What the Catholic Worker Believes
The Catholic Worker believes in the gentle personalism of traditional Catholicism.
The Catholic Worker believes in the personal obligation of looking after the needs of our brother.
The Catholic Worker believes in the daily practice of the Works of Mercy.
The Catholic Worker believes in Houses of Hospitality for the immediate relief of those who are in need.
The Catholic Worker believes in the establishment of Farming Communes where each one works according to his ability and gets according to his needs.
The Catholic Worker believes in creating a new society within the shell of the old with the philosophy of the new, which is not a new philosophy but a very old philosophy, a philosophy so old that it looks like new.
The Law of Holiness
“No man can serve two masters, God and Mammon.”
“Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
“If you want to be perfect sell all you have, give it to the poor and follow Me.”
• New Testament
“These are hard words,” says Robert Louis Stevenson, “but the hard words of a book were the only reason why the book was written.”
In his encyclical on St. Francis de Sales the Holy Father says: “We cannot accept the belief that this command of Christ concerns only a select and privileged group, and that all others may consider themselves pleasing to Him if they have attained a lesser degree of holiness. Quite the contrary is true, as appears from the generality of His words. The law of holiness embraces all men and admits of no exception.”
Counsels of the Gospel
Someone said that The Catholic Worker is taking monasticism out of the monasteries. The Counsels of the Gospel are for everybody, not only for monks. Franciscans and Jesuits are not monks. Franciscans are Friars, and the world is their monastery. Jesuits are the storm troops of the Catholic Church, and ready to be sent where the Holy Father wishes to send them. The Counsels of the Gospel are for everybody, and if everybody tried to live up to it we would bring order out of chaos, and Chesterton would not have said that the Christian ideal has been left untried.
Works of Mercy
In the first centuries of Christianity pagans said about Christians: “See how they love each other.” The love for God and neighbor was the characteristic of the first Christians. This love was expressed through the daily practice of the Works of Mercy. To feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to instruct the ignorant at a personal sacrifice was considered by the first Christians as the right thing to do. Surplus goods were considered to be superfluous, and therefore to be used to help the needy members of the Mystical Body.
Feeding the Poor – At a Sacrifice
In the first centuries of Christianity the hungry were fed at a personal sacrifice, the naked were clothed at a personal sacrifice, the homeless were sheltered at a personal sacrifice. And because the poor were fed, clothed and sheltered at a personal sacrifice, the pagans used to say about the Christians “See how they love each other.” In our own day the poor are no longer fed, clothed, and sheltered at a personal sacrifice, but at the expense of the taxpayers. And because the poor are no longer fed, clothed and sheltered at a personal sacrifice, the pagans say about the Christians “See how they pass the buck.”
Tradition or Catholic Action
The central act of devotional life in the Catholic Church if the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Sacrifice of the Mass is the unbloody repetition of the Sacrifice of the Cross. On the Cross of Calvary Christ gave His life to redeem the world. The life of Christ was a life of sacrifice. We cannot imitate the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary by trying to get all we can. We can only imitate the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary by trying to give all we can.
Laborare et Orare
The motto of St. Benedict was Laborare et Orare, Labor and Prayer. Labor and prayer ought to be combined; labor ought to be a prayer. The liturgy of the Church is the prayer of the Church. People ought to pray with the Church and to work with the Church. The religious life of the people and the economic life of the people ought to be one.
St. Francis of Assisi
According to Johannes Jorgensen, a Danish convert living in Assisi, St. Francis desired that men should give up superfluous possessions. St. Francis desired that men should work with their hands. St. Francis desired that men should offer their their services as a gift. St. Francis desired that men should ask other people for help when work failed them. St. Francis desired that men should live as free as birds. St. Francis desired that men should go through life giving thanks to God for His gifts.
A New Society
To be radically right is to go to the roots by fostering a society based on creed, systematic unselfishness and gentle personalism. To foster a society based on creed instead of greed, on systematic unselfishness instead of systematic selfishness, on gentle personalism instead of rugged individualism, is to create a new society within the shell of the old.
When in 1891 Pope Leo XIII wrote in his encyclical on the condition of labor he emphasized the lack of ethics in modern society. When in 1899 Thorstein Veblen wrote The Theory of the Leisure Class he emphasized the same thing. R. H. Tawney, then an Oxford student, learned that when the Canon Law, that is to say the Law of the Church, was the law of the land there were high ethics in society. So R. H. Tawney decided to study how society has passed down from the high ethics of the Canon Law to the no ethics of today. What R. H. Tawney found out about the history of ethics of the last five hundred years is embodied in his book Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.
If you want to know what industrialism has done to man, read Man the Unknown , by Dr. Alexis Carrel.
If you want to know how we got that way, read A Guildman’s Interpretation of History, by Arthur Penty.
If you want to know what it is to be a bourgeois, read The Bourgeois Mind , by Nicholas Berdyaev.
If you want to know what religion has to do with culture, read Enquiries Into Religion and Culture by Christopher Dawson.
If you want to know what to do with freedom, read Freedom in the Modern World by Jacques Maritain.
