Rorate Caeli

"What are all these things compared with the loss of souls?"

One of the "cornerstones" of modern economy, the unassailable credit of the United States: downgraded.

Ours is an extraordinarily interesting age, of which this latest piece of news is just a very minute sign: the explosive energy that sprung up in the small western end of Eurasia in the Middle Ages, shaped by Christendom, a burst of creativity and missionary spirit which covered the whole world: the originally Christian West, whose good (and sublime) and bad (and hideous) ideas shaped the world as we know it, and that, in a kind of lifeline, lived its last decades of influence after the European disasters of the 20th century in some of its old colonial outposts - that energy seems to be finally spent. Many aspects of that civilization, enormously wealthy and yet bankrupt as well as  spiritually exhausted, remain and will survive, but its hegemonic presence seems likely to be replaced. By what? And does it matter, in the eternal scheme of things?

Despite rivers of ink in "social" and "economic" doctrinal documents since "the Council", it is astounding that the best Catholic commentary on the troubles of this age was written 80 years ago.This is not the first time some of these words of Pius XI are posted here - but they never seem to get old: 

[I]n the first place, it is obvious that not only is wealth concentrated in our times but an immense power and despotic economic dictatorship is consolidated in the hands of a few, who often are not owners but only the trustees and managing directors of invested funds which they administer according to their own arbitrary will and pleasure.  

This accumulation of might and of power generates in turn three kinds of conflict. First, there is the struggle for economic supremacy itself; then there is the bitter fight to gain supremacy over the State in order to use in economic struggles its resources and authority; finally there is conflict between States themselves, not only because countries employ their power and shape their policies to promote every economic advantage of their citizens, but also because they seek to decide political controversies that arise among nations through the use of their economic supremacy and strength.  

This dictatorship is being most forcibly exercised by those who, since they hold the money and completely control it, control credit also and rule the lending of money. Hence they regulate the flow, so to speak, of the life-blood whereby the entire economic system lives, and have so firmly in their grasp the soul, as it were, of economic life that no one can breathe against their will.  

This concentration of power and might, the characteristic mark, as it were, of contemporary economic life, is the fruit that the unlimited freedom of struggle among competitors has of its own nature produced, and which lets only the strongest survive; and this is often the same as saying, those who fight the most violently, those who give least heed to their conscience.  

The ultimate consequences of the individualist spirit in economic life are those which you yourselves, Venerable Brethren and Beloved Children, see and deplore: Free competition has destroyed itself; economic dictatorship has supplanted the free market; unbridled ambition for power has likewise succeeded greed for gain; all economic life has become tragically hard, inexorable, and cruel. To these are to be added the grave evils that have resulted from an intermingling and shameful confusion of the functions and duties of public authority with those of the economic sphere - such as, one of the worst, the virtual degradation of the majesty of the State, which although it ought to sit on high like a queen and supreme arbitress, free from all partiality and intent upon the one common good and justice, is become a slave, surrendered and delivered to the passions and greed of men. And as to international relations, two different streams have issued from the one fountain-head: On the one hand, economic nationalism or even economic imperialism; on the other, a no less deadly and accursed internationalism of finance or international imperialism whose country is where profit is.
...

"Wherefore," to use the words of Our Predecessor, "if human society is to be healed, only a return to Christian life and institutions will heal it." For this alone can provide effective remedy for that excessive care for passing things that is the origin of all vices; and this alone can draw away men's eyes, fascinated by and wholly fixed on the changing things of the world, and raise them toward Heaven. Who would deny that human society is in most urgent need of this cure now?

Minds of all, it is true, are affected almost solely by temporal upheavals, disasters, and calamities. But if we examine things critically with Christian eyes, as we should, what are all these compared with the loss of souls? Yet it is not rash by any means to say that the whole scheme of social and economic life is now such as to put in the way of vast numbers of mankind most serious obstacles which prevent them from caring for the one thing necessary; namely, their eternal salvation.
Pius XI

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

While I certainly agree that a return to a Christian society is the ultimate answer to our problems, your implication through the Pope's statement that the free market is somehow responsible for the bloated and bankrupt welfare states of the West is simply wrong. The expansion of the State and ideologies elevating the State above God, Church, family, and all manner of society is the primary problem in the West.

