This is a summary of the social principles of the Catholic Church, which can be found in the book: How Christ Changed the World: The Social Teachings of the Catholic Church by Msgr. Luigi Civardi of Catholic Action, published in 1961. (Edited here by A. J. MacDonald, Jr.)
Around the debatable questions concerning the social value of the Gospel, three currents of ideas have been formed.
The first exaggerates this value, attributing to the divine Book a predominantly social content, and making Christ above all a reformer, an agitator, almost a forerunner of modern revolutionaries. To this trend also belongs certain humanitarian socialists.
The second current goes in the opposite direction in that it strips the Gospel teachings of all social content. The teachings of Christ, say its champions, have always soared in the lofty spheres of religion. His heavenly doctrines transcend every earthly system. On the other hand, history plainly tells us that Christianity may spring up and flourish in any political and social environment, adapting itself to such forms of government as the aristocratic and democratic.
There is finally a middle course. It acknowledges that the Gospel is primarily a treasure of religious and moral truths, but affirms also its inestimable social value, because it contains fundamental norms and guiding lines for a safe journey over the slippery ground of political and economic life. This middle course is the true one. Once again, truth asserts itself between two opposite extremes.
Therefore, even though we find in the Gospel neither the express condemnation nor the approval of definite political or social systems, we do, nevertheless, find those doctrinal elements and those ethical principles on the basis of which we are able to judge of their soundness or unsoundness; so that they may be said to be just or not, according to whether, viewed in their proper setting, they seem to agree or disagree with the Gospel principles of justice and charity.
In fact, Jesus has ransomed us not only for future life, but for the present life. Christ has endowed us with riches for heaven and for earth. He was the defender of all the oppressed and the persecuted, the strengthener of all weakness, the relievers of all miseries. He cast upon the earth the leaven of a new civilization, which is rightly called Christian (or, a just society).
The Christian belongs to three distinct societies: domestic, civil, and religious. These three are not opposed to one another, but are mutually complimentary, each one answering to particular needs of people. They should, therefore, live in perfect harmony, helping one another.
Domestic society, the family, takes precedence over the other societies. In fact, it was instituted by God HImself. The family is, therefore, a natural society, because it was founded by the Author of nature himself. Moreover, it is necessary by reason of its end, which is the generation and education of young people.
Marriage is directed to these essential ends: the propagation of life, and hence the preservation of humankind (principle end); mutual help between the spouses and the quieting of lust (secondary ends). Although the man is to be head of the family, this is because of the need of authority and order in the family, which calls for unity of command. Men and woman are equal in dignity as human persons and are to be as companions; neither is to be the servant of the other.
Outside the light of Christianity and justice, the small and the weak – children – are destined to be neglected , if not despised and trampled upon. In an unjust (or non-Christian) family parents often punish children at will, abuse them, sell them into slavery, or even put them to death, often before they are born. Tertullian, in the second century, wrote against the persecutors of Christians as follows: “Amongst those who thirst for the blood of Christians, how many are there that have not put to death one or more of their children; that have not caused them to die of cold or of hunger or exposed them as prey to dogs?”
Jesus has lifted up these frailest of beings, the child, and He has done so in many ways:
First of all, by becoming a child himself obedient to Joseph and Mary: “He was subject to them.” (Luke. 2:51). “How can a Christian today fail to surround with regard and kindness this frail creature, if the Son of God himself wished to put on such frailty. For the same reason, in the Christian family, the children are not considered heavy burdens, but sweet pledges of love.” (Sertum Laetitiae).
Jesus showed his predilection for children; He caressed them, blessed them, praised them, nay, more, He identified Himself with them by saying: “And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receives me.” (Matt. 18:5).
St. Paul, after having exhorted children to obey their parents, adds: “And you, fathers, provoke not your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and correction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4). If the dignity of the child is so lofty, his education is the noblest of of all arts and a most worthy action.
Work is defined as:”human activity for the purpose of providing for the needs of life and especially for its preservation” (Rerum Novarum). Work is at once personal and necessary. It is personal because it is activity of the person, an intelligent and free creature, superior to every other earthly creature. Hence, the dignity of labor cannot even remotely be compared in the productive field to any activity whatever, whether of animals or of machines. Moreover, work is necessary because it is ordained “to provide for the needs of life.”
Unfortunately, the dignity of the worker and the necessity of work were misunderstood by humankind over the course of centuries. Christ rehabilitated work and the worker. The later owes everything to the Divine Redeemer; not merely goods of supernatural life, but also of natural life. We speak of manual labor as that which requires the exercise of physical energy.
Manual labor, and the mechanical arts in the vast Roman empire at the time of Christ, were practiced almost entirely by slaves, so that manual labor became equivalent to servile labor, i.e., slave labor. Slaves were not regarded as men but as beasts, or, worse, as machines, as chattels. They were subjected to the most exhausting labor without any renumeration. Their only compensation was a very coarse and scanty living, just enough to keep up their strength that it might be employed to keep up their strength that it might be employed in new and endless toils. The slave had no rights before the law. He was the property of his master, who used him as he pleased. He could hire him out, or sell him to anyone, and even put him to death. Indeed, there were many citizens who hired out their slaves just as horses, beasts of burden and vehicles are hired out today.
Christ rehabilitated the worker, by preaching one Divine Fatherhood, the universal brotherhood of humankind, and the natural equality of all peoples. This doctrine lays the axe to the root of the evil tree of slavery by condemning every substantial difference between people. Expounding the teachings of the Master, St. Peter exclaims: “God is not a respecter of persons.” (Acts 10:34). And St. Paul says: “There is neither bond nor free.” (Gal. 3:28).
The stupendous example of Christ proved to be even more efficacious than his teaching. The Son of God became “the carpenters son” (Matt. 13:55). Furthermore, he himself became a carpenter, a fellow-worker of his foster father (Joseph). The Evangelist Mark, tells us that when he preached for the first time in Nazareth, his native town, his fellow citizens who had always seen him at work in his shop: “And when the sabbath was come, he began to teach in the synagogue; and many hearing him were in admiration at his doctrine, saying: “How came this man by all these things? and what wisdom is this that is given to him, and such mighty works as are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary? And they were scandalized is regard of him.” (Mark. 6:2-3).
Throughout the centuries, the teachings and example of Christ brought about a profound and universal renewal of society. In a society full of idlers, the Church taught from the outset that work is a duty. St. Paul, in his letter to the Christians of Thessalonica, wrote these significant words: “If any one will not work, neither let them eat. (2 Thess. 3:10). One must not, however, exaggerate the meaning of these words. The apostle of the Gentiles does not mean to speak solely of manual labor, but of any work, moral or intellectual, of any occupation whatever that may in any way be truly useful to humanity.
The Church taught that work is not only a duty but an honor. She always championed the dignity of manual labor. She constantly recalled, in a special way, the example of Christ and of the Apostles, and in that way she contributed to the abolition of slavery, which is one of her most notable social achievements. The Church has always taught that work is not only a means of support, but also of expiation and of sanctification. It is a means of life, both material and spiritual. Indeed, what is sanctity after all but the imitation of Christ, and how does Christ present himself to us but in the garb of the workingman?
In modern times the Church, has more than once presented against the abuses of capitalism, which exploited labor by considering it as merchandise, to the detriment of the dignity of the worker. “Religion teaches the owner and the employer that their working people are not to be accounted their bondsmen; that in every person they must respect their dignity and worth as persons; that labor is not a thing to be ashamed of, but an honorable calling, enabling people to sustain their lives in a way upright and creditable; and that it is shameful and inhuman to treat people like chattels to make money by, or to look upon them merely as so much muscle or physical energy.” (Rerum Novarum).
Against the abuses of the capitalistic system, the Church likewise vindicated the right to work. In fact, “The preservation of life is the bounden duty of one and all, and to fail therein is a crime. It follows that each one has a right to procure what is required in order to live. To the personal duty of work imposed by nature, there follows the corresponding right of each individual to make the means of providing for his own livelihood as well as for that of his family.” (Rerum Novarum). Work, therefore, is something sacred, like life, for which it provides the means.
Poverty is the condition of those who are more of less destitute of temporal goods. There are different kinds of poverty:
It may be absolute or relative. Absolute poverty is the condition of those who are destitute of all temporal goods, who lack the necessities of life and therefore need the help of others. This condition is better known as indigence, misery, beggary. Relative poverty is the condition of those who have no superfluous goods, having only what is strictly necessary for life. Such is the condition, for example, of an honest common laborer whose wages are barely sufficient to support himself and his family.
Poverty, both absolute and relative, may be involuntary or voluntary. It is involuntary when it is due to extrinsic conditions, even if such conditions are accepted with perfect resignation. It is voluntary when it is due to the spontaneous surrender of temporal goods. Such is the condition of religious persons who take the vow of poverty in order to be better able to cultivate the virtues and to attain evangelical perfection. This condition of poverty is of counsel, not of precept. One must also bear in mind that for Christianity, poverty is not a state of perfection, but simply a means of perfection. So that the poor person may be perfect or imperfect according to the use they make of their poverty.
It is also necessary to distinguish between effective and affective poverty. Effective poverty is the actually lack of material goods, be it voluntary or involuntary. Affective poverty (form affection) is the detachment of the heart form whatever wealth one may possess, be it little or great. According to the teachings of Christianity, all have a duty to practice affective poverty because it is necessary to perfection; while effective poverty can only be recommended as a means, not necessary, but useful to Christian perfection. The state of absolute poverty or penury is generally not advisable because it may easily become an occasion of sin and of debasement. To the faithful the Church recommends relative poverty which excludes all superfluities, but not penury, because only in cases of a special vocation and consequently of special help from God can it become a mean to perfection.
Jesus, who exalted the weak and raised up the oppressed, was not only the redeemer of children and the worker, but also of the poor. He so elevated as to endow it with dignity.
After the coming of Jesus into the world, there is a complete reversal of values. Poverty is made honorable. It acquires a sacred character and is surrounded with help, with perfection, and veneration. Jesus dignified poverty by example and by his teachings. He is heralded as King of Israel, but is born in a stable and lives as a poor workingman in the little home of Nazareth until he is thirty years of age. One day, one of the scribes, having seen him perform many miracles and thinking that by following him he could acquire wealth and glory, says: “Master, I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus disillusions him at once by replying: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:19-20). The poverty of Jesus reaches its climax on Calvary, where he is stripped of his garments, for which the soldiers cast lots. (Matt. 27:35).
Jesus practiced poverty first, then preached it. Here, too, he “began to do and to teach.” (Acts 1:1). Here, too, his words receive power and strength from his conduct. Jesus exalts the poor; commands them that they be helped; he identifies himself with them.
He exalts the poor. In the Old Testament, Christ is heralded as the liberator of the poor: “He shall deliver the poor from the mighty.” (Ps. 71:12). He began his preaching by calling himself he who is sent to “preach the gospel to the poor.” (Luke. 4:18). He sets forth his program in the Sermon on the Mount, and his first words are these: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3). Later on, Jesus confirmed his doctrine, which was strange to the ears of the world, with the story about the rich man and the beggar Lazarus. The rich man dies and lifts up his eyes in the torments of hell. The beggar Lazarus dies and is carried by angles to Abrahams bosom, which was a place of comfort. This story is an exaltation of poverty, at at the same time as condemnation of wealth: during their lifetimes these men either enjoyed the good life (the rich man) or suffered the life of beggary (Lazarus), and after death they received the opposite of what they had enjoyed or suffered while they were alive: the rich man suffers the torments of hell, while the beggar Lazarus enjoys the pleasures of heaven. (Luke. 16:19:22).
But Jesus was not satisfied with exalting the poor, he commanded that the poor be relieved. He said bluntly to the rich: “Give that which remains as alms.” (Luke. 11:41). One day a rich young man asked Jesus what he should do to obtain eternal life: Jesus said to him: “If you will be perfect, go sell what you have and give it to the poor, then you will have treasures in heaven.” (Matt. 19:21).
Jesus did more: he identified himself with the poor: On the day of the Last Judgement, he will speak these words to the elect: “Truly I say to you as long as you did it for one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it for me.” (Matt. 25:40). Oh the dignity of the poor! Hidden in them is the Lord himself incognito!
Imitating the example of the Redeemer, the Church has always had a special concern for the poor and the needy, who are her firstborn and authentic children in the family of God. This care began with the dawn of the Church. The apostles, in addition to their strictly religious functions, performed works of charity and relief, at first personally, and late through the ministry of the deacons of the Church, who were commissioned “to serve at the tables” of the poor and of the widows. (Acts 6:1-4). In those primitive times of the early Church of Jerusalem “the multitude of believers had bit one heart and one soul. For as many as were owners of lands and houses sold them, and brought the price of the things they had sold to the apostles, and distribution was made to every one, according as they had need.” (Acts 4:32-35). Throughout the centuries how many institutions of charity have sprung from the bosom of the Church: almshouses, old age shelters, institutions for the disabled and for the sick…it may be said that the history of the Church is the history of charity itself.
It has always been the teaching and mind of the Church that charity should be not only a contribution of money but of one’s self: a charity that ministers not to the body but to the soul. “The greatest temptation of an age that calls itself social, in which, besides the Church, the nation, the state, the cities, and other public bodies attend to many social problems, is that persons, even among the faithful, when the poor man knocks at their door, simply send him to the Department, to the Office, to the Organization, figuring that their personal obligation has been sufficiently satisfied by their contribution to those institutions in the form of donations. No doubt the needy person would then receive your help in that other way. But often he counts on you, at least for a word of kindness and of comfort from you. Your charity must resemble God’s, who came in person to bring us help.”
The principles of Christianity concerning poverty set forth above should be complimented by the teachings of the Gospels concerning material goods and the use we should make of them. God told the first couple: “Fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fishes of the sea and the fouls of the air and all living creatures.” (Gen. 1:28). Thus did God give to all humankind the right to occupy the earth, to till its soil, to enjoy its fruits and to make the very animals serve their uses and needs (with due dignity and respect). In sum, he gave us the right to use all material goods as means for the preservation and conservation of life.
But material goods not only serve to satisfy the legitimate needs of life, they also serve to satisfy desires and provide comforts and pleasures. That is why they are so easily abused by people. All people have the right to possess and enjoy the goods necessary for life. The right to life, indeed, carries with it the right to the possession of material goods. Here we should, however, point out, that material goods are unevenly distributed. This accounts for the social phenomenon of poverty, which we have already examined, and the contrary phenomenon of wealth, which we will examine here.
Wealth is the condition of those who possess abundant means, beyond what is sufficient for life. We also give the name wealth to the goods themselves that produce wealth. How must we look upon wealth in the light of Christianity? What are the teachings of Christ and the Church concerning its use and its distribution? The young man who came to Jesus and asked him: “Good Master, what good work shall I do that I may have life everlasting?” Jesus replied to him saying: “Keep the commandments of God.” The young man responded: “All these I have kept from my childhood until today, yet what is lacking in me?” And Jesus answered him: “If you will be perfect, go sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.” (Matt. 19:16-21). This, however, is a counsel, not a universal precept. Jesus wanted his apostles to abandon everything: home, their few belongings, wife and children, in order to follow him. But among the disciples of Jesus during his apostolic travels, we find also some pious women, “who used to provide for them out of their means.” (Luke. 8:1-3). To these he does not enjoin absolute poverty. Lazarus of Bethany, was rich, and yet Jesus call him his friend. (John. 11:11). (This is the Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead, not the beggar Lazarus mentioned above.)
The Gospel tells us how that the rich young man, upon hearing the final proposal of Jesus, “went away sad, for he had great possessions.” And Jesus then said to him: “Truly I say to you, that a rich person shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 19:22-23).
Riches make it difficult to enter the kingdom of heaven:
Because by affording us many comforts here below, they more easily make us forget God and heaven
Because they are afford us many means of gratifying our most exigent and dangerous passions.
Because they are likely to render us proud and covetous by making us neglect the grave duties that riches impose.
Here is how St. Paul, faithful interpreter of Christ’s mind, comments on the advantages of poverty, contrasting them with the dangers of riches: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and certainly we can carry nothing out; but having food and wherewith to be clothed, with these things we are content. For they that will be rich fall into temptations and into the snare of the devil, and into many unprofitable and hurtful desires, which men in destruction and perdition. For the desire of money is the root of all evils, which some coveting have erred from the faith, and have entangled themselves in many sorrows.” (1 Tim. 6:6-10).
“With difficulty, “ said Jesus, “will a rich man enter the kingdom of heaven.” But difficult does not mean impossible. The rich man, too, therefore can and must be saved. Indeed, he can attain the highest degree of perfection, making good use of his wealth. But in order to be saved, one must make proper use of riches. For that purpose Jesus teaches that it is necessary:
To keep one’s heart detached from earthly goods, that is to be poor in spirit if not in fact. The later is required a few, the former of all. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Matt. 5:3), said our Lord: and poor in spirit are also the rich whose hearts are not attached to their riches. Jesus said: “You cannot serve God and money” (namely riches). (Matt. 6:24). He did not say that one cannot possess, but that one cannot serve wealth. That is, we may not make a master or an idol of money, sacrificing everything to it, even our conscience. We may possess money without being possessed by it.
Before God we are to consider ourselves not as owner, but only as managers of our goods. “Or what have you that you have not received?” asks the apostle Paul. (1 Cor. 4:7). The absolute master of everything is God, who grants us the use of some of his goods. Of this use we must render him a strict account: “Give an account of your stewardship” (see: Luke. 16:1-8)
Furthermore, he wants us to give what is superfluous to the poor. Christ tell us: “he that has two coats, let him give to him that has none; and he that has meat, let him do in like manner.” (Luke. 3:11). The divine Redeemer is even more absolute with this precept of his: “Give that which remains as alms” (Luke. 11:41); in other words, that which is not necessary for the support of one’s self and one’s family, according to each one’s social condition. When necessity and convenience have been satisfied, it is our duty to give what is left over to the poor. God has blessed us with goods so that we may do good.
Pius XII, in commenting upon Rerum Novarum, said: “The goods created by God for all peoples must be made available to all in an equitable manner, according to the principles of justice and charity. The economic wealth of a people does not consist of abundance of goods, but rather in a fair distribution of goods.”
The right of property is the moral power to possess and to use a thing as one’s own. This right is a corollary of the right to live, since it is impossible to live without the possession and the free use of definite material goods. There are various kinds of property. The principle ones are:
Individual or personal property when the owner is an individual or physical person; collective or social, when the owner is a community or a moral person.
If it belongs to a public community, such as a State or the Church, collective property is called public. Otherwise it is private. Private property, therefore, may be either individual or collective; in the latter case it belongs to a private community, like a corporation. The State has the power to dispose of private property when the public interest requires it. For example, it can require the property of citizens for war purposes and by paying compensation it can condemn property to construct a road, erect a building, etc…
There are also classes of property:
Productive property that serves to produce other goods (for example, lands, factories, machines, raw materials, etc.); consumer goods that satisfy human needs (such as merchandise, furnishings, clothing, etc.).
Real property, that is, immovable property (such as lands, mines, buildings) and personal property (to wit: merchandise, money, securities, etc.).
Some regimes and systems, such as the liberal system, concede too much to the right of property, by failing to impose necessary limitations and obligations; other systems instead either deny such right or restrict it unduly. Such is the communist system, which advocates the communion of goods (hence its name).
What are we to say about the socialization of productive goods? The socialization, or nationalization, of the means of production and of exchange (lands, factories, commerce) may either be total or partial. When socialization actually contributes to the common (public) good it does not contravene the principle of Christian ethics on the subject of property. This should be our compass in this matter also. One may consent to such socializing of property only in those cases in which it seems really required by the common good, that is to say, as the only truly effective means of remedying an abuse or of preventing a waste of productive forces and direct them for the good of the economic welfare of the community so that the national economy in its normal and peaceful development may open the way to the material prosperity of all the people, a prosperity such as will at the same time likewise afford a solid foundation for religious and cultural life.
The Church, following the teachings of Jesus Christ, has always taught that the right of private property is natural, that is to say established by the author of nature himself, namely God. This is so for the following reasons:
Because private property stimulates personal interest, which, in turn, stimulates production.
Because the system of private property is more apt to guarantee the liberty and the dignity of peoples.
Because the just division of property fosters social peace, while the community of goods easily gives rise to quarrels and litigation.
The Church, having affirmed the right of private property as an essential factor and a condition of a prosperous, well ordered, respectable and peaceful life, has always distinguished between the right and the use of private property, by teaching that even the natural law imposes limitations upon the use of property.
One must bear in mind two great truths in connection with this point:
God alone, Creator and Bestower of every good, is the absolute owner of all things, while peoples, with respect to God, are nothing but tenants and simple administrators of them.
God has created and bestows the goods of the earth that they may serve for the support of all peoples; since all have the duty and the right to live.
These two fundamental truths, naturally, give rise to several conclusions of the utmost practical importance:
This first is this: the owner must use his goods not as it pleases her, but as it pleases God, to whom she must render an account of the use of them. Therefore, the notion that the right to property is absolute, the right to use and misuse, is false.
God wishes the owner to use his property in such a way that, when his legitimate needs have been satisfied, he should distribute the rest to the needy.
Property, therefore, has not only an individual function, insofar as it has to provide for the needs of the owner, but has also a social function insofar as it has to provide for the needs of other members of society. This special function, moreover, is not merely a counsel but a command, a command of charity which, in certain cases, becomes a command of justice.
Jesus Christ has implicitly affirmed the right of property and its social functions. In fact, he never condemned the ownership of property, a thing he would certainly have done
if such ownership was wrong or contrary to natural law. But he did explicitly and emphatically condemn all abuses, both private and public, of his times and of his fellow citizens. The publican Zacheus says to our Lord: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have wronged any man of any thing, I restore to him fourfold.” Jesus, approving, said to him: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he, too, [Zacheus] is a son of Abraham.” (Luke. 19:8-9). Zacheus has thus obtained salvation by giving away half or his possessions, but not all. That means he had the right to own the other half.
Jesus affirmed the social function of property by pointing out the duties of the owner toward others. And that was in contrast with the opinions of the teachers of Israel, who held the belief that property ownership gave the owner unlimited power. Here are his plain and unequivocal words: “Nevertheless, give that which remains as alms.” (Luke. 11:41). And as we have seen, that which remains are those goods we own above and beyond what is necessary for the support of ourselves and our family, according to what is suitable to our condition in life.
Furthermore, the idea of the social function of property is implicit in the broader idea of human brotherhood, which is one of the chief points of Christ’s message.
Among good brothers, in fact, the cold words mine and yours lose their strict meaning, since one brother cannot feel satisfied if the other’s stomach is empty.
The conduct of the first Christians of Jerusalem is concrete proof of the teachings of Christ on this subject: “And the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul: neither did any one say that anything was his own, but all things were common to them…for neither was there any one needy among them. For as many as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the price of the the things they sold and laid it at the feet of the apostles, and distribution was made to each one, according as anyone had need.” (Acts 4:32-35). It should be noted, however, that this communism of the first Christians, the fruit of a great spirit of fraternal charity, was altogether free and spontaneous, and, since it was not imposed upon anyone, it was never practiced with strictness.
The Church, too, while it has at all times proclaimed the right to private property, has also insisted upon the social function of property:
St. Peter writes to the early Christians: “As every man has received grace, ministering the same one to another.” (1 Peter 4:10). The apostle is here speaking both of spiritual and material gifts. St. Paul to his disciple Timothy as follows: “Charge the rich of this world … to do good, to be rich in good works, to give easily, to communicate to others.” (1 Tim. 6:17-18).
St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, offers us a clear and precise teaching: “With respect to external goods man has two faculties, to wit: (a) the faculty of procuring and distributing these goods; for what reason it is lawful for man to possess these goods as his own (right of property), indeed it is necessary to human life … (b) the faculty of using the the goods themselves; and as far as their use is concerned, man ought to consider external goods not as his own, but as in common, so that he may readily share them with those on need. (II-II, Question 66, Art. 2.).
It follows from what we have termed the individual and at the same time social character of ownership, that we must consider in this matter not only their own advantage but also the common good. To define these duties in detail, when necessity requires and the natural law has not done so, is the function of the State. Therefore public authority, under the guiding light always of the natural and divine law, can determine more accurately upon consideration of the true requirements of the common good, what is permitted and what is not permitted to owners in the use of their property.
Without doubt, the natural order established by God requires also private property. But this right of private property must not hinder the primary and fundamental right that grants its use to all men. While the Church condemns every unjust violation of the right of private property, she admonishes, however, that it is not unlimited nor absolute because it has precise social obligations.
Catholic teaching holds a position midway between the communistic doctrine, that would suppress every right of individual and private property, and the liberal doctrine that does not recognize its due limits, thus justifying unjust inequalities.
Justice is the cardinal virtue that prompts us to give everyone his due. According to its different objects, it assumes different names. Thus we have commutative, legal, and social justice.
Commutative justice regulates the relations between one individual and another; for example, the relations between seller and buyer; the former must give sound and wholesome goods, the latter the just price agreed upon.
Legal justice governs the relations between rules and subjects. The rulers have to enact just laws, and citizens have to observe them. It is legal justice also that inflicts penalties corresponding to the crimes, and in this case it is called punitive justice.
Social justice governs the relations between different social classes, between employers and employees, and distributes the benefits and burdens of society. Fees, salaries, and pensions are the object of social justice, which is also called distributive justice.
Justice is more compelling than charity in the sense that it has a greater binding force. The reason for this lies in the very nature of justice, which gives to others what belongs to them, what is due to them by strict right. Hence, in justice, one does give of one’s own. Consequently, the exercise of justice at bottom is nothing else than a reintegration of a restitution. Not so with charity, which gives to others what they are not strictly entitled to. In charity, one gives of one’s own.
The first duty of charity to one’s neighbor is this: to do him justice, to give him what is due him. The wage earner is not to receive as alms what is his due in justice, and let no one attempt with trifling charitable donations to exempt himself from the great duties imposed by justice. If the rich and prosperous are obliged, out of ordinary motives of pity, to act generously toward the poor, their obligation is all the greater to do them justice.
Our Lord taught and defended every kind of justice and social justice in particular. In the Sermon on the Mount he proclaimed: “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall have their fill.” (Matt. 5:6). Elsewhere he declares: “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” (Luke. 10:7).
Jesus makes himself a defender of justice, scourging the scribes and the Pharisees, who, while pedantically observing religious precepts, disregard the inviolable rules of justice: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: because you devour the houses of widows, praying long prayers. For this you shall receive the greater judgement. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites….because you tithe mint and anise and cummin and have left the weightier things of the law; judgment and mercy and faith.” (Matt. 23:14-23). Mark this phrase: “the weightier things of the law,” which shows the importance of justice.
The apostles, too, were staunch defenders of social justice. St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians writes: “Masters, do to your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that you too have a master in heaven.” (Col. 4:1). Against employers who exploit their workers, the apostle St. James says: “Go to now, you rich men, weep and howl in your miseries, which shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted: and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered: and the rust of them shall be for a testimony against you, and shall eat your flesh like fire. You have stored up to yourselves wrath against the last days. Behold the hire of the laborers, who have reaped down your fields, which by fraud has been kept back by you: they cry out for justice, and their cries have entered into the ears of the Lord.” (James: 5:1-4).
The Church did not limit itself to repeating the teachings of Christ and of the apostles, she translated them into works for the benefit of the working class first if all, in order to safeguard the dignity of the worker. She strove for the abolition of slavery and late sought and pleaded for just compensation for work. Thus it was that in the religious and social atmosphere created by the Church there arose in the Middle Ages the glorious guilds of arts and crafts. There were associations of men exercising the same vocation, men who sought to safeguard not only their economic but also their political and social interests. The guild of arts and crafts were abolished by the liberals of the French Revolution in the year 1789 without substituting anything in their stead. They were abolished under the pretext of liberty, on the claim that the liberals wished to set up a system of free competition in the field of labor also. The consequences soon made themselves felt. As soon as the restraints against the heartless speculations of the employers were removed and the laborers left in hopeless isolation, then the exploitation of labor on a vast scale set in. This evil was made still more unbearable by the gigantic strides of industry that swelled profits of owners out of all proportion. This gave rise to the social question looking toward the settlement of relations between capital and labor, between employer and employees.
Pope Leo XIII, in Rerum Novarum, condemned the capitalist system, introduced by liberalism, because it overestimates the rights of capital and does not give just consideration to the rights of labor. He also reproves the socialistic system, which seeks the abolition of private property and class warfare, while Christianity is for the collaboration of classes. He reminds the rich and the owners that when necessity and convenience have been supplied, it becomes a duty to give to the needy out of what remains over. He reminds governments of their duty to come to the aid of the workingman “with a whole set of laws and institutions” as opposed to the laissez faire system then in place.
The wages of a workingman are in themselves something sacred because they represent bread, the stuff of life, which is sacred. And yet liberalism left wages at the mercy of chance; it abandoned them to the gamble of freedom of contract between the owner and the workingman, and chance naturally was nearly always unfavorable to the weaker of the contracting parties: the workingman. Leo XIII condemns this arrangement because it is opposed to justice: “The amount of renumeration must never be less than is necessary for the support of a frugal and well-behaved workingman”. The working man is entitled to wages that will be adequate for the support of himself and his family. It is only fitting that the salaries of the workers be such as to suffice for themselves and their families.
Wages, however, is not the only method of compensation. There is another method still more progressive: the participation in the profits of business. This form of compensation represents an integration and a corrective of wages. It is necessary that in the future the abundant fruits of production will not accrue unduly to those who are rich, and will be distributed with ample sufficiency among the workers. Workers and other employees thus become sharers in ownership or management and participate in some measure in the profits received. Such profit sharing is where a large concern continues to yield good returns, the employees should be offered an opportunity of moderating the labor contract by means of a partnership contract.
In order to eliminate the exploitation of labor, Catholics always favored, moreover a wise cooperative system which offers the great advantage of uniting capital and labor in the same hands, of breaking up excessive holdings without taking away the technical advantages of distributing the responsibility, and by augmenting the small number of small owners. In fact, cooperatives of labor and production are partnerships in which their members are at once the owners and wage earners of the concern dividing the profits in equal shares. The Church always favored the cooperative system as suitable to the principles of social justice, of Christian brotherhood, and of human solidarity.
Justice and charity are the two foremost social virtues, inasmuch as they dispose our minds to the fulfillment of our duties toward society, so that, after having considered the teachings of Christianity with regard to justice, we are now to treat of charity, called the queen of the virtues.
Charity is the theological virtue that inclines us to love God for himself and our neighbor for the love of God. Charity must not only be affective (prompted by feeling and sentiment), but also effective (productive of effects and of works). Works are the test of charity. Pity, therefore, is charity itself, insofar as it inclines us to help our neighbor in his spiritual and material needs. It is beneficent charity. In fact, people, being composed of body and soul, have material, or corporal, and spiritual needs. Charity bids us take care of both; hence, the corporal and the spiritual works of mercy. The fundamental point of the social question is this, that the goods created by God for all men should in the same way reach all, justice guiding and charity helping. Charity, therefore, fills up the gaps left behind by justice; its arms are longer, its sights keener, and it reaches out to places where justice cannot reach. Charity goes beyond the limits of justice and brings relief where there is no right, but where there is real need.
Charity is the essence of Christianity and the sum of all virtues. Jesus taught the duty of beneficent charity both by his example and by his teaching.
The life of Jesus was one continuous act of kindness: in fact, St. Peter sums it up in this manner: “Jesus went about doing good.” (Acts: 10:38). To the disciples of St. John the Baptist who ask him if he is the Messiah, Jesus as proof of the fact that he is, points to his good works: “Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear…” (Matt. 11:4-5). Twice he performs the miracle of multiplication of loaves by pronouncing these touching words: “I have with me now three days and have nothing to eat and I will not send them away hungry lest they faint on the way.” (Matt. 15:32-39).
Jesus often spoke of the duty of beneficent charity. Suffice it here to recall that at the Last Judgment the sentence that will be pronounced by him against the reprobates will be this: “Depart from me, accursed ones, into everlasting fire…for I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me not to drink,” etc., and upon being asked for an explanation, he replies: “Truly I say to you, as long as you did not do it to one of the least of these, neither did you do it to me.” (Matt. 25:41-45).
The apostles were no less explicit. St. Paul commands the Christians of Rome to share their goods with their needy brothers and sisters: “Loving one another with the charity of brotherhood…communicating to the necessities of the saints.” (Rom. 12:10-13). And writing to the Hebrews, he reminds them to of the duty of helping others: “And do not forget to do good, and to impart; for by such sacrifices God’s favor is obtained” (namely, his grace). (Heb. 13:16). St. John, on his part, writes these precise words for the hard-hearted: “He that has the substance of this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shall shut up compassion from him: how does the charity of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:14).
The charity commanded by Christ has the greatest possible comprehension, because the are no limitations to the sacrifices called for by it, including even the sacrifice of life itself. The code of Christian charity was written by the blood of our Savior; it was sanctioned by his supreme sacrifice. Jesus, in fact, was not content to call us brothers and to teach us brotherly love. He, the first-born among many brethren, gave his life for his lost sheep. Thus he taught us that we must give not merely our affection to our brothers, not merely our goods, but ourselves as well. The apostle of charity, St. John, is very clear on this point, saying: “He laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16).
The charity commanded by Christ has also the greatest possible extension, because not a single person is excluded. Here are some enlightening words of Christ: “Do good to them that hate you and pray for them that persecute and say evil things about you, that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who makes the sun to rise upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward will you have? Do not even the publicans do this?” (Matt. 5:44-46). The children, like the Father, must love all, do good to all. Universal charity, therefore, is a necessary attribute of universal brotherhood.
But to love our enemies, to love those who have nothing lovable but a great deal that is hateful, to do good to those who have done us harm, is that not an absurd commandment, an unreasonable demand? That is what some think and say who do not understand, or pay no heed to the motives of Christian love toward one’s neighbor. We have said it already: we must love God for himself, but we must also love our neighbor, not for himself, but for the love of God: that is, because God commands it, because in every person there is the image of God, because every person can be redeemed by the blood of Christ, because every Christian is a child of God and of the family of God. These claims to our love are present in all peoples, even in those who in themselves are not at all deserving of our love, no more so than we ourselves, who are redeemed, were ever worthy of the love of God, which has been granted to us through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Charity procures advantages for us both in this life and in the next. The following are the principle ones:
Charity opens the gates of heaven for us. Jesus, on the day of the Last Judgment, will pronounce these words: “ Come, you blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom….for I was hungry and you gave me to eat…” (Matt. 25:34-36).
Charity merits for us the help of God. Tobias gives his son this advice: “ Give alms out of the substance, and turn not away your face from any poor person, and it will come to pass that the face of the Lord will not be turned away from you.” (Tob. 4:7). And here, by alms, is meant: every work of mercy.
Charity merits for us the pardon of our sins. The Lord said: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matt. 5:7).
The works of mercy – both corporeal and spiritual – should therefore hold a prominent place in our Christian life.
The restless and agitated mass of humankind seems no longer to believe in truth, seems no longer to believe in justice, cannot make up its mind whether or not to believe in charity. But many times, by taking care of a person’s body, we heal their souls as well.
Let us be certain that our charity is patient and kind. In doing works of charity, let us avoid any air of superiority and of condescension that might humiliate the beneficiary. In other words: let us do our charity charitably.
Man is naturally sociable, inasmuch as he is destined to live not in isolation but in society. Not only is domestic society, wherein he is born and reared, but also in civil society, which is a natural expansion of the family. Cilvil society is necessary because therein only is it possible for man to develop all his faculties and to attain his end. Hence history assures us that man always lived in society. Accordingly, society is not a phenomenon that sprang up by the will of the associates, as some philosophers have fancied, but was ordained by Nature itself, or rather by God, the Creator.
There can be no society of any kind without an authority. Thus, just as society comes from God, so likewise does authority. Authority is justly called the soul of society; in fact, just as in the human organism the soul harmonizes the various members and makes them concur toward the common end, which is life, similarly in the social organism, authority is the unifying principle that coordinates the wills of individuals and directs them to one end, which is the common good. Without authority, an aggregation of men may be a crowd, but no a society, either public or private.
Our Lord said: “Every kingdom divided against will be made desolate.” (Matt. 12:25). Now every society without authority is doomed to become divided against itself and hence to fall. Thus history bears witness to another fact: There was never a society without authority. The expression popular sovereignty can have this meaning: The people determine the form of government (popular election). In this sense, popular sovereignty is admissible, though not necessary. The Church, in fact, has always declared that every form of government – aristocratic or democratic – is legitimate when suitable for the achievement of its end, which is the good of the citizens.
As there are different societies, so there are different kinds of authority. The principle ones are the following:
Religious authority, that rules the religious society, which for us Catholics is the Church. This authority resides in the Pope and in the Bishops.
Civil authority, that rules civil society and resides in the heads of government (emperors, kings, or presidents of republics, and in their ministers and in legislative assemblies.)
Domestic authority, which resides in the parents, especially the father, whence it is also called paternal authority.
Jesus taught the divine origins of authority by pointing to its ends and its limits. Jesus taught that all authority comes from God – not only religious and paternal authority, but also civil; therefore authority is something sacred and entitled to the utmost respect. To Pilate, who reproaches him for his silence by saying to him: “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know I have the power to release you?” Jesus answers solemnly: “You would have no power against me unless it were given you from above.” (John 19:10-11). Even the authority of Pilate, like that of every ruler, comes therefore from above, from God. Thus Jesus has exalted, ennobled, and tempered civil authority. Little wonder, then, that in Christian times, kings were anointed after the manner of priests.
If authority comes from God, it is always sacred and worthy of respect, even when it resides in unworthy persons; subjects, therefore, are bound to obey even the wicked rulers when their commands are not manifestly wicked. This was also the teaching of Christ, who said one day: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses‘ seat. All things therefore whatsoever they say to you, observe and do. But according to their works do not; for they say, and do not.” (Matt. 23:2-3). And when they ask him if it is lawful to pay tribute to Caesar (to the Roman emperor, whom his fellow countrymen believed to be an unjust oppressor), Jesus replied: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are God’s. (Matt. 22:21).
Jesus teaches that authority is not a lordship but a fatherhood, a ministry, a service. The subjects do not exist for the benefit of the former. The good of the people is the end of every civil authority, as well as its limitation. Here are the priceless words of Christ, spoken to his apostles but applicable to every authority: “You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them, and they that are greater, exercise power upon them. It shall not be so among you: but whomsoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister: And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant. Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28)
In fact, here, too, as elsewhere, Jesus confirms his teaching by his example. Take the touching and suggestive episode of the Last Supper. St. John relates: “Knowing that the Father had given him all things into his hands, and that he came from God, and goes to God, he rose from supper, and laid aside his garments, and having taken a towel, girded himself. After that, he put water into a basin, and began to wash the feet of the disciples, and to wipe them with the towel he was girded with.” (John 13:3-5). And after this action, he explained its significance to them, saying: “For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also.” (John 13:15).
By exalting the dignity of the superior (that is, by declaring him vested with an authority that comes from God), Jesus thereby also exalted the dignity of the subject. In fact, the latter, by obeying his superior, in reality does not obey a man like himself, but God himself. And to obey God is not to demean, but rather to exalt oneself. By that very means Christianity laid the most solid foundation to obedience, which always has God for its final end.
By teaching the truth of one divine Fatherhood and, hence of a universal brotherhood. The Christian ruler must look upon his subject not as a servant, but as a brother, having the same rights before God, their common Father. In fact, ruler and subject together say: “Our Father.” By teaching the infinite value of a redeemed soul, purchased by the Blood of Christ: “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things as gold or silver,…but with the precious blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Jesus, moreover, showed us in a most touching manner the value of a single individual, when he pictured himself as the Good Shepherd who “has a hundred sheep and one of them go astray and he leaves the other ninety-nine in the mountains and goes in search of the one that has strayed.” (Matt. 18:12). Even so, Jesus Christ asserts, it is not the will of your Father in heaven that “a single one of these little ones should perish.”
In this matter also, the teachings of the Christ found true echo in the teachings of the Church in every age and among every people. Touching the divine origin of authority, we have the explicit testimony of the apostles. St. Paul teaches the early Christians of imperial Rome: “There is no power but from God;…therefore, he that resists the power, resists the ordinance of God; and they that resist purchase to themselves damnation…for he is God’s minister to you for good.” (1 Peter 2:13-15).
Leo XIII, on the thorny question of the form of government, stated categorically: “There is no reason why the Church should not approve of the chief power being held by one man or by more; provided, only, it be just, and that it tend to the common good. Wherefore so long as justice is respected, people are free to choose for themselves the form of government which suits it best either their own disposition or the institution and customs of their ancestors.” (Encyclical on Civil Government).
Concerning the use of authority, the same pontiff states: “But in order that justice may be retained in government, it is of the highest importance that those who rule states should understand that political power was not created for their particular advantage; and that the administration of the state must be carried on for the benefit of those who have been committed to their care, not for the benefit of those to whom it has been committed.” (Encyclical on Civil Government).
Developing this same idea, Pius XII says: “Superiority is a service; to command is not to act arbitrarily, but in obedience to the external law of truth and justice…always giving preference to the common interests over the private interests of the individual group or party; and to do that solely in the light of justice, of charity, and of faith.” Concerning the duties of the state, Pius XII has taught us: “It is the noble prerogative and function of the State to control, aid, and direct the private individual activities of national life so long as to make them concur harmoniously toward the common good…”
“To consider the State as an end in itself to which everything else must be subordinated and directed cannot but be harmful to the true and lasting prosperity of nations. This can come about either when unlimited power is attributed to the State as the mandatary of the nation, of the people, or even of a social class, or when the State claims such powers as absolute master, without any mandate whatsoever.” (Encyclical Summi Ponificatus).
From this clear-cut and beneficent Christian doctrine concerning authority, we will draw some practical corollaries:
First of all, a deep sense of gratitude to the Divine Redeemer for having conferred upon mankind also this great social blessing – that of having restored authority by making it at once strong and mild, like fatherhood.
If we occupy some position of authority, whether within or without the family, let us bear in mind our dignity and responsibility as representatives of God, to whom we will have to render a strict accounting of the use we have made of the authority we received from him.
All authority ought directly or indirectly to promote the glory of God and the salvation of souls. At least, it must never be a hinderance thereto. It is with such intentions that every Catholic ought to accept and exercise authority.
Let us supernaturalize our obedience by looking upon every legitimate authority – not only religious, but civil as well – as a reflection of divine authority. In that way, our obedience will become at once easier and more meritorious.
The word liberty is equivalent to absence of necessity and has various meanings. First of all, one should distinguish between physical liberty and moral liberty: Physical, or psychological liberty, is the individual’s power to decide for themselves to will or not to will; to will one thing or another. This self-determination presupposes an absence of necessity, not merely external, but also internal.
External necessity, or constraint, derives from a power that lies outside of the individual and compels us to do that which we do not want to do. Such is the power that forces an individual to be placed under arrest, or to be shut up in jail. Internal necessity comes instead from an impulse with us that forces us to act. Such is the case of the sleepwalker, of the insane person, of those who act under the stimulus of an interior power which they cannot control.
From the above we can understand how two cases diametrically opposed to each other may be supposed within us: the case of the external, without any internal necessity (as in the case of the jailed person, because he is obliged to do so against his will), and that of an internal, without any external necessity (as in the case of a person who is insane, without being subject to any external force).
The absence of internal necessity is called free will, inasmuch as it makes us the arbiter of our own actions. Free will is an effect of the spirituality of the soul, and is innate in us. However, there are internal and external causes that may diminish or destroy free will. Some such internal causes are: passions, temperaments, habits, ignorance, sleep, insanity. Mental illness and disorders have a more or less pronounced influence upon the will which, as we know, follows the judgment of the mind.
Inasmuch as the extent of the influence of these internal causes is nearly always uncertain, in many cases it is almost impossible for us to determine the exact degree of responsibility that attaches to an action, since obviously the responsibility of an action is always in proportion to its freedom.
The existence of free will has often been denied by philosophers, nowadays called determinists, because they claim that every act of the human will is determined by an interior irresistible force like instinct in animals. But there are many arguments that prove the existence of free will and we will examine two of these here. The testimony of conscience being the first.
We feel inwardly that it is in our power to act or not to act, to act in one way rather than another. We feel, for example, that we have the power to eat or not to eat, to eat little or much, this or that; whereas it does not depend upon us to digest the food we eat. Therefore, our very conscience assures us that both free acts and necessary acts are attributable to us.
The testimony of humankind is the second. Humankind has always praised virtue and blamed vice, rewarded merit and punished guilt. But these words, praise and blame, reward and punishment would have no meaning if we were not free and hence responsible for our own actions. Were there ever any rewards or punishments established for animals? Similarly, laws, prohibitions, counsels, and reproofs that humankind has always made use of would become practical absurdities if we were not masters of our own actions.
Moral freedom is entirely different from physical freedom, though having its roots in the latter. It consists in the power of doing everything that is not forbidden by a just law. Moral freedom is therefore a right, the object of which is the good. No one has a right to do evil. Therefore, the power of doing evil is a defect and does not belong to the essence of freedom, just as tendency to sickness does not does not belong to the essence of health. Consequently, public authorities, while allowing full liberty to goodness, cannot equate liberty to evil. That would not be true liberty but license. Social order and peace are to be based upon a proper balance between authority and liberty.
There are different kinds of moral freedom, according to the objects upon which it is exercised. Thus we have religious, civil, economic, professional, scientific freedom, and so on. The liberals, by posing as the champions of all liberties, have proclaimed the liberty of thought, of conscience, and of religion in opposition to the Church that prescribes doctrines to be believed and religious acts to be performed. If the liberals mean that religion cannot be imposed by force, they are stating the truth, but they are not stating anything that has not already been proclaimed by the Church. Religion is a free homage to God; and no one can be forced to believe or to profess that which she does not believe.
