Pope Francis and the Just Third Way

Pope Leo XII with encyclical Rerum Novarum, Pope Francis, Pope Pius XI with encyclical Quadragesimo Anno

This article is now available in Spanish and Spanish-English PDFs.

Pope Francis faces many challenges in his efforts to modernize the application of Catholic social doctrine to today’s problems, particularly the growing global wealth, income, and power gap. His greatest challenge, however, may be overcoming a prevailing ignorance or misunderstanding of the basic moral principles that make lasting, systemic solutions possible.

As taught in academia, then embodied in law and promulgated by the media, there is an unquestioned assumption that capitalism and socialism (or some amalgam of the two) are the only possible arrangements of the social and economic order.

Neither system, however, empowers and liberates every person within it. Both systems are structured to concentrate opportunity, ownership, and power in a few hands—whether in private hands (as in capitalism), or in the State (as in socialism). Such concentration inevitably breeds poverty, corruption, and conflict.

What few academics, politicians, or media gurus have considered seriously is whether there can be a moral and truly democratic alternative—a “Just Third Way”—that transcends both capitalism and socialism.

If such an alternative is conceivable, what are its principles for restructuring the economic system? How could the system itself help close the wealth and income gap—without depriving anyone of their wealth and property rights? What are its means for empowering economically each person through equal opportunity, and access to the means of acquiring and possessing income-producing wealth?

A Question of Power and Justice
Power is essential because people need power to be able to exercise their natural rights, especially life, liberty, and property. By exercising their natural rights within a justly structured social order, people build habits of doing good. They “acquire and develop virtue.”

Pope Francis recognizes, however, that the system itself keeps most people, and families, powerless and dependent. It prevents them from exercising their natural rights, and acquiring and developing virtue. How, then, can we reform the system to support justice and freedom for all?

In Quadragesimo Anno, Pope Pius XI taught that the principal means of reforming the system is the “act of social justice”—social justice being the particular virtue (good habit or act) directed to the common good. Within a just system, the State is made for man, not man for the State. As the ultimate check on the power of the State, private ownership of capital, and future economic power, would gradually be vested in every child, woman, and man. This would secure the family against job displacement by advanced technology, employer exploitation, or State intrusion.

Most people do not understand that having an adequate and secure income is not the direct end of social justice, any more than is capital ownership. As Pius XI stated:

What we have thus far stated regarding an equitable distribution of property, and regarding just wages, concerns individual persons, and only indirectly touches social order to the restoration of which, according to the principles of sound philosophy, and to its perfection, according to the sublime precepts of the law of the Gospel, Our Predecessor, Leo XIII, devoted all his thought and care.1

Even at the individual level, income is secondary (a means) to the dignity of the human person. At the social level, an adequate income is only one gauge of the justice of the system as a whole.2 Wages and welfare may provide adequate income, but without private property, recipients remain dependent on private employers or on the State. The question of whether a system is “just” is inextricably linked to the distribution of ownership and power within that system. “Power,” as Daniel Webster observed, “naturally and necessarily follows property”—“property” meaning the right to control and enjoy the income generated by a thing owned, not the thing itself. The primary goal of social justice, as explained within papal social teaching, is to structure all levels of the social order to remove barriers to participation, and make it possible for each person to secure power for developing more fully as a moral being.

The Two-Part Papal Teaching
Further confusion results from the failure by many to distinguish the two parts of Leo XIII’s teaching in Rerum Novarum. The first part addresses the immediate requirement to provide for basic human needs when people cannot provide for themselves. Such necessary expedients include individual justice and charity.3 The second part relates to applying correct principles for reconstructing the system itself, in order to provide a long-term solution.

The first part is intended to allow time to implement the second part: reforming the institutions of the common good (“the system”) to enable people to provide for their own needs through both their labor, and their direct ownership of capital. Pius XI clarified this goal in Quadragesimo Anno and Divini Redemptoris.

While capitalism and socialism are both morally inconsistent with Catholic teaching, socialism is the greater danger. Capitalism nominally accepts natural rights such as life, liberty, and property—cornerstones of Catholic social teaching. These, however, are distorted in application, especially by preventing or inhibiting participation by everyone.

Socialism abolishes the concept of natural rights by making their exercise—particularly the exercise of property rights (control over what is owned, and the right to its income)—contingent upon something other than human nature. Socialism places the right to control the means of production in the State, and in its bureaucracy. What makes socialism especially dangerous is that it seems so close to what the Church teaches that many people do not see the difference.

Socialism’s promise to take care of everyone seems to reflect the first part of the papal teaching. By imposing a false equality of results, however, socialism concentrates power in those who control the State—which guarantees many being without property, being without power, and being dependent on the State. Socialism functionally overloads government—civil society’s only legitimate monopoly—so that “the State {is} overwhelmed and crushed by almost infinite tasks and duties.”4

Capitalism’s self-delusion—that it provides everyone with the same chance to become rich—seems to fulfill the second part of the papal teaching. However, as promoted by adherents, like Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, capitalism glorifies greed. It turns a blind eye to this reality, and fails to lift unjust institutional barriers that prevent most people from even making a decent living.

Capitalism imposes “a yoke little better than that of slavery itself”5 through ever-increasing dependency on the State for jobs or welfare. As Hilaire Belloc predicted in The Servile State, this differs from socialism only in the details. Clearly, a new economic framework offering structural solutions is needed in order to transcend the errors of both capitalism and socialism.

The “Just Third Way” of the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) addresses the second part of the papal teaching: removing systemic barriers that inhibit or prevent each person’s full participation in the common good. This social justice-based, free-market economic system would empower people to meet their own needs through their own labor and capital.

The Just Third Way synthesizes three essential elements. The first is the social doctrine of Pius XI as analyzed by CESJ co-founder and social philosopher, Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D. The second is the binary economics of lawyer, and expanded ownership economist, Louis O. Kelso. The third is the three principles of economic justice first systematized by Kelso with his co-author, the Aristotelian-Thomist philosopher, Mortimer J. Adler.

The Social Doctrine of Pius XI
At the heart of the Just Third Way is Pius XI’s revolutionary understanding of social justice, and its particular act. According to Ferree, Pius XI’s breakthrough in moral philosophy was to identify social justice as a particular virtue distinct from the general virtue of legal justice.6

This is a critical distinction. Where a general virtue is necessarily indefinite, and has no specific act, a particular virtue is, in a sense, defined by its act. A general virtue cannot, therefore, be defined with any precision, while a particular virtue must be defined with scientific accuracy. As Ferree explained:

Social Justice is not at all the vague and fuzzy “blanket word” that gets into so many popular speeches. It is an absolutely clear and precise scientific concept, a special virtue with definite and rigid obligations of its own.7

Thus, where legal justice as a general virtue involves acts of individual virtue that have an indirect effect on the common good, social justice is a particular virtue to reform “social tools” (institutions) to enable people to have a direct effect on the common good. Institutional injustices that seemed hopeless can be resolved when people organize in groups to reform and restructure their institutions. As Ferree concluded:

The completed doctrine of Social Justice places in our hands instruments of such power as to be inconceivable to former generations.8

Binary Economics
Kelso’s binary economics, the systems theory underlying the Just Third Way, is found primarily in the two books he co-authored with Adler: The Capitalist Manifesto, and The New Capitalists.9 The titles are misleading, as the system Kelso described can only be called “capitalism” if by “capitalism” is meant “the use of capital.”10

“Binary” means “consisting of two parts.” Kelso divided the factors of production into two, all-inclusive, categories—the human (“labor”), and the non-human (“capital”). The central tenet of binary economics is that there are two components to both productive output and to income: (1) that generated by human labor, and (2) that generated by capital.

