WSJ: notes from Fr. Sirico on “Caritas in veritate”

In today’s Wall Street Journal Fr. Robert Sirico of Acton Institute has a comment on the Pope’s new "social" encyclical Caritas in veritate.

My emphases and comments.

The Pope on ‘Love in Truth’
Anyone seeking a repudiation of the market economy will be disappointed.


In his much anticipated third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth), Pope Benedict XVI does not focus on specific systems of economics — he is not attempting to shore up anyone’s political agenda. He is rather concerned with morality and the theological foundation of culture. [Culture precedes politics and economic theory.] The context is of course a global economic crisis — a crisis that’s taken place in a moral vacuum, where the love of truth has been abandoned in favor of a crude materialism. The pope urges that this crisis become "an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future."

Yet [pay attention] his encyclical contains no talk of seeking a third way between markets and socialism. Words like greed and capitalism make no appearance here, [I did a search in the English version… not a single appearance of "capitalism".] despite press headlines following the publication of the encyclical earlier this week. People seeking a blueprint for the political restructuring of the world economy won’t find it here. But if they look to this document as a means for the moral reconstruction of the world’s cultures and societies, which in turn influence economic events, they will find much to reflect upon.

Caritas in Veritate is an eloquent restatement of old truths casually dismissed in modern times. The pope is pointing to a path neglected in all the talk of economic stimulus, namely a global embrace of truth-filled charity.

Benedict rightly attributes the crisis itself to "badly managed and largely speculative financial dealing." But he resists the current fashion of blaming all existing world problems on the market economy. "The Church," he writes, "has always held that economic action is not to be regarded as something opposed to society." Further: "Society does not have to protect itself from the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto to entail the death of authentically human relations."

The market is rather shaped by culture. "Economy and finance . . . can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends. Instruments that are good in themselves can thereby be transformed into harmful ones. But it is man’s darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility."

The pope does not reject globalization: "Blind opposition would be a mistaken and prejudiced attitude, incapable of recognizing the positive aspects of the process, with the consequent risk of missing the chance to take advantage of its many opportunities for development." He says that "the world-wide diffusions of prosperity should not . . . be held up by projects that are protectionist." More, not less, trade is needed: "the principal form of assistance needed by developing countries is that of allowing and encouraging the gradual penetration of their products into international markets." [trade… the market… will help relieve poverty and help peoples develop]

The encyclical doesn’t attack capitalism or offer models for nations to adopt. "The Church does not have technical solutions to offer," the pope firmly states, "and does not claim ‘to interfere in any way in the politics of States.’ She does, however, have a mission of truth to accomplish, in every time and circumstance . . ." Benedict is profoundly aware that economic science has much to contribute to human betterment. The Church’s role is not to dictate the path of research but to focus its goals. "Economic science tells us that structural insecurity generates anti-productive attitudes wasteful of human resources. . . . Human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs."

He constantly returns to two practical applications of the principle of truth in charity. [1] First, this principle takes us beyond earthly demands of justice, defined by rights and duties, and introduces essential moral priorities of generosity, mercy and communion — priorities which provide salvific and theological value. [2] Second, truth in charity is always focused on the common good, defined as an extension of the good of individuals who live in society and have broad social responsibilities. As for issues of population, he can’t be clearer: [a "life" point…] "To consider population increase as the primary cause of underdevelopment is mistaken, even from an economic point of view."

Several commentators have worried about his frequent calls for wealth redistribution. Benedict does see a role for the state here, but much of the needed redistribution is the result of every voluntary and mutually beneficial exchange. [NB:] To understand such passages fully and accurately, we do well to put our political biases on the shelf.

This encyclical is a theological version of his predecessor’s more philosophical effort to anchor the free economy’s ethical foundation. Much of it stands squarely with a long tradition of writings of a certain "classical liberal" tradition, one centered on the moral foundation of economics, from St. Thomas Aquinas and his disciples, Frederic Bastiat in the 19th century, Wilhelm Roepke, and even the secular F.A. Hayek in the 20th century. It also clearly resonates with some European Christian democratic thought

Caritas in Veritate is a reminder that we cannot understand ourselves as a human community if we do not understand ourselves as something more than the sum or our material parts; if we do not understand our capacity for sin; and if we do not understand the principle of communion rooted in the gratuitousness of God’s grace. Simply put, to this pope’s mind, there is no just or moral system without just and moral people.

Father Sirico is president and co-founder of the Acton Institute.


A good propaedeutic article for your reading of the encyclical.

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  1. shoofoolatte says:

    It sounds like this Pope is on the right track, getting at the root of what forms our social, economic and political policies. I will have a look at the encyclical.

