Msgr. Luigi Civardi
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1961
Published on the World Wide Web with Permission of the Publisher.


General Notions 

1. Justice is the cardinal virtue that prompts us to give everyone his due

According to its different objects, it assumes different names. Thus we have commutative, legal and social justice

a) Commutative justice regulates the relations between one individual and another; for example, the relations between seller and buyer; the former must give sound and wholesome goods, the latter the just price agreed upon. 

b) Legal justice governs the relations between rulers and subjects. The rulers have to enact just laws, and citizens have to observe them. It is legal justice also that inflicts penalties corresponding to the crimes, and in this case it is called punitive justice. 

c) Social justice governs the relations between different social classes, between employers and employees, and distributes the benefits and burdens of society. Fees, salaries and pensions are the object of social justice, which is also called distributive justice

2. Justice is more compelling than charity in the sense that it has greater binding force. The reason for this lies in the very nature of justice, which gives to others what belongs to them, what is due them by strict right. Hence, in justice, one does not give of one's own. Consequently, the exercise of justice at bottom is nothing else than a reintegration of a restitution. Not so with charity, which gives to others what they are not strictly entitled to. In charity, one gives of one's own. 

Our Lord illustrated this difference between justice and charity in the well-known parable of the vineyardists. [Matt. 20: 16]. To the first who went to work and labored all day, the owner gave the wages agreed upon and thus performed an act of social justice. To the last, who had done one hour's work, to the astonishment and envy of the others, he gave the same wages. We were here face to face with an act that goes beyond justice; here is a dash of generosity, an act of charity, for which Jesus does not want the owner reproached. 

3. The first duty of charity to one's neighbor is this: to do him justice, to give him what is due him

That is what Pius XI states in the Encyclical Divini Redemptoris, setting forth this principle: first, justice, then charity. "The wage earner;" he writes, "is not to receive as alms what is his due in justice, and let no one attempt with trifling charitable donations to exempt himself from the great duties imposed by justice. " And Pius XII in Sertum Laetitiae writes, "If the rich and prosperous are obliged, out of ordinary motives of pity, to act generously toward the poor; their obligation is all the greater to do them justice. " 

Unhappily, not all are of the same mind. There are some Catholics, even practical Catholics, who are much inclined to charity, but have not the same inclination toward social justice. They do indeed perform welfare works, but they underpay their employees. They do charity, but violate justice. 

This is not true charity. 'Is benefit, to give alms to one who has been exploited, is not to do a work of charity; it is, if anything, to make reparation to some extent for an injustice; it is a restoring of wages that have been withheld from their legitimate owner. No one can say that he is doing charity to a brother if he has not done him full justice first. 

Teachings of Christ and the Apostles 

1. Our Lord taught and defended every kind of justice and social justice in particular. In the Sermon on the Mount He proclaimed: "Blessed are they that hunger after justice, for they shall have their fill." [Matt. 5: 6]. 

Elsewhere He declares: "The laborer is worthy of his hire." [Lk. 10: 7]. Jesus makes Himself a defender of justice, scourging the Scribes and the Pharisees, who, while pedantically observing religious precepts, disregard the inviolable rules of justice. Three days before His arrest He delivers a stinging rebuke to these self-righteous men: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: because you devour the houses of widows, praying long prayers. For this you shall receive the greater judgment. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; . . . because you tithe mint and anise and cumin and have left the weightier things of the law; judgment and mercy and faith." [Matt. 23: 14-23]. Mark this phrase: "the weightier things of the law," which shows the importance of Justice. 

2. The Apostles, too, were staunch defenders of social justice. We shall confine ourselves to two striking testimonies. St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians writes: "Masters, do to your servants that which is just and equal: knowing that you too have a master in Heaven." [Col. 4: 1]. 

If we bear in mind that in those days the servants were nearly all slaves and, consequently, considered and treated, not as men, but as beasts, as things, we will understand all the social value of this exhortation of the Apostle of the Gentiles. 

Against employers who exploit the work of their dependents the Apostle St. James writes these very forceful words: "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl in your miseries, which shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted: and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered: and the rust of them shall be for a testimony against you, and shall eat your flesh like fire. You have stored up to yourselves wrath against the last days. Behold the hire of the laborers, who have reaped down your fields, which by fraud has been kept back by you, crieth: and the cry of them hath entered into the ears of the Lord." [James 5: 1-4]. 

