Home / Economics / Catholic Social Teaching / Centesimus Annus Part Two

 

In this article I will conclude the discussion of Centesimus Annus and bring the series on papal social teaching to an end. The fourth and longest chapter of Centesimus Annus concerns the twin truths of the right to private property, and at the same time, of the universal destination of material goods. This is the same truth that Leo XIII stated when he said, ” … the earth, though divided among private owners, ceases not thereby to minister to the needs of all” (Rerum Novarum, §7).[1] That is, the reason that God has instituted the private ownership of property among men is not to exclude anyone from his share of the earth’s bounty, but rather to make possible the efficient and peaceful provision of sufficient goods for all. Thus private property is simply a means to an end; it is not an end in itself. Though it is surely a means consonant with human nature, and therefore it cannot be abrogated by human law, it is nevertheless subordinate to its end, and thus can be regulated so as to better attain that end. Thus the chief matter that the Holy Father takes up in this chapter is what he calls “the legitimacy of private ownership, as well as the limits which are imposed on it” (Centesimus Annus, §30).

Although “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members,…the earth does not yield its fruits without a particular human response to God’s gift, that is to say, without work” (§31). Thus, the Pontiff points out, not only the earth, in the sense of land, but human skill and ability, including the ability to organize and direct, are increasingly important parts of the reaping of the earth’s fruits. “Indeed, besides the earth, mankind’s principal resource is the person himself” (§32). This leads the Pope to state one of the first of his conclusions that have led some people to suppose that Centesimus somehow represents a break with all prior papal social teaching. The Pope’s statement is this: “The modem business economy has positive aspects. Its basis is human freedom exercised in the economic field, just as it is exercised in many other fields” (ibid.). But in this passage, just as in the others of the same sort, there is continuity with earlier social teaching, nor do these passages represent any kind of break with his predecessors’ teachings. Let us look at one of the most explicit of these statements of John Paul.

A few pages later, then, occurs this sentence: “It would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs” (§34). But then, beginning in the very next sentence, the Pontiff adds,

But this is true only for those needs which are “solvent,” insofar as they are endowed with purchasing power, and for those resources which are “marketable,” insofar as they are capable of obtaining a satisfactory price. But there are many human needs which find no place on the market. It is a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied, and not to allow those burdened bv such needs to perish. …Even prior to the logic of a fair exchange of goods and the forms of justice appropriate to it, there exists something which is due to the person because he is a person, by reason of his lofty dignity.

This is essentially the same as the teaching of Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno (§88), that “Free competition, however, though justified and quite useful within certain limits, cannot be an adequate controlling principle in economic affairs.” For if “there are many human needs which find no place in the market” and if it is “a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied,” then the free market cannot be the controlling principle of the economy, however useful it might be for those things which are “solvent” or “marketable.” Nor is it correct to say that the needs “which find no place on the market” might be things such as love or beauty or other intangible items. For the Pontiff says that it is “a strict duty of justice and truth” to meet these needs, so it is obvious he is speaking here of tangible and material things.

Immediately after that, the Pope speaks of certain Third World nations where even the prescriptions of Rerum Novarum have not yet been realized. And as a help in realizing the mandates of Pope Leo, John Paul instances the work of labor unions. It is thus obvious that the Holy Father does not simply appeal to the workings of the free market to correct the situations he cites. For the market has had a hundred years to bring about justice and human dignity. But as all the popes have recognized, the market cannot on its own do so, without intervention, for it is necessary “that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the State, so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied” (Centesimus Annus, §35).

As we are seeing, John Paul II does have praise, within limits, for the “modem business economy.” But lest it be thought that the Church has unequivocally embraced capitalism, the Pope goes out of his way to say that “it is unacceptable to say that the defeat of so-called ‘Real Socialism’ leaves capitalism as the only model of economic organization” (§35). By “Real Socialism” he means here, of course, Marxist socialism or communism. But in the long run it is less important what label we give to an economic system, than whether it fulfills the many obligations which John Paul II and his predecessors have spoken of. For whether one wishes to call oneself a capitalist or not, nevertheless the duties of justice and charity cataloged here and in the other encyclicals still must be carried out in any economic system that can be acceptable to a Catholic.

After this the Supreme Pontiff turns his attention to the “specific problems and threats emerging within the more advanced economies…” (§36). And first he speaks of the increasing quantity of goods and the desire “for an existence which is qualitatively more satisfying…” (ibid.). In itself this is not wrong, he states, but there are dangers connected with it. John Paul points out that the “manner in which new needs arise and are defined is always marked by a more or less appropriate concept of the human person and of the person’s true good” (ibid.). If our culture creates a “need” to have a new car, new clothes, new appliances, every year, it is actually proposing a concept of man and of what is good for man. It is defining us by our possessions. “A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption” (ibid.). Thus “a great deal of educational and cultural work is urgently needed” in order to form people to make responsible choices. The Pope notes here the duty of the media in “the formation of a strong sense of responsibility” among people, and, significantly, “the necessary intervention by public authorities” (ibid.).

The concept of man that defines him primarily as a consumer and that assumes he needs more and more goods to make him happy presupposes “a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed toward ‘having’ rather than ‘being,’ and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as a end in itself” (ibid.). But this is wrong.

It is therefore necessary to create lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments. (ibid.)

Another of the “problems and threats emerging within the more advanced economies” is that of destruction of the physical environment. John Paul devotes the next section to this point. He sums it up succinctly in this way: “In their desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, people consume the resources of the earth and their own lives in an excessive and disordered way.” And because this frenzied consumerism is rooted in a false notion of man, as we saw above, “the senseless destruction of the natural environment” is rooted in “an anthropological error, which unfortunately is widespread in our day…. In all this, one notes first the poverty or narrowness of the human outlook, motivated as people are by a desire to possess things rather than to relate to the truth…” (§37).

