• Jim Cole

    But how does one distinguish the topics that are not within the Papal Magisterium’s competence, such as the examples provided in this essay, from those that fall within the arena of “morals,” over which the Papal Magisterium does have competence? It is admitted that Jesus prevents the Popes from “erring on . . . morals.”

    Jim Cole

  • Fr. Dominic Legge, OP

    Cardinal Avery Dulles carefully and convincingly refuted most of these arguments about an alleged “180-degree change” of Church teaching on these points in an excellent article in First Things in 2005, in a review of a book by John Noonan. Anyone curious about slavery, religious liberty, usury, and so forth, should read his article (available for free on the First Things website).

    Noonan made the same claims as the present author, albeit out of a desire to see the Church change her teaching on contraception and divorce, among other things. I’m afraid that’s where Mr. Zmirak’s arguments lead, although he probably doesn’t want to end up there.

    It may sound appealing to distinguish “statements on economics and politics” from dogmatic definitions about Christ’s divinity, but that distinction is not nearly as clear as Mr. Zmirak suggests. Is it morally wrong to vote for a referendum (e.g., a state medical assistance measure) that will entail government funding for abortion? Is that a question of politics or of faith and morals? Is it wrong to pay an unjust wage to an employee if you can get away with it – or is that merely a question of economics? Does the faith (and hence the Church and her pastors) have anything to say about such things? Jesus himself teaches that your salvation may hinge on such choices (e.g., Mt 25:34-45).

    Popes don’t enjoy a special charism for crafting government policies amidst a whirl of contingencies, but they are entrusted with making judgments about faith and morals, lest their flock be led astray, to the peril of their eternal salvation. To put it another way: sometimes one can sin by making certain political or economic choices. And it is right for the Church to preach and teach about that.

    There are many important distinctions called for here, including between the sorts of statements made by Popes. Not every word uttered by a Pope has the same authority or weight, and judgments about contingent circumstances are certainly not infallible.

  • John A. Dempsey

    We can safely ignore Mater et Magistra because medieval popes denounced usury? What is sorely missing in this analysis is historical context. You cannot willy nilly pick out statements out of their historical context and then argue that since statement x from the 13th century is now silly, we can safely ignore statement y made 10 years ago.

  • myshkin

    Good post. It’s important to realize that the Pope is meant to be the Vicar of Christ, not the Oracle of Christ (although some Popes have made claims tantamount to that, e.g., Pius IX’s “I am the church! I am the tradition!”). Especially in questions of social and economic organization, the application of moral principles demands a level of prudence beyond that of personal decision-making. Most of the Catholics brought up in the social-justice milieu of the last 40 years seem to conflate questions of personal morality with much more complex moral questions of social and economic organization. As Dr. Zmirak points out, both Popes and Councils have diverged on these questions even when proceeding from the same general moral principles.

    One could conclude that there are no moral answers in these cases, and that therefore anyone can hold anything WRT these moral questions. However, that would be to give up the quest for a coherent, rational moral life, something which is an abiding permanent goal for Roman Catholic moral theology. But we must admit that even what seems to us to be a settled moral question of social and economic organization today, may change in the future. it would be contrary to all the evidence that the Roman Catholic Church of today has nowhere to develop in faith and morals. Somethings will never change, but others might.

    A last thought: Dr. Zmirak has a notion that all development must be “organic” in a certain way (he doesn’t share his definition, I imagine from lack of space). He thens uses a caricature of Hegel’s dialectic as an example of a “inorganic” change. I had to chuckle, since it was Hegel’s dialectic that was championed by so many American intellectuals at the end of the 19th century (e.g., John Dewey) precisely because it was “organic” and not “mechanistic.” Guess one man’s organic is another man’s inorganic, huh?

  • chad

    The 4 examples are not convincing, and some are poorly research ed so as to actually be speading anti-catholic myths, such as tourcher, the numbers during the inquisition have been compiled from records, less the 2% were tortured and no one more then once, this was futher a secular authority, the condemnation just became more explicit as time went on. Like dogma something can be belived without being made explict and even after made dogma it can stll be enriched by insights such as the immaculate conception. Which is what happened with interest on loans, the doctrine became more sophisticated and developed as banking developed in the 14-17th cent.
    Slavery too, has to be contextualized, the greeks had slaves and Aristotle appoved of it, but slave meant someone provided for, they were more like the modern uneducated labor force working for room and bord instead of a wage only good enough to pay for room and bord. The owner had an ethical obligation to take good care of them the way a wife or a child was cared for and who had the same status as a slave. The term is being eqivocated with plantation slavery, which the popes did condemn, that form of slavery was brutal, violent and tyranical, the status of slave was not a social construct, but a metaphysical and biological conviction that black people were pure animals, the greeks and romans would hold they were unactualized humans. Thats why gladiators, who were slaves, could win citizenship by proving themselves capable of virtue, the defining quality of a free human. While greeks could free their slaves.
    The freedom of religion doctrine is more tricky, but a freedom of conscience also has always been implict docrine in ethics, for st. Thomas all ethical acts are acting in conformity with one conscious, and the exist the possibly of invincible ignorance, where one conscious is mal formed to no fault of the actor. This is why the dominicans educate as a charity of instructing the ignorant.
    To use these 4example as a means to undermine the cohernt social teaching of the church is a strategy of divide and concur, an effort at fragmenting the interconnctedness of ethics to social and economic activity. As if political and economic ideologies which the papacy’s has clearly spoken against can still be endorsed because the pope’s have a precendent of reneging. Chesterton was famous for his love of paradoxs, which on a superficial way appear to contradict each other but point to a deeper unity, would you expect the vicar of Christ to speak in a way different the Christ who spoke in way hidden to those corrupted by politics and false religion?

  • Howard Kainz

    Very thought-provoking article. But it occurs to me that the four examples of magisterial reversals Zmirak offers have some things in common: They indicate attempts by earlier popes to respect Old-Testament rulings in regard to usury, slavery, and the prerogatives of God’s chosen people; and they were issued for societies much less pluralistic than present societies.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Bl John Henry Newman, throughout his writings, insists on the distinction between dogma, contained in the Deposit of Faith and theology, which analyses, organizes and reflects on them.

    Dogmas, being revealed truths taught by the Apostles, are categorical, not argumentative; concrete, not abstract; concerned with facts, actions, principles and, above all, a Person, not with ideas or notions or reflections. The Apostles’ Creed is a compendium of such dogmas.

    The moral precepts of revelation are similar, “Give to him that asketh thee,” ““resist not evil” and the like.

  • Myshkin

    @fr. Legge

    Thank you for the reminder of Cardinal Dulles excellent piece “Development or Reversal” in the 2005 First Things (it is free online). It provides a historical theology perspective which is neglected by Dr. Zmirak’s post. I highly recommend it to all those reading this TCT post.

  • Manfred

    This column brought me back to the great contraception debates of the 1960s and ’70s where the argument was the Church would change Its teaching on contraception. Even dissident Hans Keung admitted that Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae was probably Ex Cathedra, although he regretted Paul issuing it. As the enforcement was so weak (Paul never wrote another encyclical and died ten years later)most Catholics today have come to use contraceptives as though the encyclical had never been issued.

    The next meeting to watch is the Synod on the Family coming up in October. It appears Church teachings are again going to be up for grabs.

  • gabe

    Right on Father Legge! This is yet another in a regrettably long line of specious works by conservative Catholics justifying their unqualified support for the economic agenda of the modern GOP.

    This has happened because one wing of the CHurch in the US is so single-mindedly opposed to abortion that it will tolerate and indeed support foreign wars of aggression, indifference or outright hostility to the needs of the poor and even the non-rich all to support the nominal “pro-life” candidates. The GOP consultants have of course long figured out that conservative Catholics are useful idiots in this game. All they have to do is continue to send up candidates and party platforms that check the right box on abortion and pay lip service to Christian “values” and they will get large “Christian” and “Catholic” support for a host of policies and programs that are inimical to what the gospel is about.

    ANd sorry, but it is beside the point to argue that the other party is even worse. I’m talking about the long term corrosive effects of the conservative Catholic-GOP alliance that helps the GOP, but badly taints the Church.

  • Ray

    re: gabe

    The author must have hit close to TRUTH. Those of the liberal persuasion(think Church of Nice folks) have retaliated with those mean old GOP type Catholics, to refute the authors essay. That is all they have for a definitive reproof of his content. Go back and cover your head with the seamless garment you bought in Chicago!