What the liberals mean to affirm is that each person is free to profess the religion that pleases him and even profess none at all. They mean liberty to think and to do whatever one wishes concerning God, which is religious indifference. This unlimited freedom in religious matters would be lawful only in the event that it were not possible to know the true God and the true religion. But such is not the case, because the existence of God and Christian revelation are truths that can be proved and have been proved by human reason.
The doctrine of human physical freedom is clearly set forth in the Old Testament. We read in Genesis that God, in creating humankind, uttered these significant words, which are not employed for any other creature: “Let us make man in our image and likeness.” (Gen. 1:26). Now this likeness (not equality) is derived from the fact that humankind has a spiritual and immortal soul and a free will. Spirituality, immortality, freedom, are attributes of God. In Ecclesiasticus we read these words: “God made man from the beginning and left him in the hand of his own counsel…Before man is set life and death, good and evil; that which he shall chose shall be given to him.” (Ecclus. 15:14-18).
The New Testament takes for granted the freedom of the will. The whole preaching of Christ would be an absurd labor, all his precepts and counsels would be but empty words, if man were forced to act automatically or instinctively. The whole plan of the Gospel would have no reason for existence, because fallen man would not be capable of redemption, and the punishment of eternal fire, which which Jesus threatened the reprobates (Matt. 25:51) would be an unheard of cruelty. For whoever is not free is not responsible for what he does and deserves neither reward nor punishment.
The Church, walking in the footsteps of Christ, was at all times the champion and the protector of every legitimate liberty and the enemy of every tyranny. First of all, the Church championed the physical liberty of humankind and thus defended the crown of this king of creation. She condemned the theories of the heresies of Luther, Calvin, and Jansen who held that original sin destroyed our free will, and in our days the Church has condemned the nefarious doctrines of determinism and materialism.
St. Paul, writing to the Christians of Ephesus, exhorts them: “And you, masters, do the same things to them [the slaves], forbearing threatenings, knowing that the Lord both of them and you is in heaven; and there is no respect of persons with him.” (Eph. 6:9). And to the Christians of Galatia he clearly states: “There is neither Jew nor Greek;there is neither bond nor free; there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28).
This means that before God there is no difference, either of nationality or of social condition, or of gender, contrary to what people, then, might have thought. These words of the apostle of the Gentiles, which have since been reiterated unceasingly by the Church, are a clear condemnation of slavery, which among Christians soon ceased to exist in their minds if not is outward practice. The Christian master was bound to see his brother in his slave and to treat him accordingly.
The Church has made the highest proclamation of the highest liberty – religious liberty – through the martyrdom of countless sons and daughters of hers. Martyrdom is the declaration of the most sacred rights of humankind, written in blood. The army of Christian martyrs is a heroic defense of freedom.
Pius XII teaches us to distinguish between liberty and license, which is liberty without restraint and without limitations. “True liberty”, he writes, “that which truly deserves this name and which constitutes the happiness of peoples, has nothing in common with license, with brazenness. True liberty is just the contrary of that. It is that which guarantees the professions and the practice of what is true and of what is just under the guidance of the divine commandments within the sphere of public welfare. It has therefore need of just limitations.”
Leo XIII, in his Encyclical Libertas, condemns freedom of speech, worship, of teaching, and of conscience as understood by liberalism, which would grant the same rights to good and evil, to truth and error. While freedom of evil is always unlawful, the toleration of evil may, at times, be advisable. On this point Leo XIII teaches: “Without granting any rights except to truth and honesty, the Church, in order to avoid a greater evil, or to achieve or preserve a greater good, does not forbid public authority to tolerate certain things that are at variance with truth and justice.” [Editor’s Note: An example of this for our day would be allowing for the State to legalize civil unions between homosexuals while not allowing for the State to legalize abortions on demand. The second being a far greater evil than the first, although both are contrary to natural law.] Pius XII in his Encyclical Summi Pontificus condemns the opposite error, to wit Statism, which accords unrestricted power to the State, to the prejudice of the liberty of the individual and of the family, pointing out “that man and the family are by nature prior to the State and that the Creator endowed both with certain powers and rights and assigned to each a mission answering to positive natural exigencies.”
Moral liberty, as we have seen, finds its limitations in law. The aspects of law are manifold. In general: by law is meant a constant manner of being and of acting. This manner of acting is either necessary or free, according to the nature of different beings. Thus we have the first division of law into physical and moral.
Physical law is the manner of acting of beings devoid of reason. Their actions are necessary. The following are examples of physical laws: Bodies fall toward the center of the earth; fire burns; water wets. The moral law regulates, instead, the actions of rational and hence free beings, like human beings or people. Moral laws, for example, are those that oblige people to honor God, to respect his parents, to speak the truth, etc.
The moral law may be defined as a norm of human conduct promulgated by a legitimate authority for the common good. Moral law is divided into natural and positive. Natural law is so called because it is impressed on nature and made known by the very nature of man, that is to say, by his reason. The author of natural law is therefore, the author of nature himself, to wit, God. Natural law is universal, that is, it is bonding on all people without the need of revelation, divine or human; for, as has been said, it is the light of reason itself, the voice of conscience which tells us what is good (and consequently must be done) and what is evil (and consequently to be avoided).
All people have notions, however vague, of good and evil, of what is right and what is wrong. They feel, for instance, that it is unlawful to steal, to kill, to lie, and that it is right to obey their superiors, to keep their word, to pay their debts, etc. The whole of these commands of conscience forms in effect the natural law.
St. Paul affirms in his letter to the Romans that those without the revealed, written law (as had the Jews), “are a law unto themselves. They show the work of the law written in their conscience.” (Rom. 2:14-15). And he adds that in the Last Judgment they will be judged by God, according to this natural law which is prior to all written law and is known by all men.
Positive law is not made known by natural reason, but by an act of the legislator who promulgates it. It is divided into divine and human, according to whether the legislator is God or man. Divine positive law can only be known through revelation.
Divine positive law can only be known through revelation. We have the Old Law (Old Testament) that was revealed before Christ and the New Law (New Testament), which is also called Christian or evangelical, because it was revealed by Christ, the substance of which is contained in the Gospels and other books of the New Testament. Human positive law is either ecclesiastical or civil, according as it comes from religious or civil authority.
Between human law and natural law there are necessary relations. First of all human law has its foundation, its source and its binding force in the natural law. Indeed, since people are by nature equal, no man by himself has any authority over another man. Therefore no man has the power to oblige, that is, to bind in conscience, his equal. But the natural law, the expression of the will of God, calls for a human authority in every society, and to this society it confers the power to command and to bind. For this reason, in the book of Proverbs, divine Wisdom affirms: “By me, kings reign, and lawgivers decree just things; by me, princes rule and the mighty decree justice.” (Prov. 8:15-16).
Human law has its sanction and its limitations in the natural law. That means the lawgiver must always be guided by and conform to the rules of the natural law, nor may he decree anything contrary to it. When a human law contradicts the natural and divine law, “it is not a true law” – declares St. Thomas Aquinas – “but a corruption of law.” [See: Aquinas on Law here; as well as M. L. King, Jr. on Aquinas and Law here.] In such a case, the law is obviously not binding in conscience. In fact, the binding force of law is wholly derived from God. Now how can God oblige one to do something contrary to his will? He would be contradicting himself.
From this we are able to understand the supreme importance of the natural law, without which the whole structure of human legislation would collapse. The existence of natural law is so evident, and its function so necessary, that nearly all the ancient philosophers – especially the highest like Plato, Aristotle and Cicero – recognized it and proclaimed its sovereign rights. Cicero called it “the true and chief law, and right reason of the Supreme Jove.”
In spite of this, many modern philosophers (naturalists, positivists, idealists), by denying God as a transcendent being consequently deny the natural law and acknowledge only human law. These make the State supreme and the only source of every law and every right. It is evident, for the reasons already mentioned above, that political authority is not thereby exalted, but debased, since it is stripped of its rightful claim to command; and at the same time, the laws are emptied of all their intrinsic efficiency.
These ideas about law – dictated by natural reason itself – are confirmed by the teachings of Christ and of the Church.
Jesus Christ could not have proclaimed the binding force of human laws with greater effect than by submitting himself to them. And that is what he did with exemplary exactness, although he was bound to do so because he, as God, was superior to all law. As a perfect citizen he observed the just laws of his country, both ecclesiastical and civil.
As a child he submitted to the prescribed ceremony of circumcision, and later to that of the presentation in the temple. When he was twelve years old, a child of the law, he went with his parents to Jerusalem for the Passover, according to another requirement of the Jewish code. At the beginning of his public life, some were of the opinion that the Messiah, by inaugurating a new kingdom, wanted to do away with the heavy burden of Mosaic law; but he disabused them by saying: “Do not think that I have come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to bring down the law, but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17)., that is to say, to bring the law to perfection.
In fact, he showed himself a faithful observer of the decrees and rites according to the law. He cured ten lepers, but since the Mosaic law required that the leper when healed should take himself to the priests with gifts according to the rite of purification (Lev. 14), he said to them: “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” (Luke. 17:14). Jesus observed the laws of purification. Among the Jews all men who reached twenty years of age had to pay an annual tribute of two drachmas for the temple of Jerusalem. The Son of God, too, paid this tribute; and for that purpose he performed a miracle when he sent his apostle Peter to fetch a fish from the sea in which he found the two needed coins (Matt. 17:23-26).
Jesus, the Son of God, was exempt from paying tribute for the support of religion. Nevertheless, he paid it! What an example of obedience to law! When he was asked “if it is lawful to pay tribute to Caesar” (who was considered a usurper by his countrymen), he simply replied: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matt. 22:21); that is to say, give him the coin of the tribute because it belongs to him.
