In the previous posting on this subject, we looked at the circumstances that resulted in the first social encyclical, Mirari Vos, in 1832. It turns out that Pope Gregory XVI condemned the Polish November Uprising of 1830-1831 because it was taken over by the socialists and a forged encyclical had been circulated calling on people to rise up and destroy the Church and abolish private property.
This outraged l’Abbe Félicité de Lamennais. This is because de Lamennais did not differentiate between legitimate democracy that recognized the sovereignty of the human person, as was found in the United States at that time (excepting slavery and the treatment of native peoples), and the collectivist, “French” type of democracy that characterized his own theories and that of the revolutionaries in Poland. Gregory XVI then issued Mirari Vos that condemned socialism under the heading of “novelties” that had led to the Uprising and which formed the basis of de Lamennais’s theory of certitude.
De Lamennais at first submitted, but wrote letters expressing his true feelings, one of which was made public by the recipient. Gregory demanded that de Lamennais submit again in writing, which he did. Within hours, however, de Lamennais changed his mind. He repudiated his priesthood, renounced Christianity, and eventually declared himself the prophet of a new Religion of Humanity.
|Pope Gregory XVI|
Given de Lamennais’s “theory of certitude” that the pope speaks infallibly on virtually everything, his rejection of papal authority may at first seem inexplicable. It makes perfect sense within a modernist framework, however, which permits contradictions as long as they agree with one’s own opinion.
If the infallible pope rejects his own infallibility, then — obviously — he could not have been infallible in the first place. The only truly infallible thing is the faith one has in one’s own opinion, even if that opinion changes.
Thus, in modernism, truth changes as opinions change, depending on whatever one believes in. It is not any particular doctrine that matters, but one’s belief in it. Modernism does not consist of any specific body of doctrine, but of an understanding of truth itself as changeable; the only absolute is that there are no absolutes.
In May 1834, De Lamennais published Les Paroles d’un Croyant, “Words of a Believer.” Translated into many languages, in apocalyptic terms the pamphlet condemned a conspiracy of kings and priests against the people. It sold tens of thousands of copies.
|Félicité de Lamennais|
In response, Gregory XVI issued the second social encyclical, Singulari Nos, “On the Errors of Lamennais.” The pope condemned Les Paroles d’un Croyant as “small in size, [but] enormous in wickedness.” (Singulari Nos, § 2.) He specifically warned the hierarchy to be on guard against modernist ideas — rerum novarum, “new things” (ibid., § 8.) — that undermine truth, replace God with man, and justify socialism.
Continuing his efforts to counter the new things, Gregory XVI sponsored the Thomist revival. He thereby established sound philosophy and natural law as the principal weapons against socialism and modernism. He also encouraged the work of Monsignor Luigi Aloysius Taparelli d’Azeglio, S.J.
In the late 1830s Taparelli, a leader in the Thomist revival, developed the idea of “social justice” as a specific, identifiable principle, although not a particular virtue. (A. Taparelli, Saggio Teorico di Diritto Naturale (1845); cf. Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., The Act of Social Justice. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1942, ©1943, 83.) He intended this as an alternative to the socialist democratic religion and Neo-Platonism of the socialists, particularly de Lamennais. By the 1830s the term had been used to mean many things, and the socialists were starting to use it to describe redistribution of existing wealth.
|Msgr. Aloysius Taparelli, S.J.|
Taparelli conceived social justice as a guiding principle to reform human institutions. The idea was to bring institutions into conformity with the demands of individual human nature and the common good as a whole, bringing people together in solidarity. In Taparelli’s thought all things, even (or especially) social improvement and the general welfare, must be subordinate to the natural law as understood in Aristotelian-Thomism and to the Magisterium of the Church.
There are thus absolutes — natural rights inhering in each human person, such as life, liberty, and private property — that must remain sacred and inviolate, regardless of the needs of individuals or society as a whole. Taparelli’s principle of social justice went no further than that. He does not appear to have construed it as a virtue in its own right. What he developed was not in that sense a true social ethics, but individual ethics with a good intention toward the common good. (Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., Introduction to Social Justice. New York: Paulist Press, 1948, 10.)
Unfortunately, as social conditions worsened, people wanted results, not rarified and highly technical theories that, while diagnosing the problem accurately, did nothing to offer a solution to poverty, social alienation, and injustice. Even Gregory XVI’s attempt in 1839 to correct the horror of slavery in the United States, In Supremo Apostolatus (“On the Slave Trade”), was dismissed as irrelevant or ineffectual theorizing. (See Rev. Joel S. Panzer, The Popes and Slavery. New York: Alba House, 1996.)
Things were apparently quickly going from bad to worse.