This socialized reflection is dedicated to the memory of the late Frs. Jean-Yves, Matthew, and Robert, who influenced me greatly; to my mentor, Fr. Bernie, who had to leave the Church and become an Episcopalian to be married; and to an honest Englishman.
Homage and Scorn
In an Anglican cemetery lies a tombstone with an inscription profound for its simplicity:
I’d have said, “He gave us clearheaded humanitarian commitment in the moments that he had.” He did not die a hero but lived to write these words:
“They laid me down again while somebody fetched a stretcher. As soon as I knew that the bullet had gone clean through my neck I took it for granted that I was done for. I had never heard of a man or an animal getting a bullet through the middle of the neck and surviving it. The blood was dribbling out of the corner of my mouth. ‘The artery’s gone,’ I thought. I wondered how long you last when your carotid artery is cut; not many minutes, presumably. Everything was very blurry. There must have been about two minutes during which I assumed that I was killed. And that too was interesting — I mean it is interesting to know what your thoughts would be at such a time. My first thought, conventionally enough, was for my wife. My second was a violent resentment at having to leave this world which, when all is said and done, suits me so well.”
Now is my turn to make choices of whether and how to be part of the dolorous sacrifice. Now is my turn to overcome the greatest untruth, a false life, and the greatest deception, that not daily bread and moments in a world which suits us so well are the gift, but ownership. Some possessions are necessities, but hoarding is self-deception.
I go to a quiet place to try to recall things read long ago, the quietest one I know, Father Louis’s home. I sit quietly and experience peace inside and see what I can learn. Hours pass … nothing may be changing outside, yet in the silence of the Abbey night I glimpse another visitor, a priest, sitting behind me in the guest section of the narrow church, out of place, long after Compline, and in our minds–“‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’” (Luke 12:15-21, NRSVACE)–and other such long-buried thoughts have a field day.
Vigils and Lauds pass then comes raw grey daylight. In his mind, the priest wanders out to the highway where he sees Lazarus, and, willing to make himself bruised, hurting and dirty, offers to cleanse sores and buy breakfast, and Lazarus cries as he receives equality for an hour, and the priest cries too then moves on to a teenager seeking medicine he has learned to shun, so he moves on again, caritas in actione … heaping dark scorn on himself all the while.
In my mind, An Gorta Mor slithers down the highway, and I leave the Abbey running after it, pick up a stick, ready to pounce if I can ever catch up to it, and I may never get to come back and will have to pay the price of heretics, and the lumpenproletariat will join me for bedraggled meals of unblessed bread, and I will grow to resemble Lazarus myself, unhealthy but not confined, not clinging to my own security, but not really knowing what to do next …
I soon have to leave the Abbey. It is beautiful. Best place I have ever been. But along with seeds of contemplation were first planted seeds of rearrangement, and I long ago received my calling and think it means to be out there sometimes lost, caritas in actione per rationem mutationis.
Book burnings are no more. I will not have to double bag them in 8 mil, super heavy weight plastic bags and bury them–those by dead socialists, those by dead priests, and the one from my Baptist youth authorized by the dead witch-hunting torturing king that says: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2, KJV)
I still love those words translated for my edification but not in time for Agnes Sampson to pray them as she was garroted then burned at the stake for the uninsured losses of the king. Why blame misfortune on a spontaneous act of God when there is an outcast wise wife of Keith who stubbornly refuses to plead guilty?
The king handing out magic puppets,
I want to give you a couple of warnings about this reflection, which relates to Pope Francis’s recent Apostolic Exhortation, EVANGELII GAUDIUM (“The Joy of the Gospel”). First, and less important, it is really long (almost 30,000 words) and detailed. You might want to read Part I., the Introduction, come back later to read Part II., the Contextual Analysis section, and then come back a third time to read Part III., the Textual Analysis section. I am not trying to generate multiple hits at this obscure website, which will be what it will be, but to avoid wearing you out in one sitting. I hope to eventually combine this post into a pamphlet I am working on regarding the subject of “social compacts,” so, if it is any consolation, one day this post will be part of something that is even more tedious. Smoke ‘em if you gaudium!
Second, I want to emphasize that this is a “socialized reflection.” You have already read my only stab at “poetry,” so there’s that going for it, but it is sure to disappoint everyone (although I am intentionally being offensive only once, and I think it is for a good reason). For one thing, this reflection is provisional yet opinionated, one species-being’s best effort at a particular point in time to discuss the most important social topic upon which he may ever write. I am sure to get a lot wrong. It has been difficult in my spare time to comprehend a massive papal exhortation much less attempt to put it into context within Christianity and global democratic socialism. The difficulty to me in getting it right is enhanced because I am not a “scholar” in either Christianity or socialism, and, even if I were, Pope Francis is a puzzling and likely transformational Church leader. If real Vatican experts could not crack the code of this somewhat Zelig-like man, who now as Pope seems to be rising to “the occasion,” whatever that is, I am surely not going to do so at this time.
For another, this is a “socialized reflection.” I want potential allies who have drifted apart or never been together at all over matters of religion or strategy to come together as much as possible to make a better world. Christians, may I please reintroduce you to the socialists, and vice versa, respective warts and all? In trying to bring people together, I am aware that many would rather stay isolated within their realms of religious or strategic purity and judgment.
I do not believe boxing ourselves in that way is productive. I am both a democratic socialist writing as a democratic socialist on something many traditional religious people would not want to have “socialized,” and a religious person reflecting as a religious person on something many traditional socialists would not want to have “reflected on” but rather subjected to unemotional Marxist analysis or critical theory or be above dialogue in the language of religion. Moreover, I am encouraging groups sometimes strictly separated and even quite hostile to each other on the left, including anarchists, communists, democratic socialists, and social democrats, to envision not only learning from, tolerating, and working with Christians but also each other.
This is more religious than most of the things I write for this website, but I think this is for good reasons. Pope Francis has given the left a great challenge and opportunity to heal some of its divisions with Christianity as well as some of its own internal divisions and inadequacies, and hopefully he will also support healing within Christianity as well. Humans have become quite adept at not getting along. It would promote healing for different groups to begin to better understand each other. We must be willing to learn something new, to borrow good ideas without absolute preconceptions, and hopefully to march together into a new day for our world. My personal praxis is living proof, to me at least, that no one group has cornered the market on all that is good in the world. I am not embarrassed to admit that I am both a cafeteria socialist and a cafeteria Christian. I am rigid that I am for the good, but I am still learning about what that means and will not box myself into rejecting everything that others have to say.
While my religion is 100% socialized, my socialism is also in part religiously motivated. To imply that I ignore the personal religious dimension in my socialism generally and in my review of Pope Francis’s exhortation particularly would be misleading. As a consequence, this reflection is surely not pure and respectful enough for the pious or impure and disrespectful enough for some of my non-religious brothers and sisters. If any of this is offensive or boring to you, please do not feel pressured to read it. I would like for you to continue coming to this website, and if you are dismayed by the nature of this reflection and never come back, that would dismay me because it would potentially do a disservice to democratic socialism. I do not want to fail the cause of democratic socialism in this reflection or otherwise. It is the cause I believe in for global stewardship of our soil and other resources to meet everyone’s basic needs, and I wish to be in solidarity with all potential allies.
I am all for mutual aid, something that seems in broad agreement with both anarchists and the Church, but I am also for central planning as necessary to ensure everyone’s basic needs are met, something that seems in broad agreement with both communists and the Church. But I do not leave it there, because, in broad agreement with social democrats and the church, I also believe that democracy and human rights within the framework of a democratically-approved social compact can unite and reconcile the tension between the competing needs for central planning and mutual aid. As I stated in Pamphlet No. 1: A Winding Path to Workers’ Gardens/Un camino de bobina a jardines de trabajadores, if socialism is to be fully embraced and humanizing, it must be accepting of our individualities, which often involve religious frames of reference. This reflection evidences my religious frame of reference, but hopefully consistently with my commitment, borrowed from George Orwell, to write every line of serious work, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. As George Orwell and other democratic socialists coming before and after him believed (see, e.g., Michael Harrington, 1989. Socialism, Past & Future. New York: Arcade Publishing, Little, Brown and Company.), authoritarian “socialism,” also known as state capitalism, which does not provide political democracy and human rights is not only ineffective in the long term and potentially totalitarian but also undeserving of the name. Socialism should fight, not cause or perpetuate, injustice and alienation. Neither should “democracy” cause or perpetuate injustice and alienation by walling off the economy from democratic control, which, as Reinhold Niebuhr glumly observed, is unfortunately par for the course. “Libertarianism” as promoted by the Koch brothers is actually economic authoritarianism by those who privately control the resources. Centralization of economic power toward private monopolies has been noted by Marx and popes alike.
The appropriate mix of freedom for individual effort, mutual aid, and central planning should be a continuing subject of democratic control. While socialism could never be perfect in an imperfect world, democracy and human rights are necessary checks on power, which to some extent must be centralized to ensure society meets everyone’s basic needs. A limited degree of temporary authoritarianism may sometimes have advantages during the fighting of a just war, but it is not the means to just ends during peacetime. Authoritarians often have or are served by military fixations. They may attempt to sustain a general societal preoccupation with fear, war, or invasion which not only intentionally excuses the lack of normalization but also leads to development of wasteful military-industrial complexes where the power centers are not with the civilians. All nation states should be using their resources as much as possible for meeting human needs not buying weapons and potentially tempting the military to repress civilian populations. Nation states that profess to promote democracy and human rights have to be aware that their own histories of interference with democracy and human rights abroad or even at home may help to perpetuate excuses for authoritarian control, particularly when the authoritarian can point to relics like the truth-squandering Cuba blockade and the occupation of Guantanamo Bay.
Ralph Ellison concluded and Pope Francis surely agrees that it is not acceptable for any society or economic system, including both capitalism and socialism, to treat others as if they are invisible. The poor and outcast, and their allies, must as necessary cause cultural “disturbance” to confront injustice from whatever direction it emanates. Causing a disturbance creates risk for those causing the disturbance, a price many are unwilling to pay. This socialized reflection and this website are cautious cultural “disturbances” within my power to make, so I am making them. I wish I could do more. I am not a major moral leader like Pope Francis, but I can make tiny drops in the human bucket of moral leadership, and so can you. Therefore, in that respect, we are all potential moral leaders.
Moral leaders can provide varying levels of moral suasion in various ways to persons who would otherwise be unwilling to pay the price. Father Louis, i.e., the monk Thomas Merton, whose prophetic abbey I have visited twice, was a moral leader through his written words although, as a Trappist, he largely remained silent. Achieving justice is not easy. He wrote in “Letters to a White Liberal”:
We must dare to pay the dolorous price of change, to grow into a new society. Nothing else will suffice!
The only way out of this fantastic impasse is for everyone to face and accept the difficulties and sacrifices involved, in all their seriousness, in all their inexorable demands. This is what our society, based on a philosophy of every man for himself and on the rejection of altruism and sacrifice (except in their most schematic and imaginary forms) is not able to do. Yet it is something which it must learn to do. It cannot begin to learn unless it knows the need to learn. …
[The Negro] … has come to realize that the white man is less interested in the rights of the Negro than in the white man’s own spiritual and material comfort. If then, by making himself visible, the Negro can finally disturb the white man’s precious “peace of soul,” then by all means he would be a fool not to do so. …
It seems to me that we have little genuine interest in human liberty and in the human person. What we are interested in, on the contrary, is the unlimited freedom of the corporation. When we call ourselves the “free world” we mean first of all the world in which business is free. And the freedom of the person comes only after that, because in our eyes, the freedom of the person is dependent on money. That is to say, without money, freedom has no meaning. And therefore the most basic freedom of all is the freedom to make money. If you have nothing to buy or sell, freedom is, in your case, irrelevant. In other words, what we are really interested in is not persons, but profits. Our society is organized first and foremost with a view to business, and wherever we run into a choice between the rights of a human person and the advantage of a profit-making organization, the rights of the person will have difficulty getting a hearing. Profit first, people afterward.
Seeds of Destruction, pp. 9, 21, 23 (1964. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux) (emphasis in original shown by bold-face).
The invisible people should not be left to struggle alone. They should be “helped” in the struggle. Pope Francis has decided to cause cultural “disturbance” on their behalf. To this I say “Amen Papa, now please keep going and unite with others engaged in the struggle rather than standing apart.” The concept of “we” must be reexamined, something Jesus is written of as having done by telling the Good Samaritan story. We should support what really works best for everyone, regardless of privilege of birth, strength or weakness, sex, sexuality, race, ethnicity, or religion, not just the powerful and those who win their bread wars sufficient to enter the always imperiled middle class.
Maybe one day Pope Francis will publicly approve of loving “democratic socialism” by name. So far the political sensitivities of the Church and the ugly history of much of “actually existing socialism” have generally led the “s” word to be invoked within Catholic officialdom only disparagingly. In theory, the label is not what is most important. But this loses sight of the fact that “praxis,” discussed below, influences real developmental trends of situations. People of all backgrounds, not simply Catholics or Christians, need to be united in daring “to pay the dolorous price of change, to grow into a new society.” We must not be afraid to think the “s” word, but we need to redesign it to flexibly face reality, and most importantly, we must learn to require it to be democratic. This is something society “must learn to do. It cannot begin to learn unless it knows the need to learn.”
Peace and justice be with you.
Brother Francisco, in the Deep South of the U.S.
Part I. Introduction
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? [James 2:15-16 (NRSVCE).]
Listening in on organized Christianity one still hears a lot of talk about “going in peace” in some denominations, including my own (the Episcopal Church). As a Christian contemplative, I am all for this kind of talk. Life is not enjoyable without peace in one’s heart, and one should strive for peace in society as well. But each individual and society as a whole needs to strive for justice for all. Too often society is mostly about preserving privileges of the powerful and tolerating the pain of the weak and oppressed.
In looking at organized Christianity, and leaving aside parochial education, one sees some denominations rendering material mutual aid, primarily stop-gap or emergency assistance to idiosyncratically supply human needs. This is largely made possible indirectly by the government in the form of tax deductions but also helped by individual in-kind efforts in the form of volunteering of time and “non-tax deduction-focused” fund-raising efforts such as rummage sales. This is all well and good but leaves plenty of room for self-satisfaction, although I am not here to lecture about the sin of pride.
I am here to lecture in part about the hypocrisy of Christians opposing governmental efforts to fill the enormous gap between private “charity” and human needs. Volunteerism is inadequate, always has been, and short of utopian dreams, always will be. I will leave Christians to their pride, and don my socialist hat and say that sorry Christians, and all other religious groups as well, through your individual and combined efforts, you have failed to meet the vast majority of human needs on our planet. I am not saying it is your “fault,” I am just saying that is reality. You cannot expect me and socialists the world over to wait on the results of your next round of fund-raising much less your revival efforts.
The pessimist in me has to admit that Pope Francis’s “exhortation” is down deep and by definition a revival effort. Nothing is wrong with that. That is largely what the leaders of religions do. The optimist in me, while recognizing that the pessimist in me is probably correct, nevertheless sees great cultural value in what the Pope has done in his exhortation and even greater potential for what he realistically can do in its aftermath, which I will gradually try to make clear in this socialized reflection.
The Pope can try to build his religion and improve the stewardship of what he takes to be God’s creation at the same time. The perception that an innate harmony exists between evangelism and promoting social justice has a history and scholarship, not least within the Society of Jesus. But it is not a panacea, and the Pope will have his hands full at every juncture. The order from which Pope Francis came has been particularly adept at analyzing the role of structures in causing social injustice but not always clear about specific changes that are needed and still less clear about how these should be brought about. Jesuits who dare to get too specific and active have tended to get into trouble with the Catholic hierarchy, leaving the heavy lifting to laypersons, who sometimes are left twisting in the political wind with little meaningful Church support for justice. Meanwhile, poised against meaningful Catholic support for justice is capitalism working through an array of conservative Catholic power groups often casting themselves as the very essence of justice, usually tied to “pro-life” causes but also pointing to true acts of charity and sometimes even mouthing nice words about justice all the while knowledgeable that none of it will actually be implemented.
