In 1825 a small book was published that was to have enormous consequences. The book was Le Nouveau Christianisme, “The New Christianity,” the posthumous work of Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon (1760-1825).
|Henri de Saint-Simon|
Saint-Simon’s thesis was a simple one. Traditional forms of society and of the State might have been useful in the past but were now outdated. What was needed was a new conception of society and of the State, with special emphasis on reforming Christianity to bring Church, State, and Family together into one efficient entity the better to meet the material needs of society, especially the poor.
All of society should be associated into a unified whole, with production of marketable goods and services carried out in accordance with a moral code based on science, with compliance enforced by the State. Saint-Simon’s basic creed can be summed up as, “The whole of society ought to strive towards the amelioration of the moral and physical existence of the poorest class; society ought to organize itself in the way best adapted for attaining this end.”
Disciples of “the New Christianity” that espoused what quickly became known as “the Democratic Religion” soon formed Le Église Saint-Simonienne, “the Saint-Simonian Church.” The new church was intended to replace the Catholic Church and any other Christian churches that got in the way of the “New Things.”
The effort was so successful and there were so many copycat systems of the Democratic Religion that in 1833 Pierre Leroux (1797-1871), one of the leading Saint-Simonians, coined a new term as a pejorative to describe the competition: socialisme — “socialism.” Within ten years, however, “socialism” had changed from a pejorative to the preferred term to describe the Democratic Religion/New Things — much better than “communism,” which had legitimate religious forms in monasticism and some communities in the early days of Christianity.
Of course, “socialism” and “communism” continued to be used interchangeably, even after Karl Marx redefined communism to mean scientific socialism shorn of any and all religious trappings. Even today there is some confusion over the terminology, which is used to advantage by those who seek to replace traditional forms of society with the New Things.
Naturally the Catholic Church could not let the New Things go unchallenged. In 1832 Pope Gregory XVI (Bartolomeo Alberto Cappellari, 1765-1846, elected 1831) issued the first social encyclical, Mirari Vos, “On Liberalism and Religious Indifferentism,” and two years later the second one, Singulari Nos, “On the Errors of Lamennais,” in which the pope referred for the first time to rerum novarum, “New Things,” as the problem.
By 1891 socialism and the other New Things (modernism and the New Age) had become so bad that Pope Leo XIII started off his encyclical on labor and capital by referring specifically to rerum novarum, mostly socialism, as the problem. Nor had things improved any by 1991, when Pope John Paul II (Karol Józef Wojtyła, 1920-2005, elected 1978) wrote in § 4 of Centesimus Annus (“On the Centenary of Rerum Novarum”),
|John Paul II|
Towards the end of the last century the Church found herself facing an historical process which had already been taking place for some time, but which was by then reaching a critical point. The determining factor in this process was a combination of radical changes which had taken place in the political, economic and social fields, and in the areas of science and technology, to say nothing of the wide influence of the prevailing ideologies. In the sphere of politics, the result of these changes was a new conception of society and of the State, and consequently of authority itself. A traditional society was passing away and another was beginning to be formed — one which brought the hope of new freedoms but also the threat of new forms of injustice and servitude.
What worried every pope in modern times since Gregory XVI was the growth of an all-powerful State that has the potential to take over every aspect of life, down to whether someone is even permitted to be born. Yet even that is hardly a new concern as the story of what happened to Archbishop Thomas à Becket (cir. 1120-1170) when he stood up to King Henry II (1133-1189) and the king’s efforts to gather more power into the hands of the State as related by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson in Saint Thomas à Becket: The Holy Blissful Martyr: