In the previous posting on this subject, we looked at how a social encyclical should be read. That, however, was not the point we set out to make, but an introduction to the main point. We just wanted to be sure that our faithful readers understood that when we talk about a “social encyclical,” they know what we are talking about: a document on a natural law teaching that, while it may be expressed in religious terms, applies to the whole of society, not just Catholics.
|"The Dignity of the Human Person"|
After all, the natural law is “written in the heart” of every single human being, which (after an extremely long explanation and argument we won’t give here) means that all human beings are fully human, are human in the same way, and all are equally “persons.” This is because in Catholic social teaching, it is the dignity of the human person that is paramount, not the dignity of the State or some élite group.
And that brings us to the subject of today’s blog: the occasion of the first “social encyclical.”
To begin with, the first social encyclical was not Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum in 1891. Once you understand where Rerum Novarum came from, you will understand why the adherents of the “new things” of which it spoke were so anxious to turn it to their own purposes or, failing that, to neutralize it completely. In many respects, they’ve actually managed to do both.
The story of the first social encyclical goes back to the partitioning of Poland in 1772, 1792, and 1794. These are known, respectively, as the First, Second, and Third Partitions of Poland (obviously), when Russia, Prussia, and Austria (it wouldn’t be Austria-Hungary for another half century) divided up the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth amongst themselves, erasing Poland from the map.
Poland had a brief reincarnation as a de facto French puppet state known as the Duchy of Warsaw during the Napoleonic Wars, but that was brought to an end during the 1814-1815 Congress of Vienna when the French diplomat Talleyrand brokered a deal with Austria and Great Britain to declare war on Prussia and Russia if Prussia seized all of Saxony and Russia grabbed most of Poland. Poland was tossed to the wolves and divided between Austria, Prussia, and Russia in such a way as to keep Poland too weak to rebel effectively, but also not let Prussia or Russia gain more power. (Prussia also got half of Saxony, a French ally.)
And now it gets complicated. Because Poland’s intellectuals had ties to France, the rise of what would become known as socialism quickly infiltrated Polish circles. The “Democratic Religion,” as socialism was originally called, was based on a program calling for the abolition of private property, of marriage and family, and the existing political order. Additionally, especially in France, there was a demand for the abolition or reinvention of organized religion, especially Catholicism. This was transmitted to the Polish intellectuals, but probably due to the staunch religious beliefs of the ordinary people of Poland, whether Lutheran, Orthodox, or Catholic, except in a few instances the anti-religious aspect was toned down, although never entirely removed.
|Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich|
Another complicating factor is that by far the greater number of disaffected Poles, especially in the military and among the business people, were politically and religiously conservative. Unfortunately, the intellectuals seized center stage and were far more vocal in airing their views, giving a definite socialist air to the nationalist movement.
Leaping over an enormous number of details that would be edifying and educational if we had the room for them, in November of 1830 as the result of months of plotting by various groups in the country formerly known as Poland, there was a riot by malcontents who went about lynching Russians and Polish sympathizers during a failed attempt to assassinate Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich (1779-1831). The coup, which failed, eventually escalated into reprisals that ended any pretense of Polish autonomy.
On June 9, 1832 Pope Gregory XVI issued the encyclical Cum Primum (“On Civil Obedience”) condemning the uprising, and on August 15, 1832, issued the first social encyclical, Mirari Vos, “On Liberalism and Religious Indifferentism.” History has thus written off Gregory XVI as a reactionary, the enemy of liberal democracy.
|Pope Gregory XVI|
There is a bit more to the story than that. First, the nationalist movement in Poland was almost exclusively based on the French model of liberal democracy. That is, the collective is sovereign, not the human person. This is the philosophical basis for socialism, known at this time as “the Democratic Religion.” Polish nationalism was at this time a socialist movement.
Many people today assume as a given that socialism rose in reaction against capitalism. While it is true that capitalism did indeed help create the conditions that led to the development of socialism, socialism was first “sold” not as a replacement for capitalism, but for Christianity, specifically Catholicism. The Catholic Church. kings, and aristocrats were viewed as the enemies of the people.
Most of the publicists and promoters of the November Uprising had spent time in France, with a number of key individuals joining the “Church of Saint-Simon,” a “New Christian” organization that engaged in activities of questionable morality and advocated the abolition of private property, marriage and family, and organized religion, with special emphasis on the Catholic Church. Soon after this the Saint-Simonians split, one group continuing to promote socialism and what they viewed as political reform, while the other group got into esotericism, worshipping the Mother Spirit and going on quests in search of the Mother Goddess and similar occult goals.
Before that, however, people like Ludwik Królikowski (1799-1879) had established newspapers and written articles and pamphlets extolling the November Uprising as the first battle of the socialist revolution that was to destroy all popes, priests, kings, aristocrats, and anybody else who got in the way. True to form, Królikowski later got involved in the occult as well as socialism.
That was bad enough, but what really called forth the pope’s condemnation — required it, actually — was the issuance of a forged encyclical in Gregory’s name by a renegade priest, Fr. Piotr Wojciech Ściegienny (1801-1890). This presumed encyclical, titled Złota Książeczka (“The Golden Book”), told the people they had to accept slavery, poverty, hunger, cold, exploitation, and ignorance as the Will of God. Their oppressors were guilty of great sin for doing as they did.
At the same time, however, even though “the pope” condemned [unjust?] war, another war was coming, a just war, which “the pope” endorsed. This is because the just war would defend the lives and liberty of “the pope’s” fellow men, and would be waged to defend rights and work.
|Fr. Piotr Wojciech Ściegienny|
The just war to which “the pope” called the people would abolish serfdom, ecclesiastical rents, Church stipends and fees, and establish free schools for peasant children. This “final war” would be waged against kings, aristocrats, government workers, and some priests, no doubt a bit of insurance for Fr. Ściegienny and those of his brother priests of whom he approved.
