Catholic and Anti-Capitalist

Listening to talking heads on the TV worry about the financial rescue package, I heard some rhetoric that sacralized the … Continued

Listening to talking heads on the TV worry about the financial rescue package, I heard some rhetoric that sacralized the Capitalist system. It was as if God was on the side of the free-market. Beginning with the words of Jesus about selling all your possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor (Mt. 19:21), continuing with the Apostolic Church that held all things in common (Acts 2:44-45), blossoming with the vow of common life in medieval monasteries, and coming of age with the papal encyclicals — blind defense of Capitalism is not in Catholicism’s DNA.

I would not say that a political prescription for today’s financial troubles is to be found in any particular verse of scripture. But the spirit of Catholicism is to prefer people over profits. It stands in contrast to what Max Weber saw as the Protestant economic ethic which – he insisted – favored Capitalism. Surely, Protestantism and Catholicism do not fit into the tight boxes designed for them by Weber, but there is a strain of Catholicism that is aggressively anti-Capitalist, most notably, the Catholic Worker Movement.

I see elements of this anti-Capitalist Catholic tendency in the life and works of St. Francis of Assisi Forget the plaster statue Franciscan in the garden or the parade of pets being blessed on October 4th: these don’t do justice to the radical evangelical calling of Francis. He lived (1182-1226) during troubled times of the early Middle Ages as cities and commercial trade had begun to displace feudalism, preparing for the enthronement of Capitalism some five hundred years later. The quickening of social life in Italian cities in those days foreshadowed a Renaissance of art, science and culture, but it also created the new phenomenon of urban poverty. The poor had always been a part of medieval Europe, but mostly as serfs toiling the land. Often, the paternalism inherent in the lord-peasant relationship had softened the harshness of hunger and famine. However, those desperately seeking work by trickling into the cities of the 12th Century when Francis lived were not so protected.

Radical problems demand radical solutions. Francis renounced all the trappings of his merchant-class birth, wearing only a roughly-spun smock tied at the waist with a rope. He swore not to touch money. He lived by begging for food which was to be given to the poor — making himself one of the needy. He was convinced that only the example of those who put no stock at all in material possessions could combat the growing consumerism of his age, with the attendant greed and corruption that trailed along. The Franciscans were not the only Christians rebelling against the growing division of classes (e.g. the Waldensians). However, others were prone not only to preach against the excesses of those in power, but also to question if the sacraments could be validly conferred by sinners. Francis avoided this conclusion by focusing on the behavior of individual Christians, rather than issues of the institution. He instructed his followers: “Preach the Gospel at all times and — when necessary — use words.”

Francis of Assisi remains a model for Evangelical Catholics. Yes, his rejection of incipient Capitalism during the Middle Ages was soon rendered impossible because feudalism was doomed. However, Franciscan spirituality has endured through the centuries and still inspires us. Catholic America today imitates Francis’ emphasis on human interactions with the poor. You do not minister to the poor merely by writing a check. In my parish of St. Luke’s, for example, young people journey to a poor village in El Salvador to live out their Catholic commitment of social justice. “In giving, we receive,” is the premise that animates this hands-on charity. (Many Protestants do the same, e.g. Habitat for Humanity, which is another proof that Weber was inaccurate.) Francis of Assisi’s Evangelical Catholicism understood the Gospel call to put people before profits. It is a faith-rooted spirituality that overflows into the Catholic view of political and social issues like health care, housing, welfare, social security and the entire web of life. These days of financial turmoil invite us to revisit the anti-Capitalism of the Evangelical Catholic message of Francis of Assisi.

See also: http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/catholicamerica/2008/09/only_bad_capitalists_go_to_hea.html).

About

Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo is Professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and Distinguished Scholar of the City University of New York.
  • razzl

    You may recall that a couple of months ago a gathering of Protestant seminary heads got together and declared their desire to take back the term “Evangelical” from their religious right-wing. This mysterious term goes to the heart of all the political and economic matters about American life that should be troubling to Catholics, because it is applied to a movement which began with the Reformation and continues to this day attempting to deflect Christianity from the social example set by Christ in favor of a vision where each Christian is seeking to have an “individual” “relationship” with Christ. By framing Christianity this way, which served the original purpose of justifying the Protestant bread from the church, the individual Christian is not under any obligation to follow Christ’s social example and the ideology of individual conscience and individual rights built up to go with it allows the individual to substitute their own values for whatever parts of Christianity they don’t like or understand. Protestants are persistently tugged away from the true tendencies of Christianity by these old arguments for the Reformation, and it’s a tragedy for all other Christians because it’s coming to dominate the Christian world. It will take some brave Protestants and some nonconformist Catholics (and some less ethnically insular Orthodox) to move Christianity back to its true center of gravity, which is collective and social rather than individualistic, paternalistic, or ethnic…

  • paulc2

    Dr. Stevens-Arroyo,

  • CCNL

    From Concerned the Christian now Liberated-Even the “poor”, contemporary Franciscans invest their money wisely and have priests assigned specific for this purpose. Real estate holdings (hospitals, nursing homes and schools) are also substantial. “Capitalists for the Poor” would be a better name for the modern Franciscans.

