THE distinction between the things that belong to Cæsar and the things that belong to God is fundamental for the Catholic conscience. It guarantees the liberty of the spiritual in regard to the temporal, of the Church in regard to the State. But this distinction is not a separation: divine must cooperate with human things. From this viewpoint the introduction of the Gospel into history has not simplified man's affairs. But it has quickened the movement of history and given it direction.

Further, according to the Catholic conception, the Church is truly a City (an organized community) of divine origin, the Kingdom of God in a state of pilgrimage, a complete society organized in accordance with its own laws and with its own hierarchy, in which authority descends from on high, to teach souls and direct them towards salvation. This City, one and universal, is spread among the nations and cities of men, whose nature and diversities it respects.

The end, finally, towards which this City leads its members is supernatural -- an entry into the life of God. Its common good is eternal life. Its concern is not the terrestrial life of men, not the conflicts, disputes and problems of the temporal order, not political and social progress, not the organization of happiness here below. The Church is not uninterested in all these matters. It cannot fail to be interested. On the one hand, by reason of the connections between the natural and supernatural orders, the mission of the Church is to watch over the integrity of the principles of natural reason, natural law, and over social as well as individual morality. On the other hand, and in virtue of a kind of superabundance which is a consequence of the law of the Incarnation, the Church brings to the world a boon which flows into the terrestrial life of men; this is of primary import for their political and social progress and for their attainment of a happier existence here on earth.

This attitude of the Church, simultaneously respectful of the autonomy of temporal things and "maternal" with regard to them, is clearly indicated in St. Paul's Epistle to Philemon. St. Paul does not ask Philemon to free his slave Onesimus; he does not attempt to break the social order of the ancient world. But he does open that order to the vital processes of the Gospel. Working from within, these vital processes little by little will break up the social framework of slavery. Onesimus, Philemon's slave, is to Philemon "not now as a servant, but instead of a servant, a most dear brother, especially to me: but how much more to thee both in the flesh and in the Lord!" (Philemon, I, 16.) Slaves like masters are "heirs indeed of God and joint-heirs with Christ." (Romans, VIII, 17.)

St. Paul enjoined inferiors to obey their superiors; he considered it a duty to respect legitimate authority, because all legitimate authority has its first source in God, the author of nature. Even the early Christians, preferring the corona martyrum to the corona militum, would rather risk an unjust death than revolt against the tyrannical power of a persecuting emperor. On the other hand, however, the ideas and desires which the Christian revelation raised in man's soul act unceasingly in mundane societies and imperceptibly transform them. The Church herself is not called on to descend directly into secular tasks, to take part in the flux and reflux of political activity. As the depository of energies of quite another order, more hidden but more powerful, she watches over justice, love and Christian revelation. Once these are made part of the substance of history they act of themselves according to a measure of duration other than the rhythm of time.

These introductory remarks will have brought out that for a Catholic the relationship between the Church and the world is far from simple. One should not look for a static equilibrium that would be satisfactory to geometrical imaginations or the Apollonian aspirations of textbook authors. The relation here discussed is a dynamic one, as between contending and concerting forces, whose antinomies and unstable harmonies are not finally to be resolved until the end of time.

Certain anti-clericals accuse the Church of being on the side of the rich and powerful, on the side of social stagnation. Certain apologists, on the contrary, in order to magnify the Church's work of social progress, insist upon the "revolutionary ferment" that the Church brings to the world, and present the Church as having no other end or mission but that of transforming social living conditions and creating prosperity, peace and happiness here on earth. Catholics think that both these groups are deluded, even though each can muster certain particular facts to support its point of view. The key to the enigma is to be found at a much deeper level.

Pascal has said that signs and miracles are given in order to blind some and enlighten others, each according to the disposition of his heart. In the novel "Youth without God," which bears such terrible witness against a totalitarian régime, Ödön de Horváth, a young Hungarian writer who died tragically in Paris a year ago, points out that the State represents a natural necessity and as such is willed by God, and consequently the Church has the duty of collaborating with the State. But what State, the novelist asks, is not governed by the powerful and wealthy? And how can one collaborate with the State without being forced at the same time to collaborate with the powerful and wealthy? The Church must above everything accomplish its own mission and endure. It doesn't matter to the Church that she may appear cynical in accepting the State such as it is, with all its injustices and imperfections; she tries only to render it, as far as possible, less evil.

