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Toby Terrar, “A ‘Preferential Option for the Rich’: Moral Theology among English Roman-Catholic Gentry during the Civil War Period of the 1640s.” This article originall appeared in NST: Nature, Society and Thought (Minneapolis), vol. 4, (no. 1/2, Jan./Apr. 1991), pp. 127-150.

            Liberation theology in recent years has helped turn social justice doctrine in some sectors of the Catholic community on its head. For example, the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, (1986, paragraphs 52, 54) states that "the preferential option is for the poor," not the rich:

Though in the Gospels and in the New Testament as a whole the offer of salvation is extended to all peoples, Jesus takes the side of those most in need, who in biblical terms are the poor. The example of Jesus imposes a prophetic mandate to see things from the side of the poor. . . Our action in behalf of justice in our world proceeds from the conviction that, despite the power of injustice and violence, life has been fundamentally changed by the entry of Jesus into human history.

            A look at the history of Catholic social teaching is helpful for an appreciation of the advances represented by this seeing things "from the side of the poor." The social justice theology taught by the English Catholic gentry and their counterparts on the European continent at the time Catholics were first settling in North America illustrates a group for whom the preferential option was for the rich. These Catholic landlords and their mentality concerning social justice are the focus of this article.

            What is offered here is a paradigm or what Max Weber (1949, p. 90) called an ideal type of the gentry thinking. An ideal type is a simplified version which accentuates certain elements of reality without giving nuances and subtleties. The gentry beliefs outlined here were also shared by many Protestant gentry and were rejected by some Catholic gentry, especially the agrarian "improvers," and those clergy who identified with the ordinary Catholics. And as would be expected, the Catholic laboring people, who composed a majority of the Catholic population, were often at odds with the gentry and their beliefs. It is in the nature of ideal types not to be full or unique pictures, but they are employed by scholars because they are a useful tool in getting at reality. There was probably no single individual that embodied every aspect of the type outlined here, and even if there were, this article makes no pretense at being a full, well-rounded social history of the gentry. Nevertheless the ideal type discussed here, it is argued, is fruitful in showing a tradition which is under attack by liberation theologians and against which the Bishops' pastoral took a stand.

            It could be argued that it is anachronistic to judge the seventeenth-century gentry on the basis of a twentieth-century idea about wealth distribution. In defense of the present approach, it should be noted, first, that there was not a single aspect of the gentry's theology that did not receive criticism from seventeenth century laboring people and those among the gentry who identified with productive labor. The term liberation theology is recent, but the content has probably been around since the beginning of class exploitation. Seventeenth-century English "liberation theology," as reflected in the works of those like Thomas White, Edmund Bolton, and Henry Holden, is the subject of a separate article. To label as anachronistic an effort to find a lesson for the present from history and to reduce history to antiquarianism is to reject what most historians have been doing since the time of the Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews.

            Secondly, in defense of the present approach, it would be an anachronism not to judge the seventeenth-century on the basis of wealth distribution. During the McCarthy period pressure was put on the universities, the church, the media, the trade unions, and the political parties to gloss over class differences and wealth distribution. Some people lost their jobs, some were put in prison, and nearly everyone was censored on the issue. The fear and ignorance which this brought is still sometimes a problem. The seventeenth-century gentry and those who opposed them were not inclined to censor themselves when discussing class and wealth distribution. To do so today would be anachronistic.

            In addition to the issue of being anachronistic, it might be contended that much of the evidence here as to gentry beliefs is from the pamphlets of their clergy. Perhaps the clergy and the gentry thought differently. It is accurate that there were differences both within the gentry and within the clergy and between some of the clergy and gentry. One sector of the clergy in the north and west of England identified with and ministered to the ordinary Catholics to a greater or lesser degree. But there was a larger sector of the clergy who identified with the gentry and became in-house chaplains to them. Two-thirds of these clergy were from gentry families themselves and their ministry was confined to the districts and the gentry families within which they had been raised. It could still be contended that these manor-house chaplains thought differently than the gentry. But those who have studied the relationship, such as Christopher Haigh, whose findings will be quoted in this article, do not reach this conclusion.

            In contrast to the ideal type to be discussed here, the traditional historical treatments might lead one to believe the seventeenth-century English Catholics were the persecuted poor and their social justice theology took a stand in favor of the poor. Typical titles are Troubles of our Catholic Forfathers (Morris 1877) and The Years of Siege: Catholic Life from James I to Cromwell (Caraman 1966). They emphasize that English Catholics were denied civil rights, such as the franchise, the right to attend universities and practice in the professions, and that they were subjected to special taxes and onerous fines, and that their clergy were jailed, deported, and even executed.

            Since at least World War II some Catholics have shifted away from this "siege" history. Recusancy fines were a reality for some Catholics, but studies by Peter Newman (1979, 148-149) and Hugh Aveling (1970, p. 87) have shown that, because of partial conformity and the unwillingness of local officials to enforce the penal laws against their neighbors, persecution for religion was a relatively unimportant aspect of Catholic existence. Newman (1979, 149) remarks that the view "of all Catholics as committed suffers in the cause of the faith is one more myth that the history of the Catholic community can do without." Most Catholics were laboring people and for them economic justice was the problem. The "persecution" was more often that conducted by Catholic and Protestant landlords against the Catholic and non-Catholic tenantry. The vehicles of such persecution were economic institutions, the law, education, and theology.

            The teaching of contempt for labor and laboring people that was reflected in gentry theology was part of the persecution. In some instances the contempt was blatant, as when landlords and their clergy ridiculed tenants as "base-born and lowly," called labor a vile activity, refused basic ecclesiastical services to the them, and advised gentry sons and daughters against marrying them. The contempt, however, was probably mainly embodied in doctrines that diverted laboring people from their political rights and economic justice. These doctrines taught that God had, in present-day terms, a "preferential option for the rich." These doctrines included the idea that God had established the landlord system, that it was a virtue for a small number of landlords to monopolize the land and draw away much of the annual wealth produced by the tenantry, and the idea that disobedience or rebellion against the established order was sinful.

            This article is divided into four parts. The first part will mention the economic basis of the gentry's theology. That is, it will show the degree to which the Catholic gentry profited from the established order. Then follows a description of their economic theology--their teachings about themselves (second part), tenants (third part), and economic justice (fourth part).

            ECONOMIC BACKGROUND. The Catholic gentry or "quality" as they sometimes designated themselves, were a numerically small but economically significant sector of the Catholic community in seventeenth-century England. They were also part of the larger English landlord system. In this system they owned most of the land. Through birth and connections at court they also had monopolies on the stewardship of crown leases, patents, and a hand in manufacturing, foreign trade, and mining.

