One thing that a number of Pope John Paul I’s biographers have struggled with is the puzzle of his working-class background and the fact that his father was a socialist, combined with his obvious distrust of socialism of any kind. They see a contradiction in his open sympathy for workers versus his theological “conservatism” (actually orthodoxy). As a result, chroniclers tend to gloss over or downplay his comments about socialism by asserting — without proof — that he was only opposed to certain kinds of socialism, notably Marxist communism.
|Monsignor Félix Doupanloup|
Of course, as we saw in the previous posting in this series, there is no contradiction. John Paul I’s concern for justice and charity discerned by observing human nature caused him to reject socialism that discards or denies human nature, and distrust capitalism that limits participation in human nature to the few.
John Paul I had been thoroughly grounded in authentic Catholic teaching about God and the natural law. He had a very high regard for the pioneers of the revolution in Catholic schools in the nineteenth century who took Pope Pius IX’s efforts to revitalize the Church seriously; John Paul I addressed one of his letters in Illustrissimi to Monsignor Félix Antoine Philibert Dupanloup (1802-1878) and noted the assistance Dupanloup received from others such as Frédéric Alfred Pierre, comte de Falloux (1811-1886) and Fr. Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire, O.P. (1802-1861). (Luciani, Illustrissimi, op. cit., 220.)
|Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire, O.P.|
Interestingly, Lacordaire was a strong opponent of socialism in addition to supporting Catholic education. (Edward McSweeny, D.D., “Lacordaire on Property,” The Catholic World, June 1887, 338-347.) A former close associate of Hugues-Félicité Robert de Lamennais (1782-1854), considered by some authorities to be the founder of “social Catholicism” and a leader in the New Christian/Neo-Catholic movement, Lacordaire broke with de Lamennais when the latter renounced Christianity and never spoke to him again.
As John Paul I saw it, the problem was that many of his clerical contemporaries and most of the Catholic laity throughout the world had been poorly educated; Catholic education had, to that extent, failed them and the Church itself. They had been indoctrinated in a very different idea of what constitutes Catholic social teaching.
Instead of an approach that strictly confines social thought within the parameters established by the natural law, far too many people even today adhere to the New Christian/Neo-Catholic understanding of Catholic social thought. This, according to the solidarist economist Franz H. Mueller (a student of Fr. Heinrich Pesch, S.J.) in his book, The Church and the Social Question (1984), is due to the unfortunate circumstance that the field of Catholic social thought had, through a series of unfortunate events, become dominated by the avant garde theories promulgated by one man: Monsignor John A. Ryan of the Catholic University of America.
|Monsignor John A. Ryan|
It came about in this manner. In 1906, in his capacity as self-appointed authority on the social doctrine of Pope Leo XIII, Msgr. Ryan published his doctoral thesis, A Living Wage: Its Ethical and Economic Aspects (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, Publishers). The book moved its author into the front rank of commentators on Catholic social teaching and may have been what eventually gained him a place on the faculty of the Catholic University in Washington, DC.
Ryan’s position was only seriously threatened once, when the rector, Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan, brought in Fulton J. Sheen in an effort to raise academic standards in the theology graduate school. Standards had declined rapidly under the leadership of Ryan, who brooked no interference from anyone, and was busily forcing the curriculum down the path of modernism.
Sheen appeared to be the ideal candidate to put the Catholic University graduate school of theology back on track. He had left the program at the Catholic University a few years previously after his second year after being advised that Thomism was no longer taught in any coherent fashion and the education he would receive was second rate at best. Sheen transferred to and received his doctorate from the Louvain, being awarded his degree at the highest level, a distinction given to only about forty or so individuals since the university was founded.
|Abp. Fulton J. Sheen|
What made Sheen stand out was the fact that his doctoral thesis, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy (1925), was in stark contrast to that of Ryan’s A Living Wage. Where Ryan relied on the principles of socialism, modernism, and the New Age to make his case, Sheen chronicled the infiltration of these “new things” into the philosophical consciousness of the modern world. To make matters worse for Ryan, the noted English convert G.K. Chesterton wrote the introduction to Sheen’s book, praising it for the author’s commitment to reason and common sense — Sheen was even characterized as “the American Chesterton.”
Correctly perceiving Sheen as a threat — not to his person, but to the “new things” on which he had built his career and attained his status — Ryan immediately took steps to neutralize Sheen and undermine his reputation. This was made all the easier due to the fact that Shahan retired soon after Sheen’s arrival, and Ryan was able to carry out his campaign and exact his revenge virtually unopposed.
What followed was a decade of what Sheen later described in the introduction to his Life of Christ (1954) as virtual torture, a crucifixion at the hands of Ryan. Charges of heresy, lying, and mental instability, and vows to get rid of Sheen at any cost followed in rapid succession from Ryan and his confreres and disciples.
|Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan|
Ryan’s actions become understandable when we discover that he was a disciple of the agrarian socialist Henry George and an admirer of the renegade priest Father Edward McGlynn. Ryan’s ostensible refutation of Georgist thought in the work he considered his magnum opus, Distributive Justice (1916) — probably at the behest of Shahan, who had been one of the examiners in the McGlynn case — is actually a blind.
