John XXIII: Mater et Magistra

Critical Comments Selected by Gerald Darring

New York Times (16 July 1961) 8E. "As a religious document, this encyclical, like its predecessors, is historical. In those parts which we may consider secular--that is, of friendly concern to people of other religions--it presents a picture of the conflict in our time between the crude materialism of the Communists and the humane spirit of all great and enduring faiths."

Wanderer (20 July 1961). "Basically, the encyclical simply reaffirms and in fact underscores the Church's traditional insistence on the organic reconstruction of society, via the 'grass roots,' or subsidiary social institutions, beginning with the family and local communities. The Pope speaks of socialization, understood in this traditional Christian social sense. He does not at any point call for the reconstruction of society via any theorem or nostrum even remotely resembling socialism or welfare statism."

Economist (22 July 1961) 327. "Broadly speaking the encyclical represents a shift to the left in the church's attitude, and ranges the Vatican against the dying cause of colonialism and on the side of the newly emergent nations of Africa and Asia.... Socialism is discussed, with an important shift from the qualified condemnations of earlier popes.... Socialization is now positively approved, provided there is no abolition of the right to private property."

National Review (29 July 1961) 38. "Whatever its final effect, it must strike many as a venture in triviality coming at this particular time in history" since "there is scant mention" of the successes of the Communists and "insufficient notice is taken (of) the extraordinary material well-being" of countries like Japan, West Germany, and the United States.

National Review (12 August 1961) 77. "Going the rounds in conservative circles: 'Mater si, Magistra no.'"

America (19 August 1961) 624-625. "It takes an appalling amount of self-assurance for a Catholic writer to brush off an encyclical of John XXIII as though it had been written by John Cogley. Mr. Buckley was equal to the challenge. It takes a daring young man to characterize a papal document as 'a venture in triviality.'"

William F. Buckley, Jr. National Review (26 August 1961) 114. "Actually, National Review has made no substantive criticism of Mater et Magistra. Simplistic interpretations in secular terms are notoriously unwise. It merely pointed out that 'coming at this particular time in history,' parts of it may be considered as trivial."

William F. Buckley, Jr. National Review (23 September 1961) 188. "The editorial in question spoke not one word of criticism of the intrinsic merit of Mater et Magistra. Our disappointment was confined to the matter of emphasis, and timing, and by implication, to the document's exploitability by the enemies of Christendom, a premonition rapidly confirmed by the Encyclical's obscene cooption by such declared enemies of the spiritual order as the New Statesman and the Manchester Guardian, which hailed the conversion of the Pope to Socialism!"

J. B. Sheerin. Catholic World (September 1961) 341-42. "The common impression seems to be that Mater et Magistra is an extremely 'liberal' document that is a silent rebuke to 'conservatives.' It is progressive and forward-looking but I fail to see anything in it that would be unpalatable to a genuine conservative. It would be safe to call it 'middle-of-the-road' social teaching."

John F. Cronin. Sign (September 1961) 11-12. "It is a liberal encyclical. One major conclusion stands out when this momentous document is studied carefully. In the classic struggle between the liberal and the conservative viewpoints on social and economic matters, the church has taken a decisive stand in favor of the liberal position. Details may be argued and qualifications noted, but the total impact of the encyclical is positive, liberal, and constructive."

R.G. Gorman. Sign (October 1961) 10. "We suggest that our readers get their own copy of the encyclical. Some will be shocked to find that the Pope teaches what they have been accustomed to condemn as 'liberal.' A knowledge of Catholic social teaching would have obviated this difficulty."

Franz H. Mueller. Social Justice Review (October 1961) 188. "The Holy Father means by (socialization) the process of progressive condensation of interhuman relations. It refers to the series of actions by which individuals become increasingly functioning parts of the social whole. It has, as such, nothing to do with public expropriation or nationalization. The term 'socialization' is not used in a sense that would indicate that the church is now ready to make concession with regard to the institution of private property, the basic freedom of enterprise, or the idea and ideal of relative self-reliance."

Peter McKevitt. Irish Theological Quarterly (October 1961) 288. "The economic unity of the world is a fact, and the larger the area the harder it becomes to exercise effective control. It is in finding a moral basis that will be accepted as a regulating principle, that difficulties multiply. Unless the rule of justice be held in reverence throughout national and international life, there is nothing to hold the edifices of civilization together. Force will be the arbiter and the free world will come to an end. The encyclical may be said to lay down the conditions of survival for a free world. It confronts capitalism with the imperative necessity of preserving the dignity of the human person, and charts the way in which that personality may be endangered by the very means intended to rescue it from degradation."

Philip S. Land, S.J. America (4 November 1961) 151. "As one whose life work has been the assimilation and the teaching of Catholic social doctrine, I can say with absolute certainty that no collaborators Pope John might have turned to--European or American or other--could have or would have prepared an encyclical that would be acceptable to the editors of the National Review."

Will Herberg. National Review (4 November 1961) 299, 302. "Mater et Magistra has evolved a curious variety of reactions in the press. In the general press, especially in this country, it has met with the kind of respectful, perfunctory approval reserved for the innocuous commonplaces of 'religion.' Protestant theologians have welcomed it with unusual warmth...; they have been happy to find in it evidence of a new 'liberal' spirit in the Church. It is largely among Catholics, significantly enough, that controversy has erupted, and strong criticism of the Encyclical has appeared."

James Kavanagh. Irish Ecclesiastical Record (December 1961) 345. The encyclical shifts towards approval of concerted action aimed at the common good. "This concerted action is to be encouraged both nationally and internationally, with the aim of lightening the social and economic burdens, especially of the poorer sections of the world-community. It is, I believe, a corrective to the arid, negative criticism which some indulge in whenever the State is involved in social and economic action. Like Leo XIII who asked the French nation to accept the Republic, so John XXIII is reminding us that the State and the individual are not necessarily opposed to each other. Provided certain values are preserved, the action of the public authorities is a sine qua non of the health and prosperity of the community."

Denis Faul. Christus Rex (March 1962) 60. "The support of the Pope for socialization, i.e. modern social activities, for the common good of the community with safeguards for the individual persons in the community, is the point which has caused strong reactions. In England to some small extent and in the U.S. to a considerable degree, people who imagined that any support for the Welfare State with its 'cradle to grave' security could be condemned as a violation of the much quoted, but little understood Principle of Subsidiarity, or brought under the Church's condemnation of socialism, now find the ground shaking under their feet."

Jacques Leclercq. Annals of Collective Economy (1962) 86. "In my opinion the encyclical will give all its readers the impression that cooperation is possible. I have already heard of socialist newspapers which have expressed the view that there seems to be something new and non-provocative in it. We are so used to polemic that we are taken aback by such a statement. And the socialists are not the only people to have been taken aback. Already, many Catholics are beginning to criticize the pope for not having mentioned particular points which, in their opinion, would bring out more clearly the Catholic position as opposed to those of other people. Here we have a peaceful, kindly, optimistic man keenly interested in anything which will improve the lot of mankind and not over-concerned with theories. Is not the world today in need of just such a man?"

H. Barnard. Catholic Digest (1962) 49-51. The view of Popes Leo and John "is that the laborer is not only worthy of his hire; he is entitled to live a life of material as well as spiritual dignity. Translated into concrete terms, as Mater et Magistra points out, this view of life inevitably leads to acceptance of collective bargaining, cooperatives, farm subsidies, social security, the progressive income tax, 'socialization' of wealth (including government operation of certain enterprises); indeed, of all that is known (by some derisively) as the welfare state. It also means the generous assistance to the underprivileged nations of the world by those that are highly industrialized."

James Kavanagh. Christus Rex (1962) 272. "The encyclical is, in my opinion, a definite affirmation of the role of the State. The State is not the natural enemy of the individual. It is the promoter of the common good. It is a natural society, 'a community of friendship,' in the words of Aristotle. In modern conditions the State has to play an intimate role in the affairs of men. This is no departure from the Church's fundamental teaching, but it represents an application of it to the changed conditions of today and it shows a definite approval of concerted action for the common good."