But it is not only “the irrational destruction of the natural environment” that concerns the Pontiff, but “the more serious destruction of the human environment…” (§38), that is, “the moral conditions for an authentic ‘human ecology'” (ibid.). John Paul mentions under this head “the social structure in which one lives…the education one has received,” the problem of urbanization, but most especially, the family.

The family is the first and fundamental structure for ‘human ecology”…in which [one] receives his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person. (§39)

In this connection the Holy Father specifies that he is speaking of a family “founded on marriage” and criticizes tendencies which discourage people from committing themselves to a stable marriage and from having children. He mentions even more extreme attacks on life, such as abortion and “systematic antichildbearing campaigns.”

In the next section the Pope again discuses the state’s tasks with regard to the

preservation of common goods such as the natural and human environments, which cannot be safeguarded simply by market forces. Just as in the time of primitive capitalism the State had the duty of defending the basic rights of workers, so now, with the new capitalism, the State and all of society have the duty of defending those collective goods which, among others, constitute the essential framework for the legitimate pursuit of personal goals on the part of each individual. (§40)

And in the very next paragraph he begins: “Here we find a new limit on the market: there are collective and qualitative needs which cannot be satisfied by market mechanisms. There are important human needs which escape its logic.” It should be clear from these, as well as other passages which I have quoted from Centesimus Annus, that far from endorsing free market capitalism, the Holy Father devotes much space to reiterating Catholic teaching, which has always deemed the market as a less than trustworthy arbiter of a social order. Every social encyclical, as well as many addresses of Pope Pius XII, has made it clear that Catholic moral teaching simply cannot accept the market according to its own logic, that is, according to a logic which sees the market and market solutions as able to take care of all or most human and social difficulties and needs. Any Catholic who wishes to remain orthodox must come to terms with this repeated teaching of the papal magisterium.

In the next section John Paul II begins a consideration of the concept of alienation, a concept derived from Karl Marx. In The German Ideology Marx and Engels characterize alienation as when “man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him, “because the social system forces a certain social and economic role upon him “from which he cannot escape.”[2] John Paul, however, rightly calls this concept of alienation “mistaken and inadequate” (no.41). Moreover, history has proven that the Marxist cure for alienation, the establishment of a communistic society, itself “rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency” (ibid.).

But nevertheless, alienation does exist in the capitalistic West, particularly

in consumerism, when people are ensnared in a web of false and superficial gratifications rather than being helped to experience their personhood in an authentic and concrete way. Alienation is found also in work, when it is organized so as to ensure maximum returns and profits with no concern whether the worker, through his own labor, grows or diminishes as a person….(ibid.)

Ultimately alienation is overcome only by the giving of oneself to the person of Jesus Christ. And a society can be alienated if it makes it harder for one to make this gift of self to both God and other human persons.

After this, the Supreme Pontiff returns to the question of the meaning and value of capitalism. He asks, “can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society?” (§42). John Paul’s answer to his question is interesting and indicates how it is things not names which should be the object of our desires. For he states that it basically depends on what one means by the word capitalism.

If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy,” “market economy” or simply “free economy.” But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality and sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative. (§42)

This is similar to Pius XI’s statement that,

It is therefore very necessary that economic affairs be once more subjected to and governed by a true and effective guiding principle….To that end all the institutions of public and social life must be imbued with the spirit of justice, and this justice must above all be truly operative. It must build up a juridical and social order able to pervade all economic activity (Quadragesimo Anno, §88).

In other words, although economic activity must not be shackled as it was in communist countries, it must serve the common good, and there must be laws, that is, “a strong juridical framework,” to see that this does indeed happen. Taken in context with the other statements in this encyclical, as well as the prior but still valid teachings of previous pontiffs, I think that one can well raise the question whether the economy of our country would pass the test that the Holy Father is presenting here.

The next section, which begins with the statement, “The Church has no models to present,” has lead some to suppose that the Church has abandoned any hope of presenting an alternative system to socialism and capitalism. But the rest of the sentence explains the meaning,

models that are real and truly effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, through the efforts of all those who responsibly confront concrete problems in all their… aspects…For such a task the Church offers her social teaching as an indispensable and ideal orientation, a teaching which…recognizes the positive value of the market and of enterprise, but which…points out that these need to be oriented toward the common good. (§43)

John Paul has made it clear that the Church’s acceptance of a market economy depends on whether that economy truly serves the common good, nor can such service of the common good be left to chance or to the supposed automatic laws of the market, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” The state must be prepared to play its part in making such service of man’s true welfare a reality. Centesimus simply updates and applies Catholic social teaching to our times, and contrasts it with the communist economies that had lately fallen throughout eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. This encyclical does develop the teaching of previous popes, but not in the sense of abandoning anything they taught, which is of course an impossibility. The Pope approaches the regnant capitalism of our day in a friendly manner and points out its flaws and where it needs to improve, much as Pius XI approached the economy of Fascist Italy in a friendly manner and pointed out its flaws and where it needed to improve (see Quadragesimo Anno, §91-95).

The next chapter of Centesimus deals with the theme of state and culture. John Paul opens it by an extended discussion of totalitarianism, pointing out its denial of truth and of the dignity of the human person.

After discussing the flaws of communist and other dictatorial states, the Pope next turns his attention to democratic regimes. He first discusses the fact of abortion, which surely is as great an attack on the human person as was perpetrated by non-democratic governments. But he also speaks of “a crisis within democracies themselves, which seem at times to have lost the ability to make decisions aimed at the common good” (§47). He is referring to the tendency of democratic governments to be captives to special interest groups and of democratic politicians to support policies only to help them get reelected. “With time, such distortions of political conduct create distrust and apathy, with a subsequent decline in the political participation and civic spirit of the general population, which feels abused and disillusioned” (ibid.).