Binary economics holds that broad-based affluence and economic freedom, as opposed to financial insecurity and economic dependency for the many, is achievable. This is possible through the widespread ownership of constantly improved capital instruments, and social institutions to produce more consumable goods with less labor-based input, and more efficient use of scarce resources. All other things being equal, binary economics holds that if ownership of productive capital is widespread within a global, technologically-advancing economy, rates of sustainable growth will be optimal.

Four Pillars and Three Principles
Respect for human dignity, the goal of the papal teaching, lies at the heart of what CESJ calls “the Four Pillars of a Just Market Economy” of binary economics, and the Just Third Way. Binary economics recognizes a natural synergy, as opposed to an unavoidable trade-off, between economic justice, and efficiency within a global free marketplace. Rejecting laissez-faire assumptions, binary economics holds that a truly free and just global market requires:

  • A limited economic role for the State: “Man precedes the State, and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the substance of his body.”11
  • Free, open, and non-monopolistic markets within an understandable and fair system of laws as the most objective and democratic means for determining just prices, just wages, and just profits (the residual after all goods or services are sold). “Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man.”12
  • Restoration of private property, especially in corporate equity, and other forms of business organization. “Property” is not the thing owned, but the natural, inalienable right to be an owner (i.e., “access”—the generic right of dominion), and the socially determined and limited rights of ownership (i.e., “use”—the universal destination of all goods). The rights of property include the enjoyment of the fruits, or profits, of what is owned. As Kelso put it, “Property in everyday life, is the right of control”13 as well as enjoyment of the income. As all the popes from Leo XIII through Francis have asserted, people should control what is owned, and enjoy the income it generates. We must own, not be owned. “A working man’s little estate … should be as completely at his full disposal14 as are the wages he receives for his labor. But it is precisely in such power of disposal that ownership obtains, whether the property consist of land or chattels.”15
  • Widespread capital ownership, individually, or in free association with others. As Leo XIII said, “The law … should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.”16

The Principles of Economic Justice
Three basic principles of economic justice underpin these four pillars of a just market economy. These were first articulated as interconnected systems’ principles in Chapter 5 of Kelso and Adler’s The Capitalist Manifesto, and later refined and integrated by CESJ into the social doctrine of Pius XI as analyzed by Ferree.

Like the three legs of a tripod, the three principles of economic justice operating together provide the framework for a just and stable economic order. Like a tripod, if even one principle is missing or violated, the structure collapses.

The three essential principles of economic justice are:

  • Participative Justice. This principle defines how one makes input to the economic process in order to make a living. It requires equal opportunity in gaining access to private property in (control over, and enjoyment of the income from) productive assets, as well as equality of opportunity to engage in productive work. Participative justice does not guarantee equal results, but requires that every person be guaranteed, by society’s institutions, the equal human right to make a productive contribution to the economy, both through one’s labor (as a worker), and through one’s productive capital (as an owner). This principle rejects monopolies, special privileges, and other social barriers to economic self-reliance and personal freedom.
  • Distributive Justice. “The most classical form” 17 of distributive justice, the out-take principle, is based on the exchange, or market value, of one’s economic contributions. This is the principle that all people have a right to receive a proportionate, market-determined, share of the value of the marketable goods and services they produce with their labor contributions, their capital contributions, or both. This respects human dignity by making every producer’s and consumer’s economic vote count.
  • Social Justice: As the feedback and corrective principle, social justice governs participative and distributive justice, enabling both to operate properly. Within an economic system, social justice restores balance between overall production and consumption. It rebalances participative justice and distributive justice when the system violates either essential principle. Social justice includes a concept of limitation that discourages personal greed, and prevents monopolies and barriers to participation.

In general, social justice embodies the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity: every person has a moral responsibility to organize with others to correct organizations, institutions, laws, and the social order itself, at every level, whenever the principles of participative or distributive justice are violated, or not operating properly. The application of social justice to the common good of specific economic institutions brings those institutions into conformity with the demands of the common good of all society.

The Act of Social Justice
Confusion over the principles of papal social teaching leads to misapplications of those principles. The case of Catholic commentator, Mr. Thomas Storck, is illustrative.18 Storck’s misunderstanding of social justice as defined by Pius XI is apparent in his confusing it with legal justice. As he asserts:

…it is legal justice that brings us to social justice, for essentially they are the same thing, or rather, social justice is a part of legal justice, or it is legal justice under a different aspect which emphasizes different facets of the virtue.19

According to Ferree, the general virtue of legal justice and the particular virtue of social justice both have the common good as their object—the common good being that vast network of institutions within which people realize their individual goods. Social justice, however, has a particular (direct) act, while legal justice does not.

To explain, Aristotle loosely defined legal justice as “virtue entire.”20 “The Philosopher” divided legal justice into matters affecting the life of the individual (“all the things with which the good person is concerned”21), and matters affecting the life of the individual as a member of society (“all the acts of virtue commanded by law”22). He believed this can lead to a conflict between being a good person, and being a good citizen (who obeys the law, no matter how unjust).

Socialists attempt to resolve this conflict by asserting the primacy of social virtue over individual virtue, and capitalists by claiming that of individual virtue over social virtue. According to Ferree, however, only the act of social justice can resolve the conflict, making it possible to be both a good person, and a good citizen, by bringing the structuring of institutions and laws in line with moral principles.

Legal justice can consequently only affect the common good through the indirect effect that acts of individual virtue have on the social order. Ferree noted, for example, how under legal justice, a citizen’s obeying a just law has a positive, but indirect, effect on the common good.