By focusing on and refuting (after a fashion) George’s theory of legal title — a non-issue for George and not essential to his argument — Ryan was able to retain the substance of George’s thought while jettisoning an unimportant form. A comparison of George’s 1879 treatise, Progress and Poverty, with Distributive Justice reveals that, despite a superficial rejection of a trivial aspect of George’s theories, Ryan’s analysis and theories are fundamentally identical to those of George.
Added in to that volatile mixture was the fact that Ryan idolized one of the oddest characters on the late nineteenth century political, economic, and literary scene. This was Ignatius Loyola Donnelly, termed by some “America’s Prince of Cranks.”
|Ignatius Loyola Donnelly|
Donnelly, a former Catholic turned spiritualist, was also a follower of George and a primary source for the version of theosophy invented by the “old fraud” (as Chesterton called her) Madame Blavatsky. As a politician, Donnelly introduced legislation to abolish private ownership of land and railroads, and also made fortunes in real estate speculation.
As a novelist and pseudo scientist, Donnelly wrote about the antediluvian world, hinting that the source of his knowledge of events was his spirit guides. He also claimed to have discovered a secret code by means of which Francis Bacon conveyed occult knowledge to his followers in the future under the pseudonym “William Shakespeare.”
Ryan’s analysis of the natural law in his doctoral thesis reflects these strong socialist, modernist, and New Age influences on his thought, influences Sheen exposed in God and Intelligence. In particular, there is Ryan’s treatment of private property that he claimed is a natural right, but not as true, nor true in the same way, as other natural rights.
Ryan thereby violated the first principle of reason in its “positive” aspect of the principle (or law) of identity: that which is true is as true, and is true in the same way, as everything else that is true. As for the natural law itself, he shifted it from a matter of objective knowledge to subjective opinion. As he declared,
Natural rights are necessary means of right and reasonable living. They are essential to the welfare of a human being, a person. They exist and are sacred and inviolable because the welfare of the person exists — as a fact of the ideal order — and is a sacred and inviolable thing. (Ryan, A Living Wage, op. cit., 48.)
|Franklin Delano Roosevelt, New Deal president.|
Ryan’s fundamental error, therefore, is his claim that “[n]atural rights. . . . exist and are sacred and inviolable because the welfare of the person exists.” On the contrary: natural rights exist and are sacred and inviolable because the human person exists, not because the welfare of the human person exists. Human existence is objective fact — knowledge. Human welfare is subjective opinion.
Not surprisingly, Ryan was known pejoratively as “the Right Reverend New Dealer” and “Monsignor New Deal” for his enthusiastic support for the program and anything else since the Wilson administration the increasingly anti-Catholic Democratic Party advocated. Ryan’s philosophical sleight-of-hand, the sort Sheen ably chronicled in God and Intelligence, set the stage for economic aberrations such as the New Deal provided the leverage for the incredible resurgence of the “new things” that effectively hijacked the Second Vatican Council.
This was the environment within which John Paul I as the first post-Vatican II pope taught, and that his social doctrine must be understood as attempting to counter. As a Thomist, John Paul I was fully aware of the weaknesses of what passed for Catholic social thought shaped and guided by the teachings of Ryan. This was especially so when it came to the issue of the living wage and the contradictions of the underlying theory that formed the core of Ryan’s thought, with the body of authentic Catholic teaching unadulterated by the “new things.”
|Gregory XVI: countering the new things.|
As Pope Leo XIII had made clear, and of which John Paul I was fully aware, the goal of Catholic social teaching for the temporal economic order — this life — is a society in which ordinary people have both the opportunity and means to own capital. Unfortunately, the mechanism the popes have advocated by means of which people can become owners — an increase in wages — is ineffective and was instantly reinterpreted by adherents of the “new things” as mandating a living wage. The goal of widespread private property in capital was relegated to the status of “prudential matter” by both capitalists and socialists.
As a result, John Paul I, in common with every pope since Gregory XVI, was confronted with well-organized and powerful opponents — capitalists and socialists — on two fronts. As a result of his commitment to the social doctrine of Pope Leo XIII he had a sound battle plan (strategy) in the form of widespread capital ownership . . . but no way of implementing it.
The best John Paul I could do was to continue to try and implement a holding action, which was (as we might expect) mistaken for a solution: increases in wages and social welfare, collective bargaining, and the acquisition and development of individual virtue. These, while essential, are by no means a solution (the last, development of individual virtue, is not even a means or a solution at all, but the desired end). They are a way to give temporary assistance and buy time on the way to developing and implementing a solution.#30#