The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII/Socialism, Communism, Nihilism

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210148The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII — Socialism, Communism, Nihilism1903Leo XIII


Encyclical Letter Quod Apostolici Muneris, December 28, 1878.

As the nature of Our Apostolic office required of Us, We have not omitted, from the very outset of Our Pontificate, addressing you, Venerable Brothers, in Encyclical Letters, in order to advert to the deadly plague which is tainting society to its very core and bringing it to a state of extreme peril. At the same time We call attention to certain most effectual remedies, by which society may be renewed unto salvation and enabled to escape the crisis now threatening.

But the evils which We then deplored have taken in a brief space of time such widespread growth that We are compelled to address you anew, with the words of the prophet resounding as it were in Our ears: Cry, cease not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet.[1]

You understand as a matter of course, Venerable Brothers, that We are alluding to that sect of men who, under the motley and all but barbarous terms and titles of Socialists, Communists, and Nihilists, are spread abroad throughout the world and, bound intimately together in baneful alliance, no longer look for strong support in secret meetings held in darksome places, but standing forth openly and boldly in the light of day, strive to carry out the purpose long resolved upon, of uprooting the foundations of civilized society at large.

These are they in very truth who, as the sacred text bears witness, defile the flesh, and despise dominion, and blaspheme majesty.[2] They leave nothing scathless or uninjured of that which human and divine laws alike have wisely ordained to ensure the preservation and honor of life. From the heads of States to whom, as the Apostle admonishes, all owe submission, and on whom the rights of authority are bestowed by God Himself, these sectaries withhold obedience and preach up the perfect equality of all men in regard to rights alike and duties. The natural union of man and woman, which is held sacred even among barbarous nations, they hold in scorn; and its bond, whereby family life is chiefly maintained, they slacken, or else yield up to the sway of lust. In short, spurred on by greedy hankering after things present, which is the root of all evils, which some coveting have erred from the faith,[3] they attack the right of property, sanctioned by the law of nature, and with signal depravity, while pretending to feel solicitous about the needs, and anxious to satisfy the requirements of all, they strain every effort to seize upon and hold in common all that has been individually acquired by title of lawful inheritance, through intellectual or manual labor, or economy in living. These monstrous views they proclaim in public meetings, uphold in booklets, and spread broadcast everywhere through the daily press. Hence the hallowed dignity and authority of rulers has incurred such odium on the part of rebellious subjects that evil-minded traitors, spurning all control, have many a time within a recent period boldly raised impious hands against even the very heads of States.

Such daring conduct on the part of disloyal individuals, which threatens the civilized community from day to day with even graver perils, and troubles the mind of all with anxious fears, draws its cause and origin from those venomous teachings which, like pernicious seed scattered far and wide among the nations, have produced in course of time death-bearing fruit. In fact, Venerable Brothers, you know full well that the atrocious war which, starting from the sixteenth century, was declared against the Catholic faith by the Reformers, and which has been growing amain from day to day in vehemence, aimed at giving free course to the rejection of all revelation, the subversion of the supernatural order, and the enthronement of unaided reason, with its vagaries or rather ravings. Deriving pretentiously its name from Reason, this false doctrine, by flattering and stimulating the eagerness to outstrip others which is interwoven with man's nature, and giving the rein to every kind of unlawful desire, has taken willing possession of the minds of great numbers, and has even pervaded the whole of civilized society. Hence by a fresh act of impiety, unknown even to very pagans, governments have been organized without God and the order established by Him being taken at all into account. It has even been contended that public authority, with its dignity and its power of ruling, originates not from God but from the mass of the people, which, considering itself unfettered by all divine sanction, refuses to submit to any laws that it has not itself passed of its own free will. Next, after having attacked and cast away the supernatural truths of faith as being contrary to reason, the very Author and Redeemer of mankind has been forced slowly and gradually to withdraw from the scheme of studies at universities, colleges, and high-schools, as well as from all the practical working of public life. In fine, after having consigned to oblivion the rewards and punishments of a future and never-ending existence, the keen longing after happiness has been narrowed down to the range of the present life. With such doctrines spread far and wide, and such license in thought and action, it is no wonder that men of the most lowly condition, heartsick of a humble home or poor workshop, should fix eager eyes on the abodes and fortunes of the wealthy; no wonder that tranquillity no longer prevails in public or private life, or that the human race has been hurried onward to well-nigh the verge of ruin.