The Catholic catechism teaches that to defraud workingmen of  their wages is one of the four sins that cry to God for vengeance because it is positively contrary to the welfare of mankind, and therefore more deserving of divine punishment than the others. 

What then shall we say of those who stir up hatred against the Church, picturing her to the workingmen as the friend and ally of exploiters of labor? 

The Teaching and the Work of the Church 

1. The Church did not limit itself to repeating the teachings of Christ and of the Apostles. She translated them into works for the benefit of the working class first of all, in order to safeguard the dignity of the worker. She strove for the abolition of slavery and later sought and pleaded for a just compensation for work. Thus it was that in the religious and social atmosphere created by the Church there arose in the Middle Ages the glorious guilds of arts and crafts

They were associations of men exercising the same vocation, men who sought to safeguard not only their economic but also their political and social interests. They constituted a kind of hierarchy of labor, divided into three grades: apprentices, journeymen and masters

The apprentices were young men learning the trade with a master, who kept them in his own house, supervised them and educated them with fatherly care, an admirable example of Christian fraternity. 

The journeymen were accomplished laborers. They could not be dismissed, if the reasons were found to be inadequate by a special commission made up of journeymen. Evidently, here was a true labor court. 

The masters were the heads of the shops and had to be distinguished for their religious, moral and technical qualifications. In order to prove their technical skill they presented a masterpiece. 

Every year each corporation of carpenters, bricklayers, stonecutters, wool combers, merchants, druggists and physicians, of lawyers, just to mention a few, elected a head called Consul or Captain. He was assisted by minor officials whose duty it was to fix fair salaries and hours of work, to settle inevitable disputes, etc. . . . 

2. The guilds of arts and crafts were abolished by the liberals of the French Revolution in the year 1789 without substituting anything in their stead. They were abolished under the pretext of liberty, on the claim that the liberals wished to set up a system of free competition in the field of labor also. 

The consequences soon made themselves felt. As soon as the restraints against the heartless speculations of the employers were removed and the laborers left in hopeless isolation, then the exploitation of labor on a vast scale set in. This evil was made still more unbearable by the gigantic strides of industry that swelled the profits of owners out of all proportions. 

This gave rise to the social question looking toward the settlement of relations between capital and labor, between employers and employees. 

The Supreme Pontiff Leo XIII, known as the Pope of the Workingman, dealt with it at length. As soon as he ascended the throne of Peter on February 20, 1878, he turned his gaze upon the wretched throng of workingmen and saw that ----- these were his exact words ----- "a very small number of very wealthy men have imposed upon the vast multitude of proletarians a yoke that is little short of slavery." Deeply moved, he immediately took the part of the workingmen in order to free them from the new yoke fashioned by liberalism, the denier of Christ. 

In fact, a few months after his election appeared the encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris, in which the Pontiff issued the invitation to Catholics to "support trade and labor unions.

Note the date: This encyclical was written on December 28, 1878, when very few concerned themselves with the working classes, and socialism, at least as an organization, was taking its initial steps. After that it may well be said that the Pontiff never omitted an opportunity to repeat this cry: Go to the people, help the workingmen

3. His most solemn act, which remains indelibly carved in the pages of history, is his encyclical of May 15, 1891, which from its initial words is called Rerum Novarum. It deals with this specific subject, "the condition of the working classes." 

This document condemns the capitalistic system, introduced by liberalism, because it overestimates the rights of capital and does not give just consideration to the rights of labor. He also reproves the socialistic system, which seeks the abolition of private property and class warfare, while Christianity is for the collaboration of classes

The Pontiff then points out the economic, political and religious means for the solution of the social question. He reminds the rich and the owners that when necessity and convenience have been supplied, it becomes a duty to give to the needy out of what remains over: He reminds the governments of their duty to come to the aid of the workingmen "with a whole set of laws and institutions" [for at that time governments followed the system of laissez faire]. 

But above all he pleads with Catholics of all nations to revive the ancient guilds, adapting them to present conditions: "We see with pleasure, " he writes, "the formation of associations, whether they be workingmen only or of workingmen and owners, and it is necessary that they increase in number and efficiency."

