Let’s be clear, Jesus Christ was NOT a socialist. The Catholic Church, the Bride of Christ founded by our lord and savior Jesus Christ himself, clearly and emphatically rejects socialism. Since socialism reared its head in the 19th century, the Church has been clear: Socialism is unjust and results in evil ends accomplished by evil means. Pope Leo XIII first analyzed and commented on the morality of socialism in 1891 in Rerum Novarum, which was a Papal teaching “on Capitol and Labor”. Rerum Novarum can be translated to “Revolutionary Change” and Saint Pope John Paul II discussed the “new things” Pope Leo XIII analyzed and condemned. Saint Pope john Paul II also rejected socialism and the teachings of these two leaders of Christ’s Bride on earth created the foundation for the clear cut rejection of Socialism in the Catechism – the repository of the teachings of the church.
“The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with “communism” or “socialism.”” (Paragraph 2425, Catechism of the Catholic Church).
Socialism Harms Man and Denies his Natural Rights.
Those seeking to understand the basis of the absolute rejection and condemnation of Socialism by the Catholic church should read Rerum Novarum (1891) and Centesumus Annus (1991) for themselves. Both men were well suited to analyze and comment on the real world methods and effects of socialism. Pope Leo XIII was present during the growth and radical change of socialism in the late 19th Century; Saint Pope John Paul II lived in communist Poland after having lived in national socialist occupied Poland under the Nazi’s. They both saw the lies that socialist leaders would tell, the violence they would use to suppress dissent and push their evil plan and the devastation to human lives and society as a whole from socialism when enacted.
Pope Leo XIII instructed that any system that deprives an individual person of their private property is always unjust. Any system that tells a worker that their wages must be taken from them completely and given to the state for “proper” distribution deprives that individual of their natural and God-Given right to secure property unto themselves. Rerum Novarum was, at its heart, a libertarian manifesto on natural rights, private property rights, individual liberty, limited government, consent of the governed, free markets, equal justice and rule of law (see more complete discussion of these principles here). Pope Leo XIII recognized that any society that removes from man the security of knowing that his hard work will produce a property (money) that he can secure to himself, creates a society of anarchy and totalitarian dictators. Pope Leo stated:
“5. It is surely undeniable that, when a man engages in remunerative labor, the impelling reason and motive of his work is to obtain property, and thereafter to hold it as his very own. If one man hires out to another his strength or skill, he does so for the purpose of receiving in return what is necessary for the satisfaction of his needs; he therefore expressly intends to acquire a right full and real, not only to the remuneration, but also to the disposal of such remuneration, just as he pleases. Thus, if he lives sparingly, saves money, and, for greater security, invests his savings in land, the land, in such case, is only his wages under another form; and, consequently, a working man’s little estate thus purchased should be as completely at his full disposal as are the wages he receives for his labor. But it is precisely in such power of disposal that ownership obtains, whether the property consist of land or chattels.” (Paragraph 5, Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII, 1891).
Pope Leo concluded that “every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own.” He pointed out that man is distinguishable from an animal because he has own reason. Animals are driven only to survive and to propagate their species by brute action and instinct. Animals do not possess means of perpetuating themselves in the long term through reason. But man can perpetuate himself more completely through stable possession of the fruits of his labor, enabled by his reason. This explains how humanity prolongs his life beyond survival mode and builds great civilizations reaching out eons to the future. Pope Leo XII stated:
“It is the mind, or reason, which is the predominant element in us who are human creatures; it is this which renders a human being human, and distinguishes him essentially from the brute. And on this very account – that man alone among the animal creation is endowed with reason – it must be within his right to possess things not merely for temporary and momentary use, as other living things do, but to have and to hold them in stable and permanent possession; he must have not only things that perish in the use, but those also which, though they have been reduced into use, continue for further use in after time.” (Paragraph 6, Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII, 1891)
Pope Leo indicated in Rerum Novarum that the socialist “remedy…is manifestly against justice”. He states
“Socialists, therefore, by endeavoring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage-earner, since they would deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages, and thereby of all hope and possibility of increasing his resources and of bettering his condition in life.”
Saint Pope John Paul II agreed, stating:
“Two things must be emphasized here: first, the great clarity in perceiving, in all its harshness, the actual condition of the working class — men, women and children; secondly, equal clarity in recognizing the evil of a solution which, by appearing to reverse the positions of the poor and the rich, was in reality detrimental to the very people whom it was meant to help. The remedy would prove worse than the sickness. By defining the nature of the socialism of his day as the suppression of private property, Leo XIII arrived at the crux of the problem.” (paragraph 2, Centessimus Annus, 1991).
Jesus was not a socialist
The liberal community, including the “liberation theologists” and avowed Marxists within the Catholic church and society as a whole like to state, falsely, that Jesus was a Socialist. They point to Jesus’s treatment of the poor, his call for community and charity. Yet Jesus rejected government as the solution, stating “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (Mark 12:17). Jesus never suggested that anyone to ask Rome for a handout – preached removal of sin from individual lives to allow full achievement of human potential and ultimate salvation.
The socialist propagandists like to point to the stories of early Christian communities putting all their possessions together to share with each other as needed. But the propagandists never point out that this was a voluntary arrangement and never point to the abject rejection of Socialism by the Church. “Socialist Jesus” propagandists don’t acknowledge the abject lack of property rights by anyone other than the elite during the time of Jesus. For instance, widows were denied the right to any property, requiring the creation of the Deacon system (Acts 6) to allow distribution of goods. If the widow (and children, and those who were in disfavor with the local leaders/society) had property rights, there would be no need to rely on a distribution system – which in itself was an act of voluntary and Christian charity, not socialism. This is what Pope Leo and Saint Pope John Paul II and the Catholic church have long recognized: that individual must possess property rights. Not just those in power. Not just men. Not just those favored by society. Not just those in politically protected classes operating in a corrupt, centrally planned economy headed by elitists. Every individual shall have the right because it is a natural right given by God. Jesus recognized this an instructed us to love each other as we would love ourselves. Ultimately, this golden rule ethic is most properly recognized in economics by the proper functioning of a true free market. The golden rule ethic can never be realized by socialism, as it deprives individuals of their property rights and their natural rights.