Shalom and the Cosmos

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Friday, August 30

“Christ’s glory, beauty, and irresistible attraction radiate, in short, form his universal kingship. If his dominance is restricted to the sublunary regions, then he is eclipsed, he is abjectly extinguished by the universe.”
-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, pg 39.

Tuna Fishing by Salvador Dali. Evidently, it was inspired by Teilhard’s writings.

Tuna Fishing by Salvador Dali. Evidently, it was inspired by Teilhard’s writings.

From the depths of the Old Testament to the glorious revelations of the New Testament, the Scriptural narrative centers on the return of shalom (the peace of God) which was lost due to original sin. Isaiah 65:25 reads, “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain”. It is by this end-goal that the lives of saints such as St. Francis find meaning in the Christian worldview. Yet, as the 20th century dawned, one former stretcher carrier in the French hospitals of WWI looked up into the sky and pondered the meaning of shalom for the whole universe. This man was the Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. While he was received negatively by Church officials for his stance on original sin, Teilhard does leave the Church with a fundamental question over how one must view the cosmos in relation to its dogmas. Is the peace of God simply meant for the Earth, or is the totality of the universe involved in God’s plan? For Teilhard, shalom must have a universal meaning or it simply becomes limited and drowned in a chaotic universe.

Teilhard’s question concerning shalom arose from developments in astronomy and the speculations over the theory of evolution. A reoccurring theme in the works of Teilhard is the claim that the cosmic views of Christianity in the Patristic Era, Middle Ages, and the Renaissance were heavily indebted to a geocentric conception of the universe. For Teilhard, the primacy of the world and humanity loses its meaning when it is taken out of geocentrism. In all fairness to the scholars of the Middle Ages, Teilhard’s dismissal of the medieval conception of the cosmos is based on an inaccurate interpretation on what it meant to be at the center of the cosmos. Teilhard appears to be interpreting it as being in a state of importance. This skewers his analysis of how the Fall effected the cosmos as it leads to the conclusion that the worlds elevated status led to a corruption of the entire universe due to the Fall. The truth of the matter is that the inverse of Teilhard’s view is the accurate one. In Greek and Medieval cosmology, being at the center is actually a terrible thing. This worldview eventually leads to the Renaissance scholar Giovanni Pico to conclude that the creation of humanity was an act of God to provide one good thing for the center of the universe. The celestial spheres were viewed as being qualitatively better than the world. Teilhard’s critique only holds when one adheres to Galileo’s critique that the celestial spheres are not perfect but are as equally flawed as anything else.

That’s a nice view of the cosmos you have there. Shame if something bad happened to it.

That’s a nice view of the cosmos you have there. Shame if something bad happened to it.

Additionally, Teilhard was a biologist who was influenced by the theory of evolution. As a result, he held a view similar to that of Heraclitus who asserted that nothing has a definitive being, but is continuously undergoing change. A comparison is drawn between Teilhard and Nietzsche, another proponent of Heraclitus. Since everything lacks a definitive being, everything becomes immersed in the great prerogative to establish some sort of concrete being. For Nietzsche, there is no God to establish this, so one must be reliant on power of the will to establish being, albeit a limited and finite one. Teilhard, however, orchestrates a teleological procession that views the whole of creation as proceeding to Being itself. Despite the teleological differences, Nietzsche and Teilhard are in agreement that “man is made to be surpassed” (Jones 47). Both modernism and nihilism cease to be factors for Teilhard as he essentially abandoned both for a Logos-centered progression of the cosmos. According to Teilhard, “But let man believe in God, and immediately all around him the elements, even the irksome, of the inevitable organize themselves into a friendly whole, ordered to the ultimate success of life.” (Teilhard 35)

