The Church’s loss of temporal power armed it with great power against the Left, which was greatly manifested in the fall of the Soviet Union (and the ongoing culture wars in the United States). But who launched the Catholic Church on its Crusade against the Left?
Pope Leo XIII (1878 – 1903) was the first Pope to postdate the temporal strength of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church was not granted the sovereign Vatican City until the Mussolini Administration granted by the Lateran Treaty of 1929. And the Lateran Treaty never restored any temporal strength to the papacy, merely its political independence
Prior to Leo XIII, most papal encyclicals dealt to some extent with papal foreign policy, often plunging into rather mundane details of ambassadors from Emperors and Kings, papal ultimatums, the threat of force or diplomatic action, specific policy recommendations, etc. Amid the shifting political landscape of Europe, the diplomacy of the papacy had been unable to focus on the rise of the left — from the French Revolution to Napoleon to Karl Marx. However, the Left had not ignored the Catholic Church. From the French Revolution’s execution of thousands of priests to Napoleon’s decision to put priests on government salaries so as to better control the Catholic Church to Karl Marx’s vision of a post-religious society, anti-Catholic strategy had always been part of the Left’s playbook.
Leo XIII, unfettered by the dependency on the Napoleonic Empire, struck back … hard.
In the first encyclical of his papacy, Inscrutabili Dei Consilio (On the Evils of Society), Leo XIII called out the Left for its hollow playbook (which can still be viewed on the New York Times Editorial page): “The enemies of public order, being fully aware of this, have thought nothing better suited to destroy the foundations of society than to make an unflagging attack upon the Church of God, to bring her into discredit and odium by spreading infamous calumnies and accusing her of being opposed to genuine progress.”
He responds that the Church has been the greatest instrument to deliver civilization out of barbarism: “Further, who will deny that the Church has done away with the curse of slavery and restored men to the original dignity of their noble nature; and — by uplifting the standard of redemption in all quarters of the globe, by introducing, or shielding under her protection, the sciences and arts, by founding and taking into her keeping excellent charitable institutions which provide relief for ills of every kind — has throughout the world, in private or in public life, civilized the human race, freed it from degradation, and with all care trained it to a way of Living such as befits the dignity and the hopes of man?”
He identifies education as the great battle-ground: “The more the enemies of religion exert themselves to offer the uninformed, especially the young, such instruction as darkens the mind and corrupts morals, the more actively should we endeavor that not only a suitable and solid method of education may flourish but above all that this education be wholly in harmony with the Catholic faith in its literature and system of training, and chiefly in philosophy, upon which the direction of other sciences in great measure depends.”
If his first encyclical played defense against the Left, his next encyclical, Quod Apostolici Muneris (On Socialism) was even more pugnacious as it eviscerated the Left in an offensive foray: “You understand, venerable brethren, that We speak of that sect of men who, under various and almost barbarous names, are called socialists, communists, or nihilists, and who, spread over all the world, and bound together by the closest ties in a wicked confederacy, no longer seek the shelter of secret meetings, but, openly and boldly marching forth into the light of day, strive to bring to a head what they have long been planning — the overthrow of all civil society whatsoever.”
He critiques the Left on marriage (ongoing: see New York): “They debase the natural union of man and woman, which is held sacred even among barbarous peoples; and its bond, by which the family is chiefly held together, they weaken, or even deliver up to lust.”
He also critiques the attack on property rights: “For, while the socialists would destroy the “right” of property, alleging it to be a human invention altogether opposed to the inborn equality of man, and, claiming a community of goods, argue that poverty should not be peaceably endured, and that the property and privileges of the rich may be rightly invaded, the Church, with much greater wisdom and good sense, recognizes the inequality among men, who are born with different powers of body and mind, inequality in actual possession, also, and holds that the right of property and of ownership, which springs from nature itself, must not be touched and stands inviolate.”
He even directly attacks equality of result philosophy: “Thus, as even in the kingdom of heaven He bath willed that the choirs of angels be distinct and some subject to others, and also in the Church has instituted various orders and a diversity of offices, so that all are not apostles or doctors or pastors,(10) so also has He appointed that there should be various orders in civil society, differing in dignity, rights, and power, whereby the State, like the Church, should be one body, consisting of many members, some nobler than others, but all necessary to each other and solicitous for the common good.”
The fight has been long but this great Pope began to use the newfound nonpolitical influence of the Church to fight the Left in the heart of the culture in a battle for the soul of civil society. And social conservatism — and Catholic philosophy — is advancing.