A New Movement
The Nazis, the Fascists and the Bolsheviks are Totalitarians. The Catholic Worker is Communitarian. The principles of Communitarianism are expounded every month in the French magazine Esprit (the Spirit). Emmanuel Mounier, editor of the magazine, has a book entitled La Revolution Personnaliste et Communitaire .
Emmanuel Mounier wrote a book entitled A Personalist Manifesto. Emmanuel Mounier has been influenced by Charley Péguy. Charles Péguy once said: “There are two things in the world: politics and mysticism.” For Charles Péguy as well as Mounier, politics is the struggle for power while mysticism is the realism of the spirit. For the man-of-the-street politics is just politics and mysticism is the right spirit. In his Personalist Manifesto Mounier tries to explain what the man-of-the street calls “the right spirit.”
The Personalist Communitarian
A personalist is a go-giver, not a go-getter. He tries to give what he has, and does not try to get what the other fellow has. He tries to be good by doing good to the other fellow. He is altro-centered not self-centered. He has a social doctrine of the common good. He spreads the social doctrine of the common good through words and deeds as well as words, for he knows that deeds speak louder than words. Through words and deeds he brings into existence a common unity, the common unity of the community.
They and We
People say: “They don’t do this, they don’t do that, they ought to do this, they ought to do that.” Always “They” and never “I.” People should say: “They are crazy for doing this and not doing that but I don’t need to be crazy the way they are crazy.” The Communitarian Revolution is basically a personal revolution. It starts with I, not with They. One I plus one I makes two I’s and two I’s make We. We is a community while “they” is a crowd.
Kropotkin says: The economic problem is not an economic problem. It is an ethical problem.
The Irish Monks and the Reconstruction of the Social Order
The Holy Father and the Bishops ask us to reconstruct the social order. The social order was once constructed through dynamic Catholic Action. When the barbarians invaded the decaying Roman Empire Irish missionaries went all over Europe and laid the foundations of medieval Europe. Through the establishment of cultural centers, that is to say, Round-Table Discussions, they brought thought to the people. Through free guest houses that is to say, Houses of Hospitality, they popularized the divine virtue of charity. Through farming communes that is to say, Agronomic Universities, they emphasized voluntary poverty. It was on the basis of personal charity and voluntary poverty that Irish missionaries laid the foundations of the social order.
Scholars and Workers
The Holy Father asks us to reconstruct the social order. The social order was once reconstructed after the fall of the Roman Empire. The Irish scholars were the leaders in the reconstruction of the social order after the fall of the Roman Empire. Through Round-Table Discussions scattered all over Europeans far as Constantinople the Irish scholars brought thought to the people. through Houses of Hospitality the Irish scholars exemplified Christian charity. Through Farming Communes the Irish scholars made workers out of scholars and scholars out of workers.
Share Your Wealth
What we give to the poor for Christ’s sake is what we carry with us when we die. As Jean Jacques Rousseau says: “When man dies he carries in his clutched hands only that which he has given away.”
The Catholic Worker proposes fighting Communism the way the first Christians fought pagan Romanism, through the Works of Mercy. The Catholic Worker proposes fighting Communism the way the Irish scholars fought pagan feudalism, through Round-Table Discussions, Houses of Hospitality, Farming Communes.
The Common Good
The doctrine of the Common Good of St. Thomas Aquinas is still a Catholic doctrine. We don’t need a new doctrine, we need an old technique of the first Christians and the Irish scholars. What was good for the first Christians and the Irish scholars ought to be good enough for us.What was practical for them ought to be practical for us.
Usurers Not Gentlemen
The Prophets of Israel and the Fathers of the Church forbid lending money at interest. Lending money at interest is called usury by the Prophets of Israel and the Fathers of the Church. Usurers were not considered to be Gentlemen when people used to listen to the Prophets of Israel and the Fathers of the Church. When people used to listen to the Prophets of Israel and the Fathers of the Church they could not see anything gentle in trying to live on the sweat of somebody else’s brow by lending money at interest.
Out of the Temple
Christ drove the money changers out of the Temple. But today nobody dares to drive the money lenders out of the Temple. And nobody dares to drive the money lenders out of the Temple because the money lenders have taken a mortgage on the Temple. When church builders build churches with money borrowed from money lenders they increase the prestige of the money lenders. But increasing the prestige of the money lenders does not increase the prestige of the Church. Which makes Archbishop McNicholas say: “We have been guilty of encouraging tyranny in the financial world until it has become a veritable octopus strangling the life of our people.”
Better and Better Off
The world would be better off if people tried to become better. And people would become better if they stopped trying to become better off. For when everybody tries to become better off nobody is better off. But when everybody tries to become better, everybody is better off. Everybody would be rich if nobody tried to become richer. And nobody would be poor If everybody tried to be the poorest. And everybody would be what he ought to be if everybody tried to be what he wants the other fellow to be. Christianity has nothing to do with either modern capitalism or modern Communism for Christianity has a capitalism of its own. Modern capitalism is based on property without responsibility, while Christian capitalism is based on property with responsibility. Modern Communism is based on poverty through force while Christian communism is based on poverty through choice. For a Christian, voluntary poverty is the ideal as exemplified by St. Francis of Assisi. while private property is not an absolute right, but a gift which as such can not be wasted, but must be administered for the benefit of God’s children.
