In the previous posting on this subject, we noted that the Catholic Church’s so-called “Living (or Just) Wage Doctrine” of Msgr. John A. Ryan (or anyone else) is not exactly, er, kosher. There is, of course, a “Living (or Just) Wage Discipline,” but not a doctrine. You see, a doctrine is an unchanging principle, while a discipline is a changeable application of a doctrine.
That Catholic teaching on the just wage is a discipline and not a doctrine should be painfully obvious just from the way it is presented. To begin, of course, there is no clear definition of what constitutes a “just wage” in any and all circumstances, or at all (unless you, as we do, go with "what is set by the free market" . . . but that is not something you can set in advance). True, it is constantly reiterated in the social encyclicals and elsewhere that workers should be paid enough to meet common domestic needs adequately, or words to that effect . . . but what does that mean? It sounds more like a general guideline — which is what a discipline calls for — and not a specific prescription or definition, which is what a doctrine requires.
For example, paragraphs 63 through 75 of Quadragesimo Anno go into the problem of determining what constitutes a just wage in different circumstances at some length — and even when paying a just wage is not required! — which rather gives the impression that there is no doctrine for the just wage, but that the whole concept of the just wage varies depending on circumstances . . . which means that it’s a discipline, not a hard-and-fast doctrine. That means it’s okay to disagree with a particular application, as long as you don’t disagree with the underlying principle . . . which (to the best of our knowledge) we’ve never done.
|Msgr. John A. Ryan|
So, who was this guy Msgr. Ryan, and how did a Catholic priest who espoused socialist, modernist, and New Age doctrines (not mere disciplines) manage to get himself touted as a leading advocate of social justice? As far as we can tell, it had to do with the decay of education in general, and Catholic education in particular in the face of the onslaught of the new things of socialism, modernism, and the New Age. Msgr. Ryan was thereby able to use his position at the Catholic University of America as a bully pulpit (literally) to ram his innovative doctrines down the throat of generations of Catholic clergy and intellectuals . . . and God help you if you stood in his way or annoyed him.
Possibly due to his bestselling book, A Living Wage (1906), which gave him a certain notoriety as the result of the author’s skill in telling people what they wanted to hear, Msgr. Ryan joined the faculty of the Catholic University of America in 1915 as a professor of Political Science. His advancement was rapid, becoming professor of Moral Theology in 1916, the same year he published Distributive Justice, the book he considered his magnum opus.
|Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan|
It may have been after a warning from the Rector, Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan (1857-1932), that Ryan ostensibly distanced himself from the theories of the agrarian socialist Henry George. Shahan had been one of the examiners in the case of the notorious renegade priest, Father Edward McGlynn, associate of George, who was excommunicated for disobedience but whom Msgr. Ryan greatly admired. The other examiners in the McGlynn case were Rev. Dr. Thomas Bouquillon (1840-1902), Rev. Dr. Thomas O’Gorman (1843-1921), and Rev. Dr. Charles P. Grannan (1846-1924).
Three years following the advent of Msgr. Ryan, the quality of the theology and philosophy taught at Catholic University under his leadership in the School of Sacred Sciences had deteriorated to the point that the other faculty were aware something was seriously wrong. The situation was so bad that in 1921 Fulton Sheen expressed doubts about the curriculum.
Sheen was then in the second year of a three-year program at Catholic University after having been ordained in 1919 and receiving his degree in canon law in 1920. (“Honors Bestowed by Catholic U.,” The Washington Evening Star, June 16, 1920, 2.) He had been awarded a scholarship in 1917 by the Knights of Columbus (“Young Men Awarded Courses in College,” The Washington Herald, September 4, 1917, 10), but had gone to the seminary instead (Fulton J. Sheen, Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1979, 31-32). As Sheen described his situation,
I felt that I did not have a sufficiently good education to merit the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. I confided my worries to one of the professors, who said: “What would you like to have in education?” I said: “I should like to know two things — first, what the modern world is thinking about; second, how to answer the errors of modern philosophy in the light of the philosophy of St. Thomas.” He said: “You will never get it here, but you will get it at the University of Louvain in Belgium.” (Ibid., 23.)
|Msgr. Ronald Knox|
To the annoyance of Ryan, who appears to have taken Sheen‘s action as a personal insult or attack, Sheen transferred to the Louvain. As the Belgian university did not have a residency requirement, Sheen taught theology in England at St. Edmund’s College, Ware. There he worked with Msgr. Ronald Knox and Father John Peter Arendzen (1873-1954) and became acquainted with G.K. Chesterton.
|G.K. Chesterton (The English Sheen)|
From Knox and Chesterton, both of whom came to Catholicism via the Church of England, the young American priest acquired a unique, converts’ perspective on socialist, modernist, and New Age thought and how it threatened the Catholic Church as it had undermined the Anglican communion. These views found their way into Sheen’s doctoral thesis, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy (1925), on a subject that may have been personally suggested by Pius XI. Possibly significantly (and possibly not!), Chesterton contributed the introduction to Sheen’s book when it was published for the general market. Sheen took his degree “With Very Highest Distinction,” and was offered two teaching positions at prestigious institutions.
Sheen‘s bishop, Edmund Michael Dunne (1864-1929) of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, however, ordered him home and assigned him to a parish for a year. At the end of the year, Sheen‘s bishop called him in and assigned him to the Catholic University of America where he was to teach graduate courses in theology under Ryan. (“Catholic U. Notes Big Enrollment,” Washington Sunday Star, September 5, 1926, 15.)
And, as we will see in the next posting on this subject, that was the beginning of Fulton Sheen’s “time of great trial,” as he termed it in his Life of Christ.