Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Catholic Social Teaching


Catholic social teaching is less "political" in the sense of being related to a particular political system or party, and more a matter of asserting certain basic principles. These principles are:

1. Human life has an inherent dignity but humanity has fallen

Every single human being, regardless of age, race, sex, religion, or ethnicity, was made in the image of God (our likeness to God, though, has been marred through original sin, and we regain our likeness to Him through Baptism). Because of our being made in the image of God, each human life has an inherent dignity, and it has this dignity from the moment of conception. Abortion, then, has been taught against by the Church since the beginning, as attested to by the Didache, the first "catechism" of the Church which dates to A.D. 96 and reads, "you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten." Abortion includes contraceptive procedures which disallow a fertilized ovum from implanting, and also in vitro fertilization procedures which involve fertilizing numerous ova and allowing some to die or be frozen.

By the same token, euthanasia and suicide are grave evils. It is licit to withdraw extraordinary means to keep a sick person alive (e.g., artifical respiration), and, per the principle of double effect, it is licit to administer painkillers to alleviate suffering even if they might shorten the patient's life as long as death is not intended, but no one should ever be deprived of ordinary care, such as food and water (medical nutrition, hydration, and ordinary means of alleviating suffering).

Because of the inherent dignity of human life, it is licit to use self-defense as necessary to protect it against those who would murder, and the State may implement the death penalty in order to protect against those who'd harm the innocent. The 5th Commandment, which is typically read as "thou shalt not kill" means, in fact, that "thou shalt not unjustly take innocent life," or "thou shalt not murder." Defending innocent life by taking the life of one who murders is not "murder"; it's defense.

Because of original sin, humanity is prone to concupiscence and evil. Because of this proneness to concupiscence and evil, utopia is not an option, and systems of political thought which propose such (e.g., socialism, communism, the idea that the market solves all problems, etc.) are wrong and not to be followed.

2. The family is the core unit of society

The family, which consists of a man, woman, and their children, is the core unit of society. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes the family this way:

According to the Christian conception, the family, rather than the individual, is the social unit and the basis of civil society. To say that the family is the social unit is not to imply that it is the end to which the individual is a means; for the welfare of the individual is the end both of the family and of the State, as well as of every other social organization. The meaning is that the State is formally concerned with the family as such, and not merely with the individual. This distinction is of great practical importance; for where the State ignores or neglects the family, keeping in view only the welfare of the individual, the result is a strong tendency towards the disintegration of the former. The family is the basis of civil society, inasmuch as the greater majority of persons ought to spend practically all their lives in its circle, either as subjects or as heads. Only in the family can the individual be properly reared, educated, and given that formation of character which will make him a good man and a good citizen.

The family begins in marriage, which, in the Church, is a sacrament. Marriage can only take place between a biological man and a biological woman. A true and actual marriage is an indissoluble union which must be "open to life" -- that is, artificial contraception cannot licitly be used.

A wife is subject to her husband and should love him, respect him, and obey him in all sensible, lawful things; a husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church, nourishing and cherishing her as he would himself, and being willing to sacrifice his life for her
(Ephesians 5). From Pope Pius XI's Casti Connubii:

26. Domestic society being confirmed, therefore, by this bond of love, there should flourish in it that "order of love," as St. Augustine calls it. This order includes both the primacy of the husband with regard to the wife and children, the ready subjection of the wife and her willing obedience, which the Apostle commends in these words: "Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ is the head of the Church."

27. This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband's every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on a level with those persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is customary to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs. But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love.

28. Again, this subjection of wife to husband in its degree and manner may vary according to the different conditions of persons, place and time. In fact, if the husband neglect his duty, it falls to the wife to take his place in directing the family. But the structure of the family and its fundamental law, established and confirmed by God, must always and everywhere be maintained intact .

Read Pope Pius XI's Casti Connubii on marriage.