Shalom is actualized in the cosmos by its telos found in the Logos. In Genesis, mankind is created from the very dust of the earth (Gen 2:7) to be the “image, after the likeness” of God (Gen 1:26). Teilhard’s evolutionary stance promotes the notion that all of creation itself is simply that dust transforming due to God’s creative intellect. D. Gareth Jones writes in regards to Teilhard’s evolutionary theosis, “By placing man at the summit of the evolutionary process and by insisting that the cosmos is held together by spirit and not matter and that it converges towards persons and not things, Tielhard was able to confer upon evolution a direction, a goal and hence a meaning and purpose.” (Jones 14) The personified end-goal is further explained by Teilhard’s belief in a Eucharistic identity for creation. It is by embodying the Real Presence that creation achieves being and actuality. This should not be interpreted explicitly as transubstantiation but as a universal assumption into the Logos. It is in this state that Teilhard’s assertion of “Christ is all or nothing” solidifies shalom for the whole of the cosmos (Teilhard 44).
Works Cited:

Jones, D. Gareth. Teilhard De Chardin: An Analysis and Assessment. Illinois: Inter-VarsityPress. 1971. Print 

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Christianity and Evolution. New York: Harcourt Collins Sons & Co Ltd, and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.1971. Print

Andrew Simmons is currently a senior at Aquinas College. He is working on a double major in History and Theology with a minor in Catholic Studies. In 2010, during his freshman year, he converted to Catholicism. The Catholic Church has been recovering from the event ever since.

Medicine for the Broken – Food for the Journey

By Paul Fahey                                                                                        Thursday, August 29

You come to me and unite Yourself intimately to me under the form of nourishment. Your Blood now runs in mine, Your Soul, Incarnate God, compenetrates mine, giving courage and support. What miracles! Who would have ever imagined such!
– Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe

The Holy Eucharist is possibly the greatest distinguishing aspect of faith between Catholicism and other denominations of Christians, but do Catholics really understand the significants of this most blessed of Sacraments. I believe it was Dr. Scott Hahn who said something to the likes of “Protestants wait in the hallway not knowing what they are missing while Catholics sit at the banquet table not knowing exactly what they are feasting on.”

The Body of Christ

In any case, this will not be an apologetic on the Eucharist. Rather, I simply wish to reflect on the effects of receiving Holy Communion, namely, Eucharist as elixir and as nourishment. However, for one to need an elixir one must first be sick, or if one requires nourishment one must be in some way malnourished. In other words, we need to start with the problem.

What distinguishes homo-sapiens from the rest of the natural world is our rational soul. The rational soul is characterized by having an intellect and a will. Therefore, what makes us truly human is our intellect and our will. In the beginning, before the original sin of our first generation, our soul, our intellect and will, was directed perfectly to God. In other words, we lived in rightly ordered relationship with God. Because of this right relationship with God we also lived in right relationship with others, ourselves, and the rest of the natural world.

However, sin “bent” our soul, to the point that our intellect and will are no longer directed toward the Creator but rather toward creatures or toward ourselves. Thus, after the dawn of sin, we no longer live in right order, it is here that we find ourselves needing an elixir. Keeping this in mind, remember the prayer that we say at Mass before receiving Communion:

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

It is the Eucharist that slowly “bends” our soul back into right order with God. And as our intellect becomes more attuned to seeking the Truth and our will more desiring to do the Good, all of the other relationships in our lives slowly move back into right order. We are able to love not just our neighbors but our enemies. We are able to see ourselves as made in the image and likeness of God. We are able to live in harmony with the natural world. Not only are we being healed, but through us the cosmos as a whole is being healed. This Blessed Sacrament is truly medicine for the soul.

However, it does not end their, Christ promises us much more than a place back in Eden. In his homily on last Sunday’s readings, Fr. Barron said that the gateway to Heaven is indeed narrow, it’s shaped exactly like Christ. Jesus Himself says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved…” (John 10:9). Thus we need to be made into an image of Christ in order to be saved. However, this is not done by our own means but by God’s Grace. And what is a Sacrament but a physical sign instituted by Christ that gives grace?

It is here we again find the Eucharist, not only as medicine but also as nourishment. Real food that transforms us into that which we are consuming (and I’ll give you a hint, we’re not eating the body of Adam). The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”: “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods” (CCC 460).

