Many people today assume that Pope Leo XIII’s groundbreaking 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, “On Capital and Labor,” was the first social encyclical, and that the pope was addressing matters that had recently come to his attention. On looking into it, however, it becomes evident that Rerum Novarum — Latin for “new things” — was not the first social encyclical, and the “new things” to which Leo referred had been a serious problem for at least three quarters of a century before Rerum Novarum was issued.
|Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum not the first|
The “new things” were socialism, modernism, and what became known as the New Age. Together these were called “the democratic religion,” “the New Christianity,” “Neo-Catholicism,” and a host of other names, all intended to replace traditional religion and politics and establish “the Kingdom of God on Earth.”
Socialism, which changes the natural law, is the philosophy of the New Christianity. Modernism, the belief that Christian doctrine has to adapt its doctrines to a changing world, is its theology. In practical terms, socialism and modernism consist of whatever is believed necessary to gain the desired ends, which thereby justifies the means.
The New Age is what socialism and modernism evolved into once they cut themselves off from traditional Christianity. New Age thought often included spiritualism and esoteric philosophy, even Satanism.
To make socialism work, traditional philosophy and theology had to be rejected and natural rights such as life, liberty, and especially private property had to be redefined. Sovereignty could then be taken away from actual human beings created by God and given to the abstract concept of humanity created by people. In socialism, Collective Man became greater than God.
|Abram Stevens Hewitt|
This was the situation Leo XIII faced when he succeeded Pius IX in 1878. Although his first three encyclicals condemned the new things and declared the primacy of reason as the foundation of faith, nothing seemed to work.
Then came the New York City mayoral campaign of 1886.
It was an unusual campaign even for New York. In the wake of the regime of Boss Tweed, Democratic Tammany Hall ran a reform candidate, Abram Stevens Hewitt. Republicans, not expecting to win, ran a candidate recently returned from ranching in the west, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
The United Labor Party ran the agrarian socialist Henry George, the author of Progress and Poverty, one of the most influential socialist works published in the United States in the nineteenth century. George was supported by Father Edward McGlynn, a Catholic priest who had been reprimanded several times by the Vatican. McGlynn was notorious for his dissent from Church teachings, rejection of authority, and advocacy of socialism.
Not wanting to harm George’s chances for election, McGlynn kept silent during the campaign. To counter George’s claims that his brand of socialism was compatible with Catholic teaching and his promise to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth if he won, Tammany Hall asked the New York Archdiocese for and received a condemnation of George’s socialist program, but it had no effect on the election. Hewitt won the election because to prevent George from winning, the Republican leadership told their people to vote for Hewitt instead of for Roosevelt.
During the election, George claimed he had the endorsement of Bishop Thomas Nulty of County Meath, Ireland, and Cardinal Manning of England. After the election it came out that Nulty had repudiated any connection with George years before, and Manning wrote two open letters to New York newspapers calling George a liar. Archbishop Corrigan of New York published a pastoral letter quoting Leo XIII’s condemnation of socialism, but not mentioning either George or McGlynn by name.
George blamed the Catholic Church for his defeat and also alleged there had been massive voter fraud in what even Horace Greeley said was one of the cleanest campaigns ever run in New York. George and McGlynn began making speeches attacking the Catholic Church.
|Archbishop Michael Corrigan|
Archbishop Corrigan suspended McGlynn from his pastoral duties, which McGlynn declared was illegal because he had not been permitted to present his case to the Vatican. He was then summoned to the Vatican to explain his position.
George, however, persuaded McGlynn not to go to Rome on the grounds that the Church was violating his rights as an American by demanding that he not teach anything contrary to Catholic doctrine, and that he, George, a non-Catholic, knew Catholic doctrine better than the pope. George also insinuated that Leo XIII, the last pope to have held public office as civil governor of Benevento and then Perugia after a term as ambassador to Belgium (and who did an exemplary job in all three positions) did not understand politics.
The argument dragged on for months, making headlines around the world. McGlynn was repeatedly ordered to the Vatican to explain his views on George’s proposals, but consistently refused, inventing excuses and changing his story a number of times. Finally, in May 1887, Leo XIII personally commanded McGlynn to appear in Rome within forty days or be excommunicated for disobedience.
Despite George’s and McGlynn’s constant complaints that Leo XIII did not understand the situation in the United States, the pope had obviously been keeping a close eye on the matter as events unfolded. An experienced statesman who before his election to the papacy had spent decades dealing with some of the most Machiavellian and underhanded politicians of the nineteenth century, Leo XIII was not taken in by the bombast and grandstanding of two amateurs like George and McGlynn.
|Father Edward McGlynn|
It became evident as early as December 1886 that the pope was taking the American situation very seriously, indeed. Rumors began circulating that Leo XIII was planning to issue some kind of statement addressing George’s denial of the natural right of individuals to own land. As Bishop McQuaid of Rochester, New York wrote in January 1887 to Archbishop Corrigan, “The Holy Father will probably issue a dogmatic decision on the question.”
Although he claimed he was unable to travel, McGlynn took a trip to Minnesota in early July 1887, avoiding delivery of the registered letter notifying him of his excommunication. After returning to New York, he claimed he had not been legally excommunicated because he had not received the letter.
After publishing an article in the North American Review in which he attacked the Catholic school system and accused the pope of violating the rights of free Americans, McGlynn faded from the limelight. By October 1887 he was rarely mentioned in the newspapers. George’s newsworthiness had fallen rapidly earlier in June 1887 when he publicly attacked William O’Brien of the Irish National Land League for not supporting him.
The fact remained, however, that socialism and modernism under the names of the New Christianity or Neo-Catholicism had to be dealt with — and they were, as we will see in the next posting on this subject.