THIS week the attention of the Catholic world—and we pray of many outside the Church—will be given to the new social encyclical, Mater el Magistra.
This Encyclical is dated May 15, 1961, the 70th anniversary of the shock which Leo X111 gave the world, not least the Catholic world, when Rerun Novarrun was published,
During the long post-Reformation years when the Church was fighting what to many seemed a losing battle against a spirit of democracy and socialism, then largely identified with anti-clericalism, Catholics for the most part looked back to the old regimes which had claimed to be protectors of the Church. In fact, of course, the protection they had given to the Church was usually a very doubtful one since in return for ecclesiastical protection they had demanded a good deal of ecclesiastical control.
Paradoxically, the State's claim, made so strongly during the French Revolution and under Napoleon, to absolute power over the Church. led in the end to the opposite of what was intended. It led to an absolute division between Church and State which, while it lost to the Church its ancient claims to authority within the state in the realm of religion and morals, actually freed the Church from any State control.
BUT it took many years for Catholics to appreciate the importance and the implications of this change. The growing division between Church and state, between religious observance and secular life and duties. really meant that Catholics felt free to accept the standards of econOmie and social change which marked the nineteenth century. While ready to protest against the philosophy of -liberalism", they accepted the ethics of a "liberalism" and nationalism which meant getting rich quick at the expense of the masses and of any country or colony which could be tricked or exploited.
It was in that nineteenth century capitalist scramble lo make profits at any cost by fair or unfair competition and with all 'he dice loaded against the "proletarian" masses, overworked, underpaid and ever in danger of unemployment through regular slumps that Pope Leo issued the encyclical Rerum Novarum.
Nothing could have seemed more paradoxical and in the opinion of many rich Catholics more immoral than the Pope's teaching that the workers had a right to social protection, social justice and a fair wage.
It was doubtless true that many a Catholic master or employer made kindly and even generous provision for his workers (though many did not), but what rankled was the idea that these people had a right to a living wage and a human way of life for themselves and their children. They had no conception of the fact that in Catholic days before the Reformation the social and economic order was protected by the Church and Christian tradition in a severe manner in the interests of society, master and man. The closed and protected conditions of that pre-Reformation society could not, of course. have been maintained in the great age of geographical, industrial and financial expansion, but with the loss of the Church's social and political authority after the Reformation and the development of separated nation-states (whether Catholic or Protestant) the very idea of social rights and duties within the economic and social held seemed to have been lost in the universal attempt to exploit the new opportunities of State and personal enrichment.
It was only in the 19th cen-, tury that Catholic thinkers. living in a world of growing division between unrestrained capitalism and the growing Marxist and socialist assault against such plain exploitation of man, settled down to the study of the old. unchanging Christian principles in their application to the new times with the consequence of the Pope's publication of Rearm Novarum.
1?ERUM NOVARUM and, forty years later, Quadragesimo Anno have offered a social charter of industrial justice, understanding and peace to the world. But the world, tragically has never been able to throw off the legacy of division and strife between "capital" and "labour" which has resulted from the social anarchy of the
Post Reformation centuries, especially the nineteenth.
On the whole. the practical impact of these Encyclicals has been small. The tragic legacy of the past has led not only to continued industrial strife on a mammoth scale, hut of course to two world wars and the growth of totalitarian ideologies, with Marxist totalitarianism today still threatening the peace of the world in conditions of danger undreamt of in the 19th century.
Furthermore, whereas in the past social and nationalist strife has been confined to what We call the civilised world. today the world has become one world. and the social iniustices condemned by implication in the social encyclicals possess an immediate world-wide relevance. If it was immoral to exploit the poor and defenceless in the 19th century, it must be equally wrong to exploit the poor and defenceless today in the undeveloped countries of "one world."
It is the world-wide relevance of Pope John's Encyclical, together with its full awareness of both the merits and the faults of social, technical, industrial and agrarian developments in the world of today, which will help to guide Catholics primarily, but also, we must hope and pray. those in whose hands lie the endangered destinies of our times.
If we can sec so clearly the tragedies which have resulted from the world's indifference to the earlier social encyclicals, we must make it our task to study the Pope's present social encyclical and tell the world that here. once again. the Church's age-long principles of social justice find their application to our times and. indeed. alone offer the solution which can save us.