Are encyclicals getting too long? And is anybody reading (or understanding) them? Judging from all the acrimony over, say Amoris Laetitia (not technically an encyclical, but we’re making a point here), the answer is “no.” The longer and wordier encyclicals get, the less impact they seem to have. The message(s) tend(s) to get lost in all the explanations and qualifications.
|"Experts" become Top Dog by barking louder than anyone else.|
To make things worse, you’ve got a lot of “experts” with their own agendas and assumptions, often held unconsciously, who comb through anything a pope says or writes, searching for something that can be twisted to their advantage. Oops. Sorry. We meant to say, “that can be used to save the Catholic Church from itself . . . and put the savior(s) in the position of being Top Dog.
A lot of people, especially “the experts,” seem to think basic principles can be changed, which they cannot. But why do they believe they can?
Because far too many people today never learned to think, and insist on confusing principle and application. For example, many “experts” think Rerum Novarum is the encyclical on wages.
Really? The encyclical mentions wages sixteen times, four of them in connection with owning capital, putting wage income and capital income on the same level, i.e., one is as legitimate as the other. The other dozen mentions of wages are always in the context of the non-owning worker, and the problems associated with being a non-owner.
|"Neither Yogi Berra nor I ever said half the things we said."|
Private property and capital ownership are mentioned thirty-five times in Rerum Novarum by actual count (depending on the translation, of course), and countless times by implication, always in a positive way as a good thing. The obvious implication — unless you’re a socialist — is that capital income and labor income are morally equivalent, and being a worker-owner is better than being a non-owning worker.
Now, a key passage in Rerum Novarum is § 46. This states,
If a workman's wages be sufficient to enable him comfortably to support himself, his wife, and his children, he will find it easy, if he be a sensible man, to practice thrift, and he will not fail, by cutting down expenses, to put by some little savings and thus secure a modest source of income. Nature itself would urge him to this. We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.
And what does this passage say? That sufficient wages are the only thing that matters?
No. It says that sufficient wages are important because they enable a frugal worker to save and buy capital.
The principle is empowering people to purchase capital to make them independent and ensure them an adequate income . . . as preceding sections of the encyclical make crystal clear. The application is how to do this, viz., pay people more money so they can buy capital.
Understanding the difference between principle, and application of principle, we can accept any legitimate means by which people can become owners of capital. Unfortunately, socialists and capitalists can see only one: past savings. The idea that ordinary people should be able to purchase capital on credit and pay for it over time as the capital becomes productive seems completely alien to both groups.
But that is a subject for another day. What we’re concerned with here is the ease with which “the experts” latch onto something like the means of becoming an owner, obsess about it, and completely ignore the main point: becoming an owner.
. . . or the condemnation of socialism and other “new things.”
|Pope John XXII|
Mirari Vos, which appears to be the first modern papal condemnation of socialism (John XXII condemned the abolition of private property in the fourteenth century when the “Spiritual Franciscans” were wildly distorting the message of Saint Francis of Assisi), made a simple point: don’t shift the basis of the natural law from the Intellect to the Will and make such “new things” as socialism and moral relativism the basis of your faith or philosophy, much less the social order, even to “defend” the Church.
Singulari Nos made an even simpler point: stop promoting the “new things” of socialism and moral relativism as authentic Catholic doctrine.
Unfortunately, people love to take shortcuts:
· A minister who downplays the seriousness of remarriage after divorce and says, “Oh, gee whiz, take communion anyway, wink, wink,” is taking a shortcut to avoid the difficulty of bringing people to a sense of sin so they can get straightened out.
· A capitalist who insists that only by concentrating capital ownership in the hands of a private sector élite can the economy move forward and liberty be preserved is taking a shortcut to avoid the difficulty of figuring out ways to empower ordinary people over their own lives with capital ownership.
· A socialist who insists that only by concentrating capital ownership in the State can people have sufficient income and be protected from the risk of not being protected is taking a shortcut to avoid the difficulty of figuring out that the purpose of life is not to create a “Kingdom of God on Earth” but to become more fully human . . . which one can’t do as a dependent of the State.
|"The bishop said when the pope said 'slaves' he didn't mean them!"|
The pattern of the encyclicals becomes clear. All of these shortcuts and more are first addressed in simple terms. So far so good. Then “the experts” and anyone with an agenda start to figure out ways to twist or distort the encyclical to justify staying right where they are and doing just as they please. Can you say “In Supremo,” the 1836 encyclical issued by Gregory XVI condemning slavery and the slave trade . . . that bishops in the southern United States hastened to reassure their flocks did not apply to them?
Consequently, popes after Gregory XVI kept adding more and more verbiage to try and plug the holes because people kept trying to get around the rules (“Yeah, pope, but what if . . . ?”). These in turn have been twisted all out of recognition as people became increasingly determined to force the Catholic Church to endorse enthusiastically whatever they were pushing.
For example, shortly after Rerum Novarum appeared, a prominent Neo-Catholic — one of the “in words” for socialist back then — published an article in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. This “expert” carefully explained how the encyclical that condemned socialism in the harshest possible terms and mandated a private property-based legal and economic system was really in agreement with socialism!
|Vicomte Eugène Melchoir de Vogüé|
Not failing to raise the specters of Saint Francis of Assisi (the presumed exemplar for all “democratic religion” — another euphemism for socialism), Thomas à Kempis (author of the medieval bestseller The Imitation of Christ), and Saint Francis de Sales (Introduction to the Devout Life) to give implied endorsements, the author described how through the nineteenth century the Church had gradually freed itself from outdated doctrines and declared,
Finally Rome spoke, and the last encyclical of Leo XIII. showed clearly towards which side its sympathies would henceforward incline. This very remarkable evolution is contributing to bring together in one common aspiration the believers and the freethinkers [atheists], whose only resolve is the good of the people. (Vicomte Eugène Melchoir de Vogüé, “The Neo-Christian Movement in France,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 84, No. 500, January 1892, 239.)
In other words (at least according to socialist French vicomtes), we are supposed to believe that Rerum Novarum embodies the first principle of socialism, modernism, and the New Age: that all things, including (or especially) the natural law, are to be subordinated to “the good of the people.”
On the contrary! The “Catholic” first principle is that all things must be subordinate to the natural law, for (at least the Catholic Church believes) the natural law is God. And, since the human person is — according to Catholic belief — made in God’s image and likeness, this automatically builds respect for human dignity and sovereignty into the system.
Putting “the good of the people” above everything means putting it above God as well. According to Fulton Sheen, this is the main problem in the modern world, as he said in his first book, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy (1925), with Introduction by G.K. Chesterton.
So how do you fix this kind of thing?
By getting back to basics, viz. a correct understanding of justice in all its parts, and a proper understanding of the role of charity. That’s why we think that the best thing Pope Francis could do as soon as possible is issue an encyclical on the three principles of economic justice, 1) Participation, 2) Distribution, and 3) Social Justice.
And he might want to see if there is anything that can be done about getting people to think. After all, Jesus came to take away our sins, not our brains. . . .