In contrast, the act of social justice enables people as members of organized groups joined in solidarity, to influence, build, and correct unjust social institutions—thereby acting directly on the common good itself. Acts of social justice, while a moral obligation, must not be coerced. Individuals organizing for social change must do so on a purely voluntary basis, relying on the natural right of free association (liberty/contract) for their effectiveness.23

The Results of Confusion
Equating legal and social justice confuses acts of individual charity and commutative and distributive justice, with acts of social charity and justice. Without that clear distinction, social justice changes from the virtue that seeks to make individual virtues possible, to a replacement for individual virtues. The act of social justice changes from each individual’s personal responsibility,24 to a demand that “somebody else” does something.25

“Charity is the soul of justice,” as John Paul I reminded us.26 When, however, the essential differences between justice and charity are lost—along with the distinctions between general and particular, individual and social, even natural and supernatural virtues—we can fall unconsciously into the moral trap where the end justifies the means. Eventually the whole of moral philosophy degenerates into moral relativism. Expedience, not principle, determines the legitimacy of any act.27

A graphic example of this confusion is seen in Storck’s misidentification of the “just wage” as Pius XI’s desired end of reforming the system through acts of social justice.28

CESJ has always defended the just wage contract (along with the just price and just profit determined in a free and non-monopolistic market) as an essential element of an economically just system.29 Along with Kelso and Adler, however, CESJ points out the inadequacies and consequent injustices of the wage system.

Under both capitalism and socialism, the wage system creates a widening gap between workers and owners. Few own the productive wealth that displaces millions of jobs worldwide. Most people are dependent on these owners, or the government, for their job or welfare incomes.

Widespread capital ownership, on the other hand, is the keystone of the social doctrine of both Leo XIII and Pius XI, and the chief means of protecting and maintaining human dignity. The necessity of universal citizen access to equal opportunity, and the means to acquire and own capital, becomes increasingly evident in today’s global, high-tech world.

Human labor is rapidly being displaced by automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence. The act of raising wages does not address this reality, as it only increases costs and prices, and adds to the cost of living for everyone, especially the poor.

In common with most economists and academics today, however, Storck “missed the boat.”30 As Ferree explained:

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical letter, Rerum Novarum, defended the legitimacy of private ownership of the new “Capital Tools” against all forms of collectivism on the ground that private property was essential to the safeguarding of human dignity against concentrations of arbitrary power under the pretext of public welfare. . . .

This theme was developed, with ever‑increasing clarity and force, by successive Pontiffs up to the most recent statements of John Paul II; but it was Pius XI who did most to give it a permanent place in Western thought as an integral part of a whole new “Social Morality” which he proposed to the world, to parallel the individual morality which Western civilization had already developed.31

The Slavery of Past Savings
All this philosophizing, however, would remain an academic exercise if it were not bound to another flawed assumption embedded in the monetary, tax, and economic policies of every government on earth. This is “the slavery of {past} savings.” This is the assumption that neutralized Fulton Sheen’s advocacy of widespread capital ownership in, e.g., Freedom Under God32 in 1940, nearly two decades before Kelso and Adler began publishing.

While the philosophical framework in The Capitalist Manifesto is key to understanding the principles of the Just Third Way, Professor Robert Ashford (an internationally recognized authority and author on binary economics) considers Kelso and Adler’s second book, The New Capitalists, more important in terms of applying the principles so as to achieve an economically just society. This is highlighted by its subtitle: “A Proposal to Free Economic Growth from the Slavery of Savings.”

Many people, and most economists, assume that the only way to finance new capital formation is to produce more than one consumes, and accumulate the excess in the form of money savings.

As technology advances and displaces human labor, however, a problem arises. Most workers are unable to save enough out of their wages to purchase the new capital that replaces them. The problem gets worse as more efficient, and relatively less expensive, technology forces down a market-based value of some sources of labor.

Bad Application v. Good Principle
Leo XIII and Pius XI assumed—incorrectly, I believe—that universal capital ownership must be financed using past savings. They recommended that workers be paid more (via a “living” or “family” wage) to enable them to save enough to purchase capital.

Unfortunately, this recommendation led commentators to mistake the means for the end. They missed the point that paying higher-than-market-value wages was intended to serve two different purposes. The first purpose was to address the immediate need to redistribute existing wealth in order to take care of people in the short term, while a permanent solution was being developed and implemented. The second purpose was to provide the source of financing for widespread capital ownership.

Realizing the impracticality of most workers being able to save enough out of wage income to purchase an adequate capital stake, most commentators relegated the goal of the permanent, structural solution—widespread capital ownership to empower ordinary people—to the status of a prudential matter. They then elevated the temporary expedient—paying people more than the market value of their labor to increase income—to the status of a permanent solution.

Within the traditional wage system framework, and the constraints imposed by the slavery of past savings, paying an objectively determined just wage, or enabling every person to have equal access to the opportunity and means to own productive capital, becomes virtually impossible. Consequently, as no one is required to do the impossible, both the just wage (as determined in a free and non-monopolistic market) and widespread capital ownership (as a fundamental pillar of a just market economy) have been largely disregarded by academics and policymakers.

Worse, in trying to address the overriding need to take care of people’s basic needs, some commentators have redefined the underlying principles themselves. Natural rights of life, liberty, and especially, property, they assert, are not truly inalienable because that would mean that some people can keep things, when others need them. Under this destructive assumption, Msgr. Ronald A. Knox explained in his book, Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion, that basically the ungodly, greedy, sinful, and unworthy have no rights.33

Consequently, natural rights must be redefined to meet modern conditions. Despite clear warnings,34 well-meaning people, confusing justice and charity, conclude that no one truly owns when others are in need. Distribution on the basis of need (not relative contribution) becomes both a fundamental principle, and a “practical” solution, rather than a temporary expedient until the system can be reformed. Employers must, therefore, pay a “living wage,” the State must redistribute existing wealth, and “the logic of gift” must replace free and willing exchange as the operating principle directing economic activity.

The Power of Future Savings
The goal of widespread capital ownership, however, begs the question of how people without past savings, or the capacity to reduce consumption in order to save, are to finance it.

The answer is found in the science of finance. As Harold G. Moulton explained in his book, The Formation of Capital, and Louis Kelso reiterated in his book with Mortimer Adler, The New Capitalists: A Proposal to Free Economic Growth from the Slavery of Savings, no rational person invests in new capital unless it is reasonably expected to pay for itself out of its own profits in the future. This is called “financial feasibility.”

Instead of using past reductions in consumption, it is possible, even preferable, to finance using commercial bank loans, backed by future profits tied to future increases in production. This is available today for 100 percent worker-owned companies under current U.S. law for Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs).

Social justice would promote laws to extend access to bank-financed capital credit to all citizens as a fundamental human right, like the right to vote. Therefore, everyone would be able to purchase capital by promising to pay for the capital once it becomes profitable, assuming that the promise is good, and the capital does, in fact, make a profit. To secure the lender against the risk of loss if the capital is not profitable, the borrower should also have collateral: other wealth to make good on the promise.

Commercial and central banks were invented to turn creditworthy promises into money so that lack of liquid savings would not be a bar to production. Similarly, insurance was invented to spread the risk of loss from one to many.

