Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 June 2011
In Catholic social thought since the time of Leo XIII, two important developments have influenced justificatory arguments for the institution of property. First, the traditional language of the “common good” has been augmented by an emphasis in recent encyclicals upon the dignity of persons and the rights of individuals. I shall analyze the warrants for this shift in formulation to see how changes in the language of justification reveal both continuities and discontinuities with the earlier tradition. Second, in the past century of Roman Catholic social thought, understandings of natural law have been subject to significant revision. Especially since the time of John XXIII, the papal encyclicals have sought both to “historicize” and to update those elements in the traditional discussion of property that fail to reflect modern socioeconomic circumstances. In reviewing the recent encyclical literature on these themes, I will consider how, or whether, earlier discussion can be successfully modernized without undercutting the raison d'etre of natural-law terminology in the process.
3 Leo XIII, “The Condition of Labor,” no. 6, in Treacy, Gerald C., ed., Five Great Encyclicals (New York: Paulist, 1939) 4Google Scholar.
4 Leo XIII, “The Condition of Labor,” no. 19 (Treacy, 11).
5 Anthony Parel, “Aquinas's Theory of Property,” in Parel, Anthony and Flanagan, Thomas, eds., Theories of Property: Aristotle to the Present (Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier, 1979) 96:Google Scholar “Dominium, then, is a broad, indeterminate power that every man has with respect to both internal acts of mind and will as well as to the use of the things of this world. It is an analogical notion.”
7 Leo XIII, “The Condition of Labor,” no. 19 (Treacy, 11).
8 Leo XIII, “Rerum Novarum,” no. 34, quoted in Hollenbach, David, Claims in Conflict: Retrieving and Renewing the Catholic Human Rights Tradition (New York: Paulist, 1979) 48Google Scholar.
10 Leo XIII, “The Condition of Labor,” no. 26 (Treacy, 15).
11 Leo XIII, “The Condition of Labor,” no. 27 (Treacy, 16).
13 Leo XIII, “The Condition of Labor,” no. 27 (Treacy, 16-17).
14 Leo XIII, “The Condition of Labor,” no. 16 (Treacy, 9).
16 Camp, Richard L., The Papal Ideology of Social Reform: A Study in Historical Development 1878-1967 (Leiden: Brill, 1969) 82Google Scholar.
17 Terence McLaughlin, , ed., The Church and the Reconstruction of the Modern World (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1957) 253Google Scholar.
19 Husslein, Joseph, ed., Social Wellsprings: Eighteen Encyclicals of Social Reconstruction (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1942) 179.Google Scholar
24 Husslein, , Social Wellsprings, 221.Google Scholar Pius XI excoriates “socialism” for its willingness to sacrifice higher goods to efficiency of production, and for its subsequent tendency to rationalize that loss in terms of lesser values: “[the socialists] affirm that the loss of human dignity, which results from these socialized methods of production, will be easily compensated for by the abundance of goods produced in common and accruing to the individual who can turn them at his will to the comforts and culture of life. Society, therefore, as the socialist conceives it, is, on the one hand, impossible and unthinkable without the use of compulsion of the most excessive kind: on the other, it fosters a false liberty, since in such a scheme no place is found for true social authority, which is not based on temporal and material advantages, but descends from God alone, the Creator and last end of all things” (221-22).
27 Leo XIII, “Rerum Novarum,” no. 19, quoted by Pius XI, “Quadragesimo Anno,” in Husslein, , Social Wellsprings, 194Google Scholar.
29 Husslein, , Social Wellsprings, 195: “History proves that ownership, like other elements of social life, is not absolutely rigid, and this doctrine we ourselves have given utterance to on a previous occasion in the following terms: ‘How varied are the forms which property has assumed! First, the primitive form in use among rude and savage peoples, which still exists in certain localities even in our own day; then, that of the patriarchal age; later, various tyrannical types…; finally, the feudal and monarchic systems down to the varieties of more recent times.’”Google Scholar
35 Ibid. See also Pius XI, “Quadragesimo Anno,” no. 58: “Each one, then, must receive his due share, and the distribution of created goods must be brought into conformity with the demands of the common good, that is, of social justice. For every sincere observer is conscious that the vast differences between the few who hold excessive wealth and the many who live in destitution constitute a grave evil in modern society.”
