The Social Agenda

Here is something that came out back in 2000 from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace called “The Social Agenda” and is a compendium of magisterial teaching of the Church (largely just quotations from various sources) arranged in categories for easy access. It appears to be a forerunner to the Compendium on the Social Doctrine of the Church that the same department released in 2005.

We (Cardinal Pole and I) have been discussing the authority and application of Pius IX’s Quanta Cura to the modern context.

I find it interesting, to say the least, that neither document from the PCJP quotes the teaching of any pope before Leo XIII (with one exception: The Social Agenda quotes a line from Gregory the Great). (Just as an aside, Quanta Cura p.3 is affirmed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in just one instance: in footnote 39 to paragraph 2109 which states taht “The right to religious liberty can of itself be neither unlimited nor limited only by a “public order” conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner.”)

Some might say the great watershed in Catholic Social teaching came with Vatican II, but it is undeniable that in fact Leo XIII marked the real turning point. I would contend that the turning point was not a change in the faith and morals of the Church, but a readiness on the part of the Church to address her faith and morals, for the first time, to that society which today we would call “modern”. In fact, Leo is usually accredited with inventing the idea of a “social encyclical”.

For my part, I find that Leo XIII, in Immortale Dei (1885) goes a very long way to providing the positive teaching with regard to the State which “connects the dots” between the condemnations of Pius IX in Quanta Cura and the seemingly opposite affirmations of the Second Vatican Council and the modern popes. Even Immortale Dei requires reading within its context, but it at least gives a measured foothold on which to carry out the dialogue between what goes before and what comes after.

Only when all the dots are connected – not leaving any of the dots out (whether they date from 1864, 1885, 1965 or 2008) – will an overall coherant picture be formed.

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0 Responses to The Social Agenda

  1. Cardinal Pole says:

    Mr. Schütz,

    I’ve posted another response at the old post, but since the discussion has moved to here I’ll post it here for further comment:

    Mr. Schütz,

    1) You said that your

    “main reason is that the teaching is not universal, which by your own admission means that “in common with the other Popes”. QC does not match this requirement.”

    My use of the word ‘universal’ was, as I stated, as in universal with respect to all or many of the occupants of the Throne of Peter, but your use of the word ‘universal’ was in the sense of universal with respect to all circumstances. I brought up universality in order to compare Acts of the Ordinary Papal Magisterium with Acts of the Extraordinary Papal Magisterium (E.P.M.), for which universality is irrelevant, since they are, as Vatican I taught, irreformable in and of themselves. And in any case, my key objection, which you did not refute, to your demand for universality was that in fact the three errors that I quoted do indeed apply universally (in the sense that you used) since they presuppose only one key circumstance, namely, man’s social nature.


    “Also I do not accept that QC was a definition of positive teaching of the Church.”

    I never said it was. But it certainly contains definitive condemnations of principles, not mere slogans. And when such condemnations are made in the manner in which Bl. Pius IX made them, they are binding not just till another teaching is proposed, but forever.


    “Compare “reprobate, proscribe, and condemn” (QC) to “declare, pronounce, and define” (ID)”

    They are two sides of the same coin. It is well-known that it is absurd to restrict infallibility only to anathemata and not the canons as well, but you seem to be going to the other extreme and saying that only the canons can be infallible and not the anathemata.


    “It does not set forth a Catholic model of civil government, as you seem to believe it does.”

    Again, I never said it did. It didn’t need to, because the Catholic model of civil government was a given; the basic principle is that the State is the juridical and moral person that exercises God-given civil authority over a given populace in a given territory, and the State’s end or purpose is the common good (not mere public peace, as Bl. Pius refuted).


    “Your example of the Catholic teaching on a just wage actually supports my contention. I would say that this teaching – precisely in its formulation – is also not a universal teaching of the Church, because it depends upon …”
    (my emphasis)

    But Catholic teaching on the just wage does not ‘depend on’ the operation of a market economy for its validity, it depends on the authority with which it was taught; it goes without saying, though, that it does not apply where there is no market economy. Similarly, the Church’s opposition to artificial contraception holds regardless of whether a certain society has the developed the means to effect it.


    “… has nothing at all which ties it to the changing nature of human authority.”

    The way in which civil authority is exercised can change, but never its principle and purpose.

    7) To sum up:

    A) E.P.M. teachings are irreformable in and of themselves; they do not require universality with respect to the other Popes. They require only that the four criteria that I have mentioned are present, and I have shown that they are.

    B) In any case, the three condemned errors that I quoted are indeed condemned universally (with respect to time and place of application) because their falsehood arises from man’s social nature.

    C) To assert that a moral error’s condemnation depends for its validity on the fact of certain circumstances existing universally amounts to restricting the scope for infallible Papal teachings from faith and morals to just faith, since new moral questions arise from new historical circumstances that cannot be expected to be present universally.

  2. Cardinal Pole says:

    “… seemingly opposite affirmations of the Second Vatican Council and the modern popes.”

    Neither Dignitatis Humanae nor Benedict XVI have specified the object of their ‘right to religious freedom’; it was always at the level of the subject/in abstracto.

    Compare, for instance, Pius XII saying in his Christmas message of 1942 saying that everyone has the right to worship God–religious freedom at the level of the subject. Can one infer from this that Pius XII would have upheld a right, at the level of the object, to, say, Protestant forms of worship? Of course not, since in his allocution Ci Riesce His late Holiness taught that that which is erroneous has no right to exist, to be activated or to be spread.

    As I have said beforehand, it is true to say that

    “Everyone has the right to the free exercise of religion.”

    It is false, however, to say that

    “Everyone has the right to the free exercise of any religion, whether Catholic or non-Catholic.

  3. Schütz says:

    Consider this:

    You are in a restaurant. The waiter hands you the menu and says to you:

    “Your Eminence, you are free to choose whatever meal you like from this menu.”

    You respond:

    “But waiter, the menu lists only one dish!”

    And the waiter responds:

    “Exactly, Your Eminence. You have the subjective right to exercise free choice as to what you wish to eat, but you do not have the objective right.”

    A close parallel to your proposition, no?

    In other words, your clever distinction between subjective and objective rights does not hold, because without the objective freedom, there can be no true subjective freedom.

    Yet I acknowledge that traditional Catholic teaching uses phrases such as “error has no rights” and (as Leo XIII does in Immortale Dei) upholds the Catholic religion as the only valid religion worthy of the State’s respect and support.

    I contend that the best way to understand this difference is not so much on the basis of the difference between “subjective” and “objective” freedoms, but in answer to the question of “freedom before whom?”

    Naturally, before God, no human being has the right to adhere to religious beliefs that are false. (The Church has, however, added to this that there are mitigating circumstances in such guilt, viz. the extent to which the individual is capable of knowing that the beliefs to which they adhere are false).

    But before the State, every man must be free to hold those beliefs which he has concluded are true – even if the rest of society deems him to be in error.

    A major reason for defending this freedom is that, without it, we are just as likely to be the persecuted as the persecutor.

    So, the moral of the story is, don’t offend the religious freedom of others, or you might end up being offered a Friday menu that has only the roast beef special on it.

  4. Schütz says:

    And, reflecting this morning on your comment above, I agree that
    Catholic teaching per se “depends on” the authority with which it was taught – I was meaning the “application” of the teaching depends on the context.

    As you pointed out, the teaching against the use of artificial contraception does not apply where artificial contraception does not apply.

    So, my argument is that the condemnation of the political slogans of Europe in 1864 does not apply where the political situation of Europe in 1864 does not exist. Since the situation in Australia today is entirely different to the situation in Europe in 1864, I do not see how you can apply the condemned slogans to today’s situation without a great deal of caution.

    For eg. Let’s pretend that a medieval pope had condemned the farming of purple ducks. There is a good deal of argument over whether what we call “purple” today is what they called “purple” then. We would need to do some historic research into exactly what shade of “purple” the papal condemnation refered to before we applied it today.

    In the same way, the shade of politics which goes by the name “liberal” today is not the same as that which went by the name “liberal” in 1864. If Pius IX had simply condemned all “liberal politicians” we would not have been justified in applying it to today’s Liberal Party just because the name is the same.

