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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Leo XIII: Christian Democracy

One of the most influential addresses on social and economic subjects ever delivered in the Vatican was the one made by Pope Leo XIII in 1901. A part of this address, widely circulated and often quoted, is given here.

The grave discussions on economical questions which for some time past have disturbed the peace of several countries of the world are growing in frequency and intensity to such a degree that the minds of thoughtful men are filled, and rightly so, with worry and alarm. These discussions take their rise in the bad philosophical and ethical teaching which is now widespread among the people. The changes also which the mechanical inventions of the age have introduced, the rapidity of communication between places and the devices of every kind for diminishing labor and increasing gain, all add bitterness to the strife; and lastly, matters have been brought to such a pass by the struggle between capital and labor, fomented as it is by professional agitators, that the countries where these disturbances most frequently occur find themselves confronted with ruin and disaster.

At the very beginning of Our Pontificate We clearly pointed out what the peril was which confronted Society on this head, and We deemed it Our duty to warn Catholics, in unmistakable language, how great the error was which was lurking in the utterances of Socialism, and how great the danger was that threatened not only their temporal possessions, but also their morality and religion. That was the purpose of Our Encyclical Letter “Quod Apostolici Muneris” which We published on the eighteenth of December in the year 1878; but as these dangers day by day threatened still greater disaster, both to individuals and the commonwealth, We strove with all the more energy to avert them. This was the object of Our Encyclical “Rerum Novarum” of the fifteenth May, 1891, in which We dwelt at length on the rights and duties which both classes of Society—those, namely, who control capital, and those who contribute labor—are bound in relation to each other; and at the same time, We made it evident that the remedies which are most useful to protect the cause of Religion, and to terminate the contest between the different classes of Society, were to be found in the precepts of the Gospel.

Nor, with God’s grace, were Our hopes entirely frustrated. Even those who are not Catholics, moved by the power of truth, avowed that the Church must be credited with a watchful care over all classes of Society, and especially those whom fortune had least favored. Catholics, of course, profited abundandy by these Letters, for they not only received encouragement and strength for the admirable enterprises in which they were engaged, but also obtained the light which they desired, by the help of which they were able with greater safety and with more plentiful blessings to continue the efforts which they had been making in the matter of which We are now speaking. Hence it happened that the differences of opinion which prevailed among them were either removed or their acrimony diminished and the discussion laid aside. In the work which they had undertaken this was effected, viz.: that in their efforts for the elevation of the poorer classes, especially in those places where the trouble is greatest, many new enterprises were set on foot; those which were already established were increased, and all reaped the blessing of a greater stability imparted to them. Some of these works were called “Bureaus of the People,” their object being to supply information. Rural Savings Banks had been established, and various Associations, some for mutual aid, others of relief, were organized. There were Working Men’s Societies and other enterprises for work or beneficence. Thus under the auspices of the Church united action of Catholics was secured as well as wise discrimination exercised in the distribution of help for the poor who are often as badly dealt with by chicanery and exploitation of their necessities, as they are oppressed by indigence and toil. These schemes of popular benevolence were, at first, distinguished by no particular appellation. The name of “Christian Socialism” with its derivatives which was adopted by some was very properly allowed to fall into disuse. Afterwards some asked to have it called “The Popular Christian Movement.” In the countries most concerned with this matter, there are some who are known as “Christian Socialists.” Elsewhere the movement is described as “Christian Democracy,” and its partisans “Christian Democrats,” in contradistinction to those who are designated as “Socialists,” and whose* system is known as “Social Democracy.” Not much exception is taken to the former, i.e., “Christian Socialism,” but many excellent men find the term “Christian Democracy” objectionable. They hold it to be very ambiguous and for this reason open to two objections. It seems by implication to covertly favor popular government, and to disparage other methods of political administration. Secondly, it appears to belittle religion by restricting its scope to the care of the poor, as if the other sections of Society were not of its concern. More than that, under the shadow of its name there might easily lurk a design to attack all legitimate power either civil or sacred. Wherefore, since this discussion is now so widespread, so exaggerated, and so bitter, the consciousness of duty warns Us to put a check on this controversy and to define what Catholics are to think on this matter. We also propose to describe how the movement may extend its scope and be made more useful to the commonwealth.