New Catholic said...

I did not imply anything other than what the Pope himself said. My only comments are that the West has at last exhausted the spiritual strength that Christendom granted it centuries ago and that change of epochal proportions is inexorably coming our way (I did not even speak of a "return" to anything); none of this, as overwhelming as it may seem and as the Pope reminds us in his words, should prevent us from caring for our eternal concerns.

Steve said...

Once converted, the future glory of the Church will flourish in of all places, Russia!

Pascendi said...

The selection of Pius XI is wonderful. This great and holy Pope beautifully exposed the evils of statism. When I read him, I keep saying to myself: "this is happening here, right now!".

People are completely blind to fascism in "white gloves" that masquerades as some form of "democracy". TV, mass media etc. has indeed made the use of billy clubs redundant to manipulate and brainwash the masses into state worship.

Rick said...

Usura.

Lee Terry Lovelock-Jemmott said...

Always pertinent words are the words of the Venerable Servant of God Pius XI. It is because The Servants of God tell the truth that the world so foolishly tries to run in the opposite direction and prove Our LORD wrong. Then they see the fruits of their heinous works and realise The LORD is always right and shall never be any different. The Parable of the Rich Fool (St Luke ch12: v16-21) comes to mind instantly.

New Catholic said...

Let me add that I am not at all pessimistic or apocalyptic about these events. These cycles, the fortunes of nations and peoples, come and go..., but "what are all these compared with the loss of souls?" What a beautiful question!


These decades of each of our lives on this earth are a very short time compared to the flow of history and the ascent and fall of civilizations, and almost nothing compared to eternity, as the Imitation of Christ constantly reminds us - but they are the time given to us to prepare for it.

jenkins said...

Statism? He's explicitly talking about free-market economics which is transparently demonic. If it weren't for the State topping up my miserable wage graciously granted me by my miserly Capitalist employers I would literally starve. I can't afford heating in the winter as it is. Every time a state embraces globalisation and unfettered capitalism and the contingent (and enforced) social fruits the Church is turned over, abandoned, legislated against. Capitalsim hates the Church because she is the only one who points out its inherent evil and is the only one who offers a viable alternative in the form of subsidiarity.

I hope the whole rotten thing collapses. I could barely be worse off. And it might be jolly fun too; get to rough-up some rozzers.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

EXACTLY. Too bad the consecration of Russia was never done as Russia would have converted and her errors never had spread around the world. That didn't happen and now we're dealing with the errors. All the time during this debt ceiling crisis did anyone stop to think about just slashing all the government entitlement programs? No, it wasn't even considered and that's the decision for a state run economy, health care, automakers, etc.

If this isn't the errors of Russia adopted full on, I'm not sure what is.

All prophecies are conditional of course but a comet, wars, famine, pestilence and hopefully, a great Catholic monarch and global conversion sure seem possible in the near future.

ATW said...

Jenkins,

I don't know what encyclical you read, but Pius XI specifically said "...Free competition has destroyed itself; economic dictatorship has supplanted the free market..." He also lamented the "...intermingling and shameful confusion of the functions and duties of public authority with those of the economic sphere..."

He is condemning the current economic system and the state's interference in it but he is most decidedly not condemning "free-market economics."

Mr. Ortiz said...

"Capitalsim hates the Church because she is the only one who points out its inherent evil"

Wrong. Free markets are allowed, even encouraged by the Church.

Greed, materialism, a money-as-only-measure...these are condemned.

When used virtuously, free markets have helped hundreds of millions of people live beyond mere subsistence...

Yes, the salvation of souls is paramount; yes, the lifting of people out of material poverty is also important.

This is where we need solid priests and bishops: when the comfortable middle class life comes, then also: fasting, prayer, alms-giving, sacramental life...when these are lacking, we are poor, no matter the yearly salary!

rodrigo said...

The people are the heroes now -
Behemoth pulls the peasants' plough...

Hope Springs Eternal said...

