Social Thought, Catholic
SOCIAL THOUGHT, CATHOLIC
Social thought is an inclusive term that refers to any expression of ideas concerning the conduct of relations among men, particularly ideas concerning the comprehensive system of relations that is society. According to this usage, Catholic social thought includes not only the official teaching of the Church affecting the organization of society but all social ideas that can be attributed to Catholic inspiration, whether these ideas are taught formally or only exemplified in the social institutions and popular traditions of a given period of history. The introduction to this article defines the more restricted official concern of the Church with the morality of social life. The historical sketches in the succeeding parts outline the development preceding the systematic formulation of Catholic social teaching that began with Leo XIII (see so cial thought, papal). Thus the Bible itself is seen to be rich in social concepts and social implications, although obviously the sacred writers were not professedly concerned with social theory. The Fathers of the Church and the medieval theologians addressed themselves formally to numerous social questions (e.g., the social nature of man, forms of government, the morality of interest), but they did not recognize a distinctive corpus of social doctrine as such. Concern with the theory of society is a development of the modern period and particularly of the 19th century, when Catholic moralists and others and ultimately the magisterium of the Church had to take account of divergent social philosophies and ideologies and of the fundamental changes in social life that were initiated by industrial capitalism. Meanwhile, social philosophy and social science and their specialized branches had become the explicit concern of scholars. These disciplines have become increasingly important in their own right and as means for the understanding of complex situations that must be evaluated by the teaching Church.
The basic assumption of the Church's teaching on social questions is that man is a social being (see man, 3). By nature he is dependent on others at every stage of life, for existence and for the fulfillment of spiritual, intellectual, emotional, physical, and social needs. Peace and order in human society require the conformity of individual members to certain expectations in their interaction with each other, individually and collectively. Conformity to role expectations in family life, education, economic behavior, participation in the political community, and all daily interaction is universally deemed essential for the common good. The ultimate concern of the Church is the salvation of men's souls, for which both guiding principles and specific means must be provided. Since salvation is won or lost during life on earth and since it depends not only on internal dispositions but also on conformity with a code of conduct prescribed for human interaction, the Church is of necessity concerned with social morality. What is morally right and what is morally wrong in social institutions and human behavior patterns? What are men's basic moral rights and responsibilities toward each other as individuals and in groups? What are the mutual rights and responsibilities of social groups such as families and political or economic communities? The body of principles applicable to these and similar questions that has been developed through the centuries is known as Catholic social teaching. It is logically necessary to inquire why the Church is concerned with social morality, what the sources are from which teaching on social questions is derived, how the doctrine is developed, and why it differs from other codes of social morality that may be current from time to time.
Authority of the Church. The bases of the Church's concern were clearly stated by Pius XI in a well-known paragraph of quadragesimo anno:
That principle which Leo XIII so clearly established must be laid down at the outset here, namely, that there resides in Us the right and duty to pronounce with supreme authority upon social and economic matters. Certainly the Church was not given the commission to guide men to an only fleeting and perishable happiness but to that which is eternal. Indeed "the Church holds that it is unlawful for her to mix without cause in these temporal concerns;" however she can in no wise renounce the duty God entrusted to her to interpose her authority, not of course in matters of technique for which she is neither suitably equipped nor endowed by office, but in all things that are connected with the moral law. For as to these, the deposit of truth that God committed to Us and the grave duty of disseminating and interpreting the whole moral law, and of urging it in season and out of season, bring under and subject to Our supreme jurisdiction not only social order but economic activities themselves [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 23 (Rome 1931) 190].
Although there are some who consider morality to be completely divorced from religion, it is nevertheless true that in the traditional Catholic view the Church is the only authoritative custodian and interpreter of the moral code in all its aspects, social morality included.
Sources of Catholic Teaching. The Church's teaching on social questions is derived from the same sources as on all matters of faith and morals. These sources are usually classified as mediate, or remote, and immediate, or proximate.
Natural Law. One mediate source is the natural law comprising all moral principles that can be known through reason. A considerable proportion of the Church's teaching on social questions is based essentially on natural law principles, e.g., teaching on such important issues as the right of the worker to a living wage for himself and his family, the right to organize labor unions and political parties, the responsibilities of qualified citizens to vote, and the like. A remarkable development of these principles began with the pontificate of Leo XIII (1878–1903). Revolutionary changes in the way men earn their living and support their families and in the manner in which they wish to be governed, as well as human problems arising out of rapid scientific and technological developments, call for continuing reexamination by the teaching Church of the application of the natural law to the new situations and human problems. The natural law does not change, but its principles are developed through specification and application to new human problems as they arise. The Church claims the exclusive right to determine such specifications and applications, usually through the pronouncements of the popes and the general councils of Church Fathers.
Revelation. A second mediate source of Catholic social teaching is revelation. As understood by Catholics this includes both the Sacred Scriptures and tradition (see revelation, theology of). Many important moral principles are derived directly from the revealed word of God. The demands of charity, particularly as they apply to man's attitudes toward and interaction with his fellowmen serve as a prime illustration. The Church insists that true peace and order in society cannot be achieved until the ideals regarding love of neighbor that were preached by Christ are realized. Other social principles implicit in the natural law regarding justice in all its forms, e.g., the right to ownership and the durability of marriage, are strongly supported by the revealed word of God. Even the Church's teaching on interracial relations is based in large measure on Sacred Scripture.
Magisterium. The immediate source of Catholic social teaching is the magisterium of the Church, or the Church as the divinely authorized teacher in the realm of faith and morals. Here it is necessary to distinguish between the ordinary and extraordinary teaching power of the Church. Since the latter usually involves solemn and inspired declarations by the sovereign pontiffs or by a general council of the Church acting in union with the pope, relatively few Catholic social principles are placed in this category. Certainly some of the Church's social teaching, e.g., on man's ultimate goal and the measures to achieve it and on the nature of marriage as a Sacrament, has been solemnly defined by the Church and has the standing of doctrine that must be accepted as a matter of faith. But most of the recent development in Catholic social teaching, including the principles and directives on social questions that have emanated principally from the Holy See since the time of Leo XIII, cannot be taken as infallible but rather as an expression of the ordinary magisterium of the Church. Pronouncements in this category are not infallible in the sense that they must be believed, in the theological meaning of the term.
It is common opinion among theologians, however, that ordinary teaching of the magisterium must be accepted, even internally, and obeyed. The assumption is that although the Holy See or a general council does not usually make infallible pronouncements on questions that involve what are in essence specific applications of the natural law, the role of the teaching Church as the authoritative custodian and interpreter of the whole moral code, nevertheless, requires that directives and prescriptions on social questions must be accepted and obeyed by all Catholics. There is some disagreement as to the specific virtue involved here, but most authorities seem to agree that obedience, at the very least, is certainly involved.
Distinctiveness of Catholic Social Teaching. Why and how does Catholic social teaching differ from other codes of social morality? This is a complex question that cannot be resolved satisfactorily here. The Church's position on most social questions is identical with, or at least approximates, that of all denominations in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It differs most in its fundamental premise that the natural moral law is one, universal, invariable, and immutable and that the Catholic Church is its official custodian and interpreter. The Church cannot agree with the proposition that social morality, in any objective sense, is ultimately dictated by the mores of particular societies or that social morality is determined by men rather than ultimately by the Creator. Because of this position, the Church's teaching on such issues as divorce with the right to remarry and artificial birth control may differ markedly from that of other religious groups in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Needless to say, its teaching on social questions differs to a considerable degree from that of religions that are not in this tradition.
Bibliography: j. messner, Social Ethics, tr. j. j. doherty (St. Louis 1964). e. welty, A Handbook of Christian Social Ethics, tr. g. kirstein, rev. j. fitzsimons (New York 1960—).
[t. j. harte]
2. In the Bible
The concept of the people of God is basic in biblical thought. In the Old Testament (OT) justice is the social principle that gives solidarity to this people; in the New Testament (NT) justice is transcended by love. This article treats the application of these principles to the family, the economy, labor, slavery, and loans.
The People of God. In all creation, man is the only being created in the image of God and therefore free—free in all things, even to rebel against his Creator. A group of men chosen by God form Israel, a people consecrated to God, bound to Him by a covenant, established as a juridical person for a universal mission, the spread of monotheism. As children of a single God, all men are brothers, equals, to be loved, as they await the Messiah to unite them more closely. When Israel turns this divine privilege into opposition, to other nations, the prophets remind it of its solidarity with them, joining, at the center of life in common, love with the worship of God and love with the service of men. Yahweh is not pleased with fasting and sacrifice unless accompanied by works of mercy toward brethren in need.
The Law of Moses implies the duties of "releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke, setting free the oppressed, … sharing bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and homeless, clothing the naked" (Is 58.5–7); for "to do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice" (Prv 21.3). The king also is bound to such justice, and therefore he must be "a kinsman, not a foreigner …. He may nothave a great number of wives, … nor may he accumulate a vast amount of silver and gold;" every day he must read and meditate on the Law, that he may learn to keep all its commandments, "lest he become estranged from his countrymen through pride" (Dt 17.15–20).
When this communion among the Israelites is in danger of being broken by grievous inequalities, the conscience of the people reacts against it, especially through the prophets, so that the rich are identified with the wicked, the poor with the pious, and the obligations of the Decalogue are again called to mind: to worship God, to honor parents, not to kill, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to lie, not to covet another's possessions. Such solidarity is expressed at times, in "the assembly of the people of God" (Jgs 20.2), by the sharing of the income with those in need. This is the symbolic meaning of the precept that the first fruits and tithes are to be eaten in a sacred meal, "in Yahweh's presence," together with the poor and the strangers, the widows and the orphans (Dt 14.29; 16.11, 14; 24.19–21; 26.12–13; etc.); hence also, the importance of almsgiving.
In the NT the new people of God, now baptized and no longer circumcised, and therefore freed from limitations of race and territory, keep the character of "the assembly of God" (ἡ ἐκκλησία το[symbol omitted] θεο[symbol omitted]: Acts 20.28; 1 Cor 1.2; 10.32; 11.16; etc.), with the priestly mission of "a chosen race, … a holy nation" (1 Pt 2.9), for the purpose of mankind's unification—"that all may be one" (Jn 17.21).
In the OT the authority that rules the state and the various communities comes from God and obeys His law. This law commands the rulers not to be proud, not to make selfish misuse of power, not to be influenced by bribery, not to overburden the subjects, and to give justice to the innocent. In other pre-Christian regimes politics includes religion; in Israel religion includes politics. Therefore, a sacral character is impressed on government. (see theocracy).
Jesus recognizes a lay element in government: "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God" (Mk 12.17 and parallels). Between the two He makes a distinction, but not a separation; both come forth from God. If political authority orders actions contrary to the law of God, God, rather than man, is to be obeyed (Acts 5.29). The opposition can reach the point of active persecution and the dualism of the Apocalypse: the City of the Lamb (Jerusalem, the Church) as opposed to the City of the Beast (Rome, the Empire). But this does not lead to any overthrow. The Christian religion may be worn away by the spirit, but not by externals, not by any hostile structures.
The Social Principle. The centripetal social principle of the OT is justice, as contained in the Law, the synthesis of divine and human rights. (see justice of god; justice of men.) The Law also commands love. Yet actually, the sense of solidarity is limited to fellow members of religion and race, even though the prophets often urge a going beyond these narrow limits.
In the NT love plays the predominant role; it becomes the new commandment that overthrows all 613 prescriptions of the OT. In this sense Jesus does not abolish the law; he completes it: "It was said to those of old: 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor and shalt hate thy enemy' [cf. Lv 19.18; Nm 35.19–20]. But I say to you: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you" (Mt 5.43–44). Love is life—the life of God who is love; hatred is the spirit of Satan, murder. Love unifies: "In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether slaves or free" (1 Cor 12.13). Christ insists, above all, on unity, through which there is born a spiritual living together in which distinction of race, class, or sex is no longer valid, with a resulting social economy in which, all being "of one heart and one soul," there is a sharing of material goods, so that no one is in want (Acts4.32, 34). Love is God's justice that surpasses man's justice, as illustrated in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, the episode of the woman taken in adultery, etc. Human justice gives to each one his due; love gives of oneself, one's very life. [see love (in the bible).]
