It may seem odd to relaunch Evangel with a post on the subject in the title, but ever since graduate school I have been exploring the complex relationship between Reformed and Roman Catholic social and political theories. Evangelicals should take note that, if last year marked the 500th birthday of Calvin, this year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Pope Leo XIII. To celebrate the occasion, Benedict XVI will be visiting his birthplace early next month. Leo had a huge impact on the development of Catholic philosophy and social teachings during the 20th century, drawing on the writings of Thomas Aquinas and articulating a principle that would come to be known as subsidiarity. Lest one think it a peculiarly Catholic concept, some observers have argued that subsidiarity’s decentralizing principle was anticipated a century earlier in the tenth amendment to the US Constitution.
Speaking of which, the following definition appeared in a recent undergraduate paper: “Subsidiarity . . . teaches that tasks should be performed by the slowest community possible.”