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Is there a Christian economic order?

In order to answer this question, it would be helpful to distinguish between the possibility of merely describing a Christian economic order and the possibility of actually realizing such an order in the real world. It is not difficult to begin a description of a Christian economic order. It is one in which all people have enough material resources, not merely to eke out an existence but to live rightly and with reasonable comfort. For example, all people needing work become employed and receive adequate income. Everyone has sufficient food, clothing, housing, medical care, as well as private and public help in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, financially devastating divorce, or some other similar problem. In a Christian economic order people do not let a preoccupation with material things be an obstacle to the pursuit of virtue, including service to the common good; they do not work simply to make money but to turn out a quality product or to render excellent service. In such an order, citizens sue each other only with great reluctance; lawyers do not press frivolous, unjust law suits; employers make every effort to insure a healthful work place.

In a social economy inspired by the Christian faith, men and women do not produce and distribute harmful products such as drugs and pornography. In their quest for possessions people do not kill or steal from one another, and they accept Pope John Paul II's admonition that "it is...necessary to create life styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments."

In addition, people realize that framing public policy is a difficult enterprise often subject to error even when policy makers and constituents are not blinded by ideology or some kind of self-interest. They deliberate honestly and try to choose the most appropriate policy whether it is liberal, conservative or centrist. Even in a faith-driven social economy citizens recognize that they will not be able to agree on all policies but accept this limitation as part of the human condition.

Finally, there are enough qualified people to do all the required work in business, government, the professions of law, medicine and ministry, the trades and every other kind of necessary work including volunteering. And, of course, education at every level is more than adequate for all children, young people and adults requiring retraining.

In order to realize a Christian economic order, a society needs important contributions from individuals, the churches, families, educational institutions from kindergarden through the university, unions and other mediating institutions, government policy and law. All these elements of society and others must contribute to promoting the requisite knowledge and virtue, for various kinds of ignorance and sin are mighty and often insurmountable obstacles.

A Christian economic order makes one realize that many non-economic factors play a decisive role in promoting economic justice. Consequently the question, "Is there a Christian economic order?" points to a prior question, what is the overall common good, of which a Christian economic order is a significant part?" This is a large question which looms in the background of this discussion.

One hundred years ago, Leo XII formally expressed the Church's solution to the impoverished condition of workers in his famous encyclical Rerum Novarum. Leo urged the acceptance of four general proposals: the protection of the right to private property, reliance on religion and the Church to teach virtue, reliance on the state to assume responsibility for the common good - which includes the protection of rights and the promotion of virtue, and cooperation among employers for the material and spiritual well-being of workers and their families. (This focus on the role of individuals and groups anticipates Pius XI's teaching on subsidiarity.) Using these four proposals, Leo XIII attempted to prove that the common good of nations requires the protection of rights and the practice of virtue by citizens, families, groups, political leaders, bishops and priests. Leo XIII clearly realized that resolving the social question of poverty required the cooperation of many actors in society - none more important than religion and the Church. In Leo XIII'S words, "Wherefore, if human society is to be healed, only a return to Christian life and practices will heal it" (revocatio vitae institutorumque Christianorum).(1)

Very recently John Paul II issued Centesimus Annus on the one hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. The pope reaffirmed the orientation of Rerum Novarum by endorsing Leo XIII'S four general proposals with respect to private property, the church, the state, and voluntary associations. John Paul II's latest contribution to the development of papal social teaching is not so much the endorsement of the free economy or the correction of the market by public intervention. John Paul II's endorsement of a free economy is qualified: "It would appear that on the level of industrial nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and responding to needs.", His endorsement of state intervention to guide the market and correct abuses is familiar Catholic teaching. In my mind what is really striking about Centesimus Annus is the reaffirmation and development of Rerum Novarum's teaching on virtue as well as further clarification of Catholic teaching on the relation between rights and virtue.

I would like to offer brief remarks on Centesimus Annus to, show why the Catholic Church's teaching on virtue and the practice of virtue by significant numbers of people is decisive for the promotion of a Christian economic order and the common good. I will conclude by offering suggestions about the other tasks the Church undertakes in order to promote these same goals.

When the Church accomplishes her mission to evangelize, she not only contributes to the salvation of all, but also makes her best contribution to the renewal of the temporal order. In John Paul II's words "there can be no genuine solution of the |social question' apart from the Gospel..."(3) Evangelization, says John Paul II "must include among its essential elements a proclamation of the Church's social doctrine." "The guiding principle...of the Church's social doctrine," affirms John Paul II, "is a correct view of the human person..."(4) From an accurate knowledge of the human person there necessarily follows "a correct picture of society." In proclaiming her social doctrine the Church clearly is aiming at promoting the common good of society, but she is also directing men and women, says John Paul II "on the path of salvation."(5)

John Paul II logically draws two conclusions regarding the Church's contribution to society. First, the Church makes a specific and decisive contribution to true culture "by preaching the truth about the creation of the world...and by preaching the truth about the Redemption..."(6) Second, the Church's "contribution to the political order is precisely her vision of the dignity of the human person revealed in all its fullness in the mystery of the Incarnate Word."(7) John Paul's vision of the human person and society in Centesimus Annus is not easily summarized. It can be best expressed by explaining his concept of obedience to truth and his many and varied references to virtue, and his defense of human rights.

