweal when I first worked there, in the summer of 1964. Daniel Callahan, prolific author and later a pioneering figure in the field of modern biomedical ethics, worked at one of the magazine's dilapidated desks, separated by a pea green metal and glass divider from John Leo, later a writer for the New York Times and Time and most recently a columnist for U.S. News & World Report. I arrived for work in the warren of "offices" created by those ugly dividers on the day that Richard Gilman, the magazine's drama critic, who was moving on to review plays for Newsweek, turned his book-strewn nook over to Wilfrid Sheed, three of whose novels were to be nominated for National Book Awards and who went from reviewing plays for Commonweal to reviewing movies at Esquire. (Commonweal's roster of drama critics has been particularly distinguished, starting with Richard Dana Skinner in 1924. By the 1960s, former occupants of that post — Walter Kerr, Gilman, Sheed, and John Simon — were reviewing plays or movies for the New York Times, Newsweek, Esquire, and New York.) A summer in such company did not make it easy to return to graduate school.

In 1964, too, William V. Shannon was contributing a regular "Washington Report" and taking a hawkish view of the nation's growing commitment in Vietnam. The opposing analysis (and more or less the magazine's) came from a former editor, William Pfaff, who would soon start submitting a regular "Foreign Affairs" column. Shannon, who changed his mind about Vietnam, was to join the editorial page of the New York Times and eventually serve as American ambassador to Ireland. Pfaff, a humanist operating in the world of think tanks, came to write essays on international politics for the New Yorker and produce a syndicated column; his book Barbarian Sentiments was nominated for a National Book Award.

My own connection with Commonweal went back, more or less, to the age of seven or eight — when I recall my mother being unaccountably more absorbed in a colorless, pretty much pictureless magazine than in my relentless explanations of why I needed a pair of cowboy boots (and a guitar and a pony...) in order to pursue my career as a future Gene Autry. Van Allen, in his history, states that I "was the first Commonweal editor whose parents had been readers of the magazine," but he thankfully refrained from any quasi-Freudian theory of why I was driven to serve on the magazine not once but twice — and to increase the use of color and illustrations. Since 1988 I have observed the life and struggles of the magazine from the novel perspective of the editor's spouse. I have seen it improve its financial situation to a somewhat more stable level of impoverishment. I have seen it pass through the astonishing changes of recent decades in typesetting and production, and lurch forward into cyberspace ( I have seen it address the new challenges of domestic and international politics in a world no longer polarized between East and West, and try to maintain dialogue within a church increasingly polarized between liberals and conservatives. People forget that I edited the magazine not long ago, so they don't understand the irony when they say, "Tell your wife how much Commonweal has improved in recent years."

This anthology is not, in the strict sense, a "Best of Commonweal" collection, although many of these articles could certainly qualify for such a volume. Nor have the editors simply chosen the pieces that were most notable from a strictly historical standpoint, although, again, many of these would qualify. Rather the anthology has been organized around certain themes, political, social, cultural, theological, that not only have preoccupied the magazine throughout its life but remain of pressing concern today. Remarkable reporting and superb writing and even arguments that were once of defining importance for the readership, but addressing topics long since settled or forgotten, had to be set aside. Even within those guidelines, many hard, highly subjective choices had to be made. The editors decided to cut articles, mainly to increase the number and range of topics in the anthology, but occasionally to save readers from being bogged down in time-bound references that would require footnoted explanations.

The four opening articles — "Setting the Scene" — capture moments and sound motifs: the shadow of totalitarianism cast over both faith and freedom; the social inequities of America and the wisdom-beyond-stereotypes of Americans in facing them; the liberal Catholic stance toward church and world. After that, the categories and questions are self-explanatory.

Reviews, a major element in every issue of Commonweal for seventy-five years, are a particularly difficult category to anthologize because they often depend on the reader's familiarity with the work or artist under consideration. Yet reviews — not just of books but of plays, films, and to a lesser extent dance, music, and painting — have always had an important place at Commonweal, a prominence reflecting a Catholic humanism rooted in the doctrines of creation and incarnation. The attention given the arts in Commonweal stood in opposition to a Christian hostility to matter and the senses that minimized beauty as a path to the divine and would harness the aesthetic impulse tightly to the plough of ethics. Commonweal's challenge to an art-denying censoriousness regularly provoked criticism and ignited many of the most heated discussions in its pages.

The quest for thematic coherence and, of course, space limitations have kept many important (and colorful) contributors to Commonweal from this collection's table of contents. There is nothing by Hilaire Belloc or G. K. Chesterton, the dynamic duo of Britain's Catholic intellectual revival. Jacques Maritain alone represents the parallel

Meet the Author

Peter Steinfels, former co-director of the Fordham University Center on Religion and Culture, is a university professor at Fordham. He was religion columnist for The New York Times and editor of Commonweal. Steinfels is the author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America (Simon & Schuster, 2003). He lives in New York City.

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