            At the beginning of the seventeenth century a relatively high percentage of England's land was monopolized by 75 peers (dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, barons). The peerage was established by law as a separate order and confined to about 125 families. Much of the remaining profitable soil was owned by less than 20,000 gentry or one percent of England's 4.5 million population (King 1936, pp. 18, 30; Holmes 1977; Thompson 1966, 513; Lindert 1982). They took in the form of rent and the surplus value produced by wage labor about one-third of the annual wealth produced by tenants and labor (King 1936, p. 36; Brenner 1985, p. 31). The non-peerage landholding families were what Edmund Bolton ([1629] 1975, p. 45) at the time called "lower class nobility". One scholar remarks that "the peerage in England was for all purposes at one with the gentry as a whole," rather than "a class apart" (Laslett 1971, p. 40; see also, Mathew 1948, p. 39).

            It could be added that the Catholic gentry during the Civil War were for all purposes at one with the Protestant gentry, not a class apart. As Brian Manning (1973, p. 126) puts it in speaking of Catholic Royalists:

The Catholics who became Royalists did not do so because they were Catholics, but for the same reason as the protestants. . . The Catholic support for the king drew its impetus from the nobility and gentry. Lower-class Catholics, in so far as they escaped the domination of royalist landlords, did not readily identify their interests with those of the king's party.

            An indication of just how well the Catholic gentry were doing under the established system and thus why they supported the crown and landlord-biased theological doctrines can be seen by looking at the income which they received. At the top were those who sat in the House of Lords. According to Thomas Wilson (1936, p. 52; see also, Klotz 1943, 217-219), the yearly rental income of barons and viscounts averaged about £3,000 and of earls £5,000. This contrasted with the £5 or £10 income average for a majority of the population. Fifteen percent (20 out of 125) of the peers were Catholics (Gillow 1902, 1:68-70, 2:138-142, 5:515; Stephen and Lee 1922, 1:616; Newman 1981, pp. 6, 81, 113, 259, 286, 288, 331, 350, 352). Among the lesser nobility (knights, baronets, esquires, gentlemen), Brian Magee (1938, pp. 138-149) in an early study found a minimum of 262 Catholics. More recent studies have found five or ten times this number of Catholic lesser nobility (Blackwood 1978, pp. 27-28, 30, 38; Cliffe 1969, p. 186; Watts 1975, pp. 82-83; Phillips 1974, p. 46). The rental income for knights averaged £650, for esquires £450, and for gentlemen £280 (King 1936, p. 31; Stone 1965, p. 117). These gentry were less than 5 percent of the recusant Catholic population estimated at 60,000 (Bossy 1975, 188, 422; see also Magee 1938, pp. 205, 207; Mosler 1980, pp. 259, 261).

            The Catholics from the greater and lesser nobility received the housing, nutritional, educational, and political benefits which land ownership brought. Many of the Catholic gentry who partially conformed to the established church attended Oxford, Cambridge, and the inns of court, and were elected to the House of Commons (Newman 1981, pp. 7, 21-22, 92, 211, 313, 361-362, 377, 419, 441) and to lesser offices, such as sheriff, constable, and justice of the peace (Newman 1981, pp. 73, 167, 199, 220-221, 253, 262, 263, 291, 408; Havran 1962, p. 69; Jordan 1932, p. 175; Anstruther 1953, p. 451). They had a share in leases of crown (national) resources, in the sale of political offices and in the royally granted manufacturing and trading monopolies which existed on many commodities including butter, herring, salt, beer, soap, coal and alum (Hill 1955, pp. 42, 50). Nicholas Crispe, for example, was the Catholic son of a London alderman. He had a monopoly on the slave trade with Guinea that was said, probably with great exaggeration, to net him £140,000 annually (Clancy 1971, 78; Crispe 1882, 1:13, 32, 34; Rushworth 1772, 4:53; Blake 1949). Another Catholic, John Wintour held a monopoly on royal leases at Lidsey, Gloucestershire in the Forest of Deane. These leases involved some 18,000 acres of timber, iron mills and coal mines (Newman 1981, p. 419; Wintour 1660; Ashton 1960). The revenues from these leases, together with his shares in fishing and other companies, were so great that he acted as a financier for the crown during the 1630s when the king ruled without parliamentary revenue appropriations (Stephen and Lee 1922, 21:685).

            Even some of the Catholic clergy who served as chaplains to the Royalists were beneficiaries of the patronage system. Tobie Matthew, for example, was secretary to Thomas Wentworth (1593-1641, Earl of Strafford) during the 1630s. As lord deputy of Ireland (1632-1638) Wentworth led a policy of coercing the country into obedience. He was the chief advisor to Charles I in urging similar tactics against the Scots in 1639 (Mathew 1907, p. 325; Mathew 1950, p. 85). Another priest who served the Royalists as a pamphleteer, Walter Montagu benefited from the patronage system. He was the son of Henry Montagu (1563-1642), who was the Earl of Manchester, chief justice of the court of king's bench, and head of the Virginia Commission in 1624. Walter had patronage under the Catholic queen, Henrietta Maria, and of the Queen's mother, Marie de Medicis (Gillow 1902, 5:73-80).

            It was such Catholic lords, members of Parliament, office holders, and monopolists who served as officers in the royal army. About one-third of the officers in the king's northern army were Catholic (Dures 1983, p. 86; Newman 1977, 29). Of the 500 royal officers killed, 200 were Catholic (Kiernan 1951, 13; Lindley 1968, p. 249).

            Royalist Catholic thinking was recorded by the 149 Catholic gentry who headed the collection committee established to help finance the royal army in its 1639 invasion of Scotland. The pamphlet to which they all signed their names asked Catholics to donate "some considerable sum of money freely and cheerfully" to prove their gratitude to the king, who "so often interested himself in the solicitation of our benefits" (Henrietta Maria, Montagu et al [1639] 1640, p. 3; Newman 1981, pp. 40, 63, 134, 138, 374, 388.) Exhibiting the same idea, the Catholic Thomas Brudenell (1577-1663) quoted Henry de Bracton (d. 1268) in stating his reason for being a Royalist, "Let's keep the Crown glorious and entire, the more one's safety and renown" (Wake 1954, 128).

            Many Catholic gentry fought for the established order not only because they enjoyed its benefits, but because they feared their position would be reduced with a parliamentary victory. During the 1630s the crown had ruled without calling a parliament. It had relied for its funding on illegal levies that went heavier against recusants. Catholic gentry expected even worse would come with a victory of the anti-Catholic parliament. Their fear was at times well-founded. When Parliament took over the national and local governments during the first Civil War between 1642 and 1646, many Catholic landlords were financially and politically hard hit (Stephen and Lee 1922, 5:95; Habakkuk 1969, 131). Which is not to deny that Protestants also suffered. Typical was William Sheldon (d. 1649) a Worcestershire Catholic Royalist. He described his situation:

In December 1643 my house at Beoley was burned to the ground, and all my goods and cattle plundered besides the incurable loss of my chiefest evidence and court rolls consumed in the fire (Barnard 1936, pp. 49-50).