Achieving effective political “cooperation” to make adequate structural changes will never be just a religious problem. For those in need, excuses do not amount to anything. As a socialist, I do not accept as a matter of fate affairs down here on earth. However, combined with the fact that the world’s religions, including Christianity, have not brought about a good situation of cooperation down here on earth is the fact that none of its political or economic systems have done so either, leaving the powerful to dominate the mass of humanity. In frustration, the temptation sometimes has been to obtain and retain “control” at all costs, in order to not accept the failure to achieve “cooperation.”
How do we get out of this mess? Sorry, but I do not know. I do believe, however, that it will be important for the Church to have a credible united and democratic left with which to cooperate. As a socialist, I want to particularly admit that “socialism” as a functioning alternative to capitalism has largely not gotten its own house in order. It has not only sometimes imposed itself in an unnecessarily undemocratic manner but also bungled real opportunities that have been thrust upon it from humans desperate because of the failures of capitalism. Socialism’s failures have not been all about capitalist sabotage, and to the extent they are, socialism needs to be designed to take this predictable sabotage into account while retaining humaneness. Capitalist sabotage did not lead to Stalin and Mao. As it predominately has been applied, in its so-called “actually existing” or “real,” form (think Soviet Union), socialism has sometimes failed to work very well economically, although sometimes not as badly as its reactionary critics contend; and it has caused a great deal of alienation to rival and sometimes surpass capitalism, on occasion leading to mass injustice.
A common thread in these socialism failures had been lack of democracy and respect for human rights. Religions are not the only human institutions with “control” problems. Both Christianity and socialism may need to unlearn certain habits. Dissenters, doubters, and would-be innovators acting in good faith can be viewed as troubling and in need of crushing or as potential sources of constructive criticism. Not everyone who questions authority or conventional wisdom is a heretic or a reactionary. We do not all have to be true believers to be valuable to a cause. Skeptics can work just as hard and bleed and die for causes they only partly believe in just as much as zealots. Meanwhile, zealots manufacture a lot of stupid decisions and stay a lot of stupid courses. Stupidity is simply stupid, and systems that do not engineer good means for stupidity elimination are stupid. Moreover, even our outright reactionary opponents have human rights and on occasion can have some small valid points amongst their propaganda and viciousness. It is not good to spend much of a religious or political-economic system’s credibility and energy sorting out who is a loyal skeptic and who is a reactionary. Let their ideas be sorted out democratically for what they are worth.
If socialism is ever going to be an attractive economic system it will have to find a way to be democratic and respecting of human rights while preserving enough central control to assure everyone’s basic needs are met. Again, religions might take a clue in this area too. They especially need to come to an understanding of the left’s varied and profound history of dealing with “control.”
“Control” on the Left
It is this issue of “control” on the left that I want to present at the outset of this socialist reflection, because I think that it needs to be understood by many Christians of good will and probably some socialists too. Many socialists are to this day not undemocratic and disrespecting of human rights. Even many of those who tend toward authoritarianism may be convincible to become democratic and respecting of human rights. In essence, our political theories may evolve more than they have in the past because of the desire to get improved outcomes.
The historical slide of many socialists into authoritarianism can be rooted in Marx, but specifically to Marx’s profound outrage at a specific instance of major capitalist sabotage in France and to his almost as profound chastising of the left for in his mind allowing it to happen. Just when working men and women were arguably making socialism work in Paris in 1871, after a stupid failed war of distraction launched by the French government against Prussia, capitalism used the French military to crush it and slaughter thousands of Communards. Anarchists and communists are still arguing over whose model of socialism was vindicated in the running of the Paris Commune. It only lasted from March 18-May 28, 1871. It was not without injustices of its own against “counterrevolutionaries.” In its last days, three groups of priests, including the elderly Archbishop of Paris, were executed after the head of the French government refused to trade a captured socialist revolutionary, Auguste Blanqui.
The historical linkage of this critical event in the development of “authoritarian” socialism to the Church is particularly worthy of emphasis. The Paris Commune marked not only a clear point of association in the mind of the Church of socialism with brutality but also a slow process of the Church becoming engaged in examining the very real problems of capitalism. Socialism was at the forefront of social conversation across Europe and Russia throughout the 1870s. Six years after the Paris Commune Ivan Turgenev published Virgin Soil in which “the leading Russian novelist of the day” depicted not only a revolutionary path but also an alternative path to social improvement with emphasis on cooperatives, choices that society itself was facing:
[A] month after it was published fifty-two young men and women were arrested in Russia on charges of revolutionary conspiracy, and a shocked public in France, Britain, and America turned to the novel for enlightenment.
The next year, Leo XIII began his papacy:
The “social doctrine” or “social teaching of the Church … is a term applied to a body of doctrine which has built up progressively [beginning] in 1891, with the encyclical letter Rerum Novarum; though it might be that we should date its commencement from the beginning of Pope Leo XIII’s reign in 1878.
(Calvez, Jean-Yves and Jacques Perrin, 1961. The Church and Social Justice: The Social Teaching of the Popes from Leo XIII to Pius XII, 1878-1958, p. 1. Chicago, Ill.: Henry Regnery Co.).
In any event, the crushing of the Paris Commune left deep wounds in the socialist psyche, and Marx and later leaders on the authoritarian left were sure to make the point. Since then authoritarian leftists have never wanted to fall victim again to capitalists, and the governments they control often have in fact been attacked by capitalist sabotage, raising old and often legitimate fears. We see this in Venezuela today, which was subjected to a rightwing coup attempt which briefly deposed the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, whose government in turn engaged in some repression against the right. So far the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV, has continued in the end to submit itself to the outcome of democratic elections. Sometimes, however, as with Stalin and Mao, the dominant leader has used the principle of the perceived need for central control, and the ubiquitous fear of reactionaries, to concentrate his own power over the party apparatus by eliminating opposition within the party as a companion to eliminating opposition outside the party.
How specifically did this particularized tendency toward, or resignation to, authoritarianism as the norm get burned into the conscience of some, but by no means all, communists? I am not talking about merely instances of addressing colonial occupation or extreme economic or human circumstances where revolutionary action is a matter of logical morality, and human beings do not need the encouragement of Marx to realize what the circumstances require. For instance, even I, as a garden variety democratic socialist, believe that human beings have a right to eat that could justify revolutionary action (think Ireland during the Great Hunger of 1845-52). Even today, in some instances where politically-ordained justice will not be reasonably available to assure a fair distribution of food, such as places where land grabs are taking place, it is in some ways surprising that there is not more revolution. No doubt modern military weaponry in the hands of repressive nation states sometimes provide much of the answer, being a powerful disincentive to revolt even under horrible living situations. This certainly would explain why “the supreme leader” of “the Democratic” “People’s” Republic of Korea is in power.
I am also not talking about some of the mere “words” of Marx, at least unassociated with stark events on the ground. Marx’s earlier work, although voicing the necessity for revolution, are not, in my mind the main reason. It is true that in 1848 The Communist Manifesto addressed the need for “the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions”:
Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.
WORKINGMEN OF ALL COUNTRIE, UNITE!
Likewise, by 1852 when he wrote The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx had witnessed a repressive Napoleonic regime during his own day:
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Caussidière for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the Montagne of 1848 to 1851 for the Montagne of 1793 to 1795, the nephew for the uncle. And the same caricature occurs in the circumstances of the second edition of the Eighteenth Brumaire. …
[T]hus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul[.] …
Similarly, at another stage of development … Cromwell and the English people had borrowed from the Old Testament the speech, emotions, and illusions for their bourgeois revolution. When the real goal had been achieved and the bourgeois transformation of English society had been accomplished, Locke supplanted Habakkuk.
Marx also correctly described some of the very frustration we witness today among the liberal center, which is labeled as “socialist” for even the most anemic efforts at reform:
During the June days all classes and parties had united in the party of order against the proletarian class as the party of anarchy, of socialism, of communism. They had “saved” society from “the enemies of society.” They had given out the watchwords of the old society, “property, family, religion, order,” to their army as passwords and had proclaimed to the counter-revolutionary crusaders: “In this sign thou shalt conquer!” From that moment, as soon as one of the numerous parties which had gathered under this sign against the June insurgents seeks to hold the revolutionary battlefield in its own class interest, it goes down before the cry: “Property, family, religion, order.” Society is saved just as often as the circle of its rulers contracts, as a more exclusive interest is maintained against a wider one. Every demand of the simplest bourgeois financial reform, of the most ordinary liberalism, of the most formal republicanism, of the most shallow democracy, is simultaneously castigated as an “attempt on society” and branded as “socialism.” And, finally, the high priests of “religion and order” themselves are driven with kicks from their Pythian tripods, hauled out of their beds in the darkness of night, bundled into prison vans, thrown into dungeons or sent into exile; their temple is razed to the ground, their mouths are sealed, their pens broken, their law torn to pieces in the name of religion, of property, of the family, of order.
However, again, the traditional virtually automatic authoritarian tolerance among some, but by no means all, communists is rooted in much more than frustration of the type experienced by seriously disappointed humanitarians in political democracies. It is rooted rather in the totality of a world view that was expressed by Marx as “science,” complete with an actual living laboratory demonstration. The intense psychological association within much of the communist movement with the brutal rightwing crushing of the Paris Commune of 1871, and to put it even more precisely, Marx’s conclusion (see The Civil War in France) that the Commune should have been preemptive in destroying its opposition before it could go about the predictable business of crushing the Commune, is viewed as expressing a scientific reality.
To reject Marx’s conclusion then would be to be “unscientific,” and to in essence ordain injustice by omission of the repressive acts that might prevent the injustice. While one can readily see the danger in this thinking, in some ways it is not irrational, because I will not deny the reality of capitalist sabotage. I will not insult most authoritarian communists by comparing them to my former self as an indoctrinated fundamentalist, albeit with a thoroughly unscientific, religious background, where through my teen years I felt like a traitor for questioning the Bible’s creation story and Noah’s ark. Rather, they have willingly traded the false justice of political democracy for a version of socialism that in the end itself brings false justice to a large extent.
I dream of and work for a non-utopian pragmatic evolutionary socialism. Unlike an authoritarian enabler, I can allow myself to see that socialism needs democracy and human rights if it is to be worthy of the name, and in the long run, justice cannot be maintained without it. But let’s go back to the story. I am choosing illustrative events from books I happen to have that illustrate the progression by which authoritarianism manifested as a dominant socialist ideology.
In 1897, from New York , the Marxist radical syndicalist Daniel De Leon translated The Eighteen Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte into English. He had been born in Curaçao and was of mixed Sephardic Jewish-Dutch ancestry. De Leon supported the notion of a nonviolent revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and believed in democratic participation. However, it is clear that he was acutely uncomfortable with the outcomes of political democracy. He was a leader of the Socialist Labor Party of America, a radical alternative to Eugene Deb’s then Social Democratic Party. (Debs later established the Socialist Party of America.) In his Translator’s Preface, De Leon evidences both a distaste for the efforts of many on the left, and a confidence that French history as “scientifically” interpreted by Marx was pivotal to understanding what the workers in the U.S. needed:
The recent populist uprising; the more recent “Debs Movement”; the thousand and one utopian and chimerical notions that are flaring up; the capitalist manoeuvres; the hopeless, helpless grasping after straws, that characterize the conduct of the bulk of the working class; all of these, together with the empty-headed, ominous figures that are springing into notoriety for a time and have their day, mark the present period of the Labor Movement in the nation a critical one. The best information acquirable, the best mental training obtainable to steer through the existing chaos that the death-tainted social system of today creates all around us. …
[I]n all essentials the study of modern French history, particularly when sketched by such as master hand as Marx’, is the most valuable one for the acquisition of that historic, social and biologic insight that our country stands particularly in need of, and that will be inestimable during the approaching critical days.
(Third ed., 1913, pp. 5-6. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company.)
De Leon died in May 1914. The year before he died, the publisher noted in a new edition of De Leon’s translation, “The events of sixteen years have in many ways confirmed his forecast, and the spectacular figure of Theodore Roosevelt now offers a striking parallel to that of Napoleon the Little.” (Id.)
The same month De Leon died, so did Jacob A. Riis, the famous muckraking reformer and Roosevelt-boosting journalist and photographer. A Danish American immigrant, Riis had experienced hard times upon coming to the U.S. and eventually spearheaded some improvements to tenement conditions and in the lives of poor children. His 1901 autobiography, The Making of An American, has a touching story of his being aided by a Jesuit priest he happened to encounter as he roamed in off the streets of New York. Only a penny in his pocket, he had received no help from the Danish Consul and been cruelly treated by the members of high society and even by the driver of a milk-wagon:
I walked till the stars in the east began to pale, and then climbed into a wagon that stood at the curb to sleep. I did not notice that it was a milk-wagon. The sun had not risen yet when the driver came, unceremoniously dragged me out by the feet, and dumped me into the gutter. On I went with my gripsack, straight ahead, until toward noon I reached Fordham College, famished and footsore. I had eaten nothing since the previous day, and had vainly tried to make a bath in the Bronx River do for breakfast. Not yet could I cheat my stomach that way.
The college gates open, and I strolled wearily in, without aim or purpose. On a lawn some young men were engaged in athletic exercises, and I stopped to look and admire the beautiful shade trees and the imposing building. So at least it seems to me at this distance. An old monk in a cowl, who noble face I sometimes recall in my dreams, came over and asked kindly if I was not hungry. I was in all conscience fearfully hungry, and I said so, though I did not mean to., I had never seen a real live monk before, and my Lutheran training had not exactly inclined me in their favor. I ate of the food set before me, not without qualms of conscience, and with a secret suspicion that I would next be asked to abjure my faith, or at least do homage to the Virgin Mary, which I was firmly resolved not to do. But when, the meal finished, I was sent on my way without enough to do me for supper, without the least allusion have been made to my soul, I felt heartily ashamed of myself. I am just as good a Protestant as I ever was. Among my own I am kind of heretic even, because I cannot put up with the apostolic succession; but I have no quarrel with the excellent charities of the Roman Church, or with the noble spirit that animates them. I learned that lesson at Fordham thirty years ago.
(Harper Torchbook ed., 1966, pp. 52-53. New York: Harper & Row.)
He came to know New York slums well through his reporting. Here is a photograph from his 1899 book “A Ten Years’ War” (later renamed The Battle with the Slum) of sheds which were rented to the destitute for a dollar a month:
He took umbrage at one who suggested that he was delaying “the revolution” through his efforts and that slum conditions were not intolerable:
[I]n a batch of reviews of “A Ten Years’ War” which came yesterday from my publishers to me there is one which lays it all to “maudlin sensitiveness” on my part. “The slum,” says this writer, “is not at all so unspeakably vile,” and measures for relief based on my arraignment “must be necessarily abortive.” Every once in a while I am asked why I became a newspaper man. For one thing, because there were writers of such trash, who themselves comfortably lodged, have not red blood enough in their veins to feel for those to whom everything is denied, and not sense enough to make out the facts when they seem them, or they would not call playgrounds, schoolhouses, and better tenements “abortive measures.” Some one had to tell the facts; that is one reason why I became a reporter. And I am going to say one until the last of that ilk has ceased to discourage men from trying to help their fellows by the shortest cut they can find, whether it fits a theory or not. I don’t care two pins for all the social theories that were ever made unless they help to make better men and women by bettering their lot. I have had cranks of that order, who rated as sensitive beings in the ordinary affairs of life, tell me that I was doing harm rather than good by helping improve the lot of the poor; it delayed the final day of justice we were waiting for. Not I. I don’t propose to wait an hour for it, if I can bring it on; and I know I can.
There! I don’t believe I have read fifteen reviews of any of my books. Life it too short; but I am glad I did not miss that one. Those are the fellows for whom Roosevelt is not a good enough reformer; who chill the enthusiasm of mankind with a deadly chill, and miscall it method–science. The science of how not to do a thing–yes! They make me tired.
(The Making of An American, pp. 67-69; footnote omitted.) He did not, perhaps, give sufficient credit to the zeitgeist, which undoubtedly did include both revolutionary fervor and capitalist openness to some palliative measures intended to dissuade revolution. But he made many lives tangibly better through his work, and that is no small matter. Yet, in undemocratic Russia, the alternative, revolutionary point of view soon began to prevail which itself eventually ushered in a long period of repression in the name of humanity and science.
Lenin, who was buried in a flag from the Paris Commune, was not about to repeat “the mistakes” of the Paris Commune. Stalin took this controlling tendency to its extreme, creating a totalitarian state, complete with vicious internal purges and, among other things, the Spanish Civil War experience, discussed below, of George Orwell, who became an arch enemy of Stalinist totalitarianism while remaining dedicated to socialism in its democratic form. Mao did his version of Stalin in China. And the rest is bad sad history. Yet, even today, many sincere and highly intelligent people are keenly aware of Marx’s justifiable dismay at the destruction of the Paris Commune and have been convinced that undemocratic authoritarian socialism is not only excusable but necessary.
I am thankful for a pope who possibly can help us despite our warring and often hapless selves on the left. Blessed are the peacemakers who can heal the divisions among the justice-makers. Though Pope Francis undemocratically leads an undemocratic church, the left needs this justice-visualizing pope. By the same token, if he dares to achieve all but tokens of the justice he at least dares to visualize, the pope needs the left. But a woeful and divided left it is.
Again, however, these divisions were not with evil intent on the part of the would-be authoritarians. Much of the deep division on the left, which has led to so much failure, is ironically grounded in Marx’s laudable desire to avoid further dividing-and-conquering by the right, which would destroy the work for justice. Many on the left learned “The Lessons of the Paris Commune” too well, so well that the socialist left has been almost, but not quite, destroyed by their rigid devotion to these lessons. Marx saw the brutal defeating of the Paris Commune and determined that central revolutionary control was necessary, and his view became manifest in 1917:
“The Commune lives again!
In October, 1917, forty-six years after the Paris Commune, the workers of Russia under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, with Lenin at its head, established the first workers’ state rooted in permanence. These Russian Communards directed from Smolny by Lenin–troops of workers from the factories, the Aurora steaming up the Neva, and the soldiers and sailors who joined the Proletarian Revolution–defeated the bourgeois government under the slogan: ‘All Power to the Soviets.’
‘The Paris Commune,’ said Lenin, ‘was the first step.’ The Socialist Society now being built in the Soviet Union is the beginning of the workers’ march to a World Proletarian Commune.”
The outgrowth was intense emphasis on party discipline, which ultimately led to environments that could give the world Stalin and Mao.
At this point, I want to drop in some information about and perspectives of the democratic socialist anti-totalitarian George Orwell. He wanted to do the right thing, as do all or most of us on the left, but we get caught up into divisions whether we like it or not. To learn about his side, my side, our side, the dysfunctional side of justice in the Spanish Civil War, please read Chapter Five of Homage to Catalonia. Here is a wonderful passage revealing what it is like for a well-meaning socialist to drop into the middle of a Stalinist-communist/Trotskyite-communist/Anarchist family feud:
The revolutionary atmosphere of Barcelona had attracted me deeply, but I had made no attempt to understand it. As for the kaleidoscope of political parties and trade unions, with their tiresome names — P.S.U.C., P.O.U.M., F.A.I., C.N.T., U.G.T., J.C.I., J.S.U., A.I.T. — they merely exasperated me. It looked at first sight as though Spain were suffering from a plague of initials. I knew that I was serving in something called the P.O.U.M. (I had only joined the P.O.U.M. militia rather than any other because I happened to arrive in Barcelona with I.L.P. papers), but I did not realize that there were serious differences between the political parties. At Monte Pocero, when they pointed to the position on our left and said: ‘Those are the Socialists’ (meaning the P.S.U.C.), I was puzzled and said: ‘Aren’t we all Socialists?’ I thought it idiotic that people fighting for their lives should have separate parties; my attitude always was, ‘Why can’t we drop all this political nonsense and get on with the war?’ … [E]veryone, however unwillingly, took sides sooner or later. For even if one cared nothing for the political parties and their conflicting ‘lines’, it was too obvious that one’s own destiny was involved. As a militiaman one was a soldier against Franco, but one was also a pawn in an enormous struggle that was being fought out between two political theories. When I scrounged for firewood on the mountainside and wondered whether this was really a war or whether the News Chronicle had made it up, when I dodged the Communist machine-guns in the Barcelona riots, when I finally fled from Spain with the police one jump behind me — all these things happened to me in that particular way because I was serving in the P.O.U.M. militia and not in the P.S.U.C. So great is the difference between two sets of initials!
As with the Paris Commune, once again the Church was aligned with the forces of rightwing oppression, but once again some of the good guys behaved at times very badly toward the Church:
To understand the alignment on the Government side one has got to remember how the war started. When the fighting broke out on 18 July it is probable that every anti-Fascist in Europe felt a thrill of hope. For here at last, apparently, was democracy standing up to Fascism. For years past the so-called democratic countries had been surrendering to Fascism at every step. The Japanese had been allowed to do as they liked in Manchuria. Hitler had walked into power and proceeded to massacre political opponents of all shades. Mussolini had bombed the Abyssinians while fifty-three nations (I think it was fifty-three) made pious noises ‘off’. But when Franco tried to overthrow a mildly Left-wing Government the Spanish people, against all expectation, had risen against him. It seemed — possibly it was — the turning of the tide.
But there were several points that escaped general notice. To begin with, Franco was not strictly comparable with Hitler or Mussolini. His rising was a military mutiny backed up by the aristocracy and the Church, and in the main, especially at the beginning, it was an attempt not so much to impose Fascism as to restore feudalism. This meant that Franco had against him not only the working class but also various sections of the liberal bourgeoisie — the very people who are the supporters of Fascism when it appears in a more modern form. More important than this was the fact that the Spanish working class did not, as we might conceivably do in England, resist Franco in the name of ‘democracy’ and the status quo’, their resistance was accompanied by — one might almost say it consisted of — a definite revolutionary outbreak. Land was seized by the peasants; many factories and most of the transport were seized by the trade unions; churches were wrecked and the priests driven out or killed. The Daily Mail, amid the cheers of the Catholic clergy, was able to represent Franco as a patriot delivering his country from hordes of fiendish ‘Reds’.
Who cannot empathize with his bewilderment? Great is our devastation to learn that even the good side is horribly split. Although the group he came with from the U.K. was aligned with the Trotskyites, Orwell ended up enjoying the company of the Anarchists the most, while having appreciation for the thousands of rank-and-file Stalinists who lost their lives fighting fascism:
The Communists had gained power and a vast increase of membership partly by appealing to the middle classes against the revolutionaries, but partly also because they were the only people who looked capable of winning the war. The Russian arms and the magnificent defence of Madrid by troops mainly under Communist control had made the Communists the heroes of Spain. As someone put it, every Russian aeroplane that flew over our heads was Communist propaganda. The revolutionary purism of the P.O.U.M., though I saw its logic, seemed to me rather futile. After all, the one thing that mattered was to win the war. …
I had left Barcelona in early January and I did not go on leave till late April; and all this time — indeed, till later — in the strip of Aragon controlled by Anarchist and P.O.U.M. troops, the same conditions persisted, at least outwardly. The revolutionary atmosphere remained as I had first known it. General and private, peasant and militiaman, still met as equals; everyone drew the same pay, wore the same clothes, ate the same food, and called everyone else ‘thou’ and ‘comrade’; there was no boss-class, no menial-class, no beggars, no prostitutes, no lawyers, no priests, no boot-licking, no cap-touching. I was breathing the air of equality, and I was simple enough to imagine that it existed all over Spain. I did not realize that more or less by chance I was isolated among the most revolutionary section of the Spanish working class.
So, when my more politically educated comrades told me that one could not take a purely military attitude towards the war, and that the choice lay between revolution and Fascism, I was inclined to laugh at them. On the whole I accepted the Communist viewpoint, which boiled down to saying: ‘We can’t talk of revolution till we’ve won the war’, and not the P.O.U.M. viewpoint, which boiled down to saying: ‘We must go forward or we shall go back.’ When later on I decided that the P.O.U.M. were right, or at any rate righter than the Communists, it was not altogether upon a point of theory. On paper the Communist case was a good one; the trouble was that their actual behaviour made it difficult to believe that they were advancing it in good faith. The often-repeated slogan: ‘The war first and the revolution afterwards’, though devoutly believed in by the average P.S.U.C. militiaman, who honestly thought that the revolution could continue when the war had been won, was eyewash. The thing for which the Communists were working was not to postpone the Spanish revolution till a more suitable time, but to make sure that it never happened. This became more and more obvious as time went on, as power was twisted more and more out of working-class hands, and as more and more revolutionaries of every shade were flung into jail. Every move was made in the name of military necessity, because this pretext was, so to speak, ready-made, but the effect was to drive the workers back from an advantageous position and into a position in which, when the war was over, they would find it impossible to resist the reintroduction of capitalism. Please notice that I am saying nothing against the rank-and-file Communists, least of all against the thousands of Communists who died heroically round Madrid. But those were not the men who were directing party policy. As for the people higher up, it is inconceivable that they were not acting with their eyes open.
But, finally, the war was worth winning even if the revolution was lost. And in the end I came to doubt whether, in the long run, the Communist policy made for victory. Very few people seem to have reflected that a different policy might be appropriate at different periods of the war. The Anarchists probably saved the situation in the first two months, but they were incapable of organizing resistance beyond a certain point; the Communists probably saved the situation in October-December, but to win the war outright was a different matter. In England the Communist war-policy has been accepted without question, because very few criticisms of it have been allowed to get into print and because its general line — do away with revolutionary chaos, speed up production, militarize the army — sounds realistic and efficient. It is worth pointing out its inherent weakness.
In order to check every revolutionary tendency and make the war as much like an ordinary war as possible, it became necessary to throw away the strategic opportunities that actually existed. I have described how we were armed, or not armed, on the Aragon front. There is very little doubt that arms were deliberately withheld lest too many of them should get into the hands of the Anarchists, who would afterwards use them for a revolutionary purpose; consequently the big Aragon offensive which would have made Franco draw back from Bilbao, and possibly from Madrid, never happened. But this was comparatively a small matter. What was more important was that once the war had been narrowed down to a ‘war for democracy’ it became impossible to make any large-scale appeal for working-class aid abroad. If we face facts we must admit that the working class of the world has regarded the Spanish war with detachment.
The working class in the 1930s was not too keen on dying for political democracy as they knew it, which often fails to deliver justice. On the other hand, democracy, while sometimes inefficient in the short run, is vital in the long run. In matters of God and matters of justice, schisms occur not just within Christianity and other religions that should be doing the work of a God of justice, but also within the left that is supposed to be working pragmatically for justice without or without notions of “God.” It is sad that schisms occur, but sometimes the efforts to prevent them create injustices of their own. Historically, the Church sometimes viciously has tried to defeat the schisms in Christianity, and the Communist Party sometimes viciously has tried to defeat the schisms on the left. Somewhere in all the worthwhile desire to avoid schism, message discipline, excommunication, and repression become the dominant unspoken credos.
Leaders like Orwell and Pope Francis can put the focus back on the truth and on truly helping people. Even in the midst of chaos, clarity of possibilities may occur. Unlike Marx, Orwell’s take away from the slaughter of socialists was not to mandate authoritarianism. Orwell had a profound experience of “socialism” for a few months on the front lines while fighting in a war. Although his experience was remarkably similar to the experience of many of the slain Communards whom Marx had written about in his justification for authoritarianism, Orwell’s desire was for social decency in the short term as well as at some idealized future point:
The workers’ militias, based on the trade unions and each composed of people of approximately the same political opinions, had the effect of canalizing into one place all the most revolutionary sentiment in the country. I had dropped more or less by chance into the only community of any size in Western Europe where political consciousness and disbelief in capitalism were more normal than their opposites. Up here in Aragon one was among tens of thousands of people, mainly though not entirely of working-class origin, all living at the same level and mingling on terms of equality. In theory it was perfect equality, and even in practice it was not far from it. There is a sense in which it would be true to say that one was experiencing a foretaste of Socialism, by which I mean that the prevailing mental atmosphere was that of Socialism. Many of the normal motives of civilized life — snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc. — had simply ceased to exist. The ordinary class-division of society had disappeared to an extent that is almost unthinkable in the money — tainted air of England; there was no one there except the peasants and ourselves, and no one owned anyone else as his master. Of course such a state of affairs could not last. It was simply a temporary and local phase in an enormous game that is being played over the whole surface of the earth. But it lasted long enough to have its effect upon anyone who experienced it. However much one cursed at the time, one realized afterwards that one had been in contact with something strange and valuable. One had been in a community where hope was more normal than apathy or cynicism, where the word ‘comrade’ stood for comradeship and not, as in most countries, for humbug. One had breathed the air of equality. I am well aware that it is now the fashion to deny that Socialism has anything to do with equality. In every country in the world a huge tribe of party-hacks and sleek little professors are busy ‘proving’ that Socialism means no more than a planned state-capitalism with the grab-motive left intact. But fortunately there also exists a vision of Socialism quite different from this. The thing that attracts ordinary men to Socialism and makes them willing to risk their skins for it, the ‘mystique’ of Socialism, is the idea of equality; to the vast majority of people Socialism means a classless society, or it means nothing at all. And it was here that those few months in the militia were valuable to me. For the Spanish militias, while they lasted, were a sort of microcosm of a classless society. In that community where no one was on the make, where there was a shortage of everything but no privilege and no boot-licking, one got, perhaps, a crude forecast of what the opening stages of Socialism might be like. And, after all, instead of disillusioning me it deeply attracted me. The effect was to make my desire to see Socialism established much more actual than it had been before. Partly, perhaps, this was due to the good luck of being among Spaniards, who, with their innate decency and their ever-present Anarchist tinge, would make even the opening stages of Socialism tolerable if they had the chance.
Where Does This Bring Us? Hopefully to the Same Place It Brought Orwell.
Eventually Orwell was shot through the throat by a fascist sniper. (Id. at Ch. 12.). Even then, he had to endure Stalinist communist harassment, including malicious labeling as a fascist even though he had given his blood fighting fascism. He had made the choice to oppose totalitarianism, with its purges and the like, as well as support democratic socialism. A few years later, when the fascists were threatening his own nation state, he observed, “The lady in the Rolls-Royce car is more damaging to morale than a fleet of Goering’s bombing planes.” Rejecting dogma that did not apply to the conditions observed in reality, he made concrete proposals for dramatically increasing economic equality and ensuring meaningful political participation by all, including, using the language of his day, “the coloured peoples”:
A Socialist Party which genuinely wished to achieve anything would have started by facing several facts which to this day are considered unmentionable in left-wing circles. It would have recognized that England is more united than most countries, that the British workers have a great deal to lose besides their chains, and that the differences in outlook and habits between class and class are rapidly diminishing. In general, it would have recognized that the old-fashioned ‘proletarian revolution’ is an impossibility. But all through the between-war years no Socialist programme that was both revolutionary and workable ever appeared; basically, no doubt, because no one genuinely wanted any major change to happen. …
[A] Socialist movement which can swing the mass of the people behind it, drive the pro-Fascists out of positions of control, wipe out the grosser injustices and let the working class see that they have something to fight for, win over the middle classes instead of antagonizing them, produce a workable imperial policy instead of a mixture of humbug and Utopianism, bring patriotism and intelligence into partnership – for the first time, a movement of such a kind becomes possible. …
[I] suggest that the following six-point programme is the kind of thing we need. The first three points deal with England’s internal policy, the other three with the Empire and the world:
- Nationalization of land, mines, railways, banks and major industries.
- Limitation of incomes, on such a scale that the highest tax-free income in Britain does not exceed the lowest by more than ten to one.
- Reform of the educational system along democratic lines.
- Immediate Dominion status for India, with power to secede when the war is over.
- Formation of an Imperial General Council, in which the coloured peoples are to be represented.
- Declaration of formal alliance with China, Abyssinia and all other victims of the Fascist powers.
What I take from this is that, by the time the blood was bubbling out of the mouth of George Orwell né Eric Arthur Blair, he had realized that he was a human like any other, which is to say, worth no less and no more than any other, that life is precious and should not be wasted on untruth, and that he would have the same for all others if it were within his power.
From whence cometh Pope Francis’s exhortation?
After all is said and done, humans down here on earth can either work together to make the best of things, even if making the best of things is inconsistent with the desires and scapegoating of the powerful, or not. This reflection is about possible influences on the Pope’s wanting to make the best of things down here on earth, including the possible impact of a deceased priest now largely forgotten outside Jesuit circles, and the possible impact of these influences on future praxis by the Pope and his potential allies in the quest for economic justice.
I would be remiss if I did not first point out the possible influence of the Pope. For it is because his moral authority is enormous that it is important to discern something about the nature of his beliefs. Whether his moral authority is more likely to be intended to be used for reactionary or progressive purposes as it concerns economic issues would not matter as much if he were the leader of a demographically or geographically isolated subculture. Hence, the magnitude of his influence is worth briefly examining at the outset.
As a globally-minded democratic socialist, I could not hope for a more influential potential ally than Pope Francis, or fear a greater potential agent of frustration, confusion, and disappointment, if not reaction. Moral suasion matters a great deal, not only within nation states but also in a world that is not united politically. The Pope’s office is not subject to term limits beyond those of body and spirit, and his territory is worldwide, wherever the faithful, and those allowed by the Vatican to be in “communion” with them, lives.
I choose not to dwell on the negative. This includes the fact that Roman Catholics are allowed to take communion in my church (the Episcopal Church, which somehow sins by providing equality to women and gays), but I am not allowed to take communion in theirs, which is kind of un-Christian, but I will put that to the side in the interest of socialism. Whether all of Christianity or just the Pope’s denomination expands or contracts, however long his papacy will be, humanity does not have time for dithering or infighting by those who should know better. If Pope Francis wants to help and not to judge, he can be of great assistance to humanity. If he is more interested in filling empty pews and sustaining the Vatican budget than filling empty stomachs and sustaining our world until an asteroid or the Sun determines otherwise, which I do not think is the case, we will still accept his nice words of comfort to the weak, because we are either weak ourselves or trying to be friends to the weak. We will do our best with or without him, and some of us may forgive “[t]he hopeless sinner, [W]ho has hurt all mankind just to save his own beliefs”:
I am grateful, and I will admit joyful, to be in even cautious partial solidarity with Pope Francis and through him the Roman Catholic Church (hereafter “the Church”). The Church itself is huge:
Over the past century, the number of Catholics around the globe has more than tripled, from an estimated 291 million in 1910 to nearly 1.1 billion as of 2010, according to a comprehensive demographic study by the Pew Research Center.
But over the same period, the world’s overall population also has risen rapidly. As a result, Catholics have made up a remarkably stable share of all people on Earth. In 1910, Catholics comprised about half (48%) of all Christians and 17% of the world’s total population, according to historical estimates from the World Christian Database. A century later, the Pew Research study found, Catholics still comprise about half (50%) of Christians worldwide and 16% of the total global population.
What has changed substantially over the past century is the geographic distribution of the world’s Catholics. In 1910, Europe was home to about two-thirds of all Catholics, and nearly nine-in-ten lived either in Europe (65%) or Latin America (24%). By 2010, by contrast, only about a quarter of all Catholics (24%) were in Europe. The largest share (39%) were in Latin America and the Caribbean.
(Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project.) And the Pope’s influence far surpasses that of this population. Although papal influence has been decreasing for a long time, traditional means of influence are now supplemented to such a degree that Pope Francis is the world’s most influential leader in social media.
Since “Saint Ronald,” papal influence in the U.S. has been used to great effect on behalf of the Republican Party, just as Comunione e Liberazione, an Italian Catholic organization then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio befriended, helped Silvio Berlusconi bless Italy with his leadership. I seem to recall Karl Marx and an Italian communist by the name of Antonio Gramsci touching on this kind of wicked symbiosis. My extended family in the Canary Islands remembers a goon by the name of Francisco Franco, who is still known by some on the extreme right as a “Roman Catholic Hero,”and who said in 1938:
Spaniards have a duty to remember that Christian charity is boundless for the deluded and the repentant but they must observe the dictates of prudence and not allow the infiltration of the recalcitrant enemies of Spain. Those proceeding from a politically infested area must undergo quarantine to avoid the contamination of the community.
The Reds who pursued these treacherous tactics in the Nationalist rear, in attempting to destroy our unity, will continue these tactics after the war, when our vigilance and our care for the purity of our creed must increase. The Nationalist movement has ousted the old political intrigues and is guiding the nation to greatness and prosperity.
Spain was great when she had a State Executive with a missionary character. Her ideals decayed when a serious leader was replaced by assemblies of irresponsible men, adopting foreign thought and manners. The nation needs unity to face modern problems, particularly in Spain after the severest trial of her history.
Separatism and class war must be abolished and justice and education must be imposed. The new leaders must be characterized by austerity, morality, and industry.
Spaniards must adopt the military and religious virtues of discipline and austerity. All elements of discord must be removed.
That kind of “Christian charity,” and that kind of Francisco (and Spaniard), has been around for a long time.
In light of Pope Francis’s loving words since he became head of the Church, which I believe are intended to, and I hope will, have the polar oppose effect of the Generalisimo’s, the powerful and their mercenaries now scurry to find plan B. But I and the other friends of the weak need to have a plan B too. Right now, we don’t even have a Plan A. The more sophisticated rightwing analysts are mindful of the need to coopt the Church’s social doctrine back to a pleasing reactionary bent. Thus, Ross Douthat thrusts forward a questionable “talking point” interpretation of Church doctrine, complete with a term new to many (“subsidiarity”):
[C]atholic social teaching, properly understood, emphasizes both solidarity and subsidiarity — that is, a small-c conservative preference for local efforts over national ones, voluntarism over bureaucracy.
Mr. Douthat no doubt realizes that most of the left will be too unversed in this doctrine, too repelled by the Church’s attitude toward women and gays, or maybe even too celebratory to bother retorting him with a more accurate interpretation.
The left certainly should not be resting on its newfound papal laurels. It would be a shame if at least some on the left would not learn how to rebut the conservative spin using the Church’s own language. Pope Francis’s exhortation is a game-changer, but it awaits fruition and even a determined humane Pope cannot do it alone. The Exhortation can easily be deflected and redirected to dithering or worse in civil and political societies if the Pope has few allies on the left who know this language and are willing to examine its history and subtleties.
Just as for a time Keynesian economists were triumphant and thought classical economists were dead, laughable, and dishonest, only to find that classical economists had waged a two-headed comeback called libertarianism and free market neoliberalism, so also the Church easily can be used once again to do what Marx and Gramsci predicted: help to make sure the powerful get what they want.
Moreover, because the left desperately needs to improve its own “praxis” (to use the fancy term Gramsci preferred) anyway, not to mention to develop an improved positive agenda that accounts for the failings of “actually-existing socialism,” we might “actually” learn a lot by dialoguing with open-minded members of the Catholic community about some of the Pope’s ideas and even those of his predecessors going back to the late nineteenth century. Some of the Church’s notions that a Douthat could misuse to benefit the anti-social Nozickian status quo may have social value in the stubbornly non-privileged world where most of the human population lives. If they can be properly interpreted and applied some may fit within a realistic and compassionate socialized world. While we cannot afford to fixate on the Church’s ideas any more than we can afford to fixate on Marx, we have a lot to learn ourselves–and we do need allies.
Culture matters, but not in the way suggested by conservatives. To use another favorite Gramscian term, the Church has often played a pronounced negative role in “cultural hegemony.” Culture should not be about the invisible outcast needing to conform, either by tolerating the oppression or adopting the couture of the ruling class. Culture should not be a weapon used for deflecting from the material needs of the weak and outcast by pointing to their boot-straps that need pulling. Pope Francis appears to be willing to shift the cultural hegemonic force of the Church from buttressing the global capitalist system preferred by the powerful, which he has now strongly condemned, to constructing a humane alliance with all persons of good will, with special attention to the needs of the poor.
Cultural hegemony is always at work around us, usually at the behest of the powerful. All too often the Church has been in partnership with capitalism–and because it relies upon private “charitable” contributions for its own funding, let’s not deceive ourselves–it still is and will be for the foreseeable. As much as the Church talks about the widow’s mites, the large tax-deductible checks placed by capitalists in collection plates will always tend to have a corrupting influence on the Church in the same way campaign donations of the wealthy corrupt politicians. I am not trying to disparage the Church or its legitimate need for money. I am a preacher’s kid myself, and I know we were one step above poverty the whole time I grew up. However, it is easy enough for a pope to touch the base of “charity” (as Pope Benedict XVI did in CARITAS IN VERITATE, “Love in Truth”) without making the capitalists the least bit nervous in terms of the system they impose upon humanity. If they have to the powerful will try to destroy Pope Francis just as they, through sins of commission and omission, willingly cause or suffer the suffering of the powerless every day.
At least for now Pope Francis aims to change the Church and through it the world in a positive way, and he has my hand of friendship in this endeavor. This friendship must, however, be critically honest and authentic. As discussed below, the Church makes a distinction between what the priests and other religious can do and what the laypeople can do. It generally leaves strenuously pushing political causes to laypeople, except, that is, over the last few decades for “moral issues” affecting reproduction and sexuality. When the going gets controversial from the vantage point of the powerful, the clergy may not be found. The poor and disadvantaged may have prayers and handouts but little in the way of true solidarity from the Church to change the very structures that cause the poor and disadvantaged to remain in need of charity.
Of course, this is not just a weakness of “the Church” but also a weakness of all or most denominations and religions. Again, I am by no means casting stones at the Roman Catholic Church about its legitimate need for money much less its works of charity. The Church, through its social services, is by and large marvelous in directly providing mutual aid to the hungry, thirsty, and abused–but it does virtually nothing to fight the economic structures and the framework, i.e., system, where those structures work their capitalist magic, i.e., profit-making. I believe that Pope Francis will do a good job about cutting back on priestly wastes of money on luxuries, but that is not my problem, and I am not at all sure the Church under Pope Francis’s leadership will do right by the victims of sex abuse. If I were going to cast stones about money grubbing and mismanagement and sometimes lack of meaningful direct charity work in my own country, the U.S., I would have to include many protestant fundamentalist churches at the top of the list. Whether the source of fundamentalism is the “inerrant Bible” or the “inerrant Church,” the persons in the pulpits are usually less fearful of God’s judgment than of not making payroll. In addition, although the mainline protestant churches, the descendants of the churches of the middlemen of An Gorta Mor, lost a large chunk of their memberships when they refused to completely pander to the powerful and the bigoted, they are hardly beacons of speaking truth to power to the extent they still have the lights on.
Hearing nothing but what the powerful want them to hear, the churched are unreliable at best in terms of economic justice. Yet, despite their unreliability, without religious people the people’s causes will not be able to win majority support in most instances. And I still personally am empowered by faith and lessons about Jesus I learned long ago in one of those very protestant fundamentalist churches. I personally do not want to see the enriching concepts of Christianity lost from the human heart and mind. I certainly know from whence I came to the extent the seed was planted that “God is love.”
In my Homage and Scorn, I outed myself as coming from a protestant fundamentalist background and quoted from the King James Version (Psalm 121:1-2, to be exact). But as much as that book, wielded with “sword drills,” fire and brimstone, and flag waving, confused and even harmed me growing up, it also planted seeds of loving liberation. Another version of it apparently planted seeds of loving liberation in Pope Francis as a young person, perhaps after confusing and even harming him some too. Whatever our backgrounds, including sacred texts, if any, we should be able to participate in acts of muckraking truth and reconciliation and not merely heavy breathing about spirituality. Seeds of social justice long ago buried at some point need to come up or they are no longer enough going to provide anything for people to live on. That is the case with the world’s poor, whom our church has let down for much of its existence. It has too often ignored parts of the Bible about giving justice to the poor in favor of servile groveling to the wealthy. Pope Francis seemingly wants to mend the Church’s way in this regard.
Before I get to that, I want to note that with respect to well over half the world’s population, i.e., women, their medical providers, and responsible men who would not be fathers, the Pope has shown zero prospect for the Church to reconcile. While I can now potentially be the Church’s ally in the battle for justice for the poor, it is far from being my ally on women’s rights (and only marginally showing some potential for improvement with respect to issues of human sexuality). When responsible or merely desperate women go to their medical providers for tangible “help,” the Church remains a pompous reactionary force bent on dreaming up ways and means to deny women services they deem they need. According to the Church, even a condom is sinful, and even the morning-after pill causes abortion, but all spontaneous abortions are mysteriously caused by God and therefore fine.
This is at a minimum not science but “religion,” and more accurately paleoconservative religious rigidity. It seeks no dialogue about circumstances and depending on the issue has no or very little resemblance to the scriptures, which are capable of interpretation in varying ways. It would be merely Pythonesque if it were not so tragic. I realize that the immediately-preceding video is insulting and probably non-productive for purposes of my building an alliance with some conservative Catholics, and maybe some moderate or liberal ones too, but the absurdity of the Church’s position on birth control has to be acknowledged. Because Pope Francis is concerned about youth and young married people turning away from the Church he should consider how the Church sticks its head in the sand about how women and men can prevent unplanned pregnancies using modern medical science, and then tries to stick its nose where it does not belong when women deal with the consequences. Although he preaches intolerance toward rights to reproductive freedom somewhat half-heartedly, he still does it, all while evidencing elsewhere [221 and 231] cognizance of the “constant tensions present in every social reality” and that “realities are greater than ideas”–every reality that is other than pregnancy. Church critics relating to abortion are not unfairly typecasting the Church as “ideological, obscurantist and conservative” ; they are asking for women to be able to make their own choices about issues involving their own bodies that are endlessly debatable and often tortuous to the people involved because of their complexity. The Church’s credibility on the issue is particularly low because the Church does so little to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies based on positions that are plainly to most of its own membership ideological, obscurantist and conservative.
To the delight of the powerful, Pope Francis has still allowed every reactionary priest, politician, and pundit a rallying cry on the complex issue of “life” that will substantially negate the democratic effect of his noble position on the poor (overlooking that family planning is a major economic issue). Much more important than his language choice on one issue or the other is the effect his overall language choices will have, which is too bad, because the Pope’s position in regard to the poor is indeed noble, and highly courageous too. It provides leadership the world desperately needs. Pope Francis, by seeking to spread the good news, may nevertheless wind up doing some “charitable” things to materially (and a believer would say, spiritually) benefit many of the poor, but he could do much more if he used his moral authority to reconcile the Church with women while he was taking on poverty.
I am sure that he would excuse my Bible translation choice (KJV by birth and above, while generally now NRSV by choice), but the Church excludes me from communion because I believe in equal rights for women (and gay people) in my own church (small “c”) and in the world. Nothing is lost in translation with respect to women’s lack of rights to equality in the Church and their lack of entitlement to equal medical care in their doctor’s offices. Shame on the Church. The Church is not even looking to enforce its religion only with respect to certain late term abortion cases, as to which reasonable minds could sometimes differ as to the morality of the situation. Rather the Church if it had its way would ban all abortions all of the time and all artificial means to prevent pregnancy all of the time. As far as the Church is concerned, women can wait, or ideally should give up waiting. Pope Francis apparently will play the role of smiling Khrushchev and the Church will continue to be the Soviet Union of actually existing male-determined fundamentalist obstetrics, gynecology, and theology.