One phenomenon that has characterized many democratic states is the so-called Welfare State, or as the Holy Father also calls it, the Social Assistance State. He is critical of its “excesses and abuses,” for example,

a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. (§48)

And he goes on to say that “it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbors to those in need” (ibid.).

This sounds as if the Pontiff were advocating doing away entirely with state assistance to the poor and needy. But apparently this is not so. In the next section he writes:

It can happen, however, that when a family does decide to live up fully to its vocation, it finds itself without the necessary support from the State and without sufficient resources. It is urgent therefore to promote not only family policies, but also those social policies which have the family as their principal object, policies which assist the family by providing adequate resources and efficient means of support …. (§49)

The Pope ends this chapter by reminding his readers that the Church supports the “adequate formation of a culture” since “the first and most important task is accomplished within the heart….The Church promotes those aspects of human behavior which favor a true culture of peace…” (§51). And he recalls the many times he and his predecessors have called for peace, and for the true development of nations, the lack of which can be a barrier to peace. Moreover, the promotion of such development

may mean making important changes in established lifestyles, in order to limit the waste of environmental and human resources, thus enabling every individual and all the peoples of the earth to have a sufficient share of those resources. (§52)

These words should be matter for examination of conscience for us as individuals, as well as societies and nations.

The last chapter of Centesimus is called “The Person is the Way of the Church,” and John Paul begins by saying that in her social teaching the Church’s “care and responsibility” has been “for the human person” (§53), the concrete individual person. But since “a person’s true identity is only fully revealed to him through faith,” the Church’s social doctrine is likewise rooted in the Gospel and “is aimed at helping everyone on the path of salvation” (§54).

Thus the Church is naturally anxious to make widely known this doctrine, which is part of “an evangelization which promotes the whole human being” (§55). But in addition there are two particular reasons that the Holy Fathers cites. The first is because the former communist countries “are experiencing a serious lack of direction in the work of rebuilding.” And the second is this: “The Western countries, in tum, run the risk of seeing [the collapse of communism] as a one-sided victory of their own economic system, and thereby failing to make necessary corrections in that system” (§56). This sentence by itself ought to be enough to convince us that we misunderstand John Paul II if we think that he has endorsed our own economic system.

After that the Pope speaks of the necessity of Christians living out social doctrine. “Today more than ever, the Church is aware that her social message will gain credibility more immediately from the witness of actions than as a result of its internal logic and consistency” (§57). In connection with this he repeats a point he made earlier (in both §36 and §52), that “above all a change of lifestyles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power” (§58) is required. For example, with the increasing globalization of the economy, unless “this increasing internationalization of the economy [is] accompanied by effective international agencies which will oversee and direct the economy to the common good,” something which is beyond the power of any single nation, “even if it were the most powerful on earth …” (ibid.), this global economy cannot otherwise be directed toward the common good of mankind.

Then, after a very brief survey of the Church’s constant concern with the human person in her social teaching, John Paul II concludes Centesimus, invoking Almighty God and the Blessed Virgin,

who constantly remained beside Christ in his journey towards the human family and in its midst, and [who] goes before the Church on the pilgrimage of faith. May her maternal intercession accompany humanity towards the next millennium, in fidelity to Him who “is the same yesterday and today and for ever,” Jesus Christ our Lord (§62).

I can think of no better way to end this article and the entire series than by quoting some words of Pius XII, in an address given on Pentecost Sunday, June 1, 1941, in which he commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, and which in a way sum up the entire corpus of the Church’s social concern from Leo XIII to John Paul II.

Keep burning the noble flame of a brotherly social spirit which fifty years ago was rekindled in the hearts of your fathers by the luminous and illuminating torch of the words of Leo XIII; do not allow or permit it to lack for nourishing; let it flare up through your homage; and not die, quenched by an unworthy, timid, cautious inaction in the fact of the needs of the poor among our brethren, or overcome by the dust and dirt carried by the whirlwind of the anti-Christian or non-Christian spirit. Nourish it, keep it alive, increase it; make this flame burn more brightly, carry it wherever a groan of suffering, a lament of misery, a cry of pain reaches you; feed it with the heat of a love drawn from the Heart of your Redeemer, to which the month that now begins is consecrated. Go to that divine Heart meet and humble, refuge of all comfort in the fatigue and responsibility of the active life; it is the Heart of Him who to every act genuine and pure done in His name and in His spirit, in favor of the suffering, the hard-pressed, of those abandoned by the world, or those deprived of all goods and fortune, has promised the eternal reward of the blessed: You blessed by My Father! What you have done to the least of my Brethren, you have done to me! [3]


Originally published in The Catholic Faith, vol. 4, no. 5 (September/October 1998).


End Notes

[1]. Citations to Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno are from Seven Great Encyclicals (Paulist Press), and to Centesimus Annus from the Daughters of St. Paul edition. Emphasis is always in original.

[2]. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology (New York : International Publishers, c. 1970) p. 53.

[3]. The Major Addresses of Pope Pius XII, Volume I (St. Paul: North Central Publishing, 1961) p. 36.

 

About the author: Thomas Storck

 

Thomas Storck is the author of Foundations of a Catholic Political Order, The Catholic Milieu, and Christendom and the West. His work has appeared in various publications including Homiletic and Pastoral Review and the book, Beyond Capitalism and Socialism. Mr. Storck is a former contributing editor of New Oxford Review and Caelum et Terra and serves on the editorial board of The Chesterton Review.An archive of Mr. Storck's writings can be found at www.thomasstorck.org.

 

Recent posts in Catholic Social Teaching

 

27 Comments

  1. Excellent commentary
    “Any Catholic who wishes to remain orthodox must come to terms with this repeated teaching of the papal magisterium.” Would someone who dissented from this teaching be a heretic?

