by Jeremiah C. Harrington
The thesis defended in this book is that the free development of Catholicism is the real cure for our social and industrial ills. We do think that the abuses of Capitalism are as dangerous as Socialism or Communism. The Church does not condemn Capitalism any more than she never condemned slavery, yet the influence of Catholicism was the diminution and ultimately the abandonment of slavery. The two could scarcely permanently co-exist together. Capitalism is a comparatively new economic system but we believe that the influence of the Church will be the gradual diminution and eventually the abandonment of Capitalism, because the spirit of the Catholic Church and the spirit of Capitalism cannot permanently co-exist together.
What will be the nature of the system that will supersede Capitalism? It will not be either Socialism or Communism, but what several Catholic writers have called Distributism. This is a system in which the great majority of men will own and control some private property.
Slavery and Paganism went along together. Capitalism and Protestantism have gone along together. Catholicism and Distributism went along together during the great thousand years of Christendom. Both are coming back and will go along together again perhaps for another and a greater thousand years.
The real battle of our time is not between Capitalism and Communism, but between Catholicism and social and industrial anarchy. When the battle is over the economic system will be either Leonine or Leninine.
The author wishes to thank all those who have been saying and writing such nice things about the contents of this book. Especially does he wish to thank the clergy of our own Archdiocese almost every one of whom has already purchased a copy. The advance sales of this edition we are pleased to say will make a second and much larger one necessary very soon.
JEREMIAH C. HARRINGTON
The Saint Paul Seminary
June 1st, 1925
The Social Question Is None of Our Business?
One hears it said sometimes by enemies of the Church that the social question is none of her business, that no Pope or Council has ever made a definite pronouncement on the social question, that the war of Capital and Labor is their own war. Sometimes even Catholics have been quoted to this effect. But whether Catholic or anti-Catholic, they are the kind that always have some private axe to grind, and what are the interests of the Church, and what the interests of truth, against that sharp, crooked edge, that tries to cut its devious way to an end, which selfish, unconscionable minds practically persuade themselves as justifying the most lying means? But the Church goes on her triumphant way divinely conscious that woe is hers if she preach not her Master’s gospel, that same Divine Master who hesitated not, even in presence of His enemies, who had come out to apprehend Him, to rebuke sternly even a priest of His own Church, in the most scathing verse of the New Testament: “And Jesus said to him, Judas, dost thou betray the son of man with a kiss?” Luke xxii:48. And everything that is written in that Holy Book was written for our edification. Our Lord was sold by one of his own anointed ones for thirty pieces of silver. How often do we not see the interests of His Church betrayed for the very crumbs that fall from the table of a Social Avenue supper?
Oh, indeed, so Leo XIII has never spoken, nor Pius X, nor Benedict XV, nor the Bishops of Germany, nor the Bishops of France, and of England, and of Ireland, and Cardinal Gibbons never uttered even a word on this social question, nor Cardinal Manning, nor the Bishop of the Workingmen, William Emmanuel von Ketteler, and the combined American Hierarchy have never issued a Joint Pastoral containing pronouncements on the social question, and in their name the four American Bishops, constituting the Administrative Committee of the National Catholic War Council, have never given us The Program of Social Reconstruction, and we suppose that in Catholic Moral Theology classes professors are warned by their Bishops to put the soft pedal on the seventh commandment, and to avoid extraneous matter so punctiliously, as never to mention the treatise on Justice and Right, or Restitution, and Confessors never tell their poor penitents in contrite heart, “unless you give back these fifteen or twenty dollars you stole, I must refuse you absolution,” and we suppose that rustling silk at the slide would be punished by some stern ecclesiastical Hildebrand, in having to recite the latter half of the Angelic Salutation, for deigning to put over a crooked deal involving widows and orphans in financial ruin, to the extent of millions of dollars? Forsooth, the Catholic Church has no definite teaching on the social question?
Yes, indeed, in spite of this fade-away apologetic Catholic attitude, the Catholic Church has a very definite social message, which is of interest to all mankind. It is no mere theoretical message either, but of that hard, practical stuff that has enabled her to solve the greatest of social problems in the past. With this experience of her social history extending over two decades of centuries, is it not most sweetly reasonable to expect that her social lessons now are of equal importance? In her burning desire to be of service to all, she does put forth a simple, plain exposition of Catholic morality and does wish the application of her general principles to industrial and social and economic historic facts. The great living, teaching Church is not a faint, fearful, uncertain vox et praeterea nihil. Rather does it evidence a strong, massive, fearless stand with regard to the fundamental problems of modern life, putting before the changing world her unchanging principles of Social Justice and Christian Charity.