In the ugly complex scheme of things, as a democratic socialist I still want to find a way to work with the Church on the issues on which we agree. I AM DEEPLY BUT CAUTIOUSLY GRATEFUL FOR POPE FRANCIS’S MORAL LEADERSHIP ON ECONOMIC ISSUES. For, put simply, he has singlehandedly, as only a pope can do, used the world’s largest bully pulpit to reject the Nozickian worldview. Bravo. He has put the right’s main talking point up for worldly ridicule, pointed at it, leered at it, and called it SIN, so he is being called a Marxist (which in my mind is not an insult).
Wherever we are in life, we should do our best as species-beings. I think I am. The three deceased Roman Catholic priests, discussed below, to whom I have dedicated this reflection did that with their lives within the Church. The Baptist Jimmy Carter is still doing that. I think in his own heart and mind Pope Francis is doing that. But he is only willing to go so far. In contrast, President Carter, while not a member of the clergy, has been willing to carry things out to their more logical extension religiously, even to the point of leaving our shared childhood denomination to help found the New Baptist Covenant. While the Pope will brook no compromise on women’s rights, and that is a moral tragedy rather than a vindication, I think that he has made an intra-Church political calculation and is moving forward the best way he thinks he can, which is to do as much good as possible without causing a conservative Catholic walkout by moderating Church policy even about birth control.
I am glad that he is at least doing as much as he is doing, which is potentially a lot. As President Carter wrote in 1997 (In Take a Chance, from Sources of Strength. Time Books.):
Before we know it, the time for sowing will be gone. So if we wait for perfection in our lives, for exactly the right moment, then we may never act!
The Pope has presented all people of good will with a unique opportunity to follow his courageous outspoken example and come together democratically to create a materially moral world. And I do mean “materially” moral. I do not believe that “the help” that “cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth,” was intended by the Psalmist to take place only in a hoped-for afterlife. The Pope obviously agrees with respect to the poor and even to recognize that global system change from capitalism will be necessary to make the dream a reality, unlike the neoliberals of this world who dream of putting a little charitable lipstick on the pig. Unlike his tone-deaf and sometimes belligerent predecessor, he seems to want to reflect more of the attitude of a post-Holocaust Christian who can see the Church’s worldly failings and not simply profess to feel its spiritual yearnings :
Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.
The starving Jewish saints who prayed the words of the Psalms in concentration camps needed more than just spiritual liberation as they were marched at gunpoint to the gas chambers. (“Although the Catholic Church was persecuted in the Third Reich, Catholics as a group were not officially targeted by the Nazis merely for practicing the Catholic faith.“) The starving Catholic saints of An Gorta Mor could have used the food on the thirty to fifty shiploads per day of food produce exported from Ireland in the famine, just like the victims of the modern day land grabs could use the food grown on their fields.
Why is it, in potential solidarity with socialists, that Pope Francis seems to understand that “help” does not only “cometh from the Lord” but also must come from human beings working together on earth in an economic system realistically capable of bringing justice? And why is it that the Pope, in potential solidarity with socialists, believes that “justice” involves the distribution of the earth’s resources? This reflection will below examine these questions and their possible importance.
This examination will be primarily extra-biblical in nature. If you want my Christian contemplative’s sermonette on liberation theology, with some of the many pertinent Bible verses, please read A Winding Path to Workers’ Gardens/Un camino de bobina a jardines de trabajadores, where you will get to learn about soil science too, and a bunch of other stuff that has influenced my garden variety democratic socialism.
Part II. Contextual Analysis
Before I present a two-part approach to understand possible influences on Pope Francis and their praxis implications, I want to discuss a bit more about the Pope’s overall persona. Jorge Mario Bergoglio seems to be a highly intelligent and competent, cautious but potentially “prophetic” Jesuit servant-priest. During a lifetime in the Church he was savvy enough to walk a fine line between being too conservative and too moderate, allowing him, post-Benedict XVI in a time of great Church turbulence, to be selected pope as a healer of divisions, yet deeply spiritual so that his walk retained genuineness and his potential prophetic ability has not been squandered.
His history before becoming Pope of rejecting “liberation theology” or an unmooring of Church social doctrine meant not only that he could become Pope but also that he did so without analogously lofty expectations of a President Obama in the secular political arena:
Born in Buenos Aires in 1936, Bergoglio’s father was an Italian immigrant and railway worker from the region around Turin, and he has four brothers and sisters. His original plan was to be a chemist, but in 1958 he instead entered the Society of Jesus and began studies for the priesthood. He spent much of his early career teaching literature, psychology and philosophy, and early on he was seen as a rising star. From 1973 to 1979 he served as the Jesuit provincial in Argentina, then in 1980 became the rector of the seminary from which he had graduated.
These were the years of the military junta in Argentina, when many priests, including leading Jesuits, were gravitating towards the progressive liberation theology movement. As the Jesuit provincial, Bergoglio insisted on a more traditional reading of Ignatian spirituality, mandating that Jesuits continue to staff parishes and act as chaplains rather than moving into “base communities” and political activism.
Through this background, he would not quickly draw the expectations of, for instance, the long line of African-American “prophets,” using Cornel West’s terminology. I want to think of him as potentially being somewhat like a male Teresa of Ávila. A gifted woman with superb organization-building skills, she became a tireless reformer. Yet, possibly in part to deal with the cognitive dissonance of having Jewish lineage during the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition, she turned inward without becoming isolated from the call of ever greater responsibilities. Of course, as a woman, she never could have become a pope. But had she done so, she perhaps might have been strengthened by, but at the same time challenged to go far beyond, inwardness. She might have made major changes to a sick Church has she been released from the caution that would apply to anyone in the Church other than the pope. Pondering and addressing structures of injustice certainly would require “thinking much” while also loving much:
The important thing is not to think much, but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens us to love.
(Saint Teresa of Avila, p. 2, ed. Mirabai Starr, 2007. Boulder: Sounds True, Inc.)
One might also hope that the Pope takes something of the multi-cultural openness of the late Bishop of the Chaldean Syrian Church in Kerala, India, Princeton Ph.D. intellectual heavyweight Paulose Mar Paulose, a great Christian priest-scholar who managed to draw comparisons to Gandhi:
THIS GREAT humanist, Bishop Dr. Paulose Mar Paulose, was a spiritual sword, moral shield and material militant who often reminded me of Gilbert Murray’s burning words about Mahatma Gandhi: “Be careful in dealing with a man who cares nothing for sensual pleasures, nothing for comfort, or praise or promotion, but is simply determined to do what he believes to be right. He is dangerous and an uncomfortable enemy because his body which you can always conquer gives you little purchase over his soul.”
What is the chance that Pope Francis will one day be remembered as a material militant along with having spiritual and moral accomplishments? The remainder of this reflection essentially focuses on this possibility, grounding what is ultimately conjecture in two important fundamentals that logically go into making the Pope who he is: Jesuit history (Part II. Contextual Analysis)and Jesuit scholarship (Part III. Textual Analysis).
Most know something about the overall history of colonialism in Latin America. Fewer know that part of Argentina includes a region where Jesuits hundreds of years ago valiantly tried to build a more salutary version of colonialism known as “reductions.” These centers for indigenous people were arguably intended to be Christian utopian and in any event intended to be kept free from the enslaving kidnappings of Portuguese Bandeirante slave traders. Great human tragedies ensued when the Jesuits were forced to abandon the indigenous people they had come to love and protect because of the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Americas in 1767.
During Pope Francis’s lifetime, he in turn has seen the hollow triumphalist promises of neoliberalism’s obligatory capitalism and austerity. He saw this not only from a distance but in the hollow defeated eyes of desperate people, millions of whom suffered calamitous circumstances with Argentina’s 2001 economic collapse. While in the U.S. the general citizenry including Catholics by and large fared better for several more years, by now, with the Great Recession, many people around the world, including the U.S., are beginning to question capitalism and its upward distribution of wealth.
Pope Francis also no doubt understands that across Latin America leftist movements have had some momentum because of capitalism’s inadequacies. In addition, these movements are beginning to cooperate more across nation state boundaries through ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America. Plainly, as a region the south in the Western Hemisphere is increasingly demanding to be noticed and respected.
Ever in the forefront of Latin America’s concerns is its relationship with the global superpower to the north. I will not attempt to appraise or even summarize contemporary U.S. involvement in Latin America. I will simply note that, for various reasons, the deeply resented U.S. heavy-handed tactics of response to anti-colonialism and leftist movements (described by, among many others, a journalist relative of my grandmother), including invasions, coups, assassinations, death squads, and other forms of notorious reactionary repression, are no longer quite as likely to occur or to be effective.
Perhaps somewhat relatedly, pollsters also suggest that the U.S. now has relatively good popularity in many parts of Latin America. However, interestingly enough, this is noticeably not the case in Argentina, “where just 41% express a favorable view, although this is still much more positive than the 16% registered in 2007.” Pew Research Global Attitudes Project. Apparently more widespread in Latin America than distaste for the U.S. as a nation state is skepticism about U.S.-style democracy:
American ideas about democracy are popular in Africa but have less appeal in Latin America. El Salvador and Brazil are the only countries in the region where majorities say they like U.S. ideas about democracy.
(Ibid.) It seems likely that most in Latin America are aware that importing U.S. “ideas about democracy” could involve importing the market capitalism that is entrenched through the U.S. political system. While many Latin Americans apparently benefit from trade with the U.S., and arguments about rising equality for those who are doing well by free trade can be looked at or spun in various ways, it also seems to be the case that most Latin Americans do not want to have Helms-Burton Act-style U.S. dictation of market economics thrust upon them.
One might hope that popes do not base their exhortations on polls or cold “utilitarian” arguments that leave out of the equation of “success” millions of desperate people. Drawing much attention with the issuance of the Pope’s exhortation, ironically by the right wing, was the fact that even his predecessor understood the problems of capitalism on some level. Although Pope Benedict XVI seemed to view it more with trepidation of authoritarian tendencies than with an understanding of socialism’s moral potential to counteract the immorality of market capitalism, he was aware that the right wing’s world is not working out according to the advertising:
Today’s world experiences the phenomenon of globalization as a network of relationships extending over the whole planet. Although from certain points of view this benefits the great family of humanity, and is a sign of its profound aspiration towards unity, nevertheless it also undoubtedly brings with it the risk of vast monopolies and of treating profit as the supreme value. As in all areas of human activity, globalization too must be led by ethics, placing everything at the service of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in other regions, there has been notable progress towards democracy, although there are grounds for concern in the face of authoritarian forms of government and regimes wedded to certain ideologies that we thought had been superseded, and which do not correspond to the Christian vision of man and society as taught by the Social Doctrine of the Church. On the other side of the coin, the liberal economy of some Latin American countries must take account of equity, because of the ever increasing sectors of society that find themselves oppressed by immense poverty or even despoiled of their own natural resources.
INAUGURAL SESSION OF THE FIFTH GENERAL CONFERENCE OF THE BISHOPS OF LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN, ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI, Conference Hall, Shrine of Aparecida Sunday, 13 May 2007 (emphasis added.)
I believe Pope Francis does not want the Church to be aligned with the reactionary opposition to people’s movements, but the reactionaries are masterful at presenting endless shades of grey as to which he cannot do all the discerning and advocating by himself. I suspect he hopes that movements from the left can learn to respect democracy and human rights so that they will not come into conflict with, and be able to promote, his shared interest in promoting the interests of the poor. The Vatican is not being metaphorical when it writes of him:
Despite his reserved character — his official biography consists of only a few lines, at least until his appointment as Archbishop of Buenos Aires — he became a reference point because of the strong stances he took during the dramatic financial crisis that overwhelmed the country in 2001.
Obviously, this “dramatic financial crisis” became a reference point not only for the Church in Argentina through him but also for him:
The first Pope of the Americas Jorge Mario Bergoglio hails from Argentina. The 76-year-old Jesuit Archbishop of Buenos Aires is a prominent figure throughout the continent, yet remains a simple pastor who is deeply loved by his diocese, throughout which he has travelled extensively on the underground and by bus during the 15 years of his episcopal ministry.
“My people are poor and I am one of them”, he has said more than once, explaining his decision to live in an apartment and cook his own supper. He has always advised his priests to show mercy and apostolic courage and to keep their doors open to everyone. The worst thing that could happen to the Church, he has said on various occasions, “is what de Lubac called spiritual worldliness”, which means, “being self-centred”. And when he speaks of social justice, he calls people first of all to pick up the Catechism, to rediscover the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. His project is simple: if you follow Christ, you understand that “trampling upon a person’s dignity is a serious sin”.
This is not a reflection for history’s sake but for socialism’s sake. Much more important than knowing “the sources” of the Pope’s love for the poor as a matter of general interest is that he follow up his love with effective leadership in an effective worldwide coalition to actually achieve economic justice. To the extent socialists understand the Pope and his frames of reference, they may be better coalition partners where their interests overlap. Just as “actually existing socialism” had its moral failures, and even today socialists need to be ever mindful of socialism’s need to respect democracy and human rights and for rejection of dogmatic “scientific” or blind utopian prescriptions, so also should the Church better begin to match reality to rhetoric.
Whether it does this or not remains to be seen and in large part will be a matter of papal praxis. As discussed below, since the late 1800s with Pope Leo XIII, often the Church has spoken nice words but either been coopted or waited out when it came to pushing for deep structural changes to unjust economies. If the Church globally stands aloof from potential non-Church economic allies, Pope Francis’s noble thought experiment on paper is still welcome, because it can change the conversation, in a much needed way, from reflexive resignation to capitalism’s flaws to envisioning something better. However, the Pope should realize that he can accomplish more than intellectual stimulation, both within and without currently capitalist countries.
If Pope Francis exercises leadership as a world partner and not simply the Church’s leader, he could unite with and encourage democracy and respect for human rights among the world’s often non-Church socialists, including those holding power within Latin America who are or may be willing to become global democratic coalition partners. If, for instance, he vigorously encourages the U.S. to lift the blockade and Cuba to democratize and protect human rights within a constitutional democratic socialist framework, and Venezuela to recommit to these principles, he could not only facilitate better conditions in Cuba and Venezuela but also start a positive democratic socialist chain reaction among other countries. Similarly, if he promotes a worldwide discussion of a global social compact, he could foster a discovery of unexpected common ground among a majority of the world’s population which could in turn foster better national social compacts, a better U.N., and more humane cooperation among countries. If he travels to forgotten places like the Western Sahara, Ethiopia, and Kenya and says that foreign occupation, resource plundering, and land grabbing needs to stop, the powerful corporate and national interests doing the occupying, plundering, and grabbing may come under enormous pressure to stop.
Even in the U.S., with its non-parliamentary system and where socialists are historically repressed and usually most effective within the Democratic Party, where the Pope is essentially out in front of much of the Democratic Party establishment, he can tremendously help his potential economic allies come into their fullness if the poor are to win justice. If he fails to proactively do so, his moral authority on economics may often be overcome by the same reactionary anti-birth control, anti-choice fixation that gives conservatives so much power today, thanks in large part to the women’s policies of his very Church.
Only time will tell. One cannot enter the Pope’s heart and mind and poke around. One can, however, assess the sources of the Pope’s love for the poor to make an educated guess at the cultural disturbance-causing risk-taking he will bring to his loving praxis and begin to assess the specific types of economic policies he might be willing to support. This side of heaven, steadfastness and even missionary zeal are not enough to bring about serious system change. Even operating effectively (which seldom happens in the U.S.), democracy is at best an ugly business and a painfully imperfect agent of change. Politicians often pander, quiver at the sight of campaign donors, and need to be led to the water and made to drink. Democracy is generally managed at the behest of the powerful who control the economy and do not want it to be democratized, as the protestant Reinhold Niebuhr was honest enough to observe. The Koch Brothers, et al. may need to be ministered to, but they may not want to repent if that involves the Rich Man remedy of Mark 10:17-27 or even the Corrupt Tax Man remedy of Luke 19:8.
The world’s oligarchs did not get to be oligarchs because they are necessarily kind, gentle, and caring people. They often have incredibly high thresholds for other people’s pain. Their credo is usually divide-and-conquer, and their most valuable education is usually in advanced mercenary recruitment. They would love to have the Church once again as their reliable partner. They are by and large profit-slurping bone-picking vultures happy to make money by any means necessary and to feed off the poor around the world and then discard them to globally-warmed nature.
While the Pope will not get directly involved politically, he can follow up his splendid exhortation with regular and frequent vulture identification, as he did in his Peace Day message. He will not, and need not, generally have to name names, because this really is about the capitalist system not individuals, who, as Marx observed long ago are just doing what the market dictates. But, if he wants to have a major impact, he will have to describe their behaviors in the wild, especially their promiscuous mating habits with politicians. If he won’t, little may change democratically, and regrettably, Latin American leftwing authoritarians and those tempted in that direction will retain convenient excuses for denying democracy and human rights. If “help” to a desperate person must come from an authoritarian willing to “disturb” the wealthy and their allies, the rational desperate person may not prioritize the sanctity of ballot boxes, much less U.S.-style anti-democratic gerrymandered Congressional seats. Meanwhile, because of austerity, in places like Greece and even France, the rightwing ascendance of hate may continue because, after all, if unity cannot prevail the provocation and disunity of blaming “the other” can be tantalizing to sick minds. (And in the U.S., we even let the crazies get AR-15s, assuring them significant fire power.) Much of the old empire of Rome may not be ablaze but it certainly is uncomfortably hot.
Speaking of hot, without disturbance-causing risk-taking papal praxis, it is doubtful that the globe will have any chance to control global-warming before it reaches even more calamitous levels. These controls will not happen under the current system:
In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.
So what are the sources of the Pope’s potential disturbance-causing risk-taking, and are they all contained within the 217 footnotes of EVANGELII GAUDIUM? Does he really expect us to believe that he, and his powerful entrenched conservative opposition in places such as the U.S., will allow the Church to be “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security”? 
My guess, in part based on the extra-exhortation documentation I will discuss below, is that if he is going to break the mold, so to speak, and truly work to make economic justice a reality and not simply a talking point, it will because he is both the first Latin American pope and the first Jesuit pope and not, by provenance, a “conventional” pope at all. Latin America is at the forefront of both a political counter-movement by the left against neoliberalism exploitation and the rapidly growing encroachment by “schismatics” into the Church’s own traditional western stronghold among the poor. While the former may be a good development in the Pope’s eyes (it has great potential in my pinko-greenie eyes), the latter certainly is not. And he realizes that the two developments are to some extent related to the Church’s often symbiotic privileged lifestyle made possible by capitalists and a practical apathy to the poor–and that, going back to the Jesuit Reductions of the 17th and 18th centuries and as late as the 1980s with the Jesuits under Father Pedro Arrupe, discussed below, it did not have to be this way.
After all, Latin America (and specifically, the Dominican Father Gustavo Gutiérrez of Lima, Peru in Teología de la liberación, perspectivas) gave the world liberation theology, and it was not because capitalism was doing a wonderful job for the poor. Jesuits in the 1970s were quite cognizant of liberation theology. Although it did not get fully accepted by all or even most priests within the Society of Jesus, including especially the now Pope, it was highly influential and possibly has unspoken adherents in unexpected places. Perhaps in his heart Pope Francis knew Father Gustavo was right, at least on some level of substance if not form.
In any event, its influence, and to some extent concepts from it, became part of a major practical effort to begin to practice what the Jesuits were also beginning (“once again,” if the utopian aspects of the Reductions are to be believed) to preach with much more clarity. (See p. 15 of Fr. Calvez’s Faith and Justice: The Social Dimension of Evangelization, discussed below in detail, for a discussion of this work in the context of the Jesuit movement to address the problems of the poor.) At their best, Jesuits became known for selflessly taking real, and in some cases life and death, risks on behalf of the poor. There are many revelatory Jesuit experiences (including martyrdoms) and writings from the last few decades that evidence a strength and an unwavering broad and deep commitment to the poor in the face of harsh conservative pushback within both society and the Church.
I do not mean to glorify all Jesuits or to exclude from approval other societies within the Church or other committed humanists regardless of their religious or non-religious backgrounds. However, when in doubt, I may look at his chosen symbolic “shield” and try to recall the faith despite high risk that has accompanied Jesuits through perils for centuries. (Or I may think of Frs. Jean-Yves, Robert, and Matthew up in heaven praying for Pope Francis to have strength and courage.)
WHAT BEYOND THAT JESUIT SYMBOL CAN I, A DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST SEARCHING FOR ALLIES, KNOW ABOUT POPE FRANCIS’S PENCHANT FOR RISK-TAKING ON BEHALF OF THE POOR? Well, right off the bat, the exhortation itself, so against the grain of neoliberalism and capitalist triumphalism. But what beyond that, and beyond the scripture itself?
Beyond scripture, one might expect from the Pope’s sparsely-referenced Vatican biography that the FIFTH GENERAL CONFERENCE OF THE LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN BISHOPS, Aparecida Document, 29 June 2007, might have played a prominent role in his Exhortation:
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires — a diocese with more than three million inhabitants — he conceived of a missionary project based on communion and evangelization. He had four main goals: open and brotherly communities, an informed laity playing a lead role, evangelization efforts addressed to every inhabitant of the city, and assistance to the poor and the sick. He aimed to reevangelize Buenos Aires, “taking into account those who live there, its structure and its history”. He asked priests and lay people to work together. In September 2009 he launched the solidarity campaign for the bicentenary of the Independence of the country. Two hundred charitable agencies are to be set up by 2016. And on a continental scale, he expected much from the impact of the message of the Aparecida Conference in 2007, to the point of describing it as the “Evangelii Nuntiandi of Latin America”.
However, while the conference undoubtedly does greatly influence Pope Francis overall, in relation to the issues discussed below, it rarely was cited in the exhortation. Extra-biblical “sources” for most of his economics are not expressly in the Aparecida Document per se and must be found in his life experiences and whatever other “influences” have contributed to his world view.
Seed planting and harvesting in the human heart and mind are always rather mysterious. And this mysteriousness is perhaps at its peak when it comes to the heart and mind of one of the world’s religious leaders, especially one who is willing to buck trends and push for joyous churchly insecurity on behalf of humanity rather than the safety of conservatism.
III. Textual Analysis
Perspective matters. Life experiences matter. Intellectual and spiritual mentors matter too. I find it fascinating that a socially-conscious priest-scholar with a one sentence Wikipedia entry, with core beliefs concerning the need to focus on the poor that were widely disparaged during the papacy of John Paul II (but not for the most part by John Paul II himself or even Benedict thereafter), could help to plant tiny intellectual and spiritual seeds in Jorge Mario Bergoglio. If he did, these seeds were in some ways not planted on fertile ground–if one ignores the slums of the world. They would have had to survive through the Reagan era, the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, China becoming an authoritarian version of a market capitalist economy, classical economics hegemony, the Great Recession, austerity blood-letting “cures,” and so many other dramatic global changes–only to bear unexpected really huge fruit two papacies later.
Of course, “influence” itself is a loaded term, particularly I suspect when it comes to a pope. To a Roman Catholic, a pope is speaking “to,” but to one degree or another “for” the Church, and the Church is supposed to be “the body of Christ.” So in a sense the mysteries of metaphor are the message and take on reality. At the least, influence, assuming it is capable of analysis, can be direct or indirect and depend upon innumerable coincidences, serendipity, or to many Christians, the work of “the Holy Spirit.” (See the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation, EVANGELII GAUDIUM, sections 262-283.)
Perhaps no one, not least I, could begin to understand or explain “influence” when it comes to Pope Francis. But, although I am no pope or a Jesuit, I have been positively “influenced” by some good priests, some of whom were Jesuits. So I know a bit about how Jesuits can influence people. Perhaps, being a person, an eventual pope and formerly rank-and-file Jesuit can be similarly influenced by the often brilliant self-effacing servants with whom he lived in community and from whom he, directly or indirectly, had the opportunity to learn.
I, for example, was positively influenced in person by the late Robert Drinan, S.J., whom I knew a little back in the early 1980s. He had left Congress and put back on his clerical collar on orders from John Paul II, at the behest of powerful conservative U.S. Catholics. He was put out to pasture at a Jesuit university in Washington D.C., where he could explain to people who crossed his path like me the true meaning of scriptures such as “the poor will always be with you.” He was a good and kind priest-scholar.
Much more recently, I have been positively influenced through practical yet somehow still soaring scholarly writings of another good and kind deceased Jesuit, Jean-Yves Calvez, S.J.. He has been a profound help to me, a democratic socialist who is also a Christian contemplative, because he was the go-to person for decades within the Society of Jesus for analysis of liberation theology, Marxism, and related subjects, including as they relate to Vatican II and its aftermath. Totally unrelated to the eventual Pope Francis, when I wanted to get a sophisticated Christian take on the thoughts I was thinking, I turned “to” the Jesuits, and specifically “to” Father Calvez, because when he died in 2010 he left behind important scholarly works on matters important to me. I do not read these works uncritically, but rather mine them for wisdom and understanding. Just as I would not read the works of Marx, or even the reported words of Jesus Christ, without bringing all of my faculties, such as they are, I refuse to give a priest or a pope responsibility for directing my conscience, heart, and mind.
Father Calvez is in some ways an unpromising “influence” and better described as a magnificent conduit to a large degree. For, when writing to elucidate Church doctrine, he did not even claim to be “original” as far as I can tell and might even have been repelled by the notion. He was seeking to reflect and amplify the work of others, including early on various popes and in later years the work of his mentor, Father General Pedro Arrupe, leader of the Jesuits from 1965-1983. Despite his humility as an author, however, I have come to treasure the three of Father Calvez’s books in my possession, all first published in French, the most recent of which, a humble and relatively short paperback, I will discuss at some length below.
The other two are more properly considered major works, one discussing Church social doctrine from economic and morals perspectives and the other discussing the political reasons the economically achievable has not been achieved in developing countries. I will not discuss them in detail, or for the most part either endorse or refute them, in this post. One was originally published in French the year Fidel Castro came to power: The Church and Social Justice: The Social Teaching of the Popes from Leo XIII to Pius XII, 1878-1958 (Calvez, Jean-Yves and Jacques Perrin, 1961. Chicago, Ill.: Henry Regnery Co.). Presumably because it was critical of actually-existing socialism (and overlooking that it was also critical of actually-existing capitalism) during the Cold War when that was a priority, this book managed to be published in English by the same company that published William F. Buckley, and was the predecessor to Rush Limbaugh’s publisher. I only wish to emphasize three points from this book.
- First, the difficulty perceived by the authors of accurately systematizing Church social teaching. They were attempting to develop a hypothesis concerning Church social doctrine resting on “a reading of and simple comparison between the principal papal texts”:
The risk we run is the more formidable in that we have here to deal with what, to the eyes of a Christian, is the teaching of a privileged authority. We are not dealing with the teaching of some positive science nor with a statement of opinion which can be treated as a mere ideology. When we present the social teaching of the popes in a systematically connect way, we risk saying, to some extent at least, something other than what they have said themselves.
(Id., p. xii.)
- Second, the nonetheless tidy description of the fundamentals of “the Church’s plan for society” as stated by the authors: “co-operation, a sharing of responsibility in a common task and the natural community which exists between those who work together in the economy.” (438) I do not in the U.S. or on this planet live in a society that remotely accords with this “plan” (although I am working with others as hard as I can in my spare time to envision one). “What we have is a failure to cooperate, but cooperation is not easily imposed.” We live in a world of bread wars, land grabs, Social Darwinism, nihilism, and environmental destruction. The human species failed the cooperation test a long time ago, but here we are, poised between one form of chaos or another and one form of authoritarianism or another. Yet, as a democratic socialist, I will not give up this dream and seek to make it a reality, now, thankfully with the moral authority of a pope not behind me but in many ways out ahead of me.
- Third, the fact that this book will provide a great deal of helpful social doctrine information for those who wish to refute the propaganda of the rightwing, which is hurling out deception to minimize the impact of the words of Pope Francis. For instance, the section on the principle of “subsidiarity” (id., pp. 328-337) contradicts rightwing libertarian assertions that, not without a little irony, the state is supposed to wither away and local charitable organizations take over:
In a resumé of the teaching of Rerum Novarum, Pius XI listed the theses of Leo XIII on the intervention of the state: its right and duty to work for the prosperity of the community and its members; limitation of the freedom of citizens and their families by the requirements of the common good and respect due to the rights of others; the positive duty of the state to look to the good of the whole community as well as to that of its parts; and, lastly, an obligation for the state to take particular care of the weak and poor. …
[T]here is no limit to the state’s right to intervene when intervention is necessary for the common good or the protection, in the name of distributive justice, of the rights of a member of the community or a class. …
It was possible that the state ought to take over some particular economic activity because of its size or importance in the name of the common good. …
[T]he principle does not mean that the state should intervene as little as possible. … [N]othing which does concern the universal common good and the realization of distributive justice is outside its competence.
The principle of state subsidiarity does not, therefore, look for the suppression of the state, if that were possible, for it is quite impossible to delegate to lesser societies than the state the functions and responsibilities which belong to it. That would be to suppose that these societies also are subsidiary to the state, and this is impossible: subsidiarity looks only one way. The state brings aid (subsidium) to other societies, but they do not bring aid to the state–at least, not in the same sense. …
[T]he principle stems from the common good, which must be the criterion of legitimacy.
(Id. pp. 330-333; footnotes omitted.) It quotes Pius XI as recognizing, “The state should therefore leave to smaller groups the settlement of business of minor importance, which otherwise would greatly distract it; it will thus carry out with greater freedom, power and success the tasks belonging to it alone, because it alone can effectively accomplish these: directing, watching, stimulating, restraining, as circumstances suggest and necessity demands.” (Id. p. 333; footnote omitted.)
The other book I will not discuss in detail is Politics and Society in the Third World. Author, (Calvez, Jean-Yves, 1973. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books), was originally published in French in 1971 and then two years later in the U.S. by a publisher much more to my liking than the Rush’s. As seems typical of Father Calvez’s humility, he predicted that much of it would have a short shelf-life. It is good that he did so, because his thesis that the “traditional” element of societies has primacy, even over economics, seems disproven in much of the developing world, particularly in light of neocolonialism and global neoliberalism. Although he was not regarding “purely economic factors as negligible,” (2) to me he largely missed the boat, but not without disclosure about his now erroneous assumptions:
[I]nsofar as economy and society are distinguishable at all, economics in the developing countries depends largely on a particular condition and even on a particular form of society (the “traditional” society). This is not really a very radical view. For we are still left with the question of which aspects of society may be the determining ones. Will it be the traditional forms of family and politics, or mentalities, or religions? Or particular historical aspects of the societies in question, for example, the experience of colonialism?
He admitted that his analysis was incomplete because of the variability of countries and societies, and “above all the immense differences between continents. For it is definitely misleading to lump Africa, Asia, and South America together without distinction under the name ‘Third World.'” (315). He thought that while “the political class, for all its defects, is the dynamic social class” in developing countries, emergence of “new forces” is “highly likely, and it is the interplay of these new social forces which will shape the future” (Ibid.) Although he could not predict what the new forces would be, he thought that they could in some places involve forces released by “education and science.” (316) He did not believe that “[a] peasant revolution [is] very likely, because the peasant world is not united, and the working classes, however oppressed, also remain divided.” (Ibid.) He also anticipated that the military would continue to play a role (317), facts to which Pope Francis can attest from Argentina’s experience with its Dirty War and Operation Condor. Although he got much wrong, he got the most important factor right:
[T]he likelihood of change or revolution cannot be estimated solely as a function of forces at work within the developing countries. Their destiny will depend at least as much on the evolution of relations with the developed world. This fact renders prognosis all the more difficult. But it also makes us aware once again of the importance of international relations between the developing and the developed nations.
(Ibid.) How predictive this statement was in hindsight.