  • chad

    a paradox is an apparent contrition on a superficial level, like suffering God, or God dying.
    ” On the contrary, Gregory says (Hom. xvi in Ezech.) that “the knowledge of the holy fathers increased as time went on . . . and the nearer they were to Our Savior’s coming, the more fully did they received the mysteries of salvation.”
    I answer that, The articles of faith stand in the same relation to the doctrine of faith, as self-evident principles to a teaching based on natural reason. Among these principles there is a certain order, so that some are contained implicitly in others; thus all principles are reduced, as to their first principle, to this one: “The same thing cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time,” as the Philosopher states (Metaph. iv, text. 9). In like manner all the articles are contained implicitly in certain primary matters of faith, such as God’s existence, and His providence over the salvation of man, according to Heb. 11: “He that cometh to God, must believe that He is, and is a rewarder to them that seek Him.” For the existence of God includes all that we believe to exist in God eternally, and in these our happiness consists; while belief in His providence includes all those things which God dispenses in time, for man’s salvation, and which are the way to that happiness: and in this way, again, some of those articles which follow from these are contained in others: thus faith in the Redemption of mankind includes belief in the Incarnation of Christ, His Passion and so forth.
    Accordingly we must conclude that, as regards the substance of the articles of faith, they have not received any increase as time went on: since whatever those who lived later have believed, was contained, albeit implicitly, in the faith of those Fathers who preceded them. But there was an increase in the number of articles believed explicitly, since to those who lived in later times some were known explicitly which were not known explicitly by those who lived before them. Hence the Lord said to Moses (Ex. 6:2,3): “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob [*Vulg.: ‘I am the Lord that appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob’] . . . and My name Adonai I did not show them”: David also said (Ps. 118:100): “I have had understanding above ancients”: and the Apostle says (Eph. 3:5) that the mystery of Christ, “in other generations was not known, as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets.”-Second Part of the Second Part [>]
    Question: 1 [>]
    Article: 7 [>]

  • Seanachie

    Excellent article, John…well reasoned and argued. If a Pope wishes to make a pronouncement (in any media) “ex cathedra,” he may do so…and the declaration would be binding on Catholics. In addition to papal ex cathedra pronouncements, seems to me that the Bible, Ten Commandments, and Beatitudes provide “curbs” for Catholic conduct. Ultimately, the individual (Catholic and all mankind) stands before God in judgment…I do not think compliance with some ad hoc notion of Catholic “social Magisterium” will be a criteria.

  • Chris in Maryland

    Gabe…the desire of an accommodation for pro-choice katholicism is leading nowhere. It is an artifact of politicized religion.

  • Chris in Maryland

    Re: “Unjust wages” and the quick-sand of prudential judgments:

    Is it wrong to take a lower wage as an illegal immigrant who is a carpenter, even when it puts a legal US citizen who is a carpenter out of business?

  • Katie van Schaijik

    Catholic Social Teaching is not a collection of papal statements on politics and economics; it’s a body of moral teaching, and hence falls within the office and charism of the papacy.

  • Athanasius

    Excellent article. One of the documents of Vatican II, I believe it was Gaudium et Spes, says that religious authorities have no special competence in secular disciplines. Enough said for now.

  • A P O’Beacha’in

    This article is so flawed. some examples- no Popes have contradicted Humanae Vitae that was not about birth prevention but about HUMAN LIFE and was prophetic if one knows today’s reality. Popes condemned slavery and condemned violations of mistreatment of indigenous polulations. Lawyer-turned missionary and bishop Brtolemeo de las Casas OP gave us the beginning of the universal declaration on human rights, used by the UN in 1947- being hijacked today by the PC atheist Left dragging us back to the worst of paganism, un-natural law violations. No Pope reversed Leo X111 but. Since his era, economics, labour, means of production and economic models have changed, the basic principles have been applied to world conditions, not “corrected” by being contradicted. It is absolutely true that popes bishops and clergy have no competence as GS Vat 11 says, but NATURAL LAW, enhanced by REVELATION and the HOLY SPIRIT’s guidance ARE MEANT TO STEER IT, which is where our Popes and bishops’ conferences come in, to TEACH THOSE; prudential judgments are made by the elected experts as practical RC Paul Ryan US House budget chair insists The author here does not know of the distinction between and correctly see how REASON and FAITH are intrinsically inter-connected. That is ROMAN CATHOLIC. Bible alone, separate FAITH and economics and let the STATE control the economy are Protestantism and atheism at their worst. IGNORANCE is no excuse for undermining REALITY and FACTS as this piece of scribbling garbage does for the most part. USURY is still used in civil law to refer to EXCESSIVE INTEREST, so we RC believers never need to apologise for. It started in the Hebrew Bible with rules for lending, borrowing, taking property as pledges, and paying back. One example, give a man his cloak back at night to avoid sleeping in the cold; and EYE FOREYE, that is exact retribution, borrowed from HAMMARUBI’s CODE for LEVITICUS.

  • BILL K.

    CCC: “898 By reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. …”
    CCC # 898.
    (Note: the LAITY not the Bishops.)
    Social teaching of the Church which is IGNORED by many Bishops and not mentioned by the Pope includes but is not limited to:
    COMUTATIVE JUSTICE … “without which no other form of justice is possible” CCC# 2411 & 2412.
    SUBSIDIARITY: CCC 1894, 1883, 2209.
    Against All forms of COLLECTIVISM: 1885.
    JUST WAR: CCC 2309.
    Nor do most Clergy teach about the capital sins of ENVY and SLOTH;
    or God’s Commandments of “Thou shall not steal” and “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s goods”.
    Nor do they teach that all literate persons over age 15 should read both the Bible and the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition”
    which contains all the official teachings of the Church that Catholics are required to adhere to.
    btw – ILLEGAL immigration is not supported by Church teaching.
    Immigrants are required to obey the laws of the host Country (this does not exclude immigration laws) CCC# 2241.
    Read the CCC folks, and you will find that some political action promoted by some US Bishops (and sometimes even the USCCB)is not the teaching of the Church, but their own political agenda.
    (This also includes teaching on the: death penalty #2267;
    and self defense #2363. There is no official Church teaching regarding gun control.)
    For more info on the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition” including quotes from Popes John Paul II. Benedict XVI, and Francis on the net go to:
    “What Catholics REALLY Believe SOURCE”

  • Christopher Zehnder

    Mr. Zmirak barrages the reader with a list of alleged reversals of papal teaching to argue that Catholics need not adhere at all to the papal social teaching — that it is a matter of poetic inspiration, not serious assent. But his approach ignores all the subtleties necessary to understand each instance of supposed papal back-peddling. For instance, does the more modern approach to the charging of interest on loans reflect a change in teaching or the changed circumstances of the modern world? First, as Pope Benedict XIII’s encyclical Vix Pervenit (addressing usury and “unjust profit”) recognizes, not every instance of charging interest amounts to usury. There may be circumstances when a creditor has a just claim to interest. From my reading, it appears that the Church has relaxed the prohibition on charging interest because it became increasingly unclear what contracts including interest were usurious and which were not — and that because of the growing complexity of the economic order that had become founded on interest. If my reading of the matter is accurate, then the “change in doctrine” is not a doctrinal change at all. Usury is still condemned, but Church leaders are either unable or unwilling (or both) to identify what contracts charging interest are usurious and what are not.

  • Chris Ferrara

    I don’t understand what has happened to John Zmirak. From a defender of Catholic social teaching, who wrote an introduction to a biography of Wilhelm Ropke (a Lutheran quite sympathetic to the Catholic view of economic justice) he has morphed in a sophistical flak for the “neo-conservative” Catholic party line. Is he singing for his supper? What is going on here?

    The alleged “reversals” of Church teaching are non-existent: (1) The Church has never ceased to condemn chattel slavery of the sort practiced in the antebellum South, and slavery of any kind was abolished in the Catholic nations of Europe long before Pius IX. (2) The only reason the Church now allows for the charging of reasonable interest is that the taking of interest is simply no longer usury because, in the modern fiat currency-based economy, where inflation affects purchasing power, money has acquired a rental value and he who lends it suffers a real loss if he does not receive some interest upon repayment. But the condemnation of usury extends far beyond interest-taking to any form of overreaching in transactions, as Tawney and others have noted. Thus, it would still be usury, for example, to require a starving person to return two loaves of bread for the loaf you lend him. Surely Zmirak understands these distinctions. Yet he ignores them in his article. (3) The suggestion that “countless Popes” enunciated a “Catholic social teaching” in favor of torture is merely slipshod. The conditional approval of its use by civil authority in proceedings during the periods of the Inquisition hardly constitutes a constant teaching of the Church that torture is licit. As a matter purely of discipline, and moreover discipline not imposed on the universal Church, the possibility of prudential error is always present, and it was probably present here. The Catechism did not “reverse” any “Church teaching” in favor of torture, even if medieval Popes permitted it as a matter of prudential judgment. (4) As for religious liberty, there has been no change in “the traditional teaching of the Church on the duty of men and societies toward the true religion and the one true Church of Christ,” which Dignitatis humanae expressly leaves “untouched.” There is no equation of “state” and “societies” as Zmirak argues. Rather, society is understood to include the organs of government. The distinction between “society” and “state” is the invention of libertarians, not the teaching of the Council. Further, DH expressly acknowledges the right of civil authority to regulate abuses of religious liberty for the common good.

