Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Natural Law and the Common Good: Leo XIII's Graves de communi re

HOW TO RECONCILE THE TWO OPPOSING camps of labor and capital weighed heavy on the shoulders of Leo XIII. It was obviously one of his great pastoral concerns. To offer solutions to the social problems caused by the Industrial Revolution and the new manner of economic and political relations spawned by it, Leo XIII applied the principles of natural law in light of the Gospel. Leo XIII recognized that many of the solutions that were being touted as panaceas to the plight of the worker--communism and socialism, for example--or were by used to justify the oppression of the worker--classical "laissez-faire" liberalism, or untrammeled capitalism--were based on the "bad philosophical and ethical teaching" so prevalent in that day.

In his encyclical Graves de communni re, Pope Leo XIII readdressed the issues that had been treated by his encyclicals Quod Apostolici muneris and Rerum novarum. The former condemned the errors found in the socialistic movements of the day, and the latter, more positively, provided guidance on the relations between labor and capital, and offered solutions to ameliorate the plight of labor without violating the rights of capital focusing on the mutual rights and duties of both classes to each other.

There had been much done to relieve the sufferings of the proletariat, not the least by Catholics that had set themselves upon the task to address the social ills of the day by forming institutions and organizations whose task was to educate the laborer, provide financial support and credit, offer relief services. Labor unions were also something that provided laborers a legitimate means for association and protection of their interests.

Leo XIII gave his support to some of the efforts by Christians that conformed to natural law and divine precepts, or at least did not work against them. These movements, Leo XIII felt, could be called Social Christians (socialismi christiani or sociales christiani) or Christian Democracy (democratia christiana or democratici christiani). Pope Leo XIII understood that "although democracy, both in its philological and philosophical significations, implies popular government, yet in its present application it must be employed without any political significance, so as to mean nothing else than this beneficent Christian action in behalf of the people." GC, 7. There was some fear that the term Christian Democracy, however, could lead itself by implication of its terms "to favor popular government and to disparage other methods of political administration." It also appeared to "belittle religion by restricting its scope to the care of the poor [the "demos"], as if the other sections of society were not of its concerns." GC, 4. There was some concern that "under the shadow of its name there might easily lurk a design to attack all legitimate power, either civil or sacred." In other words, was "Christian Democracy" just another term for an incipient socialism or liberalism?

"Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen. 4:9)
הֲשֹׁמֵ֥ר אָחִ֖י אָנֹֽכִי

Leo XIII compared Social Democracy (democratia socialis) to Christian Democracy (democratia christiana). Social Democracy, to greater or lesser extent, tended to the error that "there is really nothing existing above the natural [human] order of things (nihil ut quidquam supra humana reputet), and that the acquirement and enjoyment of corporal and external goods constitutes man's happiness." GC, 5. Social Democracy's ultimate goal is dubious:
It aims at putting all government in the hands of the masses, reducing all ranks to the same level, abolishing all distinction of class, and finally introducing community of goods. Hence, the right to own private property is to be abrogated, and whatever property a man possesses, or whatever means of livelihood he has, is to be common to all.

Hinc imperium enes plebem in civitate velint esse, ut sublatis ordinum gradibus aequatisque civibus, ad bonorum etiam inter eos aequalitatem sit gressus: hinc ius dominii delendum; it quidquid fortunarum est singulis, ipsaque instrumenta vitae, communia habenda.
QC, 5.

Christian Democracy was therefore easily distinguishable from Social Democracy:
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 it must provide better conditions for the masses, with the ulterior object of promoting the perfection of souls made for things eternal. 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.

At vero democratia christiana, eo nimirum quod christiana dicitur, suo veluti fundamento, positis a divina fide principiis niti debet, infimorum sic prospiciens utilitatibus, ut animos ad sempiterna factos convenienter perficiat. Proinde nihil sit illi iustitia sanctius; ius potiundi possidendi iubeat esse integrum; dispares tueatur ordines, sane proprios bene constitutae civitatis; eam demum humano convictui velit forma atque indolem esse, qualem Deus auctor indidit.
GC, 6.

The difference between the two could not be more stark: "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." GC, 6.

Leo XIII thus gave his tentative approval to the term "Christian Democracy," but warned that care should be taken to maintain its use within the economic or social sphere, and not import it into the political sphere. Pope Leo XIII insisted that the Church was, in the final analysis, indifferent to the forms of civil government, as it was not the form, but the substance of that government--whether it promoted justice, morality, and allowed the Church to accomplish its divine mission without prejudice--that was important. Here, Leo XIII invoked the natural law and the revelation of the Gospel:
For the laws of nature and of the Gospel, which by right are superior to all human contingencies, are necessarily independent of all particular forms of civil government, while at the same time they are in harmony with everything that is not repugnant to morality and justice. They are, therefore, and they must remain absolutely free from the passions and the vicissitudes of parties, so that, under whatever political constitution, the citizens may and ought to abide by those laws which command them to love God above all things, and their neighbors as themselves.