  • LRodvien

    Very nice perspective. You captured the essence of the part of Catholicism that I have long admired. When I briefly considered converting to Catholicism, it was this aspect of the faith that most appealed to me: care for the community, social service, and the like. Thanks also for the nice history lesson on St.Francis. A very admirable person.

  • tamroi

    At 74, I’ve had the idea since childhood that Christianity, before Constantine, was very communistic. I am surprised that those times have not been mentioned.As I grew up I came to realize that my cosmological opinions are not likely to matter to the Almighty, and so I stopped regarding myself as as a devotee of The Book or a sect.However I do credit Christianity with making me a small letter communist.

  • jweley

    For the sake of argument let us assume that churches adopt a social justice agenda and commit themselves to really helping the poor rise out of poverty. Where do they start. I suggest that they start with themselves and divest themselves of property, sell their stocks and bonds, empty themselves of any endowment, stop taking up collections and ask their members to give directly to the poor instead, and if they cannot do this at least give up their tax free status so that when they ask the rest of us as taxpayers to do what they are not themselves willing to do, at least they will be paying their share.

  • Doubter1

    All catholics are anti-capitalist – that is why there are so many poor catholics in the world: Philipines, south America, Vietnam, etc.

  • ravitchn

    Catholic Social Thought has always been anti-capitalistic. It associates capitalism with the liberalism the Church has always seen as its most deadly enemy. Some Catholics have attacked capitalism from the Left, others from the Right. But the fact remains that when the Church in the late 19th century and early 20th century went alooking for an alternative to capitalism that was not socialism it found and supported Fascism.

  • paulc2

    Jvieley:

  • DoTheRightThing

    Catholics (myself included) do right by placing human beings as the paramount priority in this world, after God. But for a person to say that he is Catholic and therefore anti-capitalist makes as much sense as saying that he is Catholic and therefore anti-firearms. Capitalism is an economic theory that is morally neutral in and of itself, just as a rifle is morally neutral. It is how one employs the tool that can be moral or immoral.

  • garethharris

    Although many admire St. Francis, human nature being what it is and institutions being what they are, it wasn’t long before the Franciscans became another wealthy order with property. Now if the Vatican sold all their property and gave the proceeds to the poor it would greatly improve their credibility with me. What do think the chances are of that happening? Instead, churches show themselves to be parasites, feeding instead of serving, preying instead of praying.

  • drpat2001

    we dont have to go back all the way to the early christian communities and the pre-constantine church and st. francis to find a critique of capitalist tendencies to concentrate capital and abuse the worker, and reduce many to a state of impoverishment. beginning with the encyclical rerum novarum through the more radical populorum progressio, to pope john paul’s pueblo document we find a consistent social philosophy, one that i see emobodied in the universal declaration of human rights. however, i think that the main problem is that like st. francis, the christian is to look to the self and invite the clergy and the rich that wallow in the goods of this world to follow suit. unfortunately it is easier to sin than to do good, to be selfish rather than selfless, and while i do not advocate that the catholic church sell all its possessions to give to the poor like the red bishop dom helder camara, i do see the church as an institution fail in its responsibilities, it does not pick up the glove thrown down in its own doctrinal developments.

  • blasmaic

    It is just the luck of the poor that when two widely popular leaders like Jesus Christ and Karl Marx agree that something should be done, a disagreement on other topics emerges and then nothing happens.

  • AnotherDrunk

    Since Church is meant to work on plight of people, it makes more sense for church (of any denomination) to work on issues to prevent explotation of people. Singlemost critical issue to prevent such explotatation is : Prevention of critical consumer information sharing. 1. It is acceptable to undertand when corporates and government collect data such as aggregate sales of toothpaste brands by country, region, ethnic groups, religion etc.You, Anthony Sir, and your kind would better serve america in helping preserve consumer infomation privacy.

  • DwightHCollins

    why do you hate Catholics…you do everything you can to destroy this faith, shame on you…

  • csintala79

    Christ was a socialist. Live with it, religious right.

  • MikeL4

    Christ was not a Socialist. The Church argues against exploitation of the poor, not against providing jobs for the poor, which capitalism does better than any other system. The Church argues against the excesses of capitalism. Not against capitalism. You again are distorting your faith to suit your political agenda.

  • Arminius

    Jesus was a community organizer. Pilate was a governor.Jesus IS a liberal.Deal with it.

  • MikeL4

    Jesus does not subscribe to Mankind’s political philosophies no matter how much we would like to try and twist his words to match our ideas.

  • MPatalinjug

    Yonkers, New York In this essay, “Catholic and anti-Capitalist,” Antony Stevens-Arroyo writes, and I quote:”Beginning with the words of Jesus about selling your possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor (Mt. 19-21) x x x,”There is the other relevant passage in the Christian bible which says that “It is easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven”–or words to that effect.These biblical passages–and of course many more–clearly indicate that Christians are or should be anti-material-possessions. That they should embrace poverty as a way of life.That is, in the abstract, or in theory.For the reality is that many if not most so-called Chrisitan countries are fundamentally Capitalistic in their economic and social construct. Their citizens are primarily motivated by a desire to acquire as much material possessions as possible in their lifetime.In the real world, the Catholic Church itself does not seem to be exceedingly indisposed or inimical to the acquisition of material wealth.As a matter of fact, Catholic dioceses in the United States of America are well known for their love of wealth and luxury.The Vatican itself, the Holy See, where the Pope, “the Vicar of Christ,” lives and does his apostolic work, is reputed to be a very wealthy institution (or is it a “state?) with its own Bank and huge hoards of precious metals and jewelry and investments in both physical assets as well as securities of all types. (The Pope himself is known to be wearing shoes made by “Prada,” which are known to be very expensive and thus beyond the reach of the poor.)Given these circumstances, there is an apparent dichotomy between the abstract and the real, between the claim that Catholics are anti-capitalist and the evidence that they are in fact not.Mariano Patalinjug

  • ThishowIseeit

    Suppose all mankind had lived a franciscan life, there still would be epidemics of polio, smallpox

  • Enrique-I

    Capitalism contradicts Christianity on at least 2 points:1. It structurally guarantees distributive injustice (e.g. the compounding of returns on capital).2. It encourages anti-Christian conduct by embracing social darwinism (e.g. competition trumps love and collaboration).There are Christians however who proclaim that the problem is greed, not capitalism, as they forget how many houses they have, only needing one, while others have none, or pay them rent.Capitalism is certainly not what Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere.Neither is class war.Surely Jesus and Saint Francis would have spoken out against both, and renounced more than they what they truly needed.What are Catholic bishops and evangelicals waiting for?

  • two-cents

    Interesting discussion. I encourage readers to consider Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, which can be found at:

  • jjedif

    I was raised a Protestant and there is no doubt in my mind that Protestantism is about profits and power and not about salvation. However, Catholics have nothing to pat themselves on the back about. The colonization of the Americas was 300 years of rape, murder, slavery, genocide and capitalist exploitation by Spanish and Portuguese Catholics, followed by 200 years of rape, murder, slavery, genocide and capitalist exploitation by their descendents.Like McCain, Pope Benedict XVI is clueless.

  • ravitchn

    The Roman church, tied to aristocracies, opposed capitalism because it opposed the bourgeoisie. After the lower classes became attached to socialism the church tried to appeal to them with various social Catholic programs which were really frauds. But as the bourgeoisie came closer to the church in fear of socialism, the church came closer to approving capitalism — just as long as you didn’t call it capitalism. That’s how it got to support corporatism and Fascism. The church never tells the truth in any case. It is pro life, after centuries of killing religious dissenters and preaching death to the Jews.

  • awotter

    The only religious economic theory is Marxism. Everything else is uninformed projection.

