(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Noted Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain spearheaded a Catholic revival in France and the revival of philosophical Thomism in Europe and the United States. Although philosophically a traditionalist, he was one of the foremost proponents of Christian democracy in the twentieth century, and his work paved the way for the reforms of Vatican II. Christianity and Democracy consists of about one hundred pages, a preface and eight chapters. In his preface, Maritain identifies the theme of the work: A new understanding of democracy must arise in the light of the destruction of World War II. Maritain expresses great hope that such an understanding will develop.

The first chapter, entitled, “The End of an Age,” asserts that fascism and communism have completely poisoned the modern world, which he says was “born of Christendom and owed its deepest living strength to Christian tradition.” In the second chapter, Maritain argues that the democracies that emerged by 1942 are weak and not prepared to build a proper civilization. Even though the youth of these democracies have expressed great doubt about society, they have expended much energy on fighting totalitarianism. Democracies have given too much attention to economics and the concern for acquisition of material goods. According to Maritain, the greatest failure of modern democracies is that religion has been ignored.

In chapters titled “Three Remarks” and “Evangelical Inspiration and the Secular Conscience,” Maritain presents his understanding of the relationship between religion and democracy. Maritain asserts that “democracy is linked to Christianity” and that the democratic impulse has arisen because of Christianity. Christianity, Maritain argues, promotes an understanding of civic friendship because of its emphasis on brotherly love. This civic friendship will enable justice and peace to exist in political life. Maritain says that Christianity “has taught . . . the unity of the human race, the natural equality of all men ....

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Bokenkotter, Thomas. Church and Revolution: Catholics in the Struggle for Democracy and Social Justice. New York: Image Books, 1998. Examines Catholics who have promoted social reform; includes two chapters that consider the humanist vision of the Jacques Maritain.

Kraynak, Robert. Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World. South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001. Discusses the relationship between the Christian tradition and the development of democracy. Discusses why some recent Christian thinkers, including Maritain, have supported democracy. Kraynak argues that there is no essential connection between democracy and Christianity.

Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004. This document is a summary of the Catholic Church’s social teaching and includes significant discussion of the Catholic Church’s teaching on democracy and the belief in human dignity. This work reflects an understanding of democracy and human rights similar to Maritain’s.