Jesus preached obedience even to wicked lawgivers, like the scribes and Pharisees, by saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on the chair of Moses. All things, therefore, whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do. But do not according to their works do not; for they say, and do not,” (Matt. 23:2-3).
But Jesus refused obedience to wicked laws, to unjust rules, to arbitrary requirements with which the Pharisees had padded the Mosaic law (like the requirements concerning the various ablutions, and the Sabbath rest that had become an unbearable and unreasonable burden). He publicly complained that the Pharisees “bind heavy and insupportable burdens, and lay them on men’s shoulders.” (Matt. 23-4). And he rebuked them severely, saying: “Well do you make void the commandment of God that you may keep your own tradition.” (Matt. 7:9).
The apostles, the immediate heirs of the thought of Christ, preached compliance with all just laws, even when made by pagan lawgivers or by persecutors of the Church. St. Paul made this recommendation to the Christians of Rome: “Wherefore be subject of necessity [to civilian authorities] not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For therefore also you pay tribute. For they [the lawgivers] are the ministers of God, serving unto this purpose. Render therefore to all men their dues. Tribute, to whom it is due; custom, to whom custom; honor, to whom honor.” (Rom. 13:5-7).
Hence it follows that the Christian must observe the law, not only through fear of punishment but also as a duty binding in conscience, that is to say, out of regard for God himself, since lawgivers are ministers of God, namely instruments of his will insofar as they promulgate just laws. St Paul’s conduct was in keeping with is teachings. Before the tribunal of Festus, he was able to defend himself with these words which no one could gainsay: “Neither against the law of the Jews nor against the temple nor against Caesar have I offended in any thing.” (Acts 25:8).
Tertullian in his Apologetic shows that Christians were an asset to the Roman Empire also because they paid their taxes, whereas the pagans defrauded the government. He writes: “You should be thankful to the Christians, who pay their taxes with exactness because it is forbidden them to defraud anyone.”
The Church has repeatedly taught the same doctrine, adding that in one case only is a Christian exempt from the duty of obedience: when there is a question of a law that is clearly unjust and, therefore, contrary to the will of God. Leo XIII says: “One reason only can men have for not obeying, namely if something is required of them that is clearly inconsistent with natural and divine law, for it is equally wrong either to command or to do anything in which the law of nature or the will of God is violated.
If it should happen, therefore, that one finds himself obligated to choose between these two things, that is to say, to despise the commandments of God or those of the rulers, he must obey Jesus Christ, who commanded to render ‘to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s’; and so following the example of the apostles one must courageously reply: ‘We must obey God rather than man.’ (Acts 5:29). Nor can those who behave in such a manner be accused of being guilty of disobedience, for if the will of the rulers is repugnant to the will and laws of God, they themselves exceed the limits of their power and thwart justice; nor can their authority avail in such case, for authority is null when their is no justice.” (Encyclical Diuturnum).
Recent Pontiffs have repeatedly condemned the error of those who deny natural law. Pius XII in his Encyclical Summi Pontificatus says: “Once the authority of God and the sway of his law is denied in this way, the civil authority as an inevitable result tends to attribute to itself that absolute autonomy which belongs exclusively to the Supreme Maker. It puts itself in the place of the Almighty and elevates the State or group into the last end in life, the supreme criterion of the moral and juridical order, thereby forbidding every appeal to the principles of natural reason and of the Christian conscience.”
This same Pontiff calls our attention to certain injuries caused by this denial of the natural law in the following words: “Where the dependence of human right upon divine right is denied, where appeal is made only to some insecure idea of a merely human authority, and an autonomy is claimed which rests only upon a utilitarian morality, there human law itself justly forfeits in its more weighty application the moral force which is the essential condition for its acknowledgment and also for its demand of sacrifice.”
Christianity, therefore, while tempering scepters, gives strength to laws. That is another notable social blessing. On our part we should endeavor to obey human laws for conscience sake, as St. Paul exhorts us to do. We will thus acquire merits not only with men who do not always recognize them, but also with God, who always recognizes them and rewards them for all eternity.
The Latin word patria is derived from pater (father), which is where we get our English word patriotism, and is synonymous with “fatherland.” It is the place where we were born. As a synonym for country, one may also employ the word nascere (to be born). Love of county is natural; that is it springs spontaneously in the heart of man. Just as nature itself makes flowers bloom in the fields, so likewise it makes “the love of our native land spring up in our heart.”
How can we help loving the land that we were born and grew up in; the land that left its stamp upon our bodies, upon our minds and even upon our voice; the land that harbors our father’s home, in which we were reared, the temple where we became children of God, and a hundred other things that are indelibly engraved in our imagination and in our hearts?
But one’s country is not merely a place and an aggregate of endearing things, it is also, above all, the community of the people who were born in the land of our birth and who avail themselves of the things that we also avail ourselves of, in a word, it is the whole of our fellow citizens. This is the loftiest and the truest idea of county, It is also an eminently Christian idea. Love of country thus understood is nothing but a manifestation of love of neighbor. It is a natural extension of our love toward our father, an expansion of our love for our family.
Love of country, understood in this latter sense too, is a natural sentiment; it was felt even by the pagans, who were fond of this motto:: “pro aris et focis” (for our alters and our fires) – that is, for religion and for country. Very often it was a sense of exaggerated love and pride, that not only disregarded the rights of humankind, but did violence to them. Thus for the Greeks, every foreigner was a barbarian, and for the Romans, an enemy. Even the people of Israel, although taught by God, had [have] an exaggerated idea of country that was often in conflict with their duties toward mankind. Christianity purified and elevated this virtue by reconciling it with man’s duties.
Love of country was a natural duty before becoming a Christian duty. The Holy Spirit dictated this sentence: “Every beast loves its like:so also every man that is nearest himself.” (Ecclus. 13:19). These words contain a fundamental law of nature: Love has its motive and its foundation in likeness – the greater and deeper are the likenesses, the keener the love. Now who are our fellow countrymen if not neighbors with whom we have the most in common? Those who share the same language, culture, traditions, customs, tastes, social relations, common moral and even physical traits. Love of country, therefore, has its foundations in nature. Patriotism is an inborn sentiment; hence, it is willed and enjoined by the Creator.
Love of country is also a duty of gratefulness for the benefits that the citizens have received from the peoples and from the country in which we were born and reared. St. Thomas Aquinas says on this point: “After God, man is chiefly indebted to his parents and to his country; and, therefore, just as religion must render worship to God, so, to a lesser degree, piety must pay honor to parents and to country.”
Love of country is a Christian duty, in as much as it was not only practiced but preached by Christ who made love of neighbor the characteristic and the novelty of his message: “This is my commandment: that you love one another…(John 15:12). “A new commandment I give to you; that you love one another.” (John 13:34). Now our closest neighbors, after those that come in contact with us within the walls of our homes, are those that we come in contact with as soon as we cross the threshold of our homes, within the boundaries of our country.
Indeed, Jesus came to save all peoples. He teaches the brotherhood of all men, so likewise he enjoins universal love. Therefore the prime center of love of neighbor is the family, where the traits of resemblance are more numerous and more marked; from the family it spreads to the country, and from there, to the whole of humankind.
Jesus taught us the duty to love our country, first of all by his conduct. He showed, in fact, a special love for his country. His preaching was reserved for the children of Israel: “I was not sent except to sheep that are lost of the house of Israel.” (Matt. 15:24). Jerusalem, the capital of his people, rejected his kindness. He was saddened by it, and one day he uttered these words, full of tenderness: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often would I have gathered your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you would not!” (Matt. 23:37).
The apostles, too, brought up in the school of Christ, gave undoubted proof of this love. They were sent Christ to teach all nations; but their first concern was for their countrymen within the boundaries of their country, and when after crossing these boundaries, they entered a strange city to preach the new message, their first word was always for the Jews that dwelt there.
St. Paul, too, the apostle to the Gentiles, the zealous champion of universal Christianity, upon entering a city, began his preaching at the synagogue and preached to Gospel to his countrymen. He even went so far as to say that he longed to be accursed (if that were possible and necessary) provided that he could save those who were bound to him by blood: “For I wished myself to be accursed from Christ, for my brethren, who are my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Rom. 9:3).
The Church of Christ has always taught the duty of loving one’s country in preference to others. Leo XIII said in this regard: “The supernatural love for the Church and the natural love of country are two loves that have their origin in the same eternal principles, since the same God is the author of the one and the other. (Encyclical Sapientiae Christianae). The Church, however, while teaching and enjoining love of country, has at the same time endeavored to keep it within just bounds by harmonizing with other loves, according to the dictates of reason and faith. Christianity is the religion of harmonies. It teaches true love of country, which lies midway between two erroneous extremes: between exaggerated nationalism, which ignores the rights of humanity, and internationalism, which denies country.
Pius XI tells us that gross injustices can arise “when true love of country is debased to the condition of extreme nationalism when we forget that all men are brothers and members of the same human family, that other nations have an equal right with us both to life and to prosperity.” (Encyclical Ubi Arcano Dei).
