The Magisterial Sources of the Tradinista! Manifesto: Part I

The following article was published on 19 October 2016 by the “Tradinista Collective.” It has been republished on Tradistae not as a full endorsement of its ideas but to provide an archive of the Tradinista projectThe related manifesto is here. The second part is here

The Magisterial Sources of the Tradinista! Manifesto: Part I


We are well aware that the Tradinista project is controversial. After all, the popes have condemned “socialism” in seemingly unequivocal terms. And recent events in civil society have brought sexual ethics into the spotlight with a prurient regularity. We are deeply aware of the fact that the default mode of engagement of “left” American Catholicism is heresy, unorthodoxy, and dissent: we wish to propose an alternative. However, we are likewise aware that the popes’ social teaching may not be summarized in simplistic terms. Therefore, we have prepared this doctrinal commentary to elucidate the magisterial sources for the propositions set forth in the Tradinista Manifesto. It is our hope that this document – while only a partial treatment of the various questions raised by the broad range of magisterial texts engaged with – might settle the question of the basic orthodoxy of the Manifesto and allow the prevailing discussion to ascend to broader, prudential questions.

Here a specifically Christian dimension of our project becomes clear. For while politics is a natural science, our basic view is that the magisterium—and sources clearly approved by the magisterium (e.g., St. Thomas’s Summa Theologiae)—represents the ultimate touchstone for assessing any political proposition. Furthermore, our view is that the Church must not be denied her right, conferred upon her ultimately by Our Lord Jesus Christ, to pass judgment with universal applicability on political, economic, and moral questions. A view which would seek to deny this right, condemned by Leo XIII in «Testem benevolentiae nostrae» and Pius XI in «Ubi arcano Dei consilia», is inadmissible and deplorable. We do, however, acknowledge that some points in the Manifesto admit of differing perspectives and are questions ultimately of interpretation, and so we anticipate that subsequent notes, essays, and comments will be devoted to exploring the range of interpretation permitted on these points.

Given the Church’s unquestionable right to judge matters economic and political, we have always intended to approach the teachings of the Church in a spirit of humble submission and docility, seeking always to conform ourselves to those teachings, rather than to conform those teachings to our preexisting prejudices. For it is our view that a Catholic must be a Catholic first – or he or she will be nothing in the end. Nevertheless, to submit to those teachings does not mean that they may not be applied to concrete circumstances, nor does it mean that those teachings admit of only one possible interpretation. This is in fact essential to the role of handing on a living tradition: that role requires our obedient engagement, interpretation, and explication, always in a posture of prayerful supplication to the Holy Spirit, so that it may be passed on in the manner enjoined by the Apostles.

Neither does it mean that philosophical speculation is forbidden to the Christian; but only that philosophy cannot be founded on a denial of the basic truths of faith and morals. We submit to the magisterial teaching of the Church as a sure foundation for the construction of right philosophy. But this does not mean the Church has spoken authoritatively on every part of philosophy, especially in matters of political doctrine. We are obliged by our reverence for the Church’s social doctrine to – by philosophy – engage with the realities of modern life as thoroughly as possible, so that the principles the Church articulates might be most fruitfully applied to contemporary circumstances. No more and no less has been our project.

What does it mean to engage with the tradition of the Church? The Church teaches infallibly that the basic content of divine revelation is made up of both the written scriptures and unwritten traditions, given to the Apostles either by the mouth of Christ Himself or by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (Council of Trent, Decree on the Reception of Sacred Books (Apr. 8, 1546); First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith «Dei Filius» (Apr. 24, 1870) at ch. 1.) The Apostles themselves enjoined the faithful to keep the traditions that they had received from Jesus Christ, the God-Man. (2 Thess. 2:15.) Those traditions, therefore, constitute the deposit of faith, which has been handed on by the Apostles to their successors – and so forth – to the present day. While nothing may be added to or subtracted from the deposit of faith, the Church teaches us that the apostolic tradition develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. (Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation «Dei Verbum» (Nov. 18, 1965) at ch. 2.) This development takes the form of a growth in the understanding of the single deposit of faith left to us by Christ, which is complete, not a revision or replacement of this deposit of faith.