    The missive may not directly repudidiate the market economy but I’ll bet it encourages us to re-think it.

  2. kgurries says:

    Fr. Sirico did a fine job with this (What a contrast to Weigel’s rant!). There is one or two points I found confusing:

    “He constantly returns to two practical applications of the principle of truth in charity. [1] First, this principle takes us beyond earthly demands of justice, defined by rights and duties, and introduces essential moral priorities of generosity, mercy and communion—priorities which provide salvific and theological value.”

    It seems to me that these are priorities that — in addition to salvific and theological value — are necessary for sustainable temporal welfare. Hence the call to break out of the “binary model” of market + state.

    “Much of it stands squarely with a long tradition of writings of a certain “classical liberal” tradition, one centered on the moral foundation of economics, from St. Thomas Aquinas and his disciples, Frederic Bastiat in the 19th century, Wilhelm Roepke, and even the secular F.A. Hayek in the 20th century.”

    I was surprised to find St. Thomas counted among those in the “classical liberal” tradition. And why the concern or need to align the encyclical to any particular ideology?

    Beyond that I thought it was presented very well to the WSJ readership.

  3. Tom says:

    In Ratzinger fashion, the pope has left an opening for his opponents to exit gracefully. Cornering them would have served no good.

    Weigel & Novak have decided not to use it and are standing their ground. How odd that they now sound like the old SSPX.

  4. TJM says:

    I always enjoy reading Father Sirico’s well thought out commentaries. The National Anti-Catholic Reporter will be grieved by the Pope
    failing to canonize socialism as the proper world economic model. Tom

  5. Sal says:

    Tom, you took the words right out of my mouth.
    Weigel’s been criticizing the SSPX forever as
    “cafeteria-style” Catholics. But he sure sounded
    like one with his “duck-billed platypus” comments.

    And if the Holy Father had not challenged, or at
    least encouraged us to rethink capitalism and the
    market economy, why were Novak and Weigel so
    exercised about it?

  6. gregg says:

    After issuing an encyclical, does the Pope ever attempt “clear up” points that may have been misunderstood or unclear? The obvious example is this item for paragraph 67:

    “To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago.”

    It seems everyone is spinning it to their own political view. Can we expect to hear what the Pope intended with that statement? I’m not criticizing Fr. Robert Sirico’s interpretation, but I’m sure there are priests offering interpretations that are quite different. If the Pope explains his intent, then there is no question.

  7. Jon says:

    It certainly does encourage us to re-think capitalism as it has existed in practice:

    E.g. (#25) “I would like to remind everyone… that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity.”
    (#32) “The dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require… that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive and morally unacceptable manner.”
    (#39) [The Pope calls for a new “market of gratuitousness” which] “does not exist, and attitudes of gratuitousness cannot be established by law.”
    (#40) “Today’s international economic scene, marked by grave deviations and failures, requires a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise. Old models are disappearing, but promising new ones are taking shape on the horizon.”
    (#41) “Business activity has a human significance, prior to its professional one. It is present in all work, understood as a person action… which is why every worker should have the chance to make his contribution knowing that in some way ‘he is working for himself’.”

    It would seem intellectually dishonest to fail to admit that this encyclical does attack a free market theory like that of Thomas Woods, who argues the Church’s morality and social teaching has no place in economics:

    E.g. (#31) “The Church’s social doctrine, which has ‘an important interdisciplinary dimension’ can exercise, in this perspective a function of extraordinary effectiveness. It allows faith, theology, metaphysics and science to come together in a collaborative effort in the service of humanity.”
    (#34) “Then the conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from “influences” of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way. In the long term, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom, and are therefore unable to deliver the justice that they promise.”
    (#36) “The economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner.”
    (#45) “Striving to meet the deepest moral needs of the person also has important and beneficial repercussions at the level of economics. The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly.”
    (Ibid.) “Man in fact depends on the underlying system of morality. On this subject the Church’s social doctrine can make a specific contribution… The Church’s social teaching is quite clear on the subject, recalling that the economy, in all its branches, constitutes a sector of human activity.”

  8. Alan says:

    You quoted:
    E.g. (#25) “I would like to remind everyone… that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity.”

    Pope Benedict has always focused on man as the end and not as a means to an end.

    Any system where any man is a means to an end is unjust.

    Socialist systems hold, by design, law, and force, that some men are a means for other men to live equally in the society. There is no choice in such a system – it is, by design and function, morally corrupt as it relies on an immoral foundation – some men must be forced to serve others.