    And you have virtually conceded this, by saying that the papal condemnations are not relevant where the situation which they are intended to condemn does not exist.

  5. Past Elder says:

    I’m sure His Reggieness is not looking for support from a heretic, however, the Syllabus does not condemn situations, it condemns statements and affirms their contraries.

    “Liberalism” is addressed in the last four of the eighty statements. Here (US) too liberal means something now quite different, opposite really, from its literal meaning, still in use in 1864.

    The content is condemned and the contrary affirmed — by whatever name, in whatever situation.

  6. Schütz says:

    Which is my point. Since the name and the situation changes, it is essential that we understand what exactly is the content and what it is that is affirmed so that we can apply it to the changed name and situation.

  7. Cardinal Pole says:

    Mr. Schütz,

    you say

    “Consider this:

    You are in a restaurant … A close parallel to your proposition, no?”

    False. You’re making a category mistake. Choosing from a range of meals maintains the orientation towards the true and the good (in this case, the satisfaction of hunger and provision of nutrition) that is the hallmark of a natural right/moral liberty (so long as the consumption does not pass into gluttony, of course). A better example would be:

    A woman goes to her obstetrician, who informs her that she has an ectopic pregnancy, and he presents her with a list of options. But the woman protests: ‘abortion is not on this list’. The doctor answers: ‘yes, that’s because you have a subjective right to choose, but abortion can never be the object of this right if it is indeed to remain a right’, a right being an ability justly to claim some entitlement.

    “your clever distinction between subjective and objective rights does not hold”

    It’s not my distinction. A right has a subject, terms and an object. At the level of the subject, a right is just a power of demanding. But at the level of the object, only the true and the good can be the objects of a right, since a right is, by definition, the ability justly to claim some entitlement.

    “Naturally, before God, no human being has the right to adhere to religious beliefs that are false. … But before the State, every man must be free to hold those beliefs which he has concluded are true – even if the rest of society deems him to be in error.”

    This notion of a dichotomy between ‘rights before God’ and ‘rights before man’ that you bring up is false for three reasons:

    1. The very definition of a right: a right can only ever have for its object the true and the good. Even if the dissemination of heresy were the lesser evil, it is still an evil and we cannot do evil in order to bring forth good, though we can permit evil in order to bring forth a greater good or avert a greater evil. Hence the maxim that I keep repeating: the State has the right to tolerate error, but the error-holding individual has no right to be tolerated.

    2. At the level of the individual: a ‘right before men’ to disseminate heresy may seduce Catholics into accepting the error.

    3. At the level of society: the State’s authority, and therefore its rights, do not derive from man, but from God, so if you concede that error has no rights before God, then neither has it any rights before the State.

    “So, my argument is that the condemnation of the political slogans of Europe in 1864 does not apply where the political situation of Europe in 1864 does not exist.”

    You keep saying that they were mere slogans, but they were in fact principles. The principles are condemned, regardless of the motivation for the condemnation. Forget about purple ducks, let’s keep this concrete by focussing on a single error, say, this one:

    that is the best condition of civil society, in which no duty is recognized, as attached to the civil power, of restraining by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion, except so far as public peace may require.

    This is not a slogan. This is the principle that holds today in America, Australia, and all the countries of the West except, I seem to recall, Liechtenstein. It is a principle that must be condemned wherever there is a State and the presence of the Catholic Church in its territory. Bl. Pius didn’t just offer a vague, blanket condemnation of ‘liberalism’, but of the key principles that underpin it.

    Getting back to the original question of the Magisterial status of Quanta Cura. I have shown that the four criteria for an Act of the E.P.M. are present. I have shown that it is universal with respect to time and place. (This is not just my opinion either. I recalled over the weekend that the Venerable John Henry Newman described Bl. Pius’s condemned errors as universals in his famous Letter to The Duke of Norfolk). I have shown that not mere slogans or buzzwords are condemned, but principles. The condemnation of the errors in Quanta Cura was, undoubtedly, an Act of the E.P.M. The question is, what is it about the condemnations that you find so objectionable? I, for my part, have no problem in condemning any of them.

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