The only way in which the Church can lighten her difficulties is to have to do either with a weak State or with a Christian State (internally and vitally Christian, not merely decoratively Christian). In addition, the special assistance which (according to Catholic faith) the Church receives from God is evidently less restricted when the question is one of establishing a modus vivendi with a government rather than of defining a dogma. In such case, the Church can limit herself to avoiding irremediable errors. Finally, it is in the worldly domain that human weaknesses can most easily come out. For example, the temptation to link religion with the lot of the wealthy and powerful, or with a certain political party or State, so as to utilize their resources (and even the fruits of their injustices) in the interest of churchmen or of the social classes which support them, has sometimes given rise to more or less grave abuses and has produced a "clericalism" entirely opposed to the spirit of the Church and her true welfare. Moreover, the secular behavior of the Christian world (which of course is something quite different from the Church) certainly is often far from being Christian. All this is enough to create a false face which for many people masks the reality.

The reality, as deeper historical experience shows, is that by the nature of her mission the Church always has her heart with the poor and always finds in them her true resources. According to the great French philosopher, Henri Bergson, history reveals that during nearly two thousand years whatever has proved durably good in human society has been accomplished under the influence of Christianity. Le Play arrived at the same conclusion in regard to the moral conditions essential to civilized progress. It is the Gospel and the Church which have taught men respect for the human person and human life, respect for conscience, respect for poverty, the dignity of woman, the sanctity of marriage, the nobility of work, the value of freedom, the infinite worth of each soul, the essential equality of human beings of every race and condition before God. In affirming that political, economic, social and international life depends on morality just as individual life does, and that neither peace nor prosperity is possible among men without justice and equity, the Church attempts to strengthen the foundations of all human progress. In our times we see the Church responding to new needs by new undertakings on a large scale. Just as in another day she contributed, according to mediæval custom, to the political formation of Europe, today she is conscious of her duty to contribute, according to the custom of modern times and by virtue of the moral authority which is conceded to her everywhere, to the salvation of threatened civilization, to the social development of the world and to the formation of the coming new order.

Indulgence is begged for the length of these preliminary explanations. Having indicated the broad features of the Catholic viewpoint, I hope to be able to deal more easily with the particular problems touching Catholicism and social progress.

II

Christianity works in the social life of people according to two quite distinct modes of action, which for the sake of brevity I shall call a movement from below and a movement from above.

The movement from below consists of the germinations produced naturally in the temporal conscience under the activation of the Christian leaven. The philosopher of history observes that this leaven is developed in the world under very diverse forms and conditions. The faithful member of a Church concerned with orthodoxy -- notably, the Catholic Church -- thinks that this particular Church alone preserves the leaven of the Gospel unaltered. But it is this leaven -- whether in forms pure or impure, orthodox or heretical -- which has in fact stirred the history of the secular world. If it is true that Jean Jacques Rousseau is the "father of modern times" and, though seeking good things, has, because disfigured by error, led along bad ways, it is equally true that this "naturalizing" or secularization of the Gospel, and the Messianism of revolutionaries, all are inconceivable apart from the Christian element in which western civilization has its source.

Regarding the spiritual and social conflicts of our age, the ultimate tragedy of the modern world seems to me to lie in the fact that, particularly in the nineteenth century, while many Christians practically became accomplices of social injustice and set themselves against the normal movement of history, many enemies of Christianity consecrated themselves to the progress of social justice, though adopting an erroneous and materialistic idea of it and allowing themselves to be led astray by the myth of the Revolution, without seeing that whatever was just and fruitful in their action came in fact from Christian truths (but "gone mad") and from Christian sentiments (but secularized). In this way there has come about what Pius XI called the greatest scandal of the nineteenth century -- the fact that the working class finds itself separated from Christianity and the Church and believes that in order to hope for a better life on earth it must necessarily turn away from Christ. Christian thought and activity must now make an immense effort to purify from error, and to preserve, the efforts of the past century towards social progress.

For Catholics, it is well established that the Christian religion is not bound up with any temporal régime; it is compatible with every form of legitimate government, and it imposes none by preference. Neither does it impose -- once certain higher principles are safeguarded -- a fixed political philosophy. But if the Church need not bind itself to a temporal ideal, its believers -- acting not as believers and in the name of the Church, but as members of the terrestrial city, and as such obligated to fight for a temporal ideal -- must at their own individual risk and peril take part in the struggle for social justice and the progress of civilization. Today the Catholic masses understand this necessity better and better; they are done with the deficiencies of the nineteenth century.

Since the movement from below which I have just described does not commit the Church, it normally produces among those who participate -- even when they are equally orthodox -- quite different individual attitudes according to individual social connections and habits of thought. Even more important to note is that the social progress which has been thus accomplished presupposed the existence of certain technical possibilities as well as a period of moral ripening. This was true of the abolition of slavery in ancient times. The process was conditioned in part by certain technical developments -- for instance, by the discoveries that permitted the substitution of animal motor power for human, notably in the carrying of burdens.[i] In the modern world the introduction of the machine is destined to play an analogous liberating rôle. On the other hand, as we have already stated, it was in virtue not of any law promulgated by the Church in the socio-temporal domain but in virtue of a slow vital development that Christianity little by little expelled the concept of slavery from the ethical conscience and finally destroyed it entirely.

If he takes the same viewpoint, the philosopher of history can observe with M. Bergson -- and without thereby committing the Church in any way to a democratic philosophy -- that in fact the leaven of the Gospel orients human history toward that ideal of respect for the rights of the person and fraternal friendship which is the basis of the "democratic mentality" when not vitiated by erroneous metaphysics. This leaven, it can be said, will be at work down to the end of time, so as to rid human history, in the measure that technical progress permits, of every form of servitude.

Now let us turn to what I have called the movement from above. This has its source in the official doctrine of the Church, notably in the teachings and practical directions of the Papal encyclicals.[ii] They at once stimulate, orient and control the movement from below. During the last half century in particular, the Catholic Church has accumulated a rich fund of doctrine, wherein are coördinated the principles regulating the sum total of men's social and temporal problems. As I explained at the beginning, the Church does not descend into the administration of temporal affairs; but she recognizes her mission to intervene in all matters that concern the moral law. Her rôle is to dispense wisdom, both theoretical and practical.

A long study would be necessary to summarize the teachings referred to above, and it is not my purpose to make it here. Everyone knows the enormous accomplishment of Leo XIII. Let me merely recall the titles of some of his encyclicals: Inscrutabili (1878), on the evils of society; Arcanum Divinœ Sapientiœ (1880), on marriage; Diuturnum (1881), on the origin of civil power; Immortale Dei (1885), on the Christian constitution of States; Libertas Prœstantissimum (1888), on human liberty; Sapientiœ Christianœ (1890), on the civil duties of Christians; Rerum Novarum (May 15, 1891), on the condition of labor.

This last encyclical had extraordinary influence. At the time it was published, many people were almost scandalized, imagining that the Pope had "gone Socialist." The Pope had not gone Socialist, but he recalled to a world honeycombed with selfishness the laws of Christian ethics in the social order; and had all Christians listened to him, many terrible evils would have been avoided. "We do not reproach you for the encyclicals," said the Communist Rappoport to a Catholic orator some ten years ago, "but for the contempt in which you hold them." For his part, Pope Pius XI wrote in a recent encyclical: "There would be today neither Socialism nor Communism if the rulers of the nations had not scorned the teachings and maternal warnings of the Church." (Divini Redemptoris)

In many documents Pius X and Benedict XV also treated political and social questions, completing thereby the teachings of Leo XIII. But it was Pius XI who, with vigorous doctrinal elaboration and indomitable energy, brought the synthesis of Catholic social doctrine to a degree of precision appropriate to our time, and from it drew a decisive condemnation of the worst errors which today threaten civilization.

Here the document of capital importance is the encyclical Luadragesimo Anno (May 15, 1931) on reconstructing the social order, in which the Pope brings out the moral and social roots of present evils, and, after having criticized Individualism, Manchesterian Liberalism, Socialism and Communism, outlines the general principles of the program of social reform based on the organization of "vocational groups" and on the uplifting of the proletariat through the acquisition of property. It should be noted that the "associations" or "vocational groups" mentioned in the encyclical are quite different from the "corporations" of the totalitarian states. The latter are agencies of the State, whence the State itself is called corporative. The encyclical, on the contrary, recommends merely a corporative economy; and the vocational group, like a labor union, is conceived as founded essentially upon freedom of association and is endowed with all the autonomy that is compatible with the exigencies of the common good. Later came the encyclical Non Abbiamo Bisogno (June 29, 1931), in which the idolatry of the Fascist totalitarian state is condemned; the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge (March 14, 1937), on German National Socialism; and the encyclical Divini Redemptoris (March 19, 1937), on atheistic Communism.[iii] Let me quote a few typical extracts from these encyclicals:

". . . it violates right order whenever capital so employs the working or wage-earning classes as to divert business and economic activity entirely to its own arbitrary will and advantage without any regard to the human dignity of the workers, the social character of economic life, social justice and the common good."

"It is true that there is a formal difference between pauperism and proletarianism. Nevertheless, the immense number of propertyless wage-earners on the one hand, and the superabundant riches of the fortunate few on the other, is an unanswerable argument that the earthly goods so abundantly produced in this age of industrialism are far from rightly distributed and equitably shared among the various classes of men."

After having noted that the wage contract is legitimate in itself, Pius XI nonetheless writes:

"In the present state of human society, however, We deem it advisable that the wage-contract should, when possible, be modified somewhat by a contract of partnership, as is already being tried in various ways to the no small gain both of the wage-earners and of the employers. In this way wage-earners are made sharers in some sort in the ownership, or the management, or the profits."

"Labor, indeed, . . . is not a mere chattel, since the human dignity of the workingman must be recognized in it, and consequently it cannot be bought and sold like any piece of merchandise. None the less, the demand and supply of labor divides men on the labor market into two classes, as into two camps, and the bargaining between these parties transforms this labor market into an arena where the two armies are engaged in fierce combat. To this grave disorder which is leading society to ruin a remedy must evidently be applied as speedily as possible. But there cannot be question of any perfect cure, except this opposition be done away with, and well ordered members of the social body come into being anew, vocational groups namely, binding men together not according to the position they occupy in the labor market, but according to the diverse functions which they exercise in society."

"Just as the unity of human society cannot be built upon class warfare, so the proper ordering of economic affairs cannot be left to free competition alone. From this tainted source have proceeded in the past all the errors of the 'Individualistic' school. This school, ignorant or forgetful of the social and moral aspects of economic matters, teaches that the State should refrain in theory and practice from interfering therein, because these possess in free competition and open markets a principle of self-direction better able to control them than any created intellect. Free competition, however, though within certain limits just and productive of good results, cannot be the ruling principle of the economic world. This has been abundantly proved by the consequences that have followed from the free rein given to these dangerous individualistic ideals. It is therefore very necessary that economic affairs be once more subjected to and governed by a true and effective guiding principle. Still less can this function be exercised by the economic supremacy which within recent times has taken the place of free competition: for this is a headstrong and vehement power, which, if it is to prove beneficial to mankind, needs to be curbed strongly and ruled with prudence. It cannot, however, be curbed and governed by itself. More lofty and noble principles must therefore be sought in order to control this supremacy sternly and uncompromisingly: to wit, social justice and social charity. To that end all the institutions of public and social life must be imbued with the spirit of justice, and this justice must above all be truly operative. It must build up a juridical and social order able to pervade all economic activity. Social charity should be, as it were, the soul of this order and the duty of the state will be to protect and defend it effectively." (Luadragesimo Anno, 1931.)

