In Patristics and Catholic Social Thought: Hermeneutical Models for a Dialogue, Brian Matz argues that scholars and proponents of the modern Catholic social tradition can gain from the use of ancient texts for contemporary socioethical formation. Although it is impossible to expect a one-to-one correspondence between the social ideas of early church theologians, such as Augustine, and those of modern Catholic social thought, this book offers four hermeneutical models that will facilitate a fruitful dialogue between the two worlds. The result is a challenge to modern Christian ethicists to think more deeply about their work in light of the perspective of those who trod a similar path centuries ago.
Matz first examines an "authorial intent" hermeneutical model, as articulated in the philosophies of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey. The second is a "distanciation" model, relying on the thought of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur. The third is a "normativity of the future" model, so named by its proponents, Reimund Bieringer and Mary Elsbernd. The fourth is a "new intellectual history" model, which relies on contemporary literary-critical theories. In a series of case studies, Matz applies each model to two early Christian sermons on the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man and, in so doing, illustrates that each one draws out different social ideas. Although each model ultimately bears fruit for Catholic social thought today, Matz concludes that the "normativity of the future" model is the one best suited to a productive use of early Christian texts in contemporary Catholic social thought.
"Patristics and Catholic Social Thought is completely original in approach and stands alone as a unique contribution to the problem of bridging the hermeneutical gap between early Christianity and the contemporary church and the social issues with which we engage today. The book is written in a clear and simple style that is readily accessible to both the specialist and nonspecialist reader alike, making it useful for teachers of hermeneutics in religious studies departments and seminaries." Wendy Mayer, Australian Catholic University