Nam naturae et evangelii praecepta quia suopte iure humanos casus excedunt, ea necesse est ex nullo civilis regiminis modo pendere; sed convenire cum quovis posse, modo ne honestati et iustitiae repugnet. Sunt ipsa igitur manentque a partium studiis variisque eventibus plane aliena: ut in qualibet demum rei publicae constitutione, possint cives ac debeant iisdem stare praeceptis, quibus iubentur Deum super omnia, proximos sicut se diligere.
GC, 7. In applying themselves, therefore, to promoting the welfare of the working classes, Catholic action should remain aware that its work--which deals with justice and morality, and the relief of the plight of labor--should therefore avoid partisan politics or political preferences, and ought not to be "actuated with the purpose of favoring and introducing one government in place of another." GC, 7. In other words, Catholic action ought not to be a cover for political action.

Pope Leo XIII also sought to warn against any tendency to over focus on the plight of the working people to the extent that it should "overlook the upper classes of society." GC, 8. The Christian law of charity does not limit itself to the laboring classes, but must embrace and comprehend all classes:
The Christian law of charity . . . . embraces all men, irrespective of ranks, as members of one and the same family, children of the same most beneficent Father, redeemed by the same Saviour, and called to the same eternal heritage.

Caritas lex . . . ad omnes omnino cuiusvis gradus homines patet complectendos, utpote unius eiusdemque famliae, eodem beignissimo editos Patre et redemptos Servatore, eademque in hereditatem vocatos aeternam.
GC, 8.

There is a union among all men and all classes of men, one that is based upon their common nature, and which is made closer by the bonds of grace:
Wherefore, on account of the union established by nature between the common people and the other classes of society, and which Christian brotherhood makes still closer, whatever diligence we devote to assisting the people will certainly profit also the other classes, the more so since, as will be thereafter shown, their co-operation is proper and necessary for the success of this undertaking.

Quare propter nativam plebis cum ordinibus ceteris coniunctionem, eamque arctiorem ex christiana fraternitate, in eosdem certe influit quantacumque plebi adiutandae diligentia impenditur, eo vel magis quia ad exitum reim secundum plane decet ac necesse est ipsos in partem operae advocari, quod infra aperiemus.
GC, 8.

The efforts rendered to the laboring class, ought therefore not to seek political goals or become partisan to one group over another. In all respects, all should be done in a spirit of obedience, of order, of an all-encompassing justice and charity. In distinction to those who would foment class warfare, or those who take advantage, for the gain of power, of the social situation, the Christian Democrat will respect the existing legal and civil order, in addition to the authority of the Church, as it will recognize its duties under both natural law and the Gospel imperative:
Both the natural and the Christian law command us to revere those who in their various grades are shown 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. [Rom. 13:1, 5]

Revereri eos qui pro suo quisque gradu in civitate praesunt, eisdemque iuste iubentibus obtemperare lex aeque naturalis et christiana praecipit. Quod quidem ut homine eodemque christiano sit dignum, ex animo et officio praestari oportet, scilicet propter conscientiam, quemadmodum ipse monuit Apostolus, quum illud edixit: Omnis anima potestatibus sublimioribus subdita sit.
GC, 9.

If these principles are kept in mind, then there is no "dispute about the name of Christian Democracy," and it can be considered a legitimate expression of Christian action.
[L]et no one condemn that zeal which, in accordance with the natural and divine laws, aims to make the condition of those who toil more tolerable; to enable them to obtain, little by little, those means by which they may provide for the future; to help them to practice in public and in private the duties which morality and religion inculcate; to aid them to feel that they are not animals but men, not heathens but Christians, and so to enable them to strive more zealously and more eagerly for the one thing which is necessary; viz., that ultimate good for which we are born into this world. This is the intention; this is the work of those who wish that the people should be animated by Christian sentiments and should be protected from the contamination of socialism which threatens them.

[C]erte nemo unus studium illud reprehenderit, quod, secundum naturalem divinamque legem, eo unice pertineat, ut qui vitam manu et arte sustentant, tolerabiliorem in statum adducantur, habeantque sensim quo sibi ipsi prospiciant; domi atque palam officia virtutum et religionis libere expleant; sentiant se non animantia sed homines, non ethnicos sed christianos esse; atque adeo unum illud necessarium, ad ultimum bonum, cui nati sumus, et facilius et studiosius nitantur. Iamvero hic finis, hoc opus eorum qui plebem christiano animo velint et opportune relevatam et a peste incolumem socialisimi.
GC, 10.

Pope Leo XIII wanted to disabuse people from thinking that the social question was one related to economics alone. Man, he reminded us, is not solely a homo economicus. What was involved in the social question comprehended the moral and religious life of man. The social question, indeed, required both a religious and moral response because in large part it was a religious and moral question that required a religious and moral solution. More than bread was required; it was also a question of virtue and of piety.
For, even though wages are doubled and the hours of labor are shortened and food is cheapened, yet, if the working man hearkens to the doctrines that are taught on this subject, as he is prone to do, and is prompted by the examples set before him to throw off respect for God and to enter upon a life of immorality, his labors and his gain will avail him naught.
GC, 11.