". . . And here We find Ourselves confronted by a mass of authentic affirmations and no less authentic facts which reveal beyond the slightest possibility of doubt the resolve (already in great measure actually put into effect) to monopolize completely the young, from their tenderest years up to manhood and womanhood, for the exclusive advantage of a party and of a régime based on an ideology which clearly resolves itself into a true, a real pagan worship of the State -- the 'Statolatry' which is no less in contrast with the natural rights of the family than it is in contradiction with the supernatural rights of the Church."

"A conception of the State which makes the rising generations belong to it entirely, without any exception, from the tenderest years up to adult life cannot be reconciled by a Catholic either with Catholic doctrine or with the natural rights of the family. It is not possible for a Catholic to accept the claim that the Church and the Pope must limit themselves to the external practices of religion (such as Mass and the Sacraments), and that all the rest of education belongs to the State." (Non Abbiamo Bisogno, 1931.)

"This, unfortunately, is what we now behold. For the first time in history we are witnessing a struggle, cold-blooded in purpose and mapped out to the least detail, between man and 'all that is called God.'"

"Communism, moreover, strips man of his liberty, robs human personality of all its dignity, and removes all the moral restraints that check the eruptions of blind impulse. There is no recognition of any right of the individual in his relations to the collectivity; no natural right is accorded to human personality. . . ."

"What would be the condition of a human society based on such materialistic tenets? It would be a collectivity with no other hierarchy than that of the economic system. It would have only one mission: the production of material things by means of collective labor. . . ."

"But the law of nature and its Author cannot be flouted with impunity. Communism has not been able, and will not be able, to achieve its objectives even in the merely economic sphere. It is true that in Russia it has been a contributing factor in rousing men and materials from the inertia of centuries, and in obtaining by all manner of means, often without scruple, some measure of material success. Nevertheless, We know, from reliable and even very recent testimony, that not even there, in spite of slavery imposed on millions of men, has Communism reached its promised goal. After all, even the sphere of economics needs some morality, some moral sense of responsibility, which can find no place in a system so thoroughly materialistic as Communism. Terrorism is the only possible substitute. . . ."

". . . the means of saving the world of today from the lamentable ruin into which amoral Liberalism has plunged us, are neither the class-struggle nor terror, nor yet the autocratic abuse of State power, but rather the infusion of social justice and the sentiment of Christian love into the social-economic order."

"But when on the one hand We see thousands of the needy, victims of real misery for various reasons beyond their control, and on the other so many round about them who spend huge sums of money on useless things and frivolous amusement, We cannot fail to remark with sorrow not only that justice is poorly observed, but that the precept of charity also is not sufficiently appreciated, is not a vital thing in daily life."

". . . charity will never be true charity unless it takes justice into constant account."

"From this it follows that a 'charity' which deprives the workingman of the salary to which he has a strict title in justice, is not charity at all, but only its empty name and hollow semblance. 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. Both justice and charity often dictate obligations touching on the same subject-matter, but under different aspects; and the very dignity of the workingman makes him justly and acutely sensitive to the duties of others in his regard."

"Man has a spiritual and immortal soul. He is a person, marvelously endowed by his Creator with gifts of body and mind. He is a true 'microcosm,' as the ancients said, a world in miniature, with a value far surpassing that of the vast inanimate cosmos. God alone is his last end, in this life and the next. By sanctifying grace he is raised to the dignity of a son of God, and incorporated into the Kingdom of God in the Mystical Body of Christ. In consequence he has been endowed by God with many and varied prerogatives: the right to life, to bodily integrity, to the necessary means of existence; the right to tend towards his ultimate goal in the path marked out for him by God; the right of association and the right to possess and use property." (Divini Redemptoris, 1937.)

"Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community -- however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things -- whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God: he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds."

"None but superficial minds could stumble into concepts of a national God, of a national religion; or attempt to lock within the frontiers of a single people, within the narrow limits of a single race, God, the Creator of the universe, King and Legislator of all nations before whose immensity they are 'as a drop of a bucket' (Isaiah xl, 15)."