The main source of profit in Israel is agriculture, not war. God loves peace. Among the Israelites, soldiers are allowed to return home for work and for feastdays and even because of fear; their military law is shot through with humaneness. When the army goes on a campaign, before a city is besieged it is offered terms of peace. The Bible champions peace without end, which will be realized by the Messiah, "the prince of peace," "with right and justice" (Is 7.14; 9.5–6), when "they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war any longer" (Mi 4.3). [see war (in the bible).]
The NT opens with the announcement of peace to men of good will, it puts forgiveness in place of quarrels, it urges the overcoming of evil with good, it ranks peacemaking as one of the beatitudes, and it warns that "all those who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Mt 26.52).
The Family. The Bible has important teachings on the family, which is the nucleus of society. For the preservation of family life, adultery and other sexual sins are condemned. [see adultery (in the bible); sex (in the bible).] Contrary to the Code of Hammurabi, Israelite Law protects the personality and rights of children: "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children for their fathers; only for his own sin shall a man be put to death" (Dt 24.16). The sacrifice of the firstborn, a common practice of the neighboring peoples, is condemned. Children are to receive a strict education. woman is of the same nature as man: "God created man in his image, … male and female he created them" (Gn1.27). Yet in several respects Israelite society is androcratic. A husband may divorce his wife, but a wife may not divorce her husband. Adultery consists only in sexual intercourse between a married woman and a man other than her husband, not in illicit relations of a married man with a woman other than his wife. A woman is juridically subject to her father or husband or nearest male relative; she cannot hold property in her own name, unless there is no male heir [see inheritance (in the bible).] Limited polygamy is permitted in the patriarchal period; later custom is opposed to it. King Solomon is censured for taking many wives, although primarily because they were pagans who led him to offer pagan sacrifices. The wisdom literature frequently sings the praises of the virtuous wife and condemns the adulterous woman (Prv 11.16; 12.4;19.14; 22.14; 30.20; 31.10–31; Eccl 7.26–28; Sir 7.19;25.12–25; 26.1–4, 6–18; 42.9–14; etc.)
In the NT the Blessed Virgin Mary carries out with dignity a unique task: it falls to her, a young woman, to proclaim in her magnificat the Christian revolution—the putting down of the mighty and the exalting of the lowly, the scattering of the proud, the filling of the hungry with good things and the sending away of the rich empty—the realization of the OT messianic ideals.
Jesus treats all women, even the much-married Samaritan woman, with deference. He condemns divorce and adultery equally of the husband and the wife. He declares the marriage bond sacred: "What God has joined together let no man put asunder" (Mk 10.9). In the NT marriage is an indissoluble union between one man and one woman, similar to the mystical union between Christ and His Church and therefore called "a great mystery" (Eph 5.29–32). This similarity is also the reason why the husband should love his wife, and the wife should be subject to her husband (Eph 5.22–28). Second marriages are regarded with disfavor, and celibacy is praised. [see mat rimony.]
Widows, Orphans, and Strangers. The most unfortunate persons in the ancient world were widows and orphans, who were economically helpless without the aid of a male head of the family. But the God of Israel "executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and befriends the alien, feeding and clothing him" (Dt 10.18). Like the OT, the NT also inculcates charity to those unfortunate creatures: "Religion pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to give aid to orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself unspotted from this world" (Jas 1.27). [see widow (in the bible).] Charity must be shown also to the resident alien (Heb. gēr ), who, without landed property, would find it hard to earn a livelihood: "When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt" (Lv 19.33–34). The NT abolishes the religious distinction based on race or nationality: "You know it is not permissible for a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean" (words of Peter regarding his visit to the Gentile Cornelius in Acts 10.28).
Wealth. All wealth comes from the divine Creator and is to be used according to His will, that is, for the benefit of all men. In keeping with the OT ideal, there would be no poverty: "There should be no one of you in need" (Dt 15.4). Should an Israelite be in need, his fellow Israelites were commanded to help him, at least by giving him an interest-free loan of "enough to meet his need" (Dt 15.7). A sharing of the goods given by the heavenly Father is demanded by the sense of solidarity among His children on earth. Realistically aware that there will always be some poor people (Mt 26.11), the Law ordains: "The needy will never be lacking in your land; that is why I command you to open your hand to your poor and needy kinsman in your country" (Dt 15.11). Avarice is condemned. Ownership, particularly of farm land, is relative, provisional; it is more an occupancy than a possessing. Yahweh says to Israel: "The land is mine, and you are but aliens who have become my tenants" (Lv 25.23). If landed property is sold, it must be restored to the original owner in the jubilee year (Lv 25.13–17). The purpose of this law is to prevent the accumulation of vast estates in the hands of a few people (Is 5.8) and to permit the economic recovery of impoverished families.
"Woe to you rich!" (Lk 6.24); for "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19.24). These are the words of Jesus, who calls the poor blessed (Lk6.20), the poor in spirit (Mt 5.3), whose hearts are detached from the mammon of iniquity (Mt 6.24; Lk 16.9, 11, 13), "for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Lk 12.13). Jesus wishes the goods of this world to circulate for the benefit of all. Without material poverty there is no spiritual perfection: "If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and thou will have treasure in heaven" (Mt 19.21). He who has more than enough should give to him who is in need, "that there should be equality" (2 Cor8.13–14).
The Christian social order is born from a union of faith and good works, founded on the principle of the Incarnation of the God-Man, Jesus Christ. The lord's prayer associates our Father in heaven with our bread on earth (Mt 6.9–11). The Church, following the example of Jesus, is concerned with the corporal and temporal as well as the spiritual and eternal. The importance of material food is shown in the institution of the first seven dea cons, who serve at table before they preach the Gospel (Acts 6.1–7).
