Thursday, July 16, 2015

Breaking Down Laudato Si (In One Post)

Ok, I know it's been a while, and lots of stuff has gone on, but let me start with this issue.

I’ve gotten a bunch emails asking about the encyclical.

I didn’t read it and won’t be. After Caritas in Veritate and Evangelii Gaudium, I just don’t have it in me. This practice of spending thousands and thousands of words to say very, very little of substance is exhausting, and in modern internet parlance, ain’t nobody got time for that. Moreover, reactions to the encyclical seem to fall into just a couple of different categories:

1. “There’s nothing new or profound here. The Pope is just reiterating a lot of prior teachings under one umbrella. Sure, he buys into global warming, but that’s a small portion of the encyclical, and those parts, while relevant in their overall view of how we understand our role in Creation, don’t obligate us to believe a certain scientific theory.”

2. “The Pope is a Marxist/Modernist/both Marxist and Modernist.”

3. “What did I just read?”

If the first item is true, then I’m not sure why I should take the time to read it. I’m familiar with the Church’s teaching on this subject, so if there’s no new profound study on the matter here, I’m good.

If it’s the second, the above still holds. Why should I disturb my calm? I’m familiar with Church teaching and assent to it. No need to slog through thousands of words to wind up with confusion or simply time that was wasted.

If it’s the third, then I must simply admit that I don’t understand and acknowledge that I’m willing to assent to the Church’s teaching whatever it may be.

I continue to go back to the Pope’s words in EG. He calls for a more simplified presentation of the Faith, yet he produces documents (allegedly written to everyone!) so bloated and convoluted that they are worthless to the average person, of which I am one.

As to the global warming bit, I personally don’t buy into the anthropogenic global warming stuff. If the Pope does and put it in an encyclical, I kind of put that in the same category as the bizarre comment about what “true Islam” is from EG. Anyways, the main difficulty I see most folks having with it is the ability of the Church to pronounce on economic issues.

With all this in mind, I offer the following items that are oft-repeated features of the Church's social doctrine. When confronted with allegedly novel ideas from Laudato Si, my advice is to recall the Church's constant teaching on such matters and take refuge there (emphasis added).

Many believe in or claim that they believe in and hold fast to Catholic doctrine on such questions as social authority, the right of owning private property, on the relations between capital and labor, on the rights of the laboring man, on the relations between Church and State, religion and country, on the relations between the different social classes, on international relations, on the rights of the Holy See and the prerogatives of the Roman Pontiff and the Episcopate, on the social rights of Jesus Christ, Who is the Creator, Redeemer, and Lord not only of individuals but of nations. In spite of these protestations, they speak, write, and, what is more, act as if it were not necessary any longer to follow, or that they did not remain still in full force, the teachings and solemn pronouncements which may be found in so many documents of the Holy See, and particularly in those written by Leo XIII, Pius X, and Benedict XV.

There is a species of moral, legal, and social modernism which We condemn, no less decidedly than We condemn theological modernism.

Pope Pius XI, Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio

In other words, the Church has every right to talk about these things, and it's inappropriate to separate our economic actions from our other moral principles.

Pope Pius XI further emphasized the fundamental opposition between Communism and Christianity, and made it clear that no Catholic could subscribe even to moderate Socialism. The reason is that Socialism is founded on a doctrine of human society which is bounded by time and takes no account of any objective other than that of material well-being. Since, therefore, it proposes a form of social organization which aims solely at production, it places too severe a restraint on human liberty, at the same time flouting the true notion of social authority.

St. John XXIII, Mater et Magistra

Remember this when people try to suggest that the crap of liberation theology can ever be granted sanction by the Church.

Differences of opinion in the application of principles can sometimes arise even among sincere Catholics. When this happens, they should be careful not to lose their respect and esteem for each other. Instead, they should strive to find points of agreement for effective and suitable action, and not wear themselves out in interminable arguments, and, under pretext of the better or the best, omit to do the good that is possible and therefore obligatory.

