July 2016 Print

Papal Teachings

Motu Proprio, Fin Dalla Prima Nostra, concerning popular Catholic action, by Pope St. Pius X, Dec. 18, 1903

In our first Encyclical to the Bishops of the world, in which we echo all that our glorious predecessors had laid down concerning the Catholic action of the laity, we declared that this action was deserving of the highest praise, and was indeed necessary in the present condition of the Church and of society…

Our illustrious predecessor, Leo XIII, of holy memory, traced out luminously the rules that must be followed in the Christian movement among the people in the great Encyclicals Quod Apostolici Muneris, of December 28, 1878; Rerum Novarum, of May 15, 1891, and Graves de Communi, of January 18, 1901; and further in a particular Instruction emanating from the Sacred Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, of January 27, 1902.
And we, realizing, as did our predecessor, the great need that the Christian movement among the people be rightly governed and conducted, desire to have those most prudent rules exactly and completely fulfilled, and to provide that nobody may dare depart from them in the smallest particulars. Hence, to keep them more vividly present before people’s minds, we have deemed it well to summarize them in the following articles, which will constitute the fundamental plan of Catholic popular movement.


I.  Human society, as established by God, is composed of unequal elements, just as the different parts of the human body are unequal; to make them all equal is impossible, and would mean the destruction of human society. (Encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris.)

II. The equality existing among the various social members consists only in this: that all men have their origin in God the Creator, have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, and are to be judged and rewarded or punished by God exactly according to their merits or demerits. (Encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris.)

III. Hence it follows that there are, according to the ordinance of God, in human society princes and subjects, masters and proletariat, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, nobles and plebeians, all of whom, united in the bonds of love, are to help one another to attain their last end in heaven, and their material and moral welfare here on earth. (Encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris.)

IV. Of the goods of the earth man has not merely the use, like the brute creation, but he has also the right of permanent proprietorship and not merely of those things which are consumed by use, but also of those which are not consumed by use. (Encyclical Rerum Novarum.)

V.  The right of private property, the fruit of labor or industry, or of concession or donation by others, is an incontrovertible natural right; and everybody can dispose reasonably of such property as he thinks fit. (Encyclical Rerum Novarum.)

VI. To heal the breach between rich and poor, it is necessary to distinguish between justice and charity. There can be no claim for redress except when justice is violated. (Encyclical Rerum Novarum.)

VII.  The following are obligations of justice binding on the proletariat and the workingman: To perform fully and faithfully the work which has been freely and, according to equity, agreed upon; not to injure the property or outrage the person of masters; even in the defense of their own rights to abstain from acts of violence, and never to make mutiny of their defense. (Encyclical Rerum Novarum.)

VIII. The following are obligations of justice binding on capitalists: To pay just wages to their workingmen; not to injure their just savings by violence or fraud, or by overt or covert usuries; not to expose them to corrupting seductions and danger of scandal; not to alienate them from the spirit of family life and from love of economy; not to impose on them labor beyond their strength, or unsuitable for their age or sex. (Encyclical Rerum Novarum.)

IX. It is an obligation for the rich and those who own property to succor the poor and the indigent, according to the precepts of the Gospel. This obligation is so grave that on the Day of Judgment special account will be demanded of its fulfillment, as Christ Himself has said (Matthew 25). (Encyclical Rerum Novarum.)

X.  The poor should not be ashamed of their poverty, nor disdain the charity of the rich, for they should have especially in view Jesus the Redeemer, who, though He might have been born in riches, made Himself poor in order that He might ennoble poverty and enrich it with merits beyond price for heaven. (Encyclical Rerum Novarum.)

XI. For the settlement of the social question much can be done by the capitalists and workers themselves, by means of institutions designed to provide timely aid for the needy and to bring together and unite mutually the two classes. Among these institutions are mutual aid societies, various kinds of private insurance societies, orphanages for the young, and, above all, associations among the different trades and professions. (Encyclical Rerum Novarum.)