Labor. God has prescribed work for man, to subdue the earth and to have dominion over the animals (Gn1.28). Labor, which is natural for man, has become burdensome for him as a punishment for sin (Gn 3.17–19). Since work is the God-ordained means of man's subsistence, man has both the duty and the right to work. If a man works for another, he has a right to a just wage: "The laborer deserves his wages" (Lk 10.17; 1 Tm5.18). The prophets inveigh against "those who defraud the hired man of his wages" (Mal 3.5; Jer 22.13; Lv 19.13; Jas 5.4). Of all work, farming is the best: "Hate not laborious tasks, nor farming, which was ordained by the Most High" (Sir 7.15). The wisdom literature has many warnings against sloth (Prv 6.6–11; 13.4; 19.15;20.4; Eccl 10.18; Sir 22.1–2). Labor, however, is mitigated by the sabbath rest, which, with its freedom from work every seven days, refreshes both the body and the soul of man. The blessings of the Sabbath are to be shared in by the slaves, the strangers, and even the domestic animals.
The NT presents its greatest figures as laborers—Joseph, Jesus, and the Apostles. St. Paul reechoes the OT refrain against laziness: "If any man will not work, neither let him eat" (2 Thes 3.10). "He who was wont to steal, let him steal no longer; but rather let him labor, working with his hands at what is good, that he may have something to share with him who suffers need" (Eph4.28).
Slavery. The ancient Israelites used slave labor, as did the rest of the ancient world; but their slaves were mostly foreigners who had been captured in war or foreigners bought from other lands (Lv 25.44–46). Sirach takes a realistic view of the hardship of a slave's life: "Food, correction, and work for a slave. Make a slave work, and he will look for his rest; let his hands be idle, and he will seek to be free. Force him to work that he be not idle, for idleness is an apt teacher of mischief. Put him to work, for that is what befits him; if he becomes unruly, load him with chains. But never lord it over any human being, and do nothing unjust" (Sir 33.27–30). The humane attitude of Israel toward slaves is seen in the fact that asylum was given to fugitive slaves: "You shall not hand over to his master a slave that has taken refuge with you. Let him live with you wherever he chooses, in any one of your communities that pleases him. Do not molest him" (Dt 23.16–17).
Slavery of an Israelite to a fellow Israelite was limited by the Law, which considered this an abuse: "If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, sells himself to you, he is to serve you for six years, but in the seventh year you shall dismiss him from your service, a free man. When you do so, you shall send him away emptyhanded" (Dt 15.12–13). Only if a Hebrew slave freely requests to remain a slave may his master keep him indefinitely (Dt 15.16–18). If an Israelite is forced by poverty to sell himself into slavery to a foreigner, his fellow countrymen are urged to redeem him (Lv 25.47–55).
In the NT also the institution of slavery is taken for granted. But the teachings of the NT contain the seed that ultimately grew into the abolition of slavery in Christendom. Paul sends back Onesimus, a fugitive slave, to his Christian master; but he urges the latter to receive him back, not as a slave, but as a "brother" in Christ (Phlm). In the urgency of the forthcoming return of Christ, it matters little if one is a freeman or a slave (1 Cor 7.17–21). Among those who have been baptized into Christ "there is neither slave nor freeman" (Gal 3.28; Col 3.11), for a baptized slave is "a freeman of the Lord," and a baptized freeman is "a slave of Christ" (1 Cor 7.22). On the relationship among Christians between a slave and his master, see Eph 6.5–9 and Col 3.22–4.1. [see slavery (in the bible).]
Loans. Among the ancient Israelites, as among all other peoples, loans were taken for granted. It was mostly poor farmers, impoverished after a bad season, who were forced to take out loans. If they could not repay the debt, they had to sell themselves as slaves to the creditors. The Mosaic Law had various provisions for alleviating this unfortunate situation. A Hebrew slave could regain his freedom after six years of service (Dt 15.12); every Sabbath year all loans were cancelled (Dt 15.1–2). Although interest could be demanded on a loan to a foreigner, no interest could be asked on a loan to a fellow Israelite (Dt 23.20–21), since an Israelite would ordinarily not take out a loan unless forced by necessity. The taking of a pledge for a debt was limited: a mantle thus taken had to be returned before sunset, since it was used also as a blanket (Dt 24.12); a hand mill could not be thus taken at all, since it was needed for daily bread (Dt 24.6). [see pledge (in the bible).]
In the NT, which is not concerned with commercial loans, the giving of a loan to one in need is regarded as an act of charity: "Do good and lend, not hoping for any return, and your reward shall be great, and you shall be children of the Most High, for he is kind toward the ungrateful and evil" (Lk 6.35).
Jesus Christ and the Apostles sum up the social thought of the messianic expectations in their teaching, which they first practice themselves, of love for all without distinction, of justice and peace, and of economic solidarity on the basis of communion that meets every need of body and soul. They affirm the dignity of the human person, whether master or slave, rich or poor, man or woman. They condemn the deprivation of freedom and the exploitation of human beings. They make the prime function of authority the service of mankind, and they put all things and all men in dependence on God. Social relationships are simplified by equating man with Christ, as quaintly stated in one of the Logia Jesu: "See your brother, see the Lord."
Bibliography: r. h. kennett, Ancient Hebrew Social Life as Indicated in Law, Narrative and Metaphor (London 1933). j. w. gaspar, Social Ideas in the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament (Washington 1947). r. g. north, Sociology of the Biblical Jubilee (Rome 1954), bibliog. ix–xlvi. i. giordani, Il messaggio sociale del cristianesimo (Rome 1963).
3. Patristic and Medieval
Christian thinkers of the patristic and medieval periods developed no comprehensive and autonomous systems of social thought, but they did produce an extensive and often perceptive social commentary. Their thought, in the main, proceeded along two lines: (1) the examination of social institutions in the light of the Christian comprehension of the nature of man and his destiny; (2) the examination of social practices in the light of Christian ethical standards.
