“Some of the most vocal advocates for socialism are Christian theologians and committed Catholics. The Tradinista! Movement identifies itself as “a small party of young Christian socialists committed to traditional orthodoxy, to a politics of virtue and the common good, and to the destruction of capitalism, and its replacement by a truly social political economy.” In 2019, Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart published an editorial in the New York Times with the provocative title, “Can We Please Relax About Socialism?” Not to be outdone, the Jesuit magazine America published a feature-length article later that year entitled, “The Catholic Case for Communism.”
There’s no small irony in this new enthusiasm for socialism among young Christians, when you consider that socialism served as the “founding heresy” that spurred the development of Catholic social teaching.
Between the 1840s and the 1940s, the papacy released eight major encyclicals that dealt with the subject, all in critical ways.
In 1849, Pope Pius IX referred to “the wicked theories of this socialism and Communism” and how they plotted to “overthrow the entire order of human affairs” through the haze of “perverted teachings” (Nostis et Nobiscum ). At the end of the nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII called socialism a “deadly plague” (Quod Apostolici Muneris) that reaps a “harvest of misery” (Graves de Communi Re). Thirty years later, Pope Pius XI said, “Communism is intrinsically wrong, and no one who would save Christian civilization may collaborate with it in any undertaking whatsoever” (Divini Redemptoris ).
Many socialists, when confronted with the moral and economic failures of countries like the Soviet Union, are quick to respond, “Oh no, I don’t want that kind of socialism” or, “That wasn’t real socialism, that was Communism.” They don’t want a totalitarian government that controls everyone; they just want a benevolent government that helps everyone. In polling, this leads to a mixed bag of preferences.
For example, two-thirds of millennials support free college tuition, government-provided universal healthcare, and a government guarantee of food, shelter, and a living wage. But the majority of them also oppose state ownership of private businesses and tax increases on anyone but the wealthy. Another survey shows that whereas only 56 percent of people have a positive image of “capitalism,” 86 percent have a positive image of “entrepreneurs.” One Atlantic writer ably summarizes this paradoxical attitude toward economics: “They’d like Washington to fix everything, just so long as it doesn’t run anything.”
Hart evinces a similar attitude when he claims of the United States:
Only here is the word “socialism” freighted with so much perceived menace. I take this to be a symptom of our unique national genius for stupidity. In every other free society with a functioning market economy, socialism is an ordinary, rather general term for sane and compassionate governance of the public purse for the purpose of promoting general welfare and a more widespread share in national prosperity.
So who’s right?
Is socialism a deadly plague that reaps a harvest of misery? Or is it a sane and compassionate economic policy that everyone, especially Christians, should support?
There are a lot of things that are wrong in Hart’s op-ed, but he does make one good point. He writes, “In this country we employ terms like ‘socialism’ with wanton indifference to historical details and conceptual distinctions.” Indeed, critics who cry wolf and describe every form of governmental economic intervention as “socialism” numb people to the unique evils that occur in a truly socialist system.
That’s why in order to determine if Catholics can be socialists we have to first understand “real socialism.””
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "And above all, be on your guard not to want to get anything done by force, because God has given free will to everyone and wants to force no one, but only proposes, invites and counsels." –St. Angela Merici, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "We cannot always have access to a spiritual Father for counsel in our actions and in our doubts, but reading will abundantly supply his place by giving us directions to escape the illusions of the devil and of our own self-love, and at the same time to submit to the divine will.” —St. Alphonsus Ligouri, "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom