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THE Global Justice Movement Website
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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

What, Then, Does Cardinal Ratzinger Mean?

Back in 1864, the Reverend Charles Kingsley, considered a leader in the Christian socialist movement, a modernist, and a proponent of what he called “Muscular Christianity” (and others called “Sanctimonious Obnoxious Religious Bullying”), accused Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman of both lying and promoting lying as a virtue . . . based on some rather distorted (to put it mildly) versions of Newman’s sermons as a Protestant and one or two false allegations and accusations.
Charles Kingsley, Christian Socialist
One or two. . . such as the pamphlet What, Then, Does Dr. Newman Mean? in the 62 pages of which Newman found scores of factual errors, abysmal logic, and outright lies.  Newman’s response, his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, utterly devastated Kingsley’s accusations and turned the tables on Kingsley, who sought to destroy Newman’s reputation.
Today, of course, Christian socialism (as well as every other kind) is at high ebb and modernism has infiltrated every major Christian body, claiming to be the only true orthodoxy . . . which is the same claim made for over two centuries by adherents of socialism, modernism, and the New Age.  Chesterton may even have had Kingsley in mind when he said,
[A]pparently anything can be called Socialism, . . . If it means anything, it seems to mean Modernism; in the sociological as distinct from the theological sense.  In both senses, it is generally a euphemism for muddle-headedness. (G.K. Chesterton, “There Was a Socialist,” G.K.’s Weekly, May 10, 1930; cf. Ubi Arcano, § 61.)
That is why, as we saw in the previous posting on this subject, it comes as no surprise that socialists seem to find it easy to discover that prominent Christians — despite their stated views on socialism (and modernism) — were secretly endorsing socialism (as well as everything else others promote to reform Christianity into their own image and likeness)!
But is that what was really going on?  Did (for example) C.S. Lewis and Cardinal Ratzinger really approve of and endorse socialism, respectively?
Pope Benedict XVI (Cardinal Ratzinger)
As we saw in a previous posting, Lewis’s “approval” of socialism turned out to be something of a condemnation of it.  As for Ratzinger’s “endorsement,” it seemed more than a little weak as well as vague as an endorsement, viz.,
Let us return to the situation in Europe.  In the nineteenth century, the two models that I described above were joined by a third, socialism, which quickly split into two different branches, one totalitarian and the other democratic.  Democratic socialism managed to fit within the two existing models as a welcome counterweight to the radical liberal positions, which it developed and corrected.  It also managed to appeal to various religious denominations.  In England it became the political party of the Catholics, who had never felt quite at home among either the Protestant conservatives or the liberals.  In Wilhelmine Germany, too, Catholic groups felt closer to democratic socialism than to the rigidly Prussian and Protestant conservative forces.  In many respects, democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine, and has in any case made a remarkable contribution to the formation of a social consciousness. [Emphasis added.] (Joseph Ratzinger, Europe: Today and Tomorrow.  San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2004, 28.)
There are one or two points here regarding Ratzinger’s “endorsement” that warrant a closer look.  One, given the context, it is difficult to see how the expression “close to” could be construed as an endorsement of socialism of any kind.  Instead, Ratzinger explained that when socialism first appeared, (Ratzinger dated the origin of socialism from the first general use of the term in the late 1840s, although it was coined in in the early 1830s), it split into a totalitarian branch corresponding to European liberalism, and a democratic branch that did not quite correlate with English liberalism.
"No, distributism is NOT socialism."
Consequently, as Ratzinger related, European Catholics rejected both the “conservative” (elitist) liberalism on the English/Germanic model and French/European collectivist liberalism.  They turned instead to the democratic socialist model, which derives from English liberalism, as does capitalism.  (Interestingly, some authorities claim that both democratic socialism and democratic capitalism are what G.K. Chesterton meant by “distributism”!)
This, in the absence of the American alternative, appeared to hold the middle ground between totalitarian liberalism and its socialist counterpart in the form of Marxist communism, and elitist liberalism and its monopoly capitalist counterpart.  Democratic socialism was therefore the closest to Catholic teaching among the available alternatives in Europe where the American system did not operate.
As Ratzinger implied by contrasting the situation in the United States with that of Europe, however, democratic socialism and the alternatives are not Catholic teaching.  Democratic socialism not only does not tend to the good, but in Ratzinger’s opinion is part of the problem.