    Capitalist systems enable men to act either justly or unjustly. In being the manager of a company, you can CHOOSE to see men (employees or customers) as ends in themselves or only as means.

    That is why he says that the system needs ethics and morals to function properly. When we don’t have those, we devolve to the need for force. Morality is meaningless if there is no choice involved.

    Socialism is a gravely disordered system that forces men to see each other as means, enslaves people, and results in a fundamentally immoral society with a citizenry of damaged souls.

  9. Ubi Petrus Ibi Ecclesia says:

    Unfortunately, Alan, capitalism in practice often also devolves into “a gravely disordered system that forces men to see each other as means, enslaves people, and results in a fundamentally immoral society with a citizenry of damaged souls.” Look at America today.

    We must either strongly reform capitalism in practice, or abandon it. But of course socialism is much worse than capitalism, and luckily these two are not the only possible solutions, as your post would seem to imply.

  10. Ron says:

    I’m sorry but I never quite understand why some despise the idea of a “third way” called for by former Popes when that way was attempted to be thought out by the likes of Belloc, Fr. McNabb, and Chesterton – who otherwise are models of orthodox for these same individuals.

    This false dichotomy – if you do not accept capitalism then the only other option is socialism – needs to be dispelled because there can be a third way. I think the Pope’s encyclical opens the door for that idea even if it does not explicitly spell it out.

    Each party now will try to show how Pope Benedict XVI supports their economic system but I think he raises concerns about them both.

    Pax Christi tecum.

  11. Flamma says:


    Chesterton and Belloc existed in a vastly different ECONOMIC and POLITICAL age.

    While much of their literary legacy remains relevant, the various eras through which he lived (Unionist, Edwardian, Liberal, Conservative, Labour, Second & Third National, leading into the War Gov’t after his passing) are starkly different from the political and economic eras we confront now.

    Technology has not changed our morality, but it has changed our capabilities.

    Distributism MIGHT be able to bring about a more equitable society. But that society will be much poorer.

    If our only choice is moral poverty vs. immoral wealth, I choose the poverty. But I don’t think we have to choose between those options. I think we can find a way to morality and a path to prosperity.

  12. Jon says:


    You say you want to find a way to morality and a path to prosperity. The teaching of Chesterton, Belloc, etc. would seem to lead to both, if you define prosperity in terms other than the inordinately huge masses of wealth that some few are able to gain access to under capitalism. Overall in such a system, there would be increased prosperity for the majority.

  13. Bob says:

    The “third way” is really a derivative of capitalism. Capitalism is by far the best system that we’ve had, but it also the system that is most abused. This abuse would most definitely end if we had a distributism-type economy, but I think that idea is perversed by socialists who think that allowing someone to earn a large sum and then take 40% of that sum away and give it to the poor is somehow distributism, as if having more money to spend would boost man’s dignity. However, if a man’s property was an essential part of a business process, all of the sudden he becomes vitally important.

    Distributionism- better said as a system where the vast majority of people own their own property- can only be achieved through a bridled “capitalism”. If we’d read between the lines, that is precisely what the pope is calling for- restrained capitalism.

  14. David Deavel says:

    I think the idea that Thomas Woods, Fr. Sirico, George Weigel, etc. don’t think the Church’s teaching has anything to do with the market is ridiculous and doesn’t remotely look like anything of theirs I’ve read. If people have quotations indicating they are all amoralists, I’d be glad to look at them.

    George Weigel’s concerns had to do mainly with the “world political authority” which strikes me as a holdover from the days of Christendom when Jesuits and others wanted something to break up the fighting among Christian nations. However, when we’re talking about a real “world political authority,” I doubt we would get a group looking to natural law or the pope’s leadership.

    His other concerns seemed to be about distributive economic justice. This strikes me as a valid concern since many assume that following up on this means that the government is the active distributor. I agree with distributing income, but I think I accomplish more of it by my tithing than by my taxes, which seem to go to ever more government programs unrelated to defense or general welfare.

  15. Dennis says:

    1. Probably 99 percent of Catholics (and non-Catholics) don’t read Papal Encyclicals. The majority of people have neither the time nor desire to read 139-140 page Church documents.

    2. Just what we need…another lengthy and involved Church document (see above).

    3. The Encyclical is typical of post-Vatican-speak…it “seems to say “X” but also doesn’t say “X”…which leads to point four.

    4. As a typical liberal/conservative/traditional post-Vatican II document that says this, that and everything, each group…conservatives, neo-conservatives, traditionalists, moderates, liberals…is able to spin the document as they see fit.