Father Putz. Proceedings of the Symposium on "Mater et Magistra" by Pope John XXIII (1962) 61. "If there is one marked difference between the social encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI and the Mater et Magistra of John XXIII it is that the present Pontiff leaves nothing to chance. He was no doubt witness to the scandalous neglect that the social teaching of his predecessors was accorded and resolved to remedy that at least as far as he could by devoting the entire fourth part of the encyclical to pinpointing the obligations of both clergy and laity, especially educators, to making the social teaching of the Church the foundation stone of Christian indoctrination and formation."

W. Norris Clarke, S.J. Technology and Culture (1962) 18. "Many today are worried about the steadily growing complexity of organized social relationships, which seem to be closing in on the individual from all sides and progressively inhibiting his freedom, initiative and opportunity for independent personal development. In other words, is not an ever more organized society, such as technology requires to support it, threatening to depersonalize man, to turn him into a conformist organization man? Previous papal documents, including those of Pius XII, had tended to emphasize the serious danger of the above consequence and warn against it. The present encyclical takes a considerably more optimistic view of the outlook."

Hugh Kay. Catholic Mind (1963) 42. "Mater et Magistra is a betrothal between the community of justice and the community of charity. The first is all we mean by the welfare state, the duty of impersonal society. The second is all we mean by Christian love, the generosity of those whose giving is their being. Here is a co-ordination of mind and heart, of principle and choice, of two methods of giving. The wrangles of the past fifteen years, between Catholics, about the virtues and vices of welfare statism can call a truce. All is reconciled in a partnership giving a warmer heart to the welfare state and a clearer mind to the voluntary giver."

Peter Riga. "The Basis of Pacem in Terris." Continuum 1 (1963) 194. "John XXIII has put an end, at least in theory, to the Catholic ghetto mentality which has been prevalent since the Reformation. The concept of the church as an armed fortress fighting off the onslaughts of the enemy is a thing of the past. The pope tells Catholics that they must become involved in the modern world, with all of its particular problems."

Jaroslav Vanek. "Equity Problems in the International Economy." Review of Social Economy 22 (March 1964) 34-44; at 35-36. "Either the government can assume the role of the entrepreneur and engage in starting and managing productive firms; or, at the other extreme, the authorities can through fiscal measures of all sorts try to stimulate private activities in the direction warranted by the social rather than private economic optimum.... Not only is the encyclical critical of the state of affairs implied by both the first and second alternatives; it also suggests, in broad outline, a third way. Specifically, economic development within a social order where neither the motives of a central authority, nor those of maximum entrepreneurial profit, are the moving force, but rather an order based on the principle of subsidiarity, and on the principle of equitable cooperation in each common productive endeavor of different social groups."

M. Campbell-Johnston. Thought (1964) 382-383. "The attitude of Pope John XXIII toward modern society can best be seen in the treatment he accords, in Mater et Magistra, to the concept of 'socialization,' which he describes as 'one of the most characteristic features of our age.' For Fathers Calvez and Villain of Action Populaire this is the central theme of the Encyclical and its distinctive contribution to Catholic social thought. For if Rerum Novarum can be described as the Church's reply to the challenge of liberal capitalism and Quadragesimo Anno to that of finance capitalism, then Mater et Magistra is her reply to an age of growing socialization."

Pietro Pavan. Commonweal (1964) 234. "Mater et Magistra has caused a vast and deep reaction in all the continents and human circles: Catholics, Protestants, Mohammedans, Hindus, and even the Communist world showed interest in it. What is the explanation for this? In my opinion there are two reasons: first, in this document the laws of human coexistence are clearly set out; secondly, this document comes from the accepted and beloved head of hundreds of millions of faithful."

Francis J. Brown. Duquesne Review (1964) 76. "The value of this section on agriculture was brought home to me quite forcefully recently in a graduate class containing eight foreign students from underdeveloped countries. These young men found the principles and suggestions of John most realistic and practical. I do not wish to give the impression that there is nothing here for us--this would indeed be incorrect--but I do wish to emphasize the importance of the study of agricultural problems in approaching the analysis of the economic problems of the underdeveloped nations."

Jean-Yves Calvez, S.J. The Social Thought of John XXIII (1964) 11. The encyclical's pages on socialization "have nothing in common with any kind of smug admiration for the man who is automatically lifted by the happy progress of history, or by the wondrous effect of techniques, to a 'superior' position of a socialized being. Socialized man considered in himself is worth neither more nor less because he has been socialized. What Pope John is eager for is to have men realize the new opportunities offered them to exercise their freedom in the midst of a socialized universe, one that is socially superdetermined and in which they will henceforth carry on the work of daily living."

E.E.Y. Hales. Pope John and His Revolution (1965) 45. "Mater et Magistra does not merely make more specific the teaching of Pius XI, it develops it out of recognition by giving to the State functions which Pius would never have dreamed of giving it and by recognizing personal claims of the individual upon the community which would not have occurred to him. This might be called 'developing'; it could hardly be called 'making more specific.' With Mater et Magistra we are, in fact, brought right into the world of the Welfare State. Gone is not only the semi-feudal world in which Leo saw the simple workman, surrounded by his family, settling down to his frugal but sufficient meal, the just reward of his labor. But gone, too, is the world of Pius XII, who referred, with evident alarm, to communal kitchens, free health services, and free education."

Peter J. Riga. John XXIII and the City of Man (1966) 4. "For the first time in a pontifical document, spirituality, temporality, and the apostolate are united in a total theological system. This unification is extremely important. In recent decades the position of the layman in the Church, the dialogue of the Church with the modern world, and a theology of terrestrial realities have been carefully examined and developed in theological and apostolic circles. In Mater et Magistra the Pope picked up these individual threads and wove them into a theological synthesis."

John C. Bennett. Catholic Mind (1967) 48-49. "Protestant and Catholic economic ethics have converged in recent decades. This is especially true in regard to the relationship between public and private initiatives in economic life. Neither Protestants nor Catholics believe in an all-encompassing state. However, both emphasize the legitimacy, indeed the necessity, of the increasing role of the state in economic life. Both seek to preserve the social and economic pluralism that is favored by the many units of economic decision and initiative which we associate with capitalism. Both give ethical sanction to private property as a source of and protection for personal freedom, though the arguments for private property must be understood as arguments for the widest possible distribution of property. Pope John's encyclical Mater et Magistra and reports that have come from the Assemblies of the World Council of Churches preserve the same balance on this issue."

Peter J. Riga. The Church and Revolution (1967) 85. "With Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris, it seems to me, moderate socialism has reached a true peace with Christianity and its reality permeates both encyclicals. Mater et Magistra is much more an attack on capitalism than a critique of traditional socialism."

Richard L. Camp. The Papal Ideology of Social Reform (1969) 44. "Pope John XXIII, did not feel that modern society was so threatened. Living in a more stable and prosperous era than had Pius XII, he did not appear to share the former pope's pessimism about the extent of 'true liberty' within modern society. On the contrary, he seemed specifically to contradict Pius XII and to have genuine confidence in modern technology and the modern social structure. He radiated such confidence in Mater et Magistra."

David Hollenbach. Claims in Conflict (1979) 64. "In a significantly new emphasis within the tradition John XXIII moved toward a definition of human dignity in social and structural terms. This does not mean that he reversed the view that society is for man rather than man for society, a view which remains one of the continuities of the tradition. The new approach derives from the recognition that: 1) human dignity is always supported, conditioned and limited by the forms of social life within which it is found; 2) all arguments about the foundation of morality must take this social context of dignity into consideration as one of their starting points; and 3) the moral response to the claim of the worth of persons will be more and more mediated through social structures, even 'in the more intimate aspects of personal life.'"