But the supreme pastors of the Church, on whom devolves the charge of guarding the Lord's flock from the snares of the enemy, have in good time devoted their energies to avert the danger impending, and to provide for the safety of the faithful. In fact, as soon as secret societies began to take extension, in the midst whereof the germs of those evil principles already adverted to were nursed, the Roman Pontiffs Clement XV. and Benedict XIV. failed not to unmask the impious designs of the sectaries, and to warn the faithful throughout the world concerning the mischiefs they were thus hatching in secret. But when by those who gloried in the title of "philosophers" a certain unbridled liberty was assigned to man, and the "new law," as they term it, began in opposition to the divine and natural law to be set forth and gather sanction, Pius VI. of happy memory forthwith laid bare by public documents the pernicious character and falsity of those principles, and at the same time, with apostolic foresight, predicted the utter ruin to which the deluded multitudes were being hurried. But since, notwithstanding the measures resorted to, none proved of avail to prevent their wicked doctrines from day by day gaining ground with the people, and obtaining ascendency even in public decisions of government. Popes Pius VII. and Leo XII. excommunicated secret societies, and once more gave warning to society of the perils that threatened it. In fine, the world at large is fully aware in what earnest terms, and wath what resoluteness of soul and unflinching constancy, Our glorious predecessor, Pius IX. of happy memory, by Allocutions alike and Encyclical Letters addressed to the Bishops of the whole world, levied war against the iniquitous endeavors of these sects, and furthennore even denounced by name the plague of Socialism thence bursting forth.

It is to be deplored, however, that they to whom has been entrusted the care of the common welfare, allowing themselves to be circumvented by the fraudulent devices of infamous men and terror-stricken at their threats, have ever displayed towards the Church feelings of suspicion or even of hostility, not understanding that the endeavors of these sects would have been of no effect had the doctrine of the Catholic Church and the authority of the Roman Pontiffs, among rulers and peoples alike, always remained in due honor. For the Church of the living God, which is the pillar and ground of truth,[4] proclaims those doctrines and precepts whereby the security and calm of society is provided for, and the accursed brood of Socialism is utterly destroyed.

For although the Socialists, turning to evil use the Gospel itself so as to deceive more readily the unwary, have been wont to twist it to their meaning, still so striking is the disagreement between their criminal teachings and the pure doctrine of Christ, that no greater can exist: For what participation hath justice with injustice, or what fellowship hath light with darkness?[5] They in good sooth cease not from asserting—as we have already mentioned—that all men are by nature equal, and hence they contend that neither honor nor respect is owed to public authority, nor any obedience to the laws, saving perhaps to those which have been sanctioned according to their good pleasure. Contrariwise, from the Gospel records, equality among men consists in this, that one and all, possessing the same nature, are called to the sublime dignity of being sons of God; and, moreover, that one and the same end being set before all, each and every one has to be judged according to the same laws and to have punishments or rewards meted out according to individual deserts. There is, however, an inequality of right and authority which emanates from the Author of nature Himself, of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named.[6] As regards rulers and subjects, all without exception, according to Catholic teaching and precept, are mutually bound by duties and rights, in such manner that, on the one hand, moderation is enjoined on the appetite for power, and, on the other, obedience is shown to be easy, stable, and wholly honorable. Therefore does the Church constantly urge upon each and all who are subject to her the apostolic precept: There is no power but from God; and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore, he that resisteth the powers resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation. And again: Be subject of necessity, not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake; and render to all men their dues. Tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.[7] For He who has created and governs all things, has in His provident wisdom so disposed them that the lowest attain to their end by the middlemost, and the middlemost by the highest. Just then as the Almighty willed that, in the heavenly kingdom itself, the choirs of angels should be of differing ranks, subordinated the one to the other; again just as in the Church God has established different grades of orders with diversity of functions, so that all should not be apostles, all not doctors, all not prophets;[8] so also has He established in civil society many orders of varying dignity, right, and power. And this, to the end that the State, like the Church, should form one body comprising many members, some excelling others in rank and importance, but all alike necessary to one another and solicitous for the common welfare.

But to the end that the rulers of the people shall employ the power bestowed for the advancement, and not detriment, of those under rule, the Church of Christ very fittingly warns the rulers themselves that the Sovereign Judge will call them to a strict and speedy account, and evoking the words of divine wisdom, she addresses them one and all in God's name. Give ear, you that rule the people, and that please yourselves in multitudes of nations; for power is given you by the Lord, and strength by the Most High, who will examine your works, and search out your thoughts; . . . for a most severe judgment shall be for them that bear rule. . . . For God will not accept any man's person, neither will He stand in awe of any one's greatness: for He hath made the little and the great, and He hath equally care of all. But a greater punishment is ready for the more mighty.[9] Should it, however, happen, at any time, that in the public exercise of authority rulers act rashly and arbitrarily, the teaching of the Catholic Church does not allow subjects to rise against them, without further warranty, lest peace and order become more and more disturbed, and society run the risk of greater detriment. And when things have come to such a pass as to hold out no further hope, she teaches that a remedy is to be sought in the virtue of Christian patience and in urgent prayer to God. But should it please legislators and rulers to enjoin or sanction anything repugnant to the divine and natural law, the dignity and duty of the name of Christian and the Apostolic injunction proclaim that one ought to obey God rather than men.[10]

