Saturday, December 7, 2013

"I was called a 'socialist'"

I'm reading Georges Bernanos' Diary of a Country Priest at the moment.  I'm not very far into the novel yet, but there's a dialogue between the young 'country priest' and M. le Cure de Torcy early in the book that reminded me that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Particularly, it would appear, when it comes to assessing papal documents.

The two are having a conversation about the poor, and at one point M. le Cure de Torcy tells the young priest about the publication of Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum in 1891, a central document in the history of Catholic social teaching.  His account reminded me of recent reaction by some on the right to Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium:
[T]hat famous encyclical of Leo XIII, 'Rerum Novarum,' you can read that without turning a hair, like any instruction for keeping Lent.  But when it was published, sonny, it was like an earthquake.  The enthusiasm!  At that time I was cure de Norenfontes, in the heart of the mining district.  The simple notion that a man's work is not a commodity, subject to the law of supply and demand, that you have no right to speculate on wages, on the lives of men, as you do on grain, sugar or coffee - why it set people's consciences upside-down!  I was called a 'socialist' for having explained it in the pulpit to my mining fellows, and the pious peasants had me sent off to Montreuil in disgrace.

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