How Christian Socialism Infiltrated into the Church

April 13, 2022 | Julio Loredo

How Christian Socialism Infiltrated into the

How Christian Socialism Infiltrated into the Church

To understand the crisis inside the Church, one must first look at the processes that led to the present situation inside the Church. The roots of this crisis extend much farther back than the times of the Second Vatican Council. It can be seen in the appearance of Christian Socialism in the nineteenth century.

Indeed, the first manifestations of Christian Socialism came directly from the French Revolution and thus predated social Catholicism.

During the French Revolution, there were factions that, taking the motto of “liberty, equality, fraternity” to its ultimate consequences, adopted communist positions. The most prominent representative of this trend was François-Noël Babeuf, called Gracchus (1760—1797). “The French Revolution is nothing but the precursor of another revolution, one that will [be] greater, more solemn, and which will be the last.”

The First Step in a Process

“His idea,” says historian Pierre Gaxotte, “is that the Revolution had failed because it had not been carried out to the end. All the measures it had taken were good. . . But this was just a first step toward the ‘radical reform of property,’ that is, toward ‘the community of goods and works.’  Obviously, full collectivism would have been dictatorial.”

For those radical factions, one had to eliminate not only the king in the State but also the “king” in society—the employer—and the king in the family, that is, paternal authority. The clearly utopian dream of a perfectly egalitarian and free society without classes, property or the monogamous family loomed then on the horizon.

Fascination with this dream brought about the so-called utopian Socialism, represented in France by Claude Henri de Saint-Simon (1760—1825), Charles Fourier (1772—1837), Louis Blanc (1811—1882), Philippe Buchez (1796—1865), and Pierre Proudhon (1809—1865).

The Founder of a Revolutionary Catholicism

Buchez exerted a particularly significant influence on the left-wing of social Catholicism. Founder of the French Carbonari,  Buchez converted to Catholicism in 1830 but did not abandon the socialist ideology. Alec Vidler explains: “He found in Christianity a faith that promised to realize the equality and brotherhood of men, and deliver them from the egoism that sets one against another.”

Buchez then became an apostle of revolutionary Christianity. With words that seem to come from the pen of a present-day liberation theologian, he proclaimed, “Christianity and revolution are the same thing. The Church’s only mistake is not to be revolutionary.”

Buchez’s influence went beyond social Catholicism, penetrating even the liberal Catholic current. Some of his disciples joined the Dominican Order, which had been restored in France by a close friend of his, Fr. Henri Lacordaire (1802—1861). This was the origin of the progressive wing in France’s Dominican community, which played a central role in the development of neo-modernist theology and eventually of liberation theology itself.

“Jesus of Nazareth, the Father of Socialism”

In the wake of the 1848 Revolution, a Christian socialist current arose in France, and many priests joined it. On April 29, 1849, a banquet of socialist priests was held in Paris with more than six hundred guests, including clergy and workers. There were many toasts to “Jesus of Nazareth, the father of Socialism.”

In the closing speech, a priest proclaimed, “Yes, citizens, I say this at the top of my voice, I am a republican socialist priest, one of those who are called red republicans; but also a Catholic priest. . . [Then turning to the working-men, he added:]  We want your emancipation, we will no longer allow the exploitation of man by man.”

Interestingly, only three of the more than thirty priests present wore the cassock, while the remaining were in civilian clothes. Evidently, they wanted to emancipate themselves not only from employers but also from ecclesiastical rules, flaunting a revolutionary spirit even in the field of tendencies.

The Early Growth of Christian Socialism

If utopian Christian Socialism had no great following, at least in its public events, and remained a mere ideal on a distant horizon, that was not the fate of the Socialism born from the left of social Catholicism in the late nineteenth century. In France, they usually indicate as a watershed the Workers’ Conference held in Lyon in 1896; in Italy, it was the appearance in 1891 of the Fasci Democratici (Democratic Squads) inspired by Fr. Romolo Murri (1870—1944). Initially a minority, the socialists grew in importance to the point of controlling large sectors of social Catholicism.

However, the current never became a majority. The popes’ condemnations of Socialism were clear and found an echo among the faithful. On the other hand, the Christian socialists could not count yet on a theology that would give them a doctrinal basis. Forced to choose between fidelity to the Church and socialist commitment, many opted for the latter. Such was the case with Father Murri.

The Voice of Rome Addresses the Social Question

Although Pius IX had already addressed some aspects of the social question, the first great synthesis of Catholic social doctrine came from Leo XIII (1810, 1878—1903). The 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum is rightly considered the cornerstone of the Church’s social teaching; it was the first to deal comprehensively with problems related to the “social question,” or the social upheaval caused by the Industrial Revolution.

It is interesting to note that Leo XIII started by denouncing the tendential aspects of the social question even before dealing with doctrinal ones. In fact, he blamed the ardent desire for novelty that, for a long time, began to agitate people and would naturally move from the political order to the socioeconomic one. He then condemns Socialism, calling it a false remedy and unacceptable solution.

In Defense of Private Property

While rejecting the abuses of unbridled capitalism, the pope clarifies that the Church approves some foundations of the market economy as derived from the natural order. On private property, he teaches:

There is no need to bring in the State. Man precedes the State and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the substance of his body. . .

. . . Private ownership is in accordance with the law of nature. . .

The authority of the divine law adds its sanction, forbidding us in severest terms even to covet that which is another’s. . .

. . . Private ownership. . . is the natural right of man.

Christian Virtue is the Only Way to Attain Social Balance

The freedom to make employment contracts and own and manage business enterprises stems from this natural right. Leo XIII goes on to list, along with the rights arising from private property, those deriving from work as something inherent in the person that cannot be limited either by the employer or by the State, including the right to free association, all of it within a hierarchical design, that includes the need for social inequalities.

In addition to the precepts of justice, social relations must be inspired by charity; and since this field is outside the scope of the law, it follows that only with the practice of Christian virtue can one attain social balance.

In the encyclical Graves de communi, Leo XIII reiterates, “For, it is the opinion of some, and the error is already very common, that the social question is merely an economic one, whereas in point of fact it is, above all, a moral and religious matter, and for that reason must be settled by the principles of morality and according to the dictates of religion.”

The Catholic Left Distort Church Teaching

Unfortunately, sectors of social Catholicism read Pope Leo XIII’s encyclicals in a different light, starting a period of hermeneutic abuse that was clarified only in 1903 by Pope Saint Pius X with the motu proprio Fin dalla prima. Some people even claimed that Rerum Novarum was opposed to the “dark Syllabus Errorum” of Pius IX.  Gabriele De Rosa writes:

Rerum Novarum destroyed many misgivings and resistance among intransigent Catholics, giving confidence to the most reckless generation of social Christians, to the Christian democratic current, which eventually outgrew the old guard. . .

All European Christian democratic currents received a boost from Rerum Novarum [and] felt comforted in their action, tending to prove that a priest, a militant Catholic, was not on the employer’s side.

Fr. Luigi Sturzo recalls how the publication of the encyclical Rerum Novarum aroused “great wonder. . . it seemed almost socialistic, and even the more liberal governments were in fear in their bourgeois soul; many churchmen also feared that new force united to the people.”

Thus, Christian Socialism gained momentum by distorting Catholic teaching. Its growth prepared the ground for the errors later found in liberation theology.

The above article is adapted from the book Liberation Theology: How Marxism Infiltrated the Catholic Church by Julio Loredo de Izcue. The author was born in Peru and has long studied the doctrines of liberation theology. He now lives in Rome, where he is a scholar, international speaker and the president of the Italian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP).