Monday, June 5, 2017

“The New Christianity”

Last week we had a short series on “What is Socialism?”  One of the people who commented on it when it was posted in a “distributist” forum tried to make the case that distributism and Catholic social teaching are pretty much the same thing (indicating an inadequate understanding of the difference between application and principle), and that both distributism and Catholic social teaching are socialist . . . in a non-Marxist way, of course . . . unless you’re into the “Theology of Liberation,” which raises other issues such as what you mean by theology and liberty.
Saint-Simon, founder of "New Christianity"
Anyway, one of the commentator’s comments was that the socialism of Henri de Saint-Simon, who coined the term “socialism,” is one of the sources for Catholic social teaching, as proven by a bunch of people we never heard of.  Unfortunately for the commentator, we have heard of Saint-Simon. . . .
First, a possibly minor point.  According to Dr. Julian Strube of Heidelberg University (the one in Germany) in his paper, “Socialism and Esotericism in July Monarchy France” (History of Religions, July 2016, p. 4 of the Pre-print version), it wasn’t Saint-Simon, but Pierre Leroux who coined the term socialisme (“socialism”) in 1833 or 1834, nearly a decade after Saint-Simon died.  Ironically, Leroux used it initially as a pejorative to mean the opposite of individualisme.  By 1847 Leroux noted that socialism had come to be used to describe every form of démocratie religieuse — all the crazy new cults that had been springing up in France since at least 1820 in opposition to the Catholic Church, the most prominent and influential of which was . . . Saint-Simon’s “New Christianity"!
Pierre Leroux, coined the term "socialism"
Now, we can’t verify Dr. Strube’s research, but he does give his sources, and they at least sound impressive to us non-academics, and we’re not about to argue with a German Professor:
Pierre Leroux, “De l’individualisme et du socialisme,” in Œuvres de Pierre Leroux (1825-1850) (Paris: Société typographique, 1850), 376. For the origin of the word socialisme, see Jacques Gans, “L’Origine du mot ‘socialiste’ et ses emplois les plus anciens,” Revue d’histoire économique et sociale 30 (1957), 79-83; cf. Carl Grünberg, “Der Ursprung der Worte ‘Sozialismus’ und ‘Sozialist’,” Archiv für die Geschichte des Sozialismus und der Arbeiterbewegung 2 (1912), 372-379.
We got interested, however, and decided to track down the source of all the confusion about Catholic social teaching and socialism.  What we found was eye-popping, at least to people who care about such things.
First, a rather unimportant bit of trivia.  “Socialism” as a theory clearly antedates the term.  We mention this only because a couple of years ago we came across a comment by one of the tribe of Catholic-socialists-who-don’t-want-to-be-called-socialists-except-when-they-do that Pope Pius XI wasn’t talking about socialism because what he was condemning existed before the term “socialism” had been invented.
Fraticelli, Medieval socialists
Uh, huh.  This is a particularly dumb argument for a Catholic to make, since the term “transubstantiation” wasn’t invented until the Middle Ages but the doctrine has been around since the beginning.  It’s like saying giraffes didn’t exist until Europeans decided that’s what a camelopard should be called.
What was particularly interesting was the list of terms used to describe what Leroux called socialism before he called it socialism.  A quick search gave us nearly half a dozen.  There are doubtless more, but these appear to be the most important, as they are the most misleading, some of them being used into the twentieth century, and the last one on the list down to the present day:
·      New Christianity,
·      Neo-Catholicism,
·      Neo-Christianity,
·      The Third Dispensation, and
·      Social Justice.
What?  Social justice was an alternative term for what became known as socialism?  Doesn’t that prove that socialism and Catholic social teaching are the same thing?
No — and here’s why.
Leo XIII: Rescued Christianity from the socialists
Recall that the “reference title” of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical “On Capital and Labor” — Rerum Novarum — translates as “new things.”  What “new things”?  The Catholic Encyclopedia hints that Leo was referring specifically to Saint-Simon’s “New Christianity” as the source of many of the problems in the Church, a hint backed up by Leo's efforts to deal with socialism and the new "Christian" cults while Archbishop-bishop of Perugia (he even issued a pastoral on "magnetism" — spiritualism — as did Pius IX, so serious had the problem become).
In effect, in Rerum Novarum Leo was “taking back” Christianity and Catholicism from the New Christians and Neo-Catholics.  Since these were, obviously, not merely new religions, but various forms of socialism, the problems with socialism were the main theme of the encyclical.
The difference between Rerum Novarum and all previous social encyclicals, however, was in the pope’s recommendation.  Formerly, encyclicals simply prohibited actions.  Rerum Novarum gave a specific recommendation in § 46, “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."
Surprising many people, Leo never used the term “social justice.”  In his day, it was only a synonym for socialism, and he condemned socialism without qualification.
The problem was that Leo not only addressed the problem of religious socialism, but the scientific socialism of Karl Marx as well.  This allowed the Neo-Catholics and others to muddy the water and claim that only Marxism was meant by the condemnation of socialism; Marx was "bad" socialism, they were "good" socialism.
Pius XI: Rescued justice from the socialists
Pope Pius XI dealt with the problem of dodging the condemnation of socialism.  Just as Leo took back the terms “Christianity” and “Catholicism,” Pius took back the term “justice.”  From the beginning of his pontificate, in his first encyclical in 1922, Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio, he announced that he condemned all the “new things,” not just those in religious society: “There is a species of moral, legal, and social modernism which We condemn, no less decidedly than We condemn theological modernism.”
In 1923, Pius listed “legal and social justice” in Studiorum Ducem, an encyclical on Saint Thomas Aquinas, indicating that he considered them distinct types of justice.
Finally, in 1931, in Quadragesimo Anno, he used the term “social justice” in such a way as to indicate that it was no longer to be considered a vague term for socialism, but a precise term for the particular virtue directed to the common good.  In order to make absolutely certain that there was no mistake, he clearly condemned all forms of socialism, but singled out religious socialism for special mention: “Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.” (§ 120.)
To complete the presentation of his social doctrine, in 1937 Pius issued Divini Redemptoris.  Where Quadragesimo Anno singled out religious socialism, Divini Redemptoris took on scientific socialism: “atheistic communism.”
Given the work of Leo XIII and Pius XI, then, there is no legitimate reason for equating social justice and socialism, or thinking that Catholic social teaching is socialist.

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