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Left Catholicism in Western Europe, 1943-1955

Dr. Gerd-Rainer Horn

The World War II experience of occupation, resistance and eventual liberation shook up patterns of behaviour, thought and political action of those Europeans lucky enough to survive. The mass movement phase of the underground resistance movements and the post-liberation period must be regarded as the low point in terms of popular acceptance rates of market economies and capitalism as the social system of choice. Small wonder that a profound wave of left radicalism began to make waves even within the spiritual boundaries of the staunchly conservative Catholic Church.

In this three-week optional seminar, we will study the impact of this widespread rejection of the values of free enterprise and capitalism, largely identified with the twin scourges of fascism and war, on the lifeworld of Catholicism in western Europe. Emphasis will be placed on the threefold dimension in which this emerging Left Catholicism manifested itself: a) the development of early forms of liberation theology; b) significant reconfigurations in the party-political sphere, with new Catholic political formations, such as Italy’s Movement of Catholic Communists, capturing the attention of portions of society and the electorate; and c) the translation of this radical ferment into social movement activism, such as the worker priest phenomenon.

Indicative Reading

Gerd-Rainer Horn and Emmanuel Gerard (eds.), Left Catholicism: Catholics and Society in Western Europe at the Point of Liberation 1943-1955 (Leuven, 2001)
John Petrie (ed.), The Worker-Priests: A Collective Documentation (London, 1956)
Jean-Marie Domenach and Robert de Montvalon, The Catholic Avant-Garde: French Catholicism Since World War II (New York, 1967)
John Hellman, Emmanuel Mounier and the New Catholic Left 1930-1950 (Toronto, 1981)
Jacques Loew, Mission to the Poorest (London, 1950)
Jacques Maritain, True Humanism (London, 1941)
Emmanuel Mounier, Be Not Afraid: A Denunciation of Despair (New York, 1962)
Emmanuel Mounier, Personalism (Notre Dame, 1970)
Henri Perrin, Priest and Worker (London, 1965)
Christophe Potworowski, Contemplation and Incarnation: The Theology of Marie-Dominique Chenu (Montréal, 2001)
Gregor Siefer, The Church and Industrial Society: A Survey of the Worker-Priest Movement and its Implications for the Christian Mission (London, 1964)
Emmanuel Suhard, The Church Today (Chicago, 1953)
Emmanuel Suhard, The Pastoral Letters (London, 1955)
Emmanuel Suhard, Priests Among Men (Chicago, 1949)