            GENTRY THEOLOGY. As has been noted, Catholic landlords benefited from the existing order in which most of the people were tenants and wage workers who paid rent to the few who were gentry. Like their political and military activity, their religious beliefs included a defense of the gentry system.

            Their beliefs were disseminated through a network of priests, schools, and books. By the time of the Civil War there were ten Catholic colleges and convents on the continent established and financed through the tuition paid by the gentry for their children. Because of the cost, most ordinary Catholics could not attend. The schools had been operating since the 1590s and may have had as many as 1,000 students in some years (Courtsey 1963; Guilday 1914, 1:28-29, 40, 111; Scaglione 1986, p. 62; Williams 1986, pp. xii, 13, 42, 46). Almost 5,000 graduates became priests and nuns in the first-half of the seventeenth century. During the 1640s, 700 graduates were serving in the ministry in England (Bossy 1975, pp. 209, 216, 227, 422). In a Catholic population that might have been as low as 60,000, this meant there was a relatively high percentage who were formally trained in religion.

            Probate and other records of gentry library holdings indicate that for those who did not go abroad, there was a large quantity of English Catholic and imported Catholic imprints (Hibbard 1980, 33; Clark 1976, pp. 95-111). Their books also penetrated Protestant libraries (Mathew 1948, p. 83). Seven hundred of the seventeenth-century Catholic titles have recently been reprinted (Rogers 1970-1979; Clancy 1974; Allison 1956). They were devotional, controversial, and "high theology" works by those like Richard Smith, Lawrence Anderton, Luis Molina, S.J., Francis de Sales, and Leonard Lessius, S.J. Except for the devotional works, the readers were probably not ordinary Catholics but the gentry and those among the clergy who ended up as in-house chaplains to the gentry. The thinking of the in-house clergy, as seen in the material which they wrote and read, seems to have presupposed and incorporated to varying degrees the gentry's economic mentality. Christopher Haigh (1981, 146) remarks concerning house chaplains:

The brand of religion which appealed to illiterate peasants offered little satisfaction for the priestly products of the seminaries, Jesuit colleges, and reformed Benedictine monasteries, who preferred the spiritual life of an educated household.

            Sermons and conferences were vehicles for communicating the gentry's message to the young and illiterate. A royalist Catholic described the influence which sermons and conferences had in forming his beliefs, "My duty to God cannot be complied with, without an exact performance of my duty to my sovereign. This doctrine was instilled into my youth by catechism and confirmed to my riper years by sermons and conferences" (Anonymous 1660, p. 1).

            As one would expect, the Catholic books, sermons, schools, and priests taught that God intended landlords to dominate over the majority. One pamphlet put it:

O you noble men, God uses you as Adam in terrestrial paradise, he suffereth you to eat the corn at ease, which others have sowed, and the wine which others pressed; he causes your meat to come to your table, as if it were borne by certain invisible engines; he holds the elements, creatures, and men in breath, to supply your necessities (Caussin [1634, etc.] 1977, 1:16).

            According to the gentry's theology, God wanted the status quo because it was a reward to them for being morally superior to the tenant class: "Our ancestors who raised their titles upon noble actions were men of heaven" (Caussin [1634, etc.] 1977, 1:182; see also Duby 1980, p. 67). Landlords were "types" of the heavenly "Lord," the "image and splendor of the Lord's divinity." Like the angels, they were a race mainly of the spirit and the intellect, not of matter (Caussin [1634, etc.] 1977, 3:1). They lived in the body but it was as if they were spirits (Caussin [1634, etc.] 1977, 1:301). Their blood, unlike common blood, had a sacred aspect; the royal blood could even cure the sick (Hanson 1970, pp. 76, 88).

            The culmination of the landlord system in the court was said to be a "type" of the court around God's heavenly throne (Duby, 1980, p. 54; Caussin [1634, etc.] 1977, 3:69). Charles I was customarily addressed by many Catholic and Protestant gentry as "sacred" (Anstruther 1953, p. 463; Smuts 1987, 230). The priest Walter Montagu (1654, pp. 87-88) suggested that contemplation of the English court was a good way to learn about heaven:

From the riches of court men may make optic glasses through which they do the easier take the high celestial glories; and surely the sight of our minds is much helped by such material interests, in the speculation of spiritualities.

Those who held that monarchy derived from purely historical causes were denounced as blasphemous (Smuts 1987, p. 230).

            In the writings of the Catholic gentry one can find the idea that God had constituted their blood a separate race, distinct from ordinary people. This idea of a separate race seemingly paralleled the type of racial beliefs based on national origins and color which resulted in those of African origin not being allowed at the time to attend various Catholic colleges and enter some religious orders (Palmer 1976, 54). The blood which flowed in the gentry's veins was said to be the source of their supposed beauty, impetuosity, and martial qualities. One had to have noble blood in order to ride and control a horse well. This was the belief of the Nicholas Caussin, S.J. who wrote The Holy Court, or the Christian Institution of Men of Quality with Examples of those who in Court have Flourished in Sanctity ([1634, etc.] 1970). Bibliographer Joseph Gillow (1902, 3:195) remarks, "This work was for many years in great favor, especially among Catholics." The following illustrates Caussin's ([1634, etc.] 1977, 1:7) racial beliefs:

Great men have many more talents from God, for the traffic of virtues than others have. The bodies of nobles and gentlemen are ordinarily better composed, and as it were more delicately molded by the artful hands of nature. They have their senses more subtle, their spirits more agile, their members better proportioned, their garb more gentle and grace more accomplished, and all these prepare a safe shop for the soul to exercise her functions with greater liberty.

            The history of these beliefs about the racial superiority of the gentry went back at least to the slave system of classical antiquity (Guibert 1964, p. 575; Wood 1978, pp. 3-4, 142). The early Christian writers found in the libraries of and cited by seventeenth-century landlords as authorities were themselves landlords and their dependents (Cepari [1627], 1974, p. 347; Holmes 1982, p. 180; Caussin [1634, etc.] 1977, 1:81, 2:207, 252, 305). These included the fifth century Macrobius in Saturnalia, Pseudo-Dionysius ([1899] 1976, pp. 13, 440) in The Celestial Hierarchy, Augustine in The City of God, and the sixth century Gregory the Great (Pope Gregory I) in The Pastoral Care.