"Human laws in flagrant contradiction with the natural law are vitiated with a taint which no force, no power can mend. In the light of this principle one must judge the axiom, that 'right is common utility,' a proposition which when given a correct significance, means that what is morally indefensible, can never contribute to the good of the people. But ancient paganism acknowledged that the axiom, to be entirely true, must be reversed and be made to say: 'Nothing can be useful, if it is not at the same time morally good' (Cicero, De Officiis, ii. 30). Emancipated from this moral rule, the principle would in international law carry a perpetual state of war between nations; for it ignores in national life, by confusion, right and utility, the basic fact that man as a person possesses rights he holds from God, and which any collectivity must protect against denial, suppression or neglect. To overlook this truth is to forget that the real common good ultimately takes its measure from man's nature, which balances personal rights and social obligations, and from the purpose of society, established for the benefit of human nature."

"A Christianity which keeps a grip on itself, refuses every compromise with the world, takes the commands of God and the Church seriously, preserves its love of God and of men in all its freshness, such a Christianity can be, and will be, a model and a guide to a world which is sick to death and clamors for directions, unless it be condemned to a catastrophe that would baffle the imagination. Every true and lasting reform has ultimately sprung from the sanctity of men who were driven by the love of God and of men." (Mit brennender Sorge, 1937.)

I might add that in a document addressed to all Catholic seminaries and universities Pius XI on April 14, 1938, condemned racist doctrines.

Speaking of Pope Pius XI, the Patriarch of Lisbon wrote in November 1938: "Many have been astonished by the invincible energy of this august old man who with the Gospel in his hand, and fearless in his Faith, has condemned Communism, Totalitarianism, Statism, Racism, pagan Nationalism, all these new idols before which prostrate themselves the regimented masses who lose the sentiment of their dignity and their liberty once they lose Christ. Those who are scandalized by the Pope's supreme condemnation of the persecuting régimes that boast of having saved Europe from Communism, do not know, as the Gospel says, of what spirit they are."

The Catholic Church does not think theoretical teaching is enough. She strives to put it into practice. What, from this viewpoint, have the encyclicals accomplished in the social order? Actually, despite the resistance and neglect already mentioned, and about which the Popes themselves have often complained,[iv] it can be said that the practical efficaciousness of the teaching in the encyclicals appears the most powerful which it is possible for an unarmed teaching to attain -- unarmed, and for that reason all the more fascinating. However, to answer more precisely the question raised, the historian is led to distinguish what may be called different zones of accomplishment.

In a first zone belong the attempts made by certain Catholic statesmen to turn the maxims of the encyclicals into political or national plans of construction for immediate application by authoritative means. By an apparent paradox, this first zone of accomplishment, which is the most visible -- the Papal encyclicals often being openly invoked as a political platform -- involves the greatest risk of deception. In effect, since such accomplishments are not the result of a slow fruition of historical forces, they very frequently assume a dictatorial form, and hence partake of the fragility inherent in that form. Moreover, the universal and lofty maxims of Church doctrine are here applied to the contingencies of the social order without any previous elaboration of a more particular and concrete political philosophy; wherefore they are in danger of appearing as an abstract framework, or at times even as a decorative apparatus concealing practical realities far indeed from being Christian. It should be added that the danger of attempting an artificial construction will be all the greater if Catholicism is used, contrary to the nature of things, as a means of making up for the deficiencies of some strictly temporal political ideal and some strictly temporal principle of association and unity.[v]

A second zone of accomplishment, much more important in my opinion, is the influence exercised upon legislation by men inspired directly by the encyclicals or by the indirect effect of the encyclicals. In many countries a Catholic social school has developed, and there is a Confédération Internationale des Syndicats Chrétiens, with a central office at Utrecht. In France, the Christian labor unions exercise considerable influence. Since the time of Leo XIII, Catholic members of Parliament like La Tour du Pin and Albert de Mun have tried to secure the enactment of social laws which might have prevented many subsequent evils. And when the Léon Blum cabinet undertook urgent social reforms in 1936, its workingmen's legislation (paid vacations, collective bargaining, mediation and arbitration, regulation of salaries, fixing of work and rest periods) contained many similarities to bills proposed many years before by Catholic deputies or to measures recommended internationally by Catholics (for example, through the International Labor Office at Geneva).[vi] In other countries, more complete labor legislation (at least in regard to the first three points) has long ago been passed. If the stubborn activity of the working classes and the battles waged in the name of Socialism have here played a preponderant rôle, Papal teachings, even upon non-Catholics, have indirectly had a notable influence. So it was that Pius XI could say: "Catholic social principles of sociology gradually became part of the intellectual heritage of the whole human race." And he added: "As a result of these steady and tireless efforts, there has arisen a new branch of jurisprudence unknown to earlier times, whose aim is the energetic defense of those sacred rights of the workingman which proceed from his dignity as a man and as a Christian. These laws concern the soul, the health, the strength, the housing, workshops, wages, dangerous employments, in a word, all that concerns the wage-earners, with particular regard to women and children."[vii]

There is, finally, a third zone of accomplishment, related to the preceding but still to be distinguished from it. This comprises the effect which the teaching and direction of the Church has had upon the mass of Catholics the world over -- and indirectly upon non-Catholic Christians, and even upon non-Christians -- by arousing in them, and illuminating from the point of view of doctrine, the movement from below which has been already discussed. It is the zone of accomplishment which is the largest and the least easy to define. Here the ways by which the influence of the Church makes itself felt are slow, and reach the most profound depths of human experience.

In effect, through the movement from below the world's conscience, stimulated by the leaven of the Gospel, advances -- amidst suffering and contradictions, sometimes enlightened by sound doctrine, sometimes blindly and gropingly -- toward a higher state of civilization. Not only among Christians,[viii] but even among "unbelievers," and among those caught up in the more or less aberrant historical currents crisscrossing the modern world, Christian forces -- sometimes pure, sometimes deviating or even corrupt -- have been at work. This being true, it can be understood that to have a complete idea of the rôle of Christianity in social progress and the contrasting movements of history one must take into account both the influence exercised from above (stemming from the efforts of the teaching Church) and the action exercised from below (stemming from the efforts of secular conscience).

Ideally, if Christianity reigned in every heart and human weaknesses found no place in the human agencies of the Church -- in a word, if everything went as it should in the world -- the two influences from above and below ought to meet and act in constant accord. In actual fact they often are separated and lack synchronization; and there even may be opposition between them. For on the one hand it sometimes happens that secular conscience starts out on a wrong road, and on the other hand it also happens that the movement from below is ahead of the movement from above. Here is the inevitable penalty for a world in which tension and conflict are a law, and in which, moreover, religious divisions exist and evil has its place. In general, rigorous fidelity to pure truth and passionate effectiveness in the world's conflicts and conquests are rarely encountered in the same men and in the same zones of human effort.

III

The world is in a general state of crisis due primarily to the loosing of two groups of opposed, revolutionary, totalitarian phenomena. One proceeds from Socialism (Communism) of a class and aims to establish the world dictatorship of the proletariat; the other proceeds from Socialism of a racial community or of state policy (Fascism and National Socialism) and aims to establish the world empire of "proletarian nations." So grave is this crisis that one may ask whether it does not foretell the twilight of Western civilization. In my opinion, it is the liquidation of several centuries of error. According to the philosophy of history which I consider true, there is reason to think that the only favorable outcome in the social order, now or later, lies in the inauguration of a new political philosophy and a remade democracy.

The Church is neither democratic nor anti-democratic. As I have tried to explain in this study, its essential mission is above temporal qualifications.

But in the historical circumstances of our times it is clearly evident that the Church considers that the totalitarian idolatry, whatever forms and colors it may take, carries a most serious threat to the exercise of her spiritual mission and to the truth of which she is the depository and which she is commissioned to teach. The freedom of the word of God, and the dignity of the human person, are at stake. From this viewpoint, the recent election of the new Pope carried implicit significance. In the spring of the year 1939 it was not difficult to see that the destiny of religion, as well as that of natural law and international good faith, coincides with the destiny of freedom.

If the democracies, cruelly racked by ancient materialist errors and by the disorders resulting from the primacy of money, have strength and time to purify and renew themselves -- as the Church invites them to do by all the teachings touched upon in this study,[ix] and as, for their part, democratic leaders recognize is necessary [x] -- then the peril of a breakdown of civilization can still be overcome. If not, there is always hope that a new world can arise from the ruins.

The Catholic Church, it was pointed out above, has plenty of time and is accustomed to vicissitudes, catastrophes even. Today the Church is trying to renew, in quite different forms than were suited to mediæval Europe, her work of moral direction and spiritual inspiration. The means upon which the Church appears mostly to depend are those instituted by Pope Pius XI under the name of "Catholic Action." Catholic Action does not operate on the political plane but on the spiritual and apostolic plane. Yet in its attempts to infuse Christian energy into the life of individuals and the communities in which they group themselves Catholic Action prepares from within, in the depths of the human soul, the primary conditions of a new social and political life. The most characteristic of Catholic Action movements is the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne, numbering thousands of young workers in Belgium and France, whose object is to restore the dignity of the working class through the power of Christ and in the spirit of the Gospel. Such movements are definitely oriented towards daring social progress and the coming of a new order.

In finishing this study, I would like to make two more remarks. In the first place, if it is true that political life and proper political discernment require rectitude of instinct and inclination, then it can be easily understood that the most profound need of a democracy is the development of Christian instincts, both of the intelligence and the heart, touching the social and political life of the mass of citizens. From this viewpoint, the historic rôle to which Catholic Action is called is very great. In the second place, if it is true that politics is by its very essence a special branch of ethics, as the natural wisdom of ancient Chinese civilization recognized centuries ago, it can be understood that the fundamental problem to which a Christian civilization must apply itself (what a singularly profound revolution this would be after four centuries of Machiavellism!) is how to construct a Christian system of politics, truly and vitally Christian and not merely decoratively so. And here two passages of Catholic doctrine apply. One is from Pope Pius XI: "It is the sacred duty for governments and peoples to take as their guide the doctrine of Christ in their interior and exterior political life." (Ubi Arcano, 1922.) The other is from Pope Benedict XV: "The Gospel precept of love among men is entirely valid for states and peoples." (Pacem Dei, 1920.)

[i] Cf. Commandant Richard Lefebvre des Nouëttes, "La Force Motrice Animale à travers les Âges." Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1924.

[ii] These encyclicals, in English translation, can be procured through Catholic booksellers.

[iii] Two other very important encyclicals of Pius XI must also be mentioned: Luas Primas (1925) on the Kingship of Christ, and Casti Connubii (1930) on Christian marriage; but they do not directly concern the object of the present study.

[iv] "What is to be thought of the action of those Catholic employers who in one place succeeded in preventing the reading of Our Encyclical Luadragesimo Anno in their churches? Or of those Catholic industrialists who even to this day have shown themselves hostile to a labor movement that We Ourselves recommended? Is it not deplorable that the right of private property, defended by the Church should so often have been used as a weapon to defraud the workingman of his just salary and his social rights?" (Divini Redemptoris.) The workers' movement to which Pius XI alludes here is that of the French Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne.

[v] Such was the case with Austria before the Anschluss.

[vi] The latest case is that of the forty-hour week. Economic competition prevents this from being validly applied by one state alone. It should be further noted that the Catholic social school has always favored not only a living wage, but a family wage; the French legislation of June 1936 neglected this latter consideration, and to that extent revealed that it stemmed from backward individualism.

[vii] Luadragesimo Anno. On the social action of the Church, notably in the nineteenth century, one can consult with profit the work of Professor Émile Chênon, "Le Rôle Social de l'Église." (Paris: Bloud et Gay, 1928).

[viii] For example, to mention Frenchmen only, in the nineteenth century there were orthodox Catholics like Ozanam and Lacordaire, or Lammenais, a Catholic who was not orthodox.

[ix] The pastoral letter of the American Catholic hierarchy in favor of Christian democracy (October 1938) has significant importance from this viewpoint.

[x] I have in mind especially President Roosevelt's message of January 4, 1939.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now