    John Zmirak is an immensely talented writer, whose gift I greatly admire. How sad to see that gift devoted to a sophistical attack on those elements of Church teaching the neo-conservative Catholic establishment has so long despised.

  • John Zmirak

    I wish that Mr. Ferrara were right. I must confess that for many years, I myself was drawn to conservative Catholicism by the prospect of a perfectly self-consistent ideology, which had grown organically over the centuries, that would provide ready-made answers for every social and political question.

    But I have come to see that what I sought was a golden calf. I used to engage in the same sort of Moscow-style casuistry which he practices here, in desperate defense of my idol.

    It is not true, alas, that the Church always condemned chattel slavery. The papal statements I cited that approved of Christians taking slaves were issued not in the 3rd century but the 16th, when chattel slavery was the only kind on offer. Catholics were capturing Muslims in wars and selling them at market. That is the practice of which the pope of the day approved. Nor were Catholics who owned and sold chattel slaves in the American south ever commanded to free them, or denied Holy Communion for owning them. Imagine if we were talking about “abortion” instead of “slavery,” and you will see the scandal. When Pius IX’s Holy Office reaffirmed the morality of slavery, chattel slavery was the only kind that existed in the Christian world. Was he ignorant of that fact? Are we commanded as Catholics to pretend that he was?

    The papal statement I cited on torture was not an instance of a pope reluctantly permitting secular kings to practice torture. He was recommending it and calling for it to be applied to “heretics.” Clerics took part in torture, and even received dispensations from canon law to permit them to do so. The scale of the Inquisition has been exaggerated by anti-Catholic historians, of course. But that does not negate the scandal of papal approval of the practice.

    If Ferrara’s reading of Dignitatis Humanae is correct, then the document was utterly meaningless—self-negating, a transparent attempt to deceive the world into thinking that the Church endorsed religious liberty when it did not. So Thomas Pink argued in First Things (of all places), suggesting that the Church reserves the right to imprison any baptized Christian for heresy. Does the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or any statement of post-conciliar popes, suggest that this is the case? If it were, if the Church really had engaged in such a contemptible dodge in the DOCUMENTS OF A COUNCIL, then it would hardly be worthy of our assent.

    My questions on usury remain unanswered: In the centuries when Church authorities issued categorical decrees referring to all lending at interest as a sin against nature—which the Church later recognized was incorrect—were lenders sinning when they made loans at reasonable rates of interest?

    The fundamental problem here is much deeper than leftist bloggers perverting Catholic social teaching to justify voting for Democrats so they can keep on collecting food stamps… repulsive though that is.

    Too many Catholics act as if the natural law—changeless, eternal, pre-dating the Church’s foundation—were canon law, which popes have the absolute authority to change or even violate. Slavery, torture, religious liberty, economics… these are not like “fish on Friday” or the Eucharistic fast. They are questions of objective REALITY, which churchmen simply got wrong, and later churchmen thankfully corrected.

    It was always evil for Catholics to torture Protestants. It was always evil for Catholics to own chattel slaves. It was always moral for men to lend at reasonable rates of interest. There were laymen, even non-Catholics, who saw these truths before certain popes did. That’s just a fact. I will not degrade my God-given intellect or hard-won integrity to pretend otherwise, even if it helps to rally the troops.

  • Chris Ferrara

    Mr. Zmirak writes:

    “The papal statement I cited on torture was not an instance of a pope reluctantly permitting secular kings to practice torture. He was recommending it and calling for it to be applied to “heretics.” Clerics took part in torture, and even received dispensations from canon law to permit them to do so. The scale of the Inquisition has been exaggerated by anti-Catholic historians, of course. But that does not negate the scandal of papal approval of the practice.”

    The allowance of torture is not part of a constant “Catholic social teaching” that was “reversed” by the Catechism, but a regrettable and contingent accommodation in the realm of discipline to methods employed by civil authorities in specific historical circumstances. As a matter of prudential judgment it was subject to an error of prudential judgment. The papal documents in question were written at a time when the Pope was acting as temporal sovereign dealing in contingent matters; they are not universal teachings on faith and morals that would allow the use of torture universally as some sort of moral good. It is ridiculous to claim, for example, that the permitted use of a limited kind of physical coercion “one time” is a Catholic teaching on faith and morals. This represents a Pope attempting to fashion a kind of strictly construed penal measure in given circumstances, where error is entirely possible. No encyclical, Council or Catechism teaches a general right to torture that the Church later “reversed.”

    “If Ferrara’s reading of Dignitatis Humanae is correct, then the document was utterly meaningless—self-negating, a transparent attempt to deceive the world into thinking that the Church endorsed religious liberty when it did not.”

    It is entirely possible that Dignitatis humane is self-negating because of the very thing even Cardinal Kasper has noted: the insertion of competing locutions into certain conciliar documents allowing for both a traditional and a non-traditional reading. Further, Mr. Zmirak does not define “religious liberty” to begin with. What DH addresses is certainly not anything like what the modern mentality regards as “religious liberty”: the right to promulgate any and all religious opinions, even devil worship, without restraint by civil authority.

    One of the abiding absurdities of our time is the notion that people who tell lies about temporal matters such as the value of a diet pill can be fined and even jailed because they have induced people to part with a few dollars, whereas people who tell lies about eternal matters and lead people to infinite, eternal loss have a “natural right” not to be prevented from doing so.

    Read in continuity with the traditional teaching it profess to leave “untouched,” DH does not teach the modern notion of “religious liberty.” Therefore, there is no deception in the matter. At any rate, Mr. Zmirak is in no position to declare a reversal of prior teaching when neither the Church nor the respected commentators declare such a reversal. The entire subject remains vexed and is far more nuanced than Mr. Zmirak allows.

    “My questions on usury remain unanswered: In the centuries when Church authorities issued categorical decrees referring to all lending at interest as a sin against nature—which the Church later recognized was incorrect—were lenders sinning when they made loans at reasonable rates of interest?”

    Your questions have not been left unanswered. I answered them: when interest-taking ceased to be usurious because changing economic circumstances endowed formerly fungible currencies with use value that declined over time, the Church came to recognize that in the age of fiat currencies paying back 1000 units of currency ten years after it is loaned was not a fair repayment of units of exchange whose purchasing power had declined drastically or whose investment potential was lost through the loan (as would the rental income from a house be lost if one were forbidden to rent it).

    The Catholic Encyclopedia explains all this very clearly, yet determined opponents of the social teaching insist upon a “reversal” of teaching where none exists. The principle is unchanging: one cannot demand payment for the use of a thing that has no use value–e.g. two loaves of bread in return for one loaned. Money has, however, changed its character and so the Church has recognized alteration of the application of the principle of usury to fiat currency. There is simply no “reversal” of teaching.

    As a great admirer of your talent, I remain dismayed by your change of position. We need intellects of your caliber to show the constancy of the Church’s teaching, not to pick it apart to suit neo-conservative, neo-liberal tendencies rightly condemned as “social modernism” by Pius XI (cf. Ubi Arcano Dei).

  • Chris Ferrara

    “It is not true, alas, that the Church always condemned chattel slavery.”

    On the contrary, it is true. The Church has never approved of that system of slavery in which human beings can be bought and sold like chattels, husbands sold away from wives, and children from parents. The Holy Office of Pius IX did not “reaffirm the morality of slavery,” but on the contrary Pius IX made it clear to the US representative Rufus King that “he could never, as Christian and head of the Catholic Church, lend any sanction or countenance to the system of African slavery.” (Cf. my Liberty the God that Failed, pp. 453-456).

    I find it odd that you would fail to notice what the U.S. ambassador to France noticed in his defense of the Catholic Church that Pius IX was sympathetic to Southern slavery. He noted “the hostile attitude which the Church has always occupied towards chattel slavery, and that wherever it is has prevailed in Catholic countries it has prevailed by permission or encouragement from the civil, not the ecclesiastical power.”

    Finally, Mr. Zmirak destroys the credibility of the Church by suggesting that her social teaching is a nest of self-contradictions. To avoid the staggering implications, he argues that the social teaching really does not exist, that its existence is a myth. But this is pushing a very large boulder up a very steep hill. Mr. Zmirak should abandon the effort. He cannot succeed.

  • Chris Ferrara

    Regarding the Instruction of the Holy Office under Pius IX, this regarded “servitude” rather than “slavery.” There are certain legitimate titles to servitude, such as the promise of perpetual servitude as with the indentured servant or the servitude of prisoners of war or prisoners in general for that matter. Further, if one has made a promise of servitude, even a promise of servitude for life, the resulting pledge of the right to one’s labor can be transferred to another.