Kelso realized that combining the money creating powers of commercial and central banks, with capital credit insurance to replace traditional forms of collateral, would make it possible for people without savings (“the poor”) to purchase capital on the same terms as people with savings (“the rich”). He demonstrated the feasibility of his idea with the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

By means of an ESOP, employees of a corporation can purchase shares of the company on credit, and repay the loan out of the future pre-tax profits of the corporation. Today in the United States, millions of workers have become part owners of the thousands of companies that employ them, without risking their personal savings or, in most cases, without taking any reductions in pay or benefits. CESJ has proposed a “Capital Homestead Act” that would enable every person (even those who cannot work) to realize Kelso’s ultimate vision of equal access to capital ownership and private property as a fundamental human right.

Why the World Needs an Encyclical on Economic Justice
Given the widespread misunderstanding of Catholic social teaching, there is a great need for clarification of what is meant by “economic justice,” particularly as it relates to the dignity and empowerment of each person within the globalized and high tech economies of the 21st century. It would, therefore, be appropriate and timely, we believe, for Francis to issue an encyclical to teach the principles of economic justice.

This would help guide people everywhere in the challenge of redesigning their basic economic laws and institutions—especially monetary, financial, and tax systems that are today widening the gap between the richest few, and the majority of humanity. The goal would be to extend universal and equal capital ownership opportunities in the future without harming property rights of existing owners—to lift up the 99 percent without pulling down the one percent.

The primary focus of such an encyclical would be the economic empowerment and full development of every person based on the three principles of economic justice: (1) participative justice, (2) distributive justice, and (3) social justice. To clarify further, the encyclical might explain fundamental principles of natural law, the difference between principle and application of principle, and the reconciliation of individual ethics and social ethics by means of the act of social justice.

As Leo XIII said in Rerum Novarum, much good will result if our economic institutions are redesigned to enable “as many as possible of the people … to become owners” at the earliest opportunity. The principles of economic justice, once understood and applied, would create that opportunity, and open up the means for every human being to live with dignity, and to work with others to build a society of truth, beauty, love, and justice for all.


Norman G. Kurland, CESJ president, and Dawn K. Brohawn, CESJ Director of Communications, contributed to this article.


  1. Quadragesimo Anno, § 76.
  2. Laborem Exercens, § 19.
  3. Rerum Novarum, § 22.
  4. Quadragesimo Anno, § 78.
  5. Rerum Novarum, § 3.
  6. Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., Introduction to Social Justice. New York: Paulist Press, 1948, 8-10.
  7. Ibid., 12.
  8. Ibid., 56.
  9. Louis O. Kelso and Mortimer J. Adler, The Capitalist Manifesto. New York: Random House, 1958; Louis O. Kelso and Mortimer J. Adler, The New Capitalists: A Proposal to Free Economic Growth from the Slavery of Savings. New York: Random House, 1961. See also Robert H. A. Ashford and Rodney Shakespeare, Binary Economics: The New Paradigm. Lanham, Maryland: The University Press of America, 1999.
  10. Cf. “If the use of capital is capitalism, then everything is capitalism.” G.K. Chesterton, “The Beginning of the Quarrel,” Collected Works, Vol. V. San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 1987, 43.
  11. Rerum Novarum, § 7.
  12. Ibid., § 45.
  13. Louis O. Kelso, “Karl Marx: The Almost Capitalist,” American Bar Association Journal, March 1957; Hilaire Belloc, An Essay on the Restoration of Property. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1936, 16-17. Cf. Rev. Matthew Habiger, O.S.B., Ph.D., Papal Teachings on Private Property, 1891-1981. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1990.
  14. In context, “disposal” refers to control and enjoyment of the income.
  15. Rerum Novarum, § 5.
  16. Ibid., § 46.
  17. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, § 201.
  18. Thomas Storck, “Social Justice According to Pius XI,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review, December 26, 2012, http://www.hprweb.com/2012/12/social-justice-according-to-pius-xi/, accessed May 5, 2015.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ethics, 1130a10.
  21. Ibid., 1130b4.
  22. Ibid., 1130b24, 1129b23.
  23. Quadragesimo Anno, § 87.
  24. Ferree, Introduction to Social Justice, op. cit., 52-53.
  25. William J. Ferree, Forty Years After, unpublished ms., cir. 1984.
  26. John Paul I, General Audience, Wednesday, September 6, 1978.
  27. Cf. Heinrich Rommen, The Natural Law. Indianapolis, Indiana: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1998, 51-52
  28. Storck, loc. cit.
  29. Quadragesimo Anno, § 64; cf. George O’Brien, S.J., An Essay on Medieval Economic Teaching. London: Longmans, Green & Co, 1920, 102-155.
  30. William J. Ferree and Norman G. Kurland, “Remarks for the Hearing Before the Lay Commission on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy,” From Capitalist Production to Human Development: Completing the Industrial Revolution, September 11, 1984, § 10.
  31. Ibid., § 9.
  32. Fulton J. Sheen, Freedom Under God. Arlington, Virginia: Economic Justice Media, 2013.
  33. Ronald A. Knox, Enthusiasm. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961, 584; cf. Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche, Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens. Felix Meiner Verlag, Leipzig, 1920.
  34. Rerum Novarum, § 22.
Michael D. Greaney, CPA, MBA About Michael D. Greaney, CPA, MBA

Mr. Michael D. Greaney, CPA, MBA, is Director of Research for the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) in Arlington, Virginia, and Director of ESOP Administration Services for Equity Expansion International, Inc. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Evansville, Indiana, Mr. Greaney has audited for the American Red Cross, Georgetown University Medical Center, and the Federal Election Commission. Mr. Greaney has published numerous articles on economic and social justice and the history of money and banking. He edited Archbishop Fulton Sheen's Freedom Under God, while his books include In Defense of Human Dignity (2008), Supporting Life (2010), The Restoration of Property (2012), The Political Animal (2014), and So Much Generosity (2013), a critical appreciation of the fiction of Cardinals Wiseman and Newman and Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson.


  1. Excellent article, I’m so glad to finally read something on Catholic Social Teaching that makes logical sense. Thank you!

  2. Avatar John Samaha says:

    Right on target. Bull’s eye for Catholic,social teaching.

  3. Avatar Guy Stevenson says:

    Most articles on Catholic Social teaching are, one step forward with three steps back. This article is one step back with three steps forward. YES! I’m in agreement, the World needs an Encyclical on Economic Justice — Thanks, Michael Greaney/Just Third Way.

    • The Church does not teach economic equality and income redistribution. It teaches us not to covet the property of our neighbor. The problem of economic disparity is not a political one, it’s a moral one. It’s the product of the sin of greed. The Church’s job is to teach us faith and morals. Getting into political policy debates with the secular world is where we have always gotten into trouble. Besides even the least economically disadvantaged among us in this modern age have a much higher standard of living than the wealthy of old. Our free capitalistic system as served us very well. It’s our individual moral choices that have caused these economic disparities.

      • Robert, I agree that the Church does not teach economic equality and income redistribution, and neither does CESJ. What we seek is equality of opportunity, not results, and the essential adjunct to equality of opportunity, access to the means — which involves removing barriers to full participation in economic life. What someone does with that equality of opportunity and access to the means is up to him or her.