This is what Christ promises, inheritance in God’s Kingdom, adopted sonship, deification. And a principle means by which this is accomplished is Holy Communion, the means that Jesus chose to intimately unite us to Himself and to His entire body, the Church.

In other words, do yourself and the world a favor, and get your butt to Mass.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and catechist. He has a BA in Theology with minors in History, and Catholic Studies and is currently studying at the Augustine Institute for a MA in Theology. 

The Sophist’s Folly

by Christian Ohnimus                                                                         Wednesday, August 28

While the modern definition of sophistry refers to specious and deceptive argumentation, it originates from the Greek word sophos or sophia meaning to be “wise” or “wisdom.” In the second half of the 5th century BC, sophists were intellectuals of Athens who claimed that they possessed wisdom. However, as German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper puts it, “the words “philosophy” and “philosopher” were coined, according to legend, by Pythagoras. And they were intended to stand in an emphatic contrast with “sophia” and “sophos”: no man is wise and knowing, only God. And so the most that man can do is call someone a loving searcher of the truth, philo-sophos.

Thus sophistry is directly contrary to the intellectual tradition of philosophy and of Socrates and Plato who saw themselves, not as possessing wisdom, but as pursuers of wisdom. Instead, in the philosophical tradition wisdom was not something that could ever be possessed by mortal man, no matter how vigorously the philosopher pursued it. Instead, wisdom is something to be received. The philosopher tries to conform himself to the world but the sophist seeks to conform the world to himself. Thus, the philosopher grasps a reality that expands to infinity, and is far more human, more fulfilling, than that finite environment of the domineering sophist.

In attempting to possess knowledge instead of receiving it, the modern man makes science both his means and his end and in so doing science, too, becomes his philosophy and his religion. The scientific method is an invaluable tool but it can only inform us of our environment; it is blind to our purpose and meaning. We cannot know the whole truth of the world by containing ourselves to science because what we can perceive through our senses represents only one part of the human experience. Much of human experience, perhaps even most of it, cannot be viewed under a microscope and it cannot be quantified. The best that the modern sophist can do to explain our more transcendent experiences is to conceive elaborate stories about how building temples to sky-gods and praying to them somehow helps the DNA replicating process, or to dismiss such experiences as “mistakes” in our genetic code.

If you could see God, touch God, feel God, if you could prove his existence using the scientific method then all the birds and fishes and animals of the earth would be theists and every Sunday they’d gather and worship Him like the human believers do. But they do not worship, except by their existence, they do not pray and they do not construct religions or churches. But neither do they write ballads, paint the landscape or philosophize like we do. They cannot conceive of beauty like us for the same reason that they cannot worship like us: because they are just animals and we are not and because beauty and worship are intrinsically connected, flowing from the same well. We are not mere “smart animals”; we are flesh but also spirit, body and soul. We transcend what we can taste and smell and touch and hear. We transcend the world of functionalities to pursue things with no function. A man does not let his imagination run wild and write sonatas in order to pass on his genes; he does it for the joy of it. The object of festival is festivity. It serves no higher purpose because it is the purpose. And what higher form of festival is there than worship? Our DNA can never tell us to worship God and we cannot be programmed like machines to be like Him, to create and love and laugh. God wrote the genetic code in our bodies that tells us to breathe and eat and replicate but what is even more amazing is that He wrote a poem in our hearts. We transcend the machinations of DNA replication because God is a poet and the poem demands by all that is good that man be more than beast, and so he is.

It is precisely those functionless acts of man that speak of God. If everything we are and do is determined by our genes and our genes are determined by the evolutionary process then everything that we do and are must have a function, everything we do must function to further our lineage, to give us some advantage in passing on our genes. And, yet, man constantly behaves in ways that have no function. Humanity sings and dances and is festive; we laugh; we create art; we philosophize. In our culture of constant work all of these things can be, and have been, reduced to serve certain functions: the “philosophy” of political theory serves political agendas, modern art serves some men’s sense of superiority, night clubs serve to keep the working class contained and to allow them to “unwind” from their work. But political theory is not philosophy, modern “art” is not art and there is no song or dance in a night club. Oh, some remnant is there, but they are shadows. Leisure, festivity, in its truest form is without function: it exists for its own sake and men partake in it merely for the joy of it. Science could never create such a world. Only God, who is the first and last, who exists simply for his own sake and who loves us and creates universes simply for their own sake could ever conceive of such a world.