  2. Would someone who dissents from doctrine be considered a heretic, Mr. Viray?

  3. It seems it would depend on the nature of that doctrine. That is what I am unsure of with my original question.

  4. I would recommend reading Pope Pius XI’s Ubi Arcano at your convenience.

  5. Is my question unanswerable otherwise?
    I appreciate the recommendation but it seems that it would be possible to answer my question in a straightforward way.

  6. Mr Viray,

    I believe it is quite straightforward to read what our pontiffs have to say regarding dissent from doctrine, specifically in the case of dissent from social doctrine. Here is the link http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius11/P11ARCAN.HTM.

  7. Mr. Aleman,
    My original question “Would someone who dissented from this teaching be a heretic?” was in response to Mr. Storck’s assertion that “Any Catholic who wishes to remain orthodox must come to terms with” his preceding statement that:
    “Catholic moral teaching simply cannot accept the market according to its own logic, that is, according to a logic which sees the market and market solutions as able to take care of all or most human and social difficulties and needs.”
    The link you provided has no mention of this.

  8. Dear Mr. Viray,

    You asked whether dissent from doctrine is heresy. I responded by referring you to Ubi Arcano, which certainly does specifically answer the question of whether or not straying from the social teachings of the Church is allowable or not.

    Regarding the market being, in and of itself, the solution to all or most of our needs, we can look to Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno (no.88):

    “Attention must be given also to another matter that is closely connected with the foregoing. Just as the unity of human society cannot be founded on an opposition of classes, so also the right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces. For from this source, as from a poisoned spring, have originated and spread all the errors of individualist economic teaching. Destroying through forgetfulness or ignorance the social and moral character of economic life, it held that economic life must be considered and treated as altogether free from and independent of public authority, because in the market, i.e., in the free struggle of competitors, it would have a principle of self direction which governs it much more perfectly than would the intervention of any created intellect. But free competition, while justified and certainly useful provided it is kept within certain limits, clearly cannot direct economic life a truth which the outcome of the application in practice of the tenets of this evil individualistic spirit has more than sufficiently demonstrated. Therefore, it is most necessary that economic life be again subjected to and governed by a true and effective directing principle.”

    (no. 110)

    “Free competition, kept within definite and due limits, and still more economic dictatorship, must be effectively brought under public authority in these matters which pertain to the latter’s function. The public institutions themselves, of peoples, moreover, ought to make all human society conform to the needs of the common good; that is, to the norm of social justice. If this is done, that most important division of social life, namely, economic activity, cannot fail likewise to return to right and sound order. ”

    We at The Distributist Review encourage our readers to go through the political and social encyclicals of Holy Mother Church. My attempt, in asking you to read Ubi Arcano, is that you might actually find an answer to your question. Namely, that social modernism is condemned in the encyclical, by the power and authority of his Holy Office. My hope is that you understand the difference between doctrinal dissent and dissent from Catholic dogma, which both have very serious, albeit different consequences. So again, I would recommend reviewing Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio.

  9. With regard to Mr. Viray’s question, as he probably is aware, there are different censures attached to dissent and different theological notes of certainty attached to Catholic teaching. I am using “orthodox” in the broad sense, i.e., as encompasing what was stated at both Vatican Councils to include all that the Church proposes for our belief by either the ordinary or the extraordinary magisterium (Vatican I), and the “religious submission of mind and will” spoken of in Lumen Gentium, no. 25 (Vatican II). But I think that certain points of Catholic social teaching are infallible by virtue of the ordinary magisterium; perhaps in the case of usury, the extraordinary magisterium. I am reluctant to claim the censure of “formal heretic” too readily, but it certainly seems that anyone who dissents from the Church’s settled social doctrine certainly violates Lumen Gentium no. 25, and in my opinion also dissents from infallible teaching proclaimed by the ordinary magisterium.

  10. Thank you for your efforts.
    Mr. Storck has responded to my inquiry. Would you agree with his position as outlined there? Or would you regard Quadragesimo Anno 88 as belonging to the Extraordinary Magisterium instead of the Ordinary Universal Magisterium?
    It seems rather important to discern exactly what category of teaching that encyclical belongs.

  11. Mr. Viray,

    How did Ubi Arcano read? Was the Pope, when excercising his authority, employing it under the Ordinary or Extraordinary Magisterium? In either case, what exactly is necessary to discern or pinpoint, in your opinion? Is it to ascertain whether the exercise of one over the other is illegitimately binding?

    As you arrived from the Mises Blog, where you described our position as “Distributist nonsense,” it perhaps would be best for you to state your case rather than appear in bad faith.

  12. “Was the Pope, when excercising his authority, employing it under the Ordinary or Extraordinary Magisterium?”
    I believe it was under the Ordinary Magisterium, not the Extraordinary but I would like to know the position of Distributists.

  13. Mr. Viray,

    It is under the Ordinary Magisterium. Thus it is authoritative and requires submission of intellect and will.

  14. “It is under the Ordinary Magisterium. Thus it is authoritative and requires submission of intellect and will.”
    Yet if it is appears that if a particular teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium is in error, then that submission should not be required. Would you agree?
    If you were an astronomer and you came to the conclusion that heliocentric theory was correct, despite the ecclesiastical condemnation of that theory in 1616 as incorrect, submission of intellect (at least) would be impossible, no?

  15. So, in your view, the conditions which the popes have outlined since Leo XIII until BXVI have been empirically proven false? Would you say that, even if this were so (which I would deny), if hypothetically the marketplace were able to take care of our needs without any intellect directing it, that the moral condemnation of social and economic disorder would cease to be at play? Would usury, for example, cease to be immoral because it had been proven to “work”?