        As George Mason put it in his draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (from which Thomas Jefferson borrowed for the Declaration of Independence), “SECTION I. That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

        What, however, of the unfortunate? Leo XIII explained the proper course of action very well in § 22 of Rerum Novarum:

        22. Therefore, those whom fortune favors are warned that riches do not bring freedom from sorrow and are of no avail for eternal happiness, but rather are obstacles; that the rich should tremble at the threatenings of Jesus Christ — threatenings so unwonted in the mouth of our Lord — and that a most strict account must be given to the Supreme Judge for all we possess. The chief and most excellent rule for the right use of money is one the heathen philosophers hinted at, but which the Church has traced out clearly, and has not only made known to men’s minds, but has impressed upon their lives. It rests on the principle that it is one thing to have a right to the possession of money and another to have a right to use money as one wills. Private ownership, as we have seen, is the natural right of man, and to exercise that right, especially as members of society, is not only lawful, but absolutely necessary. “It is lawful,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “for a man to hold private property; and it is also necessary for the carrying on of human existence.”” But if the question be asked: How must one’s possessions be used? — the Church replies without hesitation in the words of the same holy Doctor: “Man should not consider his material possessions as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need. Whence the Apostle with, ‘Command the rich of this world… to offer with no stint, to apportion largely.’” True, no one is commanded to distribute to others that which is required for his own needs and those of his household; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly his condition in life, “for no one ought to live other than becomingly.” But, when what necessity demands has been supplied, and one’s standing fairly taken thought for, it becomes a duty to give to the indigent out of what remains over. “Of that which remaineth, give alms.” It is a duty, not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity — a duty not enforced by human law. But the laws and judgments of men must yield place to the laws and judgments of Christ the true God, who in many ways urges on His followers the practice of almsgiving — ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive”; and who will count a kindness done or refused to the poor as done or refused to Himself — “As long as you did it to one of My least brethren you did it to Me.” To sum up, then, what has been said: Whoever has received from the divine bounty a large share of temporal blessings, whether they be external and material, or gifts of the mind, has received them for the purpose of using them for the perfecting of his own nature, and, at the same time, that he may employ them, as the steward of God’s providence, for the benefit of others. “He that hath a talent,” said St. Gregory the Great, “let him see that he hide it not; he that hath abundance, let him quicken himself to mercy and generosity; he that hath art and skill, let him do his best to share the use and the utility hereof with his neighbor.”

        The key here is that, except in “extreme cases” that threaten the common good, redistribution — almsgiving — is to be regarded as a moral, not a legal duty, “a duty not enforced by human law.”

  4. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    There is a great need for a dialogue between economists who share the views of this author and those who do not share the western phiosophical world view. What can be universally accepted as “natural law”? The Japanese Bishops recently stated that the Catholic understanding of natural law does not make sense to the Japanese people. Only out of such dialogue, can a the Catholic Church, a world church, write an Encyclical that will make sense to the people of the world. As I read this article, I wondered how does this third way make any sense to people living in the Peoples Republic of China?

    • Tom, Dr. Norman G. Kurland, president of CESJ and possibly the world’s leading proponent of the Just Third Way, has lectured in the PRC and prior to Tiananmen Square had several meetings with Chinese scholars and diplomats in the U.S., including members of the Chinese Alliance for Democracy and ministers from the Chinese Embassy. They expressed great enthusiasm for the Just Third Way, and we have even translated our 1994 book, Curing World Poverty into Chinese. Funding fell through, so it was never distributed, unfortunately. They all agreed with the basic natural law principles underlying the Just Third Way.

      With respect to Japan, Dr. Kanezo Ichikawa of the faculty of law of Kagawa University, Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture, worked to introduce the Just Third Way into Japan, while more recently efforts have been underway to present the ideas to Prime Minister Abe. No one we’ve ever spoken to from either China or Japan has ever disagreed with the natural law principles we accept. The reservations expressed by a very few of them are similar to those voiced by their western counterparts: “they” (meaning entrenched centers of power) “won’t go for it.” — the same thing Medgar Evers said to Dr. Kurland when they discussed it during his days in the civil rights movement — whereupon Dr. Kurland replied that no true revolutionary ever said such a thing.

      Being based on observations of human nature, which is the same everywhere, the natural law is a universal code of human behavior, e.g., societies may define theft differently, but all agree that theft is wrong, thereby validating private property. True, different societies apply the universal principles of the natural law in different ways. These, however, are differences in form, not in substance. The underlying natural law principles remain inviolate. You don’t want to make the mistake that so many of today’s politicians and academics make, and confuse the application of a principle with the principle. That, as the solidarist political scientist and jurist Dr. Heinrich Rommen (student of Fr. Heinrich Pesch, S.J., and co-organizer of the Königswinterkreis discussion group) pointed out, can lead straight to pure moral relativism, even nihilism.

      No, Tom, I don’t think we need to be worried. CESJ is an interfaith group with members from all over the world and every continent except Antarctica (and we had a supporter there, too, for a year at McMurdo), and they all accept the same natural law principles that underpin both CESJ’s Just Third Way and Catholic social teaching. They accept catholic (universal) reason-based principles, even where they do not accept Catholic faith-based teachings.

  5. The thinking of Pope Francis reflects the very same mind of Jesus who would have done the same things Pope Francis is trying to do today at this stage of history.

  6. Avatar Ted Heywood says:

    It is interesting when someone thinks that the solution to the insolvable is to have someone else in authority write a definitive document that mandates the first someone’s ideas. Sounds like a circular firing squad.
    Robert (above) states quite well what the Catholic Church should concentrate on and why.
    We are about to have to contend with the current Pope expounding on man made ‘Global Warming’. A topic on which he (and the Vatican Scientist corps) have either no expertise or no more than any other group of secular scientists. We already did this once with Galileo. We appear about to do it again with man made ‘Global Warming’. Why make it a threefer with telling the world in an encyclical how to organize its economic systems?

    • Ted, I think the late Father William Ferree, a co-founder of CESJ, addressed your concern about a presumably insolvable problem. As he said in his pamphlet “Introduction to Social Justice” (1948),

      “Third Characteristic: Nothing is Impossible

      “Another characteristic of Social Justice, which was already pointed out in Chapter Two, is that in Social Justice there is never any such thing as helplessness. No problem is ever too big or too complex, no field is ever too vast, for the methods of this Social Justice. Problems that were agonizing in the past and were simply dodged, even by serious and virtuous people, can now be solved with ease by any school child.”

      You may be confusing CESJ’s approach — organize to act directly on the institutions of the common good — with what usually passes for “social justice”: engaging in a demonstration that consists of a demand that “somebody else” do something. Social justice is something much bigger and much more effective. As Father Ferree concluded his presentation,

      “But let us be clear about what is new and what is old. None of the elements of this theory are new. Institutions, and institutional action, the idea of the Common Good, the relationship of individual to Common Good — all these things are as old as the human race itself. There is nothing more new in those things than in the school boy’s discovery that what he has been speaking is prose; nor must we ever believe that God made man a two-legged creature, and then waited for Aristotle to make him rational. Moreover, much of the actual application of these principles to practical life is to be found in older writers under the heading ‘political prudence.’