Moreover, the salutary influence of the Church, which redounds to the upholding of well-regulated order in civil society and promotes its conservation, the family circle itself (which is the starting-point of every city and every State) necessarily feels and experiences. For you are fully aware, Venerable Brothers, that the governing principle of family life has, in accordance with the requirements of natural law, its basis in the indissoluble union of husband and wife, and its superstructure in the duties and rights of parents and children, and of masters and servants towards each other. You are further aware that the theories of socialism would quickly destroy this family life, since the stability afforded by marriage under religious sanction once lost, paternal authority over children and the duties of children to parents are necessarily and most harmfully slackened. Contrariwise, marriage, honorable to all,[11] which from the beginning of the world God Himself instituted for the propagation and preservation of the human race, and decreed to be indissoluble, the Church holds to have become more stable and holy through Christ, who conferred on it the dignity of a sacrament, and willed to make it an image of His own union with the Church. Wherefore, as the Apostle admonishes: As Christ is the head of the Church, so is the husband the head of the wife;[12] and just as the Church is subject to Christ, who cherishes it with most chaste and lasting love, so is it becoming that women also should be subject to their husbands, and by them in turn be loved with faithful and constant affection.

In like manner the Church regulates the authority of the father and the master in such mode as to keep children and servants within their duty, without, however, allowing authority to be overstepped. For, according to Catholic teaching, the authority of the heavenly Father and Lord flows forth upon parents and masters, and on that account receives not only its origin and power from God, but also its very nature and character. Hence does the Apostle exhort children to obey their parents in the Lord, and to honor their father and their mother, which is the first commandment with a promise.[13] And you, fathers, provoke not your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and correction of the Lord.[14] And again by the same divine apostolic injunction it is urged on servants and masters that the former should obey their masters according to the flesh . . . as to Christ . . . with a good will serving as to the Lord, . . .[15] but the latter should forbear threatenings, knowning that the Lord of all is in heaven, and there is no respect of persons with Him.[16] Were all these things observed by every one whom they concern, according to the intent of the divine Will, each family would truly present a likeness of the heavenly home, and the wondrous benefits thence resulting would not be limited simply to the family circle, but would spread abroad abundantly over the State at large.

As regards the maintenance of public and private tranquillity, Catholic wisdom, sustained by both divine and natural law, prudently provides through what it holds and teaches touching the right of ownership and the apportioning of personal property which has been accumulated for the wants and requirements of life. For the Socialists wrongly assume the right of property to be of mere human invention, repugnant to the natural equality between men, and, preaching up the community of goods, declare that no one should endure poverty meekly, and that all may with impunity seize upon the possessions and usurp the rights of the wealthy. More wisely and profitably the Church recognizes the existence of inequality amongst men, who are by nature unlike in mental endowment and strength of body, and even in amount of fortune; and she enjoins that the right of property and of its disposal, derived from nature, should in the case of every individual remain intact and inviolate. She knows full well indeed that robbery and rapine have been so forbidden by God, the Author and Protector of every right, that it is unlawful even to covet the goods of others, and that thieves and robbers no less than adulterers and idolaters are excluded from the kingdom of heaven. Nor does she, on this account, loving mother as she is, omit solicitude for the poor or fail to provide for their needs; nay, taking them to her arms with maternal affection, and knowing that they in a manner represent the person of Christ Himself, who accounts as done unto Him any benefit conferred upon the lowliest among the poor, she holds them in great account, brings them aid to the utmost of her power, takes thought to have erected in every land in their behoof homes and refuges where they can be received, nurtured, and tended; and takes these charitable foundations under her protecting care. Moreover, she lays the rich under strict command to give of their superfluity to the poor, impressing them with fear of the divine judgment which will exact the penalty of eternal punishment unless they succor the wants of the needy. In fine, she cheers and comforts exceedingly the hearts of the poor, either by setting before them the example of Christ, who, being rich became poor for our sakes,[17] or by reminding them of the words by which Jesus pronounced the poor to be blessed, and enjoined them to hope for the reward of eternal bliss. Who then does not perceive that herein lies the best means of appeasing the undying conflict between the rich and poor? For, as the evidence of things and facts clearly demonstrates, if such conclusion be disallowed or made light of, it must come about either that the vast majority of mankind will fall back into that most abject condition of bondage which through a long lapse of time obtained amongst pagan nations, or else that human society will be agitated by constant outbreaks and ravaged by plunder and rapine, such as even of late years we have had occasion to deplore.