Indeed, Leo XIII commended the work of Catholics among the laboring classes, "on behalf of the masses," observing that in working among this they imitated the early Church--indeed the Church throughout all ages--in following the law of justice and the law of charity. "This zeal in coming to the rescue of our fellow men should, of course, be solicitous, first for the eternal good of souls, but it must not neglect what is good and helpful for this life." GC, 13. Not only was the Catholic to remember that man was more than a stomach, but also had a soul; but he was also to remember that man was more than a soul, and also had a stomach. Man is both body and soul, and both ought to be cared for. That is why the Church, following the teaching of the Lord, has always recognized both the spiritual and the corporal works of mercy.

Pope Leo XIII therefore recommended almsgiving, institutions that rendered temporary aid to the working classes, but also institutions that were permanent in nature and that encouraged growth in education and in virtue so that the laborer could be self-sufficient. To the rich or those with standing in the community, he reminded them "that they are not at all free to look after or neglect those who happen to be beneath them, but that it is a strict duty which binds them." GC, 19. They could not turn a deaf ear to the plight of any member of the civil body. Everyone had a duty to the common good:
For, no one lives only for his personal advantage in a community; he lives for the common good as well, so that, when others cannot contribute their share for the general good, those who can do so are obliged to make up the deficiency. The very extent of the benefits they have received increases the burden of their responsibility, and a stricter account will have to be rendered to God who bestowed those blessings upon them. What should also urge all to the fulfillment of their duty in this regard is the widespread disaster which will eventually fall upon all classes of society if his assistance does not arrive in time; and therefore is it that he who neglects the cause of the distressed masses is disregarding his own interest as well as that of the community.

Nec enim suis quisque commodis tantum in civitate vivit, verum etiam communibus: ut, quod alii in summam communis boni conferre pro parte nequeant, largius conferant alii qui possint. Cuius quidem officii quantum sit pondus ipsa edocet acceptorum bonorum praestantia, quam consequantur necesse est restrictior ratio, summo reddenda largitori Deo. It etiam monet malorum lues, quae, remedio non tempestive adhibito, in omnium ordinum pernciem est alquando eruptura: ut nimirum qui calamitosae plebis negligat causam, ipse sibi et civitati faciat improvide.
GC, 19.

The rich! The powerful! They have obligations to the common good. The poor! The voiceless! They have obligations to the common good. Every man, woman, and child has obligations to the common good. There is not one of us who, under the natural law and the law of the Gospel, can claim to live himself and neglect any one or more of his brothers and sisters.

"Am I my brother's keeper?" asked Cain of God. (Gen. 4:9) There is no other answer but one, for both the rich and the poor, for both the capitalist and the proletariat: yes. This is the upshot of Leo XIII's encyclial Graves de communi re.


  1. This man is talking out of both sides of his mouth. There is NO such thing as "class" in a democracy. I thought the Christian Church was married to Monarchy. So why is the pope talking about democracy? We change with the winds.

  2. There are "classes" in democracy. We talk about lower class, middle class, upper class. We talk about the ruling class. Professions enjoy the privilege of class. Only some classes are not tolerated.
    I don't think the Church is necessarily married to monarchy. After all, the Church had relationships with republics (e.g., Venice), city states (e.g., Genoa), monarchs, princes, emperors, etc.
    There is no divine form of secular rule revealed in the New Testament as far as I can tell.

  3. If you study the Enlightenment, you'll notice, and many scholars point out, dissimulation. All sorts of authors used dissimulation. Their speech includes inconsistencies, they will provide huge excerpts of the "wrong idea", they will give lots of press coverage to the anti-Catholic line, they will write copiously orthodox lines but in the middle they will throw in a single line of their pet project.

    Why mention "Christian democracy" at all? I can think of twenty ways of addressing labor relations without resorting to democracy at all!!!

    This pope uses the phrase "Laws of Nature"! Yet in Catholic literature this is NEVER, Nowhere, defined! Democracy is not in the Laws of Nature! Democracy does not exist in nature, does not exist in the heavens! My God, laws of nature and democracy? That is an oxymoron!

    There is a fine line between marxism and Christianity! And this guy blurs it even more! Instead of steering clear of the fine line, this man dances on top of it. It is no wonder that many "catholics" are marxists! He could have used any number of ways to attack abuse without ever mentioning "democracy"! Monarchy, Aristocracy, Tyranny (Roman Emperors), Classical republicanism, all follow the laws of nature---democracy? Not at all. Democracy is anti-logos.

    And yet, I keep on asking that somewhere someone post these "laws of nature" of Catholicism and it hasn't been done! The so-called "laws of nature" were re-defined by Descarte!, Newton, Locke and Hobbes! They all rejected Plato and Aristotle! So what "Laws of Nature" is the Pope talking about? What? Where? By whom? The Enlightenment Laws of Nature that was materialistic and pantheistic?