The Church is not primarily interested in the economic and social question, because the economic and social question is not primary.
But the Church is necessarily and greatly interested in the economic and social question. Her duty is to make man good; and man is essentially an economic and social being. This economic and social duty of the Church is seen in her ethical programme, the Ten Commandments. Of these Ten Commandments, seven are explicitly economic or social. The first three, being explicitly religious, are the aim and safeguard of the other seven.
These Ten Commandments were formulated by a small group of families who deliberately left a highly organised urban civilisation in order to make family life possible. They therefore put the Family (Honour thy Father and Mother) at the beginning of their economic and social laws. All economic and social legislation was to be measured by the family. When they found that the urban organisation of Egypt made family life impossible, they quitted this urban organisation.
What happened in Egypt is happening to-day. Social statisticians and experts are finding out that the urban organisation of to-day is so incapable of providing an economic wage—enough to pay an economic rent—that some men, and even some Catholics, think that the difficulty can be met only by what is explicitly or virtually Race Suicide.
Two confirmations of this are to be found in two grave Papal documents—1st: In the Rerum Novarum Pope Leo XIII, contrasting the Ownership System with a (non-ownership) Wage System, wrote these words, perhaps the most momentous in the Encyclical:
The law, therefore, should favour ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible to become owners.
Now, if ownership is effective control, it is clear that necessary Mass Production and Big Business of a town organisation cannot give to the people that effective control which, alone, is ownership.
2nd: In the Encyclical Letter (Sertum Laetitiae) to the Hierarchy of the United States, Pius XII sets down some of the ill effects of ignoring the Moral Law, i.e., the Ten Commandments. With an insight beyond mere human eyesight, he says that among these ill-effects are: THE FLIGHT FROM THE LAND AND LAXITY IN CONTRACTING MARRIAGE (Agrorum desertio et in matrimoniis contrahendis ludificatio).
The Moral Law, especially in its relation to Family life, is now presenting to men the alternatives of one system in which the country shall be the servant of the Town, and of another system in which the Town shall be the servant of the Country. For loyal Catholics the words of our Holy Father to the Hierarchy of the United States may be considered final.
But this Flight from the Land is to be met, as it can only be met, by a Flight from the Town. It cannot be met by carrying into the Land the septicaemia of the Town.
As the Land, and not the Town, is the social and economic ultimate, care must be taken not to organise the Land as we organize the Town, even as care must be taken in days of peace not to organise a people after the effective organisation of days of war.
Land work organised for markets and factory-made products will always fail. The only effective organisation of the countryside where full Catholic life is normal will be the organisation of LAND WORK AND HAND WORK.
I will end with a conviction which many of my contemporaries and even of my readers may not share.
The word made flesh could not be born on a farm; because the unit of farm-work is, by God’s design, the family, and Jesus could not be one of the children of a family, therefore did He choose to be born in the home of a craftsman whose material is not exhaustible metal but inexhaustible wood. Part of God’s plan for the Incarnation was that the Redeemer’s foster-father, St. Joseph, should be a worker in wood, thus following a Home Craft. As craftsmen still say “He learned at the bench.” Indeed, He learned under His home-roof.
And now, O Jesus of Nazareth, I wonder and wonder again whether in going away from these home-crafts we did not go from Our Father into a far country where such famine befell us that we were “fain to fill our belly with the husks the swine did eat.”
We take the opportunity afforded by this latest kindness of Father Vincent McNabb to tender to him, on behalf of the whole Catholic land movement, our congratulations and good wishes on his attaining the golden jubilee of his golden priesthood. The date is 19th September, and we promise him the first place in our prayers and thoughts on that day.
Originally published in The Cross and the Plough: The Organ of the Catholic Land Associations of England and Wales, V. 8, n. 1.