The human person is bound to obey the truth about God and man. Created in the image and likeness of God he or she is free but under an obligation to live in accordance with God's will. In other words, the human person "must...respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed."(8) Since redemption frees people from sin and thereby forges bonds of unity, they have the ability and obligation to love all of humanity. Freedom not bound to the truth ends up "submitting itself to the vilest of passions, to the point of self-destruction."(9) Examples of such disordered passions having personal and social consequences readily come to mind, viz., inordinate love of pleasure, gain, honor, glory, as well as anger, hatred, envy, sloth and pride.

John Paul locates the origin of all the evils to which Rerum Novarum wished to respond" in an understanding and exercise of freedom "which, in the area of economic and social activity, cuts itself off from the truth about man."(10) Personal and social evils are bound to occur when the grounds for choice are not truth, goodness and communion with others. Freedom without truth becomes self-love "self-love carried to the point of contempt for God and neighbor, a self-love which leads to an unbridled affirmation of self-interest and which refuses to be limited by any demand of justice."(11) "This Augustinian-sounding sentence means that without a sense of obligation to truth, human beings will necessarily have no scruples about unabashedly pursuing their interests, and seeking power without regard for what is right or for the rights of others. Thus, without a bond between freedom and truth there is no sure principle of guaranteeing just relations between people"(12) and there is no firm ground for the duty to respect rights, the leading moral principle of liberal democracies.(13)

Without virtue there is disorder in the soul and deficient justice within nations and between nations. "Authentic democracy," says John Paul II, "is possible only in a state ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person."(14) If democratic citizens do not practice virtue, "a democracy...easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism."(15) John Paul does not attempt to explain all aspects of virtue but focuses on the ordination of virtue toward the common good. The pope describes solidarity as "one of the fundamental principles of the Christian view of social and political organizations."(16) In Sollicitudo Rei Socialis he defines the Christian virtue of solidarity as "a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good..."(17)

In the present encyclical, Centesimus Annus, he identifies solidarity with "friendship," "social charity" and civilization of love," concepts used respectively by Pope Leo XIII, Pius XI and Paul VI.(18) People practice the virtue of solidarity in many different ways. For example, they do not regard their property as simply their own but recognize that material possessions are in some way "common to all."(19) They are inclined to put their property and talents at the service of others. Solidarity also leads people to do their work conscientiously for the sake of others. In other words, they turn out a quality product or service as a contribution to the common good. Talented people use their initiative and entrepreneurial ability to establish useful businesses. Solidarity also inclines people to dismantle structures of sin" established by inordinate desire for power and profit. Solidarity, of course, leads citizens to work for just public policy.

Still another example of solidarity is work to help the poor acquire expertise in order to survive and to be in a position to make a contribution to the common good. The poor do not live by bread alone. The preferential option for the poor, then, must include serious attention to education, family life and job training in addition to protection from crime and state-provided aid for the unemployed.

John Paul II underlines his point regarding the importance of living the virtue of solidarity by offering a new slant on the concept of alienation.

A man is alienated if he refuses to transcend himself

and to live the experience of self-giving and of

the formation of a authentic human community

oriented toward his final destiny, which is God. A

society is alienated if its forms of social organization,

production and consumption make it more

difficult to offer this gift of self and to establish

this solidarity between people.(20) Production and consumption should not hinder the spiritual, moral and intellectual development of the human person. Rather, as mentioned, "it is...necessary to create life styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments."(21)

Solidarity is the kind of overarching virtue in John Paul's thought that depends on the work of other virtues. For example, to practice the virtue of solidarity a person needs control over his appetites for pleasure, money, power and prestige. He or she must have the patience to bear up in the face of difficulties. In other words, citizens need temperance and fortitude not to mention prudence and justice. John Paul II brings out clearly that the attempt to live a virtuous life demands a lifelong struggle. He writes," long as time lasts the struggle between good and evil continues even in the human heart itself."(22) In other words, there is no absolutely firm hold on a virtuous character. There will always be temptation and room for improvement.

The successful struggle against evil by the practice of virtue not only requires constant human effort but willingness to receive God's gift of grace. John Paul II explains:

Therefore, in order that the demands of justice be

met, and attempts to achieve this good may succeed,

what is needed is the gift of grace, a gift

which come from God. Grace in cooperation with

human freedom constitutes the mysterious presence

of God in history which is Providence."(23) This stress on the necessity of grace to live a virtuous life reinforces John Paul II's point that the Church makes her best contribution to society by fulfilling her God-given mission.

