In the previous posting in this series we saw that, just like Pope John Paul I in the twentieth century, Pope Gregory XVI was confronted with the “democratic religion” as socialism was originally called, among other related things that eventually evolved into what would become known as modernism and the New Age. Gregory therefore set to work to counter the unreason of a social theory that Pope Pius XI would later declare “utterly foreign to Christian truth” with logic and the natural law philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
|Venerable Fulton J. Sheen|
This was essential, as subsequent pontiffs have steadfastly maintained. Where Aquinas carefully combined the natural and the supernatural in his philosophy as part of an integrated whole, the “New Christian/Neo-Catholic” movement separated the natural from the supernatural, and then elevated the natural to the level of the supernatural. This put Collective Man above God, as Venerable Fulton J. Sheen noted in his first book, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy (1925), and reiterated in his second, Religion Without God (1928).
Adherents of the New Christianity/Neo-Catholicism claimed that it was based on democratic religious thought, which ironically is anything but democratic in the classic Aristotelian, natural law sense. Consequently, socialists necessarily worked to discredit traditional organized religion, both Catholic and Protestant. The goal was to replace the promise of a spiritual heaven in the next life with the goal of a material Kingdom of God on Earth in this life.
Confused, many people abandoned both traditional religious spirituality and overt materialism. They sought refuge in the various forms of esotericism that sprang up, most of which uneasily combined materialist socialist political and economic theories with a pseudo oriental religiosity or invented pre-Christian spirituality. These usually added superficially Christian elements to make them more palatable to people raised in a Judeo-Christian culture, e.g., the “Universal Catholicism” of the ceremonial magician Éliphas Lévi Zahed (real name, Alphonse-Louis Constant). These would later become loosely grouped under the labels of modernism and New Age thought, depending on how far from traditional religious doctrine and Aristotelian-Thomist philosophy they drifted.
It was not until the pontificate of Pope Pius IX that the goal of ending the tyranny of traditional religious and political thought (and, for some of the more forward-looking, traditional marriage and family life as well) seemed within reach. Well-known as a liberal with democratic tendencies — a protégé of Pope Pius VII, who had declared there is no essential conflict between democracy and Christianity — Pius IX’s election appeared to be a golden opportunity to carry out both a political and a religious revolution.
The first pope to have visited the Americas (as a special delegate of Pius VII to the new republics of South America), there is a high probability that Pius IX was also familiar with the political philosophy of the United States. Alexis de Tocqueville had published Democracy in America in two volumes in 1835 and 1840, and it is unlikely in the extreme that Pius IX, a strong advocate of political and economic reform, would not have read them.
Immediately upon his election, Pius IX began instituting liberal reforms. Unfortunately for the success of the pope’s efforts, however, European liberals and radicals tended to define “liberalism” and “democracy” in a manner that directly contradicted Pius IX’s natural law orientation. In contrast to the “Catholic” natural law theory that prevailed in the United States at that time that recognized the dignity and sovereignty of the human person under God, European-style liberalism was based on the idea that humanity in general, not individual human beings, is sovereign.
|Count Cavour, Architect of Modern Italy|
Pius IX’s reform program had barely gotten started when the liberals and radicals began demanding not only additional and more extreme reforms (many of which had already been granted in substance), but the abolition of papal authority in both Church and State and changes in Catholic doctrine to conform to the new world order. They also demanded that the Papal States declare war on Austria to promote Italian unification under the Kingdom of Sardinia.
Ultimately, of course, whether political reform of the Papal States would conform to American- or European-style theories of democracy became a moot point when the Kingdom of Sardinia, using Garibaldi as its patsy and playing off France against Austria and the new German Reich, succeeding in extending its rule over virtually the entire Italian peninsula and the island of Sicily. The pope became “the Prisoner of the Vatican” until the Lateran Treaty of 1929 recognized the inviolability of the tiny city-state that remained to the Church.
If the Church itself could not implement its own social teachings, however, it could still promulgate them. This Pius IX proceeded to do, despite growing insistence in many quarters that the Catholic Church was an outdated institution that had outlived whatever usefulness it might ever have had. Carefully trying to make clear the distinction between the natural law of American-style democracy and the aberrations of European-style democracy, the pope issued encyclical after encyclical condemning the “new things” and reasserting the legitimacy of all forms of government that acknowledge the natural law as the basis of a sound social order, and the independence of the Church.
|Alexis de Tocqueville|
Not unexpectedly, despite being championed by Alexis de Tocqueville himself, this got Pius IX labeled a “reactionary,” although the true reactionaries and conservatives were never comfortable with him. Both extremes of the political and religious spectrum looked forward to the next pope who would (depending on your orientation) return the Church to a past that never was or bring it up to date for a future that couldn’t exist.
Neither the liberals nor the conservatives were to be satisfied. To counter both conservatives and the reactionaries, Pius IX continued to stress the importance of reason and the natural law over their version of God’s Will. Not surprisingly, the pope’s efforts to counter the liberals and radicals used exactly the same arguments. In this effort the work of Monsignor Luigi Aloysius Taparelli d’Azeglio, S.J. was key.
Taparelli, one of the early pioneers of the Thomist revival under Pope Gregory XVI, was a strong supporter of the Aristotelian-Thomist concept of the natural law, although in some respects applied the principles inconsistently, e.g., his opposition to universal suffrage. Still, despite such errors, Taparelli’s work, especially his seminal “theory of groups,” was critical in providing the foundation of Pope Leo XIII’s social doctrine as well as the Christian solidarism of Father Heinrich Pesch, S.J., that countered the theories of David Émile Durkheim, who promoted a form of solidarism based on socialism and the idea that “God” is really “divinized society.”
|Msgr. Luigi Aloysius Taparelli d’Azeglio, S.J.|
Taparelli appears to have been the first to use the term “social justice” in anything approaching the modern concept found later in the social doctrine of Pope Pius XI. While Taparelli did not recognize social justice as a particular virtue, he did insist that, in contrast to the socialist goal of uplifting humanity by any means necessary (e.g., Saint-Simon), the general virtue of legal justice must at all times be circumscribed within the principles of natural law.
What Taparelli did with his concept of “social justice” was add in the supernatural law of the Christian Gospels. This turned ordinary legal justice into “social justice,” still a general virtue, but one guided by and circumscribed not merely within the natural law as was the case with ordinary legal justice, but by and within the supernatural law as well. This brought the acts of the individual virtues that indirectly affected the common good into conformity with Catholic religious doctrine as well as the universal precepts of the natural law.
There was thus no substantial difference between Taparelli’s concept of social justice and the legal justice of Aristotle. Taparelli’s contribution to Catholic social thought was, essentially, limited to an added emphasis on the religious aspect of social life, e.g., lead a good and virtuous life in conformity with the individual virtues as understood and taught by the Catholic Church with a general good intention directed to the common good, and you will be “socially just,” whether or not you are Catholic or even Christian.
|Pope Pius IX|
Taparelli’s real accomplishment, however, was to counter the “new things” of the modern world by reinforcing the reliance of the social order on the precepts of both the natural law and the supernatural law, and then to remind people that faith, hope, and charity fulfill but do not replace or substitute for temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice. Thus, where the socialists, modernists, and New Agers insisted on changing or abolishing the precepts of the natural law and replacing them with their own versions of faith, hope, and charity, even to the extent of inventing what was to all intents and purposes a new religion, Taparelli defended traditional philosophy and religious doctrine.
The problem was that “social justice” was such a good term that it was quickly adopted by the socialists to describe their program, which was directly at odds with everything Taparelli meant by the term. Ironically, it was not long before “social justice” and “socialism” became equivalent terms. By the time Leo XIII came along thirty years later, “social justice” had become a “dirty word” as far as most political conservatives and many religiously orthodox people were concerned.
Not that Pius IX surrendered to the “new things” that endangered the Church even more than they threatened the political order and — up to a point — the family. To deal with the situation, he decided to call the first ecumenical council since Trent, three centuries previously, held from 1545 to 1563.
This was the Vatican Council, which opened in 1869, and addressed the two areas on which the forces of the “new things” had concentrated their attacks: faith and reason.#30#