Commonweal Confronts the Century

Commonweal Confronts the Century Liberal Convictions, Catholic Tradition Edited by Patrick Jordan \& Paul Baumann Touchstone, $18, 411 pp.

This fat anthology is, as you might expect, deeply depressing. The material-the rise of Nazism, the Great Depression, the war in Vietnam-dictates it. But these pages are also exhilarating reading, especially, I would think, for Catholics. Whatever the catastrophe-the injustice, the evil, the breadlines, concentration camps, the unenlightening encyclical-Commonweal was there to face it, to mark the truth and consequences.

These selections from issues going back to the year of its founding, 1924, make clear why Commonweal has had influence and fame far beyond its circulation, a modest 20,000. Periodicals with ten times that number cannot claim the luster of its name, the clarity of its identity. As Peter Steinfels, a one-time editor, says in his introduction, it put into our language the term "Commonweal Catholic" which has come to mean believers who think as much as they feel about religion. The tone of the magazine is unwaveringly civil, humane, and rational.

Now somewhat archaic, the term "Commonweal Catholic" could once be applied from the bottom to the top, from the earnest, searching bookkeeper to the supreme pontiff. By my lights, Pope John XXIII, Commonweal’s hero, is certainly a "Commonweal Catholic." The present pope, John Paul II, is not, I would say, being of a more institutional cast of mind and being unrelenting in such matters as birth control. In the anthology Bernard Häring, a theologian...

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About the Author

Mary McGrory, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post, died in April 2004.