      “When all that is admitted, there is still something tremendously new and tremendously important in this work of Pope Pius XI. The power that we have now to change any institution of life, the grip that we have on the social order as a whole, was always there but we did not know it and we did not know how to use it.

      “Now we know.

      “That is the difference.”

      Father Ferree’s pamphlet is available as a free download from the CESJ website: http://www.cesj.org/resources/free-ebooks/

  7. Avatar Jeanna Casey says:

    Brilliant article Michael! I believe this is the kind of creative thinking Cardinal Bergoglio (Pope Francis) was asking for in the first chapter of his book “Education for Choosing Life.” CESJ’s ideas have given me so much hope.

  8. Avatar Ted Heywood says:

    “The power that we have now to change any institution of life, the grip that we have on the social order as a whole, was always there but we did not know it and we did not know how to use it.”

    WOW!! Sounds Marxist. Our current president, The Ayatollah, and any other number of questionable ‘leaders’ are taking the same track. With some pretty scary results.

    • Ted, I think you might be confusing Marxist collectivism with the natural right of free association (i.e., liberty/contract) and the principle of subsidiarity, both of which are abolished in Marx’s theories. The act of social justice is not collectivism, however, but an application of the principle of subsidiarity through freedom of association, the antithesis of collectivism, which centers all power in the State. As Pius XI explained in § 87 of Quadragesimo Anno,

      “Moreover, just as inhabitants of a town are wont to found associations with the widest diversity of purposes, which each is quite free to join or not, so those engaged in the same industry or profession will combine with one another into associations equally free for purposes connected in some manner with the pursuit of the calling itself. Since these free associations are clearly and lucidly explained by Our Predecessor of illustrious memory, We consider it enough to emphasize this one point: People are quite free not only to found such associations, which are a matter of private order and private right, but also in respect to them ‘freely to adopt the organization and the rules which they judge most appropriate to achieve their purpose.’ The same freedom must be asserted for founding associations that go beyond the boundaries of individual callings. And may these free organizations, now flourishing and rejoicing in their salutary fruits, set before themselves the task of preparing the way, in conformity with the mind of Christian social teaching, for those larger and more important guilds, Industries and Professions, which We mentioned before, and make every possible effort to bring them to realization.”

      You will see that freedom of association is specifically mentioned seven times in that single paragraph, not coerced collectivism. In my opinion, both Leo XIII and Pius XI were consciously alluding to Alexis de Tocqueville’s description of the application of the principle of subsidiarity in the United States in Chapter 12 of Volume I of “Democracy in America.” “Political Associations in the United States” as you might agree after seeing the similarity in language with the above passage:

      “The citizen of the United States is taught from his earliest infancy to rely upon his own exertions in order to resist the evils and the difficulties of life; he looks upon social authority with an eye of mistrust and anxiety, and he only claims its assistance when he is quite unable to shift without it. This habit may even be traced in the schools of the rising generation, where the children in their games are wont to submit to rules which they have themselves established, and to punish
      misdemeanors which they have themselves defined. The same spirit pervades every act of social life. If a stoppage occurs in a thoroughfare, and the circulation of the public is hindered, the
      neighbors immediately constitute a deliberative body; and this extemporaneous assembly gives rise to an executive power which remedies the inconvenience before anybody has thought of recurring to an authority superior to that of the persons immediately concerned. If the public pleasures are concerned, an association is formed to provide for the splendor and the regularity of the entertainment. Societies are formed to resist enemies which are exclusively of a moral nature, and to
      diminish the vice of intemperance: in the United States associations are established to promote public order, commerce, industry, morality, and religion; for there is no end which the human will, seconded by the collective exertions of individuals, despairs of attaining.”

      The key to this, of course, is individual power gained through direct ownership of capital — again, the antithesis of Marxism, as he declared in “The Communist Manifesto” (1848): “The theory of the communists can be summed up in the single sentence: the abolition of private property.” The act of social justice is impossible unless people have the power individually to organize, and they will not ordinarily have the power to organize unless they have property.

  9. Avatar Ted Heywood says:

    ‘Social Justice’ itself is a nebulous term. Its definitions all seem to be, to no small extent, in the eyes of the beholder. Even Christ himself could not get twelve personally chosen and trained men to agree to commit to what He was proposing. One out of twelve is 8 1/2%. When applied to several hundred million people, this is a lot of non cooperating folks. Efforts to achieve utopian states have ultimately floundered on the shoals of coercion (sinful actions themselves) to eliminate the effect of those who do not wish to cooperate in the defined ‘common good’. Sin and all of its evil content will always be with us in this unfortunate life. Once again, ‘Robert’s’ response above is right on.

    • Ted, you might want to read Father Ferree’s pamphlet, “Introduction to Social Justice.” According to his analysis, Pius XI took the formerly vague term “social justice” that had been used to describe general “do-gooding” on a large scale or social problems, and gave it a precise definition: the particular virtue directed to the common good. St. Thomas Aquinas had done this (or at least hinted at it) in the Summa when he used the term legal justice as Aristotle had, as a general virtue, but then also stated — without explaining himself — that “legal justice alone looks directly to the common good.”

      Pius XI evidently thought that using the same term for two different things (i.e., a general virtue and a particular virtue) was confusing, so, as Father Ferree explained it, Pius XI “gave legal justice back to the lawyers” to describe the general effect on the common good by the practice of individual virtue, and used “social justice” to describe direct action on the common good, which he defined as the vast network of institutions (“social habits”) that provide the environment within which human beings acquire and develop individual virtue.

      So, if you are discussing “social justice” prior to Pius XI — or, more commonly, in today’s misunderstanding of the term without reference to Pius XI, you are correct. If, however, you understand the term as Pius XI redefined it (and you can’t discuss or comment on anything intelligently unless you agree on a definition), then it changes from a vague term, to something precise and scientific.

      This is not utopia, although most of what is vaguely described as “social justice” by those not referencing Pius XI are claiming to be able to establish just that. The work of social justice is not to make everything perfect (only God is perfect), but to remove barriers to full participation in the common good, i.e., equality of opportunity, not results. If someone chooses not to participate, he or she should, of course, be free to make that choice — but that does not mean either that anyone can be forced to participate or be blocked from participation, for that would be socially unjust.

  10. Avatar Ted Heywood says:

    “…and used “social justice” to describe direct action on the common good, which he defined as the vast network of institutions (“social habits”) that provide the environment within which human beings acquire and develop individual virtue.”