    In addition, I think it is the Austrians who carry the burden of having to prove (at least) that a) economics, specifically Austrian theory, has proven the Church wrong and, b) Austrian economics is morally acceptable and compliant with Catholic Social Teaching, which is the traditional teaching from Leo XIII until Pope Benedict XVI.

    Until then, many “scientists” think the Church is wrong. Darwinian evolutionists think the Church has been proven wrong. Marxists think the Church is wrong. But, as Jeremiah mentioned in the past, it is time to see the Church as She sees Herself. If we do that, perhaps we might just come around to discover that our ideas about Catholic Social Doctrine are wrong.

  16. “So, in your view, the conditions which the popes have outlined since Leo XIII until BXVI have been empirically proven false?”
    I would have to evaluate each condition on a case by case basis.
    “Would you say that, even if this were so (which I would deny), if hypothetically the marketplace were able to take care of our needs without any intellect directing it, that the moral condemnation of social and economic disorder would cease to be at play?”
    Inasmuch as there will always be immoral things in this world, I would expect the Church to condemn those specific things.
    “Would usury, for example, cease to be immoral because it had been proven to “work”?
    I don’t think the determination of the morality of usury hinges on whether it has been proven to “work” or not. But it does seem that if the reasoning or assumptions behind the prohibition on usury were faulty, that it would then be legitimate to question that prohibition. Unfortunately the comment sections here have some sort of time-out period but I have taken up the discussion on usury on the “Lose Money Now” page with Mr. O’Brien.
    Now Marxism and Darwinism also lay claim to be a scientific discipline so no doubt there are dangers in doing so. But, at least with some aspects of economics e.g. usury, perhaps the dissent with Church teaching is more along the lines of Heliocentrism (correct) vs. Communism or atheistic Evolutionism.

  17. For some reason the comments here do not appear chronologically (at least on my computer), so it’s a little difficult for me to track them. But at some point Mr. Viray asked if a certain position was the position of distributists. What a question! Quot homines, tot sententiae. There is no one position of distributists on this as on many other matters.

    My own position I would summarize as this: Probably usury has been condemned by the extraordinary magisterium, certainly by the ordinary magisterium. Certain other matters, such as the just wage, the inability of mere market forces to create justice, the principle of subsidiarity (though not any one interpretation of that principle) are infallible by virtue of the ordinary magisterium. But I would have to be a canonist (which I am not) to say at what point one becomes a formal heretic or what note of censure is attached to dissent from any particular point. But if we want to be loyal Catholics, will we dissent from any point of Catholic teaching?

    Certainly there have been many passing statements made by the popes in the social encyclicals which are now of mostly historical interest, but there is a core of repeated teaching which without question seems to have doctrinal status. To quibble about exactly what status it has is to miss the point. It does have some status and to dissent from it reveals a mind at odds with the teaching Church, a mind whose first principles are not those of Catholic tradition.
    Someone in that state is in the intellectually uneasy position of trying to combine docility to the Church and her teachings with fundamental adherence (at least on some matters) to alien principles, usually to some form of liberalism, classical or otherwise.

  18. I thank you again for your reply Mr. Storck. I did read and thank you for your earlier response but for some reason it never got posted.
    It is certainly true that the opinions of a member of a group do not reflect the opinions of all in that group. But some opinions are more strongly and widely held than other no doubt. Do you think your views are in accordance with mainstream Distributist thought? That is, and please correct me if I misstate your opinion:
    Usury: Probably condemned by the Extraordinary Magisterium. Certainly condemned by the Ordinary and probably condemned in the Ordinary Universal Magisterium.
    Just Wage: Probably Infallible not by Extraordinary Magisterium but because it is likely part of the Ordinary Universal Magisterium.
    I think any Catholic dissenting from the Magisterium must do so very carefully. But it seems that dissent toward the non-infallible Ordinary Magisterium should not be categorically prohibited.
    As I mentioned to Mr. Aleman, if you were an astronomer and you came to the conclusion that heliocentric theory was correct, despite the ecclesiastical condemnation of that theory in 1616 as incorrect, surely dissent would not be unreasonable, would it?
    The status these statements (e.g. usury or the Just Wage) have is very important because if it can be shown that they are indeed absolutely infallible, then absolutely no dissent is permitted. If they are non-infallible and not required to be orthodox, then dissent is permitted.
    In my opinion, particularly in the contemporary age, it is clear that the teaching Church makes mistakes. It is difficult for me to undergo the “hermaneutic of continuity” that squares what modern bishops say about ecumenism with what bishops have historically said. Certainly my mind is at odds with the teaching Church on that matter and I think that is the case for many devout Distributists as well. But it seems a reasonable dissent.

  19. Mr. Viray,

    I really don’t know what other distributists think on these points. I would imagine that many have never formulated a definite opinion, and I certainly have no idea what the majority opinion is.

    Please do not read into what I have said or attempt to make me say what I did not say. I never said that dissent was permitted from any teaching of the magisterium of the Church. I refer you again to what was taught by Vatican Councils I and II on this point.
    BTW, I understand what you are affiliated with the Society of St. Pius X – is this correct?

  20. Mr. Storck,
    By “permitted” I use it in the sense of “tolerated” rather than any active sense. Would the term “permissible” in my summary instead reflect your views accurately? In no way am I trying to imply something you did no say, rather, I am trying to understand your exact position on particular matters.
    .
    To answer your question regarding the SSPX, I do attend their Masses. So you can understand why an understanding of the nature of dissent in the Magisterium is important to me.
    .
    Curious though, how did you come upon that bit of information?