    Thus, the Holy Office notes that “servitude itself, considered in itself and all alone, is by no means repugnant to the natural and divine law,” meaning that servitude in and of itself, without more, is not *intrinsically* evil. But the same document also notes that “the Roman Pontiffs have left nothing untried by which servitude be everywhere abolished among the nations…”

    In any case, the Church has never pronounced moral chattel slavery: the ownership of one human being of another or the other’s offspring, buying or selling them like commodities without regard to marital or family bonds. A little serious research on this question would have uncovered, for example, Gregory XVI’s In Supremo (1839) wherein we read the following discussion of the Church’s constant teaching expressed by “many Roman Pontiffs” before Gregory:

    “But – We say with profound sorrow – there were to be found afterwards among the Faithful men who, shamefully blinded by the desire of sordid gain, in lonely and distant countries, did not hesitate to reduce to slavery Indians, negroes and other wretched peoples, or else, by instituting or developing the trade in those who had been made slaves by others, to favour their unworthy practice. ***Certainly many Roman Pontiffs of glorious memory, Our Predecessors, did not fail, according to the duties of their charge, to blame severely this way of acting as dangerous for the spiritual welfare of those engaged in the traffic and a shame to the Christian name;*** they foresaw that as a result of this, the infidel peoples would be more and more strengthened in their hatred of the true Religion.

    It is at these practices that are aimed the Letter Apostolic of Paul III, given on May 29, 1537, under the seal of the Fisherman, and addressed to the Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo, and afterwards another Letter, more detailed, addressed by Urban VIII on April 22, 1639 to the Collector Jurium of the Apostolic Chamber of Portugal. ***In the latter are severely and particularly condemned those who should dare ‘to reduce to slavery the Indians of the Eastern and Southern Indies,’ to sell them, buy them, exchange them or give them, separate them from their wives and children, despoil them of their goods and properties, conduct or transport them into other regions, or deprive them of liberty in any way whatsoever, retain them in servitude, or lend counsel, succour, favour and co-operation to those so acting, under no matter what pretext or excuse, or who proclaim and teach that this way of acting is allowable and co-operate in any manner whatever in the practices indicated.”****

    Mr. Zmirak’s treatment of this subject is superficial and unfair to the Church.

  • Aaron Taylor

    If it was always moral for men to lend at interest, and the Church was mistaken to condemn it as a sin against nature akin to sodomy, then perhaps the Church is mistaken about sodomy itself. Perhaps that has always been moral, too.

    Or perhaps not. Zmirak’s argument is ultimately incoherent because it either (a) obliterates the Church’s ability to teach about morality at all, or (b) depends for its cogency on a neat distinction between the “moral” and the “social” or political that doesn’t exist in reality and so is not in fact cogent at all.

    Does Zmirakism mean that the Pope can teach “X is wrong” but that he cannot teach that, all other things being equal, it is wrong for someone to vote for X or for a government to enact a public policy promoting X, because the latter is a “political” issue rather than a “moral” one.

  • Jonathan Arrington

    Cardinal Dulles pointed out – more or less – the same logical inconsistencies and wild anachronisms in Noonan’s book almost a decade ago as Chris Ferrara demonstrates (with helpful Papal citations and other loci theologici) in rebutting this article’s wandering rhetoric.
    Nevertheless, it’s good that this article has been published because of the relevance which these subjects acquired in the deceased Cardinal’s treatment of them: to wit, that of divorce and remarriage is the issue of the year, at least come October.
    Mr. Zmirak could refine the points he tried to make by toning down the rhetorical flourish. Too many superlatives or equivalents thereto – which lead to too many strawmen.

  • John Zmirak

    “Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery, and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons … It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given.”
    Holy Office of Pius IX, 1866.

    Re Mr. Taylor: Our knowledge that sodomy is wrong comes from the natural law and the bible, and because it reiterates consistent Catholic teaching it forms part of the ordinary magisterium.

    My whole point here is that there IS no consistency to papal and conciliar statements on politics and economics, and hence there IS no ordinary magisterium, per se, on such matters.

    A pope could well teach that voting for abortion laws is wrong, and he would be correct BECAUSE he would be mirroring natural law. If a pope taught that keeping slaves was moral, or that torture or imprisonment of Protestants were moral, he would be incorrect. The standard is truth, natural law, not authority.

    The only case where a papal statement on natural law that did not reflect a constant previous church tradition would be certain and binding on conscience would be an ex cathedra statement. That is, after all, the difference between the ordinary and extraordinary magisterium.

    So when popes or councils attempt the application of principles of natural law to specific circumstances, they can err or contradict each other, as history proves. The merits of what they say are derived not from the authority but from the underlying truth, knowable by reason.

  • BTurner

    The premise that moral and social doctrine develops either univocally with dogmatic development or equivocally (i.e., non-organically) begs the question on the major premise. John Paul II noted that moral doctrinal development is similar to and not identical with dogmatic development (see Veritatis splendor). The key factor present in such development, especially in the Church’s social teaching, is the historical and social condition of the peoples to whom it is addressed. And to add to that, noting that the eternal law is applied to different situations differently is as old as St. Augustine’s de libero arbitrio, de vera religione, contra faustum, etc.

    The minor premises are also false, for the same reason. Besides the First Things review, Dulles also wrote an article responding to Zmirak’s third evidence (in Grasso & Hunt, Catholicism and Religious Freedom: Contemporary Reflections on Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Liberty [Lantham, MD: 2006]). The work of French Benedictine Basile Valuet on Dignitatis humane and the development of doctrine is most excellent, but untranslated. (And these authors and Zmirak would agree on much regarding the meaning of DH, even if not the nineteenth-century pronouncements, with which Zmirak shows little familiarity.) The evidence on usury and torture have already been adequately explained above. Slavery is another bag, but again, Dulles covers it in his First Things review of Noonan’s book (to which this post bears conceptual identity, right down to its dismissal of teaching not defined ex-cathedra).

    As for the Church’s competence in social matters (which is not exhausted by economic matters, by the way), the popes themselves have not been shy with explaining why it is that they have such jurisdiction. For example, Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno said:

    “41. Yet before proceeding to explain these matters, that principle which Leo XIII so clearly established must be laid down at the outset here, namely, that there resides in Us the right and duty to pronounce with supreme authority upon social and economic matters. Certainly the Church was not given the commission to guide men to an only fleeting and perishable happiness but to that which is eternal. Indeed” the Church holds that it is unlawful for her to mix without cause in these temporal concerns”; however, she can in no wise renounce the duty God entrusted to her to interpose her authority, not of course in matters of technique for which she is neither suitably equipped nor endowed by office, but in all things that are connected with the moral law. For as to these, the deposit of truth that God committed to Us and the grave duty of disseminating and interpreting the whole moral law, and of urging it in season and out of season, bring under and subject to Our supreme jurisdiction not only social order but economic activities themselves.”

    Pius then goes on to explain the connection between the economic and moral orders. Worth consideration before one dismisses the teaching of the Catholic Church, and encourages others to do so.

  • Codgitator

    Since Zmirak ostensibly still agrees that the Magisterium is competent to judge on matters of faith and morals, this article is coherent only if the Magisterium itself is not competent to judge on what falls under the heading of faith and morals. If at the end of the day it is the right, nay, duty, of Catholic laymen to parse for the Magisterium which of its teachings actually belong to its own competence, then at the end of the day, Catholicism is a sham, which is the effective thrust of Zmirak’s essay. The Magisterium has consistently, clearly, and emphatically enunciated how and why various supposedly “purely economic” or “merely social” issues fall under its authority in faith and morals, so Zmirak’s discomfiture at such teachings says more about him than it does about Catholic doctrine. He sneers at the charge of Americanism, but it is still a heresy, and is sadly very much on display here.

  • John Zmirak

    There are so many responses–glad I struck a nerve! In lieu of responding to all of them, just a few points:

    * The Church’s teaching on usury did not evolve in response to fiat currency–which did not exist in most countries until the 18th century. Nor did the Church merely allow interest to compensate for inflation or the risk of lost value… though this may have been the theory that theologians offered to excuse the theological development.

    * I am quite aware of Leo XIII’s claim to speak with binding authority on matters of politics and economics. I am equally aware of previous popes’ solemn claims that they had the authority to depose secular rulers at will. Is Catholicism a “sham” now that we don’t accept the second claim? So why should it be a sham if we question the first?

    * The deeper issue here is the ordinary magisterium, which is hard to explain without making it seem like a tautology: If 20 popes say “A”, then it seems to be part of the ordinary magisterium. If a 21st pope says “not-A”, then we know that it wasn’t.