    The acquisition and development of ‘virtue’ is begun and supported primarily within the family, reinforced by early schooling (best in a catholic environment), and then solidified by nurturing of an individual’s ‘well formed conscience’. The vast network of institutions flows from these, are nice, but not primary or necessary. It is a bottoms up not a top down process. The Church, as institution, should be focused on guiding the family/individuals through its teachings on Faith and Morals to be the primary wellspring of virtue (however you wish to define it).
    Isn’t this the objective of the principle of ‘subsidiarity’?

    • Ted, I think you might be confusing the three different parts of human society, domestic (the Family), religious (the Church) and civil (the State). All three are essential to the full development of the human person, although different “rules” apply in each — and although both capitalists and socialists tend to deny the legitimacy of some. Socialists, for example, tend to deny the Family and the Church (e.g., even for “Christian socialists” the Church becomes merely a branch of the State, becoming both in the world and of it), while capitalists tend to deny the State and (for the pure individualist) the Family and even the Church — Lord Malborough, the “Lord Protector” of Queen Victoria, for example, an almost quintessential capitalist, once declared that religion is all very well in its way, but a man’s soul was his own affair.

      As I understand the position of the Catholic Church, it acknowledges that, as Aristotle put it, “Man is by nature a political animal.” This means that each human being has both an individual nature and a social nature. The job of social justice is to reconcile these two natures so that individual and social life are in harmony, not conflict.

      Because humanity is political — both individual and social — each human being must develop habits of doing good (individual virtue) and social habits that optimize the development of individual habits. We call these social habits “institutions,” and they generally take the form of custom, tradition, and human positive law in civil society.

      As you accurately point out, the Family (domestic society) is the cradle of individual virtue, guided by the moral teachings of the Church. People (parents and children) relate to each other on the basis of status, not contract — that is why proposals that a husband pay his wife a salary for her services are not only objectively silly, they run directly counter to the whole purpose and structure of family life.

      As children (dependents) acquire and develop virtue in domestic society, they fit themselves for emancipation to enter domestic society as “independent others”, in which people do not relate to each other on the basis of status, but of contract. A contract, to be valid, necessarily implies equality of status, or is invalid, void, or voidable, depending on the circumstances. Further, even though they are freed from the tutelage of their parents, who provided the domestic environment within which to acquire and develop virtue, people in civil society still require the proper environment to continue acquiring and developing virtue: the common good, the vast network of institutions that provide that environment. It is not merely “nice” or prudential, but an absolute necessity, given humanity’s political (i.e., residing in the organized society of the pólis) nature. This is why, for example, professed religious “live in community,” and one needs special permission to become an anchorite or hermit.

      To assert, as totalitarian philosopher Thomas Hobbes did in “Leviathan,” that civil society is simply an extension of domestic society, with the sovereign in place of the pater familias, is to shift sovereignty from the human person where God put it, to the collective, an abstraction, a human creation. It also imposes a condition of permanent dependency on anyone within such a system, which is not consistent with human nature and the full development of the human person.

  11. Avatar Ted Heywood says:

    “Further, even though they are freed from the tutelage of their parents, who provided the domestic environment within which to acquire and develop virtue, people in civil society still require the proper environment to continue acquiring and developing virtue….”
    Man is created in the image and likeness of God and so contains within himself all that is necessary to allow him to achieve a life of virtue. Formed within the family, guided by the Church and with his gift of free will he has the resources that are necessary to achieve a virtuous life and final salvation. These ‘institutions’ of which you speak may provide an environment that is supportive or resistant to his virtuous life but are not responsible for his state (growth in virtue). When any individuals time of judgment comes, he can not say ..” Those Institutions made me do it or failed to reign me in”.

    • Ted, I think you may be confusing humanity’s nature with God’s Supernature. True, man is created in God’s image and likeness, but only analogously, and then only with respect to His Nature, not His Supernature. Also, I don’t think you have taken into account the fact that where God is infinitely perfect, humanity is “only” infinitely perfectible. Thus, man is not a direct or complete analog of God, but an incomplete image, “as through a glass in a dark manner.”

      That is, man as man has built into him by God the capacity to become more fully human. This is the capacity to acquire and develop the natural virtues, temperance, fortitude, prudence, and, above all, justice. As Fulton Sheen commented, this is all that is necessary for a person to lead a life of “pagan” virtue, i.e., without reference to the true God. Exercise of natural rights, the means by which one acquires and develops these “pagan” virtues, requires the existence of a social order, the common good, consisting of a network of institutions that provide the environment within which humanity acquires and develops the natural virtues. This is because, as Aristotle noted and Aquinas agreed, man is by nature a political animal, living according to his own nature within the institutional (organized) structure of the pólis.

      Becoming more fully human is, however, only half of our task as special creations of God. We are obligated as such to acquire and develop the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and, above all, charity — for which we do NOT have a natural capacity to acquire and develop. Having a natural capacity (that is, by nature) to acquire and develop supernatural (above nature) virtues is, in fact, a contradiction in terms. You cannot “pour new wine into old wineskins.” The vessel must be appropriate to what it holds.

      This is why God infuses the capacity to acquire and develop the supernatural virtues into humanity, not as a part of human nature, but as a free gift reflecting God’s Supernature. By means of this capacity, and the free acceptance of God’s grace, humanity can acquire and develop the supernatural virtues — but only if the natural virtues are perfected first. Charity is the “soul” of justice, and does not replace justice, but fulfills and perfects justice. Similarly, faith is built on a foundation of reason; not contradicting, but fulfilling and perfecting. This is why, for example, the Church teaches that knowledge of God’s existence and of the natural law (not the supernatural law) can be known by the force and light of human reason alone (cf. Canon 2.1 of the First Vatican Council, and § 2 of Humani Generis).

      Thus, we have built into us the capacity to acquire and develop the natural virtues to become more fully human, and the capacity infused into us for the supernatural virtues in order to acquire and develop the supernatural virtues to become adopted children of God — but we first have to fulfill our inborn human capacities before we can start on our infused supernatural capacities. Charity is not charity until and unless the demands of justice have been met.

      Unfortunately, many people today, even Catholics, think that having faith entitles them to bypass reason and the natural order and go straight to the supernatural order. This directly contradicts Jesus Himself: “Not one iota of the law shall pass away; I came to fulfill the law, not abolish it.” “New Age” adherents go even further, asserting that they can even bypass the supernatural order and attain the direct vision of God in this life, even to becoming a god.

      So, I agree that human institutions can do no more than provide the environment within which each person makes his or her free choice whether to acquire and develop virtue (habits of doing good) or vice (habits of doing evil) — if you read more closely, I have been careful in all cases to note that we have the capacity, not the virtues or vices themselves. That is, as you correctly point out, a matter of individual choice and therefore a personal responsibility. Institutions merely provide the environment, each human being makes his or her own choice. If an institution forces you to commit an act, or reins you in, you are, of course, not responsible for that — assuming you are not using that as an excuse to do what you really wanted to do in the first place.

