Henri Bartoli – Conditions of Faith (November, 1954) [Excerpts]

Henri Bartoli, Catholic economist, member of the JOC, “Righteous Among the Nations” due to his aiding of the Jews during the Nazi Occupation.

[Originally published: Henri Bartoli, “Conditionnements de la foi,” Esprit (November, 1954). pp. 594-599.]

[Translation found in The Catholic Avant-Garde: French Catholicism Since World War II – edited by Jean-Marie Domenach and Robert de Montvalon, pg. 162-165]

Does anyone seriously believe that Christians who have come to realize that a break with the system is necessary could imagine that the social question will be solved once employers and workers have recognized their “common interests” and organized profit-sharing within an economic system which would still be capitalistic (even if no longer completely liberal)?

“The social doctrine of the Church,” aside from the ultimate ambiguity of the term, [1] seems to misinterpret the economic and social context on which it should bear. It is surprising and somewhat shocking, for instance, to find in Directoire pastoral en matière sociale, [2] a publication approved by the French bishops in 1954, reservations expressed in regard to nationalizations made at a time when both the economic progress and moral soundness of the nation clearly required their broadening. How many more years years will it take Catholics to realize the importance of pressure groups and the extent to which the state is corrupted by private interests? . . .

What man, familiar with law, economics, or ethics, and acquainted with the present techniques of capital accumulation, would dare to write that “the common good requires that the private ownership of enterprises remain the general rule”? Is it fair that the shareholders of joint-stock companies should, through the plowing back of profits, appropriate the fruits of everyone’s labor? Do our bishops believe that this crying injustice will be removed by profit-sharing, when all the laws passed since 1917 to establish a partnership between capital and labor have been a total failure? . . . [3] Who does not know that the very framework of modern capitalism, its holdings, its combines, absolutely requires a distinction between legal ownership and the actual power of control?

When we read on page 30 of the Directoire pastoral en matière sociale that “the fair profit of the capitalist, like the fair additional profit of the worker, must be subject to the risks run by the enterprise,” we wonder what is meant. An economist knows how difficult it is to state precisely what is “normal” profit, but no one believes that in a modern economy profit accrues because of activity of an isolated concern. . . . Decline in the price of raw materials, changes of power or in the international situation, causing a sudden drop in the prices paid by the suppliers, and other related factors all affect the economic situation.

Of course, I shall be told that the “fair profit” of the capitalist, like the “fair additional profit” of the worker, the “risks” that each must run, are being compared in the abstract, that they are “doctrinal entities” propounded by a theologian. That is precisely what an economist, especially if he is a Christian, cannot tolerate. Clerics are wont to draw a distinction between “the idea of the wage-earning classes” and the concrete and historical relationship which links the wage-earner and the capitalist, but the economy is a praxis and economic science, the science of the human relationships in production and in trade resulting from human labor and described in their historical development, is a normative discipline. We may suggest systematic explanations and norms which go beyond the data yielded by a strict analysis of concrete situations, but our categories must at least keep some relevant to humanity, and our reasonings must lead back to reality with a view to changing it. . . Our job is not to promote a “Christian economy,” an idealistic systematization that events would quickly change, but to affirm our presence in the world and to pass on to it the Spirit we have received. . . .

St. Thomas contrasts the theological virtues, the object of which is God, with the moral virtues, which are directed to created ends and must be practiced for their own sake. From this to deduce the absolute autonomy of the temporal world would be to misrepresent the thinking of St. Thomas. As the fruit of human work, any economic and political system, unless it is radically immoral, is informed with a sense of justice. Justice being a “religious value”–if not, religion itself would be immoral–we must admit that the Church, as a hierarchical priesthood, has a right to speak in the temporal order.

Our faith, as an active response to God’s intent, must awaken in our conscience a purposeful desire to transform the world. The plan to achieve this end is the believer’s own, conceived of his own initiative and prompted by his own convictions. However, if conscience is always called upon to mediate, it does so differently—but always cohesively depending on whether the matter pertains to the Church considered as the sign of God’s purpose or to the world which is to be transformed according to divine thought. If we wish to avoid the pitfalls of both secularism and clericalism, we must recognize that the Church defines the thought of God but, as to economic and political plans, passes exclusively on the conformity or incompatibility of their intent with his purpose. Considered as a secular body, the Church s role is to undertake the transformation of the world by a creative action faithful to the will of God. The promotion of political, economic, and social plans is the province of the secular, not of the hierarchical, Church. . . .

We have reached one of those periods in history when, in the very name of the teaching of the Church, we should protest and face the actual conditions of faith as it is lived. In the Parable of the Sower, we have the seed that is the word of God and the soil that receives it and determines the pattern of its growth. Let us beware, for if we persist in teachings divorced from an evolving historical reality, and in advocating ambiguous solutions, we shall effect in many consciences a juxtaposition of what they believe and of what they agree to profess. The greater the tension, the greater the risk of dual consciences, of pitiless suffering, or, ultimately, of outright condemnation.

[1] See the introductory pages of L’Enseignment social de l’Eglise, by Father Jean Villain (3 vols.; Paris: Spes, 1953-54)
[2] Published by Bonne Presse, Paris, 1954.
[3] Cf. Marcel David,  La participation des travailleurs à la gestion des entreprises privées dans les principaux pays d’Europe occidentale (Paris: Dalloz, 1954).