The wish of the "Pontiff of the Workingmen" was granted. His thrilling words caused many organizations and works on behalf of the proletariat to flourish in Italy and in other Catholic countries. 

That great sociologist and Christian apostle, the late Giuseppe Toniolo, offset the appeal of Karl Marx, "Proletarians of the whole world, unite!" with this other appeal: "Proletarians of the whole world, unite in Christ!

The professional Catholic organizations that had flourished throughout the whole world under the inspiring words of the Pontiff were later united in an International Confederation that was called the White Confederation, to distinguish it from the two red ones, that of the socialists and that of the communists. 

4. In Rerum Novarum another question of vital importance finds its solution: The question of a just wage for work.

  The wages of a workingman are in themselves something sacred because they represent bread, the staff of life, which is sacred. And yet liberalism left wages at the mercy of chance; it abandoned them to the gamble of freedom of contract between the owner and the workingman, and chance naturally was nearly always unfavorable to the weaker of the contracting parties: the workingman.

   Leo XIII condemns this arrangement because it is opposed to justice. And he pens these plain and stern words: "The amount of remuneration must never be less than is necessary for the support of a frugal and well-behaved workingman."

   Pius XI, in the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, issued on the 40th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, goes a step further and proposes "a family wage." Here are his words, clear as crystal:

    "The workingman is entitled to wages that will be adequate for the support of himself and his family."

    And in the encyclical Sertum Laetitiae, Pius XII clinches the idea of a family wage when he writes: "It is only fitting that the salaries of the workingmen be such as to suffice for themselves and their families."

      Cooperative Effort and Profit Sharing

  1. Wages, however, is not the only method of compensation. Pius XI, in Quadragesimo Anno, offers another method still more progressive: the participation in the profits of the business. This form of compensation represents an integration and a corrective of wages.

   On this point, too, the words of the Pontiff are very clear: "Wealth,' he writes, "which has increased so abundantly during this century of 'industrialism," as it is called, is not rightly distributed and equitably made available to the various classes of men. It is necessary that in the future the abundant fruits of production will not accrue unduly to those who are rich, and will be distributed with ample sufficiency among the workers."

  In order that this may be more easily accomplished, the same Pontiff makes a concrete proposal by adding: "In the present social condition, we consider it more advisable, however, that, as far as possible, the employment contract be somewhat modified by a partnership contract, as is already being done in various ways, and with no small advantage to the workers themselves and to the owners. Workers and other employees thus become sharers in ownership or management and participate in some measure in the profits received."

  Profit sharing is also advocated by Pius XII in his radio message of September 1, 1944, when he says: "Where a large concern continues to yield good returns, the employees should be offered an opportunity of moderating the labor contract by means of a partnership contract."

  In another pontifical document Pius XII calls for the "improvement of old fashioned formulas of remuneration and to make the workingman share more and more in the life, the responsibilities and the proportionate profits of the enterprise, also for the reason that often times they are required to expose themselves to grave risks in the field of labor." [Letter to the 39th Social Week of Italian Catholics].

  2. In order to eliminate the exploitation of labor, Catholics always favored, moreover, a wise cooperative system which offers the great advantage of uniting capital and labor in the same hands, of breaking up excessive holdings without taking away the technical advantages of distributing the responsibility, and by augmenting the number of small owners. In fact, cooperatives of labor and production are partnerships in which their members are at once the owners and wage earners of the concern, dividing the profits in equal shares.

  The cooperative system is possible both in the industrial field [more readily in smaller enterprises] and in the agricultural field, in which Catholics have also advocated and put in practice collective leasing.

  The Church has always favored the cooperative system as suitable to the principles of social justice, of Christian brotherhood and of human solidarity. Pius XII referred to it in the radio message of September 1, 1944, mentioned above, saying: "Small and medium- sized holdings in agriculture, in arts and trades, in commerce and industry must be guaranteed and fostered; the cooperative unions must assure them the advantages of the big concern."

  The same Pontiff, speaking to the owners of small farms, explained this last thought as follows: "You experience the benefits of cooperatives which permit you, whilst yet keeping your small holdings, to enjoy the facilities that are generally associated with big farmer modern labor-saving machines, the improving of soils; the selection of seeds; markets for buying and selling under the best conditions thanks to available capital and to the possibility of storing products and of using them at the right moment." [Discourse to the owners of small farms, May 25, 1956.]


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