Seen properly, the centrality of tradition to the Christian faith becomes obvious. To ignore or deprecate tradition is to ignore or deprecate divine revelation – and the earthly mission of Christ – itself. Furthermore, the tradition of the Church is inextricably bound up with the Church’s teaching authority. While the popes are promised the charism of infallibility when they exercise their extraordinary magisterium under the conditions outlined in «Pastor aeternus», the universal ordinary magisterium is itself infallible, since it represents tradition in a real sense. Teachings restating the universal ordinary magisterium—or consistent with it—themselves are infallible and binding upon the consciences of the faithful. Conversely, teachings inconsistent with the universal ordinary magisterium are less binding upon the faithful, relying primarily upon the authority of the teacher. But if a teaching seems to contradict the universal ordinary magisterium, it is necessary either to interpret it in the light of tradition, if possible, or to privilege earlier, more authoritative teachings.

The question of the tradition is not purely academic where the Church’s teachings regarding politics and the economy are concerned, since these have become an important feature of the tradition. Therefore, the economic and social teachings of the popes have to be assessed in the manner described above. That is the purpose of this document.


Preliminary Note on Citations: In this commentary, the Committee has endeavored to provide precise citations to permit anyone interested to delve into the sources discussed. This raises the problem of which version to use. For magisterial sources such as encyclical letters, when possible, the paragraph numbers or section numbers of the electronic versions available on the Vatican’s website will be given.[1] For other sources, commonly used citation styles will be employed.

Comment on the Manifesto Prologue: The Manifesto focuses on social structures more than the actions of individuals in many sections. Such structural discussions have been part of the Church’s social magisterium from Leo XIII’s «Rerum novarum» to the present day. Leo himself speaks of society “divided into two classes, separated by a deep chasm” («Rerum novarum» ¶132). However, St. John Paul II made the most serious contribution to this topic when he introduced the concept of ‘structures of sin’ in his 1984 apostolic exhortation, «Reconciliatio et Paenitentia» (no. 16), and his 1987 social encyclical, «Sollicitudo rei socialis» (no. 36). St. John Paul acknowledges that individuals introduce certain structures, consolidate them, and make them difficult to remove, leading these structures to spread to others and ultimately perpetuate themselves. Furthermore, the saint teaches that no sin may be said to be truly individual; every sin, especially sins against the common good or sins against the rights of individuals, affects others in some way. However, the saint very carefully emphasizes that these structures arise from personal actions and are sustained by personal actions. Thus, St. John Paul teaches us that it is possible to focus on structural injustices without mitigating individual responsibility. The Church affirms that the impermissible aspects of these structures are bound up with individual actions inextricably, so that to talk about structures is in a very real sense to talk about individual responsibility, as well as the individual actions that create and perpetuate those structures. It the perennial Christian understanding that we are not simply atoms in an aggregate, but rather social creatures who naturally form various social groupings and arrangements, which demand to be understood on their own terms.

1. Jesus Christ is the way, and the truth, and the life, who became man for the salvation of all.

Fontes: Pius XII, Encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ «Mystici Corporis Christi» (June 29, 1943), at ¶¶ 1, 13–14, 29–31; Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church «Lumen gentium» (Nov. 21, 1964), at ch. 1; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration «Dominus Iesus» on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church (Aug. 6, 2000), at no. 5.

Comment: This proposition is self evident to any Christian and does not require magisterial support, except insofar as the Church has reminded us in recent years that it must be maintained unfailingly that Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Word of God, and such a belief must be confessed without hesitation in order to obtain everlasting life, which is the ultimate end of all humanity. Nevertheless, dialogue with all men and women of good will is possible and desirable, just insofar as – as St. Paul and the fathers of First Vatican Council remind us – God and the moral law are knowable by natural reason, providing a universal basis for political dialogue.

2. Political authority ought to promote the teachings of the Church.

Fontes: St. Gelasius I, «Famuli vestrae pietatis» (494); Innocent III, «Novit ille» (1204); Boniface VIII, «Unam sanctam» (Nov. 18, 1302); Pope St. Pius V, «Regnans in excelsis» (Feb. 25, 1570); Benedict XIV, Brief to the Cardinal Duke of York «Singulari nobis» (Feb. 9, 1749); Gregory XVI, Encyclical Letter on Liberalism and Religious Indifferentism «Mirari vos» (Aug. 15, 1832); Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter on the Christian Constitution of States «Immortale Dei» (Nov. 1, 1885); St. Pius X, Encyclical Letter on Labor Organizations «Singulari quadam» (Sept. 24, 1912); Pius XI, Encyclical Letter on the Feast of Christ the King «Quas primas» (Dec. 11, 1925); Second Vatican Council, Declaration on Religious Freedom «Dignitatis humanae» (Dec. 7, 1965), Francis, Encyclical Letter on Faith «Lumen Fidei» (June 29, 2013) at no. 55. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae [ST] II-II q.10 a.8 co. & ad 2. St. Thomas Aquinas, De Regno ad Regem Cypri I, 15.

