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Saturday 18 July 2015

Fraternity, Equality and Distributism

A young man wrote concerning the Pope's July prayer intentions which included the call to fraternity.

Dear Father,

     . . .  the principles of equality, liberty and fraternity have been applied to the Church since Vatican II:

"The result is that the Church’s powers of resistance to Communism, heresy, immorality, have been considerably weakened. This is what its opponents have been hoping for and that is why they made such efforts, at the time of the Council and after it, to urge her into the ways of democracy.

If we look carefully, it is by means of its slogan that the Revolution has penetrated the Church. 'Liberty' -- this is the religious liberty we spoke of earlier, which confers rights on error. 'Equality' -- collegiality and the destruction of personal authority, the authority of God, of the pope, of the bishops; in a word, majority rule . . .  

You made reference to the following quotation in relation to fraternity:

1 John 3:17            
But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?  (Equality)

​The Catholic Study Bible (NAB)'s interpretation of this verse is that, "for Christians, proof of deliverance is love towards others, after the example of Christ. This includes concrete acts of charity, out of our material abundance." This seems to be promoting fraternal love, rather than equality. 

 "By nature all men are equal in liberty, but not in other endowments."  -- St. Thomas Aquinas​
An excerpt from Quanta Cura Press's 2013 publication, "Lumen Gentium Annotated"​:

". . .  Because this human race today is joining more and more into a civic, economic and social unity, it is that much the more necessary that priests, by combined effort and aid, under the leadership of the bishops and the Supreme Pontiff, wipe out every kind of separateness, so that the whole human race may be brought into the unity of the family of God."

. . . This statement is imprecise, overbroad and specifically identifies three types of diversity among peoples, civic, economic and social.

First of all, to the extent that Vatican II is here calling for wiping out civic "separateness" - i.e., separate nations - by creating a one-world government, that is a novelty which is much more likely to occur in a new world order ruled by the antichrist than it is likely to occur in a one-world government which is subject to Christ the King.

Further, it is an unprecedented novelty to give to priests the job of striving for world civic unity and wiping out the current order of the world's multiple countries (although it is true that every country must submit to and follow Christ and His Church).

. . . . when Vatican II here dedicates all priests to wiping out all economic separateness, that is a task never before given to them by the Catholic Church! The council's fuzzy statement can be taken as calling for wiping out private property (which is a type of economic separateness). This is the agenda of the Church's enemies: the communists, socialists and promoters of liberation theology. But private property is natural to man, is protected by the Church and is based on man's rational nature. 

As Pope Leo XIII taught: 

Catholic wisdom most skillfully provides for public and domestic tranquility, supported by the precepts of divine law, through what it holds and teaches concerning the right of ownership and the distribution of goods which have been obtained for necessities and uses of life. 

. . . .  when Socialists proclaim the right of property to be a human invention repugnant to the natural equality of man, and, seeking to establish community of goods, think that poverty is by no means to be endured with equanimity; and that the possessions and rights of the rich can be violated with impunity, the Church, much more properly and practically, recognizes inequality among men, who are naturally different in strength of body and of mind; also in the possession of goods, and it orders that right of property and of ownership, which proceeds from nature itself, be for everyone intact and inviolate; for it knows that theft and raping have been forbidden by God, the author and vindicator of every right, in such a way that one may not even look attentively upon [i.e., covet] the property of another, and "that thieves and robbers, no less than adulterers and idolaters are excluded from the kingdom of heaven" [cf. 1 Cor. 6:9f.]. 28 Dec. 1878 Encyclical, Quod Apolstolici muneris, Denz. 1851, (first bracketed comment added to give an alternate translation; bracketed citation in original; bold emphasis added).
 The council's call for wiping out economic separateness can be taken as a call for wiping out poverty. But this is impossible, as our Lord said: "[T]he poor will be always with you, and whensoever you will, you may do them good". Mark 14:7.

Following St. Basil, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that it is part of the Divine plan that wealth is distributed unequally in order that some have the opportunity to exercise the virtue of giving alms and being good stewards of material goods, while others have the opportunity to exercise patience in need. Summa. IIa IIae, Q.32, a.5, ad 2.

Kind regards,



Thanks for your very thoughtful comments, Brian.  You certainly raise much to consider and some important distinctions that we need to hold in mind as we understand the movement of the Holy Spirit to bring us to true fraternal love and acts of charity.

With regard to equality, I agree that we need to recognize that in this Fallen World there will not be equality in material, political or economic terms.  However, it is clear that there is material abundance and sufficient food for all can be produced and this should be shared as Jesus taught.  Those who control production need always to be challenged by the Church to regard the poor as equal in terms of our shared humanity and so those who control material and power need to share the goods they control in imitation of our Lord and out of respect for the equal dignity of every human person. This does not mean endorsing either a capitalist or communist economy but rather presenting the Gospel to whoever is in power at any given time.

I noted and you responded:
JH: 1 John 3:17 – But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?  (Equality)

Response: The Catholic Study Bible (NAB)'s interpretation of this verse is that, "for Christians, proof of deliverance is love towards others, after the example of Christ. This includes concrete acts of charity, out of our material abundance." This seems to be promoting fraternal love, rather than equality.  

Equality in terms of possessions, status or power is not something that the Church advocates through politics or the levers of the economy, however, the equal dignity of each person is affirmed in the teaching of Jesus and he gives us his example by treating everyone as being of equal value in the eyes of God.  This is an essential starting point for all our teaching and should challenge all of us and especially those in political and other leadership positions to make sure that people are provided with the essentials out of respect for our shared human dignity. This is not in some attempt to level the economy but simply to demand respect for life and the equal dignity of each person in a world where currently millions starve.

Such an understanding of human equality is far from the communist model. Personally, I prefer the thinking of the Distributists based on ideas advocated by Chesterton, Belloc et. al. 
Belloc and Chesterton - Distributism
They hold that the means of production should be spread as widely as possible, rather than being centralized under control by the state (state socialism or communism), by a few individuals (plutocracy), or by corporations (corporatocracy).  As Catholics, they advocated a society marked by widespread property ownership that is key to bringing about a just social order.

Distributists see both socialism and capitalism as products of the Enlightenment Project and so as modernizing and anti-traditional forces.  Some Catholic philosophers contend that socialism is the logical conclusion of capitalism as capitalism's concentrated powers eventually capture the state, resulting in a form of socialism. Distributists seek to subordinate economic activity to human life as a whole, to our spiritual life, intellectual life, and family life.

Some argue that this was realised in a commitment to the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity in the Catholic societies of the Middle Ages. These societies offer an example of the historical long-term viability of distributist principles.


Romans 2:11   For God shows no partiality.

Galatians 3:26-29          
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

Leviticus 19:33-34        
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Acts 10:34    So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality

1 Timothy 2:1      
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,

1 Corinthians 9:19-23  
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

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