In their economic and social activities, Catholics often come into contact with others who do not share their view of life. In such circumstances, they must, of course, bear themselves as Catholics and do nothing to compromise religion and morality. Yet at the same time they should show themselves animated by a spirit of understanding and unselfishness, ready to cooperate loyally in achieving objects which are good in themselves, or can be turned to good. Needless to say, when the Hierarchy has made a decision on any point Catholics are bound to obey their directives. The Church has the right and obligation not merely to guard ethical and religious principles, but also to declare its authoritative judgment in the matter of putting these principles into practice.

St. John XXIII, Mater et Magistra

There isn't just one way of talking about these things or remedying problems of social justice, so we should be charitable to each other in our discussions and recognize the legitimacy of these different opinions.

Many other people, while not completely marginalized, live in situations in which the struggle for a bare minimum is uppermost. These are situations in which the rules of the earliest period of capitalism still flourish in conditions of "ruthlessness" in no way inferior to the darkest moments of the first phase of industrialization. In other cases the land is still the central element in the economic process, but those who cultivate it are excluded from ownership and are reduced to a state of quasi-servitude. In these cases, it is still possible today, as in the days of Rerum novarum, to speak of inhuman exploitation. In spite of the great changes which have taken place in the more advanced societies, the human inadequacies of capitalism and the resulting domination of things over people are far from disappearing. In fact, for the poor, to the lack of material goods has been added a lack of knowledge and training which prevents them from escaping their state of humiliating subjection...

In this sense, it is right to speak of a struggle against an economic system, if the latter is understood as a method of upholding the absolute predominance of capital, the possession of the means of production and of the land, in contrast to the free and personal nature of human work. In the struggle against such a system, what is being proposed as an alternative is not the socialist system, which in fact turns out to be State capitalism, but rather a society of free work, of enterprise and of participation. Such a society is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the State, so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied...

It is the task of the State to provide for the defence and preservation of common goods such as the natural and human environments, which cannot be safeguarded simply by market forces. Just as in the time of primitive capitalism the State had the duty of defending the basic rights of workers, so now, with the new capitalism, the State and all of society have the duty of defending those collective goods which, among others, constitute the essential framework for the legitimate pursuit of personal goals on the part of each individual...

Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?

The answer is obviously complex. If by "capitalism" is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a "business economy", "market economy" or simply "free economy". But if by "capitalism" is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.

The Marxist solution has failed, but the realities of marginalization and exploitation remain in the world, especially the Third World, as does the reality of human alienation, especially in the more advanced countries. Against these phenomena the Church strongly raises her voice. Vast multitudes are still living in conditions of great material and moral poverty. The collapse of the Communist system in so many countries certainly removes an obstacle to facing these problems in an appropriate and realistic way, but it is not enough to bring about their solution. Indeed, there is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems, in the a priori belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure, and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces.

The Church has no models to present; models that are real and truly effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, through the efforts of all those who responsibly confront concrete problems in all their social, economic, political and cultural aspects, as these interact with one another. For such a task the Church offers her social teaching as an indispensable and ideal orientation, a teaching which, as already mentioned, recognizes the positive value of the market and of enterprise, but which at the same time points out that these need to be oriented towards the common good.

St. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus

Don't believe some of the popular hype of the above writings of JPII. He's just as critical of capitalism as other popes. If anything, he's writing against socialism, rather than for capitalism, which he only grants in a limited form. He's certainly not advocating for what you hear from modern libertarians and such.

Just as a side note, take the economics out of it for a moment. Ask yourself if a "radical capitalistic ideology" in terms of our autonomy in every other area isn't how we got into the state of utter moral freefall that we find ourselves now. After all, if it's laissez faire with regards to our economic life, how does that remain separate from everything else? 


Boniface said...

Great work, Throwback.

Say can you go back and please put the citations in for all those quotes so people (ah, me) and go back and re read them or cite them in future articles?

Boniface said...

Hey great work Throwback!

Say can you go back and put citations in to all those quotes, so that folks can go look them up? I mean I guess I good just google to documents and search for the phrases, but....ehhhh.

Throwback said...


1. Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio #60-61 (let me add that this encyclical is highly underrated and forms a tight link between Quas Primas and Quadragesimo Anno; a must read for understanding how the Kingship of Christ and the Church's teachings social justice are inseparable)

2. Mater et Magistra #34

3. Mater et Magistra #238-239

4. Centesimus Annus #33, 35, 40, 42-43