            Probably the leading authority on the superiority of the gentry and related issues was Thomas Aquinas who was himself from a gentry family (Weisheipl 1974, pp. 7-8, 15-18). The Council of Trent (1545-1564) had sparked a revival of interest in him (Schroeder 1941, p. 176). Some clergy, such as those in the Society of Jesus, were required by the constitution which established their order and the plan of studies for their schools, that is their Ratio Studiorum of 1599, to made Aquinas's theology the norm. The Ratio stated, "It is not enough for the professor to state the opinion of learned men and reserve his own; he must either defend the views of Aquinas or omit the question entirely" (Fitzpatrick 1933, p. 164; Donohue 1963, p. 78). All students in the Jesuit colleges apparently had a copy of Aquinas's Summa Theologiae (Cepari [1627], 1974, p. 337). Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J., the son of a nobleman, was held up as a model student for English students. His biographer stated that he kept no other book except those by Aquinas and that a holy picture of Aquinas was the object of his devotion (Cepari [1627] 1974, pp. 258, 284). Aquinas summarized for the thousands of English Catholics, who studied in the continental schools, the earlier Greek, Roman, and Christian writers. In his Summa Theologiae (1268-1273), for example, Aquinas quoted Gregory the Great 400 times (Baasten 1986, p. 5).

            Aquinas's economic message centered on maintaining the existing order; this was heaven's first law (Aquinas 1935, pp. 32-33, bk. I, chs. 1-2; Scarisbrick 1974, p. 27). Landlords collected the rent as "God's elected stewards of His goods" (Aquinas 1964, 41:221-224, pt. 2a-2ae, q. 117, art. 1, ad. 1). Heaven was the ideal that should be imitated on earth, a place both of contemplation (mental prayer, the "beatific vision") and of military orders of angels, but not of productive labor (Aquinas 1964, 14:126-127, pt. 1a, q. 108, art. 2; ibid. 41:222-223, pt. 2a-2ae, q. 117, art. 2, ad. 2; Aquinas 1902, p. vii; Aquinas 1961, bk. 1, sect. 30; Loyola 1951, p. 45 paragraph 98; Persons [1582, etc.] 1970, 41:95-96, 510). The further from the material, the closer to God. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. ([1616] 1970, p. 166; see also, Kuntz 1987, p. 111), a widely read Thomistic theologian of the period, commented:

Things are so much the more noble, and eminent, by how much the more pure, and more abstracted from matter. This we see first in corporeal things: for water is superior to earth in nature, because purer. On the same account, air is superior to water, fire to air, and heaven to fire. We see the same thing in spiritual things. For the understanding is superior to sense, because sense has a bodily organ, which the understanding needs not. The understanding of an angel is superior to that of man, because man needs the ministry of imagination and fancy, which an angel does not. Among angels, those are of a superior rank, who understand most things by the general species. God, only is a pure act, and stands in need of nothing without himself, neither organ, imagination, nor species. No, not the presence of any object without himself, but his essence itself is all things to him. . . On these accounts I say the divine nature is most high and sublime, and God can by no means have an equal.

            In the pamphlets written and translated by the seventeenth-century gentry, both Catholic and Protestant, the heavenly order was held to resemble the Platonic ideal--changeless and motionless. This was the point of the Catholic royalist army officer, Vivian Molyneux, in his translation of A Treatise of the Differences between the Temporal and Eternal (Nieremberg 1672, pp. 52, 228, 261, 371). Prayer and religious practices, and even public service, meaning ruling and soldiering, were compatible with the Platonic ideal, but not manual labor. God himself and the angels were warriors. Catholic gentry like Garrat Barry praised themselves for "their excellence of war-like virtue," what one critic calls "heroic laziness" (Barry [1634] 1978, intro. pp. 2-3, text p. 1; Gurevich 1985, p. 259; Nieremberg 1672, p. 364). Many of the Catholic officers in the royal army had earlier been regularly employed as mercenaries in the Catholic army of Spain (Gillow 1902, 1:76-77; Parker 1972; Newman 1981, pp. 41, 88, 102, 153, 214, 341, 354, 401). Gentry participation in sports such as horse racing, hunting, and fishing was described as virtuous because it was a preparation for war (Persons [1596] 1824, p. 31; Duby 1980, p. 54).

            VIEW OF LABOR. In their theology the gentry believed God had made the existing order. In this order, landlords were those for whom God had a preferential option; God had less love for tenants. Laboring people were intended to have little or no role in society. The authority for such theology went back to the early writers such as Pope Gregory the Great, who had taught that God made producers lowly. God did this in order to punish them for being sinners. Gregory in The Pastoral Care, wrote that tenants were predetermined to evil. It was because of their propensity to sin that they had to pay rent:

Sin (culpa) subordinates some to others in accordance with the variable order of merits; this diversity, which arises from vice is established by divine judgment. Man is not intended to live in equality (Gregory 1950, 11:60, part 2, chapter 6).

In another work Gregory remarked, "Nature begets all men equal, but by reason of their varying merits, a mysterious dispensation sets some beneath others. This diversity in condition, which is due to sin, is rightly ordained by the judgment of God" (Gregory 1844, 21:22). Gregory was from a Roman landlord family. Even as pope he resided on his family's property and owned slaves (Phillips 1985, p. 60).

            It could be argued that Gregory did not have a negative attitude toward laboring people. What he meant was not that laboring people were sinners and landlords were sinless, but that both were sinners. Laboring people were not being punished because of particular sins they had committed. Sin had destroyed the natural order, which made laws and hierarchy necessary. Wealth and power were given by God only to provide charity and justice. Another argument in defense of Gregory is that poverty was considered a holy condition and the poor were thought to be better positioned for salvation than the rich.

            There are several problems with these arguments, assuming that either Gregory or those who quoted him held these positions. First, whether landlords were regarded as sinners or not, Gregory and those who followed him had a negative view of labor, which was attributed to sin and its punishment. Gregory also had a negative view of laborers, who he calls sinners. Gregory and his class lived off the labor of others. One is not surprised that he would claim God had designed it that way. A second problem concerns the idea that wealth and justice were thought to have been given by God only to provide charity and justice. As will be seen shortly, landlord charity and justice was equated with a preferential option for the rich. Their charity and justice itself were testimony to their low regard for laboring people. As for the argument that poverty was considered holy, that was not the emphasis that Gregory and those who quoted him put on it. Sin was Gregory's explanation.

