While not the most immediate challenge facing people today, confusion over Catholic social teaching has, as Pope Pius XI put it, “given rise to controversies that are not always peaceful.” If only to resolve these disputes rationally it will be useful to explore how Catholic social teaching developed.
|Pius XI: controversies not always peaceful|
After all, this is not really a “religious” issue, and the Catholic Church’s social teachings are more fully developed than those of other faiths and philosophies.
It began in the aftermath of the Financial, Industrial, and French Revolutions.
Although the Bank of England was established in 1694 to provide private sector industry, commerce, and agriculture with enough credit to keep the economy running smoothly, the Bank was forced to accept government debt to back its reserve currency instead of gold, silver, or private sector assets such as land or businesses . . . or it would not have gotten its charter. This Financial Revolution not only allowed the government to turn its own debt into money and thereby control the economy for political purposes, it ensured that only the rich would be able to finance and own the new machinery of the Industrial Revolution.
Because they did not have existing savings and could not obtain credit to purchase the new machinery that took away their means of making a living, many people were forced to go to work in the new factories as wage workers. As technology became more productive, human labor became economically less valuable and wages went lower and lower. Having no capital of their own, not even a tiny plot of land, dire poverty became the rule for workers and their families.
|Leo XIII: a yoke little better than slavery|
People who do not own capital and who have only labor to sell when the economic value of labor falls in competition with capital are not able to participate in society to any significant degree, and sometimes not at all. As a result, as Pope Leo XIII said, “a small number of very rich men were able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.”
The reaction was not long in coming. A bad old idea was given a new lease on life. Sometimes called “the Divine Right of Kings,” this is the belief that the State or rulers created or instituted by people are somehow greater than people created by God. This offends against human dignity at the most basic level and contradicts the natural law principle that the State is made for man, not man for the State.
As the overriding principle of the French Revolution, the idea that humanity as a whole is greater than any individual human being became the basis for modern economic and political theory. It became acceptable to punish, imprison, or even execute people who had committed no crime but who had the wrong opinions, were a financial burden or might become one, or were simply inconvenient.
|Waterloo, where Napoléon met his, er, Waterloo|
Nor did matters improve after the fall of Napoléon. Economically, politically, and religiously the world was in chaos. In an effort to correct the problems of society, some people began developing new ideas of politics, religion, and even the family to replace traditional forms of Church and State.
The movement did not have a name until 1825, when Henri de Saint-Simon’s posthumous book was published, Le Nouveau Christianisme, “The New Christianity.” Saint-Simon’s ideas and those of others combining Church, State, and Family into a single monolithic entity became known as “the Democratic Religion” or “the Religion of Humanity.”
A decade later Pierre Leroux, one of Saint-Simon’s followers and member of “the Church of Saint-Simon” invented another term: “socialism.” By 1848, the terms communism and socialism were interchangeable, although Karl Marx and others tried to restrict the term communism to “scientific socialism,” meaning socialism untainted by religion.
|Saint-Simon: the Kingdom of God on Earth|
Saint-Simon’s idea was simple. Everything was to come under the collective and the government was to have absolute control over Church, State, Family, and individuals. Traditional Christianity had been useful in its day, but that day was over. Collective Man would replace God. Jesus was the first socialist, a human being with special insights who realized he was a part of the God-collective.
The whole of society, construed as exclusively economic in nature, would be devoted to material improvement, with special emphasis on the poor, regardless of natural law or traditional notions of right and wrong. The end justified the means. This would establish “the Kingdom of God on Earth” in which man would worship himself, what G.K. Chesterton called “the God Within.”
Nor was Saint-Simon alone. Among many others promoting schemes for political and religious betterment was fellow Frenchman Charles Fourier, whose “Associationism” became very popular in the United States, converting many people to socialism. These included newspaperman Horace Greeley and Orestes Brownson before Brownson converted to Catholicism and became a determined foe of all forms of socialism.
Brownson condemned all socialism as a satanic travesty of Christianity. As he said, “Surely Satan has here, in Socialism, done his best, almost outdone himself, and would, if it were possible, deceive the very elect, so that no flesh should be saved.”
|De Lamennais: bidding defiance to God|
Perhaps the worst from the Catholic view, however, was the “tormented, headstrong Breton priest” Hugues-Félicité Robert de Lamennais, who, Alexis de Tocqueville said, “had a pride great enough to walk over the heads of kings and bid defiance to God.”
Ironically, de Lamennais, considered the founder of liberal or social Catholicism, started out defending the Church against governments that wanted to separate the Church from society so that the State could control religious affairs. His solution, however, was to separate the State from society so that the Church could control civil affairs.
Given these details, it becomes easy to understand why the Catholic Church condemns “separation of Church and State.” As used by the radicals of the early nineteenth century, it did not mean that Church and State are recognized as distinct societies, each with its own legitimate sphere of action, sometimes alone and sometimes cooperating with each other. That has been Catholic teaching for two thousand years: “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” etc.
No, “separation of Church and State” as used by the radicals meant that either the Church or the State was to be separated entirely from the social order and its functions assumed by the other. It was a case of “Church OR State,” not “Church AND State.”#30#