The renewal of the Catholic church in most Latin American societies in the twentieth century is coincident with their transition from agrarian to urban societies, a transition accompanied by the denial in those societies of the remaining traits of nineteenth-century liberalism as it was adapted for use in those nations after independence. Under the changed situation, organized religion has been able to work toward becoming again an increasingly effective social influence. All the churches, not just the Catholic church, desire to provide and influence the use of norms for a better temporal order as a more favorable milieu for the salvation of souls. That aspiration requires a visible, immanent, and informing presence in the lives of the people in the temporal order; a presence in competition with other institutions, associations, and ideological parties that seek to achieve an evolving temporal perfection of the people while reserving to themselves the organization of the people, development of programs, and leadership in the struggle toward their goals of earthly perfection (secular salvation). Such activity is also a function of church structures subordinated to the need to make their organizations, programs, and struggle lead to an ambience in their societies that will facilitate the salvation of souls. As these church activities develop, the faithful and the clergy vary among themselves in their visions of the needed and the possible. They disagree over techniques to achieve the improved national ambience subordinated to the higher order of salvation. They are sharply divided over the kinds and extent of cooperation with other organizations when they would involve the ideologies of secular salvation, especially that of Marxism. There is division among the faithful and the clergy over what ought to be the style and intensity of struggle as well as the direct involvement of the clergy in struggle.

Levine’s work amply illustrates these generalizations and works out their manifestation in Colombia and Venezuela. The result is rather similar to the near-photographic reality of some landscape paintings—the ample continental framework, the national topography for Colombia and Venezuela (the National Conferences of Bishops), the scope of meadow and forest (the dioceses) with their varied styles (bishop and society), the foreground detail of parish (pastor and parishioners) and related organizations (active laity). Levine clearly sets forth his goals, defines and uses his terms with care, illustrates his points with the views of participants, and summarizes the abundant material derived from interviews in prose and tables. He stresses the realities of the daily scene, the importance of personalities in the very complex pattern of church organization, the wide variations in practice that result from the juxtaposition of structures and very different localities, the parish variations that must be mediated and brought into harmony at the diocesis, the diocesan variations that must be so adjusted in the National Conference of Bishops. In a related manner, the study is rather like a cross section of the church in Colombia and in Venezuela for comparative microscopic examination of the two in the midst of their adaptation of structures, programs, personnel, strategies, and tactics in societies themselves undergoing such a stressful process of evolution.

Related doctrinal problems are touched on, but not emphasized, because they are not within the purview of the work. The explanation of what is politics and of the church and politics is well done, as is the shorter summary of liberation theology. The latter recalled to me my opinion that the church confronts a major problem in casuistry—the application of general principles (its body of doctrine based on revelation and apostolic tradition) to circumstances in constant flux. The more radical activists among the faithful and the clergy tend to find it easier to modify doctrine with the aid of ideologies of secular salvation than to undertake successfully the practice of casuistry.

The book is a considerable contribution, destined to be a baseline against which to compare the degree of evolution in Colombia and Venezuela that will occur in subsequent decades in structures, personnel, programs, and effective social influence.