Friday, November 23, 2012

Rerum Novarum §26-42: Analysis

Rerum Novarum
In this week’s selection, the encyclical continues making the case for the Church’s legitimate and beneficent role in society, not competing but cooperating with the State for the common good. And, indeed, Pope Leo cannot refrain from pointing out that the Church, motivated by Christian charity, can and will go much further than the State in alleviating the suffering of the poor, in both their spiritual and their material needs. Not only that, but She influences the hearts and minds of citizens also to desire to do good toward their fellows. So governments should not seek to marginalize religion, because it helps the State do its legitimate job, i.e., maintain a safe environment in which all its citizens may prosper.

This view of the nature of government, and the Church’s relationship to it, is laid out more fully in Leo’s encyclical Immortale Dei (“On the Christian Constitution of the State). The third paragraph of that document sums it up nicely:
It is not difficult to determine what would be the form and character of the State were it governed according to the principles of Christian philosophy. Man's natural instinct moves him to live in civil society, for he cannot, if dwelling apart, provide himself with the necessary requirements of life, nor procure the means of developing his mental and moral faculties. Hence it is divinely ordained that he should lead his life, be it family, social, or civil, with his fellow-men, amongst whom alone his several wants can be adequately supplied. But as no society can hold together unless someone be over all, directing all to strive earnestly for the common good, every civilized community must have a ruling authority, and this authority, no less than society itself, has its source in nature, and has consequently God for its author. Hence it follows that all public power must proceed from God. For God alone is the true and supreme Lord of the world. Everything without exception must be subject to Him, and must serve Him, so that whosoever holds the right to govern, holds it from one sole and single source, namely God, the Sovereign Ruler of all. “There is no power but from God.”
Thus, both the Church and the State ultimately serve God. Not only that, but some kind of State (i.e., governing structure) is necessary and natural if individuals and society as a whole are to prosper.

Once the case for the Church and her agencies has been made, the encyclical goes on to delineate the State’s legitimate role in ordering society. First, it is pointed out that it is in the State’s best interest to see to it that its laws and institutions allow people to live good lives, as this will promote peace and the common good. In particular, the State should see to it that the rights of the working class are protected, since they make up the bulk of society and their labor serves the whole of society. In other words, it would be foolish and impractical to allow workers to be victimized by their wealthy employers, because without a healthy working class everything would grind to a halt.

Still, the State’s job seems to be, not to interfere in and manage the daily lives of its citizens, but to see that justice prevails in public and private matters. That is, it should stand by in case things go wrong, or appear to be about to go wrong, and to intervene only when necessary to avoid a breakdown (such as work stoppages or riots) in the normal operations of society and industry, and only until peace and justice have been restored, which would include addressing the causes of such disturbances -- e.g., the lamentable conditions that drive workers to strike. Bearing in mind the dangerous ideas put forth by Socialists, Leo also addresses specifically acts of class warfare that would violate justice, such as workers' seizing the property of the owners of capital, as well as greedy capitalists' treatment of workers as wage slaves in order to wring the maximum profit from their labors -- either of these would be grossly unjust, and the State should guard against them.

However, the State’s role is also to safeguard the good of the individual, even when the individual might not want it to do so, much as a father must sometimes do things for his child’s good, even if the child does not recognize that action as good. So, for instance, a worker desperate to earn money might agree to poor wages, excessively long hours, or bad working conditions, but the State should not allow it. It is interesting that Leo claims that the State should safeguard not only the material well-being of its citizens, but also their moral well-being, by making sure that workers have time not only to recuperate from their labors, but also to spend time with their families and to worship. This is in accord with the Church's view that the State “no less than society itself, has its source in nature, and has consequently God for its author.”

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Be thankful that Thanksgiving is still a national holiday

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman
Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman
With religious liberty increasingly under fire, and religion almost completely erased from the civic sphere, we should be grateful that, here in the United States, we still have a national holiday on which we are exhorted to give thanks to our Creator.   

The Catholic Thing posted some wise word from Bl. John Henry Newman for Thanksgiving Day. Here are some of them:
We are not our own, any more than what we possess is our own. . . .We are God’s property by creation, by redemption, by regeneration. He has a triple claim upon us. Is it not our happiness thus to view the matter? Is it any happiness, or any comfort, to consider that we are our own? It may be thought so by the young and prosperous. These may think it a great thing to have everything, as they suppose, their own way, — to depend on no one, — to have to think of nothing out of sight, — to be without the irksomeness of continual acknowledgment, continual prayer, continual reference of what they do to the will of another. But as time goes on, they, as all men, will find that independence was not made for man — that it is an unnatural state — may do for a while, but will not carry us on safely to the end. No, we are creatures; and, as being such, we have two duties, to be resigned and to be thankful.

Let us then view God’s providences towards us more religiously than we have hitherto done. Let us try to gain a truer view of what we are, and where we are, in His kingdom. Let us humbly and reverently attempt to trace His guiding hand in the years which we have hitherto lived. Let us thankfully commemorate the many mercies He has vouchsafed to us in time past, the many sins He has not remembered, the many dangers He has averted, the many prayers He has answered, the many mistakes He has corrected, the many warnings, the many lessons, the much light, the abounding comfort which He has from time to time given. Let us dwell upon times and seasons, times of trouble, times of joy, times of trial, times of refreshment.

“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Happy Thanksgiving Day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Rerum Novarum in Australia: "Putting the common good back into the Commonwealth"

Australian Senator John Madigan
As we've seen in our reading so far of Rerum Novarum, one of the key ideas is that citizens -- both business owners and their employees -- and the State should cooperate for the common good. Injustice results when one element is favored over the other. This idea still "has legs" in our contemporary world, and it animated a lecture presented by Australian Senator John Madigan when he spoke recently during the 2012 Rerum Novarum Oration at Australian Catholic University.

The Rerum Novarum Oration is an annual event sponsored by the Office of Justice and Peace of the Melbourne Archdiocese, to commemorate Pope Leo's encyclical as the encyclical "that formed the foundation of the Church’s social doctrine in modern times." In addition to Senator Madigan, Dr Matthew Tan, Lecturer in Theology and Philosophy at Campion College, Sydney, also gave a keynote address.

Click here to read transcripts of the two speeches or listen to the podcasts.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Vatican Radio interview on the significance of Rerum Novarum

Pope Leo XIII, author of Rerum Novarum
Vatican Radio has begun broadcasting interviews discussing works of the Catholic Social Tradition. The first addresses Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, and includes a discussion of the context in which the first social encyclical was written, and its reception in the world at large. Click the link at the end to find the audio links to the interview. 

Leo XIII: father of social encyclicals... 

(Vatican Radio) Leo XIII who died on the 20th July 1903 has gone down in history as the first pope ever to have written a social encyclical.
It was 1891 and the title of this document was “Rerum Novarum, Latin words highlighting the novelty of the theme explored [sic -- a misunderstanding of the title, as I pointed out in my commentary. --LN].
Veronica Scarisbrick asks Professor of Catholic Social Teaching at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas here in Rome, Dominican Father Alejandro Crosthwaite, to place this encyclical into an historical context for us.
While Father Crosthwaite explains how the Catholic Church's concern in social issues dates back to the times of the Fathers of the Church, he also notes how this document breaks new ground. As for the first time in history a Roman Pontiff begins to realise the need to address social issues in a new way, expressing concern for the condition of workers.
Read more. Listen to interview.