Rich and Poor
There is a rub between the rich who like to richer and the poor who don’t like to get poorer. The rich, who like to get richer turn to the Church to save them from the poor who don’t like to get poorer. But the Church can only tell the rich who like to get richer, “Woe to you rich, who like to get richer, if you don’t help the poor who don’t like to get poorer.”
After a century of Protestantism, England and Scotland saw the coming out of a philosophical thought known in history as Utilitarian Philosophy. While Luther and Calvin discarded the authority of the Church the Utilitarian Philosophers discarded the authority of Divine Revelation. They tried to convince themselves and convince other people that the Church and the Bible were a handicap, rather than a help, in man’s striving towards the good life.
The Utilitarian Philosophers, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, were followed by the Futilitarian Economists. Adam Smith, Ricardo. The Futilitarian Economists thought that religion had nothing to do with business. They thought that everything would be lovely if everybody took in each other’s washing. They thought that everybody should try to sell what he has to sell to the highest bidder.
Cult, Culture, and Cultivation
When the Irish scholars decided to lay the foundations of medieval Europe, they established: Centers of Thought in all the cities of Europe as far as Constantinople, where people could look for thought so they could have light. Houses of Hospitality where Christian charity were exemplified. Agricultural Centers where they combined (a) Cult— that is to say Liturgy (b) with Culture— that is to say Literature (c) with Cultivation— that is to say Agriculture.
The Unpopular Front is a front composed of: Humanists, who try to be human to man; Theists, who believe that God wants us to be our brother’s keeper; Christians, who believe in the Sermon on the Mount as well as the Ten Commandments; Catholics, who believe in the Thomistic Doctrine of the Common Good.
Barbarians and Civilized
We call barbarians people living on the other side of the border. We call civilized people living on this side of the border. We civilized, living on this side of the border, are not ashamed to arm ourselves to the teeth so as to protect ourselves against the barbarians living on the other side. And when the barbarians born on the other side of the border invade us, we do not hesitate to kill them before we have tried to civilize them. So we civilized exterminate barbarians without civilizing them. And we persist in calling ourselves civilized.
War is Hell (Pie in the Sky)
Bourgeois capitalists don’t want their pie in the sky when they die. They want their pie here and now. To get their pie here and now bourgeois capitalists give us better and bigger commercial wars for the sake of markets and raw materials. But as Sherman says, “War is hell.” So we get hell here and now because bourgeois capitalists don’t want their pie in the sky when they die, but want their pie here and now.
Bolshevist Socialists, like bourgeois capitalists, don’t want their pie in the sky when they die. They want their pie here and now. To get their pie here and now, Bolshevik Socialists give us better and bigger class wars for the sake of capturing the control of the means of production and distribution, But war is hell, whether it is a commercial war or a class war. So we get hell here and now because Bolshevist Socialists don’t want their pie in the sky when they die, but want their pie here and now.
Bolshevist Socialists as well as bourgeois capitalists give us hell here and now without leaving us the hope of getting our pie in the sky when we die. We just get hell. Catholic Communionism leaves us the hope of getting our pie in the sky when we die without giving us hell here and now.
Before John Calvin people were not allowed to lend money at interest. John Calvin decided to legalize money lending at interest in spite of the teachings of the Prophets of Israel and the Fathers of the Church. Protestant countries tried to keep up with John Calvin and money-lending at interest became the general practice. And money ceased to be a means of exchange and began to be a means to make money. So people lent money on time and started to think of time in terms of money and said to each other, “Time is money.”
Blowing the Dynamite of the Church
Writing about the Catholic Church, a radical writer says: “Rome will have to do more than to play a waiting game; she will have to use some of the dynamite inherent in her message.” To blow the dynamite of a message is the only way to make the message dynamic. If the Catholic Church is not today the dominant social dynamic force, it is because Catholic scholars have failed to blow the dynamite of the Church.
Catholic scholars have taken the dynamite of the Church, have wrapped it up in nice phraseology, placed it in an hermetic container and sat on the lid. It is about time to blow the lid off so the Catholic Church may again become the dominant social dynamic force.
Ambassadors of God
What we give to the poor for Christ’s sake is what we carry with us when we die. Pagan Greeks used to say that the poor “are the ambassadors of the gods.” To become poor is to become an Ambassador of God.
A Modern Plague
Catholic laymen and women commit the great modern error of separating the spiritual from the material. This great modern error, known under the name of secularism, is called a “modern plague” by Pope Pius XI.
The Money-Lenders’ Dole
There were no money lenders on the payroll in Palestine and Ireland because the Prophets of Israel and the Fathers of the Church forbid lending money at interest. Buy Uncle Sam does not listen to the Prophets of Israel or the Fathers of the Church.
We Need Parish Homes As Well as Parish Domes
Bossuet says that the poor are the first children of the Church, so the poor should come first. People with homes should have a room of hospitality so as to give shelter to the needy members of the parish The remaining needy members of the parish should be given shelter in a Parish Home.
Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXVI, No. 3, May-June 2006.