An initial survey of the literature

One of my ongoing projects has been to trace the origins of the doctrine of the works of mercy. Thus far, my approach remains methodologically opportunistic if not haphazard. I suppose this results in part from the fact that despite the countless theological works that presuppose the framework of the works of mercy for their intelligiblity, I have yet to come across any rigorous, thorough, and detailed theological study on the subject itself. Instead, the discussion seems to be divided into several fairly distinct camps.

(1) There are quite a few contemporary projects on “hospitality” that tend to rest at the intersection between political, liturgical, and practical/pastoral theology. Examples of such works include: Catherine D. Pohl’s Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Practice; Elizabeth Newman’s Untamed Hospitality: Welcoming God and Other Strangers; John Koenig’s New Testament Hospitality: Partnership with Strangers as Promise and Mission; Thomas R. Hawkins’ Sharing the Search: A Theology of Christian Hospitality; Patrick R. Keifert’s Welcoming the Stranger: A Public Theology of Worship and Evangelism; Arthur Sutherland’s I was a Stranger: A Christian Theology of Hospitality; and quite a few others.

(2) Then you have works that deal with the works of mercy explicitly, but not necessarily from a rigorously historical or robustly theological perspective. This might include the works of Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, and the surrounding secondar literature such as Dan McKanan’s The Catholic Worker After Dorothy: Practicing the Works of Mercy in a New Generation. One could also cite here the writings of Jean Vanier. And there are also a few more popular level books on the subject like Mitch Finley’s The Corporal & Spiritual Works of Mercy: Living Christian Love and Compassion and James F. Keenan’s The Works of Mercy: The Heart of Catholicism.

(3) Additionally, in terms of academic research quite a few pariscope studies have focused their attention on isolated instances of works of mercy throughout the church’s history. To be honest, I am less familiar with this side of the table. However, I’ve found a few works that look promising. On the one hand, there are more general books like John Bossy’s Christianity and the West 1400-1700; Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Alters; and Ian Williams’ The Alms Trade: Charities, Past, Present, and Future. On the other hand, there are other much more concentrated books like Miri Rubin’s Charity and Community in Medieval Cambridge and John Henderson’s Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Florence.

(4) Then there is a massive amount of work done relating to particular works of mercy (on visiting the sick or feeding the hungry, etc.).

(5) There are also the more exegetical books dealing with the topic from a more strictly biblical perspective.

(6) Finally, there are a few works that are a bit difficult to categorize, such as Jon Sobrino’s The Principle of Mercy: Taking the Crucified People from the Cross; Kelly S. Johnson’s The Fear of Beggars: Stewardship and Poverty in Christian Ethics.

It seems I have a lot of reading to do.


About Ben Kautzer

I am currently dwelling in the intangible space of the between. Having finished my MA in Philosophical Theology at the University of Nottingham, I decided to take a bit of a break, return to California, and start applying for PhD programs. That process is finally drawing to a close. This Fall I will be commencing my doctoral research in political theology at either the University of Nottingham, Durham, or Bristol. As of yet, that future still remains (uncomfortably) uncertain. My recent academic pursuits tend to focus on political theology (ecclesiology, ethics, politics, liturgy), biblical theology (scriptural narrative, hermeneutics, philosophy of memory and historical method), and Continental Philosophy (especially phenomenology). View all posts by Ben Kautzer

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