The Reckoning · Season 1

The Reckoning: Lesson Five

In this lesson, you’ll learn:

  • What Pope Leo XIII teaches in Rerum Novarum, (On Capital and Labor) recognized as the foundational Catholic Social Doctrine document
  • How love plays a role in all economic systems
  • The four cardinal virtues and their necessity

Read the Transcript

Welcome back to those of you who have been following this series, The Reckoning, the ultimate battle between socialism and the practice of virtue in business.  Today in Session V, we’ll cover the connection of virtue and business.  For those of you joining us for the first time, welcome!  We’ve covered a lot of ground up to this point and invite you to catch up by viewing the previous four sessions at your leisure.  They will shed light on the current state of our culture in America, the state and perception of business therein, the root cause of the rising movement toward socialism in America, and the amorphous reality of which Adam Smith foretold and its ill-effects on free markets today.


In Session IV, we explored the dominant ideology governing business for the last five decades and the Church’s teachings about capitalism, free markets, and profits; some of which will likely surprise you.  At the end of the last session, we asked this question on the heels of acknowledging that business can be an effective instrument for attaining important objectives of justice: Can true justice be achieved in a free market economy, and if so, how?


As Christians, it would do us well to acknowledge who the enemy is in this coming reckoning.  We are informed in Ephesians 6:12 (NIV): While the obstacles to victory are significant, quote, “Our struggles are not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Therefore, let us call upon the protection of St. Michael the Archangel, the intervention of our Blessed Mother, and the blessings of our Lord Jesus Christ as we pursue victory in this battle. [Bow head in silence briefly.] Amen.


In 1891, Pope Leo XIII penned what is recognized as the foundational Catholic Social Doctrine document, Rerum Novarum, On Capital and Labor.  Note that in the passing of time, this Encyclical Letter is written during the European Industrial Revolution, when population growth and relevant demand far outstripped supply, and capitalists built large factories leveraging Smith’s wealth-of-nations concept of the division of labor in an environment of laissez-faire government or a free market.  People from rural communities flocked to urban centers for the plentiful work, though the work was often dangerous and unsuited for women and children, though they, too, toiled for meager wages amidst this unprecedented industrial growth.


In Rerum Novarum, the Church, through the writings of Pope Leo XIII, defined the root cause problem with the poor working conditions and dangers afoot for many laboring in these factories.  And I quote from paragraph 3, “Public institutions and the laws set aside the ancient religion. Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition.”


What the Church saw as outrageous and an afront to humanity in the late 1800’s in the Industrial Revolution, and what we see today as a much more sanitized institution of business, at least in the US, that uses people as simply means to the end of profit, is not the problem.  It’s a symptom.  The setting aside of the ancient religion is the root cause problem as Pope Leo pointed out.  The absence of our Catholic and Christian faith in business and the workplace has yielded an inversion of means and ends therein and created the abuses and perversions that are too often part of the culture and fraternity of business.


Pope Leo was not silent, offering some thoughts on a solution in paragraph 62 of Rerum Novarum, quote, “. . . apart from Christian morals, all the plans and devices of the wisest will prove of little avail,” unquote.


A solution was further clarified in Pope Pius XI’s Encyclical Letter, Divini Redemptoris, paragraph 32, written in 1937 and I quote: “The answer to this dilemma is the infusion of social justice and the sentiment of Christian love into the socio-economic order.”  We business leaders have an absolute responsibility to nurture and love those entrusted to our care at work and those who live and work within our communities.


Well, there it is.  If we are going to win this battle against the growing specter of socialism, we are to infuse Christian love into the socio-economic order.  It’s as simple and as complicated as that.  Let’s explore at a deeper level what this means with additional sources from Catholic teachings and traditions.


St. Thomas Aquinas defined love as “willing the good of the other.”  How many of our businesses are organized and operated under the guise of “willing the good of the other?”  I know many business leaders who, within the constraints of maximizing shareholder wealth through profit generation, do all they can to care for their employees.  Is this the love of which St. Thomas Aquinas speaks?


Alternatively, we are commanded to “love your neighbor as yourself” in Matthew 22:39.  Does the care and concern for employees within the boundaries of maximizing profits satisfy this Biblical commandment or Pope Pius XI’s answer “to infuse Christian love into the socio-economic order?”


Catholic author, Michael Novak, in his book Business as a Calling, states, “In the project of self-government, business is without doubt the single largest institution of civil society. The moral health of society, therefore, depends to a great extent on the moral character of business leaders.”  The attribution of moral results is squarely placed on the moral character of business leaders here.


Let’s supplement these challenging thoughts with the Church’s teaching on virtues as perhaps they can help us see more clearly the path to victory.  Timothy Cardinal Dolan shared this insight in an article he wrote about the Pope’s case for Virtuous Capitalism, “The Church has long taught the value of any economic system rests on the personal virtue of the individuals who take part in it.”  This places accountability for virtuous business practices in the hands of those of us leading in business.


A virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good.  The practice of virtues makes possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life.  The Church has identified two categories of virtues: cardinal virtues and theological virtues, among other virtues.


The cardinal virtues are so named as they are from where all other virtues emanate.  The cardinal virtues are prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude or courage.


Prudence is the wisdom to know and act according toward a true good.


Justice is giving to each person that which is his or her due, simply because they are created in the likeness and image of God.


Temperance is reducing one’s reliance on the world’s goods – all things in moderation.


Fortitude is the courage to persevere, swim upstream if you will, even when significant forces work against you.


These virtues are available to all human beings, not just Christians.  Anyone can choose to be virtuous and many who are not Christians, are.  You may be asking; then why can’t I simply form habits around these four virtues and call it good?  You can, but you’d be missing out on the “love of one’s neighbor,” the “willing the good of the other,” and the “infusion of Christian love into the socio-economic order” as the end goal.  How so, you ask?


As Catholics and Christians, we are called to that which is higher still.  The theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity or love allow us to perfect these virtues.  Through this “perfection” we think about and act on love of a different kind; the kind of irrational love Jesus showed to all those with whom he crossed paths, and through his death and resurrection, the love he revealed to all humankind.  Without practicing and growing in the perfecting theological virtues, how long will our efforts to “will the good of the other” last under the smothering cloud of the dominant ideology that falsely claims the purpose of business is to maximize shareholder wealth?  I suggest to you, not long.


I want to connect one last dot for you as we seek what the universal or Catholic church has to say about business, capitalism, and free markets.  Remember the three elements of a well-functioning free market discussed in Session III of this series?  They are 1) the rule of law, 2) rights to private ownership of property protected by the rule of law, and 3) a fixed set of moral laws.  Prudence or wisdom perfected by faith, hope, and love provides the habitual pursuit of the good from which we as business leaders can operate on a firm foundation of moral laws.


You should take some time to contemplate this attainable, yet hard teaching.  It’s difficult to imagine that business formed to optimize profit and business formed to “will the good of the other” or love others can co-exist.  Yet a profitable business and love of others are meant to co-exist!  But a right-understanding of the cause and effect are essential here.  This will be the topic of Session VI of The Reckoning.  In the meantime, what is posed before you is simply a choice.


One of my favorite quotes is from Oliver Wendell Holmes.  He shares and I quote, “I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I’d give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”  We are talking about the simplicity on the other side of complexity here.  You were made for greatness as a business leader.  Did I mention before that you have a heroic role to play in this battle?  Blessings to you as you seek that which is higher still in and through your business.  See you next time.