    Think Pope John Paul II’s Ut Unum Sint…radical ecumenical novelties presented with traditional teachings allowed everybody from neo-cons to traditionalists to claim the Encyclical as their own.

    That is the case with Pope Benedict XVI’s latest Encyclical. Right-wing Acton types have spun the Encyclical to fit their agenda.

    For neo-cons, George Weigel has interpreted the Encyclical to fit their agenda. (Neo-cons supposedly penned the “good” parts…”justice and peace” types supposedly penned the “bad” parts. Nonsense!

    Traditionalists have positioned the Encyclical as typical post-Vatican II Vatican-speak.

    5. Same old conservative, traditional, neo-con, moderate, liberal nonsense. Spin, spin, spin.

    No wonder few people care to read Encyclicals.

  16. Jon says:

    David Deavel-

    See Thomas Storck’s “Economic Science and Catholic Social Teaching”.

  17. Jon says:

    Sorry David Deavel, it’s a bit hard to find on Google at the moment, so here is a link:

  18. mpm says:

    Comment by gregg — 10 July 2009 @ 10:39 am


    If I may give my opinion to your question….

    Perhaps the Pope will raise this issue again, in one form or another.

    This idea of a global “authority”, as the Pope points out, has been “put out there” by the Church for a while (since at least Pope John XXIII, whom the Pope mentions). One of the reasons for this is that when “things” get beyond the scope of a given level of government, the scope in our time being that of “national governments”, no single government has the authority to legislate (i.e., “control) those “things” which reach beyond its scope, which leaves humanity open to the problem of wars to resolve conflicts (which an authority might have other mandatory means of addressing), economic beggar-my-neighbor policies, colonialisms for the benefit of the “home country” exclusively, “piling on” of some nations versus others (e.g., the League of Nations vs. Germany, post WWI), etc.

    It is my opinion that Pope Benedict wants to raise this matter now, since the world community is considering what to do, at present). I wouldn’t be surprised if they ignored his suggestion, the way the League of Nations ignored the suggestions of Benedict XV after WWI, but that’s just me). It is worthwhile noting all of the subsequent sentences in that section, which will/would take quite a while to negotiate: regulated by law, subsidiarity, solidarity, efficacy, common good, the commitment to promote authentic human development (as the Pope has spoken of it in this encyclical), universally recognized, etc.

    This would entail national governments foregoing certain aspects of their sovereignty (not all, which is why the Pope specifies “subsidiarity”), which governments (and peoples) are reluctant to do, but on the other hand, think of all the good that might accrue. For example, instead of sitting on our hands when “genocide” is occuring, or trying to pass “resolutions” in the UN, the policing power of this authority could just enter in and start arresting people, as happens when there are “national” crimes.

  19. Maureen says:

    If people want a third way, there’s nothing stopping them. But there’s certainly nothing saying that it’s this pope’s job to endorse such a thing.

    There’s not a normal, non-sin, human activity in existence that a spiritual director wouldn’t urge you to constantly rethink and do with more love and truth, more focus on God, etc. You could probably write an encyclical on tennis pointing out the bad and good tendencies on those who play the sport currently and the power of its traditions. Would everybody complain then that the Holy Father hadn’t spoken about football or World of Warcraft, or that he clearly was just about ready to ban horseracing?

  20. TJM says:

    David, and liberals will spin it to fit their state-worshipping model of the world. Tom

  21. Edward says:

    The idea that America is a “free market” system is pure fantasy and untrue. Through incredibly burdensome, redundant, and intrusive tax policy and regulation, America has in essence been a socialist state for going on eighty years. The political and economic momentum in this country has been a soul crushing “collectivism” for decades.

    And as an aside, the American welfare state can be blamed for as many societal ills, if not more, than can any notion of a free market causing wealth concentration.

    The idea of a dichotomy between modern capitalism and modern socialism is also pure fantasy. In the U.S., the capitalist fat cats are allied with the socialist political class in government, “charity”, and education. The capitalists and the socialists in this country are working together to destroy the human individual and the family.

    I am all about a Catholic third way. However, that third way seems terribly ill defined and without explanation as to how it would work with an atheist and a communist like Barack Obama leading the “soul crushing” federal government.

  22. Matthew M says:

    I notice that Storck’s essay is being invoked (and in come cases, pasted into the edit window) as a sort of totem to prove that the Church expresses the same level of teaching authority on economic structures that it does on issues of faith and morals. With all due deference to this gentlemen, this invocation really doesn’t dispose of the question.

    While the Pope exercises his teaching authority about how we may participate in the economic system (that would be a question of morals), there is no ‘Catholic Economic system’ and never will be. Economics and economic policy are empirical sciences, and the deposit of faith does not proscribe actual results within them.

