I invited my colleague and friend Todd Whitmore to write up his reaction to the Catholic Church’s recent beatification of Giuseppe Toniolo.
Before modern Catholic social teaching, there was Giuseppe Toniolo (1845-1918). In April, Pope Benedict XVI beatified Toniolo, which is the last step in church procedure before canonization. What is in part remarkable about the event is that Toniolo was not your typical saint: he was an economist, the first to be beatified. More important for the rest of us, he was not an abstract theoretician; rather, he was a political economist whose work was shaped by a vision of social solidarity. Toniolo called for a democratically ordered civil society “in which all social, legal, and economic forces cooperate proportionally to the common good,” thus “promoting the social role of everyone” and “benefiting especially the poor.” He was an early advocate of labor unions, worker cooperatives, a just wage, and a limited work week. In these days when episcopal heresy dragnets ensnare even Girl Scouts, news of Toniolo’s beatification is an unlikely candidate for front-page, above-the-fold material. For me, it is evidence that grace can operate even in pathologically distorted institutions.
Toniolo’s example–and that’s what saints are, examples held up by the church for our admiration and imitation–is particularly salient for the professors among us at a time when the academy is narrowing its understanding of scholarship to include only the writing of books and articles for other academics. Toniolo was what in present-day parlance we call a “scholar-practitioner.” He founded a union. He led Italy’s Catholic Action movement. He started a periodical that aimed to generate broad public discussion of the issues of the day. Both the publication and the discussions were called “Social Weeks.” Today, such writing is often viewed in the academy as the mere “popularizing” of scholarship, but in Toniolo’s time it was considered a critical exercise of practical reason.
Blessed Giuseppe Toniolo of Treviso, pray for us.