No Work, No Property, So What ? Saga Of A
Sheer Catholic Truth from Eric Gill Seminary
rfjorA. and Property. By Eric GAL With twelve pictures by Denis Tegetmeier. (Dent : 7s. 6c1.) Maynooth In Retrospect
Reviewed by VICTOR WHITE, O.P.
Denis Tegetmeier's twelve superb satires alone make this book worth having. The fact that the people he satirises will alone be able to afford to have them is a parable which sums up the letterpress.
Perhaps Eric Gill's regular readers will find little here that they have not read before. Indeed we find him saying much the same sort of things over and over again, though from different points of view, in the course of this one book. But now it is to an Aquinas Society, now to L.C.C. school-teachers, now to the Artists' International Association, now (oh, joy!) to an art-school at Croydon, and now (oh, joy of joys!) to the Clapham High School for Girls. Moreover, it may be doubted whether he has ever said them so clearly and forcefully before.
And it is right that these things be said over and over again; for they are the fundamental, vital, urgent, obvious things that concern Eric GM: the elemental things about our Being and Having and Earning and Making and Doing — the every-day and all-day things — on which our happiness depends in time and eternity.
To these things Eric Gill brings a store of sheer common-sense and plain unsophisticated Christianity which may sometimes make the professional philosopher and theologian feel pretty silly. He shows what poles apart are the teachings of Christianity and common-sense regarding these things from what they are in the assumptions and in the practice of the world in which we live. His case would, perhaps, sometimes be all the stronger and less open to irrelevant criticism for a little more subtlety.
For instance, he is apt to speak as though irresponsibility in making was necessarily the same thing as moral irresponsibility. True, the former leads naturally to the latter, but it is not the same thing, and it would be well to assure those with irresponsible jobs that they need not and should not on that account lead wholly irresponsible The essay which gives its title to the book breaks more new ground than the others. Its presentation of the doctrine of private property and its essentially social character is perhaps more in line with that of the best Thomist theologians (e.g., Fr. Horvath, 0.P.) than Mr. Gill himself is aware. This essay brings out the vitally important truth (apt to be forgotten in discuesions with Communists) that the Christian defence of the principle of private property is no earthly_ttstitication for the defence of private property as we know it today: that the two conceptions are diametrically opposed and that Catholic teach ing in this matter is precisely a condemnation of the property we have (or more likely have not) got.
A priest-reviewer may he pardoned for mentioning in passing that Mr. Gill seems to have been particularly unfortunate in the clergy of his acquaintance, though it is to be feared that his strictures are not wholly groundless. But the very real poverty in which a great many of the parish clergy in this country have to live deserved at least a word of recognition in this essay. The picture of a moralising priesthood high or dry above the struggle for existence is not pretty—nor quite fair.
Such minor complaints apart, we would say that what Eric Gill has to say in this book cannot be repeated too often. This is what we Catholics should be giving to the masses: not tucked away in seven-andsixpenny volumes but available in twopenny pamphlets at our church-doors. For this is sheer Catholic Truth — and the Catholic Truth that matters to our age.
All the same, Eric Gill must do better than go on repeating himself indefinitely. The " blurb " on the wrapper says, truly enough, that this book ' tells you what a rotten place you live in, what a rotten job you have, how you've been dehumanised to keep a money-ruled world going to the hell to which it is aimed—and which asks you what you're going to do about it?" Which is all very fine; but for seven-and-sixpence we expect the inkling of an answer as well as the question. This book shows us clearly enough that we have not got either work or property in any rational and Christian sense of the words. But it is just exacerbating to tell a workless and propertyless world how rotten it all is if we cannot offer any suggestions as to how, things being what they are, both work and property are to be restored.
So at the end, the book leaves us dissatisfied. Many readers will put it down with a peevish "So what? " Eric Gill must begin to look ir an answer to his own poser if he is not to invite unreality. A reader of the Catholic Herald has expressed in a letter to the paper a misgiving that he has started to look for an answer in a wrong place. If there be any grounds for this, we trust he will find out his mistake in good time.