Of course, none of this is scientific proof of God. But that’s the secret that drives the sophists mad; no proof is needed. If an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient being exists how will science detect it? There is no way. God created our senses, he created light and mass and matter. He created all of time and space and He is bigger than the universe. Every discovery of science detects some small part of God but it can never see all of Him because science is contained by the physical world and he is even larger than that. It would be easier for an amoeba to see a man than for man to see God. That is why theism is a leap of faith, not because we’re irrationally choosing to believe in some make-believe old man that isn’t real but because we are very rationally choosing to believe in something even more real than ourselves. The sophists who claim that the belief in God is actually a scientific hypothesis which they can test and disprove are like germs claiming that a Man cannot exist because they have no way of detecting him. The truth, however, is that he is simply too big to see.

Christian Ohnimus is a registered nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Franciscan University. He is a contributor to The Porch and The Catholic Renaissance.

Breaking Patterns

by Karen Mannino                                                                                             Monday, August 26

“Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel – ‘Thou mayest’ – that gives a choice. It might be the most important whole in the world. That says the ways is open. That throws it back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’ — it is also true that ‘Thou mayest no.’ Don’t you see?”

~From East of Eden, by John Steinbeck.

A few days ago, a WWII vet was killed by a couple of teens near an ice skating rink in my home town. There didn’t seem to be any reason for it. Even if there was some reason for it, it was a horrible crime.

My home town has a reputation for drugs and a crime that is disproportionate to its size. I ride the bus to work most days and I’ve never had much trouble, though I know that many of the other commuters have probably done time in jail. I hear them talking about the hardships and dramas in their lives. They come from rough families. They get themselves into some pretty horrible situations. They are all trying to do better by their children. Some cynical part of me doubts that their children will really have it any better, or even appreciate the effort. It seems like a vicious pattern that goes on while us “good” people go about our business unaffected. I sit and pray for them. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

I have my own patterns of destruction in my life. There are relationships that never seem to get better because we always react to each other with anger, or cynicism. There are situations that I should know how to avoid, but I find myself there again and again. I feel hopelessly trapped.East of Eden

The passage quoted above is the heart of East of Eden. Up until that point, we have seen the generations of a family react against, but ultimately repeat the mistakes of the generations before them. Every boy grows up to be his father’s son. In the story, father’s force their boys into rigid ideals, and never see the true boy being himself. Rejection and misunderstanding and hatred come and go both ways. There is blood spilt at all the turning points. But just before the final repetition, a character somehow inserts God’s grace into the pattern. For just a moment or two, the father is forced to see the people he loves as they are and not as he imagines them. The pattern continues as it seems to have been predestined. But the grace allows for knowledge that though the pattern is strong, like a current, the final choice will be a free choice, not a reaction or a repetition.

In East of Eden, it is a single visit from a neighbor that brings that grace into the lives of the main characters. I often wonder, as I sit on the bus, how God will insert his grace into the lives of the people sitting next to me. Will this man find work that allows him to regain his dignity and self respect? Will this girl somehow communicate her love for her child in some graced moment that will get through the anger and impatience that characterizes all the other relationships in her life? Will someone teach this man to forgive? If no one helps these people, will they waste their lives in sin? Will their children grow up to attack old people for no reason?

It is easy to feel helpless in the face of evil, sin and the habitual patterns that it forms. But as Christians we are people of hope. No situation is too dark for God to transform it. And it is an amazing gift that God allows us imperfect human creatures to participate in these transformations if we are willing. God can use any small chance or word to work any sized miracle. We may hold ourselves in readiness to break patterns of sin. The way is open for us, to let grace into our lives, and also to be a channel of grace for other lives.