    What bothers me most about the call for Distributism are two things: first of all, the supposition that Chesterton and Belloc (two fine Catholic men!) are in any way a useful guide about economic policy, let alone Catholic economic policy. Chesterton was a fine novelist, and Belloc a passable popular historian, but what evidence is there that either one had even a bare grasp of the marketplace?

    Second of all, Distributism is passed on as, indeed, a third way. You don’t let the marketplace run wild. And you don’t nationalize all industry. Instead, businesses are small and communities are cozy and self-sufficient, and we’re all good to each other. But just out of curiosity, Distributists, who enforces this? Does the state set an arbitrary limit on the ideal size of a business? How is it done? And who decides? This might be easy to envision with a farm, but most businesses aren’t farms, or like farms. There are economies of scale that vary across markets. Who is the expert.. the sort of mega-anti-trust authority than tells businesses they can’t grow anymore? And even if you get this to work, how do you deal with the very obvious temptation to abuse, unfairness, and corruption?

    Well, sorry this is off-topic. It’s just irksome so have Stork and Distributism pulled out of a hat every time a thread appears in this subject, as if to say ‘look here we’re the truly Catholic position’ when it’s neither a position nor truly Catholic.

  23. Jon says:


    Although the capitalist economists might deny this, economics is about reason, as every human venture is about human reason (which, by the way, Pope Benedict asserts in ‘Caritas in Veritate’). Because of this, any man with the use of his reason (even a novelist like Chesterton and a “passable” historian like Belloc) can discuss any human venture, including economics. The capitalists fallaciously beg the question, arguing that to speak on economics, one must have an educational background in economics, when what they really mean is a background in capitalistic theory. Indeed, one might argue that to speak on economics more objectively, especially if one must admit ethics/morality into the question, such a background in capitalistic theory can be a hindrance to seeing the truth of the matter of economics.

  24. TJM says:

    socialism = theft, in “Thou Shall Not Steal.” Tom

  25. Matthew W. I. Dunn says:

    Fr. Z wrote:

    “A good propaedeutic article for your reading of the encyclical.”

    If by “propaedeutic” he means “propagandistic,” then–yes–quite a good showing by the “theocon” Fr. Sirico. Much akin to the cherrypicking done to the Pope’s social encyclicals by Communist shills in the Soviet Union.

  26. Phil Atley says:

    And Matthew W. I. Dunn represents the calm voice of Reason in all of this? Fr. Sirico avoided doing exactly what Matthew W. I. Dunn has done–has avoided reading the encyclical as a political and economic program to justify whatever he already believed about politics and economics. Sirico treated the encyclical for what it is: theological teaching that has application to political and economic life.

  27. Matthew M says:

    Jon –
    I want to agree and disagree. Of course one need not have a license in economics to speak about economics – one may approach economic policy with reason. We all do when we say ‘dang, that deficit is too big!’ or ‘your high taxes are going to reduce investment’.

    The point is, though, that the conclusions we draw with our reason about economic policy must be grounded in the actual experience of an economy (i.e. are essentially, though by no means entirely empirical). What level of authority does the Pope exercise when he does this? And what knowledge of economics might we attribute to an old novelist like Chesterton?

    In the case of the Pope, he can say things really not-true about economic policy and still be a perfectly good Pope. I’m not saying that’s the case here, but contra Stork, it’s not like listening to him talk about sexual morality.

    There is a zone of economic life where the Church must exert a great deal of teaching authority: the part where we exercise our moral character and live our faith. I cannot as a Catholic run a business that cheats or steals. I cannot treat people unfairly. I cannot treat human beings and life simply as a commodity, nor give direct support to an essentially immoral activity, like prostitution. And my faith can encourage me to be generous with my own wealth, and organize people to be corporately generous.

    The Church can say a lot about our economic activity, but speaks with much less authority (and prudently, rarely if ever speaks at all) about particular policies (capitalism vs. socialism vs. whateverism).

  28. mpm says:

    Paradox Lost: Arithmetic without the numbers, The Proceedings of the Chesterbellockian Fundamentalist Society (Somewhere, The World, 2009), 20,000 pp.

  29. Flamma says:

    I wonder why subsidiarity can call for certain uses of Big Government (if the states cannot accomplish the issue), but distributists never allow for the usefulness of Big Business to do the things Small Businesses cannot?

    ExxonMobil does a much better job than any alternative small gas/oil producers. They have the assets to support the risk of extremely remote exploration and extraction.

    I am open to fraternal correction here. But please try to not just spout off at random about “capitalism”.