  21. Mr. Viray,

    The distinction I wanted to draw was between magisterial teaching and simple observations or time-bound comments in papal social encyclicals. This comes out most clearly in Centesimus Annus, where John Paul actually says that not everything in that encyclical can be considered the teaching of the magisterium, but simply his observations or reflections. Similarly, Pius XI at times will say that he merely recommends a certain course of action or that it seems desirable to do such and such, not that it is a dictate of the natural law or a requirement of the Gospel. But I did not mean to suggest that we could dissent from any magisterial teaching, although clearly there are levels there, with infallible by virtue of the extraordinary magisterium at the top. Even though not all dissent brands one as a formal heretic, it does brand one as (at the very least) a disloyal Catholic.

    But there are many papal statements which are not magisterial. For example, I remember reading a speech that Pius XII gave about how useful TV could be and painting a pleasant picture of a family sitting together in front of their TV. The teaching of the Church? Certainly not. Simply Pius XII’s opinion. How do we know if something is magisterial or not? Lumen Gentium 25 mentions some of the ways. But clearly a speech by a pope has less weight than an encyclical, and the fact that something is repeated over and over again as true, especially by subsequent popes, is a sign that we are dealing with magisterial teaching.

    Now you mentioned ecumenism. There is nothing in the Vatican II document on ecumenism that contradicts Pius XI’s Mortalium animos with regard to doctrine. Unitatis Redintegratio presents ecumenism as simply a strategy, not a doctrine. One is free to think (it seems to me) that such a strategy is a mistake, but there is no heresy involved or contradiction with earlier papal doctrinal statements. Pius XI said (in effect), Don’t get involved with ecumenism, it’s too dangerous. Vatican II said, Let’s try it as a way of bringing back the separated brethren. A difference of judgments about how we should proceed but no difference in doctrine about the nature of the Church.

    As to your connection with the SSPX, a friend of mine told me this.

  22. The problem is things such as a just wage, and morality in the economy can’t really be considered a non-definitive act of the magisterium. They are found in all the fathers who address the issue (most pre-eminently St. John Chrysostom), in the medievals, particularly St. Thomas, and consistently up to the magisterium of the Popes from Leo XIII-Benedict XVI. Since error cannot be held throughout the life of the Church then it is unreasonable to suppose that the Church could hold errors concerning her social teaching through her whole history.
    Moreover, the comparison to 1616 really isn’t apt on a number of levels. Primarily, if it is scientifically proven that a bullet, packed with x number of grains of gunpowder will penetrate a man’s torso and end his life, and this happens every time so we can say scientifically it is true, it does not follow that the Church cannot say that is morally wrong to murder someone with a gun. Likewise, even if all that passes for economics today from the inverse square theory to apparent economic benefits of usury were true (and I don’t think it can be proven by a long stretch), it would follow only that under conditions x, y happens. It would not follow the Church does not have the right with her moral teaching to prohibit the use of x to produce y due to its effects.
    More importantly, non-definitive acts of the magisterium are so characterized because the lack the characters of ordinary magisterial infallibility, namely consonance with the tradition and binding men to the teaching. From Vatican II on those are generally lacking. St. Pius X however (singulari quidem) said explicitly that Catholics are bound to the teachings of Rerum Novarum and Pius XI (Ubi Arcano) called Catholics who reject the Church’s social teaching “social modernists, just as truly as those rejecting her doctrinal teaching are doctrinal modernists.” Not only that, it is completely in accord with Catholic Tradition. So how does one get off rejecting what has all the hallmarks of ordinary magisterial teaching? To be frank the Church’s teaching on social matters is stronger in the tradition than her rejection of contraception.

  23. “Since error cannot be held throughout the life of the Church then it is unreasonable to suppose that the Church could hold errors concerning her social teaching through her whole history.”
    .
    Perhaps the comparison to 1616 is apt in this case because the geocentric system was held by the Church throughout her life (to the 17th century at least).
    .
    “It would not follow the Church does not have the right with her moral teaching to prohibit the use of x to produce y due to its effects.”
    .
    Certainly. But if the reasoning of the Church (e.g. through the Summa which in itself relied heavily on Aristotle for economic thinking) against usury or for the just price were shown to be false, then surely the moral teachings based in part on that reasoning can be called into suspicion, no?
    .
    I’m not sure what the gunpowder and bullet analogy was meant to show.

  24. I’m not sure what the gunpowder and bullet analogy was meant to show.

    That the mere fact that an economic law exists does not invalidate the Church’s teaching that utilizing the effects of it are wrong.

    Certainly. But if the reasoning of the Church (e.g. through the Summa which in itself relied heavily on Aristotle for economic thinking) against usury or for the just price were shown to be false, then surely the moral teachings based in part on that reasoning can be called into suspicion, no?

    Then show its wrong. The fact is you could attack any position that the Church held perennially on the basis of the idea that the reasoning could have been wrong. If the reasoning behind the condemnation of contraception, namely that children are the primary end of marriage. What if that could be shown to be false? Therefore since it could I don’t have to hold the teaching. That is basically what you are claiming here. The fact is the principles which the Church condemns capitalism and its functionaries (like usury) are not on the basis that it doesn’t work (frankly I don’t think it works long term), but because of the moral effects it has on society. Marx supported capitalism for instance, because it wipes away the traditional culture, religion and morals and makes it fertile for the creation of communism which requires the elimination of all three.
    There is another difference between the Galileo case and Catholic moral teaching on economic exchange. The former addresses a matter of cosmology which is incidental to Scripture, and the scripture could be read in line with a given cosmology. Error with respect to so-called helio centrism (which was taught as a possibility by some monks such as Jean Burdan early as the 14th century and had only become a problem when Galileo came to suggest scripture was wrong) does not effect your eternal salvation. How you deal with people morally in business transactions, particularly when the Church makes it clear that such teaching is binding, will send one to hell.