3. The State is a natural society

The State arises from nature, and while the Church exists for the salvation of souls, the State exists for the temporal happiness of man. The Catholic Encyclopedia continues from above:

Secondly, the natural object pursued by man in his ultimate social activity is perfect temporal happiness, the satisfaction, to wit, of his natural faculties to the full power of their development within his capacity, on his way, of course, to eternal felicity beyond earth. Man's happiness cannot be handed over to him, or thrust upon him by another here on earth; for his nature supposes that his possession of it, and so too in large measure his achievement of it, shall be by the exercise of his native faculties. Hence, civil society is destined by the natural law to give him his opportunity, i.e. to give it to all who share its citizenship. This shows the proximate natural purpose of the State to be: first, to establish and preserve social order, a condition, namely, wherein every man, as far as may be, is secured in the possession and free exercise of all his rights, natural and legal, and is held up to the fulfilment of his duties as far as they bear upon the common weal; secondly, to put within reasonable reach of all citizens a fair allowance of the means of temporal happiness.

Civil authority should be treated as a service, and those subject to that authority should be enlivened by a similar spirit of service to the common Good, a service manifest in citizens by their voting, paying taxes, defending their country when necessary, praying for those in authority, and practicing charity toward the poor, widowed, and orphaned.

The State can't disallow a citizen leaving it; citizens have a right to migrate. As to entering a different State, the catechism says, my emphasis:

2241 The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.

Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910) includes this in its entry on "Migration":

The legal control of migration began when it ceased to be collective and began to be individual. Laws have been passed preventing people from leaving their native land, and also, by the country of destination, forbidding or regulating entrance thereto. Extensive regulation has been found necessary applying to transportation companies and their agents, the means of transportation, treatment en route and at terminal points. The justification of public interference is to be found in the right of a nation to control the variations of its own population. The highest necessity is that arising from war: on this ground nations almost universally regulate very closely the movements of population, forbidding emigration, that they may not lose their soldiers, and guarding immigration as a military precaution. Restrictive measures are also justified on grounds of health and morals, and on the general ground that a national family has a right to say who shall join it...

...The attitude of the United States at the present time (1910) towards foreign immigration is one of caution. Actual and projected legislation aims, not at exclusion, but at selection. It is recognized that the assimilative power, even of America, has its limits. Legislation must, by the application of rational principles, eliminate those incapable of assimilation to the general culture of the country. Great care is, of course, necessary in determining and applying these principles of selection: an educational test, for instance, while it would exclude much ignorance, would also exclude much honesty, frugality, industry, and solid worth. It is probable that a more vigorous system of inspection of immigrants at ports of entry will be put in force, while a stricter control will be exercised over the steamship companies. At the same time, the co-operation of foreign governments is needed, if the exclusive measures designed for the protection of the United States against undesirable immigration are to be made thoroughly effective.

4. Subsidiarity

Nothing should be done by a larger, more complex organization that can be done as well by a smaller, simpler organization. Thus, if a family can handle a problem, then the family should. If the family can't, then the extended family should. If the extended family can't, then neighborhood should. If the neighborhood can't, then the town should. If the town can't, then the county should. If the county can't, then the state should. If the state can't, then the federal government should. And so on. The larger, more complex entities should leave the smaller alone to their own self-governance as much as is prudent.

Decentralization makes for more effective, more responsive, more humane, and less wasteful governance of a natural institution. Pope John Paul II wrote of this in Centesimus Annus, 1991:

Another task of the State is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector. However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the State but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society. The State could not directly ensure the right to work for all its citizens unless it controlled every aspect of economic life and restricted the free initiative of individuals. This does not mean, however, that the State has no competence in this domain, as was claimed by those who argued against any rules in the economic sphere. Rather, the State has a duty to sustain business activities by creating conditions which will ensure job opportunities, by stimulating those activities where they are lacking or by supporting them in moments of crisis.