XIX.  Finally, let Catholic writers take care, when defending the cause of the proletariat and the poor, not to use language calculated to inspire aversion among the people of the upper classes of society. Let them refrain from speaking of redress and justice when the matter comes within the domain of charity only, as has been explained above. Let them remember that Jesus Christ endeavored to unite all men in the bond of mutual love, which is the perfection of justice, and which carries with it the obligation of working for the welfare of one another. (Instruction as cited in introduction)

But as words and energetic action are of no avail unless preceded, accompanied and followed constantly by example, the necessary characteristic which should shine forth in all the members of every Catholic association is that of openly manifesting their faith by the holiness of their lives, by the spotlessness of their morals and by the scrupulous observance of the laws of God and of the Church. And this because it is the duty of every Christian, and also in order that he “who stands against us may blush, having nothing evil to say of us.” (Tit. 2:8.)

Commentaries by Archbishop Lefebvre on Pius XI’s Encyclical on Communism

(Against the Heresies, Angelus Press, 2003, pp.317-319)

Commentaries on Counterfeit Redemption of the Poor

The Communism of today, more emphatically than similar movements in the past, conceals in itself a false messianic idea.

This is how the Pope understands Communism. Communism presents itself to the world as the redemption of the lowly, coming to bring salvation to the poor, the wretched, the hungry. It is a counter-redemption, so to speak, as the devil is wont to do; he imitates, to a certain degree, the Christian religion, as it was Our Lord who truly came to bring redemption to souls and Christian civilization, the most beautiful of civilizations. So to destroy this Christian civilization, it is necessary to present to the world a kind of counterfeit redemption. They have concocted this strategy: present themselves to the world as those who bring redemption to the lowly:

A pseudo-ideal of justice, of equality and fraternity in labor impregnates all its doctrine and activity with a deceptive mysticism....

And indeed, the Communists present themselves as animated by a real mystique, as having a new religion and a new gospel. This is the means they use to ensnare the humble, by calling themselves the liberators of the poor and the workers:

....which communicates a zealous and contagious enthusiasm to the multitudes entrapped by delusive promises. This is especially true in an age like ours, when unusual misery has resulted from the unequal distribution of the goods of this world.

The Capitalist Economy: Fruit of the Revolution

With the capitalist economic system, which is the fruit of the French Revolution, the same people distilled the poison of this 
so-called freedom, because behind it—as the Pope says—were the secret societies. It was they who broke with every social structure that existed to protect the workers: the corporations, the guilds. All was broken at the time of the Revolution. The worker then found himself standing alone face to face with his employers; and at the same time unrestricted freedom was granted: “liberal” economy, freedom of trade, freedom of industry, etc. Clearly, those who possessed money profited from the situation to accumulate immense fortunes at the expense of the workers, who found themselves defenseless. They were no longer united by any bond; all the guilds had been broken up and disbanded.

Nonetheless, during the 19th century, it must be recognized that thanks to the efforts of the Catholic Church, the efforts of Pope Leo XIII and French Catholics like La Tour du Pin, and in other countries, for example Germany, they tried to restore to the workers some kind of organization in order to defend them against those who exploited their work and their weakness.

All these sufferings and injustices are the fruit of the modern errors, and not those of the Christian civilization inaugurated by the Church. Rather they are the fruits of the errors that had been propagated initially by Protestantism, and then by the Revolution: the liberal spirit, that gave total freedom to trade and industry, whereas before there had been rules. No one could set up an industry just anywhere, crush others, destroy the small businessmen, form trusts, as is done now. These are all practically the result of the liberal economy. It is not the work of the Church.

Even priests often accuse the Church, saying that the current miseries are the result of Christian civilization. This is absolutely false. It is the work of the Revolution! The revolutionaries broke the social framework that existed previously, which protected the worker and united together patron and worker in associations, the corporations, which often took on a religious aspect: they had a patron saint and even religious feasts. These were organizations established for the sake of the work, the trade, the profession; all was done in a Christian spirit. The whole edifice was torn down! The defenseless workers found themselves face to face with lawless immoral men, who profited from the situation to abuse the workers. It has to be acknowledged: there were enormous abuses, and shameful forms of exploitation of the workers.

Unfortunately, it was at that moment that Communism presented itself as the liberator. They arrived on the scene at the very moment when they could find an enormous well-disposed audience amongst the populace, especially among the workers. The Pope continues:

This is especially true in an age like ours, when unusual misery has resulted from the unequal distribution of the goods of this world. This pseudo-ideal is even boastfully advanced as if it were responsible for a certain economic progress. As a matter of fact, when such progress is at all real, its true causes are quite different, as for instance the intensification of industrialism in countries which were formerly almost without it, the exploitation of immense natural resources, and the use of the most brutal methods to insure the achievement of gigantic projects with a minimum of expense.