Catholic Social Science Review

Volume 13, 2008

Christopher Shannon
Pages 9-25

Symposium: A Catholic Approach To History

The growing sway of postmodernism over the intellectual life of the contemporary academy has lead many scholars to question conventional, post-Enlightenment notions of objectivity in historical inquiry. As universal History gives way to particular histories rooted in racial, ethnic, class, or gender identities, Catholics need to rethink their relation to objectivity. The current postmodern moment provides an opportunity for Catholics to reclaim a distinctly Catholic approach to history. Catholics may applaud the deconstruction of Enlightenment objectivity without endorsing a facile relativism in which Catholicism appears as simply one among many competing perspectives. Catholics should read postmodernism itself as a distortion of certain authentic Catholic insights on the need to root inquiry in authoritative communities of interpretation. Catholic history may benefit from the rigorous empirical standards of modern secular history, but it must never let those standards serve as the ultimate arbiter of the moral and spiritual truths that speak to us through history. The patristic tradition of the “four senses of scripture” offers a fruitful model for how postmodern Catholic historians might order the empirical and spiritual concerns of historical inquiry.