  30. Tom says:

    “….economic policy must be grounded in the actual experience of an economy (i.e. are essentially, though by no means entirely empirical).”

    I doubt the Holy Father is an empiricist

  31. Matthew M says:

    But Tom, that really isn’t the point. We’ll not trying to pigeonhole Benedict’s philosophy… he’s of course not a capital-E empiricist. But we’re all empirical. Did you derive all of your beliefs from a theological formulation? Even your sense of, say, the quality of ‘handling’ in an automobile? Of course not – much of our cognitive structure is empirical.

    The Pope relies on experience, whether his own or that of others, to formulate his thought on many subjects. The point argued above is the ‘the effects of various economic policies’ is necessarily one of those subjects.

    When folks who call themselves Distributists pronounce they have a more Catholic-friendly set of economic policies, I am tempted to wonder what their Truly Catholic position is on the synthesis of general relativity and the Shroedinger equation. (Or must Catholics stick with the aether model??)

  32. Jon says:

    Matthew- Chesterton was a student of economics. With knowledge of economic laws (not necessarily knowledge of a specific theory of the application of those laws) plus reason, anyone can speak on economics.

    Flamma- Distributism as a worldview is against both Big Business and Big Government in all their manifestations, because of the principle of subsidiarity. It is all business and government being as small as they possibly can.

    Matthew- The difference between the theory of relativity and economic theory should be apparent. One is independent of man, the other dependent on man’s action. When man’s action is involved, ethics/morality is involved. When ethics/morality is involved, we Catholics believe the Catholic Church has authority.

  33. Matthew M says:

    Economic theory may be ‘dependent on man’s action’, but so is highway traffic. So are soccer tournaments, and civil war reenactments. It’s a non sequitur – there is not going to be a Truly Catholic set of regulations on finance, job creation, tax policy, investments, and monetary policy.

    And again, I would never dispute that Chesterton, Chesterton’s wife, or Chesterton’s haberdasher can speak on economics. But what is lacking is any evidence that we should be taking his thoughts on the subject any more seriously than the guys who sold him hats. (in fact – the hat guy may have had a better empirical knowledge of it — but no doubt an inferior style of prose!)

    More to the point, there is no serious economic proposition being made by Distributists. Folks who wave that flag are a Chesterbelloc fan club, they’re not really making serious economic arguments. I can’t even get a stragith answer from anybody what it is, or how it might work in the 21st century… just comments about what it’s against (big things) and the laudable stuff it’s for (little things, mom and pop, the corner tobacconist, machinery small and in the back back room).

    Distributism is not really an economic model, so much as a collection of sentiments.

    But this is far from topic, and Fr. Z wants us on-topic.

    Fr. Sirico argues that the encyclical doesn’t propound an economic policy, but instead sets up principles which should ground the practical policy. And Benedict, indeed, (maybe he didn’t read Storck yet??) seems to have avoided the subject of economic policy quite carefully.

  34. Phil Atley says:

    Jon, as one who has a lot of sympathy for Distributism but never quite became a True Believer, I noted your response to Flamma:

    “[Distributism] is all business and government being as small as they possibly can.”

    Ah, there’s the rub. Who decides and how does he decide what constitutes “possibly can”?

    The difference between you and Flamma (with her pertinent point about Exxon Mobil and oil/gas exploration) is that you read the “possibly” on a different order of magnitude than she does.

    And which of you is right? About which businesses and companies?

    I’m all for 40 acres and a mule. I love Wendell Berry’s writing.

    But Matthew M is right. Distributism is not yet an economic model. It has some very good critiques of where some things went wrong. But that’s about it.

  35. Phil Atley says:

    I failed to complete my thought: “I’m all for 40 acres and a mule and I love Wendell Berry’s writing but even Wendell Berry realizes that his 40 acres on the Ohio River can’t possible serve as a model for the whole economy.

  36. Jon says:

    Matthew- We can’t leave this subject with your attack unanswered. Agreeing with Chesterton’s economic ideas isn’t about agreeing with Chesterton in his capacity as an economist. I agree with his ideas because they harmonize with what my reason and my faith tell me is the right course of action in applied economics. That’s what the real disagreement is over- a practical course of action, not over who proposed it first.

    There are certified economists who support distributist ideas. See recently published books such as “Distributist Perspectives Vols I and II” and “Beyond Capitalism and Socialism”.

    You and Fr. Sirico are right to say that the Church doesn’t give us an exact practical blueprint for how to proceed economically, but encyclicals such as this one give us values by which we must judge economic models. You and I just happen to disagree as to the extent to which capitalism holds up to the moral precepts by which we must judge it.