            Besides Gregory, the seventeenth-century gentry found in the other esteemed writers, such as Augustine, Aquinas, Isidore of Seville (560-636 AD), Pope Gregory VII (1020-1085, Hildebrand), and John of Salisbury (d. 1180), that the origin of productive labor was in the Fall, in sin, in the devil, in evil, and in biblical characters like Cain, who was ignoble to his brother and Noah's son Shem, who was a "churl" to his father (Abbot [1623] 1970, pp. 22-23). The existing order was both punishment for sin and a way to occupy laboring people and keep them from further sin (Aquinas 1956, p. 173, q. 8, art. 7, ad. 17; Aquinas 1935, pp. 53-60, bk. 1, ch. 6). Augustine (1948, 2:324, bk. 19, ch. 15) in City of God Against the Pagans wrote, "The prime cause of servitude is sin, which brings people under the dominion of others, which does not happen save by the judgment of God, with whom there is no unrighteousness, and who knows how to award fit punishments to every variety of offense." A Catholic pamphlet commented about the Adam and Eve origins of labor and laboring people:

The world was as yet in her cradle, and man was no more than borne, when God making a place of justice of terrestrial paradise, pronounced against him the sentence of labor and pain, and afterwards wrote, you shall eat your bread with the sweat of your brow (Caussin [1634, etc.] 1977, 1:100; see also Matthew 1647, p. 1).

            Just as collecting the rent, contemplation, and living "idly and without manual labor" were Godly and "spiritual" in the pamphlets of the gentry, so productivity and manual labor were contemptible. The more productive a person's trade, the lower was the person's spiritual worth. At the bottom in Aquinas's (1964, 41:126-127, pt. 1a, q. 108, art. 2; see also, Aquinas 1915, bk. 1, sec. 30) widely taught hierarchy were the most productive, the agricultural laborers (laborantium in agris), whom he called vile people (vilis populus). Above them were merchants. Neither of these were honorable people (populus honorabilis). A pamphleteer in following the logic of the early writers divided creation into three types of existence: vegetable, animal and intellectual. The existence of producers was vegetable and animal (Caussin [1634, etc.] 1977, 1:120; see also, Plato 1578, 266 a-d; Aristotle 1952, 98 IbIff). Canon law prohibited tenants (villeins) from becoming priests. Clerics who engaged in plowing and other manual labor were subject to excommunication. Such was "unbecoming their state" (Rodes 1982, p. 48; see also Bouscaren 1966, p. 449, canon 987, p. 118, canon 142).

            The Royalist contempt for labor and laboring people during the Civil War was demonstrated by their use of the term "roundhead" for their opponents. Roundhead referred to shorn, bullet-headed apprentices. Apprentices were thought to be of low worth by the gentry. For some Catholics, including clergy, the slander of working people was habitual. Illustrative were the theological writings of Robert Persons, S.J. (1546-1610). He was something of a Jesuit archetype. One of his methods of teaching was ridicule. Persons (1602, 82:95-96) called John Mush (1551-1613) "Dr. Dodipol Mush" because Mush was not university educated but the son of a "poor, rude serving man." Thomas Law (1899, p. xxx; see also, Southwell [1595] 1953, p. 7) commented on the regularity with which such language against laboring people appears in Person's writings:

The scorn and ridicule with which Persons seemed to regard low birth and poverty, and his habit of taunting his opponents on that score, are notable features in his method of controversy.

            A consequence of this anti-labor moral theology for seventeenth-century Catholic working people was that their needs were less well served by the clergy than were gentry needs. What one critic said at the time about the preference of the Jesuits for the gentry applies with equal force to the secular and other clergy of the period:

The Jesuits are used to fawn upon men of noble birth, especially if they be rich. They look not after the cottages of the poor, nor minister their help to them, be they ever so much in need (Bagshaw [1601], 1889, p. 105).

Recent studies have been critical of the historical tradition that glorified the gentry as having been a positive factor for English Catholicism. Christopher Haigh (1981, pp. 138, 145) remarks:

The Catholic gentry, the second group of heroes of the Persons' version of English Catholic history, arrogated to themselves an inappropriate share of the clerical resources of the post-Reformation mission. The gentlemen have been credited with ensuring "the survival of the faith" and so they did, but their faith, at the expense of everyone else's!

            The idea that subjects follow the religion of their ruler was cited by the gentry and their clergy for focusing the ministry on the well-born. In this they cited as authority the argument of Gregory the Great and the landlords' clergy for a millennium. It was, as Paul Meyvaert (1966, 24) points out, the age-old justification, in a Christian version, of Roman imperialism, the natural subordination of barbarians to Romans, as slaves to freemen. It turned up "dismayingly often" in the heroes of the gentry (Meyvaert 1966, 23). Ministering to landlords, it was said, would filter down to the tenants. Some of the gentry did allow their tenants and neighbors to hear mass when priests visited or were resident at their estates. Haigh contends, however, that these gentry were the exception, especially in the south and east of England, where most of the priests and gentry were concentrated. (Haigh 1981, 133). Judging from the gentry's theological prejudices and the actual results, most had little concern for filtration. They saw laboring people as worthless and did not want them in the church.

            LANDLORD SOCIAL JUSTICE The doctrine that God's preferential option was for the rich was embodied in the gentry's system of economic justice. They taught that the existing order was just and perfect, resembling the heavenly order willed by God, and therefore unchangeable. In the pamphlets which they purchased for themselves, wealth was said to came from God, a windfall (Salvian of Marseille [1618] 1973, pp. 75, 82). It did not come from laboring people, who were censored out of the picture. God produced wealth and directed its re-distribution from the tenant to the landlord.

            Frequently found in gentry libraries were classical texts that reinforced the status quo, such as Aristotle's Economics, Xenephon's Economist, and Plutarch's Conjugal Precepts. These writers advised landlords to govern their tenants justly, which meant "strictly and firmly." Tenants were to be kept at a subsistence level. Otherwise, so it was believed, they would not work (Furniss [1920], 1965, p. 121). Surplus wealth belonged to the landlord. Masters were to look after their servants in sickness and old age, but they were not to be indulgent or allow themselves to be "robbed" or imposed upon (Caussin [1634, etc.] 1977, 2:209).

            The classical authorities condemned agrarian reform measures. During the period of the Roman Republic between 510 and 27 B.C.E, the plebians, that is the tenantry and small farmers, had been subjected to state laws which gave landlords nearly unlimited rights. The landlord monopoly was said to be part of the natural law. The people, as they themselves complained were "nominally lords of the earth, while not possessing one lump of earth" (Jonkers 1963, p. 119). For hundreds of years they fought for and sometimes achieved agrarian reforms (lex agraria), such as those enacted during the tribuneship of Tiberius Gracchus (133 B.C.E.). These aimed to redistribute land to the producers. Machiavelli, a landlord, had called the lex agraria the first cause of the destruction of the Roman Republic (Machiavelli 1663, III, 24, I, 37).

            As would be expected, it was not the writings of Rome's agrarian reformers that was emphasized in the seventeenth-century Catholic schools but those of landlords who had fought reform. One does not find on reading lists the Acts of the Apostles, which taught communal ownership, but rather Livy's (1659, II, 41) Ab urbe condita, and Cicero's (1930) three consular orations, De Lege agraria contra Rullum. One of the lessons in these works seems to have been that the ordinary people could be fooled into acting against their own interest if there was sufficient rhetoric involved (Jonkers 1963, p. 147).