In essence, Father Calvez seems to have been rather like another incredible, albeit fictional, French priest-assistant whom Willa Cather created when she wrote Death Comes for the Archbishop. In other words, in my mind he was Father Joseph Vaillant and his superior Father Pedro Arrupe perhaps more like one of those Spanish martyrs Ms. Cather referred to when she wrote the following discussion into this great novel:
“[O]ur Spanish fathers made good martyrs, but the French Jesuits accomplish more. They are the great organizers.”
“Better than the Germans?” asked the Venetian, who had Austrian sympathies.
“Oh, the Germans classify, but the French arrange! The French missionaries have a sense of proportion and rational adjustment. They are always trying to discover the logical relation of things. It is a passion with them.”
(It is, by the way, personally fulfilling to me that I read that wonderful book upon the personal recommendation of Father Matthew Kelty, a former Divine Word missionary who said it was his favorite when I asked him for his book recommendation. I was just finishing Abraham Lincoln by Carl Sandburg (who also has greatly influenced me to this day, including through his socialism and interesting book collection) during the above-noted Thanksgiving retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani. Father Matthew was the guest house chaplain and post-Compline preacher for years at the Abbey of Gethsemani, one of my favorite places. He also had been Thomas Merton’s confessor and was an out gay monk. He was truly gifted and inspirational, reflecting the joy Pope Francis is calling for in his pastors. (As a parenthetical within a parenthetical, I will never forget the inspirational talk Father Matthew gave after Compline on a poem by the so-called founder of the Metaphysical Poets, John Donne, of whom up to that time I had never heard, and who has also become a positive influence over the years.))
Perhaps the most valuable insight I have from Father Calvez is his reminder, repeated directly from Father Arrupe, that justice is to be “in the service of love.” He was one of Father Arrupe’s general assistants from 1971-1983, pivotal years of interaction and visioning on the social aspects of the Gospel. A description of Father Calvez was of someone whom I believe Pope Francis would have admired:
He was also a true religious, a very hard worker, totally detached and free, with complete modesty. He always refused in principle all honors and honorifics. He lived his life out of a desire to respond to the call of Christ which brought him into the Society of Jesus. His legacy is a monumental amount of work but above all a way of living as a Jesuit that leaves his brother Jesuits with a model and an inspiration.
When on the morning of November 26, 2013 I read descriptions (such as this one in the New York Times) about Pope Francis’s EVANGELII GAUDIUM, I immediately saw reflections of the pointed yet still humble scholarly analysis of Father Calvez.
Before you read further, let me do some more major disclaimers: I am not at all a theologian or an expert on any aspect of Church doctrine. Nor for that matter have I read a fraction of the voluminous writings of Father Calvez. I have also focused on only one of his books, Faith and Justice: The Social Dimension of Evangelization, written in 1991 and published by the Institute of Jesuit Sources. However, I believe that this is a well-situated book for purposes of this post.
In that book, Father Calvez was primarily explaining a key, controversial, and misunderstood Church document from the 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, 1975’s Decree Four, Our Mission Today: The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice. Prior to the Pope’s Exhortation this week, that document has been listed first among “some critical documents to help understand the Jesuit and Catholic tradition of the service of faith and the Promotion of Justice.” In the introduction to this book, Father Calvez called it “The Mysterious Decree Four,” and he did a masterful job of explaining this document he undoubtedly heavily participated in drafting. (As far as I can tell so far, none of Father Calvez’s books, at least in an English translation, are available on-line or for free, but thanks to Creighton University, the primacy source he was referencing, Decree 4, is. I will try to excerpt some key passages from this book that illustrate my points.)
Particularly because Jesuits are traditionally some of the leading intellectuals within the Church, I am skating on extremely thin ice to say anything on a subject about which no doubt thousands of brilliant Jesuit scholars know much much much more. Heck, I am not even Roman Catholic. (However, as an independently-minded devoutly contemplative Episcopalian I consider myself to be intensely “Catholic” in the tolerant tradition of Thomas Merton. Moreover, Pope Francis, right at the beginning  makes it clear that he is addressing “all Christians, everywhere.” So I am grateful that he means to include me in his exhortation, as I could use the exhorting.) I also have little knowledge of Jesuit contemporary relationships. For instance, I have no direct proof that Pope Francis directly knew Father Chavez, although because Father Calvez gave courses in Spanish in Argentina, played other important roles (including chair of the Foro Ecuménico Social and lecturer) while then Cardinal Bergoglio was the leader of the Church there, and upon his death in 2010 received a special tribute in Argentina, it seems highly likely.
So at best I guess you could say this post is hopefully reasonable conjecture based on a hasty analysis by a biased and potentially blissful amateur observer. Countless theologians and other highly-qualified scholars will pour over the Exhortation for years and write dissertations on each paragraph. I may be the only soil scientist to perform a textual and contextual review of it, at least within the first week of its young life.
Further, I am reading Francis’s first major writing as Pope in part with an attitude of spirituality. I have been waiting for something like this for a long time. And, as I expressed in A Winding Path to Workers’ Gardens/Un camino de bobina a jardines de trabajadores, p. 94, I live somewhat by intention in a spiritual “desert,” so maybe without realizing it I am desperate for the “living water” Pope Francis seems to be offering:
If I am to be authentically myself and true to my faith as I understand it, my religion is 100% socialized and focused on needs and not wants. I have learned to love the desert of my impoverished soul. By learning to love this desert, occasionally and gradually green pastures have begun to grow with tiny springs and trickles of water that sometimes become more like small streams. I love this place. The desert interspersed with sporadic gifts of greenness and water is my home. I cannot keep any green pastures, springs, trickles, and streams to myself. To grasp any of them is to see them disappear and to live a false life. I want to share what I have with others. However, this is not focused on sharing my religion, which is admittedly idiosyncratic and personal, but on sharing material things that can benefit others, most of whom have different personal beliefs. Whatever wealth I “have” is not really mine. I worry less and am richer inside where it counts when I recognize my own poverty and seek to live it as a calling.
This is all valid for me personally. It is my faith. This desert has always been with me, although I may try to ignore it with a false life. Now I know I am there, and I accept that I am there. I have learned to be content with what I am, but to work on improving my stewardship of whatever that is.
This type of faith is, I suspect, at least initially unattractive to most people. It is grey, stark, and realistic, grounded in openness to all that is real, including science and whatever resources happen to be available to humanity in our material universe. Like the desert, these resources, which make up the earth, are beautiful to me. I am responsible for doing my part to steward them compassionately and wisely. In the desert, one must be resourceful.
Having now initially studied the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation, below are my bulleted initial thoughts on this theory of possible implicit influence by humble efficient Father Chavez. (In brackets [ ] are references to the specific section of the exhortation. Boldfacing indicates one or more sections referencing the Aparecida Document. In parentheses ( ) are page references to Father Calvez’s Faith and Justice: The Social Dimension of Evangelization. Footnotes and citations from Pope Frances’s Exhortation and Father Calvez’s book are omitted.).
Before I give you my laundry list, I want to personally send my digital thanks to Pope Francis not only for his ministry to my social views but also for his validation of the contemplative’s inner journey of authenticity and poverty of spirit. For, in the true Ignatian tradition, he does not hesitate to declare :
The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.
Without further delay, here are my thoughts:
- Father Calvez, like Father Arrupe, Decree 4, and the Society of Jesus, is not cited in the Pope’s document, but I think this is to be expected (and consistent with Father Calvez’s anonymous participation in the drafting of the most famous document coming out of Vatican II). I suppose one would expect a Pope in a major writing of this kind to cite primarily to the scriptures of his faith and also to what other popes have written or said, other major official Church writings, and writings and sayings of “saints.” Father Calvez was a highly scholarly quiet servant of the Church who presumably would have been grateful to God for any chance to assist the Pope, and credit would have been the last thing on his mind. In any event, viewed hierarchically, even during Father Calvez’s top days in Rome he was a long way down the pecking order from where Pope Francis is today. Father Calvez was an expert analyst, discerner, and explainer. He did not so much seek to influence as to marshal the truth in dedicated service of the Church, and as student of the truth, the Pope would presumably be glad to learn from such a resourceful and reliable man as Father Calvez if he ever had the chance. Put simply, Father Calvez was trying to reflect the Gospel, and so is Pope Francis, so the fact that the latter did not mention the former also could reflect that over a lifetime each has absorbed the Gospel and come to similar conclusions on issues such as poverty. To read the heavily scripture-based exhortation is to realize how out of place a reference to a “mere” contemporary work of scholarship would have been. It certainly does not prove that the work of Father Calvez had no influence on Pope Francis. The same could be said for the writings of Father Arrupe and even the almost 40 year-old official document known as Decree 4. And when we look at what the Pope put in the text of the Exhortation, the patterns of similarity to me become quite clear.
- The Pope makes it clear that the work of “evangelization” includes an attempt at engagement with the personal needs of people (“When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfilment.”  “It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction’.” ). Similarly, the need for evangelization to be connected to and in the real world (“Nor should we see the newness of this mission as entailing a kind of displacement or forgetfulness of the living history which surrounds us and carries us forward.”  “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be.” ) The need for the Gospel to grapple with the often overwhelmingly difficult reality of life for many people is a major subject addressed by Father Calvez. Father Calvez entitles the chapter where he begins laying out Decree 4 in detail, “The Perfect Justice of the Gospel.” (73) He explains (73-74, 80-81):
In Decree 4 it is justice among men and women that is involved: Suum cuique trader (to render to each what is his due), in the words of the old and unequivocal definition. This applies to every kind of good which members of the human family can enjoy–materials goods, to be sure, and also such immaterial goods as can be enjoyed on this earth. Examples of the latter are reputation, dignity, the possibility of exercising freedom. …
Nonetheless, Decree 4 … does not speak only of justice in a very precise and narrow sense, which comes into play when there is question of clear obligations. It is to this sort of justice that the simple formula “To each his own” refers. Rather, it often speaks of justice in a wider sense, justice which comes into play when situations are encountered which are humanly intolerable and demand a remedy. …
[T]he great difference between this and the ordinary view of justice is that it is not so much concerned with making claims for one’s own advantage as with carefully seeing to it that justice is done to others, and in particular to those who are victims of injustice or in danger of becoming so–the little ones, the weak, the stranger, those without power. …
[B]eing thoroughly just means reaching out in pardon and reconciliation, the perfection of justice.
Importantly, as Father Calvez states, this Gospel must be cognizant of structural impediments to justice (75):
[W]hat is involved is not justice in some narrow, constrained, or restrictive sense. This comes out in references to injustices which are in part “structural.” … This understanding of justice clearly goes beyond relatively determined kinds of injustice.
This is true too in the following statement: “There are millions of men and women in our world, specific people with names and faces, who are suffering from poverty and hunger, from unjust distribution of wealth and resources …” … It is not always, then a matter of injustices for which a clear determination of responsibility is possible; but the situation is unjust, intolerable.
- The first chapter of the Exhortation makes clear in its title that the Pope is calling for changes–“THE CHURCH’S MISSIONARY TRANSFORMATION.” This is quite similar to the sensitivity of the Jesuits leading into the development of Decree 4, when Father Arrupe and working groups from around the world, but particularly those from the Third World, believed Christian credibility demanded their attention to social justice issues (26-32) Like the Jesuits during the 1970s, which was a focus of much of Father Calvez’s writing, The Pope is calling now all of the Catholic clergy to get serious about changing the way they have been doing things. (“I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are.”  “The Second Vatican Council presented ecclesial conversion as openness to a constant self-renewal born of fidelity to Jesus Christ: ‘Every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling… Christ summons the Church as she goes her pilgrim way… to that continual reformation of which she always has need, in so far as she is a human institution here on earth’.” ) The Pope writes , immediately under the heading “An ecclesial renewal which cannot be deferred”:
I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.
- Like Pope Frances, Father Calvez seemed to find “love” emanating in all the important places, including in the concept of “faith.” He wrote of St. Thomas Aquinas (104):
Knowledge and love are not so distinguished when we speak of God and the things of God, but they are so when the human world alone is under discussion. Even St. Thomas, who today is accused of being an intellectualist, understood faith in a very different sense. For him, “to believe” pertains to the intellect, but “as it is moved to assent by the will.” Again, he uses the expression “influenced by the will.” Love is the “form” of faith, form understood as “the end to which the act is directed”. Faith, then, is truly included in love, which has primacy, not priority. Love, St. Thomas says, “attains God Himself to rest in Him”; faith and hope “certainly attain God, but insofar as through them knowledge of the truth and the possession of good” come to us.
Thus, I find it extremely important that Pope Francis gives the highest priority in his Exhortation to faith working “through love.” He even cites to St. Thomas Aquinas for this very point :
Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that the Church’s moral teaching has its own “hierarchy”, in the virtues and in the acts which proceed from them. What counts above all else is “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). Works of love directed to one’s neighbour are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit: “The foundation of the New Law is in the grace of the Holy Spirit, who is manifested in the faith which works through love”. Thomas thus explains that, as far as external works are concerned, mercy is the greatest of all the virtues: “In itself mercy is the greatest of the virtues, since all the others revolve around it and, more than this, it makes up for their deficiencies. This is particular to the superior virtue, and as such it is proper to God to have mercy, through which his omnipotence is manifested to the greatest degree”.
- The Pope is concerned about legalism and imbalance, as he expressly points out in the very next section :
It is important to draw out the pastoral consequences of the Council’s teaching, which reflects an ancient conviction of the Church. First, it needs to be said that in preaching the Gospel a fitting sense of proportion has to be maintained. This would be seen in the frequency with which certain themes are brought up and in the emphasis given to them in preaching. For example, if in the course of the liturgical year a parish priest speaks about temperance ten times but only mentions charity or justice two or three times, an imbalance results, and precisely those virtues which ought to be most present in preaching and catechesis are overlooked. The same thing happens when we speak more about law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.
- [This is not about me, but I am pro-choice, in case you are wondering, but in any event]: By my count, in Father Calvez’s 1991 book, he mentioned “the unborn” two times (77, 153), and then only very briefly in listing developments at the 33rd General Congregation in 1983. Pope Francis’s exhortation continued to voice this concern [213-214]; no substantive moderation of Church policy occurred, while some empathy was voiced :
On the other hand, it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?
- The following two paragraphs of the Pope’s Exhortation are “pure Father Calvez” (131-139: “Closeness to and Solidarity with the Poor”):
48. If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, “the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel”, and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that “there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor”. May we never abandon them.
49. Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).
- Social progress should be logically approved and supported by the Church. Please read sections 52-60, parts of which have been heavily reported, for yourself. OMG. They are, consistent with Christian principles, deeply challenging to the capitalist hegemonic status quo, just as Father Calvez’s work was. I am only going to quote here the final sentence of section 54: “The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”
- Neither Pope Francis [61-75] nor Father Calvez diminished their views that Christianity offers potentially valuable insights into the fullness of societal needs and both rejected the notion that Christians should replace their views with secularism. Chapter Three [110-175; sections 122 and 124 reference the Aparecida Document] was all about “The Proclamation of the Gospel.” Pope Francis recognized Christianity’s helpfulness to the lives of the substratum “most of all in the West,” “especially of the most needy,” of “a moral resource which preserves the values of an authentic Christian humanism.”  However, neither denied the complex reality of social problems that do not fit nicely into a religious box per se or call for simplistic pious solutions [74-75] (which made me think of Opa-locka and my mother’s alienated and battered half-siblings). And even in the midst of lessons in sermonizing, Pope Francis reminded all :
It would not be right to see this call to growth exclusively or primarily in terms of doctrinal formation. It has to do with “observing” all that the Lord has shown us as the way of responding to his love. Along with the virtues, this means above all the new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, and the one that best identifies us as Christ’s disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). Clearly, whenever the New Testament authors want to present the heart of the Christian moral message, they present the essential requirement of love for one’s neighbour: “The one who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the whole law… therefore love of neighbour is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:8, 10). These are the words of Saint Paul, for whom the commandment of love not only sums up the law but constitutes its very heart and purpose: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (Gal 5:14). To his communities Paul presents the Christian life as a journey of growth in love: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Th 3:12). Saint James likewise exhorts Christians to fulfil “the royal law according to the Scripture: You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (2:8), in order not to fall short of any commandment.
