There is a passage in G.K. Chesterton’s little book on St. Francis of Assisi — titled, appropriately enough, St. Francis of Assisi (1923) — that seems to baffle many people. It is the one where “G.K.” related how St. Francis was such a one-man earthquake or revolution that, had he been so inclined, he could have founded a new religion. Ironically, that is precisely what some of the followers of “Il Poverello” (“the Little Poor Man”) evidently thought he was doing, although they still called it “Christianity.” As Chesterton made his case,
|St. Francis of Assisi
The principal target of St. Francis’s followers was (as we might expect), the institution of property. Not only did they want to abolish private property, but property itself! As Chesterton related, “[S]ome Franciscans, invoking the authority of Francis on their side, went further than this and further I think than anybody else has ever gone. They proposed to abolish not only private property but property.” (Ibid., 173.)
These “Fraticelli” (“Little Brothers”) went so far as to declare that property (private or otherwise) was not, in fact, good at all, or part of human nature. Rather, they insisted that property is actually something evil, although permitted as an expedient on account of man’s sinfulness.
|Private property in capital is good, not evil.
Abolishing private property — or property entirely — is not something that should be forced on others as the socialists insist. In so doing, they effectively create the new religion that calls itself “Christianity,” but is anything but, and that Chesterton criticized.
Nor was Chesterton the only one to make such a claim. We have no idea how familiar Chesterton was with the writings of Orestes A. Brownson (we’re pretty certain they never met, as Chesterton was two years old when Brownson died, and in another country), or even if G.K. had any familiarity at all, but it doesn’t matter. In 1849, three-quarters of a century before Chesterton wrote of the followers of St. Francis inventing a new religion, Brownson related how the socialists did the same thing. As he said,
|Brownson: socialism deceptive by its very nature.
And if anyone wonders how something so obviously contrary to what common sense teaches can spread so rapidly and gain adherents of such fanatical devotion, Brownson could have explained it in one word: flattery. By the simple expedient of telling people what they want to hear, and making them feel more virtuous than those sordid souls who focus their attention on things other than the lot of the poor, socialists are able to pull the wool over the eyes of even the most intelligent and devout.
To maintain the ovine imagery, by cloaking their activities with Christian language, and hijacking people like St. Francis of Assisi to serve ends directly at odds with the message Il Poverello and others tried to convey, socialists become “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” They have thereby managed to make tremendous inroads into otherwise orthodox Christian thought. As Brownson continued,
|Socialism is a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Perhaps the most astounding thing of all, however, is the fact that a significant number of Chesterton’s modern followers appear to have fallen victim to this predator in the fold. For example, the Fabian Society openly declares that its chief tactic is to infiltrate and transform organized religion — and has adopted the wolf in sheep’s clothing as the badge of the Society. Nevertheless, some of today’s Chestertonians and distributists can be found not merely reading and studying the works of socialists such as Henry George, Arthur Penty, Major Douglas, R.H. Tawney, E.F. Schumacher, and others (including Karl Marx), but advocating the thought of these writers as consistent with Catholic social teaching!
It’s enough to make one wonder. . . .#30#