Fr. Ściegienny’s plot was betrayed by one of its members, and Fr. Ściegienny was sentenced to death. A last minute reprieve commuted the sentence to a flogging and penal servitude for life. Other members of the conspiracy were given the choice of a thousand lashes or deportation to Siberia.
The problem was that many peasants accepted Złota Książeczka as authentic. It circulated for years afterwards and when Fr. Ściegienny was granted amnesty, the socialists hailed him as a great hero of the people.
The question is not why Pope Gregory XVI condemned the November Uprising, but why he was so mild in doing so:
“On Civil Obedience”
To All Archbishops and Bishops Dwelling in the Kingdom of Poland.
Venerable Brothers, Greetings and Apostolic Benediction.
When the first report of the calamities, which so seriously devastated your flourishing kingdom reached our ears, We learned simultaneously that they had been caused by some fabricators of deceit and lies. Under the pretext of religion, and revolting against the legitimate authority of the princes, they filled their fatherland, which they loosed from due obedience to authority, with mourning. We shed abundant tears at the feet of God, grieving over the harsh evil with which some of our flock was afflicted. Afterward We humbly prayed that God would enable your provinces, agitated by so many and so serious dissensions, to be restored to peace and to the rule of legitimate authority.
2. We were immediately eager to send an encyclical letter to you that you might understand that We too were oppressed by the weight of your troubles. We hoped to add some solace and strength to your pastoral solicitude by which you might apply yourselves with new and more ardent zeal to propagating sounder doctrines and to persuading your precious followers, both in the clergy and among the laity. That letter never reached you because of the troubles of the times; therefore, now that God has restored quiet and tranquility, We again open our heart to you. We hope to kindle your zeal and solicitude as much as We can with the help of God, so that you may diligently protect your flock from the true causes of your past troubles. Watch earnestly lest deceitful men and the promoters of novelties continue to spread erroneous doctrines and false dogmas in your flock. Using the pretext of the common good, as is their custom, they take advantage of the credulity of those who are naive and rash, so that they may have them as blind servants and supporters in disturbing the peace of the kingdom and in overturning the order of society.
3. Surely the fraud of these would-be teachers must be uncovered in clear words for the good and the instruction of the faithful. The fallacy of their thought must be refuted courageously everywhere with the words of divine scripture and the testimony of Church tradition. From these most pure fountains (from which the Catholic clergy ought to draw the plan of their lives and the material for their sermons to the people) We are taught most clearly that the obedience which men are obliged to render to the authorities established by God is an absolute precept which no one can violate, except if by chance something is commanded which runs counter to the laws of God or of the Church. “Let everyone” says the Apostle, “be subject to higher authorities, for there exists no authority except from God, and those who exist have been appointed by God. Therefore he who resists the authority resists the ordination of God . . . wherefore you must needs be subject not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience sake” (Rom 13.1,2,5). Similarly St. Peter (1 Pt 2.13) teaches all the faithful: “Be subject to every human creature for God’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to the governors sent through him . . .” for (he says) such is the will of God, that by doing good you would silence the ignorance of foolish men.” By observing these admonitions the first Christians, even during the persecutions, deserved well of the Roman emperors themselves and of the security of the state. “Christian soldiers,” says St. Augustine, “served an infidel emperor: when it came to the subject of Christ, they recognized no one except Him who is in heaven. They distinguished between the eternal Lord and the temporal lord, but also were subject to the temporal lord because of the eternal Lord” (St. Aug. On Ps 124).
4. The holy Fathers have always taught this doctrine. The Catholic Church has taught it and continues to teach it. Having been taught it, the first Christians lived and acted in such a manner that, although the crime of cowardice and desertion had contaminated the pagan army, it never contaminated the Christians. On this point Tertullian reports: “Concerning the majesty of the emperor, we Christians are brought into ill repute. Nevertheless, no Christians will be found among men like Albinus or Niger or Cassius. But among these very peoples, who recently had sworn by their gods, who had offered sacrifices for the safety of emperor and state, and who frequently condemned the Christians, enemies of the state have been found. No Christian is an enemy, certainly not of the emperor. Since we know that the emperor is appointed by God, it is necessary that he be loved and reverenced, and that we wish him well.” We understand that you know these things. We do not intend to say them as if we might be afraid that you would not propagate and disseminate sounder doctrine concerning the obedience which subjects must have for their legitimate prince. Nonetheless We have said them so that you may easily understand that We desire all clerics of your kingdom to shine forth in purity of doctrine, in splendor of knowledge, and in sanctity of life, that they may appear in the eyes and the judgment of all without blemish. In this manner, We hope everything will proceed more happily. Your emperor will act kindly toward you; at no time will he deny his patronage for the good of the Catholic religion and he will always listen patiently to your requests. Those who are wise will follow you with richly deserved praise, and those who are opposed will fear you, but will have nothing evil to say of Us. Meanwhile raising our hands to heaven, We pray God for you that he may enrich and fill each one of you more and more every day with an abundance of heavenly virtues. Having you always in our heart, We exhort you to complete our joy. Sharing the same love, may you also think alike, unanimously perceiving the same things. May all of you proclaim, as is fitting, sound doctrine and sound words; preserve that which was entrusted to you and stand as one, united in the spirit, working together for the faith. Finally pray to God for us without ceasing. We impart most lovingly the Apostolic Benediction to you and to the flock committed to you as a pledge of paternal charity.
Given in Rome, at St. Peter’s, June 9, 1832, the second year of Our Pontificate.