Thoughts on Catholic "Social Doctrine"

Discussion in 'Theology and Doctrine' started by Perceval, Jun 13, 2014.

  1. Perceval

    Perceval New Member

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    Although a happy Anglican I must confess to being jealous in part of the Catholic church for their 'social doctrine', which I discovered through its secular proponents in the form of 'distributism'. The central idea of it is that the means of production and political power ought to be distributed as widely as possible, creating an ownership society in which no man is an employer, and no man is master save of himself. Though sometimes dismissed as the romanticization of the past -- every man owning his own farm or shop, living in his own home -- distributist principles can be applied to larger organizations in the form of cooperatives. As both a traditionalist and a classical liberal, I am resolutely for distributist principles; I believe firmly in self-reliance, self-command, the primacy of the small and decentralized. My notion of the ideal republic is much inspired by the Greek tradition of every man with his own homestead, his own voice in the assembly, his own place in the ranks of hoplites defending the traditions of free men. The Catholics have a social doctrine which has born these distributive ideals, their source being principles like subsidiarity and solidarity. Subsidarity, to comment on one, is the belief that everything ought to be handled at the smallest local level, so that the parish council does not dictate to a man what he may do in his home, and the national government does not meddle in the affairs of the parish council. For the Catholics, these principles are essential for the creation of a just world, a world in which men and women may play out the roles created for them by God. Self-employment, for instance, allows men and women discretion to spend time at home, if need be, and to assume greatest influence over their children's moral education. Independent employment and ownership of his own tools gives man a kind of sovereignty; he cannot be threatened with dismissal by any man. Liberty is secure for them. Studying the social doctrine, meditating on it, has made my own thinking on politics and economics more clear. As much as I like Rome's social doctrine, however, I wish it had a Anglican counterpart.

    What is the Anglican response to the Catholic social doctrine? Has the church of England any approaches similar?
     
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  2. Peteprint

    Peteprint Well-Known Member Anglican

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  3. Perceval

    Perceval New Member

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    There's an enormous difference between socialism, even when advocated by Christians, and distributism; distributism has widespread private property. People don't own the means of production as a mass, but as private individuals. But 'socialism' has more primitive meanings than the one in fashion since the Russians and Chinese put ideology to power. A truly Christian society might be more communal, but I think we'll have to wait for the second coming to see that!

    I think I recall reading the first article before, and liking it, but thank you for reminding me of it. It may have been linked to at a distributist blog. There's a magazine put out by the American Chesterton Society called The Distribust Review, but they've not updated in some time...

    http://distributistreview.com/mag/
     
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  4. Lowly Layman

    Lowly Layman Well-Known Member

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    The most clearly "christian" economy is a capitalist one with strong protections for private property, the right to contract, and individual liberties. socialism, as I see it, is clearly violative of the 8th commandment and is engendered by the mentality that violates the 10th, where money/property/resources are taken from those who earn it by government fiat, ie, force or at least the threat of force, and given to those who haven't earned it.
     
  5. Peteprint

    Peteprint Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Socialism has a pejorative connotation to it, thanks in large part to our experience with Communism. What I think Lewis is talking about is an ideal, one in which all would share- as in the Book of Acts:

    "Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common." Acts 4:32

    St. John Chrysostom writes that:

    "The rich usually imagine that, if they do not physically rob the poor, they are committing no sin. But the sin of the rich consists in not sharing their wealth with the poor. In fact, the rich person who keeps all his wealth for himself is committing a form of robbery. The reason is that in truth all wealth comes from God, and so belongs to everyone equally."

    He also writes that:

    "When you are generous to another person, you are not bestowing a gift, but repaying a debt. Everything you possess materially comes from God, who created all things...When we help someone in need, we shall be saved from any temptation to take pride in our actions. On the contrary, we will regard our act as no more than a small token of appreciation for all the we have received-or, more precisely, the repayment of a tiny fraction of God's blessings."

    St John also wrote:

    "If everyone acted according to the teachings of Christ, there would be no rich or poor; all would be equal. This is because the rich would continue giving away their wealth until everyone had the same. Since only a minority have truly embraced the teachings of Christ, this is not going to happen. But we can make a start; and the place to start is the Church." He then goes on to say that the Church should build hospitals and support the sick, widows, and orphans.