  • CCNL

    Jesus was a simple preacher man who had little knowledge of basic economics and had no organizational skills. Pilate was actually the “necessary accessory” in the life of this simple preacher man i.e. without the crucifixion there would have been no “resurrection” of the “word” i.e. no Christianity as we know it today i.e no modern day “Capitalists for the Poor aka the Franciscans”. God bless the whims of Pontius Pilate!!! With respect to Christian economics 101:The Baptizer drew crowds and charged for the “dunking”. The historical Jesus saw a good thing and continued dunking and preaching the good word but added “healing” as an added charge to include free room and board. Sure was better than being a poor peasant but he got a bit too zealous and they nailed him to a tree. But still no greed there.Paul picked up the money scent on the road to Damascus. He added some letters and a prophecy/tale of the imminent second coming for a fee for salvation and “Gentilized” the good word to the “big buck” world. i.e. Paul was the first media evangelist!!! And he and the other Apostles forgot to pay their Roman taxes, irritated Nero, and the legendary actions by the Romans made them martyrs for future greed. Paul was guilty of minor greed?Along comes Constantine. He saw the growing rich Christian community and recognized a new tax base so he set them “free”. Major greed on his part!!The Holy Roman “Empirers”/Popes/Kings/Queens et al continued the money grab selling access to JC and heaven resulting in some of today’s An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue, ( Professors Crossan and Wright are On Faith panelists). “Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God’s hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus’ failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing.”

  • John_Chas_Webb

    The ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is within us.

  • paulc2

    CCNL:As for Jesus, how dare you say that he healed for a charge? Have you no fear for your soul at all? You certainly have no proof of that point. In fact, he very clearly said you can’t serve both God and Money. Are you really making the charge that Jesus Christ chose the money?As for the church, are you not aware that Catholic priest make about $10K/ year? Do you not understand that most Catholic Religious takes vows of poverty and have little to no personal assets at all. They certainly don’t do it for the money. Sure the church has a lot of assets: the churches, hospitals and Schools that they use to support over 1Billion people worldwide. As a general rule, despite these assets, most parishes are in debt.

  • Arminius

    Paul C,Give it up, get a grip. CCNL, that Confused Croissant, is a troll. He is here only to stir up a mess, and you’re playing right into his sad game.

  • Enrique-I

    Jesus Christ is a stumbling block for many Christians and Non-Christians now, as he was then. While it is written that He claimed His Kingdom was ‘not of this world’, He certainly did not deem that how we conducted ourselves here was inconsequential, and that bothers us all, whether one acknowldges it or not.No matter how one reads Him. Just skim the comments below.

  • CCNL

    Paul, Paul, Paul,Considering what we are getting from parish priests and parishes in general, a good downsizing is in order. Many could be replaced with Sunday Mass said on EWTN with delivery of blessed diet crackers by FedEx once a month. And even though dioceses around the country are paying over one billion dollars to settle lawsuits over the disgusting conduct of some of our priests, none to my knowledge have yet to go bankrupt. So much for our “poor” RCC. And as now, economics/”paying the bills” played an important role in first century Palestine. Your “now” parish priests obviously recognize this situation with their drives for cash, bingos, raffles, and tithing. Maybe they should institute something like the temple tax imposed by the Jewish priests in first century Palestine. Or sell doves before Mass so you might set them free during the serving of blood and flesh.

  • plaza04433

    I read stuff like this and I fall into despair, especially at the apparent abject failure of higher education.First. Capitalism is a tool. Period.Capitalism is theologically, religiously, morally and ethically neutral. Like a knife, in the hands of a surgeon it can be used for good, but in the hands of a murderer it can be used for evil. The fault is not in our stars (or our tools) it is in ourselves.Please illuminate for me what an anti-capitalist could be? Marxism, Socialism… all are but critiques of capitalism, they each attempt to “modulate” the kernel (capitalism) by tweaking the inputs and outputs of capitalism, but offer no new distinct and practical economic model of their own. The only really new thinking, idea or model added since the 19th century is Game Theory. It is also but a tool.As I said the fault is not in our stars (or out tools) it is in ourselves. As far as I know there is no theory of economy or politics…or religion to which that old cliché does not apply.But trying to argue the complement -and inject the faults of man into his tools is just as ignorant and deluded.

  • spidermean2

    Arroyo wrote “blind defense of Capitalism is not in Catholicism’s DNA.”History has showed that the Catholic Church owned lot of land from the countries they occupy from France to South America. They rent the land for a huge sum to the point that people revolt.Jose Rizal, the Philippine National Hero, was a central figure to such kind of revolt. The French Revolution was also due to the Catholic church’s excesses.CATHOLICISM IS THE DEVILS RELIGION AND THE VATICAN IS THE SEAT OF SATAN.

  • CharlesLarkin

    English translations of the Gospels, which were originally written in Greek, would have us believe that Jesus was crucified between two “thieves.” But the Greek word for these two felons is “lestes” — which means “brigand”, “rebel insurgent” or, to the Romans: “terrorist.”Cruel as they were, the Romans were not in the business of crucifying harmless country preachers who simply urged men to “love one another.” Capital punishment by crucifixion was reserved for rebel insurgents who sought the overthrow (by force) of the Roman capitalist regime. This is simple history. At the time of Jesus, Galilee was a hotbed of insurgency and terrorism. The name “Galilean” became a byword for rebels and terrorists — and, not coincidently — was also the term first used to identify the group that later became known as “Christians.” These “Galileans” did indeed live by the later “Marxist” principle of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need…”, a supposed 19th century communist principle twice articulated in the 1st century Acts of the Apostles (2:44-45, 4:32-35).’Nuff said.