"We have never denied socialism has some truth."
Two, in his conclusion to his critique of Marxism a few pages after the cited passage, Ratzinger noted that “[t]he unresolved issue of Marxism lives on: the crumbling of man’s original uncertainties about God, himself, and the universe.”  He then declared,
[H]uman rights and human dignity should be presented as values that take precedence over the jurisdiction of any state.  Fundamental rights are neither created by the lawmaker nor granted to the citizen.  “But rather they exist in their own right and must always be respected by lawmakers, to whom they are given beforehand as values belonging to a higher order.” [Giovanna Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003, 88, 114-15.] The value of human dignity, which takes precedence over all political action and all political decision-making refers to the Creator: only He can establish values that are grounded in the essence of humankind and that are inviolable.  The existence of values that cannot be modified by anyone is the true guarantee of our freedom and of human greatness; in this fact, the Christian faith sees the mystery of the Creator and the condition of man, who was made in God’s image. (Ratzinger and Pera, Without Roots, op. cit., 74-75.)
"Similar and same identical? Hold my beer. . . ."
Since the fundamental principle of all forms of socialism is that the welfare of the abstraction of the people as a whole takes precedence over the needs, wants, desires, and even rights of any actual child, woman, or man, there is only one possible interpretation of Ratzinger’s statement.  That is, while socialism, democratic or otherwise, may contain much that is good and true, even to the extent of a certain similarity to Catholic social doctrine — “which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied” (Quadragesimo Anno, § 120) — it is essentially and irrevocably directly contrary to nature itself.
While it may therefore be correct to say that democratic socialism is close or similar to Catholic teaching, that is not to say that it is the same as Catholic teaching.  Just ask any theologian, Catholic or Orthodox, whether homoousios (of the same substance) and homoiousios (of similar substance) have identical meanings . . . and try to avoid getting punched in the mouth by Saint Nicholas of Myra!
"Socialism is a big error from which bigger errors grow."
A miss, in this case, is as good as a mile; theology and philosophy are neither horseshoes nor hand grenades.  As Chesterton noted,
[T]he strange history of Christendom [is] marked by one rather queer quality; which has always been the unique note of the Faith, though it is not noticed by its modern enemies, and rarely by its modern friends.  It is the fact symbolized in the legend of Antichrist, who was the double of Christ; in the profound proverb that the Devil is the ape of God.  It is the fact that falsehood is never so false as when it is very nearly true.  It is when the stab comes near the nerve of truth, that the Christian conscience cries out in pain. (G.K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas: The “Dumb Ox.” New York: Image Books, 1956, 91-92.)
It is, in fact, this very close resemblance, this aping of truth and the good, that allows socialism, democratic or otherwise, to ensnare the unwitting and the unthinking, as well as assist those who seek to manipulate the inevitable chaos to their own advantage.  As Orestes Augustus Brownson (1803-1876) explained,
"Socialism is as artful as it is bold."
[Socialism] is as artful as it is bold. It wears a pious aspect, it has divine words on its lips, and almost unction in its speech. It is not easy for the unlearned to detect its fallacy, and the great body of the people are prepared to receive it as Christian truth. We cannot deny it without seeming to them to be warring against the true interests of society, and also against the Gospel of our Lord. Never was heresy more subtle, more adroit, better fitted for success. How skillfully it flatters the people! It is said, the saints shall judge the world. By the change of a word, the people are transformed into saints, and invested with the saintly character and office. How adroitly, too, it appeals to the people’s envy and hatred of their superiors, and to their love of the world, without shocking their orthodoxy or wounding their piety! 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.  [Emphasis added.] (Orestes A. Brownson, Essays and Reviews, Chiefly on Theology, Politics, and Socialism.  New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co., 1852, 502.)
Inevitably what happens is that some believers attempt to reform their respective faiths or philosophies to embody the principles of socialism, rather than determine if socialism conforms to the teachings of their faiths or philosophies.  As “the people” (as distinct from actual human persons), not an absolute source of all creation (“God”), is the focus of socialism, this puts the creator of human beings on a lower plane than the human-made abstraction of the collective.  What results is a philosophy without principles or a de facto “religion without God” as Fulton John Sheen (1895-1979) described it in his doctoral thesis, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy (1925).