- Ironically, or fittingly, Chapter Four, which bears so much resemblance to Father Calvez’s explanation of “The Mysterious Decree Four,” is entitled “THE SOCIAL DIMENSION OF EVANGELIZATION,” [176-258; 181 cites the Aparecida Document at the boldfaced portion]. In it, in Calvezian fashion, Pope Francis constantly attempts to assert in full the demanding social dimension without losing moorings in the spiritual. As he states from the beginning:
176. To evangelize is to make the kingdom of God present in our world. Yet “any partial or fragmentary definition which attempts to render the reality of evangelization in all its richness, complexity and dynamism does so only at the risk of impoverishing it and even of distorting it”. I would now like to share my concerns about the social dimension of evangelization, precisely because if this dimension is not properly brought out, there is a constant risk of distorting the authentic and integral meaning of the mission of evangelization.
So much for the idea that the clergy should be quiet about human conditions in the here and now:
181. The kingdom, already present and growing in our midst, engages us at every level of our being and reminds us of the principle of discernment which Pope Paul VI applied to true development: it must be directed to “all men and the whole man”. We know that “evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man’s concrete life, both personal and social”. This is the principle of universality intrinsic to the Gospel, for the Father desires the salvation of every man and woman, and his saving plan consists in “gathering up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10). Our mandate is to “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15), for “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (Rom 8:19). Here, “the creation” refers to every aspect of human life; consequently, “the mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ has a universal destination. Its mandate of charity encompasses all dimensions of existence, all individuals, all areas of community life, and all peoples. Nothing human can be alien to it”. True Christian hope, which seeks the eschatological kingdom, always generates history.
182. The Church’s teachings concerning contingent situations are subject to new and further developments and can be open to discussion, yet we cannot help but be concrete – without presuming to enter into details – lest the great social principles remain mere generalities which challenge no one. There is a need to draw practical conclusions, so that they “will have greater impact on the complexities of current situations”. The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being. It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven. We know that God wants his children to be happy in this world too, even though they are called to fulfilment in eternity, for he has created all things “for our enjoyment” (1 Tim 6:17), the enjoyment of everyone. It follows that Christian conversion demands reviewing especially those areas and aspects of life “related to the social order and the pursuit of the common good”.
183. Consequently, no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. Who would claim to lock up in a church and silence the message of Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? They themselves would have found this unacceptable. An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. If indeed “the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics”, the Church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice”. All Christians, their pastors included, are called to show concern for the building of a better world. This is essential, for the Church’s social thought is primarily positive: it offers proposals, it works for change and in this sense it constantly points to the hope born of the loving heart of Jesus Christ. At the same time, it unites “its own commitment to that made in the social field by other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, whether at the level of doctrinal reflection or at the practical level”.
Pope Francis, after recognizing that this Exhortation is not “a social document” , concentrated on “two great issues”: “the inclusion of the poor in society, and second, peace and social dialogue,” the former of which was Father Calvez’s major subject in 1991. I must say that sections 186-212 brought me to mistiness. So long the world has needed these words from the Roman Catholic Church’s highest official. Please read it all, including sections 187-192, where the Pope explains the concept of solidarity as good as any socialist ever has, applauds the urgings of Brazilian Bishops focused on the poor, and then in section 192, OMG, says “our dream soars higher”:
We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a “dignified sustenance” for all people, but also their “general temporal welfare and prosperity”. This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use.
If there is a heaven, I would imagine that Fathers Arrupe and Calvez, and no doubt many El Salvadoran martyred nuns and priests, cried when they read these words, and if he is there, William F. Buckley did too, but perhaps for different reasons. For, like Fathers Arrupe and Calvez, Pope Francis is not just focused on welfarism but also the structures that cause poverty :
Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses. As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.
Gulp, he even badmouthed “the invisible hand” and the holy of capitalist holies: “creative destruction” :
We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded.
- Father Calvez was an authority on liberation theology (14-16), discussing it at great length, including the, in my view, unfairly harassed proponent Father Father Jon Sobrino (108-109), who happens to be from Barcelona, the center of 1930s Spain’s anarchist movement. Pope Francis directly mentions “liberation” in association with the poor:
In union with God, we hear a plea
187. Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society. This demands that we be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and to come to their aid. A mere glance at the Scriptures is enough to make us see how our gracious Father wants to hear the cry of the poor: “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them… so I will send you…” (Ex 3:7-8, 10). We also see how he is concerned for their needs: “When the Israelites cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up for them a deliverer” (Jg 3:15). If we, who are God’s means of hearing the poor, turn deaf ears to this plea, we oppose the Father’s will and his plan; that poor person “might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt” (Dt 15:9). A lack of solidarity towards his or her needs will directly affect our relationship with God: “For if in bitterness of soul he calls down a curse upon you, his Creator will hear his prayer” (Sir 4:6). The old question always returns: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods, and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (1 Jn 3:17). Let us recall also how bluntly the apostle James speaks of the cry of the oppressed: “The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (5:4)
199. Our commitment does not consist exclusively in activities or programmes of promotion and assistance; what the Holy Spirit mobilizes is not an unruly activism, but above all an attentiveness which considers the other “in a certain sense as one with ourselves”. This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good. This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, and in their ways of living the faith. True love is always contemplative, and permits us to serve the other not out of necessity or vanity, but rather because he or she is beautiful above and beyond mere appearances: “The love by which we find the other pleasing leads us to offer him something freely”.The poor person, when loved, “is esteemed as of great value”,and this is what makes the authentic option for the poor differ from any other ideology, from any attempt to exploit the poor for one’s own personal or political interest. Only on the basis of this real and sincere closeness can we properly accompany the poor on their path of liberation. Only this will ensure that “in every Christian community the poor feel at home. Would not this approach be the greatest and most effective presentation of the good news of the kingdom?” Without the preferential option for the poor, “the proclamation of the Gospel, which is itself the prime form of charity, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass communications”.
- Lest it appear as this was an endorsement of leftwing authoritarianism, Father Calvez wrote a section of his own on “Always Finding the Right Way for Acting to Transform Structures.” (149-150.) Thus, he wrote of (150):
the perennial Jesuit responsibility to seek the conversion of those in high position who can wield much influence, while at the same time never neglecting to teach Christ’s way to children and simple, ordinary people. This is the powerful ideal of St. Ignatius, who always drew inspiration from a maxim like the following, which summarizes his way of describing the Christian paradox: “Not to be limited by what is greatest, yet to be contained by what is smallest–that is divine.”
While recognizing that Father Robert Drinan had been ordered by Pope John Paul II to withdraw as a candidate for reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives (152), he recognized that the laity was not so restricted (151). Similarly, Pope Francis asked :
God to give us more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots – and not simply the appearances –of the evils in our world! Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good. We need to be convinced that charity “is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones)”. I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare. Why not turn to God and ask him to inspire their plans? I am firmly convinced that openness to the transcendent can bring about a new political and economic mindset which would help to break down the wall of separation between the economy and the common good of society.
- Pope Francis was undeniably globalist as well :
Economy, as the very word indicates, should be the art of achieving a fitting management of our common home, which is the world as a whole. Each meaningful economic decision made in one part of the world has repercussions everywhere else; consequently, no government can act without regard for shared responsibility. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find local solutions for enormous global problems which overwhelm local politics with difficulties to resolve. If we really want to achieve a healthy world economy, what is needed at this juncture of history is a more efficient way of interacting which, with due regard for the sovereignty of each nation, ensures the economic well-being of all countries, not just of a few.
However, Pope Francis does not want globalism to be separated from equal emphasis on local engagement :
The whole is greater than the part
234. An innate tension also exists between globalization and localization. We need to pay attention to the global so as to avoid narrowness and banality. Yet we also need to look to the local, which keeps our feet on the ground. Together, the two prevent us from falling into one of two extremes. In the first, people get caught up in an abstract, globalized universe, falling into step behind everyone else, admiring the glitter of other people’s world, gaping and applauding at all the right times. At the other extreme, they turn into a museum of local folklore, a world apart, doomed to doing the same things over and over, and incapable of being challenged by novelty or appreciating the beauty which God bestows beyond their borders.
- In the section on “THE COMMON GOOD AND PEACE IN SOCIETY,” [217-237] Pope Francis also refused to endorse a peace obtained through repression of human needs:
218. Peace in society cannot be understood as pacification or the mere absence of violence resulting from the domination of one part of society over others. Nor does true peace act as a pretext for justifying a social structure which silences or appeases the poor, so that the more affluent can placidly support their lifestyle while others have to make do as they can. Demands involving the distribution of wealth, concern for the poor and human rights cannot be suppressed under the guise of creating a consensus on paper or a transient peace for a contented minority. The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges. When these values are threatened, a prophetic voice must be raised.
219. Nor is peace “simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day towards the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect justice among men”. In the end, a peace which is not the result of integral development will be doomed; it will always spawn new conflicts and various forms of violence.
- Father Calvez, like Father Arrupe, aside from concern for theism, had a critical yet not completely unsympathetic view of Marxism (141-149) which boiled down to a recognition of the potential to create a reality that did not mesh with theory (145):
To sum up, on the one hand there is little confidence in man, and this indeed in a view which sets out to establish such confidence; on the other, there exists an exaggerated confidence in mechanisms instead of freedom, with an accompanying forgetfulness of the risks of freedom and of the possibility that man, on the very day after the revolution, might still do wrong, reestablish a system built on domination, and surrender to corruption.
This was carefully balanced with an honest appraisal of many of the opponents to Marxism, since “Marxism is not alone in resting on ‘surreptitiously introduced’ presuppositions which demand critical attention of Christians, including Jesuits.” (145)
Likewise, Pope Francis his appraisal of the terrain writes:
Realities are more important than ideas
231. There also exists a constant tension between ideas and realities. Realities simply are, whereas ideas are worked out. There has to be continuous dialogue between the two, lest ideas become detached from realities. It is dangerous to dwell in the realm of words alone, of images and rhetoric. So a third principle comes into play: realities are greater than ideas. This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.
- But the recognition of the difficulty of shaping reality positively is not an excuse for the status quo. Pope Francis, in addition to the “third principle” recognized above, detailed three additional “specific principles which can guide the development of life in society and the building of a people where differences are harmonized within a shared pursuit. I do so out of the conviction that their application can be a genuine path to peace within each nation and in the entire world.”  The fourth principle, “The whole is greater than the part,” [ 234-237] has been mentioned above.
- The second principle, “Unity prevails over conflict” [226-230] is expressly grounded in effective peacemaking, consistent with Father Calvez’s frequent emphasis on bringing the ministry of truth and reconciliation to laypersons, who are vested with primary responsibility in the political world, including the rich and powerful (59-60, 118, 125, 137-38, 152-54):
226. Conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced. But if we remain trapped in conflict, we lose our perspective, our horizons shrink and reality itself begins to fall apart. In the midst of conflict, we lose our sense of the profound unity of reality.
227. When conflict arises, some people simply look at it and go their way as if nothing happened; they wash their hands of it and get on with their lives. Others embrace it in such a way that they become its prisoners; they lose their bearings, project onto institutions their own confusion and dissatisfaction and thus make unity impossible. But there is also a third way, and it is the best way to deal with conflict. It is the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process. “Blessed are the peacemakers!” (Mt 5:9).
- I find the first principle of Pope Francis, “Time is greater than space” [222-225], to be highly interesting. It is actually evidenced in the bearing of fruit in some ways made possible by the very work of Father Calvez and others, Jesuits and non-Jesuits alike, going back for decades. Pope Francis in essence counsels patience :
This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results. It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans. It invites us to accept the tension between fullness and limitation, and to give a priority to time.
I cannot accept this principle, because for the hungry, thirsty, or abused, patience is an impossibility. In fact, the preceding paragraph evidences a “heavenly” utopian objective that is not and will not become reality:
222. A constant tension exists between fullness and limitation. Fullness evokes the desire for complete possession, while limitation is a wall set before us. Broadly speaking, “time” has to do with fullness as an expression of the horizon which constantly opens before us, while each individual moment has to do with limitation as an expression of enclosure. People live poised between each individual moment and the greater, brighter horizon of the utopian future as the final cause which draws us to itself. Here we see a first principle for progress in building a people: time is greater than space.
Time is not greater than space to a hungry, thirsty, or abused person. Better and more moral to set concrete goals, like meeting everyone’s basic needs, and accept no damn excuses or delays on behalf of the hungry, thirsty, or abused.
But is interesting to me how one could argue the seeds long ago planted have become to come up in the ministry of Pope Francis. For this, I will quote the final few paragraphs of Father Calvez’s book (159-161). Father Calvez quotes from a writing of Father Matthew’s Society of the Divine Word (The Promotion of Justice and Peace in Solidarity with the Poor in the Light of Constitution 112 II Directives on Poverty and Finances, January 1983, p. 3):
Our commitment to the promotion of justice and peace should never be a function of any ideology but flow from Jesus’ own predilection for the poor and marginalized. …
Solidarity with the poor in the light of the kingdom demands a spirituality deeply aware that the human liberation we seek is not only a task but also a gift. … If it were only a task, our involvement could easily lead to bitterness, cynicism, and despair. But since it is also a gift, we can then persevere in faith and hope. Understanding that God’s kingdom is already operative in the present enables us to radiate joy in the midst of situations which humanly speaking may appear utterly hopeless.
Then Father Calvez concludes with three helpful paragraphs that state much of the foundation Pope Francis had to work with when he came to write his Exhortation:
It is impossible not to be impressed by the generosity and scope of these resolutions and programs. The element which perhaps was specifically true of the Jesuits is that circumstances led them to develop a series of reflections on the theological foundations of the relation of justice to the Gospel, of justice to charity, of love of neighbor to love of God, of faith to justice itself. They were likewise led to probe very carefully problems such as social analysis, the appropriate forms of participation by religious and priests in activities directed toward structural transformation, and the political implications of commitment to the cause of justice. All of these practical problems followed in the wake of options taken for the promotion of justice. However, all this is but a small contribution to a structure that has only begun to take shape. For it looks as thought this whole set of questions, bearing the stamp of the Second Vatican Council, will not disappear so soon from the conscience of the Church, especially from the consciences of those of its members who more fully devote themselves to the work of evangelizing.
In the first stages of this task of promoting justice as a requisite for the service of faith, mistakes, some of them serious, were made. Here and there these errors led at times to forgetfulness of faith itself and its centrality. But none of these defects could prevent the demand for a concrete link between justice and faith from enduring. That link is based on the compelling reevaluation of “human activity in the universe” which distinguished Vatican II, especially Gaudium et spes. The council opened our eyes again to the teaching on the importance of [sic] eternity which in virtue of the grace of Christ can be present in the works of time. From this point of view, the very work of evangelization inescapably calls for the participation of men and women in the task of human development and the promotion of justice.
Thus, an entirely new way of life has begun to take shape among Jesuits and many others. This new way of looking at life and of living is not the only channel through which the Gospel reaches us today. But it is one of them, a quite decisive one, at a time when men and women are attracted as never before to the very task of building the human person. Surely we are obliged to help all to advance that endeavor involving the very work of Christ and the glory of God.
- Much of Father Calvez’s work is steeped in a tradition of dialogue, including the often fitful Christian-Marxist dialogue that began in the 1950s. It is interesting that Pope Francis ends Chapter Four with a lengthy discussion of the importance of “SOCIAL DIALOGUE AS A CONTRIBUTION TO PEACE.” [238-258]
I hope that this lengthy socialized reflection will be of some benefit in promoting the system change needed to truly help the poor and needy, and that truth and reconciliation, and true solidarity, will arise around the world in deed and not just in word.
- Christian-Marxist Dialogue: A Not So Ridiculous or Antiquated Notion (gardenvarietydemocraticsocialist.com)