46 John XXIII, “Mater et Magistra,” no. 62, in Gremillion, Joseph, ed., The Gospel ofPeace and Justice: Catholic Social Teaching since Pope John (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1976) 156–57Google Scholar.
48 John XXIII, “Mater et Magistra,” no. 63 (Gremillion, 157).
49 John XXIII, “Mater et Magistra,” no. 65 (Gremillion, 157-58).
51 John XXIII, “Mater et Magistra,” no. 65 (Gremillion, 157).
52 John XXIII, “Mater et Magistra,” no. 67 (Gremillion, 157-58).
53 John XXIII, “Mater et Magistra,” no. 69 (Gremillion, 158).
55 John XXIII, “Mater et Magistra,” no. 71 (Gremillion, 158).
56 John XXIII, “Mater et Magistra,” no. 112 (Gremillion, 167).
57 John XXIII, “Mater et Magistra,” no. 117 (Gremillion, 168).
58 John XXIII, “Pacem in Terris,” no. 11 (Gremillion, 203).
59 John XXIII, “Pacem in Terris,” no. 30 (Gremillion, 207).
60 John XXIII, “Pacem in Terris,” no. 32–33 (Gremillion, 207).
61 John XXIII, “Pacem in Terris,” no. 132 (Gremillion, 229).
62 John XXIII, “Pacem in Terris,” no. 134–35 (Gremillion, 229-30).
63 John XXIII, “Pacem in Terris,” no. 138 (Gremillion, 230).
64 John XXIII, “Pacem in Terris,” no. 145 (Gremillion, 232).
65 “Gaudium et Spes,” no. 71 (Gremillion, 306).
70 Paul VI, “Populorum Progressio,” no. 22 (Gremillion, 394).
71 Paul VI, “Populorum Progressio,” no. 23 (Gremillion, 394).
73 Paul VI, “Populorum Progressio,” no. 16 (Gremillion, 392).
75 II, John Paul, On Human Work (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference Office of Publishing Services, 1981) 24Google Scholar.
90 II, John Paul, On Human Work, 33Google Scholar. It is quite interesting to note that Baum, (Priority of Labor, 82–83)Google Scholar finds thematic similarities between John Paul's treatment of “moral socialism” and the original version of Marxism, as distinguished from its “determinist” versions: “When Marx spoke of the contradictions of capitalism, he meant above all the discrepancy between the social nature of work in industrial society and the private ownership of capital. Industrial work involving the many demands ownership involving the many. This… is not an argument of scientific or technological reason but of practical reason; it has moral implications. Marx argued, moreover, that if an economic system cannot feed and house the people, then it is irrational. Again a moral reasoning. The type of reasoning we find in Laborem Exercens, while radically at odds with scientific or positivist Marxism, has a certain affinity with the original reasoning of Marx. Both belong to the order of practical reason. The essential difference of their conclusions is this: while for Marx the ownership of capital was the great moral issue, for the encyclical, after the historical experience of over a century, it is the use of capital that really counts in the practical order.“
95 John XXIII, “Mater et Magistra,” no. 65 (Gremillion, 157).
96 I have argued that the modern encyclical literature reflects an updated understanding of Thomas's own emphasis upon the issues of justice raised by conditions of relative scarcity and abundance. For a useful summary of early church teaching about property and justice, see Schlatter, Richard, Private Property (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1951) 33–47Google Scholar. See also Ramsey, Boniface, “Almsgiving in the Latin Church: The Late Fourth and Early Fifth Centuries,” in TS 43 (1982) 226–59.Google Scholar Ramsey concludes that “almsgiving was not something that could be lightly neglected: it was due in justice. This idea, not always made explicit, is at the foundation of virtually every patristic exhortation to good works. Referring ot almsgiving as ‘mercy,’ Ambrose calls it ‘a part of justice, so that if you should wish to give to the poor this mercy is justice, according to what is written: He has distributed, he has given to the poor; his justice endures forever.’ Hence it is unjust if the one who shares your nature is not aided by his fellow.” Ramsey's conclusion here clearly derives from a property-in-common conception that is theologically based.
97 “Gaudium et Spes,” no. 69 (Gremillion, 305).