Rorate Caeli

Benedict XVI on Leo XIII and Catholic Social Doctrine

My visit, unfortunately, is very brief and is restricted to this Eucharistic celebration; but here we have everything: the Word and the Bread of Life that nourish faith, hope and charity; and we renew the bond of communion that makes of us the one Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We have heard the Word of God and it is natural to receive it in this circumstance thinking again of the figure of Pope Leo XIII and the legacy that he has left us...


...there is a second aspect, which derives from the primacy of God and of Christ and that one meets in the public action of every pastor of the Church, especially of every Supreme Pontiff, with the characteristics proper to each one. I would say that precisely the concept of “Christian wisdom,” which already emerged from the first reading and the Gospel, offers us the synthesis of this position of Leo XIII -- it is not by chance that it is also the “incipit” of one of his encyclicals. Every pastor is called to transmit to the People of God, not abstract truths, but a “wisdom,” that is, a message that joins faith and reason, truth and concrete reality. Pope Leo XIII, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, was able to do this in one of the most difficult historical periods of the Church, remaining faithful to tradition and, at the same time, measuring it with the great open questions. And he succeeded in his efforts precisely on the basis of the “Christian wisdom,” founded on sacred Scriptures, on the immense theological and spiritual patrimony of the Catholic Church and also on the solid and limpid philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, which he appreciated in the highest way and promoted in the whole Church.

At this point, after having considered the foundation, that is, faith and the spiritual life, and therefore the general framework of the message of Leo XIII, I can turn to his social teaching, made famous and timeless in his encyclical “Rerum novarum,” but also richly expressed in multiple interventions that constitute an organic body, the first nucleus of the Church’s social doctrine...

...Christians, acting as individual citizens or groups within the reality of history, constitute a beneficent and peaceful force for profound change, actualizing the development of the potentialities within reality itself. This is the form of presence and action in the world proposed by the Church’s social doctrine, which always points to the maturation of consciences as the valid and lasting condition for transformations.
Pope Benedict XVI
September 5, 2010


John L said...

"Christians, acting as individual citizens or groups within the reality of history, constitute a beneficent and peaceful force for profound change, actualizing the development of the potentialities within reality itself. This is the form of presence and action in the world proposed by the Church’s social doctrine ...".

The idea that this sort of action is the form of action proposed by the Church's social doctrine is the position of Jacques Maritain in Humanisme integrale, the source of Vatican II progressivism (as opposed to modernism). It leaves out the role of the rulers of society in making the society and state conform to Catholic teaching. The idea that the Church's social teaching begins with Rerum Novarum is a mistake which Leo XIII explicitly repudiated; he made it clear that the teaching in that encyclical was part of the wider Catholic account of society proposed in the encyclicals Libertas, Diuturnum and Immortale Dei. When taken from that wider account the specific teachings on just treatment of workers etc. lack a motivation and cannot be implemented. the fact that this context has been rejected explains why Catholic social teaching has had no impact at all on society.

Leonardo H. Silva said...

I ask them to disclose this shame of the Brazilian Episcopate:

For as many people know what is going on here!

Anonymous said...

The fact of the matter is that Pope Leo XIII compromised with socialism in just one passage in "Rerum Novarum", the rest of which is a superb encyclical. That one tiny seed, the one on the 'just wage' grew--very slowly at first and then at an increasing pace from "Populorum Progressio" on--into a diseased tree bearing bad fruit. All of this will need to be corrected in the end.

Our condition in the world is determined by God. We accept it and work to improve it and offer up our sufferings to the Lord. We offer them up to do spiritual good; we don't legislate them away. In Moral Law, an employer is bound to offer his employees a 'just wage' in accordance with what he honestly deems to be reasonable in the circumstances. However, any attempt to translate this moral obligation into positive law results in a form of socialism because, for the ultimate legislator in a democracy, 'the people', 'just' only means more.

I think that, at the time (1892), in the wake of socialism and communism (starting from 1848). Leo XIII was under enormous popular pressure to empower the poorer classes. This was especially the case in the U.S.A. and some other Western places, where Catholics were often numerous among the poorer employees. The Church did not want to lose her faithful to the new rising tide of communism! Consider Spain in 1936.