In our short span of life we happen to be at a turning point of history. We have seen Empires going to pieces over night. But the Church has been at these crossroads time and again; prepared to take a leading part now, as she has gloriously done in equally critical periods of history. The Catholic Church is like a family doctor in a crisis. She knows the social patient from its infancy. Directed by twenty centuries of accumulated wisdom, she prescribes the preservation of whatever is true or noble in modern civilization, and wishes the rightful development of every just democratic ideal. And this seems a providentially propitious time for the Catholic Church to challenge the attention of the world, Catholic and non-Catholic. After all, the ills of our Capitalistic society are new evils, caused, by a cold, ugly thing, born into the modern world as a result of Industrial and Religious Revolution.
Prodigal-like, after feeding on husks there is perceptible a stirring among the nations and the masses, that might some day become articulate in accents as penitential and contrite as those of the swine-herd, who had wasted his substance living riotously, “And returning to himself, he said, How many hired servants in my father’s house abound with bread, and I here perish with hunger? I will arise, and will go to my father, and say to him: Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and before thee, I am not now worthy to be called thy son.” Luke xv:17-19. And if we divine aright the genius of the Church today, with regard to these things under discussion, she, never more than now, has no place for the reactionary Bourbon, lay or clerical, ruler or politician, who would reject the advances of this prodigal humanity returning again to its father’s house, asking for the bread of leadership and direction and being offered sometimes the cold stone of indifference in its material and moral hunger. Rather does she encourage the man who, imitating the forgiving father, welcomes back the erring son, “And rising up he came to his father, and, when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and, running to him, fell upon his neck and kissed him.” Luke xv:20.
We believe with Father Plater, S. J., “that the working classes of this country are suffering from suppressed Catholicism. The old pre-Reformation instincts for freedom and security have broken the husk of an un-Christian economic theory and practice.” What he wrote of England is equally true of America and of the entire world. The numbness of death is already on the extremities of a social order that never brought much warmth into the lives of men. We salute it about to die as the Church saluted the falling Empire of the Caesars, as she saluted, centuries later, the economic system of Feudalism about to expire. The Church, ever ancient, ever young, will be in the van of true progress if, as we think, humanity has struck its tents and is on the march to a more just and equitable order in the distribution of the world’s goods, to a civilization which will find room in the world for God and his Church from whose house it went out in the Sixteenth Century into the far country of apostasy in industrial and religious revolt. The whole world is in a state of unrest and travail.
But students of the signs of the times see many grounds for hope. Father Husslein, S. J., in his work, The World Problem, Capital, Labor, and the Church, has this to say of it: “Suppressed Catholicism is at the heart of the labor movement. Suppressed Catholicism is at the center of the great social unrest. Suppressed Catholicism is the spirit struggling for liberation beneath the crackling, breaking, bursting shell of an unnatural and unchristian social order. It is the pre-Reformation spirit of social freedom, which the Church alone can prevent from degenerating into lawlessness or injustice once it has achieved its liberation.”
In opposing the capitalistic state, therefore, the Bishops’ program of reconstruction is no novel solution of our industrial problems. It is rather the beginning of a Catholic economic Renaissance which is not confined to forwardlooking Churchmen in any one country. And we must repeat it again that opposition to Capitalism is the direct opposite of all the aims of Socialism.
The Church is opposed to both alike. “The Church does not make common cause with Socialism in its opposition to private capital, nor would the labor movement ever do so, unless deceived or betrayed by false leaders. But the Church is opposed, in the most unqualified way, to the selfish spirit of rationalistic capitalism that sprang into being after the Reformation and continued in its development until the great World War. There is no possible defense of a system which permitted the accumulation of mountainous fortunes by a few clever and often highly unscrupulous financiers who held in their hands the fate of millions of their fellow-men, and had in their grasp the power of the press by which they formed the opinions of the very people who helplessly looked to them for their dole of daily bread.” The World Problem, Capital, Labor and the Church, Joseph Husslein, S. J.
Taken from "Catholicism, Capitalism or Communism?" (1926).