As promised, today we begin posting the relevant portions of Archbishop Michael Corrigan’s 1886 pastoral letter as published Saturday, November 27, 1886, in the New York Freeman’s Journal and Catholic Register. One or two spellings and punctuation marks were changed to reflect modern usage. We do have the whole thing, and are planning on putting it in as an appendix to a book we’re working on now, but most of it doesn’t directly address the question of private property.
In light of yesterday’s discussion concerning the respective roles of faith and reason, we need to point out something that some readers might otherwise pass by without noticing it. Corrigan put the discussion of the natural right to private property under a section titled “Faith.” Does this mean that he believed that the natural law is based on our private understanding of something we accept as God’s Will?
By no means. Reading carefully, we realize that, although the section is titled “Faith,” the discussion on private property is based on reason.
|. . . or Reason?|
Corrigan was obviously using faith to illuminate and reinforce people’s understanding of what their reason should tell them. He was not replacing reason with faith. In this he was anticipating Pius XII who wrote a little over half a century later,
“[D]ivine revelation must be considered morally necessary so that those religious and moral truths which are not of their nature beyond the reach of reason in the present condition of the human race, may be known by all mean readily with a firm certainty and with freedom from all error.” (Humani Generis, § 3.) [Emphasis added.]
|Why not both?|
In other words, as Pius XII explained in the previous section of his encyclical, people’s intellects have become confused to the point where many of them cannot reason properly, so they must supplement the certainty that true knowledge gives with the certainty of faith. Again, this is not a replacement of reason with faith, but (as Aquinas maintained) a fallback position for those who, not having the time or the training to reason things out for themselves, still need a practicable certainty to be able to implement moral and ethical teachings.
No virtue is more necessary, dear Brethren, than the virtue of divine faith. “It is the foundation of all that is good,” writes St. Augustine; “the beginning of man’s salvation.” “It is the root of all virtues,” says St. Bonaventure, “without which the other virtues wither and die.” “Where it is found whole and entire,” continues St. Ambrose, “there our Savior teacheth, keepeth watch and ward, exulteth; there is rest, and peace, and a universal remedy.” “Without faith,” says the Holy Spirit, “it is impossible to please God.”
While it is not the office of Diocesan Synods, not even of Provincial Councils, to make definitions of Faith, or decide authoritatively controverted questions on which the Holy See has not spoken, yet it is the right and duty of the Bishop, under the supreme leadership of the Sovereign Pontiff, to guard the deposit of Faith, and, especially when the Holy Father has pointed out the way, to lead his flock to wholesome pastures and guard them from poison. Like the sentinel on the ramparts of a city under siege, a highly important duty of a Bishop’s office is to be quick in discerning dangerous movements and prompt in sounding timely alarm. Therefore we commend you, Brethren, to be zealously on your guard against certain unsound principles and theories which assail the rights of property. They are loudly proclaimed in our day, and are espoused by many who would not willfully advocate what is wrong. It is the fair-seeming of those theories which captivates the minds of many, inasmuch as they abound in promise of large benefit to those who are in sorest need. The distress of the poor is to be relieved, and the burden of the toiler lightened — results which the Church, with a true mother’s love, would most gladly see accomplished wherever and whenever just means are used to reach the desired end. But the Church is not the fickle creature of a day, apt to be caught with specious theories, or ready to change her course with capricious unsteadiness. She is the guardian of God’s unchanging truth, and the dispenser of the treasures of His wisdom; and her office, in her long and glorious march down the ages, has always been, in spite of fierce attack from without or base treachery from within, to save the true from all alliance with the false — gathering the one to her loving embrace and smiting the other with her malediction. Here is the noble task not only of directing the actions of mankind, but also of guiding their very thoughts; because she never is unmindful that thought is the parent of action, and that sound principles are the only foundation for pure morality. Hence, when any thought finds a welcome abode in the mind, and becomes so clear to him who harbors it as to shape itself into a principle, it is a duty to scan closely its character and its bearing, and to trace its possible course from the quiet haven of the mind to the open main of public fact. However fair or shapely or attractive it may seem to the unwary, it should not be accepted by the prudent unless it is formed of elements that are altogether sound and pure. A flaw in a foundation represents a proportionate insecurity in the building raised upon it.
We will continue with Corrigan’s defense of private property tomorrow.