One of the first great revelations of God appears in Exodus when Moses asks him his name. He says, “I am.” One of his first definitive statements about himself is not only that he exists, but that he IS existence.
The one response that is dispelled by that revelation is a relativistic attitude towards God. Relativism is this idea that you create and define your own truths.
Pope Benedict called this the dictatorship of relativism. It’s a dictatorship because it enslaves us to our emotions and desires. Without an objective moral standard to conform your life to, you won’t have any reason to resist your urges and in the absence of effort against your impulses, you will become the sum of your appetite and the proliferation of addiction in humanity is the unavoidable refrain of this truth.
In the same way that God IS in spite of our own preferences, Catholic Christianity, as God’s message to the world, is also something that exists objectively. It is well defined and is reinforced by a considerable amount of defining documentation. What Catholicism ISN’T is whatever we say it is because we happen to be Catholic.
You and I don’t define what it is. We are to be conformed to it. Anything else would be to put ourselves in the place of God. That’s the essential sin of Adam and Eve. They wanted to setup on their own and become like God and that’s what convinced them to eat of the fruit.
So with that said, I wanted to read something that comes from from Pope Pius XI’s encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno. Because there are a lot of Catholics reassuring themselves that certain ideas are easily reconciled with Catholicism when they are not.
“Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism […] cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth.”
He goes on to say, “Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.” And whenever I produce documentation like this, people respond by arguing that this is a peculiarity to that particular pope and not in any way part of the tradition of the Church. In this case, that’s simply not true. Quadragesimo Anno was published on the 40th anniversary of Rerum Novarum by Leo XIII which similarly condemned socialism and there are numerous other papal declarations that say the same thing.
Now why is this relevant? It’s relevant because it addresses something that is a systemic problem in the Church today which is this idea that the Catholic faith is incomplete – that Catholicism only addresses some narrow range of ideas about God, but that everything else of consequence is up to us to decide.
So, you get people describing themselves as Catholic Socialists or Catholic Libertarians or Pro-Choice Catholics, or whatever. I call this the Catholic and phenomenon where it’s not enough to say, I’m Catholic. We’ve become convinced that we still have some blanks to fill in there.
But this has two fundamental problems. The first is that many of these ideological persuasions that we like to saddle our Catholicism with have been denounced as being intrinsically incompatible with the Catholic faith. As we just read in that excerpt, socialism is condemned as unjust and, therefore, not the kind of thing that a faithful Catholic can embrace. Yet, I know all kinds of people that describe themselves as Catholic Socialists.
The second problem is that the word Catholic means “according to the whole”. It’s more commonly translated as “Universal” but that word can be associated with a lot of ideas that cannot be reconciled with Catholic Christianity. So, I prefer, “According to the whole” which isolates the fact that Catholicism is about the whole truth.
It isn’t isolated to one aspect of the truth, it’s a complete system of thought so it doesn’t need to have all these other potential ideological appendages attached according to the whims of individual Catholics.
And if that’s true, then when it comes to matters of consequence, we shouldn’t have to raid the pantry of other creeds to have a fully fleshed out system of thought.
Catholicism features an intellectual tradition that may be neglected but is certainly not incapable of addressing the questions that we have. Rerum Novarum, for example, is Pope Leo’s encyclical that addresses how justice between the working class and the captains of industry can be achieved.
So, you don’t need to turn to Marxism to answer that question. It’s been addressed for us Catholics so there shouldn’t be any excuse to turn to socialism or to call yourself a Catholic Socialist.
This is also why we shouldn’t have much use for qualifying our Catholicism. You’re not a liberal or a conservative Catholic. You’re a Catholic. You either accept the whole thing or none of it. It doesn’t leave you open to any other options.