What “Social Democracy” is and what “Christian Democracy” ought to be, assuredly no one can doubt. The first, with due consideration to the greater or less intemperance of its utterance, is carried to such an excess by many as to maintain that there is really nothing existing above the natural order of things, and that the acquirement and enjoyment of corporal and external goods constitute man’s happiness. It aims at putting all government in the hands of the people, reducing all ranks to the same level, abolishing all distinction of class, and finally introducing community of goods. Hence the right of ownership is to be abrogated, and whatever property a man possesses, or whatever means of livelihood he has, is to be common to all.

As against this, “Christian Democracy,” by the fact that it is Christian, is built, and necessarily so, on the basic principles of Divine Faith, and provides for the betterment of the masses, with the ulterior object of availing itself of the occasion to fashion their minds for things which are everlasting. Hence, for “Christian Democracy” justice is sacred; it must maintain that the right of acquiring and possessing property cannot be impugned, and it must safeguard the various distinctions and degrees which are indispensable in every well-ordered commonwealth. Finally it must endeavor to preserve in every human society the form and the character which God ever impresses on it. It is clear, therefore, that there is noth­ing in common between “Social” and “Christian Democracy.” They differ from each other as much as the sect of Socialism differs from the profession of Christianity.

Moreover, it would be a crime to distort this name of “Christian Democracy” to politics, for although democracy, both in its philological and philosophical significations, implies popular government, yet in its present application it is so to be employed that, removing from it all political significance, it is to mean nothing else than a benevolent and Christian movement in behalf of the people. For the laws of nature and of the Gospel, which by right are superior to all human contingencies, are necessarily independent of all modifications of civil government, while at the same time they are in concord with everything that is not repugnant to morality and justice. They are, therefore, and they must remain absolutely free from political parties, and have nothing to do with the various changes of administration which may occur in a nation; so that Catholics may and ought to be citizens according to the constitution of any state, guided as they are by those laws which command them to love God above all things, and their neighbors as themselves. This has always been the discipline of the Church. The Roman Pontiffs acted upon this principle whenever they dealt with different countries, no matter what might be the character of their governments. Hence, the mind and the action of Catholics who are devoted to the amelioration of the working classes can never be actuated with the purpose of favoring and introducing one government in place of another.

In the same manner, from “Christian Democracy” We must remove another possible subject of reproach, namely, that while looking after the advantage of the working people they should act in such a manner as to forget the upper classes of Society; for they also are of the greatest use in preserving and perfecting the commonwealth. As We have explained, the Christian law of charity will prevent Us from so doing. For it extends to all classes of Society, and all should be treated as members of the same family, as children of the same Heavenly Father, as redeemed by the same Saviour, and called to the same eternal heritage. Hence the doctrine of the Apostle who warns us that “we are one body and one spirit called to the one hope in our vocation; one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism; one God and the Father of all who is above all, and through all, and in us all.” Wherefore on account of the nature of the union which exists between the different classes of Society and which Christian brotherhood makes still closer, it follows that no matter how great Our devotion may be in helping the people, We should all the more keep Our hold upon the upper classes, because association with them is proper and necessary, as We shall explain later on, for the happy issue of the work in which We are engaged.

Let there be no question of fostering under this name of “Christian Democracy” any intention of diminishing the spirit of obedience, or of withdrawing people from their lawful rulers. Both the natural and the Christian law command us to revere those who, in their various grades, are above us in the State, and to submit ourselves to their just commands. It is quite in keeping with our dignity as men and Christians to obey, not only exteriorly but from the heart, as the Apostle expresses it, for conscience sake, when he commands us to keep our soul subject to the higher powers. It is abhorrent to the profession of a Christian for any one to be unwilling to be subject and obedient to those who rule in the Church, and first of all to the bishops whom (without prejudice to the universal power of the Roman Pontiff) “the Holy Ghost has placed to rule the Church of God which Christ has purchased by His blood” (Acts XX. 28). He who thinks or acts otherwise is guilty of ignoring the grave precept of the Apostle who bids us to obey our rulers and to be subject to them, for they watch, having to give an account of our souls. Let the faithful everywhere implant these principles deep in their souls, and put them in practice in their daily life, and let the ministers of the Gospel meditate them pro­foundly, and incessantly labor not merely by exhortation but especially by example to make them enter into the souls of others.

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