Comment: Christ is King over the whole world, including – we are taught by many good and holy popes – over both the baptized who have fallen into error and the unbaptized. All men are subject to the power of Jesus Christ; the tradition is unfailing and clear on this point. Nevertheless, as Aquinas teaches us, the unbaptized must be reasoned with, not coerced. While the long history of the Church affirms that the temporal power is ordered to and subject to the spiritual power, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council tell us that the Church no longer requires, as a matter of prudence, the aid of the state in compelling heretics and apostates to live up to their baptismal promises. On this point, we are indebted to the scholarship of Thomas Pink. Nevertheless, the Church retains jurisdiction and moral authority over all the baptized, Catholic or otherwise, as the great Benedict XIV wrote to the Cardinal Duke of York.

3. The goal of political authority is to create a good and virtuous people.

Fontes: Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter on the Origin of Civil Power «Diuturnum illud» (Jun. 29, 1881) at ¶¶ 12–15; Leo XIII, «Immortale Dei» at ¶ 6; Leo XIII, Encyclical on the Nature of Human Liberty «Libertas praestantissimum» (Jun. 20, 1888), at ¶ 9; Pius X, Encyclical Letter on the Errors of La Sillon «Notre charge apostolique» (Aug. 25, 1910); Paul VI, Apostolic Letter to Maurice Cardinal Roy on the Occasion of the Eightieth Anniversary of the Encyclical “Rerum Novarum” «Octogesima adveniens» (May 14, 1971) at ¶ 46. ST I-II q.90 a.1 co.; ST I-II q.90 a.4 co.; ST I-II q.95 a.1 co.; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles II c.114; St. Thomas Aquinas, De Regno at I, 16.

Comment: This principle has been articulated consistently in terms of natural reason since the time of Aristotle. The purpose of the civil authority is to pursue and protect the common good of its subjects; the intrinsic natural common good of civil society is, of course, peace. Leo XIII teaches in «Immortale Dei», however, that the same nature and reason which bind men to worship and obey God also bind the civil authority to worship and obey God. But the two powers are more deeply connected than merely being bound by the same nature and reason. St. Paul brings the question of civil authority into the divine order by teaching us that all civil rulers have received their authority from God. Indeed, Pius X condemned in «Notre charge apostolique» any political dispensation that asserts that power comes from the people and remains vested in the people, referring to the same text of St. Paul. Therefore, any attempt to vest man with disordered independence and liberty must be rejected, since such an attempt implicitly – or explicitly, as the case may be – rejects authorities constituted by God. What is condemned here cannot be understood to be democracy per se; rather more importantly, what is condemned is the humanity and the polity making an idol of themselves, and refusing to order themselves properly to God. To sum up, God alone vests authorities with power, and the Apostle teaches that they must be obeyed insofar as they rule rightly. Therefore, the civil authority must rule consistently with God’s law and the natural law to be legitimate. Rulers who cease to rule consistently with God’s law and the natural law cease to be legitimate. Finally, the highest common good is God, and therefore it may be said that the end of civil society is less excellent than the ultimate end of all men. And Leo XIII tells us in «Immortale Dei» that the goal of every endeavor, including political endeavors, must be the highest good: God. This reality may have consequences for the right ordering of the state and the Church, but it does not change the basic fact that the civil authority must pursue and protect the common good.

4. Political authority must be decentralized as far as possible.

Fontes: Leo XIII, «Diuturnum illud» at ¶ 7; Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter on Capital and Labor «Rerum novarum» (May 15, 1891) at ¶ 35–37; Pius X, «Notre charge apostolique»; Pius XI, Encyclical Letter on the Reconstruction of the Social Order «Quadragesimo anno» (May 15, 1931), at ¶ 80; St. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter on the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum «Centesimus annus» (May 1, 1991) at no. 48.

Comment: Subsidiarity is a central point of Catholic social teaching, and the popes have developed the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity since «Rerum novarum». In recent years, a popular understanding has emerged that sees subsidiarity as little more than American-style federalism. But this view both overstates and understates the correct view of subsidiarity. In the concept of Leo XIII and Pius XI, subsidiarity requires issues to be addressed by the smallest competent unit, recalling always that the rights of individuals and families must be respected, as St. John Paul teaches us in «Centesimus annus». Some issues are so complex and important that they may be addressed only at the national or supranational level. In such cases, it does violence to the concept of subsidiarity when such issues are committed to smaller, ultimately incompetent units. Other issues, however, may be addressed locally: and here it would do violence to subsidiarity for regional, national, and supranational government to take responsibility for the issues. Of course, determining which issues ought to be addressed at a regional or national level and which issues ought to be addressed locally is a difficult task calling for careful discernment. Nevertheless, a presumption of decentralization and localization ought to be adopted, as such a presumption most assiduously ensures that the rights of families and individuals are safeguarded. It must be noted, furthermore, that radical decentralization on the basis of subsidiarity necessarily implies hierarchy, based on the various common goods considered at each level of social organization. In other words, the total leveling of society condemned in «Notre charge apostolique» – effected today through means of capitalist democracy and the atomization of the state – is rejected in this approach. However, it must be said, in accordance with «Diuturnum illud», that it is not necessary to adopt any particular form of government to comply with the mandates of subsidiarity, provided that the government is just and ordered to the common good. Leo XIII teaches that the customs and traditions of a given people may be considered in determining the appropriate form of government.

5. Economic life should be ordered to the common good.

Fontes: Leo XIII, «Rerum novarum» at ¶ 22; Pius XI, «Quadragesimo anno» at ¶ 25, 49, 57; St. John Paul II, «Centesimus annus» at no. 40.

Comment: This point requires no serious magisterial defense, having been articulated consistently by the popes, most precisely by Pius XI in «Quadragesimo anno». The prevailing consensus: that economic life is separate from political life; that the capitalist market left unregulated generates spontaneously the conditions congenial to the common good; all of this is rejected out of hand by many good and holy popes. It has been 125 years since Leo XIII had the temerity to petition capital even for the minimum guarantee of a just wage. Not even this has been granted.

6. Capitalism must be abolished.

Fontes: Leo XIII, «Rerum novarum» at ¶¶ 36–37; Pius XI, «Quadragesimo anno» at ¶¶ 54, 59–61; St. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter on Human Work on the Ninetieth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum «Laborem exercens» (Sept. 14, 1981) at no. 7; St. John Paul II, «Centesimus annus» at nos. 8, 33; Francis, Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World «Evangelii Gaudium» (Nov. 24, 2013); Francis, Encyclical Letter on Care for Our Common Home «Laudato si’» (May 24, 2015) at ¶¶ 106, 109.

Comment: It is the great Pius XI who outlines most precisely the brief against capitalism as such in «Quadragesimo anno» when he explained that there was a tendency in the capitalist class to accumulate to itself all profits, and that no one class may exclude another from sharing in the gains of labor. Yet that is precisely what has continued to happen—despite Pius’s warnings—and it has reached a terminal stage in recent years, with St. John Paul II acknowledging, in «Centesimus annus», that the capitalist class has continued to abuse the rights of workers in the process of accumulating to itself ever larger quantities the fruits of labor. In «Laborem exercens», he also identifies that a primary function of capitalism is to treat man “solely as an instrument of production,” subverting the “right order of values” in Christian society. One point that Pope Francis has fairly recently identified is the connection between capitalist economies and the modern anthropocentric, technocratic mindset that seeks to dominate and control. At long last, it must be said that the exploitation of workers and the rapacious, endless quest for gain by the capitalist class lies within the logic of capitalism itself. Indeed, it may be said that capital consistently opposes the common good by pursuing only its sectarian interest. The only way, therefore, to comply with the popes’ commands for a just economy is to abolish the capitalist social relation. This is the fundamental insight of the Tradinista project: the logic of capitalism rejects the popes’ warnings and guidance for a more humane and just political economy, but precisely the logic of capitalism militates against this. Long enough has capital failed to obey the clear direction of every pope who has written on political economy under capitalism; it therefore becomes necessary to reject capitalism itself, in order to better obey their commands.

To the rejection of capitalism, it is often objected that various papal documents, particularly in the magisterium of Leo XIII and Pius X, specifically forbid a reorganization along these lines. Such a reading is fatally compromised insofar as it attempts to create tensions between the popes to achieve a desired result. In «Rerum novarum», Leo recognized that the public authority must intervene to protect the interests and rights of a particular class, showing always special solicitude for the poor, particularly wage earners. Pius XI’s important clarification regarding the subordination, if necessary, of the use of property to the common good—a correction of Leo’s departure from the Thomistic tradition—which was itself clarified by John XXIII, Paul VI, and the Second Vatican Council, provides the key to harmonizing the magisterial pronouncements on this point. It is apparent that capital will unfailingly tread upon the interests and rights of labor, and that steps must be taken in accordance with the popes’ consistent teaching to defend the rights of workers, including by ordering the ownership and use of property to the common good.

A common theme running through the magisterial treatment of the theses on political economy is that there is development in the social magisterium running from the time of Leo XIII to the present day. On this point, we are indebted to Ernest Fortin’s treatment of «Rerum Novarum» in the context of the tradition and subsequent magisterium. While it is beyond the scope of this commentary to fully discuss the intricacies of this hermeneutical approach – which we will devote space in future essays to – for now it suffices to say that we see in the Leonine magisterium a great deal of sound Thomistic and traditional political philosophy mixed with some not insigificant principles of liberal thought, alien to the Catholic political tradition. Subsequent papal teachings have in many cases clarified and corrected the Leonine view, in the light of the perennial tradition of the Church. Our project does not single out the Leonine magisterium for special criticism – indeed our project is greatly indebted to it – but we do warn against an excessive idolatry of the Leo’s teachings, to the exclusion of subsequent clarifications. We also reject out of hand any attempt to view the social magisterium as solely an artifact of the postconciliar period – or of only the magisterium of St. John Paul II – which we have noticed among various apologists for the liberal order. The social magisterium must be read as a whole, including the various interventions before Leo, all in the light of Scripture and perennial tradition.

7. Class society must be erased.

Fontes: Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter on Socialism «Quod apostolici muneris» (Dec. 28, 1878) at ¶¶ 5–7; Pius X, «Singulari quadam» at ¶ 3; Pius XI, «Quadragesimo anno» at ¶ 114; St. John Paul II, «Laborem exercens»; St. John Paul II, «Centesimus annus» at no. 14; Francis, Address of the Holy Father at the World Meeting of Popular Movements (Oct. 28, 2014); Francis, Address of the Holy Father at the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements (July 9, 2015).

Comment: The creation of an absolute equality in society is condemned by Leo XIII in «Quod apostolici muneris». It is, as St. Pius X noted in his restatement of «Quod apostolici muneris» (and sundry other interventions of the Leonine magisterium), «Fin dalla prima nostra», impossible to do. Yet the elimination of economic class society is not the same thing as the absolute leveling of society. Indeed, Leo XIII does not focus his discussion in «Quod apostolici muneris» in merely economic terms; in particular, Leo was concerned with the rejection of authority and majesty more generally. Certainly that great pope opposed, in «Rerum novarum», unjust and exploitative behavior by the capital class, yet we do not hold that he contradicted himself. The question, therefore, is what is permissible in the context of opposing unjust class structures.

While it is common to assert that “class struggle” is forbidden by the popes, a careful review of the magisterium, especially as it develops after the Leonine period, demonstrates amply that this is not true. What is forbidden by the popes – as St. John Paul explains in «Centesimus annus», the longest and clearest magisterial intervention on this topic – is a total-war approach to class struggle. Conflicts between classes are inevitable in class society. When the workers find themselves under sustained assault, as they most certainly are under capitalism, they are permitted to organize and mobilize in their own defense. Indeed, under such circumstances as obtain under capitalism, the saint teaches us that it is impossible for Christians to remain idle. We must choose sides. It is impossible to claim neutrality or avoid the conflict on mere pretext. Whether the classes in question are naturally mutually antagonistic, as Leo warns against holding in «Rerum novarum» ¶19, is immaterial; what matters is that they are in fact locked in conflict. And it is unambiguously taught that the Christian’s moral duty lies with the laborer, with the weaker, with the oppressed. However, class struggle must leave behind mere sectarian strife and become an inclusive effort toward a just ordering of society in accordance with the common good.