Gregory Baum. Catholics and Canadian Socialism (1980) 91. "Mater et Magistra initiated a significant change of emphasis in the Church's social teaching. Until that time, the popes defended the free enterprise system because they feared the all-powerful state; since that encyclical, the popes have become more afraid of the all-powerful transnational corporations. This is why they now put the primary emphasis on socialization, without of course neglecting the demands of subsidiarity."

Charles M. Murphy, "Action for Justice as Constitutive of the Preaching of the Gospel: What Did the 1971 Synod Mean?" Theological Studies (1983) 308-09. "If justice is conceived exclusively on the plane of the natural, human virtue of justice as explained in classical philosophical treatises, then such justice can only be conceived as an integral but nonessential part of the preaching of the gospel. But if justice is conceived in the biblical sense of God's liberating action which demands a necessary human response--a concept of justice which is far closer to agape than to justice in the classical philosophical sense--then justice must be defined as of the essence of the gospel itself. The latter sense seems to reflect better the mentality of more recent Christian social doctrine. A decided shift took place in magisterial teaching regarding justice from John XXIII's Mater et Magistra onward: the previous conception of an organicity through reason was placed alongside a more biblical-imaginative perspective on justice."

Donal Dorr. Option for the Poor (1983) 107. "Probably the most important effect of the encyclical, seen as an intervention in the continuing debate about social issues, was that it began the process of breaking the long alliance between Roman Catholicism and socially conservative forces. With the issuing of Pope John's encyclical in 1961 it began to seem credible, for the first time in the modern era, that Catholicism might have more in common with 'the left' than with 'the right.'"

Peter Hebblethwaite. Pope John XXIII (1985) 362. "Gone is the semi-feudal world evoked by Leo XIII" in which simple workmen enjoy with their families the frugal but just rewards of their labor. "John's world is that of colleges of further education, the European Economic Community, and the United Nations. He was optimistic about them all. This marked a new tone in Catholic social teaching. John does not scold. He welcomes the good wherever he finds it. In Pius XI and Pius XII one sometimes got the impression that the world was being lectured at and castigated from the outside by an irate headmaster who knew better.... John did not speak from the outside or adopt a superior tone."

Manuel Velasquez. "'Gaudium et Spes' and the Development of Catholic Social-Economic Teaching" (1986) 182. Leo XIII had urged that the wealthy help the powerless out of charity while the poor should pray for patience. Pius XI had recognized that specific structural changes were required justice, although he never suggested that redistributive programs were morally legitimate. "It was John XXIII in Mater et Magistra who first explicitly and directly addressed the moral legitimacy of dealing with inequality through a legally mandated redistribution of wealth.... Thus, in a radical departure from previous encyclicals, Mater et Magistra advocated that government, not the 'charity' of private individuals, should serve as the primary vehicle for dealing with problems of poverty and inequality."

John Pawlikowski, OSM, and Donald Senior, CP. Economic Justice (1988) 68. "Pope John was severely criticized by right wing authors because he understood the principle of subsidiarity as a basis for government intervention on behalf of those who need help. Nevertheless this was a legitimate development. Pope John did not take away initiative or creativity from persons or small groups. He simply recognized that subsidiarity means help and help is often badly needed."

Fred Kammer, S.J. Doing Faithjustice (1991) 84. "John not only minimized prior suspicion of state control and state initiatives in Catholic social teaching, but also put the church squarely on the side of social reforms for the poor and deprived within and between nations. This prompted strong conservative reactions."

George E. McCarthy and Royal W. Rhodes. Eclipse of Justice (1992) 168. Pius X in his edicts against 'Modernism' had condemned certain groups which "were not sufficiently under ecclesiastical control and brought together people of varying philosophical ideologies. John XXIII's term aggiornamento may be interpreted as just that form of 'modernization' in the church's noncontrolling role in dealing with the shared concern for economic and political matters that his pious predecessor had rejected."