The State has the further right to intervene when particular monopolies create delays or obstacles to development. In addition to the tasks of harmonizing and guiding development, in exceptional circumstances the State can also exercise a substitute function, when social sectors or business systems are too weak or are just getting under way, and are not equal to the task at hand. Such supplementary interventions, which are justified by urgent reasons touching the common good, must be as brief as possible, so as to avoid removing permanently from society and business systems the functions which are properly theirs, and so as to avoid enlarging excessively the sphere of State intervention to the detriment of both economic and civil freedom.

In recent years the range of such intervention has vastly expanded, to the point of creating a new type of State, the so-called "Welfare State". This has happened in some countries in order to respond better to many needs and demands, by remedying forms of poverty and deprivation unworthy of the human person. However, excesses and abuses, especially in recent years, have provoked very harsh criticisms of the Welfare State, dubbed the "Social Assistance State". Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.

By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need. It should be added that certain kinds of demands often call for a response which is not simply material but which is capable of perceiving the deeper human need.

5. Economics

God gave the earth to all men, but men, as individuals, have the right to own property, goods, and the means of productions, whether acquired through work, by gift, or through inheritance. Pope Leo XII's Quadragesimo Anno:

The natural right itself both of owning goods privately and of passing them on by inheritance ought always to remain intact and inviolate, since this indeed is a right that the State cannot take away: "For man is older than the State," and also "domestic living together is prior both in thought and in fact to uniting into a polity." Wherefore the wise Pontiff declared that it is grossly unjust for a State to exhaust private wealth through the weight of imposts and taxes. "For since the right of possessing goods privately has been conferred not by man's law, but by nature, public authority cannot abolish it, but can only control its exercise and bring it into conformity with the common weal."

The State has the duty to enforce the respect due to others as owners of goods through laws against theft and other forms of unjust taking.

The economy exists to serve man, not the other way around, and its purpose isn't simply to increase wealth, but to serve the entire man. Work is the means to provide for family and the community, and whenever possible, given the profitability of a business, employers must pay their workers a living wage. Workers can organize to protect their interests and, when unavoidable, strike without violence as long as their goals are concordant with the common Good.

Catechism 2425: "The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with 'communism' or 'socialism.' She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of 'capitalism,' individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor."

Usury is a form of unjust taking.1 From Pope Benedict XIV's Vix Pervenit:

The nature of the sin called usury has its proper place and origin in a loan contract. This financial contract between consenting parties demands, by its very nature, that one return to another only as much as he has received. The sin rests on the fact that sometimes the creditor desires more than he has given. Therefore he contends some gain is owed him beyond that which he loaned, but any gain which exceeds the amount he gave is illicit and usurious.

One cannot condone the sin of usury by arguing that the gain is not great or excessive, but rather moderate or small; neither can it be condoned by arguing that the borrower is rich; nor even by arguing that the money borrowed is not left idle, but is spent usefully, either to increase one's fortune, to purchase new estates, or to engage in business transactions. The law governing loans consists necessarily in the equality of what is given and returned; once the equality has been established, whoever demands more than that violates the terms of the loan. Therefore if one receives interest, he must make restitution according to the commutative bond of justice; its function in human contracts is to assure equality for each one. This law is to be observed in a holy manner. If not observed exactly, reparation must be made.

Investing in a venture and receiving dividends from profits is an entirely different matter as the lender assumes the same risk the business venturer does. Usurers assume no risk and they demand not just the money lent, but more than what was lent. Compound interest only exacerbates the usurer's sin.


6. Church and State

The Church has man's eternal happiness as its goal; the State is focused on man's temporal happiness. They are two different spheres, one the City of God, the other the City of Man. But it's from the Church that man derives the definition and meaning of the True, Good, and the Beautiful, and laws that don't have the True, Good, and Beautiful, properly understood, at their center lead to injustice.

Jesus Christ is King of all creatures. From Pope Pius XI's Quas Primas:

If, therefore, the rulers of nations wish to preserve their authority, to promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ... 

When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony...

If princes and magistrates duly elected are filled with the persuasion that they rule, not by their own right, but by the mandate and in the place of the Divine King, they will exercise their authority piously and wisely, and they will make laws and administer them, having in view the common good and also the human dignity of their subjects. The result will be a stable peace and tranquillity, for there will be no longer any cause of discontent. Men will see in their king or in their rulers men like themselves, perhaps unworthy or open to criticism, but they will not on that account refuse obedience if they see reflected in them the authority of Christ God and Man. Peace and harmony, too, will result; for with the spread and the universal extent of the kingdom of Christ men will become more and more conscious of the link that binds them together, and thus many conflicts will be either prevented entirely or at least their bitterness will be diminished.

Civil authority should be obeyed, but not when what it demands is immoral, or contrary to the Gospel or to man's fundamental rights. Armed resistance can only be undertaken when 1) there is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights; 2) all other means of redress have been exhausted; 3) such resistance will not provoke worse disorders; 4) there is well-founded hope of success; and 5) it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution.

See Pope Pius XI's Quas Primas on the Kingship of Christ.

7. War

Sometimes war is necessary, as St. Augustine, in his "City of God," makes clear, "They who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill.'"

In order for a war to be just, it must meet the following conditions:
  • It must be instituted by properly instituted authority which represents the common Good.

  • It must be defensive and have a good and just purpose, not mere self-gain. The aggression being defended against must be lasting, grave, and certain, and all other means of ending that aggression have been ineffective or impractical

  • It must be winnable

  • When fighting against aggression, greater evils than those being defended against must not be brought about

  • Peace must be its ultimate goal

8. Race, racism, ethnicity, etc.

All human beings are made in the image of God and are due charity and respect for their humanity. All who are baptized are one in the Church, are true brothers and sisters in Christ. Their being one in the Church on a supernatural level does not necessarily mean they should be one on a natural level, in terms of nations. The diversity of peoples and nations is a good to be protected. From Pope Pius XII's Summi Pontificatus:

38 A marvelous vision, which makes us see the human race in the unity of one common origin in God "one God and Father of all, Who is above all, and through all, and in us all" (Ephesians iv. 6); in the unity of nature which in every man is equally composed of material body and spiritual, immortal soul; in the unity of the immediate end and mission in the world; in the unity of dwelling place, the earth, of whose resources all men can by natural right avail themselves, to sustain and develop life; in the unity of the supernatural end, God Himself, to Whom all should tend; in the unity of means to secure that end.

39. It is the same Apostle who portrays for us mankind in the unity of its relations with the Son of God, image of the invisible God, in Whom all things have been created: "In Him were all things created" (Colossians i. 16); in the unity of its ransom, effected for all by Christ, Who, through His Holy and most bitter passion, restored the original friendship with God which had been broken, making Himself the Mediator between God and men: "For there is one God, and one Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (I Timothy ii. 5).

40. And to render such friendship between God and mankind more intimate, this same Divine and universal Mediator of salvation and of peace, in the sacred silence of the Supper Room, before He consummated the Supreme Sacrifice, let fall from His divine Lips the words which reverberate mightily down the centuries, inspiring heroic charity in a world devoidof love and torn by hate: "This is my commandment that you love one another, as I have loved you" (Saint John xv. 12).

41. These are supernatural truths which form a solid basis and the strongest possible bond of a union, that is reinforced by the love of God and of our Divine Redeemer, from Whom all receive salvation "for the edifying of the Body of Christ: until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians iv. 12, 13).

42. In the light of this unity of all mankind, which exists in law and in fact, individuals do not feel themselves isolated units, like grains of sand, but united by the very force of their nature and by their internal destiny, into an organic, harmonious mutual relationship which varies with the changing of times.

43. And the nations, despite a difference of development due to diverse conditions of life and of culture, are not destined to break the unity of the human race, but rather to enrich and embellish it by the sharing of their own peculiar gifts and by that reciprocal interchange of goods which can be possible and efficacious only when a mutual love and a lively sense of charity unite all the sons of the same Father and all those redeemed by the same Divine Blood.

