In the first part of this study, undertaken by our specialist in Social Doctrine, we examined the “peculiar” use that Francis made of some references from John Paul II’s Encyclical Laborem exercens. One of the points that still remains to be dealt with is regarding an affirmation of the Polish Pontiff: “the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone” – a fact that was brought up and taken advantage of by the current Bishop of Rome in his controversial Encyclical Laudato Si’.
Why did John Paul II indicate this as ‘the first principle of the whole ethical and social order’? The answers to this question is found in number 19 of the Laborem excercens. The doctrine presented by Pope John Paul II may be summarized in three points:
- The Pope explained that the ‘the principle of the common use of goods’ is established on the basis of ‘the fundamental relationships between capital and labor’, that is, in ‘wages’. In effect, he emphasized that the ‘remuneration for work, are still a practical means whereby the vast majority of people can have access to those goods which are intended for common use: both the goods of nature and manufactured goods. Both kinds of goods become accessible to the worker through the wage which he receives as remuneration for his work’.
- For this reason Pope John Paul II added: “Hence, in every case, a just wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the whole socioeconomic system and, in any case, of checking that it is functioning justly. It is not the only means of checking, but it is a particularly important one and, in a sense, the key means.”
- This ‘key means’ of verifying justice, analyzed from the perspective of the Social Doctrine of the Church, is of great transcendence. In effect, as Pope John Paul II himself affirmed: ‘This means of checking concerns above all the family. Just remuneration for the work of an adult who is responsible for a family means remuneration which will suffice for establishing and properly maintaining a family and for providing security for its future.’
The splendid continuity of the Social Doctrine of the Church…until Francis arrived
There is actually something that had been affirmed previously in the great social encyclicals (a quick perusal of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum or of John XXIII’s Mater et Magistra suffices to observe this), and opportunely recalled by John Paul II, in harmonic continuity with his predecessors. Therefore, it is clearly affirmed, according to the Social Doctrine of the Church, that denying the relation between ‘capital and work’ – whose foundation is established on a ‘wage’ – is the same as denying every worker his right to acquire property; whether goods of nature created by God, or those manufactured by man. This right is what permits the worker, as the years go by, to form a patrimony for his own well-being, and that of his wife and children. It is exactly this patrimony that would constitute the family inheritance in the future.
At the same time, in light of these considerations it becomes clear that this right to acquire private property, fruit of a ‘just wage’ is ‘the first principle of the whole ethical and social order.’ In effect, it was precisely because of the attempt to destroy this ‘first principle’, that all of the Popes – with the exception of Francis – have consistently condemned and censured the collectivism promoted by communism and socialism. (see here, here, here, and here)
Francis – after having omitted that ‘work’ and ‘wage’ are the foundation of private property, and the key to understanding the concept of ‘the common destination of goods’ – once again cites Pope John Paul II, outside of the doctrinal context. The latter, on the contrary, recalled this doctrine with great emphasis, saying that ‘God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone’ (John Paul II. Encyclical Centesimus annus). Seeking to reinforce his argument, Francis did not utilize another citation out of context, but rather preferred to use rhetoric. By an adjectivization he attempts to touch the sentiments of his readers, declaring that the references that he had just cited from Centesimus annus, no. 31, are ‘strong words’.
The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property’. Saint John Paul II forcefully reaffirmed this teaching, stating that ‘God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone” (Encyclical Centesimus Annus , 31). These are strong words (Laudato Si’, 93).
‘Strong words’: John Paul II in favor of class struggle?
Why does Francis affirm that the words of Pope Paul II are “strong”? Could it be because they speak of “excluded” and “favoring”? That is, of owners and non-owners? Of the rich and the poor? Is this the dimension that John Paul II refers to? What teaching did he present in number 31 of his Encyclical Centesimus annus, published in 1991, precisely to pay homage to Leo XIII for the 100 years of his magisterial Encyclical Rerum novarum?
As we can see, by de-contextualizing of the words of the Encyclical Centesimus annus, once again Francis passes over the same and important principle of the Social Doctrine of the Church, affirmed above: ‘private property’ and the ‘common destiny of goods’ have as their foundation man’s labor.