            The Roman and canon law, like Gregory in the sixth century and Aquinas in the thirteenth century were used, perhaps inaccurately, by the gentry as authorities for the view that landlord property rights were based in natural law and thus part of God's law and not susceptible to agrarian reform measures (Aquinas 1964, 42:133, pt. 2a-2ae, q. 130, art. 2, ad. 2; Aquinas 1964, 37:17; Aquinas 1964, 47:5, pt. 2a-2ae, q. 183, art. 1; see also, Bouscaren 1966, p. 449). In these same authorities were injunctions directed against at the rich to give generously to the poor. In some periods, these injunctions did bring a cumulative redistribution of wealth, but it was in the direction of the clergy and monasteries and not of the producers. By the seventeenth century the Catholic gentry were not infrequently living on or owning property that had been confiscated during the sixteenth century from the monasteries and hierarchy.

            At best gentry theology taught the landlord to redistribute wealth in a superficial way. Economic justice for much of the gentry did not involve agrarian reform measures such as the elimination of primogeniture, entail, and perpetuities, but token acts such as almsgiving. The scholastic authority Domingo de Soto at the University of Salamanca following the teaching of Gregory the Great, Salvian of Marseille, and Aquinas, condemned efforts to address economic inequality, saying removal of the indigent from the streets results in grave spiritual harm by denying the faithful the opportunity of practicing charity (Soto [1545] 1965, pp. 117-118, 121; Flynn 1989, pp. 94-95, 97; Todd 1981, p. 341; Salvian of Marseille [1618] 1973, pp. 99-100, 111). Contrary to the thinking of laboring people who resisted their impoverishment, Aquinas had said that poverty was inevitable and could be an opportunity for virtue (Aquinas 1964, 47:211, 2a-2ae, q. 188, art. 7; 1a-2a, q. 4, art. 7). Monastic landlords set the norm for almsgiving by doling out in alms as little as three percent of the revenue which they received from their tenants and perhaps a similar amount of less formal charity. (Scarisbrick 1984, p. 51).

            As described in seventeenth-century pamphlets, Catholic almsgiving was characterized by "rationalized kindness," such as funeral almsgiving, feast day donations, and giving succor to a ritual number of poor, usually twelve. One pamphlet advised the gentry:

If you wish to magnify charity toward persons necessitious, cast your eye upon Anne of Austria, Queen of Poland. She was accustomed to serve twelve poor people every Monday. This was the very same day she yielded her soul up to God. When she had scarcely so much left as a little breath on her lips, she asked that she might once more wait on the poor at dinner, and that death might close her eyes when she opened her hands to charity (Caussin [1634, etc.] 1977, 3:91).

Such charity was inefficient and little adapted to material needs. It was meant to satisfy the conscience of the landlord, not to address the issue of wealth distribution (Aquinas 1964, vol. 34, pt. 2a-2ae, q. 32, art. 10, ad. 3; ibid., pt. 2a-2ae, q. 31, art. 3, ad 4; ibid., pt. 2a-2ae, q. 32, art. 9, and art. 10, ad. 1; Gillow 1902, 5:76). In practice, as administered in the local English parishes, poor relief was considerably more efficient than that recommended in the pamphlet literature.

            Another aspect of gentry economic justice which tended to sooth consciences without redistributing wealth was the doctrine of "just" price. The just price was equated with the current free market value of goods. Aquinas (1964, vol. 38, 2a-2ae, q. 77, art. 4; see also Aquinas 1956, quodlibet, q. 6, art. 10) wrote:

In a just exchange the medium does not vary with the social position of the persons involved, but only with regard to the quality of the goods. For instance, whoever buys a thing must pay what the thing is worth whether the person buys from a pauper or from a rich person.

In this passage, according to scholars such as John Baldwin (1959, pp. 27-29), Aron Gurevich (1985, p. 277), and Jacques LeGoff (1988, p. 291), Aquinas accepted that the market set the price for "what the thing is worth." Aquinas insisted only that poor and rich both receive the same market price. This ignored the unequal economic position of poor buyers who were forced to pay the same price as landlords. The "just price" market system meant the price was set by the buyers with wealth, those who could outbid the non-wealthy. It was a system of rationing in which the gentry kept a monopoly on consumer goods similar to the one they had on land. Barry Gordon (1975, p. 178) comments on the injustice of Aquinas's just price doctrine:

Aquinas does not confront the issue of the relationship of commutation and distribution. . . There is no guarantee that the achievement of justice in pricing will ensure justice in distribution.

            The gentry seem to have found Aquinas a convenient authority because his just price theory ignored wealth distribution. It emphasized commutative, not distributive justice. Commutative (from commutatio or transaction) justice was the classical Greek and scholastic term for the government of relations of individual to individual. Distributive justice was the term for the obligation of the community to the individual. As Gordon (1975, p. 159; see also, Bartell 1962, 354) puts it, "Because he related economic analysis mainly to questions of commutative rather than distributive justice, Aquinas offers little by way of insight into the theory of income distribution." Aquinas (1949, bk. 4, d. 17, q. 1, art. 1, gla. 1) in one of his earliest works, Commentary on the Sentences (of Peter Lombard), did concur with Peter Lombard, for whom commutative and distributive justice were linked together by one general end, the transfer of the necessities of life. However, by the time he started writing the Summa Theologiae 16 years later, Aquinas followed an approach more acceptable to the established order. No small part of the established order was the clerical hierarchy, which was Europe's largest proprietor. It had a self-interest in not changing the system of wealth distribution.

            It can be argued that the doctrine against usury, if it had been strictly followed in the medieval or seventeenth-century period, would have resulted in a more equitable distribution of wealth. Even assuming it did have a positive effect in an earlier period, by the seventeenth century it was not a subject for consideration in gentry literature.

            In place of just wealth distribution, gentry theology, like that of at least some of their Protestant counterparts, offered laboring people the doctrine of obedience, not resistance, to the established order. One must suffer one's "cross and passion" in life with humility, self-denial and meekness (Hathaway 1969, p. 104; Mollat 1986, p. 263). The chief offense was pride, as manifested by ambition for the wealth and life style of the landlord. God's will for the tenantry, said one writer, was the "old simplicity, both in apparel, diet, innocency of life, and plainness of dealing and conversation" (Persons [1596] 1824, pp. 220-224, 256-257; see also, Scarisbrick 1974, p. 27). Robert Persons wanted to restore the system of feudal servitude and destroy the tenants and artisans who had bettered their economic circumstances. Thomas Clancy (1964, p. 42; see also, Clancy 1959, 20) remarks on Persons' landlord prejudices:

As for the commons, their economic welfare was to be made the responsibility of their feudal lords. In England there was great inequality among the members of the third estate. . . It was said some gave themselves the airs of gentlemen. This social mobility was to be stopped.

            The doctrine of obedience received attention in the marginal notes of the Douay version of the Old Testament, published in 1609 and again in 1635. This was the English language translation for seventeenth-century Catholics. The note to 1 Kings 8, read:

In case kings or other princes commit excesses and oppress their subjects, yet are they not by and by to be deposed by the people nor commonwealth, but must be tolerated with patience, peace, and meekness (Worthington 1609; see also Aquinas, 1935, p. 25; Clancy 1963, 7:7).

During the Civil War the great sin according to the Douay bible norm, was the overthrow of the established order.

Among those who developed the theme that obedience was the way to curb pride and rebellion were Walter Montagu in Miscellanea Spiritualia, or Devout Essays (1654, p. 168) and Tobie Matthew in his translation of Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtue (Rodriquez [1631] 1929, 2:165-354, 3:275-376). John Abbot ([1623] 1970, preface) in Jesus Praefigured, which he dedicated to Charles I, called rebellion a crime. God's people in the gentry's view had four marks:

The first is a profound humility. The second a great love of virginity. The third, a great obedience to superiors, recommended by St. Paul to the Romans: Let every soul be subject to superior powers. The fourth a sweetness and an admirable patience in persecutions (Caussin [1634, etc.] 1977, 1:64; see also, 1:51, 62, 81).

Authorities available to the gentry on the obedience doctrine were Augustine (1948, 2:325, see also 1981, 7), Thomas a Kempis (1642, bk. 1, ch. 9), Ignatius Loyola (1959, pp. 167, 181), and Gregory the Great (Baasten 1986, pp. 2, 22, 78). Following Aquinas (1964, 47:113, pt. 2a-2ae, q. 186, art. 3) and Salvian of Merseille ([1618] 1973, p. 86) the possession of great wealth, as long as no pride was taken in it, was not questioned. The issue of wealth distribution was reduced from a material problem to a problem of ideas.

            However, when laboring people threatened gentry wealth during the Civil War, there was no talk of reducing it to a problem of ideas. As Walter Montagu (1654, p. 223) in his Miscellanea Spiritualia put it, "Death is the creature of rebellion." To the extent they were able, the Royalists inflicted death against those who challenged their rule. When this policy failed, they claimed their defeat was not to be taken as a sign of their disfavor with God, as "God's enemies receive greater external marks of his goodness than his friends; Christ kissed Judas at his separation and struck St. Paul at his admission" (Montagu 1654, pp. 51, 73).

            As part of their Civil War effort, Catholic landlords used the doctrine of obedience to recruit laboring to their side. Thomas Brudenell, for example, was a Northamptonshire landlord with a history of enclosing common land to the disadvantage of the tenantry. He (Wake 1954, p. 128, see also, p. 124) wrote in 1640:

Let every soul be subject to the higher powers, for who resisteth power resisteth God, and ex consequentia who rebels against kings doth so against God and purchases damnation.

            The theme of Jesus as meek and obedient was standard in the prayers, hymns, form of confession, meditations, examination of conscience, and litanies that were published in the seventeenth-century Catholic prayer manuals. These manuals were in daily use in the country houses of the landlords (Crichton 1984-1985, pp. 158-159). Gentry catechisms, sermons, and conferences had a bias for monarchism. This form of government, according to Aquinas (1935, p. 88; see also, pp. 39-41), "best assured stability of power, wealth, honor and fame" for landlords. Those saints who were the objects of gentry devotion included no less than twenty canonized kings (Smith [1627] 1970, 54:3). It might be contended that the gentry were for monarchy because they had no other choice. This ignores, first, that since the Conquest there had been a continuous and often successful English Catholic tradition of resistance to the "Norman yoke," especially in the north and west of England (Hill 1954, pp. 21-23). Second, the history of the anti-monarchical communes in Spain, Germany, and Italy, of the republics in Italy, not to mention the Greek and Roman examples, were also available for consideration (Wadsworth 1652).

            Along with obedience went the idea that existing economic relations were a testing ground to be endured in order to make amends for sinfulness and earn heavenly life. Because suffering was willed or permitted by God as part of his plan, it could not be changed. The landlord order was not the cause of suffering. Laboring people should accept the situation with patience. This "testing ground" doctrine had been incorporated by Loyola as a foundation for the spirituality of his religious group (Segundo 1987, pp. 44, 46, 49).

            The book titles published by Catholic gentry give an idea of the testing-ground, virtue-of-suffering theology which they contained. Tobie Matthew ([1630, etc.] 1970) translated A Treatise of Patience and wrote A Missive of Consolation, sent from Flanders to the Catholics of England (Matthew 1647). Henry Arundell (1679) authored Five Little Meditations in verse: . . . (2) Persecution No Loss; (3) On the text "God Chastiseth those whom He Loves"; (4) Considerations before the Crucifix; (5) Upon the Pains of Hell. Richard Mason (1644) produced Brother Angelus Francis, The Rule of Penance of St. Francis. Richard Verstegan (1601) wrote Odes in Imitation of the Seven Penitential Psalms and translated Mental Prayer Appropriated to the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Verstegan n.d.). The "Office of the Holy Ghost" was a prayer which found continuing favor in gentry devotions (Smith [1627] 1970, 54:32).

            These writers held that laboring people should have no hope to make the world decent or struggle against the existing order. It was the tenant, not the world, that was being tested. Montagu (1654, 2:70, 73, 161) in his Miscellanea Spiritualia maintained that contempt for the world was a virtue. Another pamphleteer offered a litany about the world's unredeemable nature:

This world is so vain, so deceitful, so troublesome, so dangerous; being it is a professed enemy to Christ, excommunicated and damned to the pit of hell; being it is (as one father said) an ark of travail, seeing it is a grove full of thorns, a meadow full of scorpions, a flourishing garden without fruit, a cave full of poisoned and deadly basiliskes; seeing (as Saint Augustine said) the joy of this world has nothing else but false delight, travailsome labor, seeing it has nothing in it (as St. Chrysostome said) but tears, shame,  labors, terrors, sickness, sin, and death itself; seeing the world's repose is full anguish, its travails without fruit (Persons [1582, etc.] 1970, pp. 510-511).

            In their thinking, landlords equally with tenants were to be obedient. But being obedient to an order that served their interest had a different significance for them. Similarly they had to endure suffering, such as sickness, old age, and death. But the suffering did not include economic injustice: the appropriation of wealth produced by their labor and a theology which claimed that God had a preferential option for the appropriator. Aron Gurevich (1985, p.242) remarks, "In a class society, the commandment `Thou shalt not steal' protected property in a way that was much in the interests of the "halves."