    * Most importantly, the defenders of a Catholic political ideology perform a bait and switch. They claim that the Church’s guidance on politics and economics is clear, consistent, and binding in conscience when they’re trying to use it to win contemporary arguments. Then when you challenge them, they resort to excruciatingly subtle distinctions which, if true, render the Church’s teaching consistent at the cost of being virtually a secret. Pius IX REALLY opposed chattel slavery (as we know from a private letter) even though his Holy Office allowed for slaves to be “be sold, bought, exchanged or given.” Vatican II REALLY does not allow for religious liberty in the sense that the world took it, and is somehow secretly compatible with locking up Protestants–despite everything that Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI said about religious freedom, and the language of the Catechism itself. It’s SECRETLY coherent with “error has no rights,” which we’re happy to explain to you if you read our blogs. In the meantime, if the pope Tweets about letting the Muslims into Europe, that might well be the “spirit-led Magisterium at work.” Or maybe the explanation is…secret.

    If anything would discredit the Church, it would be such an inflation of her claims to the point where they are indefensible by any honest means, and ludicrous to any outside observer.

  • pj_houston

    Excellent rebuttal of the Church of Nice and the Patheos crowd. Well done, Zmirak.

  • Chris Ferrara

    Mr Zmirak writes: “The Church’s teaching on usury did not evolve in response to fiat currency–which did not exist in most countries until the 18th century. Nor did the Church merely allow interest to compensate for inflation or the risk of lost value… though this may have been the theory that theologians offered to excuse the theological development.”

    That is simply false, and is backed by no research or scholarly citations. Anyone who has delved into this subject can see the development of doctrine that occurred precisely as a recognition that interest could be charged to restore lost value or opportunity. This was so from Medieval times, and the work of theologians was a perfectly legitimate way to develop Catholic doctrine pending the Church’s recognition of changing circumstances in such documents as Vix pervenit. (Brian McCall has done excellent work in this area, showing the roots of the legitimate development which preserves the principle while recognizing that its application had to change.)

    Usury in principle is the exacting of a payment for something that has no use value—hence usury. When currency was fungible it had no use value. Gradually, it acquired use value as financial markets and fiat currencies arose. Then it became a question of justice akin to the payment that justice would require for the rental of someone’s home, even if charity might counsel renting it for free.

    Once again, the Holy Office in 1866 did not declare that “slavery is moral,” as Mr. Zmirak insists. It used the word “servitude,” not slavery, to indicate conditions under which one could be bound to render labor to another even for life, but in the same document it deplored abuses outside of those strict conditions. The Church has NEVER condoned simple chattel slavery, as the documents I have cited shown, meaning the possession of human beings as chattels who could be separated from spouses and children or captured by slave traders and bound into slavery against their will. Father Panzer’s study demolishes Mr. Zmirak’s caricature of the Church’s nuanced position on the tolerability of servitude under certain conditions. To declare that the Church said slavery is moral but now says it is immoral is to substitute a blogosphere cartoon for a serious inquiry into the authentic teaching.

    Finally, Mr. Zmirak descends to another caricature when he reduces the question of religious liberty to “locking up Protestants.” In principle, public authority still has, just as it always did, the right to regulate the public manifestations of religious error in order to protect the common good. As DH, Art. 7, states: “Furthermore, ***society has the right to defend itself*** against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. ***It is the special duty of government*** to provide this protection.”

    Notice that “society” is said to include “government,” contrary to Mr. Zmirak’s false assertion that the Council does not view government as part of “society” subject to the demands of the Gospel and the claims of the one true Church along with the individual.

    I do agree with Mr. Zmirak, however, that papal tweets and other informal pronouncements are not part of the Magisterium.

    With all due respect to Mr. Zmirak, it appears that his understanding of these subjects is dangerously superficial. He needs to do far more extensive reading—years’ worth—before venturing an opinion on these matters of Catholic doctrine. He should not be making claims with the boldness of someone who thinks he has caught the Church in a series of self-contradictions because of such things as a cropped quotation from the Holy Office instruction of 1866, of which I doubt he possess a complete original, while he ignores all previous papal pronouncements on the matter condemning both chattel slavery and the slave trade (not just the slave trade, as Americanist defenders of the antebellum South contended in the usual American manner of exempting the United States from all papal teaching they do not like). Most of what he writes consists of the old saws of liberal critics of the Church, whose claims do not survive close scrutiny.

  • Dennis Larkin

    I had thought that Christopher Hitchens was dead. Then I read this essay.

  • Fake Herzog

    “It is an error,” declared the Pope, “to believe that the Roman Pontiff can and ought to reconcile himself to, and agree with, progress, liberalism, and modern civilization.” The American Catholic hierarchy took its cue from the Pope. Archbishop John Hughes of New York attacked abolitionists, Free Soilers, and various Protestant reform movements as kin to the “Red Republicanism” of Europe.

    – Battle Cry of Freedom, Page 132

    I have to admit a soft spot for old Pius IX — I’m a big fan of progress and modern civilization myself (especially medical advances and technology) but he hit the head when it comes to liberalism 🙂

    As for the broader argument, I side with Zmirak — it is obvious that you shouldn’t use State power to lock up Protestants, no matter how wrong they are. You answer error with the truth and let the marketplace of ideas win the day. It is also obvious that over the years, while the Church has condemned slavery (think Saint Patrick) they were not in the lead in ending the horror of the slave trade or chattel slavery in the American south.

    I think Ferrara’s argument is stronger when it comes to usury — this blogger has explored the question in some detail:


    tl;dr: Some loans today should be considered usurious by the Church.

    Anyway, great article and wonderful, spirited comments.

  • Doc Fox, pastoral associate, retired

    The social mission of the Church is part of a far older tradition, namely the actions and words of Jesus as he worked to provide care and assistance for the poor, the very young, the very old, the sick, the stranger.

  • Dan Carver

    I feel the same about the death penalty. The Popes and Catachisms prior to Pope John Paul 2 supported the right of the state to execute the guilty as a proportional response to the crime. Now, if you say you support the death penalty, they look at you like you are a pagan !I still support it for many crimes. I would say that someone like Hitler should have been executed if caught.

  • John Zmirak

    In response to some worthy questions posed by a reader at The American Catholic where this article is linked:

    I believe that the Church has the authority to teach on moral issues, using both the ordinary and the extraordinary magisterium. However, when it comes to the specific applications of morality to political and economic institutions, I do not think that there has been sufficient consistency to merit the belief that the ordinary magisterium applies to such applications. For instance, the Church’s vision of human dignity is a crucial doctrine, which has been upheld in the abstract with great consistency. But the applications have been sufficiently inconsistent to convince me that the ordinary magisterium cannot be said to have spoken–or else it would have spoken in favor of slavery in certain cases for many centuries, and then against it under any circumstances. Likewise, one cannot honestly reconcile the statements of many popes about the duty of Catholic rulers to suppress heresy with the assertions of Dignitatis Humanae. Rather than say that the Church is thereby discredited, or pretend that irreconcilable positions can be reconciled, it seems to me the only solution is to recognize the limited extent of the ordinary magisterium, to see that it has not historically functioned in the application of Christian principles to political and economic institutions. We must listen to papal and conciliar statements on politics and economics, and try our best to accept them–but when they seem to contradict natural law, we need not grant them religious assent.

    So on the issue of religious liberty: I AGREE with Vatican II’s teaching (and under no circumstances would accept coercion of “heretics”, which I believe is demonstrably evil) but I cannot cite Vatican II as giving it the weight of the ordinary magisterium, since it does not stand in continuity with previous Church teaching. Likewise with slavery, torture, etc. These issues COULD be resolved by conciliar or papal exercise of the extraordinary magisterium, of course.

    The “golden calf” of which I spoke is the notion that there is a clear, self-consistent Catholic ideology of economics and government that can be drawn from the statements of the ordinary magisterium, to which Catholics must give religious assent–and a “spirit-led” magisterium that we can discern in papal statements about particular issues, from poverty to immigration.

  • J

    Ferrara’s arguments are more persuasive.

  • Tides

    The social teaching of the Catholic Church will always be on the side of the truly oppressed, poor, ordinary, and humble. Its teachings favor these, provide for their rights, and, when applied, protect them from the depredations of ideology, mammon, perversity, idolatry, sophistry–the rulers of this world. The Church especially gives no quarter to the ideologies of empire, libido dominandi, for she knows that the Levianthanian state, when wedded to Christian-sounding rhetoric of liberation, and especially when it plays the role of the perpetual victim of violence, poses the greatest threat to mankind’s physical, moral, and spiritual good. The ideologies of empire are masterful at including enough moral and Gospel sounding half-truths to avoid detection by even the good willed.

    Thus, anyone criticizing genuine Catholic social teaching (and not tendentious interpretations of it), from whatever angle and for whatever ostensibly good reason, indicates, most fundamentally, an antagonism with its subversion and unmasking of the evils and errors of empire, particularly those evils and errors with which one has become complicit, albeit perhaps unknowingly. In this case, it looks like Zionism and American Exceptionalism.

