Gregory Baum
Chris Hughes

A prominent Canadian Theologian and Sociologist, Gregory Baum graduated from McMaster College in mathematics in 1946. His interests quickly turned to theology and sociology and in 1982 he became a professor of sociology at St. Michael's College. Currently Professor Emeritus of Theological Ethics and Sociology of Religion at McGill University, Canada, Baum served as a consultant to the Vatican's Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. This office exerted significant influence on the Vatican II council, and the formation of the Decree on Ecumenism.

Baum centered his theology on three different topics during his more than 40 years of writings: ecumenism, psychology, and political theology. These seemingly divergent loci of thought all center around the overarching question of the mission of the church. “The Church's mission is not self-evident,” [McKenna 608] and has been subject to change according to the nature of society at any given time. The mission theology of the Catholic Church underwent drastic changes after the second Vatican council.

Baum claims that “Christ bestows the gift of unity upon the Church so that it can truly engage in the mission of reconciliation.” [McKenna 609] As an ecumenist, Baum was convinced of the need for Catholic-Protestant and Christian-Jewish dialogue. Although his theology included concern for the Christian misunderstanding of Judaism as the basis of Catholicism, Baum was most concerned with what he termed “intra-Christian alienation.”

Baum finds it troubling that Christians frequently find bigger fault with other Christians than they do with atheists or non-Christians. Although Baum believes in the unity of all men, not just Christians, he notes that schisms within Christianity have caused tremendous problems for the church, while those without faith are often left out of the equation. “Looking upon one another as heretics or schismatics, we felt religiously justified in not seeking any bond of charity at all.” [Baum 1,57]

Even before Vatican II, Baum held faith in the two sources of revelation in Catholicism, and that evidence of God's desire for the unity of all mankind could be found in both sources. He states that Jesus gives to the church the power of unity so that it can “truly engage in the mission of reconciliation.” [McKenna 610] Baum goes beyond the mission of the church as an example of unity for the world. He believes that the church, because it has the power to overcome any internal obstacles to unity, becomes responsible for the unity of the world as a whole. This extrapolation makes sense when one considers the traditional role of ministry and the Christian belief in revelation for all. Baum's shift toward political theology came from his belief that the term reconciliation included not only God's forgiveness of those who believe, but that the term was inclusive of social reconciliation as well.

In Baum's later writings, one sees a shift toward the use of sociology as a basis for his theology. Termed “political theology” by Johann Baptist Metz, this pattern of thought seems to resemble the “liberation theology” often attributed to Gustavo Gutierrez. In Baum's words, “Only as the Churches become willing to serve the human family, especially the oppressed and despised, will they be freed from the obstacles to unity.” [Baum 3,17] In developing his theology, Baum looked to the giants of sociological thought for inspiration. In particular, he found in Karl Marx the profound concern for the human person that he found lacking in traditional Catholic theology. Despite the unfair reputation that several failed attempts brought to socialism, Baum attempted to see through these shortcomings into the heart of sociological study, finding and removing trends in society that tend to diminish human life.

Sin can be seen as not only a private evil, but also as both cause and effect of an imperfect society. In Baum's eyes, this circular mesh of sin has as it's nexus economic oppression. It is a modem force “that keep people away from the good life, damage their freedoms, diminish their humanity and drive vast numbers of them into death with indignity.” [Baum 4,92] Not only does Baum's social theology support a socialist way of thinking, he soundly denounces the trend toward the modem brand of capitalism, viewing it as the main source of evil in our world. He sees capitalism as a schismatic force in our society.

Works Cited
Rebecca McKenna. “The Transformative Mission of the Church in the Thought of Gregory Baum.” Theological Studies, Dec 98, Vol. 59 Issue 4, p 608
Gregory Baum. That They May Be One: A Study of Papal Doctrine (Leo XIII-Pius XII). Bloomsbury Pub., 1958
Gregory Baum. "After Twenty Years." The Ecumenist, 1983 Vol. 21, p l7
Gregory Baum. "Review of Identity and the Sacred by Hans Mol." The Ecumenist, 1981 Vol. 19, p 91.



Gregory Baum: "Christians and Jews"
The Catholic Quest for Christian Unity. New York, Sheed and Ward, 1962

Abstract by Chris Hughes

In his ecumenical treatise, The Catholic Quest for Christian Unity, published during the first year of sessions of Vatican n, Baum considers topics which unify rather than divide humanity and Christianity. After discussing many aspects and advances in modem ecumenism, he tackles the topic of the interrelationship betweens Christians and Jews.

In the opening paragraph of Chapter 9, “Christians and Jews,” Baum makes the argument that Jewish-Catholic dialogue can be considered a special form of ecumenism. Though ecumenism is strictly defined in terms of Christian unity, Baum argues that the common heritage of the two religions makes the term ecumenism apt in this case. Though Baum discusses concepts dangerously similar to the belief that Jews are “anonymous Christians” — a theological backlash has since banished the idea - his thoughts on anti-Semitism and what it means to be a Christian were well ahead of their time.

Baum immediately makes the church accountable for the anti-Semitic tendencies of modem Christians. After reviewing Christian documents from the 3rd century into the middle ages, scholars found that a large volume of Christian teachings and preachings cast a horrible light on the Jews, often describing them as “an accursed people, condemned for the crucifixion of Jesus, reaping their just punishment in this world.” [Baum 2,219] What people seem to have forgotten over the centuries is that Jesus himself was a Jew, and if it were not for that simple fact, he could not have been the fulfillment of scripture, and thus our messiah and means to salvation.

Baum sees a welcome reversing of this trend even as early as the writing of the book. Christian writers and theologians have come to know and respect the heritage shared with the Jews, and the church has come to recognize it's role as an extension of the promises made to the people of Israel. “In Christ we have entered the promises made to Israel. In Christ we truly belong to the family of God's first love. The Church is Israel.”


Gregory Baum: “No Society Without Violence?”
The Fascination of Evil. Maryknowll, NY: Orbis Books 1998

Abstract by Daniel Forshier

“No Society Without Violence?” is an essay found in , edited by David Tracy and Hermann Haring, which is series of essays written by various writers on the topic of Evil. Baum breaks his essay up into four general sections. These sections are a difficult question, no consensus among social scientists, the Bible, and fidelity to the prophetic Utopia.

In the first section Baum points out that the title of his essay is a tough question since there is “no agreed definition of violence.” He lists many different forms of violence from physical, to police force and even hunger. His second reason why it is such a tough question is that “we are deeply afraid of it.” Baum's reasoning for this is that we as humans are vulnerable and scared of pain inflicted on us and at the same time we are scared of our own “capacity for inflicting violence” that can be seen in the death penalty and moments of anger.

The second section he discusses how there is no consensus among social scientists regarding his topic. Baum breaks the scientists into two categories those who believe in aggressivity and those who believe in co-operation. Under the category of aggressivity Darwin's theory of evolution prevails and the philosophers believe that humans are basically aggressive and selfish. He places Thinkers like Hobbes, Locke, the Utilitarians, and Freud in this category. The co-operation category philosophers believe that people are essential peaceful and want to live peaceful. People like Gandhi and Marx are placed in this category. So, with this section Baum show the confusion that is even among the experts.

Next, Baum says the Bible doesn't even give a clear answer. He emphasizes two different readings of the Bible. The first is that human beings are sinners. Examples such as Cain and Able and the redemption brought by Christ are used to back up his statement. He goes on say that this interpretation of the Bible is why many churches have defended capital punishment. The second reading of the Bible is the goodness of creation. This view sees the fall of human as wounding and not corrupting. Baum states that this belief has foundations in the prophetic promises of shalom in the Old Testament and “Paul's teaching of the cosmic Christ and the Logos theology of the Fourth Gospel.” People placed in this category believe that institutions oppress humans and Baum points out that this concept has been taken up by Pope John II. He ends the section by stating that there are many readings of the Bible that don't fall under his two categories.

The Final Section of his essay, Baum labels fidelity of the prophetic Utopia. In this section he starts of by saying that social scientists can't give a unanimous reply on whether or not society can exist without violence and whether one says Yes or No has to do “with the social vision to which we are committed.” In the next two sub topics within his last section Baum addresses the prophetic message of scripture and other spiritual currents. Baum ends this section and this essay by asking the question, No Alternative? He says that if you answer no then its an excuse for your society to make violence a necessity. But answering yes “challenges every society to review its practices and reduce its reliance on violence.”


A Gregory Baum Bibliography
That They May be One: A Study of Papal Doctrine (Leo XIII-Pius XII). London: Bloomsbury Publishing Co., 1958
The Jews and the Gospel: A Re-examination of the New Testament. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Co., 1961
Progress and Perspectives: The Catholic Quest for Christian Unity. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1962
Is the New Testament Antisemitic? Glen Rock NJ: Paulist Press, 1965
The Credibility of the Church: A Reply to Charles Davis. New York: Herder and Herder, 1968
Faith and Doctrine; A Contemporary View. New York: Newman Press, 1969
Man Becoming: God in Secular Experience. New York: Herder & Herder, 1971
New Horizons: Theological Essays. New York: Paulist Press, 1972
The Church as Institution. Herder and Herder, 1974
Religion and Alienation: A Theological Reading of Sociology. New York: Paulist Press, 1975
Truth Beyond Relativism: Karl Mannheim's Sociology of Knowledge. Marquette Univ. Press, 1977
The Social Imperative. New York: Paulist Press, 1979
Catholics and Canadian Socialism: Political Thought in the Thirties and Forties. New York: Paulist Press, 1980
Sociology and Human Destiny: Essays on Sociology, Religion, and Society. New York: Seabury Press, 1980
Priority of Labor a Major New Initiative in Catholic Social Teaching. New York: Paulist Press, 1982
Theology and Society. New York: Paulist Press, 1988
Karl Polanyi on Ethics and Economics. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1996
The Church for Others: Protestant Theology in Communist East Germany. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997
Compassion and Solidarity: The Church for Others. House of Anansi Press, 1998
Nationalism, Religion, and Ethics. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2001
Essays in Critical Theology. Rowman & Littlefield, 2004