    Nevertheless, the 1616 declarations are also not relevant because neither Copernicus nor Galileo actually proved the Church’s traditional position wrong. They offer a scientific theorem for another possible model. Einstein, Hubbel, Ernest Mach and others all said that a geocentric model worked mathematically the same as a relative system with no center. Given that, how can one even argue it has been proven, irrespective if you think geocentrism is right or looney? If it doesn’t rise to the level of proof, then the Church’s teaching has yet to be proved wrong.

  25. “What if [the primary aim of marriage being procreation] could be shown to be false? Therefore since it could I don’t have to hold the teaching.”
    .
    Well, it does not follow necessarily that the Church’s teaching on contraception does not have to be followed if it were demonstrated somehow that the “primary end of marriage is to bear children” were false. Rather, it seems that it would be licit to re-evaluate any conclusions derived from a false premise.
    .
    “That is basically what you are claiming here. The fact is the principles which the Church condemns capitalism and its functionaries (like usury) are not on the basis that it doesn’t work (frankly I don’t think it works long term), but because of the moral effects it has on society.”
    .
    Firstly I’m not claiming that the Church condemns usury on the basis of “that it doesn’t work” (whatever that means). Rather, some of these moral effects which are condemned stem from Aristotelian economic thinking regarding what is “just” as regards to price and wages (e.g. IIae Q78, Article 2, R.O. 7). If there were no “just price” then some forms of usury would not be evil per se. Abuses of such “legitimate” forms of usury could still be condemned but not the “legitimate” form of usury in itself.
    .
    “Marx supported capitalism for instance, because it wipes away the traditional culture, religion and morals and makes it fertile for the creation of communism which requires the elimination of all three.”
    .
    Marx was not on sound economic footing and so his ideas are not apropos to this discussion.
    .
    “There is another difference between the Galileo case and Catholic moral teaching on economic exchange. The former addresses a matter of cosmology which is incidental to Scripture, and the scripture could be read in line with a given cosmology. Error with respect to so-called helio centrism (which was taught as a possibility by some monks such as Jean Burdan [sic] early as the 14th century and had only become a problem when Galileo came to suggest scripture was wrong) does not effect your eternal salvation.”
    .
    and whereas it has also come to the knowledge of the [General Congregation of the Index] that [Heliocentrism] — which is false and altogether opposed to the Holy Scripture — of the motion of the Earth, and the immobility of the Sun, which is also taught by Nicolaus Copernicus … is now being spread abroad and accepted by many as may be seen from a certain letter of a Carmelite Father … wherein the said Father attempts to show that the aforesaid doctrine of the immobility of the sun in the centre of the world, and of the Earth’s motion, is consonant with truth and is not opposed to Holy Scripture…. Therefore, in order that this opinion may not insinuate itself any further to the prejudice of Catholic truth, the Holy Congregation has decreed that the said Nicolaus Copernicus De revolutionibus orbium … be suspended until they be corrected … and that all other works likewise, in which the same is taught, be prohibited, as by this present decree it prohibits, condemns, and suspends them all respectively.
    .
    Certainly the preceding decree condemns your very proposition that Heliocentrism can be read in line with Sacred Scripture. Yet that decree is Magisterial. So in principle it is possible to dissent from some aspects of the Magisterium licitly it seems.
    .
    “How you deal with people morally in business transactions, particularly when the Church makes it clear that such teaching is binding, will send one to hell.”
    .
    Exactly how binding are those teachings though? Usury used to be an excommunicable offense so it is an important issue for the Church (although excommunication in itself is no guarantor of infallibility e.g. Joan of Arc) – but is it infallible? Do we owe “respect” or “submission” of will and intellect regarding it?
    .
    “Nevertheless, the 1616 declarations are also not relevant because neither Copernicus nor Galileo actually proved the Church’s traditional position wrong. They offer a scientific theorem for another possible model.”
    .
    Did they need to prove this? Why do you believe in Heliocentrism over Geocentrism then? I believe because the evidence is compelling although not an absolute proof. The case for usury as not unjust, to me at least, is just as compelling.
    .
    “Einstein, Hubbel, Ernest Mach and others all said that a geocentric model worked mathematically the same as a relative system with no center. Given that, how can one even argue it has been proven, irrespective if you think geocentrism is right or looney?”
    .
    Yes, I’ve run geocentric simulations myself which use the Ptolemaic epicyclic system to show that geocentrism is possible (barring certain objections to superliminal movement and Coriolis effects). Nothing in the physical science can be decisively proven, only disproven within certain contexts.
    .
    “If it doesn’t rise to the level of proof, then the Church’s teaching has yet to be proved wrong.”
    .
    And yet, I assume, you believe in Heliocentrism despite the fact that the Church’s long held Geocentric theory has not been absolutely proved wrong.

  26. First off, nobody believes in heliocentrism, because that doctrine taught that the sun was stationary and the center of the universe. So the Church is not wrong to condemn it. It has never explicitly condemned relativity, which is Einstein’s system namely that there is no center, it appears to follow from 1616 but such an extension requires the judgment of the magisterium. Secondly, I merely argued on the basis of late medieval scholars who made arguments in favor of a heliocentric model (several of which that were adopted by Galileo) that were not condemned, that it is possible to advance a position that was not opposed to scripture. Remember that Galileo pointed out that the Bible was wrong, and that was the matter of the condemnation. Nevertheless, I accept the Church’s teaching, but it is important to point out that while the teaching of the Holy Office at that time still requires an obsequium, it is not solemn teaching, so the failure of the magisterium to uphold it provides a precedent to its non-definitive nature. It came form a Roman congregation and sums up what appears to be correct not but not definitive teaching.