    Of course, one can make an idol of anything, including the truth, and the author had been doing this in the past, and has recognized it, as he says.

    But in light of this and past articles, it seems to me that he has swung too far and has run up against another idol, one, I think, that is worse.

  • simon james

    Slavery is not even fully illegal in the USA. The 13th Amendment forbids slavery — with one large exception.

    That ought to provide some context to people who accuse the Church of changing her position on slavery.

  • simon james

    Slavery is not even fully illegal in the USA. The 13th Amendment includes an exception you could drive a truck through.

    That ought to provide some context to those who accuse the Church of changing her position.

  • Art Deco

    I am thinking one of two things might be helpful in disputes of this nature.

    1. Locating an annotated compendium of documents on each of the subjects in question.

    2. Compiling such if none has ever been produced.

    I believe the social implications of lending at interest are quite different in cash-poor agricultural societies than is the case in modern economies, but the precise mechanisms have escaped my memory.

  • bill bannon

    To several here who have criticized John on the slavery issue, read the following from Pope Nicholas V from the mid fourth large paragraph of Romanus Pontifex which is online…the Pope is reiterating a previous permission he gave to Portugal’s prince:

    ” We [therefore] weighing all and singular the premises with due meditation, and noting that since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso — to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit –”

    This passage turbo charged the slave trade by Portugal. Cardinal Dulles did a facile review of the Noonan book on the matter…read both and you’ll see why….ie Noonan’s ” The Church That Can and Cannot Change”. Dulles didn’t even notice that the Canary Island papal document applied only to enslaving the baptised which Noonan had pointed out but Dulles missed as Dulles simply regurgitated Pope Leo XIII defensive history of the matter. Noonan does detail whatever else one thinks of his latter position on HV. Noonan gives an incident from c.1800 when the Jesuits are buying a plantation from another order which sells a slave mother and one of her children just prior to the farm sale and the Jesuits want the money included in their assets. But astoundingly the religious order sold another child of the woman separately. Read the book which gives cites.

  • Robert Spencer

    “Of course, one can make an idol of anything, including the truth…”

    That is a truly and quintessentially insane statement.
    The truth is reality. That is all.
    There is never a time when the true God requires us to forsake reality for fantasy or wishful thinking.
    To think that the truth can be an idol, and falsehood ever preferable, is, quite simply, insane, and evil, and anti-God.

  • Chris Ferrara

    As I suspected, a careful reading of the 1866 instruction of the Holy Office regarding slavery, in its entirety, demonstrates that it does not stand for the proposition that “slavery is moral,” as Mr. Zmirak asserts. It appears that he wrote his article without having consulted the actual document, including the parallel original Latin. He thus misleads the reader with a superficial presentation, as he does respecting usury.

    First of all, the context of the document is the tolerability of slavery under certain strict conditions, including the fundamental requirement that the slave has not been reduced unjustly to slavery—i.e. kidnapped by slave traders. Hence the document, before laying down these conditions, notes that “the Roman Pontiffs have left nothing untried by which servitude everywhere be abolished among nations” even if “servitude itself”— meaning essentially indentured servitude not unjustly acquired through the slave trade—“is by no means repugnant to the natural and divine law” as there can be “many just titles for servitude,” such as a voluntary indenture or one’s status as a prisoner of war in a just war.

    Now for the conditions under which servitude is justified and sale of title to the servant’s labor (not his person as such) is permissible. These conditions destroy the argument that the Vatican approved of American-style chattel slavery, founded on the slave trade in kidnapped human beings who were then declared the property of their owners down to the nth generation, able to be sold without regard to ties of marriage and family. The conditions include: (1) that the slave has not been “unjustly deprived of his liberty”; (2) that the one buying the slave is “morally certain… that those slaves… were not reduced to slavery unjustly; (3) that slaves who have unjustly been reduced to slavery and have “no ability to free themselves” from “harsh present servitude,” must CONSENT to any sale, and this only after having been “fully taught that freedom belongs to them by right and which they lose ONLY BY INJURY TO OTHERS”; (4) that any such sale will “does nothing to impair the life, morals or Catholic faith of the slave to be sold”; (5) that it is NOT licit to sell any slave whose new owner will probably “treat that slave inhumanely.” Further, “it is illicit to sell a slave, taking no account of the marriage rights and duties of the same slave. Much more illicit is it to sell a Christian slave to a faithless master or… TO A HERETICAL SCHISMATIC MASTER.”

    Finally, says the Instruction, the seller can be admitted the sacraments if the slaves he sells have not been unjustly reduced to slavery, and if he furthermore “solemnly promises that he will sell them in such moral conditions that none of the rights and duties that belong to them as men… will be harmed or endangered by the sale.”

    Obviously, chattel slavery in America routinely violated all of these conditions.

    In sum, to depict this Instruction as Rome’s approval of chattel slavery as then in force in America is a slur against the Magisterium and a grave disservice to the Church and the Catholics who have read Mr. Zmirak’s piece and might have been persuaded by it. But such is the danger of blogosphere punditry unsupported by serious research.

  • bill bannon

    Please read one day Noonan’s book…” The Church That Can and Cannot Change “. Your whole piece above me is based on one document in 1866. Above your post in my post is the text of Romanus Pontifex,1454 after the Canary Island bull but prior to the 1537 bull. Romanus Pontifex was confirmed by three subsequent Popes in writing and its ending called for ignoring any future attempts to nullify it which the 1537 bull attempted. Noonan’s book will walk you through the ups and
    downs which involved more than documents e.g. Catholic universities taught 4 exceptions that permitted slavery and one…born to a slave mother… is mentioned by Aquinas as being in the canons ( see Supplement to Summa T. , marriage/ on the marriage if a slave/). Another was capture in a just war which Portugal could claim whenever she purchased African slaves that were captured out of her sight by other Africans. Noonan is a Federal Judge which means he hunts for evidence. He not the internet will give you copious data on this.

  • Chris Ferrara

    Was the slave mother kidnapped by slave traders and forced into slavery? I am sure Aquinas was not justifying that. Was she subjected to servitude unjustly? What was the title to the labor of the mother?

    Aquinas denounced the violation of marital ties by slave-sellers and even the idea of requiring permission for marriage, holding that slaves had every right to disobey masters who attempted to interfere with their marriages and rearing of children. The American system of chattel slavery stands condemned by Aquinas.

    I repeat: Rome never defended chattel slavery in disregard of marital and family ties or as originating in unjust subjection. Capture in a just war means prisoner of war. That is hardly American chattel slavery.

    Further, American chattel slavery was RACIAL in character, based on the assumption that white slavery **was indeed immoral** but not the enslavement of blacks, who by nature were supposedly “fitted to servitude” according to the Southern ideologues (e.g. Alexander Stephens in his atrocious “Cornerstone Address” in which he likened black slaves to the foundation of Southern society on which the nobler stones were placed). This was a wholly unbiblical view of slavery, as Genovese and others have rightly argued.

    There is no way any Papal pronouncement can be read to justify chattel slavery as it existed in America.

  • Chris Ferrara

    To Bill Bannon:

    I have not only read Noonan’s book, I have literally eaten it! The cover bears my bite marks from being carried along with the books in my hands when I was using them to research something or other.

    Please read pages 102-109 on the history of the papal bull In Supremo of Gregory XVI, which condemned chattel slavery and pointed by back to a long series of anti-slavery papal pronouncements. All Noonan does is string together anecdotal bits and pieces from the time of Moses, in a series of superficial historical vignettes of two or three pages each. These vignettes do not not show any papal teaching approving chattel slavery as opposed to clerical hypocrisy and tolerated evils perpetrated by civil authorities. He demonstrates no “reversal” of the Magisterium as such, but only a reversal of practice regarding what was tolerated, but without positive papal approbation.

    And, quite predictably, it was an Americanist Irish priest—almost a redundancy—that Noonan cites as the foremost American dissenter from In Supremo. Americanists have been dissenting from the Church’s social teaching since the 19th century. Mr. Zmirak’s article is in that great Americanist tradition.

    Finally, not one of the four valid titles to servitude you mention could be invoked by the American slave-owning class.

  • John Zmirak

    All of Mr. Ferrara’s detailed arguments do nothing to undermine my basic points:

    1.That Church leaders supported slavery in some form, which now the Church condemns as intrinsically evil in any form. Protestant abolitionists anticipated the current Church teaching decades before popes caught up with them.

    2.That Church statements categorically condemned all lending at interest, and the Church no longer does. For centuries, Catholics flouted this ban, and some of them were later vindicated.

