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Quod Apostolici Muneris by Pope Leo XIII

Pope Leo XIII (b. 2 March 1810 – d. 20 July 1903), born Gioacchino Vincenzo Raffaele Luigi Pecci, began his pontificate on 20 February 1878. His papacy is the fourth longest in the history of the Church. He is known for his intellect, having composed the Prayer to Archangel St Michael and combating modern errors.

On 28 December 1878, he published the encyclical “Quod Apostolici Muneris” on socialism. It is approximately 3,800 words in 12 paragraphs and begins by mentioning the spread of socialism and its aim to overthrow society.

…We speak of that sect of men who, under various and almost barbarous names, are called socialists, communists, or nihilists, and who, spread over all the world, and bound together by the closest ties in a wicked confederacy, no longer seek the shelter of secret meetings, but, openly and boldly marching forth in the light of day, strive to bring to a head what they have long been planning—the overthrow of all civil society whatsoever.

Leo XIII introduces three areas the socialists attack: they “refuse obedience to the higher powers”, “debase the natural union of man and woman, which is held sacred even among barbarous peoples” and “they assail the right of property sanctioned by natural law” whilst pretending to care for the “needs and satisfying the desires of all men”.

The first tactic employed is to deny the supernatural, thereby making natural reason the sole authority. After all, if human reason is all there is—that is, if there is no higher authority—then anything is permissible.

For you know, venerable brethren, that that most deadly war which from the sixteenth century down has been waged by innovators against the Catholic faith, and which has grown in intensity up to today, had for its object to subvert all revelation, and overthrow the supernatural order, that thus the way might be opened for the discoveries, or rather the hallucinations, of reason alone. This kind of error, which falsely usurps to itself the name of reason, as it lures and whets the natural appetite that is in man of excelling, and gives loose rein to unlawful desires of every kind, has easily penetrated not only the minds of a great multitude of men but to a wide extent civil society, also. … The supernatural truths of faith having been assailed and cast out as though hostile to reason, the very Author and Redeemer of the human race has been slowly and little by little banished from the universities, the Iyceums and gymnasia—in a word, from every public institution.

Not surprisingly, the attack includes educational institutions since this obviously corrupts the younger generation.

After reminding the audience that previous popes have condemned these modern errors, including socialism, Leo XIII reminds the audience that the Church “hands down those doctrines and precepts whose special object is the safety and peace of society and the uprooting of the evil growth of socialism”. In other words, what the Church teaches is a guard against errors such as socialism.

He then points out what had become the norm, that socialists twist the Gospel for their purposes, making the usual argument that all men are “equal”. Leo XIII emphasizes the simple distinction that equality does not imply sameness.

Their habit, as we have intimated, is always to maintain that nature has made all men equal, and that, therefore, neither honor nor respect is due to majesty, nor obedience to laws, unless, perhaps, to those sanctioned by their own good pleasure. But, on the contrary, in accordance with the teachings of the Gospel, the equality of men consists in this: that all, having inherited the same nature, are called to the same most high dignity of the sons of God, and that, as one and the same end is set before all, each one is to be judged by the same law and will receive punishment or reward according to his deserts.

In other words, everyone has the same nature, that God wants to save everyone and that all are judged by the same standard. None of this implies sameness. This also does not do away with authority structure, a position socialists and communists try to argue against.

For, He [God] who created and governs all things has, in His wise providence, appointed that the things which are lowest should attain their ends by those which are intermediate, and these again by the highest. Thus, as even in the kingdom of heaven He hath willed that the choirs of angels be distinct and some subject to others, and also in the Church has instituted various orders and a diversity of offices, so that all are not apostles or doctors or pastors, so also has He appointed that there should be various orders in civil society, differing indignity, rights, and power, whereby the State, like the Church, should be one body, consisting of many members, some nobler than others, but all necessary to each other and solicitous for the common good.

Note that Leo XIII also reminds the audience that throughout the history of the Church, she has, contrary to the anti-Christian propaganda, accepted if not encouraged diversity if it is conducive to the end of saving souls.

In addressing the argument of bad authority, which is a common excuse socialists use against the idea of authority, Leo XIII reminds the audience that an insurrection based on “private authority” is not the way to go. Of course, one should never obey if it directly contradicts the laws of God and the Church. This admittedly is not always clear because there are so-called grey areas but the principle is as a good starting point as any.

And if at any time it happen that the power of the State is rashly and tyrannically wielded by princes, the teaching of the Catholic church does not allow an insurrection on private authority against them, lest public order be only the more disturbed, and lest society take greater hurt therefrom. And when affairs come to such a pass that there is no other hope of safety, she teaches that relief may be hastened by the merits of Christian patience and by earnest prayers to God. But, if the will of legislators and princes shall have sanctioned or commanded anything repugnant to the divine or natural law, the dignity and duty of the Christian name, as well as the judgment of the Apostle, urge that “God is to be obeyed rather than man.” [Acts 5:29]

Moving on from the authority of the state, the socialists attack the family in order to ruin society, including targeting parental authority over the children.

Even family life itself, which is the cornerstone of all society and government, necessarily feels and experiences the salutary power of the Church, which redounds to the right ordering and preservation of every State and kingdom. For you know, venerable brethren, that the foundation of this society rests first of all in the indissoluble union of man and wife according to the necessity of natural law, and is completed in the mutual rights and duties of parents and children, masters and servants. You know also that the doctrines of socialism strive almost completely to dissolve this union; since, that stability which is imparted to it by religious wedlock being lost, it follows that the power of the father over his own children, and the duties of the children toward their parents, must be greatly weakened.

As for private property, the Church has always recognized that everyone is different, including their possessions, and Leo XIII reminds the audience that God forbids stealing, thus protecting the right to private property.

For she knows that stealing and robbery were forbidden in so special a manner by God, the Author and Defender of right, that He would not allow man even to desire what belonged to another, and that thieves and despoilers, no less than adulterers and idolaters, are shut out from the Kingdom of Heaven.

Nevertheless, the poor need help and, historically, the Church has tried to fulfill that role by providing or acting as a point of distribution of necessities. This, of course, relies on the rich to give voluntarily which Leo XIII encourages. The alternative is simple: either the poor become poorer or more “eruptions” (which is what the socialists and communists want).

She [the Church] does all she can to help them; she provides homes and hospitals where they may be received, nourished, and cared for all the world over and watches over these. She is constantly pressing on the rich that most grave precept to give what remains to the poor; and she holds over their heads the divine sentence that unless they succor the needy they will be repaid by eternal torments. In fine, she does all she can to relieve and comfort the poor, either by holding up to them the example of Christ, “who being rich became poor for our sake”, or by reminding them of his own words, wherein he pronounced the poor blessed and bade them hope for the reward of eternal bliss. But who does not see that this is the best method of arranging the old struggle between the rich and poor? For, as the very evidence of facts and events shows, if this method is rejected or disregarded, one of two things must occur: either the greater portion of the human race will fall back into the vile condition of slavery which so long prevailed among the pagan nations, or human society must continue to be disturbed by constant eruptions, to be disgraced by rapine and strife, as we have had sad witness even in recent times.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like much has changed despite the warnings.

Pope Leo XIII (1878)
Pope Leo XIII (1878)

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