Karen Mannino works a part time job at a toy store and another part time job being a starving artist, so she only starves part of the time.

That One Serious Philosophical Question

by Andrew Simmons                                                                                                                        Friday, August 23

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest- whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories-comes after-wards.” –Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays”, p. 3

At the center of philosophical and theological inquiries is the question over the nature of simply existing. For the Epicureans, the meaning of living out one’s existence was found in the eradication of all desires in a negative hedonism. Some strive to find meaning in a struggle between dialectical opposites. For others, however, it is a matter in being optimistic in human progress and social evolution. But, for the post-modern world that has witnessed the fall of many ideologies, there is a return to this central question of existence when the other possible answers have plunged into nihilism. Despite some attempts to inspire a social awakening in terms of religious or social movements and controversies, time continues to be the ever present enemy as it slowly decays the zeal with the corroding presence of entropy. In taking up Camus’s claim over the pinnacle question of philosophy, one would be advised to look at the works of one man whose very life depended on this very question, Jacques Maritain.

There are existentialists. There are Thomists. Then there are existential Thomists.

There are existentialists. There are Thomists. Then there are existential Thomists.

For some, philosophical enquiries remain in the realm of impersonal, theoretical discussions. Then, there are people like Jacques Maritain who make strict de facto ultimatums to either solve one’s philosophical turmoil or commit suicide. Maritain’s struggles centered on his disillusionment that Scientism and liberal Protestantism could bring about a concrete answer to the meaning of existence. In a way, he is noticing the problems that were arising in Modernism that would soon pave the way to the rise of Postmodernism. To provide further context, both Modernism and liberal Protestantism were put to rest following the violence throughout the 20th century. Maritain became attached to the existentialist movement in France. While his works owe a lot to the existentialists, it was the work of St. Thomas Aquinas that inspired Maritain to truly cherish philosophy.

Thomism breaks down into a very simple premise; faith and reason are not juxtaposed. Jacques Maritain is a Thomist in that he ascends to this. He is an existentialist insomuch as he emphasizes the pre-philosophical experiences that not only make up philosophy itself but also what one thinks of God. Much like Kierkegaard, Maritain is very interested in that presupposed “I” in the popular phrase by Descartes, “I think therefore I am”. Maritain rejected the notion that our knowledge is derived from imprinted a priori concepts in the mind. The presupposed “I” is, for Maritain, the result of one experiencing and being conscious of their personal existence. What this essentially means is that the truth of the matter is not statically known. Rather, the very essence of our being is caught up in a great act of becoming through experience.

The experience that allows one to even begin discussing what it means to exist begins with Maritain’s emphasis on “pre-philosophical knowledge”. While Maritain views life as a discovery of being, he stands in contrast to atheistic existentialists like Sartre who assert that life is about making one’s being. But in different ways, both Maritain and the atheists approach the issue of nothingness. If anything, nothingness for Maritain is simply the potentiality for becoming. For Camus and Sartre, nothingness works as limitation that leaves one to craft themselves in light of it. Especially in Camus, this can be seen in the story La Peste in which a community is struck with a ravenous plague (which might as well just be an allegory for nihilism). Despite dying horribly, the characters of Tarrou and Paneloux are defined in how they respond to this limitation. Tarrou dies brave and defiant while Paneloux dies miserable and agonized from a loss of faith.  This is not so for Maritain. Nothingness is something meant to be filled with our discoveries and connections.

Does this mean that the answer to the essence of being will be answered with one definition? No. Perhaps this is the point. At the heart of Catholicism is the notion of the Real Presence. It is taking in the presence of God and being sanctified to take part in Being itself. Since that Being is grounded in eternity, it cannot be said to have some sort of specific end. As such, the discourse finds its meaning in the actual absence of limitation. Eternity and Nothingness are similar in that both lose their definition when something is added. While there can be an infinite amount of ways to take part in eternity, no one can make nothingness an object of importance without imposing on it a property that makes it something. Despite the lack of a static answer, for Maritain, there is a possibility of hope in the absence of limitation. With hope, faith and charity also emerge. The question of suicide is smothered in the optimistic possibility of meaning. Upon converting to Catholicism in 1906, Maritain brought an end to the suicide pact that he made long ago, for he had finally found a meaning to living on.