    Phil- Distributism is about starting small. It’s about figuring things out on a local level. The most basic sector of an economy is the family. Once we get things right on a basic level, things farther up, things more complicated fall into place. It’s about getting the point of the spear in, after which the rest must necessarily follow, like Fr. Z argues with liturgical reform.

  37. mpm says:

    When ethics/morality is involved, we Catholics believe the Catholic Church has authority.
    Comment by Jon — 10 July 2009 @ 3:03 pm

    a) The Catholic Church has the authority given to Her by Christ.

    b) With that authority, the Catholic Church has defined in Vatican I that there can be no real conflict between Faith and reason, both being gifts of the same God.

    c) The Magisterium of the Church has not been given any charism by Christ, or special knowledge, with respect to what Pope Benedict calls in this Encyclical “technical matters”, nor has it ever claimed to have any such power;

    d) Catholics are obliged to use their reason (minds) to know a) the Catholic Faith, and b) whatever field they feel called (by the same God) to practice;

    e) The Church has the authority to “rule out” as legitimate moral endeavors any number of activities which it sees as being morally evil;

    f) The Magisterium of the Church does not have the gift from Christ to know that “technical solution A” is better than “technical solution B” (because that would require the charism of “technical matter arbitration”, which she has denied she has. That is what is called the “proper autonomy of temporal affairs”.

    g) Those who wish to argue in such matters that A is better than B, or B is better than A, are not authorized to do so by dubbing their judgment “the Catholic solution”, as if there were only one. In addition, this is the specific realm where the laity, well-formed in their fields and in their Faith, get to cooperate with others, or to fight it out with others, in trying to give some concrete “solution” to real-world problems.

  38. Doug says:

    I would like to know what is Cardinal Ratzinger’s view of the Pope’s encyclical …

  39. vulture says:

    The only reason ‘Americans’ even possess property is because some government along the way, whether colonial or independent, confiscated that land from its original owners, the indigenous Americans. Your private property is contingent upon the ancestral, and government orchestrated, theft of someone else’s private property – an ancient and proud civilization who are now lovelessly left to wallow in reservations. Rather like the Catholics in Ireland who were evicted en masse from their ancestoral lands by their Protestant English landlords in the Victorian era, all rationalized under the specious pretext of ‘property rights’, and from whom so many ‘American’ Catholics descend.

    If you truly believed that private property was inviolable, you would not even pay taxes.

  40. Jon says:

    a) – c) You’re right, of course.
    d) Reason is part of what makes humans human, and as you say, is something humans have been endowed with by their Creator, made in that Creator’s image. Made in the image of a Creator, we humans also create. As such, our reason is in play in any human endeavor, not just those two in which Catholics are “obliged” to use it.

    The issue in e) – g) comes down to the distinction between inductive and deductive reasoning. The faith and reason to which the Magisterium has access provide the basic and foundational moral principles. The “technical knowledge” provides specific conclusions about “technical matters”. The Catholic Church has the authority to “rule out” morally evil endeavors because it can use deductive reasoning from the foundational principles provided by the light of faith and reason. It can use such deductive reasoning to find the moral worth of any endeavor, even if it be a matter of specific technical knowledge.

    We, as well, are called to use our reason to test the validity of any human enterprise. That is what this is all about. That is why “Caritas in Veritate” calls for a reformed approach in economics, one that is ethically valid.

  41. Tom says:

    In due time Matthew M.

    Chesterton said you should be able to recognise a Catholic by the way he climbs a tree.

    And I don’t think a Catholic would say a cat in a box is Dead AND Alive!

  42. mpm says:


    The intent of my “e)” is not to delineate “two things”, but to designate what we all have a “duty” to be formed in. I have no “duty” to know the details of “baseball”, much less “sports in general”. I do have a duty to know my Faith as best I can, and to know “competently” whatever profession with which I intend to support myself and others, and make a contribution to the common good.

    Item “e)” is a logical consequence of the difference between postitive and negative moral statements and judgements, and this is a very important difference. (Thomas Aquinas, I, q. 1. a.5). While I may not know with certainty what the best course of action is, I often can “rule out” some possibilities because they violate with certainty certain moral goods, divine commandments, or whatever. So they tend to sound like one of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not ….” There is a divine pedagogy at play in the very forms of the Decalogue. “Thou shalt keep the Lord’s Day”. Jews keep it on one day according to their Religion, Christians on another day and according to our Religion: it is a positive moral injunction, whose concrete realization may be different.