There is an irony in all of this. Nowadays, it is precisely business in a capitalist society that can provide the basic necessities to people and generally wiil do so. In a more mechanised workplace, given modern efficiencies, fewer and fewer people will be needed to pull levers and push buttons, and the cost of providing necessities becomes negligible. Moreover, the business community needs a stable and peaceable society in which to conduct business. It will eventually give away the necessities of life, just as free and safe water was given away in the past.

It is precisely government that cannot do anything efficiently. With no profit motive present, the tendency in government is for the bureaucracy to grow and collect costs at an horrendous rate. Every bureaucrat seeks to build a department around himself by hiring at least two subordinates, since only one subordinate could become a rival. So there is Parkinson's internal principle of the burgeoning of government.

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these other things shall be added unto you. Seek first free housing and free food and the result will be the collapse of the economy. That is where we are today. How did we get here? It was through the people's use of force to redistribute income one step at a time, starting with schemes devised in the 1920s. The foundation of the economy should be based on free contract, never collective force; and no society can work justly if the Faith is not infused by all the agencies of society and the state. If people are not formed to act in a Catholic way, they will choose what their lower nature prefers. That is why the State must be Catholic.


LeonG said...

The "just" wage for the labourer together with justice for the poor & socially vulnerable are accounted for in Holy Scripture. These include (Deuteronomy 24:14-15);(Micah 6:9-13);(Proverbs 6:30); (Mark 12:40); (Matthew 21:13);(Matthew 18:21-35).

Pope Leo XIII made no compromise with political socialism. Rather, he synthesised orthodox Roman Catholic perspectives on the rights accorded by Almighty God to those who are socially vulnerable - widows, the poor, the labourer and so on. Those who are wealthy have an obligation to use their affluence in a morally responsible manner.

Moreover, in a period of history when western societies were being transformed from essentially agrarian to industrialised urban ones it would not have escaped his attention that there was overwhelming exploitation of labour and a marked deterioration in living & working conditions at the same time. Catholic employers and entrepreneurs needed to be reminded of their responsibilities.

Anonymous said...


The problem lies in the translation of ethical precept into civil law. No good Catholic dobts that the rich have the moral obligations you mention. The effect of enshrining them in civil law is that the many simply use the raw power of government to commit larceny on a massive scale. The 'just wage' becomes the outrageous wage and the mob will use its new largess to enrich film stars and athletes. It means allowing the worker to set his wages and run the country as he sees fit. This is not God's plan and never has been. It is the plan of uninformed fallen men. They prefer a paradise on earth to a future in a Heaven they cannot see.

The only acceptable economic order is a neutral laissez-faire one but provided that the Church is part of the State and the people are formed to fulfil their moral obligations. That is why Church and State must be united whenever possible; it is why exceptions can only be made to preserve order and not for some imagined common good.


Joe B said...

Good point, P.K.T.P. Looking at it from the converse side, once a just wage law is quantified, what is the chance it will be decreased in a period of deflation? It's always a one-way escalator - up.

John L said...

If something is just, it is the duty of the state to enforce it. That is what justice means, and it is what the Catholic church clearly and repeatedly teaches.

Anonymous said...

Dear Joe B:

It reminds me of the comments of a labour leader in my country some years ago. He was seeking an increase in wages for the union. "What are you asking for?", came the question. "More!" was his reply. "How much more?" "Just more, always more" was the answer.

Notice how, when times are tough and profits fall, employers rarely go to the bargaining table and offer their employees less money, a numerical decrease in benefits, and so forth. They never say, "Our offer to the union is a 6% cut in pay over the next two years and a 23% cut in benefits, not adjusting for inflation." But if the company is losing money at that rate, why shouldn't the workers be cut at the same rate the shareholders are? If labourers share in the profits when the company does well, why should they not share in losses when it does poorly?