Andrew Simmons is currently a senior at Aquinas College. He is working on a double major in History and Theology with a minor in Catholic Studies. In 2010, during his freshman year, he converted to Catholicism. The Catholic Church has been recovering from the event ever since.

Church Counsels and Being One With Everything

By Karen Mannino                                                                                                                     Thursday, August 22 

“I’ve given up eating things that make me feel bad,” James said. He was turning down some breakfast sausage that smelled good enough to make clogged arteries seem like a commendable goal. But he doesn’t eat meat anymore, or anything with animal products. He also refuses to waste his time on conversations that give him “bad vibes.” He wants to live as one with the universe. He wants to be at peace with nature and other people.

James represents one way in which our secular society has tried to find meaning without God. I applaud the self sustaining life style that involves reducing waste, growing your own food, shopping local, riding a bike to work, etc. It has taken some time for me to take the spiritual side seriously. But like me, this green/new age/Eastern philosophy influenced movement is seeking something meaningful in the world to which they can conform their lives. Ironically, I have found it in a place they would never think of looking.

Holy Mother Church has given us three counsels (as in words of advice) by which all Christians are called to live their lives. They are poverty, chastity, and obedience, and they are not just for religious life. These three virtues are guide for living in right relationship with the universe. My friend James tries to live them under different names. He sees his lifestyle as something bigger than religion that should not be restrained by creed. The very system he scorns as limiting, teaches the fullest, deepest commitment to his core values.

Poverty is the art of living in right relationship with our possessions. We recognize our time, talents, health, clothes, food, objects, environment etc, as gifts, loaned to us for our good. James calls this self sustainability, or simplicity. He grows his own food, does his best to waste nothing. He deeply gets the idea that the natural world around us is a gift to celebrate and respect.

Chastity is the art of living in right relationship with other human beings. Chastity is often taught to teens, in the hopes that they will not sexually and emotionally use each other like objects. Key to the practice of this holistic virtue is understanding of what a human being is. We are made in the image of God. We are oriented towards unity with God by nature. We need to treat each other with the respect that such a gift commands. James often talks about uniting with other people and the universe.  James’ longing to be one with the universe echoes his natural longing for unity with God. “We are one,” he says over and over. We want to be known as unique and also as kin to the people around us. Chastity respects and seeks the image of God in others, and respects and properly shares the image of God in me, thereby nurturing true, healthy intimacy. Chastity ultimately keeps us from being lonely.

Obedience is the art of living in right relationship with God. We must train ourselves to be open and receptive to God’s guidance in our lives. As a child, I was often puzzled by the use of the phrase “mind me” in place of “do as you are told.” As it turns out, to listen, and to be mindful are both legitimate understandings of Obedience. James and his ilk have this down to moment to moment mindfulness. They practice an art of careful listening to what is going on in a given interaction, in their hearts and in the hearts of people around them. Informed by Christ, his Church and a well formed conscience, this art is seeking the will of God from moment to moment.

A power greater than the universe, and therefore greater than me, is missing in James’ practice of all three Church counsels. He will achieve the goals of his lifestyle in as much as he allows the grace of God to enter in and transform him. He is making a noble effort on his own, limping a little, since he is trying to bow to the universe, and not its maker. But he has a key that many other secular subcultures lack. He has the Church Counsels worked out far better than even some Christians.

Karen Mannino is the product of the Roman Catholic Church, American culture, a close knit family, many books, much music, an over active imagination, and a BA in art.

G.K. Chesterton and the meaning of Capitalism

by Christian Ohnimus                                                                                                           Wednesday, August 21

The great British Journalist G.K. Chesterton had something to say on just about everything, including Capitalism. However, the meaning of exactly what he said regarding Capitalism has met with some confusion. Some have read Chesterton and left feeling assured in his support for private property and liberty. Others have applauded his criticism of a system where most capital is concentrated among a few men, leaving everyone else proletariat. As a result, it is somewhat controversial whether Chesterton was for Capitalism or against it. Such misunderstanding seems the fate of a man who defies contemporary thought. “There are two sides to every story,” the old maxim goes. Perhaps Chesterton would have argued that there were one hundred. To understand Chesterton’s views on Capitalism we first must understand what he means by the term “Capitalism.” Thankfully, Chesterton does explain his unconventional use of the word “Capitalism” in The Outline of Sanity:

“When I say “Capitalism,” I commonly mean something that may be stated thus: “That economic condition in which there is a class of capitalists, roughly recognizable and relatively small, in whose possession so much of the capital is concentrated as to necessitate a very large majority of the citizens serving those capitalists for a wage.” This particular state of things can and does exist, and we must have some word for it, and some way of discussing it. But this is undoubtedly a very bad word, because it is used by other people to mean quite other things. Some people seem to mean merely private property. Others suppose that capitalism must mean anything involving the use of capital.”

Chesterton, then, in denouncing “Capitalism” in no way means to marginalize economic liberty or private property. In fact, he means quite the opposite. The sort of Capitalism that Chesterton opposes represents in many ways the same evils possessed by other social arrangements, like Socialism: concentration of wealth and power, the abolition of private property and the destruction of any semblance of economic self-sustainability. Chesterton continues:

“If capitalism means private property, I am capitalist. If capitalism means capital, everybody is capitalist. But if capitalism means this particular condition of capital, only paid out to the mass in the form of wages, then it does mean something, even if it ought to mean something else.

The truth is that what we call Capitalism ought to be called Proletarianism. The point of it is not that some people have capital, but that most people only have wages because they do not have capital.”

Chesterton strongly opposed this Proletarianism present in Capitalist society in which so much capital would be concentrated among so few so that the masses, lacking any productive property of their own, would be forced to work for mere wages. Yet, as Chesterton points out, he is a Capitalist in that he wishes to make everyone capitalists (that is, owners of productive property).

So, what can we learn from Chesterton’s view of Capitalism? First, that any concentration of wealth and power that results in wage-dependence for the majority of people as a direct result of their lack of capital is unjust and,  second, that this recognition does not equate to a denunciation of all things “Capitalistic”. Instead, to be a capitalist, that is, to be an owner and employer of productive property, is good and natural and therefore the economic ideal is that all men become capitalists. Thus, if we find ourselves denouncing “Capitalism” as Chesterton meant it we must also stand for strong private property rights and economic liberty as issues not set apart from Catholic social justice. We cannot encourage all men to become owners and not defend their rights of ownership and autonomy; likewise, we cannot boast of defending private property or economic freedom if most men don’t even own any property to use or defend in the first place. Otherwise, such rights universal and natural to man become “rights” of the privileged.

Ultimately, the problem that Chesterton points out to us is not that private enterprise is wrong, but that owning one’s work is the ideal and that most people should own their own means of production most of the time – and the reality is that most people do not own any means of production at all. Indeed, in The Superstition of Divorce Chesterton famously states, “Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.” Contrary to opposing an economic system based in strong individual property rights (the most common definition of Capitalism) Chesterton expressly takes the opposite stance: as many people should be property owners as possible. This is and has always been the stance of the Church.  As Pope Leo states in his papal encyclical, Rerum Novarum, “Private ownership, as we have seen, is the natural right of man, and to exercise that right, especially as members of society, is not only lawful, but absolutely necessary. “

Pope Leo continues:

“The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.”

This does not mean that running a large business or paying someone a wage for their work is wrong. What it does mean is that a society in which there are but a few capitalists and a vast majority of wage-laborers is disordered. Thus, to reorient society to the good of all means making as many people capitalists as possible in accordance with their natural rights to the ownership of their own means towards productive lives.

Christian Ohnimus is a registered nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Franciscan University. He is a contributor to The Porch and The Catholic Renaissance.