Since things have come to this pass, Venerable Brothers, We, on whom is laid the charge of governing the Universal Church, pointed out even at the very outset of Our Pontificate to the nations and their rulers, tossed about by so dire a tempest, the port to which they could betake themselves in all safety. And now, moved greatly by the extreme peril which actually threatens, We lift up anew Our Apostolic voice, and conjure them again and again, for the sake of their own safety and that of the State, to welcome and obey the teaching of that Church which has deserved so well in promoting the public prosperity of nations, and to recognize once for all that the relations of the State and of Religion are so bound together as that whatever is withdrawn from religion impairs by so much the dutiful submission of the subject and the dignity of authority. And when they shall have recognized that the Church of Christ is possessed of a power to stave off the pest of Socialism, too mighty to be found in human enactments or in the strong hand of the civil power or in military force, let them re-establish that Church in the condition and liberty needed in order to be able to exercise her most salutary influence for the good of society in general. Do you, however, Venerable Brothers, who have keen insight as to the nature and origin of the ills thickening ever in the world, apply yourselves with all zeal and energy of spirit to inculcate Catholic doctrine, that it may reach and strike deep root in the souls of all. Provide as far as may be that from early years all may grow accustomed to cherish a filial love towards God, and to revere His sovereign sway; to show due submission to rulers and the laws; to bridle their passions and zealously uphold the authority which God has established alike in the State and in the family circle. Moreover, it behooves you to strive earnestly that the children of the Catholic Church venture not to lend their name, nor in any way to give countenance to this hateful sect, but on the contrary that by worthy deeds and honorable line of action in all particulars, they show how well and happily human society would prosper were the individual members distinguishable for the regularity of their conduct and for their virtuous life. Finally, as the confederates of Socialism are sought mainly among those who occupy themselves in business pursuits, or give themselves to manual labor, and who, wearied out by sheer hard work, are more easily entrapped by the hope of wealth and promise of prosperity, it seems expedient to encourage associations for handicraftsmen and laboring men, which, placed under the sheltering care of religion, may render the members content wdth their lot and resigned to toil, inducing them to lead a peaceful and tranquil life.

On Our undertakings, Venerable Brothers, and on yours, may He confer favoring aid to whom we are bound to refer the beginning and the end of all good. We have ample ground to hope for speedy help during these auspicious days when the festival of Our Lord's Nativity is being celebrated. That new deliverance which Christ, born into a world sinking with years and well-nigh crushed wth the weight of ills, charges us to hope for; that peace which then He announced to men through the ministry of angels, He has promised to bestow likewise on us. For the hand of the Lord is not shortened, that He cannot save, neither is His ear heavy, that it cannot hear.[18] During these days, then, of most happy augury, Venerable Brothers, wishing to you and to all the faithful of your churches all joy and prosperity, We earnestly pray the Giver of all good gifts that anew to men may appear the goodness and kindness of God our Saviour,[19] who, after having snatched us from the power of a ruthless enemy, has raised us up to the most exalted dignity of being sons of God. And in order that our vows may be the more speedily and abundantly satisfied, join with Us, Venerable Brothers, in addressing to God fervent prayers, invoking also the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary ever immaculate, and of her spouse, Joseph, as also of the blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, in whose intercession we greatly confide. And in the meantime, with inmost affection of heart to you. Venerable Brothers, to your clergy and to all the faithful throughout the world, as a harbinger of the divine gifts, We impart Our Apostolic blessing.

  1. Isai. lviii. 1.
  2. Jude 8.
  3. 1 Tim. vi. 10.
  4. 1 Tim. iii. 15.
  5. 2 Cor. vi. 14.
  6. Eph. iii. 15.
  7. Rom. xiii. 1-7.
  8. 1 Cor. xii. 29.
  9. Wisd. vi. 3 seqq.
  10. Acts v. 29.
  11. Heb. xiii. 4.
  12. Eph. v, 23.
  13. Ibid. vi. 1,2.
  14. Ibid. vi. 4.
  15. Ibid. vi. 5-7.
  16. Eph. vi. 9.
  17. 2 Cor. viii. 9.
  18. Is. lix. 1.
  19. Tit. iii. 4,