"These decades of each of our lives on this earth are a very short time compared to the flow of history and the ascent and fall of civilizations, and almost nothing compared to eternity, as the Imitation of Christ constantly reminds us - but they are the time given to us to prepare for it."

Very thought provoking NC! Regardless of the circumstances that surround us, we can only hope and pray that our own Life Story has a good ending.

Malta said...

"These decades of each of our lives on this earth are a very short time..."

Too true!

A metaphor I like: take take every grain of sand on every seashore on earth, and pretend each one represents a billion years. All of those trillions of billions of years do not equal one second in eternity.

That's what I tell my kids, anyway. The truth is, heaven (or hell) is outside of time.

Sean said...

ATW,

If you read the relevant sections carefully, I think you'll agree Pius XI was saying that unrestrained competition leads inevitably to statism; that the financial power generated by unregulated and unrestrained capitalism ultimately puts the organs of the State, whose function is to guard, protect and encourage the common good, into the hands of the capitalists, who then use this power to advance their own interests to the detriment of the rest of society.

One has only to look at the degree of control exercised over the government of the US by financial interests to understand how valid this warning is.

Anonymous said...

Sean,

You comment "I think you'll agree Pius XI was saying that unrestrained competition leads inevitably to statism." I would agree that you see evidence of this today. The qustion, however, is who is responsible for applying the "restraint"? Is it the state as you seem to suggest, or is it the individual led by the moral teachings of the Church, as Mr. Ortiz suggests?

Your argument seems to consider "the capitalists" as a group of selfish individuals and the state as a pure collective. Yet, the state has consistently been used by various groups in all ages to advance thier power through coercive means.

I could not agree with Mr. Ortiz more when he states that "This is where we need solid priests and bishops: when the comfortable middle class life comes, then also: fasting, prayer, alms-giving, sacramental life...when these are lacking, we are poor, no matter the yearly salary!" In the final anaylsis the Church must guide every individual in their daily choices concerning free exchange. Of course, like Our Father in heaven, this means that we will have to endure the evil brought about by those who ignore the moral law, but it is the model of free will set up for us in the prelapsarian garden.

Sean said...

Anonymous,

I think it's both.

Grace which enlightens the intellect will result in both enlightened individual consciences, and laws that restrain behavior that is destructive to the common good.

Since men by God's design live in community, it is inevitable and right that both law and custom restrain destructive behavior.

As the Popes have pointed out, capitalism is particularly prone to the capital sin of avarice, and in extremis, turns that vice into a virtue. Like so many other things, it can and has produced great benefit; but its excesses must be regulated and restrained.

LeonG said...

There is no longer a free market today as it has been asphyxiated by excessive regulation by corporatist monopolies and other dynastic political interests. Government has become immensely expensive as it intercedes in almost every aspect of our lives. Much of this is wasted public money by corrupt systems which imagine a popular vote entitles them to spend public funds as they wish and to pursue policies that have already been decided by corporatist and other monopolistic interests. If anything has been exposed by the latestround of stock market crshes and other economic troubles, it is that powerful vested interests do as they please and are supported by puppet governments all over the supposed "free west". There is no worse an evil bureaucratic dictatorship fuelled by corporatist greed for financial & political power, than the EU. The USA is now following suit under the current presidential incumbent.

Roger Buck said...

Re:

"your implication through the Pope's statement that the free market is somehow responsible for the bloated and bankrupt welfare states of the West is simply wrong."

Strange. I did not read this into this at all.

What is clearly wrong though is that after all the revolutions of the world beginning in 1776 and 1789 which supposedly created freedom, equality and non-hierarchy ...

It would seem we are simply ruled by an invisible - and therefore less accountable - hierarchy instead.

The words from Pius XI very much appreciated ...

Rick said...

I am honestly curious, NC.

Leon's post was acceptable.

Mine was not.

Why?

I would be grateful if you would respond either on the blog or privately to me.

Dominus vobiscum.

New Catholic said...

We are a team of moderators here, and this is just one of our many activities. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I find myself for the first time agreeing with a post by LeonG. Remarkable times.