      The bottom line is that, in an ultimate sense and in regards to humanity’s final end, you are right. “All that is left is love.” We cannot, however, go straight to fulfillment and perfection of our infused supernatural capacity, but have to work our way through the various levels, a three story house is the analogy Sheen used: the first story is the merely existential, the animal, the job of which is meeting our material needs. The next story is the human (what Sheen called the “pagan”), the job of which is to become more fully human by acquiring and developing the natural virtues of temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice. Because we are by nature — not supernature — political animals, this is best done within the institutional framework of organized society, the pólis. The third story is that of adopted children of God, where — first having met our animal needs and then our human needs — we can work on acquiring and developing our infused capacity for the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

      Sheen, of course, was speaking of this life. He did not address the additional two levels, the mystical light and the direct vision of God, the first of which (often counterfeited by “New Age” promises) is a very special gift of God in this life, the second of which (also counterfeited by the New Age) is reserved solely for the next life and cannot be attained in this one. All five levels, however, presuppose the continued validity of the preceding level, e.g., if we do not exist (“zero level” so to speak), we cannot meet our animal needs. If we do not meet our animal needs, we cannot function as human beings in society and meet our human needs. If we do not meet our human needs, we cannot meet the demands of becoming an adopted child of God, and so on. Jesus did not drop or go beyond His assumed human nature, but glorified it, remaining true God and true man at the same time.

      In the end, the natural virtues are perfected and will always remain with us, as will our full humanity, including both its individual and social characters. Of the supernatural virtues, only charity (love) will remain, for in heaven all hopes are realized, and faith is unnecessary, given the direct vision of God.

  12. Avatar Ted Heywood says:

    “So, I agree that human institutions can do no more than provide the environment within which each person makes his or her free choice whether to acquire and develop virtue (habits of doing good) or vice (habits of doing evil)…”
    So we agree.
    All the rest is sophistry in support of a particular human solution to a problem unsolvable by humans.
    Christ has already told us that “I am the way, the Truth and the Light.”, that He will be with us to the end of time, and the evil one as well. Only in turning to Him can we find our way to eternal life and avoid the snares of the devil — which will be found in any venture (institution) developed and/or managed by humans. As Catholics we believe that the Pope and the Bishops teaching in consort with him are infallible in matters of Faith and Morals. In all other matters they are unfortunately human and subject to the same error as all other humans.

    • Ted, I think you are confused about the respective roles of faith and reason, as well as the efficacy of the act of social justice. Faith, while above reason, cannot contradict it, for as Aquinas notes in the first question of the Summa, faith is built on a foundation of reason; our house must be built on the rock of reason/knowledge, not opinion/faith; faith does not justify itself. As the late Dr. Ralph McInerny noted, fideism is the single greatest danger facing the Catholic Church today, a warning that I would say applies to all organized religions as they abandon reason and go with the solo fides position.

      Of greater import, however, is your insistence that problems created by human beings cannot be solved by human beings. Society was not made by God, but is a human creation, and may or may not be in conformity with the universal moral principles, and thus may or may not assist human beings in acquiring and developing virtue, thereby fitting them for their final end; the State was made for man, not man for the State.

      That being the case, when the institutions of the common good are flawed, that is, not in conformity with the precepts of the natural law, it must be possible to correct the flaws — whatever man can make, he can un-make (socially speaking).

      The problem is that, being social, institutional flaws are frequently not subject to correction by individuals as individuals — they require a social solution, that is, one that takes into account humanity’s political nature. As Pius XI explained, using the example of an unjust wage,

      “It happens all too frequently, however, under the salary system, that individual employers are helpless to ensure justice unless, with a view to its practice, they organize institutions the object of which is to prevent competition incompatible with fair treatment for the workers. Where this is true, it is the duty of contractors and employers to support and promote such necessary organizations as normal instruments enabling them to fulfill their obligations of justice. But the laborers too must be mindful of their duty to love and deal fairly with their employers, and persuade themselves that there is no better means of safeguarding their own interests.” (Divini Redemptoris, § 53.)

      As Father Ferree noted, most people will look at this passage and insist that what social justice commands is the payment of a just wage. That would be missing the point. What social justice demands is the reorganization of the relevant institutions by people organized in solidarity to make the payment of a just wage possible — something entirely different.

      The bottom line here is that I think we differ on our perception of the role of the Catholic Church. You seem to be saying that its role should be purely spiritual, and leave temporal concerns to human authority. You are concerned that the Catholic Church has been getting into areas where it has no business; that the Church should stick to its own last.

      I and others in CESJ are not concerned about whether or not the Catholic Church should be involved in such matters. We accept as a given that it is. Our concern is that — given the fact that it is involved — what is the proper understanding of the stated principles and the appropriate application of them. Whether or not the Church should be doing what it is doing is, of course, a very important issue — but is not the one addressed in the article, which starts from the fact that it is.

      I would encourage you to write an article for submission to various journals explaining why you think the Catholic Church should not be involved in social issues. I think you have made a good start with your comments, above, although I would avoid being too dismissive of the position that the Catholic Church has a legitimate role to play in the social order. You may use our article as an example of what can happen when — in your opinion — people get diverted from what you believe to be the legitimate mission of the Church, but your argument should support your contention and address the underlying issues, i.e., WHY the Church should not be involved in social issues, not simply descrying the fact that it is.

      When you’ve finished your first draft, you should run it past an objective third party to verify that it is both logically consistent and empirically valid, i.e., your argument makes sense to an independent reader and there is verifiable evidence to support it.

      Finally, I thank you for your comments. They have given me the opportunity to explain some things in greater depth than was possible in the article.

  13. Avatar Ted Heywood says:

    Thank you for your suggestion.
    I will close with the observation that only the Lord can determine what is ‘just’. Perhaps in humility your organization could refer to your initiative as …’Another Way’ or ‘A Better Way’ or some such descriptor that reflects the reality of a flawed humanity.

    • That is a very good suggestion. We do, in fact, acknowledge that humanity can never attain perfection; the human person is infinitely perfectible, which necessarily implies that perfection itself can never be reached — or heaven would be boring; the paradox of human existence. The adjective “just” is taken from the admonition in Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice, justice, thou shalt pursue,” and we take it in the sense that we must continually strive for justice, not that we have attained it. That’s why we put the quote on our stationery. We have been calling it “the third way” since the late 1960s, and added “just” to distinguish it from what President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair were pushing for a while that was essentially a more widespread application of the Welfare/Nanny State.

  14. HPR Site Admin HPR Site Admin says:

    We’re pleased to note that this article has gathered quite a bit of attention, being sent to bishops and readied for translation, according to a blog devoted to the subject.


  1. […] What we have thus far stated regarding an equitable distribution of property, and regarding just wages, concerns individual persons, and only indirectly touches social order to the restoration of which, according to the principles of sound philosophy, and to its perfection, according to the sublime precepts of the law of the Gospel, Our Predecessor, Leo XIII, devoted all his thought and care.1 […]

  2. […]   Pope Francis and the Just Third Way […]