    Item “f)” regarding the just autonomy of temporal realities is ordinary Magisterium, articulated by Vatican II, and taught repeatedly by the Popes since then, including Benedict XVI.

    Item “g)” is a consequence of the autonomy of temporal realities, and the nature of the Christian vocation of the laity (99+% of “the Church”). They are the ones called to live out these principles in their lives, and that includes their professional lives also. And I think a bit of self-reflection is all that’s needed for us to realize this fact.


    And it is not at all like “liturgical reform”, which is governed by specific and concrete rubrics that the Church herself controls. Here, there is obedience and disobedience, along with competence and incompetence (ars celebrandi) of the priests. Priests are set apart by the Church to receive this particular formation so they can fulfill their ministry.

    Lay people authentically do not have a “ministry”, and the Church does not “control” autonomous secular realities. The latter must be “engaged in” by laypeople, practiced by them, qua Catholic Christians, but according to the laws and principles proper to those activities (and eschew what the laity know to be immoral). That is one of the reasons why the Church traditionally has called such things “apostolate”, not “ministry”. That, and the fulflillment of their other duties, is their contribution to the common good. Even Canon Law says that nobody may “attribute” the name “Catholic” to his/her apostolate without the specific permission of the bishop of the place.

    Finally, it is not like liturgical reform because lay people do not “infiltrate” the world, they comprise the world. Nobody needs to “sneak into” anything, since they are already there.

  43. Jordanes says:

    Jon said: Although the capitalist economists might deny this, economics is about reason

    They might? Really?

    Don’t know any capitalist economists, do you.

  44. Jordanes says:

    vulture said: The only reason ‘Americans’ even possess property is because some government along the way, whether colonial or independent, confiscated that land from its original owners, the indigenous Americans. Your private property is contingent upon the ancestral, and government orchestrated, theft of someone else’s private property

    You’re quite mistaken. The American aborigines were not the original owners of the land — God was the original owner, and still is. He has quite lawfully confiscated it from the aborigines and colonial settlers by having them all die, and has given it to us, the living. In due time He will confiscate it from us and give it to those to come after us.

    There’s a big difference between “confiscation” and “theft,” and not all colonial or U.S. land acquisition in North American was through confiscation. It was also acquired through purchase and military conquest.

    The only reason anybody on earth even possesses property is because God has created heaven and earth and all that is in them, and has given them into the custody and ownership of man, the pinnacle of His creation.

    By the way, if you want to put scare quotes around the word “Americans,” you should also refer to indigenous “Americans,” as they never called themselves by that name.

  45. Jon says:

    mpm: My point about e) – g) was really only a point about e). The Catholic Church, as well as any other group of people, can (and must) use their reason and faith to “rule out” any human endeavors which can be seen as morally evil. You’re right to say that the Church has no place making, e.g. specific economic policy judgments. But it can look at a system like capitalism, and point out the moral evils involved, and that is what these social encyclicals have done.

    You’re also partially right about my liturgical reform analogy. But the differences between necessary economic reform and liturgical reform do not mask the fact that the same “tip of the spear” mentality can be used to usher in both kinds of reform. Starting small distributist endeavors would eventually help everything else fall into place, as starting with liturgical orthodoxy will eventually help orthodoxy fall into place in the other realms of the Church.

    I’m not sure why you repeatedly bring up the point about calling an apostolate more or less ‘Catholic’. No one in this forum has done that. This is a discussion as to which form of economics is less morally evil according to the dictates of the Church’s social teaching. [Actually, I am the one who sets what the discussions are here. Take a look at the top entry.]

    Jordanes: My point about reason and economics was that certain capitalist economists always seek to deny the right for people to discuss economics unless they have degrees from Austrian school institutions. I am sure– because I’ve seen them do it before– that they would deny that right to a person who has ‘only’ his reason and an education in the objective laws of the marketplace.

  46. mpm says:


    “This is a discussion as to which form of economics is less morally evil according to the dictates of the Church’s social teaching.”

    Is it? I don’t think that expresses it well.
    (BTW, I do appreciate that that is how you, and others, see it.)

    And, I have read any number of posts over the last week or so, claiming that “distributism” is a more thoroughly “Catholic” form of economics than anything else, which I find to be a contradiction in terms, if there is no such thing as “Catholic economics” (any more than there is “Catholic dentistry”).

  47. Jon says:

    Fr. Z, I didn’t mean to say that anyone but you starts the discussions, only that that is what the discussion had seemed to organically morph into. If you have a problem with other people discussing things that are just a bit tangential to whatever it is you prompt, that would imply we could only put forth comments that were very close to your original statement, for how could we know the limits that must be set to our dialogue?

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