    But St. John also opposed making the rich help the poor:

    " Should we look to kings and princes to put right the inequalities between rich and poor? Should we require soldiers to come and seize the rich person's gold and distribute it among his destitute neighbors? Should we beg the Emperor to impose a tax on the rich so great that it reduces them to the level of the poor and then to share the proceeds of that tax among everyone? Equality imposed by force would achieve nothing and do much harm...the rich whose gold was taken away would feel bitter and resentful; while the poor who received the gold from the hands of soldiers would feel no gratitude...far from bringing moral benefit to society, it would actually do moral harm. Material justice cannot be accomplished by compulsion, a change of heart will not follow."

    Of course we don't have kings and princes, and if we elect a government that we know plans to tax the rich to help the poor, then that is the government we have elected. That won't please those who oppose such actions, but what is the alternative, other than to support the candidates they want?

    These citations are from a wonderful little book, On Living Simply: The Golden Voice of John Chrysostom (Triumph Books, 1996).
     
  6. Spherelink

    Spherelink Active Member

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    Would you mind telling me what these ideas can be found in Catholic history? they are totally unlike what Catholic countries have been like. Think of the Catholic Monarchs. Think of the Bourbon Restoration, top-down absolutism. If you want, think even of Franco and Mussolini. None of the principles I read in your post intercept with actual Catholic social practice.
     
  7. Perceval

    Perceval New Member

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    The social doctrine was absent throughout most of the Roman church's history; it began being formulated by papal bulls and encyclicals in the 19th century, basically as the church was trying to find a way to response to the disruption and social changes being caused by industrialism -- fathers and mothers having to work away from the home, living in actrocious conditions, working under the threat of violence or dismissal -- without rejecting traditional wisdom and trying to re-order society along strictly materialistic lines, as in the manner of the Socialists and Communists. The social doctrine is a Christian response to the challenges of modernity, essentially, and it's fairly new in historical terms, starting around 1890 or so. Some of what the doctrine teaches was already in practice by default before the scientific and industrial revolutions; centralized states were the exception, not the rule, in human history, as was self-sufficient employment.
     
  8. Spherelink

    Spherelink Active Member

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    I see what you mean. If what you say is the case that this theory originated in the 1890s, I fear it may be a bit of an overstatement to call it a "catholic social doctrine." Moral principles out of which communism eventually stemmed take their root in what Catholic theologians taught throughout the centuries, namely, the absence of inherent rights of man, the desirability of common-ownership, the subservience (submergence) of One into the Whole, together with other significant elements. If you have read Thomas More you will know that his utopian government was, essentially, indistinguishable from the Communist Manifesto. Catholics have for centuries been fantasizing of turning the whole world into an apostolic sharing brotherhood. On the other hand Protestants and above all Anglicans have stringently taught the high value of the rights of man, as well as the sanctity of property. We believe God is firmly a teacher of these values.

    More to your point, this distributism idea insofar as it's never been tested remains probably an infeasible literary system. It reminds me of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2014
  9. MatthewOlson

    MatthewOlson Member

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    Since I'm a big fan of St. Thomas More, I feel it is my duty to inform everyone that, in the opinions of most scholars that I know of, his "Utopia" was largely satirical.
     
  10. Spherelink

    Spherelink Active Member

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    Since American Catholics (at least the conservative kind) have had something of a conversion to free-market principles, I'm not surprised if that were "all you read." Try reading somewhat outside of your plot of land. In scholarship generally speaking, Plato and Thomas More are considered the major contibutors to the genesis of Marxian thought in the West.
     
  11. MatthewOlson

    MatthewOlson Member

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    That the Saint had an influence on modern Marxism does not mean that he would have endorsed it. Read some analyses of Utopia.
     
  12. Spherelink

    Spherelink Active Member

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    I did not say he endorsed it. Another non sequitur from you, my friend Matthew. All I said was that the social doctrine in the RCC church throughout the ages has tended to socialism and what ultimately became marxism. The Puritan capitalism idea that conservative RCC'ers espouse now would be wholly alien to your forefathers.