    Secondly, the consequence of what you are saying appears to go contrary to the Church’s authoritative teaching on ordinary universal magisterial infallibility. Vatican I declared:

    “Further, by divine and Catholic faith, all those things must be believed which are contained in the written word of God and in tradition, and those which are proposed by the Church, either in a solemn pronouncement or IN HER ORDINARY AND UNIVERSAL TEACHING POWER [magisterium], to be believed as divinely revealed.” Vatican Council I, Dogmatic Constitution on the Faith (1870), DZ 1792.

    You and I are not allowed to deny ordinary magisterial teaching, which Catholic social teaching is a part of, which is obvious from its universal character and the authoritative nature, and the Popes have told us we must obey this teaching. By contrast Vatican II is a non-definitive exercise of the magisterium, which the Popes have very clearly taught is not binding, both with the Nota Praevia of Lumen Gentium, a general address of Paul VI shortly after the council. One may demur in his assent to anything not already contained in the tradition while respecting the authority. To apply that to what Popes told us (again, St. Pius X and Pius XI as referenced above) on the basis that medievals drew out of Aristotle, is not only frivolous, it is a doctrinal minimalism which has been condemned. The mere fact that the principles in ethics came from Aristotle is irrelevant as a number of things in the Church tradition come from the pagan tradition which she has made her own, and impose upon us with the same authority by which she tells us the Bible is true.

    Well, it does not follow necessarily that the Church’s teaching on contraception does not have to be followed if it were demonstrated somehow that the “primary end of marriage is to bear children” were false. Rather, it seems that it would be licit to re-evaluate any conclusions derived from a false premise.

    Theologically speaking, if the principles on which it was based are false the teaching is likewise false and does not need to be followed. If that teaching is false then what is declared infallibly about the Church’s authority in faith and morals is also false, and therefore so is the Church. Maybe try Greek Orthodoxy or something, but the said view is not Catholic. If it could be shown there is no just price (how in the world is one going to show that?) then the Church’s ordinary universal magisterium on morality would have taught error during the life of the Church, something contrary to Vatican I and the divine economy established by Christ.

  27. “First off, nobody believes in heliocentrism, because that doctrine taught that the sun was stationary and the center of the universe.”
    .
    That’s not quite accurate because when one speaks of heliocentric vs. geocentric theory, the key difference is that the latter speaks of the Sun revolving around the Earth whereas the former speaks of the Earth revolving around the Sun. The fact that Copernicus and other Heliocentric adherents also believed in circular orbits and erroneous ideas (as did their Geocentric opponents) does not refute the idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun rather than the other way around.
    .
    But to prevent any danger of equivocation, do you believe the Sun revolves around the Earth or rather that the Earth revolves around the Sun?
    .
    “Secondly, I merely argued on the basis of late medieval scholars who made arguments in favor of a heliocentric model (several of which that were adopted by Galileo) that were not condemned, that it is possible to advance a position that was not opposed to scripture.”
    .
    Yet those medieval scholars did not reflect Church teaching as is clear from the Magisterial condemnation of works which held that Heliocentric theory was unopposed to Scripture and from the prevailing cosmological model in the Medieval period. Certainly, as far as the believer was concerned in 1616, those scholars were in error.
    .
    “Remember that Galileo pointed out that the Bible was wrong, and that was the matter of the condemnation.”
    .
    And remember the condemnation includes Copernicus and a Carmelite Father: “wherein the said Father attempts to show that the aforesaid doctrine of the immobility of the sun in the centre of the world, and of the Earth’s motion, is consonant with truth and is not opposed to Holy Scripture … by this present decree it prohibits, condemns, and suspends [their works] respectively”
    .
    “Secondly, the consequence of what you are saying appears to go contrary to the Church’s authoritative teaching on ordinary universal magisterial infallibility … You and I are not allowed to deny ordinary magisterial teaching, which Catholic social teaching is a part of, which is obvious from its universal character and the authoritative nature, and the Popes have told us we must obey this teaching.”
    .
    Careful because the distinction between “Ordinary Universal Magisterium” and “Ordinary Magisterium” is great. The former is infallible – although not explicitly delineated to us – whereas the latter is non-infallible.
    .
    “The mere fact that the principles in ethics came from Aristotle is irrelevant as a number of things in the Church tradition come from the pagan tradition which she has made her own, and impose upon us with the same authority by which she tells us the Bible is true. ”
    .
    What’s true in Aristotle (or anything) is true always. It only makes sense for the Church to declare truth when She sees it no matter the source. But there are degrees of declaration and authority as already seen and those distinctions need to be made. Is the Social Teaching of the various popes cited by Distributists infallible?
    .
    That is, if they are infallible, do they belong to the Extraordinary Magisterium or the Ordinary Universal Magisterium?
    .
    “Theologically speaking, if the principles on which it was based are false the teaching is likewise false and does not need to be followed.”
    .
    Not exactly. If the Church teaches that the Earth is the center of the universe and this is a proof that the Earth is the center of God’s creation it does not follow that if it is shown that the Earth is not the center of the universe that the Earth is not then the center of God’s creation. The teaching that Earth is the center of God’s creation could still be true but we’d have to reevaluate the reasons for it.
    .
    “If that teaching is false then what is declared infallibly about the Church’s authority in faith and morals is also false, and therefore so is the Church.”
    .
    If it were hypothetically shown that a teaching that the Church claimed as infallible were false, then that would be the case. What I am asserting, however, is that Church teaching on matters like usury or the just price is not infallible.
    .
    “If it could be shown there is no just price (how in the world is one going to show that?) then the Church’s ordinary universal magisterium on morality would have taught error during the life of the Church, something contrary to Vatican I and the divine economy established by Christ.”
    .
    Perhaps it is simply the case that the Church teaching regarding “usury” and “just price/wage” are not Ordinary Universal Magisterium, i.e. infallible, but Ordinary Magisterium i.e. non-infallible. That seems perfectly consonant with Vatican I.