In effect, in number 31 of the Encyclical Centesimus annus, Pope John Paul II – having made a list of the teachings of the Church regarding the right to private property and the common destiny of goods, right from Leo XIII in 1891 to the year of 1991 – moves on to analyze: ‘the question concerning the origin of the material goods which sustain human life, satisfying people’s needs and are an object of their rights’. The important teachings of the Pope regarding this particular aspect may be summarized in three points:
- Pope John Paul II affirmed that ‘The original source of all that is good is the very act of God, who created both the earth and man, and who gave the earth to man so that he might have dominion over it by his work and enjoy its fruits” (Gen 1:28).
- After having presented this principle element of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Pope John Paul II added the words cited by Francis: ‘God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone’.
- Next, Pope John Paul II concludes with this significant clarification: ‘This is the foundation of the universal destination of the earth’s goods. The earth, by reason of its fruitfulness and its capacity to satisfy human needs, is God’s first gift for the sustenance of human life’.
When we consider the words of Pope John Paul II in their doctrinal context: What do they contain that may be labeled as “strong”? Is it not a basic point of justice that all who labor have the right to obtain private property for themselves and family members? Was it not private property itself – of large, medium or small land owners we insist once again – that became a favorite target of Marxist collectivism, which literally annihilated it with blood and fire? Consequently, it is not unusual that due to this fateful, undeniable historic reality, that Pope John Paul II has expressed quite a critical estimation of Karl Marx and his ideology, as is clear in various pronouncements of his pontificate.
But in a particular way, the criticisms that the Pope presented in this same Encyclical Centesimus annus, were consigned in number 41. What reaction would these censures proffered by Pope Woytila regarding Karl Marx’s ideology have received if read at the World Meeting of Popular Movements? What would Evo Morales or other important organizers of these two events, have declared? Would they have described them as strong words? Detestable expressions? Or unfortunate ones?
Marxism criticized capitalist bourgeois societies, blaming them for the commercialization and alienation of human existence. This rebuke is of course based on a mistaken and inadequate idea of alienation, derived solely from the sphere of relationships of production and ownership, that is, giving them a materialistic foundation and moreover denying the legitimacy and positive value of market relationships even in their own sphere. Marxism thus ends up by affirming that only in a collective society can alienation be eliminated. However, the historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency.” (John Paul II. Encyclical Centesimus Annus, no. 41, May 1, 1991)
At the same time, it is suggestive that in the same number 31 of the Encyclical Centesimus annus, cited by Francis, Pope John Paul II taught the same doctrine regarding private property that had been exposed almost 10 years before in the Laborem excercens, no.19. What is this doctrine? It may seem repetitive, however, it deals with the foundation of private property and the common destiny of goods, and is precisely the key doctrinal point omitted by Francis in Laudato si’.
The earth was given by God to all men so that they dominate it: it does not yield its fruits without a response from man: his own work
- Pope John Paul II taught in the Centesimus annus, n. 31 that ‘the earth does not yield its fruits without a particular human response to God’s gift, that is to say, without work.’ In effect, ‘it is through work that man, using his intelligence and exercising his freedom, succeeds in dominating the earth and making it a fitting home. In this way, he makes part of the earth his own, precisely the part which he has acquired through work; this is the origin of individual property.’
- In an attempt to create a just balance, the Pope adds: “Obviously, he also has the responsibility not to hinder others from having their own part of God’s gift; indeed, he must cooperate with others so that together all can dominate the earth.”
- At the same time, in introducing number 32 of the Centesimus annus, he declares that ‘there exists another form of ownership which is becoming no less important than land: the possession of know-ho, technology and skill. The wealth of the industrialized nations is based much more on this kind of ownership than on natural resources’.
These teachings of Pope John Paul II permit us to determine the existence of natural inequalities that are become evident in man’s work, such as varying levels of intelligence, talent and knowledge, as well as working capacity and the quality of production. As such, it is basic justice that those who work harder, or are more talented and capable, obtain greater profit, benefitting themselves and their family, in the first place, their wife and children. This particular aspect concerning the distributive justice that the harder working and more dedicated men and women deserve, can never be sufficiently emphasized in these times of confusing ideas, demagogy and populism.
Not even a potpourri of references to social encyclicals, taken out of context and magically woven together can convince us of this:
I am sure that I haven’t said anything more than what is contained in the Church’s social teaching. (Francis, in-flight press conference from Santiago de Cuba to Washington D.C., September 22, 2015)
We encourage our readers to follow the next sections of this study…