The Worker's Spiritual Welfare (1938)
A somewhat hackneyed riddle asks the difference between an elephant and a mailbox. The unsuspecting persona answers that he doesn’t know; and is told that he wouldn’t be trusted to post a letter. This cheerful example of light humor reminds us of a question, which at first seems equally ridiculous; but it has an answer, which is far more important. It is the question: What is the difference between a live man and a dead one? It is difficult to say what one should answer to a personal who said he didn’t know – expect, perhaps, that he would never do as an undertaker. However, anyone can see that there is a real and an obvious difference; and anyone with a grain of sane philosophy knows what makes the difference. It is the possession or the non-possession of the life principle called the soul.
Man possesses a rational, spiritual soul – that is what makes him a man. We are not concerned here to prove that, but to state it. So far, in dealing with Christian Sociology, we have been concerned directly with man’s material needs, with his just demands regarding them. The spiritual, rational nature of man has been implied throughout; for without it there would be no duties, and no direct rights. Now we are to consider specially the spiritual welfare of the worker the needs of his soul.
All through her history, the Church has put in the foreground his fundamental fact – that man’s soul is his most important possession. Therefore, the needs of the soul are even more important than those of the body. For the soul is immortal; and at the resurrection of the same body, which has temporarily perished, the immortal soul will re-animate it and make it sentient again. In whatever position men and women find themselves, therefore, the Church’s prior concern is for the spiritual welfare; although (as we have seen) she has every care for their bodily needs as well. In addition, this concern for the spiritual well-being of her children extends to the worker in the world – follows him into the factory, the mine, the workshop, the office, and the professions.
Not content with urging the duties of employers and of the State about the just demands for the worker’s material needs, the Church urges also their spiritual needs; she deplores and condemns all conditions, which militate against the welfare of the soul.
That the modern abuses of industrial capitalism have so militated is indicated in plain terms by our present Holy Father.
“With the leaders of business abandoning the true path,” he writes, “it is not surprising that in very country multitudes of workingmen too sank in the same morass; all the more so, because very many employers treated their workmen as mere tools, without any concern for the welfare of their souls, indeed, without the slightest thought of their higher interests. The mind shudders if we consider the frightful perils to which the morals of workers (of boys and young men particularly), and the virtue of girls and women are exposed in modern factories; if we recall how the present economic regime, and above all the disgraceful housing conditions, prove obstacles to the family tie and family life; if we remember the insuperable difficulties placed in the way of a proper observance of the holy days…And so bodily labor, which was decreed by Providence for the good of man’s body and soul even after original sin, has everywhere been changed into an instrument of strange perversion; for dead matter laves the factory ennobled and transformed, where men are corrupted and degraded.
It is the state of affairs that we must seek to change, along with the conditions of injustice in the material order. In fact, the moral and spiritual reform is at the root of the other. “If we examine matters diligently and thoroughly,” says the Pope,” we shall perceive clearly that this longing for social reconstruction must be preceded by a profound renewal of the Christian spirit, from which multitudes engaged in industry in every country have unhappily departed. Otherwise, all our endeavors will be futile, and our social edifice will be built, not upon a rock, but upon shifting sand.”
The Catholic solution to the economic crisis strikes deep,” writes the Rev. Dr. M.J. Browne. “The solution is twofold, and to leave either part out distorts it. On the one hand, it is not sufficient to exhort men to be patient, abstemious, and honest if we do not endeavor to freeform the system and guard against the abuses, which encourage dishonesty, oppression and spoliation, but on the other hand, we must not rely on a modification of the system alone… Pope Pius XI is quite explicit to the contrary. ‘No leader in public economy, no power of organization will ever be able to bring social conditions to a peaceful solution, unless first, in the very filed of economics, there triumphs moral law based on God and conscience.’”
In other words (to quote the Holy Father again)
“Economic conditions can exercise the most vital and far-reaching influence upon the moral and religious life of the the people. Hence, “in all well-constituted States it’s a matter of no slight importance to provide those bodily and external commodities the use of which is necessary to virtuous action.” But throughout it has to be remembered that these material externals will not in themselves procure true and lasting reform in the social order unless there triumphs, in the very field of economics, moral law based on God and conscience.”
But “conscience” itself needs the basis of theism – acceptance of the Supreme Lawgiver. “How can there be guarantees of conscience,” asks the Pope, “when all faith in God and fear of God have vanished? Take away this and with it all moral law falls and there is no remedy left to top the gradual but inevitable destruction of peoples, families, the State, civilization itself.”
Granted, however, that the State and employers recognize the claims of God and of conscience, what are they bound to insure in the practical order? Fr. Joseph Husslein, S.J. sums up the essential in his study entitled “The World Problem,” for which we take the following points as a conclusion (and we have also incorporated several points of our own):
Physically – They must insure proper conditions of sanitation, safeguards against industrial accidents, and in general all those conditions consistent with human dignity.
They must remove all conditions, which threaten virtue: e.g., the employment of children by night and in questionable surroundings; the occasions of moral danger to girls and women.
Religiously – They must install conditions, which secure the worker his Sunday rest. (To which must be added, ideally, rest on Holy Days also). The Catholic worker must have time in which to assist at Holy Mass; the non-Catholic must have freedom to follow his conscience in the practice of religion. The Jew must be allowed the same freedom of his Sabbath. In a word, the worker must be allowed time in which to put aside business and devote himself more intensely to God and the outward practices of religion.
The full attainment of such conditions will need a close approach to the old Guild system – at least in the principle of regarding men and women as destined for a supernatural end. Only in the light of such principle will man’s dignity be assured, and his soul not given up to material servitude.