Such an effort may never take an eliminationist posture or resort wantonly to violence, though the Church’s well defined moral teachings do not absolutely preclude violence in favor of quietism. In all cases, human dignity must be respected, recalling always that the effort is not to obliterate the enemies of a class, but to shape a more just society and serve the common good. Once again, one may cite this or that sentence or two from a prior papal document in a superficial attempt to claim that Catholicism categorically forbids the sort of class struggle discussed here. But, once again, such a view creates unnecessary conflicts in the social magisterium of the Church. The subsequent papal magisterium discussed above, particularly St. John Paul’s pellucid teaching in «Centesimus annus», clearly explains what is forbidden in class struggle, and the answer is not everything. Francis’ recent addresses to the World Meeting of Popular Movements demonstrate a clear papal solidarity with those involved in the struggle for inclusion and justice, over and against an economic system which deprives them of their basic human dignity.

8. Livelihood should not depend on the market.

Fontes: Pius XI, «Quadragesimo anno» at ¶¶ 83, 88; St. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter on Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity, and Liberty «Pacem in Terris» (Apr. 11, 1963); John Paul II, «Centesimus annus» at no. 35; Francis, Address of the Holy Father at the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements.

Comment: The popes plainly teach that markets are not per se unjust, though markets are subject to various distortions, including inducing the false ideology identified by Pius XI, which is that the market creates its own regulation through competition. This is manifestly not the case, yet it is in the logic of capitalism to insist upon the absolute supremacy of the market, which is precisely what has been denied by the popes consistently. Thus, while markets are not per se unjust, markets under capitalism tend inexorably toward injustice. Moreover, St. John XXIII identified that man has a right to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly the essentials such as food, clothing, shelter, rest, and medical care. Yet the logic of the market would deny that man has such rights, calling them only demands, and require him to sell his labor in order to obtain money to purchase these essentials. Indeed, this is perhaps the cruelest aspect of the market: one is drawn into the logic of capitalism to obtain essentials to which one has an unquestioned right.

9. Every person has a right to property.

Fontes: Leo XIII, «Rerum novarum» at ¶ 46; Pius XI, «Quadragesimo anno» at ¶¶ 44–49; Second Vatican Council, «Gaudium et Spes» at no. 71; Paul VI, «Populorum progressio» at no. 23; Francis, Address of the Holy Father at the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements. ST II-II q.66 a.2 co. & ad 1; ST II-II a.66 a.7 co. & ad 2.

Comment: On this topic, much could be said, and we anticipate that much more will be said at a more opportune moment. For now, it must be acknowledged that Leo XIII held that there is a sacred and inviolable right to private property. However, it must be likewise acknowledged that Leo XIII’s great encyclical, «Rerum novarum», did not restate precisely the prior teaching of the Church on this point, particularly the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, and in some manner represents an innovation, not to say a breach. Given the social circumstances that the great pope confronted, such an innovation is understandable as a reaction to forces hostile to the Church. Unfortunately, this departure created a tension with the Church’s teaching up to 1891. Subsequent popes, notably Pius XI and Paul VI, and the Second Vatican Council have happily resolved this tension and clarified this teaching through a hermeneutic of continuity with the prior, Thomistic teaching of the Church. It may be said, therefore, after «Gaudium et Spes» and «Populorum progressio», that the Church’s teaching returned almost completely to Thomas and clarified the Leonine teaching in the light of the Church’s more ancient tradition. There is indeed a right to private property, but that right is conditioned by the common good. Francis speaks of the universal destination of goods as “prior to the right to private property,” affirming that property must always serve the needs of the people. When private property contravenes the common good seriously, the state has an obligation to correct the situation. The Second Vatican Council and Paul VI use the example of unproductive landed estates in developing countries; in such situations, the land may be expropriated and redistributed more equitably.

10. Worker cooperatives should be strongly encouraged.

Fontes: Leo XIII, «Rerum novarum» at ¶ 13; Pius XI, «Quadragesimo anno» at ¶ 80.

Comment: The popes recognize the importance of widespread distribution of productive property, not least to guarantee to families a stable source for the necessities of life. Such a distribution, furthermore, would more precisely obey the mandates of subsidiarity and ensure that the rights of workers are more adequately protected. Nevertheless, while widespread private ownership of productive property – by individuals and worker cooperatives – should be encouraged (so long as it is not carried out in a capitalist or exploitative way), the state has a role to ensure that people’s basic needs do not go unmet; how this task of the state is best to be carried out will vary from society to society.


  1. It is important in this context to recall that the ordinary magisterium, even of the popes, is only infallible when universal.