            CONCLUSION. This article in its four parts has presented an ideal type reflecting the mentality of a sector of the seventeenth-century English Catholic gentry. The point in discussing their beliefs is not to muckrake but to highlight and contribute to the advance that liberation theology represents in making the preferential option be for the poor. The first part of the article outlined how Catholic landlords did well under the crown and were well represented in the royal army during the Civil War. Catholic gentry beliefs on some points may have differed from those of their Protestant counterparts. But excluding the Catholic and Protestant improvers who had a positive view of the productive process, there was unity concerning their economic theology. Catholic gentry beliefs were disseminated by their priests, schools, sermons, and books. The second and third parts of the article discussed the belief that God had a preferential option for the landlord system. It was said to be a virtue to live idly and without labor, while laboring people were held to be vile. The gentry was meant to live well off the labor of their tenants. In the fourth part the idea that landlord economic justice did not involve a distribution of wealth to those who produced it was touched upon. Tenants were to be obedient to the established order.

            The non-Catholic Royalist, Francis Osborne (1656, pp. 19-29), was a cynic about religion but saw a use for it in promoting Royalism. He wrote in his Political Reflection, "The clergy perform an important function, provided they keep close in their doctrine, to reason of state. Nothing is so likely as a sanctified policy, to maintain so much probity." The Catholics studied in this article may not have been cynics, but the use to which they put their religion, the pursuit of narrow self-interest, with little regard for truth or social justice, did not differ from Osborn.

            Robert Brenner (1985, p. 13) in his study of Civil War England discusses the landlord-tenant relation and the idea that to the extent it was "primarily one of taking" it was "inherently conflictive." This article has suggested that within the Catholic community, the reflection of landlord economics in theology was part of the conflict mentioned by Brenner. Along with theft of the wealth they produced, and armed suppression, went a theology of class contempt. The American Catholics and their bishops, in choosing to "see things from the side of the poor," have turned such theology on its head.





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[1]           The attack being waged by liberation theology against the tradition outlined in this article involves the de-mystification of theology. It was noted that some Royalists denounced as blasphemous those who held the monarchy derived from purely historical causes. (Smuts 1987, p. 230). Similarly liberation theology is sometimes denounced by what might be called theological Royalists because it takes an interest in the historical nature of theology. The U.S. bishops in their pastoral on the economy were up-front about the historical roots of their theology: 33 million Americans (15 percent of the population) live in poverty according to the U. S. government and 30 million more are in poverty "by any reasonable standard" (National Conference of Catholic Bishops 1986, paragraph 15). "The poor sleep in our doorways" (National Conference of Catholic Bishops 1986, paragraph 172). The bishops are landlords with all the instincts that belong to their class. But the poor are too many, too vocal, and as the bishops state, too geographically close to be ignored. The bishops decided to see things from the side of the poor not because of mysticism, but because of the obnoxious presence of God on their doorsteps.

            The Roman establishment, which in the past has taken a lesson from the American church, as in the case of Rerum Novarum in 1891, could do likewise now. Like the American bishops, John Paul II is a landlord with the normal instincts and theology of his class. Centesimus Annus (One Hundred Years), which John Paul (1991, p. 586) published on May 1, 1991 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, celebrates the collapse of the communist movement in Poland. At the same time, the encyclical expresses fear about the return of the movement because of the unemployment and economic insecurity resulting from the policies of the Solidarity government. The English Catholic weekly, The Tablet, discusses the unbalanced approach which Centesimus Annus takes in failing to acknowledge the achievements of the Polish communist movement (Anonymous 1991, p. 531). These achievements included the right to a job, to an old-age pension, to disability benefits, to free health care and education, and to housing that cost no more than 5 percent of one's income. These rights were achieved in the post-war period under conditions of poverty resulting from the war's destruction far worse than at present. These achievements were made not at the expense of the poor but in part at the expense of the capitalist and landlord. The landlords included the Polish hierarchy, which lost one million acres of land (Piekarski 1978, p. 69). The bishop of Lvov, for example, was forced to give up his 14 landed estates with 10,000 acres.

            During the last 40 years of working class domination, the Polish bishops did not have to step over the bodies of the unemployed poor sleeping on their palace door steps, because the palaces and other housing had been divided up so that everyone had a roof over their head. This preference for the poor having a roof over their head was apparently not liked by some sectors. John Paul II (1991, p. 585), not unlike Robert Persons, S.J. concerning the achievements of seventeenth-century laboring people, remarks in his encyclical that the communist achievements were "detrimental" to the poor and "a remedy that was worse than the sickness." One wonders how many of the 30 million Americans without health care would label as detrimental Poland's comprehensive medical care, despite any of its shortcomings.

            In addition to learning a lesson from the U.S. bishops' pastoral about their desire to give the poor who sleep on their doorsteps a preferential option, the pope could learn several lessons from his own country. First, even from the landlord perspective, the Polish workers' movement was generous to the clergy and hierarchy. Not being allowed to live in palaces may have initially injured the hierarchy's notions of its dignity, but the hierarchy were eventually allowed to own 14,000 buildings, including 45 seminaries, by 1977. This was twice the 7,000 buildings they owned in 1937. The pope's encyclical states that his anti-communism does not stem from "seeking to recover former privileges" (John Paul II 1991, p. 589). One wonders if the hierarchy did not have more privileges from the working people than it had had previously.

            A second lesson the pope might consider from his own country is that long before the communists controlled Poland, Catholic religious orders there had benefited from a type of socialized health care, housing, education, nutrition, and collective ownership of corporate property. The younger children of the gentry sometimes entered religion because that was the place they could have economic security. Why socialism only for the clergy? Why should the Roman establishment counterpoise itself to the social revolutions as they occur from time to time throughout the world? Why did the pope have to insist on the expulsion of Nicaraguans like Fernando Cardinal from their religious orders (Cardinal 1985, 21:1).

            An explanation for the pope's unbalanced views in Centesimus Annus is that the paradigm outlined in this article, despite its over-simplifications, has some truth to it. There were seventeenth-century gentry Catholics who believed the rich had a preferential option, and that belief still hangs on in some sectors of the the church. The one mention which Centesimus Annus makes concerning the preferential option for the poor is to state that the option is "never exclusive or discriminatory towards other groups" (John Paul II 1991, p. 589). Put in less subtle terms, there is no preference for the poor in the Roman establishment's theology.


            1991    "How to Read the Pope's Encyclical" in The Tablet
                        (London). May 4, 1991.

John Paul II, Pope
            1991    Centesimus Annus in The Tablet (London). May 11, 1991.

Piekarski, Adam
            1978    The Church in Poland: Facts, Figures and Information.
                        Warsaw: Interpress.

Cardinal, Fernando
            1985    "Why I was Forced to Leave the Jesuit Order" in National Catholic Reporter. Kansas City.


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