The failure of citizens to overcome their vices has profound consequences for the life of society according to John Paul II. The pope goes so far as to say that the two world wars would not have been possible "without the terrible burden of hatred and resentment which had been built up as a result of so many injustices both on the international level and within individual states."(24) A bright future for Eastern Europe, he adds, depends on overcoming the ill will and hatred that accumulated during the communist domination of Eastern Europe. Communist Eastern Europe needs not only economic reform but "moral reconstruction" both in order to avoid a resurgence of hatred and to promote "basic virtues of economic life, such as truthfulness, trust-worthiness and hard work,"(25) which were denigrated under communism.

Finally, John Paul II is aware that education for virtue requires decisive input from the family and a favorable environment created by the culture of a nation in addition to the work of the Church. It is in "the family" that people receive their "first formative ideas about truth and goodness and [learn] what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person."(26)

While obedience to truth or the practice of virtue are the most important aspects of a person's dignity, the protection of human rights gives a person the freedom to fulfill his or her duties. "In a certain sense," John Paul writes, "the source and synthesis of their rights is religious freedom, understood as the right to live in the truth of one's faith and in conformity with one's transcendent dignity as a person."(27) John Paul gives a list of other rights requiring protection by democratic governments: the right to life; the right to live in a united loving family; the right to educate one's mind; the right to earn a living through work; the right to found a family and rear children through the responsible exercise of one's sexuality. It is, of course, hard to see how some of these rights could be guaranteed by law. For example, the only guarantee for growing up in a loving, united family is having parents with the right character traits and convictions.

Other rights deserving protection according to John Paul are as follows: the right to private property, the right to for7n associations, the right to a just wage and decent working conditions, the right to procure what is necessary to live, the rights of the human conscience which is bound only by natural and revealed truth, the rights of a whole people "to subsistence and progress."(28) Securing the protection of these rights requires not only appropriate constitutional guarantees, federal and state laws, but also just individuals and mediating structures guided by a sense of justice.

Other Practical implications

1) The Church must keep in mind that government,

voluntary associations, individuals and the Church

all make a contribution to the common good. 2) What the Church does to promote its own internal

renewal benefits the political and social order. 3) Consequently, in order to promote the common good - not

to mention salvation - the Church must continue

to improve the following:

* Liberal education for candidates to the priesthood

and religious life.

* The religious education of children and young

people in Catholic schools and CCD programs.

* Marriage preparation and ministry to families.

* Religious instruction from the pulpit.

* Liberal education in Catholic colleges and universities.

* Education of the nation's underclass from grades

K through 12 in Catholic schools.

* Education of laity to take up all tasks pertaining to

the attainment of the common good, e.g., work

and involvement in the formation of policy.

* Actual widespread involvement of the laity in

volunteer work and the formation of policy at all

levels of government.

* Work to establish a tradition of learning, among

Catholics. 4) In addressing the American public the Church makes

a significant contribution to the renewal of liberal

democracy by focusing on the following themes:

* The elements of the common good in a liberal

democracy, especially virtue, education, family

life, the role of law in building character, the

importance of conscientious work, ethics in the

professions and trades.

* The reasons why the nation should restrict abortion

and not legalize euthanasia.

* The problems of the underclass, e.g., safety, education,

family life, drugs.

* Public morality of generosity and chastity.

* The overemphasis on rights.

* The crisis in the legal profession manifested by

the plethora of unjust law suits.

* The argument that religion and the church benefit

contemporary culture and liberal democracy by

teaching and works of mercy.

Themes Needing Clarification

1) What the state can do to promote moral standards and

dispose citizens to the practice of virtue through law. 2) The meaning of virtue and its connection to the common

good. 3) The relation between rights and virtue. 4) The difference between the Catholic concept of rights

and secular understandings.


(1.) Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarwn, 1891, no. 41. (2.) Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 1991, no. 34. (3.) Centesimus Annus, no. 5. (4.) Ibid., no. 13. (5.) Ibid., no. 54. (6.) Ibid., no. 51. (7.) Ibid., no. 47. (8.) Ibid., no. 38. (9.) Ibid., no. 4. (10.) Ibid., no. 4. (11.) Ibid., no. 17. (12.) Ibid., no. 44. (13.) Ibid., no. 17. (14.) Ibid., no. 46. (15.) Ibid., no. 46. (16.) Ibid., no. 10. (17.) Solicitudo Rei Socialis, 1988, no. 38. (18.) Centesimus Annus. no. 10. (19.) Ibid., no. 30, quoting Thomas Aquinas. (20.) Ibid., no. 41. (21.) Ibid., no. 36. (22.) Ibid., no. 25. (23.) Ibid., no. 59. (24.) Ibid., no. 17. (25.) Ibid., no. 27. (26.) Ibid., no. 39. (27.) Ibid., no. 47. (28.) Ibid., no. 35.
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Title Annotation:Symposium: Ethics in Business
Author:Benestad, J. Brian
Publication:Review of Business
Date:Dec 22, 1991
Previous Article:Is there a Christian economic system?
Next Article:Utilitarianism: an ethical framework for compensation decision making.

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