A Christian, besides belonging to civil society, belongs also to religious society, namely the Church. Hence the two loves must be in harmony with each other. The following is a teaching of Leo XIII on this point:
“Now if the natural law commands us to love with devotion and to defend the country in which we were born so that every good citizen does not hesitate to face death for his native land, very much more is the urgent need of Christians to be ever quickened by like feelings toward the Church. For the Church is the holy city of the living God….[and] we have a much more urgent obligation to love, with an ardent love, the Church to which we owe the life of the soul.” (Encyclical Sapientiae Christianae).
Love of country, like love of neighbor generally, should be not only affective, but also effective. When is this the case? When legitimate authority is respected and all just laws observed; when citizens are people of integrity, honest and industrious; when the duties of justice and charity are fulfilled; when all sacrifices that the country justly calls for are accomplished.
Now who does not see that these are virtues taught and fostered by the religion of Christ?
While on the one hand Christianity teaches and enjoins such love, on the other she offers the means to make it effective; these are the principles of the Gospel and help of divine grace. Love of country, therefore, cannot be divorced from respect for religion. Whoever opposes harms his country. All history affirms the prophet’s sentence: “Happy is the people whose God is the Lord.” (Ps. 143:15).
Peace is tranquility, to wit: the absence of disturbances, disorders, and of strife; and such tranquility rests upon order, which comes from the regular convergence of means to an end, by virtue of which everything finds itself in its proper place. True order is first of all that internal and moral order that is found in wills before it is found in things, in wills guided by justice, which is respect for the right of all and each.
Justice is the guardian of order and, consequently, of peace. Without justice, men would always be fighting like wild beasts over the prey. Hence the biblical saying: “Opus justitiae pax” – “The work of Justice shall be peace.” (Is. 32:17).
Without justice it is possible to have a purely external, mechanical, apparent, unstable order, liable to be broken with every wind that blows; and order resting on the points of bayonets.
There is an inward peace that reigns among people’s faculties, whereby the lower are subject to the higher; and there is an outward peace that reflects the relations between man and man, between classes, and between peoples. Outward peace is national when the relations between rulers and subjects and between citizens are founded on justice. It is international when the relations between nations that make up the human family are founded on justice.
Jesus Christ was foretold by the prophets as the Bearer of Peace, the Peaceful King. Isaiah says: “And he shall judge the nations, and rebuke many people; and they shall turn their swords into plowshares, and their spears into sickles; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Is. 2:4). The kingdom of Christ will, therefore, be the Kingdom of Peace; the same prophet, in fact, elsewhere, calls the future Messiah the Prince of Peace. (Is. 9:6).
Zachrias, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied that the divine Messiah will come “to enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to direct our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke. 1:79). The prophecies find their fulfillment in the doctrine, in the teachings, and in the life of Christ.
Jesus made a summary of his public teachings by his Sermon on the Mount, which is, as it were, his program, and in it he said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matt. 5:9). Peace is the loving wish of Jesus to his disciples: “Have peace among you.” (Mark 9:49). “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give you.” (John 14:27). And his first word of greeting to them after the resurrection is “Pax vobis” – “Peace be to you.” (John 20:19). Besides this, he wants his disciples to be messengers of peace: “And when you come into a house, salute it…If that house be worthy, your peace shall come upon it.” (Matt. 10:12-13).
The Jews were dreaming that the Messiah would be a warrior, and a conquerer: Jesus presents himself to them as a mild King, as the Prince of Peace. When the inhabitants of a Samaritan city had refused him hospitality, two of his disciples, James and John, prompted by an indiscreet zeal, put this question to him: “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” and Jesus replied: “You don’t know what spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy souls but to save.” (Luke 9:54-56).
What are the prerogatives of the peace of Christ, of that peace that he brought to the world and that he wills should reign at all times and in all places, in the individual, family, and social life among men and nations? In substance, the peace of Christ is friendship with God and with men: first of all, inward peace, from which, as rays from the sun, comes outward peace; peace within souls from which it radiates upon things; peace founded on justice and inspired by charity. Let us develop these two doctrines.
Peace founded on justice. Jesus came upon earth not only to preach peace, but to bring justice, which is the foundation and the safeguard of peace, as we have seen. The prophet Isaiah, speaking of the future Redeemer, says: “And justice shall be the girdle of his loins.” (Is. 6:5). And the Psalmist, describing the work of the Messiah, exclaimed: “Justice and peace have kissed.” (Ps. 84:11).How Christ inculcated justice, the basic virtue of individual and social life, we have already seen. His disciples must not only “hunger and thirst after justice” (Matt. 5:6), but they must be ready to suffer every kind of persecution rather than default in their duties toward justice. In fact, the last beatitude runs thus: “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:10).
The peace of Christ is not, therefore, any peace whatever, peace at any cost. It is peace founded on justice; therefore when justice is violated and there is no other means of redressing it, it is lawful to have recourse to force, which is entirely different from violence, since it is not summoned to the service of caprice or of passions, (like violence), but of law and order. Hence, the lawfulness of war under certain circumstances. According to Catholic moral theology, war is lawful when:
- It is declared by legitimate authority;
- It is just; that is, is waged for a just motive, such as re-establishing justice when offended, repairing an injury or defending oneself against aggression;
- It is inevitable; that is, when all other peaceful means of obtaining justice and of obtaining redress have failed;
- It is useful; insofar as it is likely that the advantages obtained will outweigh the damages suffered.
Some pacifists accuse the religion of Christ with legalizing war which, according to them, is never lawful. It should be pointed out to these people that justice is a higher good than peace itself, because without justice, as already observed, there can be no human society. That accounts for the coining of the aphorism: “fiat justitia, pereat mundas” – let justice be done, though the world perish
Christian peace, besides being founded on justice, is inspired by charity. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to observe the rules of justice if there is no fire of charity burning in the heart. Indeed, charity is the inspirer, the nourisher, the guardian of peace. If men love themselves like brothers, they cannot offend or kill one another as enemiesThe peace of Christ was promised by the heavenly messengers to “men of good will”; and the will is good precisely when it is guided by justice and inspired by love. The prophet Isaiah saw and described this wonderful scene in the future reign of Christ: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion and ox shall eat straw.” (Is. 65:25).
What will ever be able to achieve this prodigy, that those who are wont to tear each other to pieces should become friends? The love of Christ. Take away this love and that which a cynical philosopher fancied concerning the origins of society will readily come true: : “homo homini lupas” – “Man is a wolf to man.”
The representatives of all nations have been seeking and are still seeking a way to general disarmament, or at least to substantial reduction of arms. Physical disarmament is an excellent thing, but either it will never come to pass, or it will not last, unless it is preceded and accompanied by moral disarmament: that of vengeance, of individual and collective selfishness. Peace is sometimes represented by a dove bearing an olive branch in its beak. This dove of peace soars aloft on two wings, the names of which are justice and love.
The Pontiffs have pointed out particularly the foundations and the safeguards of peace, in the following remedies: association of nations, universal disarmament, compulsory arbitration (for the solution of international controversies, the independence of all nations, respect of minorities, and equitable distribution of wealth (among the various nations, large and small, rich and poor).
Benedict XV, in his note to the heads of belligerent nations (August 1, 1917) wrote: “First of all, the fundamental point must be that the moral force of right must be substituted for the material force of arms; thence must follow a just agreement of all for the simultaneous and reciprocal diminution of armaments, in accordance with rules and guarantees to be established hereafter, in a measure sufficient and necessary for the maintenance of public order in each State; next, as a substitute for armies, the institution of arbitration, with its high peace-making function, subject to regulations to be agreed on and sanctions to be determined against the State which should refuse either to submit international questions to arbitration or to accept its decision.”
The same Pontiff, in the Encyclical Pacem Dei Munus, said: “All States, putting aside mutual suspicion should unite in one society, or rather a single family calculated both to maintain their own independence and safeguard the order of human society…of making every effort to abolish or reduce the enormous burden of military expenditures which States can no longer bear, in order to prevent these disastrous wars or at least to remove the danger of them as far as possible.”
Pius XII tells us: “A fundamental postulate of any just and honorable peace is an assurance for all nations, great and small, powerful or weak, of their right to life and independence. The will of one nation must never mean the sentence of death passed upon another…Within the limits of a new order founded on moral principles, there is no place for that cold and calculated egoism which tends to hoard economic resources and materials destined for the use of all, to such an extent that the nations less favored by nature are not permitted access to them. In this regard, it is a source of great consolation to see admitted the necessity of a participation of all in the natural riches of the earth even on the part of those nations which, in the fulfillment of this principle . belong to the category of givers and not to that of the receivers. It is, however, in conformity with the principles of equity that a solution to a question so vital to the world economy should be arrived at methodically, and in easy stages, with a necessary guarantee, always drawing useful lessons from the omissions and mistakes of the past. If, in the future peace, this point were not to be courageously dealt with, there would remain in the relations between people a deep and far-reaching root blossoming forth into better dissensions and burning jealousies, which would lead eventually to new conflicts.
The exhortation of Christ to his disciples, an exhortation that is also commanded: “Have peace among you” (Matt. 9:49)., still re-echoes in the heart-rending words of the representatives of Christ. That exhortation is addressed also to us: Let us keep peace in our own little world, in our hearts, in our family, in our society, in our place of work, in our community, in the circle of our friends and acquaintances. Away with animosities, with quarrels, with envy!
Let us hearken to the appeal of the apostle: “If it be possible, as much as is in you, be at peace with all men.” (Rom. 12:18).
Let us strive to be at peace with all men, even if all around us there is hatred and strife. Thus we will help to bring about the peace of Christ – universal peace!