Socialism within the Church

Lucie Kresl

Period 7

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII responded to works of socialists, like Karl Marx, and capitalists, like Ludwig von Mises, when he published Rerum Novarum, translating to Latin as “new things.” Within the work, the Pope addresses the Church’s stand on socialism by asserting that a society based on community goods is detrimental to society. At the time this work was published, the Church had neither publicly approved nor disapproved of socialistic run governments; however, this document confirmed the Church’s stance was in opposition to both socialism and communism, or any form of government that was based on wealth sharing for that matter [1]. The Church, however, does require that those who are able to donate charities and the less fortunate, which creates a small scale socialistic society within the larger society in which we live; therefore, it is impossible that the Church be completely against socialism because the Church itself encourages us as Christians to give our own private property to the common wealth to be distributed.

Pope Leo XIII’s disagreements with socialism were mainly based upon the idea that man has a natural freedom that can be taken away by neither the Church nor a specific society. He claims that man should take priority over the state in every situation, for if the state had more priority than man, man would lose nearly all freedom and live as a slave to his government rather than as an active participant in society [2]. In Liberty and Property, Ludwig von Mises writes that the consumer uses every penny he spends as a vote to influence the economy in the way he sees fit. Von Mises, a supporter of capitalism, claims that it is only through capitalism that man can have freedom to choose the way he lives and have a say in society because capitalism creates a democracy [3]. Similar to the ideas of Pope Leo XIII, von Mises states that man does not want to sit by as a passive, inactive member of society, but rather, man wants to take part in society by utilizing his freedom so that his voice may be heard.

Pope Leo XIII also defends capitalistic societies with the claim that common goods “[injure] those whom it would seem meant to benefit, [are] directly contrary to the natural rights of mankind, and would introduce confusion and disorder into the commonweal.” He supports this claim with the idea that we can only fix the problems in society when we can identify them. If there were an issue in the economy, a socialistic government would not be able to find the issue because all profits are thrown into a single mixing pot from where they are redistributed [4]. Contrary to socialism, the Pope’s claim reveals that in a capitalistic society economic problems can be identified and fixed faster due to the separation of private property from person to person. When Pope Leo XIII states that a common wealth would injure the people that it is put in place to benefit, he is referring to those who would use socialism as an excuse to not progress and become stagnate and lazy [5]. These people would ride on the backs of others who are hard workers and benefit from the success of others. This sort of arrangement would put strain on the relationship of employees in a socialistic society as they struggle in a fight with no winner to progress without reward. Without an incentive to work towards, there is not point to work hard and nothing would ever be accomplished in a socialistic society. For progression, there must be competition, in everyday working life or on a grander scheme of governments competing to be better than one another. Without progression, there is disorder. A socialistic society would create mayhem because it is a natural human trait to desire private property. The ownership of private property is man’s way of claiming his success with his own earnings.

Although Pope Leo XIII revealed that the Church is in favor of capitalism as opposed to socialism, he also mentions that Christians still have the obligation to donate to charities and various other funds to support those who are less fortunate than we are [6]. The contributions that Christians make to charities come with the private property that they have independently earned. By donating to a charity, Christians are essentially contributing to a common wealth that will distribute community goods to a group of people. Pope Leo XIII does address the fact that we are obligated to give to charity, but fails to acknowledge that this is inherently creating a small scale socialistic society in which the Church is the government that controls the distribution of the common wealth. This small socialistic society is not like most. In the majority of socialistic societies, the common wealth is distributed fairly equally to all who contribute to the greater cause of the society; however, in the Church’s society, people qualify as deserving of the community goods based on their level of poverty. For instance, a homeless man is seen as more deserving of our financial support than a low income family because the homeless man has less than the low income family. Within the society of the Church, there are socialistic societies within each charity that receives donations, for it must decide who is worthy of receiving money or clothes or food or whatever said charity is distributing. There is no way for the Church to exist as a capitalistic society because the Church has no true income. The Church makes money through the tithes of its members and relies on the generosity from such members. There is no circumstance in which the Church can receive a steady income from some sort of outside source, therefore it is only possible for the Church to act as a small scale socialistic society.

The question now is: if the Church is in fact against socialism, is it also against donating to the less fortunate? To answer this, we must first look at the foundation of the Church. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, virtues govern our actions, allowing a virtuous person to practice the good and right. The Church teaches that the three virtues are faith, hope, and charity, charity meaning love. The Church is built upon a foundation of love, love for God, love for our neighbors, love for our enemies, meaning that Christians are obligated to spread charity and love by giving what we can, which is done mostly through donations [7]. Along the same lines, the Church also requires Christians to tithe, giving a portion of income to the Church, allowing the Church to spend the money as it sees fit [8]. This is socialism. There is no denying that blatant fact. When Pope Leo XIII wrote that the Church opposes socialism, he did not take into account the responsibility of Christians to give portions of their own private property.  To a certain extent, the Church encourages us to participate in a small scale socialistic society, but Pope Leo XIII makes it clear that this is no way to run a society or government on a larger scale [9]. If Christians were to simply stop donating to charities, our society would hit a stand still. Those who were benefiting from the donations would no longer have enough money to support themselves, setting society back in terms of the amount of work each low income person is willing to do with his little spare time, and those who are wealthy would become selfish and paranoid as they hoard their money from anyone who threatens to take it from them, even in the case of giving to a good cause. As a country, our government cannot afford for people to stop donating to charities because it keeps a somewhat balanced society, even in a society that is built upon the idea that everyone must earn the money that they are given.



Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., 2184, <;.

“Leo XIII – Rerum Novarum.” Leo XIII – Rerum Novarum. Accessed December 9, 2014, <;.

Von Mises, Ludwig. “Liberty and Property.” January 1, 2009. Accessed December 9, 2014, <;.

“What Socialism Would Look Like.” Photograph. Socialist Organizer. Accessed December 9, 2014, <;.


[1] “Leo XIII – Rerum Novarum.” Leo XIII – Rerum Novarum. Accessed December 9, 2014, <;.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Von Mises, Ludwig. “Liberty and Property.” January 1, 2009. Accessed December 9, 2014, <;.

[4] “Leo XIII – Rerum Novarum.” Leo XIII – Rerum Novarum. Accessed December 9, 2014, <;.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., 2184, <;.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Leo XIII – Rerum Novarum.” Leo XIII – Rerum Novarum. Accessed December 9, 2014, <;.


One thought on “Socialism within the Church

  1. I really like your blog! I never thought before about the Church being socialist on some way; however, your reasoning made a lot of sense. Props to you for this creative idea!

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