    3.That Church statements denounced religious liberty for non-Catholics, while the Church now supports it. The only way to reconcile past statements with Vatican II is to claim that the Council was intentionally deceptive, or that the pope who presided over it and the subsequent popes who interpreted it themselves misunderstood it—or have been lying about it for public consumption. Mr. Ferrara, by contrast, DOES understand it, and is willing to be truthful about it: Vatican II retains for the Church the right to “defend” society from heresy by using force to stop Protestants from expressing their faith in public. I suggest that Mr. Ferrara submit this opinion to the CDF for confirmation or condemnation.

    4.That Church statements and practiced defended torture, which the Church now condemns as intrinsically evil.

    Given this track record, we must conclude that there is no clear, coherent, publicly accessible “social Magisterium” which can be used as a litmus test for political and economic policies. That is all I asserted, and I think it is proved.

  • bill bannon

    Absurd….both your last point and the judgement of Noonan. ” Born to a slave mother ” after generations covered all American slaves since 7% of the whole trade accounts for the original slaves to the US. Bishop England was contradicted by no Pope because they knew this. Here is Aquinas in the reference I mentioned…Supple.ST ques.52 art.4:
    ” I answer that, According to civil law (XIX, ff. De statu hom. vii, cap. De rei vendit.) the offspring follows the womb: and this is reasonable since the offspring derives its formal complement from the father, but the substance of the body from the mother. Now slavery is a condition of the body, since a slave is to the master a kind of instrument in working; wherefore children follow the mother in freedom and bondage; whereas in matters pertaining to dignity as proceeding from a thing’s form, they follow the father, for instance in honors, franchise, inheritance and so forth. The canons are in agreement with this (cap. Liberi, 32, qu. iv, in gloss.: cap. Inducens, De natis ex libero ventre) as also the law of Moses (Exodus 21).”

    So if a nobleman left inheritance to a slave…great. If he didn’t and never ackowledged paternity
    ( I’m guessing 99% of cases), the boy was justly a slave without inheritance according to the canons.
    What you are trying to preserve is infallibility in all morals and this is not necessary because Ludwig Ott in the intro to his fundamentals in section 8 notes that it is not necessary as did Brian Harrison. That’s why Evangelium Vitae took the trouble to transfer abortion to the extraordinary magisterium in section 62 so that it would not have the doubt surrounding some issues in the ordinary magisterium which it notes are not always infallible….even as to morals. You are defending a paradigm that is not demanded by Catholic theology….ie that morals are always infallible. Yet Evangelium Vitae by implication on three issues says you’re incorrect as does Ott in sect.8 of the intro to the Fundamentals.

  • Chris Ferrara

    Mr. Zmirak dismisses my detailed arguments by merely repeating his general assertions, then declares himself the winner of the debate, ignoring and thus failing to engage everything I have written.

    I suppose the exchange has been exhausted with that, and further discussion would not be productive for either of us. I do note that he has retreated from the proposition that the Church taught “slavery is moral” to “the Church supported slavery in some form.” That, I suppose, is progress toward recognizing what the Church has really taught, which is not what Mr. Zmirak asserted in the original article.

    As for Mr. Bannon, he argues that since Aquinas taught that if the mother is a slave then then the child is born into that social status this means the Church teaches that slavery is moral. Like Mr. Zmirak, however, he fails to define “slavery” or to attach to it the strict limitations the Church imposed on its permissibility. The Church has never taught that a title to slavery originating in kidnapping and slave trading means that all descendants of the original victims are slaves. On the contrary, if the original title is invalid, as it was with the enslaved blacks whose liberation Eugene IV demanded within a matter of days under penalty of excommunication—long before Catholics reached the New World—the mere passage of time does not render it valid as to endless generations of ancestors.

    No one here has shown a reversal of Church teaching on slavery or on usury (which taking interest no longer is, for the umpteenth time, because money has acquired a use value in the market economy).

    With that, I will sign off.

  • bill bannon

    I’ll complicate things in adding that slavery is in fact moral in nomadic situations wherein there are no physical prisons for debtors, war captives or criminals…( read Leviticus 25:44-46). Ergo not even sect. 80 of Splendor of the Truth is correct in calling it intrinsically evil since God does not give the Jews permission for intrinsic evils as He does in that Leviticus cite for slavery. The uncontacted tribes of the Amazon having no prisons are hopefully using slavery on non violent criminals rather than executing them.
    Here is God giving slavery to the Jews…Lev.25:44-46…
    ” 44
    * The male and female slaves that you possess—these you shall acquire from the nations round about you.
    You may also acquire them from among the resident aliens who reside with you, and from their families who are with you, those whom they bore in your land. These you may possess,
    and bequeath to your children as their hereditary possession forever. You may treat them as slaves. But none of you shall lord it harshly over any of your fellow Israelites.”

  • Steve Golay

    Good – and courageous(!) – for the editors to keep this conversation going. A bit surprised to see Chris Ferrara jump in; didn’t think he was such a fan of The Catholic Thing. Unless some deep-six reader alerted him to Mr, Zimirak’s appearance. Yet, the exchanges have been instructive – and at times entertaining.

    Have noting to add to their bare-knuckle rounds. Though I do think most reader’s attention go foggy with all this piling up (and on) of document quotes. Not, that such does not have their place, but it puts me in mind of screenshots of fundamentalist Muslim clerics sitting in front of wall to ceiling bookshelves lined with elegantly embossed editions of commentaries containing nothing but piles and piles of piled upon digests of comments on the Qur’an and the haditha; an enormous bookish weight of self-referential quotes which are worthless because the initial foundational premise they sit upon is false. Which does not, by the prevent, prevent that weight from cashing down upon lands and civilizations, upon men and women, and yet unborn babes. A bit of a stretched analogous picture, I know, but whenever I come across the likes of Mr. Ferrara that image always crosses my mind.

    If Mr. Ferrara can rise to the surface, and actually swim in the current of Mr. Zimirak’s argument, he will see that the author is taking the history of the Church, and the papacy, quite seriously. In fact, up on the surface, coursing the actual currents of history, one can’t help put encounter a few squalls and storms – however unwanted, however much they threatens to capsizes the boat or upturn the swimmer. Ever since 9/11 – when I first read a piece by him – I have found him willing to face those storms headlong.

    POINT: Does Mr. Ferrara live in United States? For his consistent grievance against “Americanist” hegemony I wonder. Maybe he doesn’t quite understand the genesis or genus of America. It was not as “Protestant” as he suggests. (As if that was the baddest carrier of the worst of moral and social diseases since Henry IV throned himself in Paris and beget a very nasty dynasty; or after, when elite French Catholicism, late 19th C., went after poor Captain Dreyfus. If Mr. Ferrara had lived in late 19th Century Frnance, I would have loved to test my metal against his writings. What would have boiled his ink in the 1890’s? Alas, Chris F. didn’t live back then.)

    NOTE: A reader, Dennis Larkin, made a quip about John Zimirak being a dug-up resuscitation of Christopher Hitchens – a bit of a nasty hit below the belt. We all do it, I suppose. Who, me? Not quite that way. But I must confess this: Some time ago I stopped reading articles by Cardinal Dulles. Not fair to him, I’m sure. Yet, whenever I did the visages of his father and uncle surfaced. Those two always set my teeth on edge. I’m quite certain how they would have behaved in late 19th Century France. Poor Captain Dreyfus would have been a dead man.

    As you can tell, the Dreyfus Affair works as a lodestone for me. I use that incident – or, more directly, the reaction of the Catholic establishment, to test how an absolutist Catholic political/economic (mind you, I didn’t say Catholic culture) would look like and function.

    NOTE: David Goldman/”Spengler” is correct, we should spend more time discussing the 30-Year War of Religion; in many ways, it’s what set this ball rolling. What did it contribute to our designs and thoughts of a Catholic political/economic order?

  • Bonnie Belknap

    I think your piece is so tragic. Because of attitudes like yours I am prayerfully discerning leaving the Church simply because American Catholics, like you, argue and rationalize why you do not have to agree with the social doctrine–even though it’s in the new Catechism and there’s a compendium on it. You’ve set up capitalism as your God, not Jesus Christ. No political party and no politician expresses Christianity. Not capitalism, neoliberalism, communism, or socialism.They’re all about ego. You’re not a Catholic; you’re a Capitalic. No more a Christian than Karl Marx.

    • I hope you don’t leave the Church. That would be, in my opinion, foolish in the extreme.

      You might care to reread the piece as I think you have profoundly misunderstood it. I agree in part, and disagree in part with the piece myself. I think the author misses a bridge on usury that helps reconcile the modern attitude with Vix Pervenit which is, I believe, the last encyclical on the subject. The Salamanca school’s writings on the time value of money was a couple of hundred years earlier but Vix Pervenit doesn’t cover time value of money. The entire Church has been waiting several centuries for the definitive word on the subject. To this point, the Popes have had better things to do and we just move on and most just accept time value of money but there is a small remnant who do not accept it.

      I think that the “timeless principles” are obligatory and could legitimately be called a social doctrine. From this article, I think the author would even agree with that. What is the problem is that the strategy and tactics best suited to bringing those timeless principles into public policy and everyday life are not universally agreed to. It’s the implementation details where controversy arises.

      This differs from abortion where there aren’t legitimate implementation details to purposefully killing the unborn that would make the practice acceptable to faithful Catholics.

      Let me pose a thought experiment. Which is faithful to the social doctrine, spending a million dollars to ensure that people have the ability to live a decent life in the country of their birth or spending a million dollars in adjustment assistance for immigrants after they have left? By insisting that this question has a right and a wrong answer, certain members of the Church err according to the author. I would agree with him and say that honest, faithful Catholics could pick either answer without being dissenters. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a right and a wrong answer in a particular instance, only that it is not universal.

    • Steve

      Bonnie, what is tragic is that American Catholics like you would leave the Church…not because you found it true or false…but because of some emotional reason.

  • Aurelius Moner

    I apologize for the length of my post, but I think it is all substantive.
    To my mind, your article does not so much prove that there is no social doctrine, as it does prove the contention that most (formerly) Catholic institutions fell into the Great Apostasy in the wake of John XXIII’s illegitimate pontificate; it seeks to find a way to cover over this tragedy, by depicting even the pre-conciliar magisterium as subject to change and contradiction (or, rather, by insinuating that there is no “magisterium” on the topic, since the opinions contradict each other and reveal papal “mistakes”). To the extent that there are inconsistencies, they emerge only between pre- and post-conciliar doctrines; prior to Vatican II, there is a consistency to Catholic teaching which is better described as nuanced, rather than contradictory. The Truth, is that the Church is Infallible on Faith and Morals – thus, those who think the Church has proposed contradictory teachings on the matter, or that we may rightfully regard as mere opinions, the teachings proposed in encyclicals with a clear intent of claiming continuity with the prior magisterium (such as the Syllabus, which was bolstered by universally obligatory oaths and a citation of magisterial precedent in each of its articles), are espousing an heresy.

    Matter such as usury, slavery, etc., are definitely moral matters – hence, matter for the Church’s infallible teaching. The crisis, is that so much of Western society has allowed itself to be corrupted by the (irrational) ideals of political liberty, that it cannot even think the thoughts of a non-Liberal. Even our “conservative” institutions and parties are steeped, fundamentally, in the ideology of political liberty. And this is why popes and saints (and even apparitions of our Lady) were warning, a century or more in advance, that the day was soon coming when even the Catholics would have been so corrupted in their consciences by modernism and liberalism, that their whole sense of Catholic fidelity would be subsumed by this fleshly mind – “Quoniam sapientia carnis inimica est Deo: legi enim Dei non est subjecta, nec enim potest” (for the flesh’s wisdom is an enemy to God; it is not subject to the Law of God, nor indeed can it be”). When I see folk calling themselves “catholics” having “fortnights for religious liberty,” I see that the day has come. The shift did come with Vatican II, and I hate to say it, it is because this marked the time when the apostasy set in, and the greater part of Catholicism abandoned the faith.

    To take the most shocking example, slavery. The Bible itself endorses slavery; God Himself makes provisions for it in the Old Testament; in the New, St. Paul says, essentially, “if you can be freed, that’s great, but otherwise, be a good slave until then.” To say that it is intrinsically evil, then, is to impute evil to God. There are two things to say. The first, is that the magisterium need not be construed as contradicting itself. There is a consistency throughout the Church’s teaching, from Scripture through to Leo XIII, which is this: slavery was not the intent for man’s nature at creation; after the fall, many things resulted – some of these were objective evils (sin, concupiscence, etc.), while some were simply degradations from the ideal which were incompatible with God’s intent for human nature, but not intrinsically evil in themselves (i.e., death, hunger, etc., – our Lord endured all the imperfections that were not intrinsic evils, but did not endure the intrinsic evils, i.e., He suffered hunger, death, etc., but did not suffer concupiscence or sin in Himself); slavery is amongst those things which is incompatible with man’s first-created nature, and with his supernatural vocation, but is not always, intrinsically evil – there are situations where slavery is just, and is even beneficial to masters and slaves alike; thus we find always in the Church the preference that slavery fade away and man live in a state more harmonious with his nature and vocation, eliminating the occasions for slavery, but nevertheless, with the Church enduring and permitting slavery in some circumstances; this is the teaching of Scripture, of St. Augustine and the Fathers, of St. Thomas, of the papal Magisterium.

    But this does not mean that everything done in the name of slavery is licit, any more than anything done in the marriage bed is licit, simply because the Church approves of marriage. When we come to the modern period, we are dealing with the modern slave trade – a slave trade which was not a result of the circumstances of war, or personal shortcomings of persons who would derive more benefit from just servitude to a just master; rather, we had a situation where ascendant, sea-faring powers were encountering less powerful peoples and, without any provocation or need, simply enslaving them, taking their land and stealing their property. Even if the Church can tolerate slavery under some conditions, those conditions do not allow for masters to regard their slaves as subhuman, as having no rights to life or kind treatment, etc. The modern slave trade was entirely different from the ancient institution of slavery; the conditions that made the ancient slave trade just, even if less than ideal (the nature of ancient warfare and society), were not present in the modern slave trade, which was merely the result of robbing and capturing helpless persons who were otherwise not posing a threat to their captors.
    Thus, the Church always condemned the modern slave trade. Even in the letter of Leo XIII, which you proposed, he does not present slavery as an “intrinsic evil.” He says it is incompatible with man’s first-created nature and supernatural vocation, but he does get around to acknowledging that the Church tolerated it in the past, and “deprecated any precipitate action in securing the manumission and liberation of the slaves, because that would have entailed tumults and wrought injury, as well to the slaves themselves as to the commonwealth.” He mentions that the Church preferred rather to elevate the relationship between masters and slaves into a more respectful and charitable one and, gradually, by her influence upon society, to remove the occasions in which slavery would need to exist – because slavery is not an intrinsic evil to be absolutely prohibited in every case, but neither is it to be accepted blithely; it falls short of our ideals.
    So, to sum up: the problem is not that the Church’s actual Magisterium contradicts itself; it cannot, and does not. There certainly are real contradictions after Vatican II; these are indicative of the fact that the modern thing calling itself the Catholic Church, being run from the Vatican, is an anti-Church administered by persons who prefer their liberalism to the Catholic Faith. And how can this be a surprise, when recent “popes” have presided over the destruction of the liturgy and all sacramental rites, the worship of idols upon the altars of great Christian shrines, the casual admission of comments that atheists can go to heaven, “proselytization is solemn nonsense” (why did our Lord command it, I wonder?), and a Synod on the Family that seemed more concerned with finding ways to obliterate the concept of the family. The fact that “prelates” can speak with casual approval about the documents of Vatican II being a “counter-syllabus” – i.e., being intended to reverse something that was so powerfully ensconced in the Infallible, Ordinary Magisterium of the Church – indicates the full, awful truth. This is why sister Lucia prophesied that, after 1960, “the Church will be in eclipse!”
    So many Catholics are now infected by liberal thought, that they cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that the Church does in fact permit slavery in some conditions, does condemn usury, etc. Because the laypeople also prefer their liberal thought to the actual Magisterium, which is admirably consistent, they need to find justifications for accepting the “new magisterium” that has emerged in the wake of Vatican II; amongst the justifications employed, are those in this article – where the hard work of determining the consistency in the Magisterium and reconciling ourselves to divine doctrines that may be hard (especially to our modern, liberal assumptions), is abandoned in favour of painting the magisterium as always being full of “different opinions” from the popes. That way, nobody need wonder why Francis, et al., seem to have so different a worldview from the entirety of Catholic history in the past. Easy! They have always opined in encyclical letters in wildly contradictory ways!
    No, it is as Pius XII said: a real Catholic pope says things in encyclical letters, which have themselves already been carefully considered and winnowed for consistency with the prior magisterium, and do not set forth new teachings, and especially not mere opinions. Thus, even these are to be believed, though mayhap some error could be found, however improbably, and for that reason they must not be regarded as infallible. The fact is that we do not find wildly contradictory views in the encyclicals of actual popes; we find the full spectrum of theology expressed in nuance, sometimes requiring a very complete synthesis; but the dunderheaded absurdities that emerge in modernity (such as saying that the Jews are still persevering in faithfulness to God in their unrevoked covenant with Him, as in a recent papal exhortation), are indicative of something far more grave and tragic: the collapse into heresy and apostasy so profound, that souls without divine and Catholic faith can lay claim to the highest offices of the Church, and can promulgate their sham opinions without any serious fear of institutional discipline or repudiation.