  • spidermean2

    CharlesLarkin wrote ” These “Galileans” did indeed live by the later “Marxist” principle of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need…”, a supposed 19th century communist principle twice articulated in the 1st century Acts of the Apostles (2:44-45, 4:32-35). “The Acts account was voluntary. How would you feel if I come to your house and confiscate your properties because I believe that you only need to own a bicycle and more than that is excess? Catholicism means stupidity that is why many catholic priests believe they were fighting for God when they were expousing communism in many countries.

  • CCNL

    Spider/Canyon, Spider/Canyon, Spider/Canyon,Your ranting looks like something copied from a KKK pamphlet.

  • spidermean2

    CCNN, tomorrow I’ll declare that the U.S is a communist state. I’ll sell your house and car and assign you to live in a hut and give you a cow to tend the field. Ok? Don’t worry I’ll pay you just enough that you can eat 3 times a day.Idiot, you can help the poor by being rich if you are not selfish enough. Greed is the culprit and not capitalism.

  • CCNL

    As per Professor JD Crossan and Pastor Richard Watts’ book, Who is Jesus:”That Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, as the Creed states, is as certain as anything historical can ever be. “ The Jewish historian, Josephus and the pagan historian Tacitus both agree that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea. And is very hard to imagine that Jesus’ followers would have invented such a story unless it indeed happened. “While the brute fact that of Jesus’ death by crucifixion is historically certain, however, those detailed narratives in our present gospels are much more problematic. ““My best historical reconstruction would be something like this. Jesus was arrested during the Passover festival, most likely in response to his action in the Temple. Those who were closest to him ran away for their own safety. I do not presume that there were any high-level confrontations between Caiaphas and Pilate and Herod Antipas either about Jesus or with Jesus. No doubt they would have agreed before the festival that fast action was to be taken against any disturbance and that a few examples by crucifixion might be especially useful at the outset. And I doubt very much if Jewish police or Roman soldiers needed to go too far up the chain of command in handling a Galilean peasant like Jesus. It is hard for us to imagine the casual brutality with which Jesus was probably taken and executed. All those “last week” details in our gospels, as distinct from the brute facts just mentioned, are prophecy turned into history, rather than history remembered.”i.e. There was no trial and no stenographers at any hearing of/for the simple preacher man. He created a disturbance and threat to the peace and was crucified without a trial. i.e. He therefore did not say to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” because Pilate was not directly involved with the infamous crucifixion of the simple preacher man. Other NT exegetes to include members of the Jesus Seminar have published similar books with appropriate supporting references.

  • CCNL

    Spider, Spider, Spider,Keep up the ranting and your relatives might have you committed.

  • MarkFoxenberg

    I just have one point to make about how the author quotes the Bible. When Jesus and his apostles lived without possessions, this was not as a role model for all of his followers to live without possessions. The apostles were the full time, professional followers of Jesus, not the regular followers who still lived their own lives with family, jobs and possessions. In other words, the priesthood (today’s apostles) is called upon to renounce possessions, but not the lay members of the Church.That being said – and it is an important point – the whole message of Christianity is in the direction of renouncing the world. So simplicity of life is part of being a Christian. I don’t know what the author really is saying here though. The Church in my whole life has always been opposed to both capitalism and communism and has always preached a middle course between the two extremes.

  • CharlesLarkin

    Mark Foxenberg clearly hasn’t read his Acts of the Apostles where it plainly states that the”Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and NO ONE said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had EVERYTHING IN COMMON”Sharing everything in common was the universal rule of faith, not a special demand made only on “the apostles.” The fate of Ananias and his wife Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) shows what was in store for those (non-apostles) who tried to hold back.

  • spidermean2

    CharlesLarkin, as I’ve said, it’s voluntary. Nobody won’t stop you if you consider your properties as the the property of everyone. Do it if you want.Paul mentioned that if we become rich, we should help the poor. That is the one I’d like to adopt. China and Russia had abandoned that kind of doctrine you hold coz they all became poor. Not only that, they were poor and godless. What a mess.

  • geoparis

    AN EDITORIAL BY STEVENS-ARROYO DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. Not defending, really; once again, attacking adversaries with it.

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