Third Sunday of Easter

May 5, 2019 Column Father De Celles

Catholicism Rejects Socialism. As you know, because of
bulletin deadlines (which take into account printing and shipping
time) I usually write this column on Wednesday mornings. This
Wednesday is May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, which
was established in 1955 by Pope Pius XII to counter the
celebration of May Day by Communist governments, and their
sympathizers in other countries. It recalls the Christian
understanding of the dignity of human work and workers, in
contradistinction to Marxism’s false notions.
The Church has a long history of defending workers,
but with the rise of Marxism (Socialism, Communism, etc.) in
the 19th century, the Popes were compelled to speak vociferously
against these inherently unjust ideologies. All this came to a
head in 1891, when Pope Leo XIII issued his monumental
encyclical, Rerum Novarum (“Of the New Things”), which is the
foundational document of the modern Catholic teaching on
“social justice.”
Sadly, many Catholics misunderstand this teaching.
Some Catholics even believe that Socialism is the way to social
justice. But as Pope Pius XI wrote in his 1931 encyclical
Quadragesimo Anno (“Forty Years”, referring to the fortieth
anniversary of Rerum Novarum): “Religious socialism, Christian
socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same
time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”
Now, one of the ways we respect the dignity of the
worker is allowing him time to rest from his labors, including
vacation time. I was supposed to be on vacation this week, but
my plans fell through. Even so, after Lent and Easter Week, I
need a rest, so I’ve been trying to limit my workload this week.
So to lighten my load today, let me quote at length some
passages from Rerum Novarum which might help us to better
understand the Catholic teachings that should inform our
perspective on the positions bandied about in current American
political discourse.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles
Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII, 1891:
4. To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on
the poor man’s envy of the rich, are striving to do away with
private property, and contend that individual possessions should
become the common property of all, to be administered by the
State…. They hold that by thus transferring property…the
present mischievous state of things will be set to rights,
inasmuch as each citizen will then get his fair share of whatever
there is to enjoy….[W]ere they carried into effect the working
man himself would be among the first to suffer. They are,
moreover, emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful
possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter
confusion in the community.
5. It is surely undeniable that, when a man engages in
remunerative labor, the impelling reason and motive of his work
is to obtain property, and thereafter to hold it as his very own. If
one man hires out to another his strength or skill, he does so for
the purpose of receiving in return what is necessary for the
satisfaction of his needs; he therefore expressly intends to
acquire a right full and real, not only to the remuneration, but
also to the disposal of such remuneration, just as he pleases.…
But it is precisely in such power of disposal that ownership
obtains, whether the property consist of land or chattels.
Socialists, therefore…strike at the interests of every wageearner,
since they would deprive him of the liberty of disposing
of his wages, and thereby of all hope and possibility of
increasing his resources and of bettering his condition in life.
6. What is of far greater moment, however, is the fact
that the remedy they propose is manifestly against justice. For,
every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own.
14. The [Socialist] contention, then, that the civil
government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate
control over the family and the household is a great and
pernicious error. True, if a family finds itself in exceeding
distress, utterly deprived of the counsel of friends, and without
any prospect of extricating itself, it is right that extreme necessity
be met by public aid…But the rulers of the commonwealth must
go no further …The socialists, therefore, in setting aside the
parent and setting up a State supervision, act against natural
justice, and destroy the structure of the home.
15. …The door would be thrown open to envy, to mutual
invective, and to discord; the sources of wealth themselves would
run dry, for no one would have any interest in exerting his talents
or his industry; and that ideal equality about which they
entertain pleasant dreams would be in reality the leveling down
of all to a like condition of misery and degradation….
17….There naturally exist among mankind manifold
differences of the most important kind; people differ in capacity,
skill, health, strength; and unequal fortune is a necessary result
of unequal condition. Such inequality is far from being
disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community. Social
and public life can only be maintained by means of various kinds
of capacity for business and the playing of many parts…
19. The great mistake made in regard to the matter now
under consideration is to take up with the notion that class is
naturally hostile to class, and that the wealthy and the working
men are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict. So
irrational and so false is this view that the direct contrary is the
truth. …Each needs the other: capital cannot do without labor,
nor labor without capital. Mutual agreement results in the
beauty of good order, while perpetual conflict necessarily
produces confusion and savage barbarity. ….
32 …. The foremost duty, therefore, of the rulers of the
State should be to make sure that the laws and institutions…shall
be such as of themselves to realize public well-being and private
prosperity. …….[I]t lies in the power of a ruler to benefit every
class in the State, and amongst the rest to promote to the utmost
the interests of the poor; and this in virtue of his office, and
without being open to suspicion of undue interference–since it is
the province of the commonwealth to serve the common good.
And the more that is done for the benefit of the working classes
by the general laws of the country, the less need will there be to
seek for special means to relieve them…
47….If working people can be encouraged to look
forward to obtaining a share in the land, the consequence will be
that the gulf between vast wealth and sheer poverty will be
bridged over, and the respective classes will be brought nearer
to one another. A further consequence will result in the great
abundance of the fruits of the earth. Men always work harder
and more readily when they work on that which belongs to
These …important benefits, however, can be reckoned
on only provided that a man’s means be not drained and
exhausted by excessive taxation.