44. The Church of Christ, the faithful depository of the teaching of Divine Wisdom, cannot and does not think of deprecating or disdaining the particular characteristics which each people, with jealous and intelligible pride, cherishes and retains as a precious heritage. Her aim is a supernatural union in all-embracing love, deeply felt and practiced, and not the unity which is exclusively external and superficial and by that very fact weak.

45. The Church hails with joy and follows with her maternal blessing every method of guidance and care which aims at a wise and orderly evolution of particular forces and tendencies having their origin in the individual character of each race, provided that they are not opposed to the duties incumbent on men from their unity of origin and common destiny.

Piety -- the love of one's family and nation -- is a virtue. It is natural and right to put concern for the people of one's own nation (those with a language, cultural traditions, system of law, history, etc.) above concern for those outside one's nation, just as it is natural and right to care more for one's own children than the children of strangers. Piety shouldn't be exaggerated and go to any ideas of supremacism, "state worship," or imperialism: just as it's natural and right for you to care for your children and people first, it's natural and right for others to care for their children and people first. Paragraph 49 from the encyclical above:

Nor is there any fear lest the consciousness of universal brotherhood aroused by the teaching of Christianity, and the spirit which it inspires, be in contrast with love of traditions or the glories of one's fatherland, or impede the progress of prosperity or legitimate interests. For that same Christianity teaches that in the exercise of charity we must follow a God-given order, yielding the place of honor in our affections and good works to those who are bound to us by special ties. Nay, the Divine Master Himself gave an example of this preference for His Own country and fatherland, as He wept over the coming destruction of the Holy City. But legitimate and well-ordered love of our native country should not make us close our eyes to the all-embracing nature of Christian Charity, which calls for consideration of others and of their interests in the pacifying light of love.



1 Catholics need to get very clear about the evils of usury, the nature of banking and money systems, etc. We're living in a very dangerous time in which an entire generation has been turned into indentured servants through usurious student loans -- loans they're both unable to discharge and unable to pay because jobs have been outsourced and wages undermined through the importing of cheap labor. This severe injustice has left many of of our young very understandably angry, and clamoring for socialism and communism which would only exacerbate their suffering, something they don't realize because they've been miseducated. The solution is not collectivism -- but nor is it any form of capitalism which involves usury, something which too many on the Right (and Left) tend to be ignorant about. Some on the Right also tend to see "the free market" as the sole solution to all problems -- no matter the needs of a given nation's individual economy (which might, for ex., benefit from tariffs or various protections in light of other nations' economies that might involve such things as veritable slave labor), and no matter the Good of a nation's families, which consist of human beings with spiritual and social needs in addition to financial ones. Like socialism and communism, this, too, is an un-Catholic view of things. Please see these pages:
In my opinion, we should do a one-time dismissal of all student loans (if we can bail out the banks, we can bail out the kids -- just once -- or, better, allow one huge default), and then get the government out of the student loan business altogether, get government functionaries out of collegiate life as much as possible, revamp the accreditation process, end race-based and other diversity-oriented quotas, outlaw usury, emphasize the trades, get government bureaucracy out of the way of small businesses, restore our manufacturing, punish outsourcing, stop importing cheap labor that undermines our workers, institute protective tarrifs against slave labor economies like China, and stop shoving all of our young people toward universities -- reserving it for the naturally scholarly types.

While I'm dreaming, we then illegalize abortion, end no-fault divorce, stop expecting men to support children born outside of wedlock (sounds radical and "unfair," but it's right, and here's why), restore men's custody rights in cases of civil divorce, deal with obscenity the way we did before the sexual revolution, and start re-building Catholic communities so that women will be more willing to stay home and raise children -- something they're more likely to choose if they weren't alone, without adult company, all day, every day. We need to restore the extended family and high-trust, culturally homogeneous, parish-based communities that provided women with other women to be with, talk to, share work with, trust their children with, etc. These communities were purposefully destroyed; listen to E. Michael Jones: The Slaughter of Cities (mp3) and read his book on the topic:

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