The Patristic Age (c. 200–600). In background and education, the fathers of the church were closely associated with the aristocracy of ancient society, the curial or senatorial class of substantial landowners. Steeped in the same literature, even educated in the same schools as their pagan counterparts, the Fathers accepted without question established social institutions. They further believed that the promise of Christianity was in personal reform, not social reform, and this reinforced the conservative bent of their thought. But the Fathers still faced the problem of reconciling the authority of the state, the existence of private property, and resultant social inequality with the fundamental Christian assumption that all men are equally the children of God and heirs of His kingdom.
Authority of the State. aristotle had maintained that man was by nature a political animal, and this naturalistic interpretation of the state was repeated by lac tantius (Divinarum Institutionum Libri VII 6.8, following Cicero; 6.10) and even by St. augustine (De civitate Dei 19.12; Bon. coniug. 1). But the more favored patristic opinion—from the Epicureans, repeated by Lactantius, ambrose, Augustine, gregory i (the Great), and isidore of seville among others—was that the state was not natural. It was rather the product of a social contract or convention among men for the repression of evil. The state became necessary when men, through original sin, lost their pristine innocence and became prone to evil; it was itself an evil, but a necessary one. St. Paul, however, had laid the basis for a more positive interpretation of authority (Rom 13.1–7). The king was the minister of God appointed as a correction for sin, a remedium peccati. In the 4th century, eusebius of cae sarea, in his Panegyric on Constantine, declared that the emperor was not alone God's steward but His earthly counterpart, providentially appointed to the sacred functions of ruling His people, protecting His Church, and promoting the salvation of souls. This exalted interpretation paralleled Hellenistic ideas on the sacred character of kingship and struck deep roots in the Eastern Empire, where it served as one of the foundations of Byzantine caesaropapism.
The most original and influential patristic interpretation of authority was undoubtedly Augustine's profound exploration of the societal implications of the Christian dogma of grace. Augustine maintained that grace not only sanctified the individual but introduced him into a new spiritual fellowship, the City of God. With his acute sense of psychology, Augustine discerned the basis of all societies in a union or harmony of wills (De civitate Dei 19.24). The City of God was composed of those who, through grace, loved God more than themselves. Its counterpart was the Earthly City, made up of those who loved themselves more than God.
Augustine's political dualism dominated all subsequent discussion of authority during the Middle Ages. His own attitude toward secular power was, however, ambivalent. The coercive authority of the state resulted from evil, but in the City of God Augustine urged the good Christian to be subordinated to it, even to pray for its welfare, in order to make use of its peace. On the other hand, in his tracts against the Donatists, Augustine maintained that the state should help the Church in the repression of heresy and therefore be subservient to its interests. This ambiguity meant that Augustinian principles could be used to support quite different attitudes toward authority during the Middle Ages.
Property. In regard to private property, the common opinion of the Fathers, expressed by Ambrose (De off. 1.28; De Nabuthae 1, 2; Exp. ev. sec. Luc. 7.124), Lactantius (Divinarum Institutionum Libri VII 5.5, 5.6), and Augustine (In evang. Ioh. 6.25) was that this too, like the state, was not natural to men but resulted from sin. The Fathers were, however, in no sense communists, nor did they consider a community of possessions a practical arrangement for fallen men. Lactantius (Divinarum Institutionum Libri VII 3.21), Ambrose (Epist. 63, 92), Augustine (C. acad. 20.2), and hilary of poitiers (Com. in ev. Matt. 19.9) all expressly recognized the right of private ownership. The Fathers, however, constantly warned of the dangers of avarice and taught that the rich had a positive duty to relieve through alms the sufferings of the poor. [see alms and almsgiving (in the church).]
Slavery. Concerning slavery, Augustine expressed the characteristic patristic opinion when he declared (De civitate Dei 19.15) that, although it was contrary to nature, it was a punishment for sin that had to be accepted accordingly. [see slavery (and the church).]
Commerce. Concerning commercial activities, the Fathers expressed fear at the temptations to avarice and deceit associated with them and forbade clerics to participate in them, but they never denied to merchants the possibility of salvation. Breaking with the tradition of Roman law that permitted usury, or profit on a loan, Fathers such as Augustine, Ambrose, jerome and leo i (the great) condemned it as contrary to biblical commands. In more general terms, Ambrose (De off. 3.6, 3.9) argued that no commercial profit could be made at public injury. But the Fathers on the whole paid slight attention to commercial transactions, and their statements did not go much beyond large and often vague exhortations to justice.
Significance of Patristic Social Thought. The historical importance of patristic social thought is difficult to evaluate. Interested in personal reform rather than social reform, the Fathers promoted such social virtues as frugality, diligence, self-restraint, self-discipline, and fairness. Undoubtedly too, in praising manumission as a virtuous act, in proclaiming the human dignity of slaves and the social dignity of the labor they performed, the Fathers facilitated the transition to the peasant economy of the Middle Ages, based, in a way the ancient economy had never been, upon willing labor. The Fathers confirmed the solidarity of the family; the position of woman in later epochs—a subordinate but honorable one—owed much to their influence. Intellectually, they transmitted to the Middle Ages many of the seminal social ideas of pagan antiquity. But they contributed almost nothing to the methods of social analysis, since their thought was confined to speculation concerning the religious purposes of social institutions and they had no interest in empirical approaches. They did, however, advance the proposition that a society's institutions ought to be considered and judged not by the interests of an aristocracy but by the justice imparted to all its members. This has remained a lasting ideal within the tradition of Christian and Western social thought.
The Middle Ages (c. 600–1500). Appreciation of the social thought of the middle ages has often been obstructed by persistent misconceptions concerning it. One such misconception is that medieval social thought was monolithic and unchanging, devoted to the defense of a land-based and rigidly stratified feudal society dominated and regulated in all particulars by an omniscient Church. Another is that medieval thinkers were unalterably opposed to a free economy, to economic individualism, and to the commercial, capitalistic activities associated with it.
The truth is more complex. Medieval social thought changed greatly, as medieval society and the position of the scholar within it themselves changed. Up to the 11th century, the medieval economy remained overwhelmingly agrarian (see feudalism), and intellectual activity was carried on largely within the disciplined and ascetic milieu of the monasteries. The few writers who commented upon social institutions—jonas of orlÉans, smarag dus of saint-mihiel, Sedulius Scotus, and hincmar of reims among the more important—did little more than repeat patristic commonplaces.
From the 11th century, however, the equilibrium of the medieval economy and society was shaken by many forces: population growth, geographic and commercial expansion, the rise of towns and the extension of capitalistic techniques, the growth of effective administrative institutions in both church and state. These dynamic conditions confronted medieval thinkers with social and political problems that the Fathers had scarcely anticipated. The thinkers themselves changed. Supported by the new universities, aided by a new familiarity with ancient philosophy and law, they became full-time, professional scholars, constituting a true intelligentsia, confident in and committed to systematic rational analysis.
Church and State. These thinkers greatly developed the social ideas of the Fathers. The investiture strug gle in the late 11th century and subsequent conflicts between church and empire inspired an abundant polemical literature and energetic efforts to analyze the nature of power (see church and state). The imperial supporters explored at length the patristic idea that the emperor was directly God's minister; and the papalists, including gregory vii himself, responded that the state was the result of sin and should be subject to higher spiritual authority. The hierocratic theme later achieved its most forceful expression in the works of the papal publicists giles of rome (d. 1316) and augustine (triumphus) of ancona (d. 1328). They claimed for the pope a plenitude of power; all authority and even all property upon earth belonged to him. Their systems exemplified admirable philosophical and juridical reasoning, paradoxically advanced at a time when the reality of papal power was already declining. Paradoxically too, in their analysis of absolute power, they rank among the apostles of the modern idea of monistic and unlimited sovereignty, although the secular state, not the papacy, was to benefit from it.
Theory of the State. Besides enlarging upon patristic ideas, medieval social thought also changed in its fundamental assumptions and even in its methods. In his Policraticus (finished in 1159), john of salisbury mentioned the spiritual purposes of society but concentrated his attention upon how the political community was actually constituted and how its parts were interdependent. He likened the body politic to the body physical, and advised princes and statesmen how to assure its proper coordination. John thus revealed a new social consciousness and even preached a new social responsibility, manifest particularly in his famous proposition that the good citizen had the right, even the duty, to assassinate a tyrant.
To this growing interest in the natural foundations and structure of the state, the Politics of Aristotle, available in western Europe by the 2d decade of the 13th century, made two fundamental contributions: (1) it presented for the first time to medieval thinkers a mature and intellectually compelling naturalistic theory of the state; (2) it introduced a strong element of empiricism into medieval social thought. Aristotelian naturalism directly challenged the Augustinian assumptions of earlier social theory. What, if anything, did a state established by nature owe to the Church, which existed through grace? This problem occupied the greatest scholastic thinkers of the 13th century, St. albert the great and St. thomas aquinas. St. Thomas conceded that the state was natural and autonomous, but held that its sovereignty was limited by natural law and, in religious matters, by ecclesiastical authority. Thomistic political and social thought, which must be reconstructed from numerous scattered passages, is perhaps too intricate and in points even obscure. But Thomas's full acceptance of the autonomy and dignity of the natural order has remained a premise of modern Catholic social thought, and Thomas himself serves as a model of openness to new ideas, of moderation, balance, and prudential wisdom.
The opponents of papal theocracy also made use of Aristotelian principles. Prominent among them were john (quidort) of paris, who in 1302 wrote the Treatise on Royal and Papal Power, and the more radical william of ockham and marsilius of padua. The latter's Defensor Pacis (1324) ranks as one of the most original of medieval political tracts. Marsilius was less interested in the purpose of power than in its origin and nature. He maintained that it derived from the people, and his theory is the most rigorous expression of medieval populism. The authority of the people, or of their "greater and healthier part," was limited neither by natural law, which the people themselves created, nor by ecclesiastical authority, to which Marsilius denied any substance. Marsilius, along with his great opponents, the papal hierocrats, was a pioneer of modern conceptions of sovereignty as monistic, absolute, and unlimited.
Property. In regard to property and economic matters, medieval social thought both developed patristic ideas and struck out in entirely new directions. The patristic notion of a state of communism before the Fall figured in many heretical and social-revolutionary movements in the later Middle Ages [cathari, apos tolici, Beghards (see beguines and beghards), and many others]; these groups demanded a return to the communistic regimen God had originally intended for men. But the true originality of medieval social thought was its adoption of Aristotelian naturalism and empiricism.
St. Thomas, for example, accepted the patristic notion that private property was the result of original sin (Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 98.1 ad 3). But he sought also to show its practical necessity in the functioning economy: it assured peace, maintained order, provided incentive, and guaranteed proper care of belongings (Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 66.2). Property had to be administered, however, not for the owner's benefit but for the good of society. The owner was similarly obligated to charity, but the chief virtue to be cultivated by him was liberali ty. Liberality meant not so much generosity as the willingness freely and appropriately to use property in the primary interest of the common welfare.
Economic Justice. Toward commercial activities, St. Thomas still betrayed a traditional suspicion, as he discerned therein "something base" (Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 77.4). But under the influence of Aristotelian naturalism and empiricism and confronting a rapidly developing and ever more complicated economy, St. Thomas and later scholastics—duns scotus, nicholas oresme, St. bernardine of siena, St. antoninus of florence—undertook an ever more penetrating economic and social analysis. They sought principally to accomplish two things: (1) to find a basis in natural law for such traditional ethical teachings as the usury prohibition or the requirement of justice in pricing; (2) to define what was ethical and not ethical within the multifarious and highly complex operations of the marketplace.
The scholastics were thus drawn to examining such basic economic concepts as the nature of money and value, and the factors that determine price. Nicholas Oresme, for example, in attempting to show the injustice of monetary debasements, wrote between 1350 and 1360 the tract De moneta, which anticipated many of the ideas of the 16th-century economist Jean Bodin. Scholastic thought was also less rigid and more favorable to a free economy than is frequently asserted. The common scholastic opinion was, for example, that the just price was under normal conditions the free-market price; while maintaining the usury prohibition, the scholastics did not obstruct the development of alternate ways of channeling credit: through partnerships and companies, annuities, and bills of exchange. Scholastic thought through the later Middle Ages and into the early 17th century reveals an ever stronger empirical emphasis in its analysis and an ever more sympathetic comprehension of the activities of the marketplace.
Significance of Medieval Social Thought. The historical importance of medieval social thought is again difficult to define. Medieval thinkers wanted to establish justice in social affairs, but the extent to which they were successful is beyond assessment. On a more practical level, their early suspicions of commercial activities probably worked to channel effort and investment into agriculture rather than trade; but given the predominantly agricultural character of the early medieval economy, it would be hard to call this result unfortunate. And it would also be hard to say that the usury prohibition for long delayed the development of a capitalistic economy, so varied were the ways of circumventing it. Scholastic thought did have a clear impact on medieval economic institutions, and it strongly influenced banking practices and the economic policies of cities and states. The time has long since passed when the scholastics could be dismissed as unimportant in the history of European social thought. Scholastic social analysis forms an initial and integral chapter within the larger effort of Western man to understand, and hopefully to improve, his society and its institutions.
Bibliography: g. le bras, "Conceptions of Economy and Society," Cambridge Economic History of Europe, v.3 (Cambridge, Eng. 1963) 554–575. i. giordani, The Social Message of the Early Church Fathers (Paterson, NJ 1944). i. seipel, Die wirtschaftsethischen Lehren der Kirchenväter (Vienna 1907). p. h. furfey, A History of Social Thought (New York 1942). r. w. and a. j. carlyle, A History of Mediaeval Political Theory in the West, 6 v. (New York 1950). g. de lagarde, La Naissance de l'esprit laïque au déclin du moyen âge, 5 v. (Louvain 1956–63). j. a. schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, ed. e. b. schumpeter (New York 1954). j. w. baldwin, The Medieval Theories of the Just Price (Philadelphia 1959). r. de roover, "The Concept of the Just Price: A Theory of Economic Policy," Journal of Economic History 18 (1958) 418–438. j. t. noonan, The Scholastic Analysis of Usury (Cambridge, MA 1957). e. troeltsch, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, tr. o. wyon, 2 v. (New York 1931). b. jarrett, Social Theories of the Middle Ages, 1200–1500 (Westminster, MD 1942). g. a. o'brien, An Essay on Mediaeval Economic Teaching (New York 1920).
[d. j. herlihy]
Social movements, in the sense of practical programs for political and economic reform in the interest of the general welfare, are relatively modern phenomena. They were particularly characteristic of the 19th century and arose out of a heightened consciousness of the importance of society in the lives of individual men. This social consciousness was derived from the revolutions wrought by democracy, nationalism, and industrialism. The democratic revolution, set in motion in the U.S. and France, replaced the older aristocratic political structures with a new one centered on the masses. In Germany the nationalist revolution, which came into being by way of opposition to Napoleonic dominance, influenced economics, law, and philosophy as well as politics. The industrial revolution, originating in England, substituted a system of production based on factories for the previous simple, cottage-housed, rural industry. Each of these revolutions contributed in its own way to a keener awareness of social reality and social problems. This was particularly true of the industrial revolution. Factories themselves became miniature societies; industrial cities were new and larger social groupings; and at national and international levels social interdependence was fostered by developments in banking, finance, transportation and general communications of the industrial era.
The Challenge of Freedom. Despite their different origins, immediate interests, and emphases, these revolutionary changes developed from a common philosophy. It was summed up in the one word liberty—liberty through political representation, national independence, and economic initiative. In the domain of politics the way was prepared by the writings of the 18th-century ency clopedists and the philosophes, for whom individual freedom was the highest human value. In the sphere of nationalism the new spirit made the 19th century an era of turmoil and rebellion. But liberalism in the form of economic individualism was most significant, to the extent that the basic economic outlook of the 19th century was termed laissez-faire. The glorification of freedom in every realm led to many and grave abuses, particularly in economic matters. In this field the doctrine of freedom, often expressed by the phrase "every man for himself," allowed the strong to oppress the weak. In the absence of trade unions, then regarded as threatening individual freedom, capitalist manufacturers imposed miserably low wage rates on employees. In like manner, with the state standing by and refraining from interference, exceptionally bad working and living conditions became the order of the day. In short, what began to be called the proletariat, that is, the propertyless, wage-earning class, was reduced to a state little better than slavery. Paradoxically, the 19th century, despite its insistence upon liberty for all men and all nations, produced at first a new bondage for the working man.
Catholic Traditionalism. One of the most striking things about this development is that the Christian churches, at least officially, made virtually no attempt to stem the evil effects of early industrialism. As far as Protestantism was concerned, the opposite was the case. Those countries in which industrial capitalism made its first headway were precisely the Protestant countries and regions of Europe. So much so that Max weber, R. H. Tawney, and others have advanced the thesis that the Protestant ethic, particularly in its Calvinist form, was an important impetus to the growth of industrial capitalism. Although it is true that an earlier form of commercial capitalism had developed in the 14th and 15th centuries, insofar as it was related to religion it was a reflection of Europe's waning faith and indifference to the Church's condemnation of usury; it was not something that received support from official Catholic teaching. The case of industrial capitalism vis-à-vis Puritan Protestantism was quite different; for material success was linked with the possession of virtue and the promise of salvation, and vice with general fecklessness and moral evil. Many Christian statesmen and economists felt that it would be flaunting Providence to attempt to change the situation in the name of social reform.
