Catholic Intellectual Tradition Reading List (2017-2019)

Faculty must include at least one author/text from the list below. Faculty are encouraged to consider putting at least two of these texts in critical dialogue with each other. 

Papal Encyclicals

Pope Francis’ second encyclical letter, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, was released in 2015. Informed by principles and examples from the Judeo-Christian tradition, the encyclical letter offers a moral argument for the development of an “integral ecology” as a response to the global environmental crisis and the suffering of the poor and the marginalized. The encyclical letter is addressed to “every person living on this planet,” and in it the Pope expresses the wish to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (sec. 3).  Notable, for some, is Pope Francis’ embrace of climate science and his call for dialogue between religions and sciences to help solve the crises (see especially sections 199-201).

The first chapter is a resume of the environmental crisis and a description of how that crisis is concomitant with, as the title of one subsection indicates, the “decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society.” As he explains, “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation” (sec. 48). Chapter Two is an explication of the “Gospel of Creation,” beginning with the creation accounts in Genesis. People of faith may be motivated to work towards an integral ecology after coming to realize, as the creation accounts suggest, that “human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself” (sec. 66). Chapter Three is an argument about the “human origins of the ecological crisis” (sec. 101). The Pope contends that the crisis is enabled by a technoscientific paradigm and a distorted conception of the place of human beings and of human action in the world (we believe that our technology will allow us to solve all environmental problems [even those it creates] and, indeed, to master, to create and improve upon, life itself). The crisis is also financed by an economy that “accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings” (sec. 109). Chapter Four is an general outline of an “integral ecology” that seeks to acknowledge the interrelatedness of the environmental, economic, and social ecologies. Chapters Five and Six contain respectively a call for action and a reflection on the resources, the images and practices, from with the Christian tradition that can help positively transform our destructive ways of life. “Many things have to change course,” he writes, “but it is we human being above all who need to change”, but we are not without resources for understanding in what ways, just how, we should change (sec. 202).

The encyclical letter is rich with material that can help organize an ACS1001 syllabus and/or that can be linked up with other major themes and texts typically taken up in ACS1001. Chapter Three, on the “Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis,” could be read at the beginning of the semester and taken as a provocation: Will we read anyone/anything this semester that challenges the Pope’s claim that, "Modernity has been marked by an excessive anthropocentrism which . . . continues to stand in the way of shared understanding and of any effort to strengthen social bonds’ (sec. 116)"? The encyclical offers a specifically Catholic Christian voice to debates about the environmental crisis; the meaning and role of technology in our lives (and it would work well when read with Shelley’s Frankenstein, Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, or any of several texts by Wendell Berry, etc.); the role and significance of capitalism (and neo-liberalism) in shaping the values of our contemporary consumerist society; and the consideration of various Modern religious and secular utopian visions, images of other and of better ways of life. 

Laudato si’ is available for free via the Vatican’s website. You can download a pdf of the text here: One book version of the encyclical letter that includes discussion questions is put out by Our Sunday Visitor, Inc. [$ 8.75; ISBN: 1612783864].

Published in 1963, a time of great global fear about nuclear war, this encyclical addresses the threat of international conflict as well as scientific progress, the increasing power of technology, and the responsibility of all human beings to work communally and cooperatively. Addressed not only to Catholics but to “all men of good will,” the encyclical responds to the myriad changes of the postwar world (selective social and economic advancement, the beginnings of recognition for women and minorities, and the continuing struggles of oppressed peoples) with clear statements fundamental to Catholic Social Teaching: solidarity, subsidiarity, and concern for the common good while respecting the rights of the individual. Pope John XXIII calls for greater respect for all people and collective responsibility for the welfare of all: “may Christ inflame the desires of all men to break through the barriers which divide them, to strengthen the bonds of mutual love, to learn to understand one another, and to pardon those who have done them wrong.”

The ecyclical letter is available for free, in pdf form, on the Vatican's website:

Rerum Novarum is a papal encyclical from 1891. It is a response to Marxism and socialism, clarifying the Church’s positions on the dignity of workers (and all human beings), the responsibility of capital, the problems of industrialization, and the role of governments in mediating the conflicts among classes and in promoting the common good. It is considered one the founding documents of Catholic Social Teaching. Its themes were reaffirmed and clarified in subsequent encyclicals, such as Piux XI’s Quadragesimo Anno (1931) and John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus (1991). (Available free online:

Catholic Social Thought

Dorothy Day was an American convert to Catholicism and the principal founder of the Catholic Worker movement. Her life spanned nearly a hundred years and she lived through the Great Depression, both World Wars, the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. She was a social activist for most of her adult life and she is under consideration for sainthood. The Catholic Worker emphasizes solidarity with the poor and marginalized, social justice, economic redistribution, disregard for national borders, civil disobedience (and, often, contempt for temporal governments), pacifism and nonviolence. Day’s reduction of Christianity to a lived pattern of daily actions (pray, feed the hungry, clothe the naked) leaves not much room for those things most of us view as essential (no matter how much she listened to the opera on the radio, or read Dostoevsky).  When she died in 1980, the New York Times eulogized her as a "nonviolent social radical of luminous personality." The Long Loneliness is her autobiography, half of which is about her own life, the other half about the founding and development of the Catholic Worker movement. Loaves and Fishes focuses more on the movement and the other personalities involved; From Union Square to Rome is a short, early version of Loaves and Fishes. (Long Loneliness: HarperOne, 2001; $12; 304 pp. From Union Square to Rome: Orbis, 2006; $12; 177 pp. Loaves and Fishes: Orbis, 2003; $15; 221 pp.)

Entry to come.

A convert to Catholicism, Thomas Merton (1915-68) was a Trappist monk brought to unexpected fame through his spiritual writings and social activism. His spiritual autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948) is a modern-day Confessions, wherein Merton describes his early wanderings, his dissatisfactions with modern mores and academic life, and his conversion to Catholicism and embrace of the rigid and structured life of a Trappist. New Seeds of Contemplation is his principal work of mysticism. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander and Raids on the Unspeakable feature essays on various subjects: theological, literary, sociological, and personal. (Seven Storey Mountain: Mariner, 1999; $9; 496 pp. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander: Random House, 2009; $11; 396 pp. Raids on the Unspeakable: New Directions, 1966; $12; 182 pp. New Seeds of Contemplation: New Directions, 2007; $13; 324 pp.)


Playwright and philosopher Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973) is considered an early French existentialist. He converted to Catholicism in 1929 and his work addresses the possibility of human beings being in communion with one another despite the distraction and dehumanization of a materialistic and mechanistic society. Man against Mass Society is an intensely Socratic work that diagnoses our crisis, which Marcel identifies as “metaphysical, not merely social.” He also takes up the issues of fanaticism and false egalitarianism, particularly relevant to our own time. (St. Augustine’s Press, 2008; $15; 208 pp.)

Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) was a leading proponent of the neo-Thomist school of philosophy in the first half of the 20th century. In The Person and the Common Good (1946), he offeres a concise and vigorous response to various "modern" ways of defining the human individual in opposition to the common good. Following Aristotle and Thomas, Maritain develops the idea that "the good of the city is more noble, more divine than that of the individual" (p. 86). Maritain argues that the good of the person, the human essence, cannot be construed in opposition to the common good, but at its limit, is that common good. He further claims that in the Churc, the common good is not a practical good to be realized, but a subsisting good to which to adhere. As such, the comon good, "is the very life of God" (p. 86), and thus instrinsically linked to the beatific vision. This text works well in dialogue with texts of modern political thought, such as Hobbes or Rousseau, whith authors such as Pascal or Nietzsche, or as a complement to the texts of Catholic Social Teaching. (University of Notre Dame Press, 1973; $14; 100 pp.)

The many works of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) focus on questions of subjectivity, the limits of reason, and the possibility of radical commitment—to faith in God and/or to another human being. Fear and Trembling is his intense study of the story of the Binding of Isaac and the call for a “leap of faith.” In Works of Love, he expounds on the Christian idea of love, explaining exactly why love, in the Christian sense, has always been, and will remain, a grave offense to the world. Kierkegaard does not have an idea of love that is caressing or coddling; it contains "a sadness which broods over life and is tempered by the eternal.” Either/Or is a large study of the ethical conflict between morality and aesthetics; the opening chapters are suitable for ACS reading. (Fear and Trembling: Penguin, 1985; $11; 175 pp. Works of Love: HarperPerennial, 2009; $10; 400 pp.)



T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), an American ex-pat who became a British citizen and Anglican, was an essayist, poet, and playwright.  He is regarded as one of the greatest English poets of the 20th century.  In his poem, “The Wasteland,” Eliot connects the themes of the Holy Grail and the Fisher King with elements of contemporary British society and Western culture, as well as Buddhism and the Hindu Upanishads.  The poem deals with death, disillusionment, and despair in modern life, and draws upon themes from the mythic past.  In his poem “Four Quartets,” Eliot reflects on time, memory, place, symbolism, the universe, and the possibility of redemption.  Murder in the Cathedral, a play in verse (88 pp.), is about the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, for disobeying Henry II.  It deals with issues of church and state, the human pursuit of power and pleasure, martyrdom and heroism, and the search for the meaning of life.  Eliot offers an effective way of culminating ACS 1001, as it pairs well with Shakespeare.  (The Four Quartets: Mariner Press, 1968; $9; 64 pp. Murder in the Cathedral: Harcourt, 1964; $9; 88 pp. The Waste Land: Dover, 1998; $2; 64 pp.)

Entry to come.

Entry to come.