The idea of a 'just wage' being determined by fiat by a Government controlled by the mob, was the thin edge of the wedge. In came the old age pension, government unemployment insurance schemes, health care schemes, disability schemes--all backed ultimately by force, by the barrel of a policeman's gun, a cop enforcing the tax laws. Of course, the rot started with the Protestant Revolution and Queen Elizabeth I's poor laws . . . . How much more efficient the Benedictine monks were at serving the poor at Westminster. The Protestant Revolution was indeed an early step in social disruption, although the root cause of the crisis was the Black Death.

As Government increases, family decreases. Force replaces free association and contract and makes slaves of every man. That is what Leo XIII compromised with when he allowed that the State could use force to impose a just wage that nobody can define but which will be defined in a democracy precisely by those who stand to benefit therefrom.

"Rerum Novarum" needs to be fixed, not celebrated.


Anonymous said...

John L.:

Your statement is not correct. Owing to practical considerations, it is not proper to translate all moral precepts into civil law. If it were, it wouild be illegal to tell a lie. Moral Law governs what we are bound to do on pain of eternal consequences. But when the translation of a moral precept into civil law would have worse effects than not doing so, it is proper not to translate it. This is exactly the case with the 'just wage', which is indefinable universally or practically. As we have seen, give the mob the right to define it and then enforce that by the State and the result is massive injustice. It is a simple rule that rules are not to be made by those who have a vested interest in determining their scope.

The proper form of economic order in a Christian society is pure laissez-faire capitalism. I consider myself to be an anti-materialist capitalist. A materialist lives for this world and its pleasures. Socialism and communism are materialistic by definition; capitalism may or may not be materialistic, depending on the will of the capitalist in question. Those capitalists who are materialists are fools. They seek money hoping that it will bring them happiness and peace. It has no such effect.


Pascendi said...

Read Chesterton and Belloc and see that Leo was correct. Modern Capitalism as we know it stems from the nominalism of Locke and modern conceptions of money and the money supply (fractional reserve banking etc.)...

I, for one, am thankful there are pensions. Those who do not wish a pension, UI etc. can always donate the funds to a worthwhile cause.

The State is there to refrain the heartless, which, as history has shown, provided the wedge that socialism and communism took advantage of.

God bless Leo XII for his far seeing genius!

John McFarland said...

Mr. Perkins,

What passage in Rerum novarum are you referring to? Are you thinking of par. 44?

In any event, I don't think that "socialist" is the appropriate term to describe any implication of RN, since the term virtually always refers to goverment ownership of the means of production, and there is nothing of that in RN.

Furthermore, there is no getting around the fact that the Church has supported, in principle and practice, government intervention in economic affairs, including wages and prices, since it emerged from the catacombs.

One can speak to the prudence of such measures, but I don't think that one can deny that the Church considers them within the authority of the powers that be, and that most if not all of its pre-19th century theologians considered such measures a good thing in many situations.

I myself have been an amateur of free market economics for two or three years shy of fifty years; but I think one needs to be a little bit careful about how one sizes up its relation to the teaching of the Church.

But to be frank, so far I haven't come to any conclusions much different from your own.

In particular, if $X/hr. is the just wage, and for whatever reason I can only command $(X-Y)/hr., legislating the just wage will only get me fired. If (X-Y) is literally starvation wages, then unless I'm insance, I'll quit and starve at my leisure. If I'm willing to work for (X-Y), why should I be prevented? At best, the just wage law benefits those whose employers were paying them less than X but can pay them X -- at the expense of those whose employers can't pay them X and have to fire them. So far, the relation between this dynamic and Christian charity eludes me.

Pascendi said...

Pius X, XI, XII, have each made Rerum Novarum their own. John Paul II develops Rerum Novarum, just as Pius XI did...

The bishops of Quebec (1937 on the Rural Worker) and in 1950 -- reiterate Rerum Novarum, with an approbation from Rome. There, the bishops support the just wage, pensions, the duty of the employer towards the sick etc.

In trying to Christianize Capitalism, one is trying to square the circle. The Popes have placed careful support for free enterprise, but have rejected Capitalism as it is practiced today.