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THE Global Justice Movement Website
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Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Socialist Counterattack

In the previous posting on this subject we saw that Pope Lei XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum knocked both capitalists and socialists for a loop.  It was not long, however, before both groups had figured out ways to keep on doing what they were already doing and claim papal endorsement.  Of the two, however, the socialists took the initiative, as they were the ones most obviously targeted.


Socialists, at first taken aback, quickly regrouped and developed two responses.  First was to go on the attack and claim that the pope did not understand true socialism and the tenets of the Democratic Religion.

That was the approach of Henry George.  Taking Rerum Novarum as a condemnation of him and his theories and a personal affront, he responded in kind.  He published an open letter twice the length of the encyclical itself asserting that Leo XIII did not understand Catholic social teaching. (Henry George, The Condition of Labor: An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII. New York: Doubleday & McClure Co., 1891.)

Henry George


Second was to claim that Rerum Novarum was in reality the manifesto of the New Christianity.  This was the approach taken by Marie-Eugène-Melchior, vicomte de Vogüé, the de facto leader of the New Christian movement.  He declared the encyclical validated everything the socialists and modernists had demanded from the beginning. (Vicomte Eugène Melchior de Vogüé, “The Neo-Christian Movement in France,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, January 1892.  See also Aline Gorren, “The Moral Revival in France,” The Atlantic Monthly, September 1893, Lillian Parker Wallace, Leo XIII and the Rise of Socialism.  Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1966, and similar works justifying socialism as consistent with Catholic doctrine.)

De Vogüé’s other socialists and modernists reinterpretation of natural law is the source of the idea that moderate socialism (or capitalism) and Catholic social teaching are merely different names for the same thing.  Combined with other aspects of modernism, it popularized what G.K. Chesterton would call “the Double Mind of Man.” (G.K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox”.  New York: Image Books, 1956, 92-93.)

G.K. Chesterton


In this way, Catholic social teaching became separated from reality.  The Church was torn between those who saw its mission as purely spiritual, those who interpreted it as exclusively temporal, those who tried to resolve presumed contradictions by ignoring them, and those who saw — or claimed to see — no contradiction in contradiction, trying to believe and disbelieve at the same time as reality and their faith came into conflict.

The wage system common to both capitalism and socialism cemented contradiction and separation from reality into social thought.  By reinterpreting Rerum Novarum as “the living wage encyclical,” capitalists and socialists of all types and degrees effectively cut the great mass of people off from the opportunity and means to participate fully in economic life.

Marie-Eugène-Melchior, vicomte de Vogüé


Inevitably, the socialist dogma that the wage and welfare system must be the primary means by which people meet their material needs also influenced most people’s degree of participation in civil, domestic and even religious life.  This separated the means of existence from the reason for existence.  Reflecting the total focus of the Democratic Religion on material betterment, work became solely a way to meet consumption needs, not an essential part of human personal development. (Cf. Laborem Exercens.)

Family life — including education — became centered on employment and income, weakening family bonds.  Religious faith also deteriorated as people realized (often unconsciously) that there were profound conflicts between what they heard from modernist clergy and intellectuals, both capitalist and socialist, and the realities of everyday life.

St. John Henry Newman


The idea spread that being a “good Catholic” means rejecting orthodoxy based on reason and accepting modernism based on faith alone.  Those who were confused by this or objected were labeled heretics and dissenters, even “traitors to Christ.”

It is true that most people had always relied on faith instead of reason in religion, but there had always been the solid foundation of reason to back them up.  This was why the popes had used reason, especially the philosophy of Aquinas, as the first line of defense against modernism and socialism.  It was why people like Newman, Benson, Chesterton and Sheen kept insisting that faith and reason — common sense — must never contradict one another.

Fr. Edward McGlynn


McGlynn’s response was thus more typical than it might appear at first glance, perhaps explaining why he is still regarded in certain circles as something of a modernist prophet or saint, and certainly a martyr.  (Rt. Rev. Msgr. John A. Ryan, D.D., L.L.D., Litt.D., Social Doctrine in Action: A Personal History.  New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1941, 20.) He shifted his position constantly from one extreme to another (“Mr. M’Glynn Refuses to Comply,” The Hartford Weekly Times, November 29, 1891, 3; “Still a Single Tax Man: Dr. McGlynn Reiterates the Views that Unfrocked Him,” The Day, January 2, 1893, 1; “Dr. McGlynn and His Hostility to Tammany Hall Reported to Have Been the Secret of Archbishop Corrigan’s Hostility to the Doctor,” The Lewiston Evening Journal, January 19, 1893, 1, 7.), eventually taking de Vogüé’s stance that Rerum Novarum advocates non-Marxist, Neo-Catholic socialism. (Rev. E. Cahill, S.J., The Framework of a Christian State.  Dublin, Éire: M.H. Gill and Son, Ltd., 1932, 301-306, 534-535; Wallace, Leo XIII and the Rise of Socialism, op. cit., 183-184.)

Abp. Michael Corrigan


As a result, a third condition was added for McGlynn’s reinstatement, to accept Rerum Novarum in its true sense without reservation.  This increased the pressure to reconcile him to the Church as soon as possible. (Michael A. Corrigan, Private Record of the Case of Rev. Edward McGlynn, ms. cir. 1895, 417-418; “McGlynn Assails Parochial Schools at New York,” Meriden Daily Republican, December 19, 1892, 3.)

Eventually, amid great bombast and misdirection, McGlynn met the conditions, and was reconciled to the Church.  (“M’Glynn Makes His Peace: The Noted Recalcitrant Priest Has His Authority Restored,” Aurora Daily Express, December 24, 1892; “United States Nuncio: Monsignor Satolli Made Permanent Delegate,” Baltimore Sunday Herald, January 15, 1893, 1; “Dr. McGlynn Sails Out on the Stormy Atlantic and is Given a Rousing Reception in Which Archbishop Corrigan is Hissed,” Lewiston Evening Journal, February 9, 1893, 6.)  Explicitly adjuring socialism was not one of the requirements, however, except by implication in accepting  Rerum Novarum, which modernists and socialists like McGlynn did with mental reservations.  This was revealed in McGlynn’s own account of his interview with Leo XIII in which he equivocated by giving evasive answers to the pope’s direct questions. (Stephen Bell, Rebel, Priest and Prophet: A Biography of Dr. Edward McGlynn.  New York: The Devin-Adair Company, 1937, 249-251.) and Archbishop Corrigan refused to give him an assignment. (“Archdiocese to be Divided,” Argus Daily News, July 3, 1893, 1; Bell, Rebel, Priest and Prophet, op. cit., 251-254.)

Pope Leo XIII


Finally, however, McGlynn publicly repudiated George’s doctrines and immediately received a parish. (“Parish for M’Glynn: He Recants and Will Soon Be Completely Forgiven,” Meriden Daily Republican, December 19, 1894, 3; “Surprise to Catholics: Dr. Edward M’Glynn Has Made a Complete Recantation,” New Haven Journal-Courier, December 19, 1894, 4.) He then issued statements to the effect that he both had, and had not, recanted. (“M’Glynn’s Restoration: Rev. Dr. Burtsell Makes a Statement Regarding the Matter,” Indianapolis Journal, December 21, 1894, 1; cf. Alexandria Gazette and Advertiser, December 20, 1894, 2; Boston Evening Transcript, December 24, 1894, 4; “Dr. M’Glynn in His New Parish,” The New York Sun, January 7, 1895, 7; “Dr. McGlynn Indorses George,” The New York Times, October 28, 1897.) On his deathbed, McGlynn dictated a letter in which he implied he had deliberately deceived the pope and Corrigan.  (Sylvester L. Malone, Dr. Edward McGlynn.  New York: Dr. McGlynn Monument Association, 1918, 53.)

Nor was that the end of the story, as we will see in the next posting on this subject.