For decades the Catholic Church also remained inactive, with near-disastrous consequences. In retrospect, it seems clear that the Church should have developed a body of social thought and a program of social reform much earlier than it did. There were extenuating factors that explain, although they do not justify, this failure. In particular, the European Church was intensely preoccupied with the problems raised by the democratic revolution. Indeed, her fear of its consequences as manifested in the atheism and rationalism of the french revo lution, the seizure of Church lands, and the imposition of the civil constitution of the clergy became almost a Catholic obsession. Although alleviated for a time by the Napoleonic Concordat, the reaction was prolonged by Napoleon's annexation of the States of the Church, concern for which later occupied the attention of the papacy during the period of the Italian risorgimento. The intensity of the reaction was manifest in the Church's rejection of Félicité Robert de lammenais (1782–1854) and the Liberal Catholics, whose interests, though predominantly political, included some attention to social reform. In England, the leading industrial country, where the evils of liberal capitalism were most in evidence, the Church was especially weak. In 1800 there were only about 60,000 Catholics in the country. By 1850 the number had risen to about a million, but both the leaders of the Church and the faithful were without much social or political influence. Moreover, both in England and on the Continent, there was a Catholic traditionalist conservatism that resisted awareness of the need for radical social reform. An aspect of this attitude was displayed by cha teaubriand, who extolled the glories of a past age in his Genius of Christianity when he should have been leading Catholics to face contemporary problems.
Growth of Secularism. The outcome was a lamentable division of European men into two blocks of opinion, two closed and mutually exclusive compartments, the Christian and the secular. Of course the growth of secularism is not to be attributed entirely to the failure of organized religion to come to grips with the social injustice of the period. The apathy of the churches was indeed an important contributing factor, but the rise of atheism and disbelief was influenced directly by other factors, such as the rationalism and freethinking of the Aufklarung (Enlightenment). The social situation was nevertheless a cause, and an important one. This being the case, it is not at all surprising that the first formal movements for social reform came from secular sources and, as a result, had an irreligious and even antireligious character. Their object—to achieve the equality that was intended to go hand in hand with liberty—was conceived in a variety of ways by diverse thinkers; but it is generally covered by the term socialism, one wing of which was moderate and democratic in its aims, whereas the other, communism, was very extreme.
Rise of Catholic Social Movements. Modern Catholic social thought in general began in a series of unrelated and sporadic efforts rather than as the official program of a full-fledged movement. In France it had its beginnings in opposition to the Young Socialists after the abortive revolution of 1830. Its chief representatives were Frédéric ozanam (1813–53), who launched a successful organization for the relief of the poor, the Society of st. vincent de paul; lacordaire (1802–61), who preached in Notre Dame against the worst evils of capitalism; and montalembert (1810–70), who, as member of the Chamber of Deputies, was responsible for the first French factory legislation. Together with the Workers' Circles and study circles promoted by Albert de Mun and la tour du pin, these initiatives represented the only French Catholic social thought and activity until the last decade of the century.
In Germany similar figures appeared in opposition to the Communists after the revolution of 1848. These were Adolf kolping (1813–64), the journeyman worker become priest, who established a string of hostels for immigrant peasant workers in the new industrial cities; Emmanuel von ketteler (1811–77), civil servant and bishop of Mainz, who preached sermons and wrote treatises condemning laissez-faire; and Ludwig windthorst (1812–91), who, like Montalembert in France, was a member of the Reichstag and sponsored the first German factory acts.
Two defects in these developments are immediately apparent. For one thing, they originated defensively, in opposition, that is, to socialism of one kind or another. Certainly they were founded in a consciousness of the need for justice, but this consciousness was not experienced with the intensity needed for action until the socialist movement had begun to draw thousands of workmen away from the faith. Second, they sought amelioration rather than thoroughgoing reform. In general, the existence of the captialist system with all its shortcomings was accepted and ways and means were sought to bandage the afflicted, when what was needed was a sort of preventive social medicine.
These proponents of a committed social Catholicism, however, laid the bases of the now widespread and successful Catholic social movements. They were at least a generation behind the early socialists, such as the Comte de saint-simon, Robert Owen, and Charles Fourier. Moreover, socialism was first to organize at the international level—the Socialist International was founded in 1864—whereas the Catholic social movement first became international in scope in 1885. In that year Cardinal Gaspard mermillod (1824–92) founded the Fribourg Union to provide a link between the independent efforts in different countries and the development of a common body of Catholic social thought. This was progressively hammered out at meetings of the Fribourg Union and through the force of concrete example in the practical attitudes of men such as Cardinals Henry man ning (1808–92) and James gibbons (1834–1921). The revival of Thomistic philosophy about 1880 led to a systematic effort in social philosophy, particularly on the part of German Jesuits such as Viktor cathrein (1845–1931) and Heinrich Pesch (1854–1926), whose theories of society and the state were based upon applications of natural law in economic and political thought.
These developments were given status and authority in 1891 by the encyclical rerum novarum of Leo XIII, reinforced in later decades by Quadragesimo anno (1931) and the social encyclicals of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II. Here, the most recent popes develop carefully nuanced positions on the themes of property and wages, trade unionism and industrial relations, the role of the state in socioeconomic affairs, international economic development, and new challenges to the advancement of the common good in society. The papal social encyclicals constitute a tradition of reflection that at once builds upon the biblical, philosophical, and theological traditions treated above and exhibits an openness to new ideas (such as the imperative to end colonialism), trends of thought (such as personalism), and empirical data (such as the end of communism and the Cold War). In so doing, these documents take up the challenge offered by the Second Vatican Council ever to take seriously "the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the gospel" (Gaudium et spes, 4).
Contemporary Catholic social thought is not restricted, of course, to papal teachings and magisterial documents emanating from national episcopal conferences and regional or occasional synods of bishops. Besides these magisterial social teachings there is also a less welldefined but vitally influential body of unofficial Catholic social thought. Some of this ethical guidance is associated with the literature and social involvements of lay movements, from the predominantly European Catholic Action (encouraged especially during the pontificate of Pius XI) to the Catholic Worker Movement (active mainly in North America since the 1930s) to the base Christian communities (primarily a Latin American phenomenon) associated with liberation theology. These and many other popular movements serve as indispensable contributions to Catholic social thought, for they help form the laity and assist in organizing social action on behalf of justice in an increasingly complex and interdependent world.
Bibliography: j. newman, The Christian in Society (Baltimore 1962). d. a. o'connor, Catholic Social Doctrine (Westminster, MD 1956). h. somerville, Studies in the Catholic Social Movement (London 1933).
"Social Thought, Catholic." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 22, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/social-thought-catholic
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