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Pope Francis and Papal “Economics”

February 7, 2020

Pope Francis’ appeal for greater taxation on the wealthy explains a number of reasons why the early monarchs of France and Germany, Henry IV (1050-1106) and Frederick I Barbarossa of Germany (1122-1190) challenged the assertions of the papacy.

Pope Gregory VII excommunicated Henry IV, Emperor of the Germans, and deposed him. That assertion of papal power was a high water mark in the contest between European monarchies and the Papacy that would lead  to the waning of the earthly powers of the Roman Pontiff. Henry IV retaliated in 1085 by invading Italy and driving Gregory VII from Rome.

You might think that the Papacy learned an important lesson.

But, in 1520 when Pope Leo X demanded that Martin Luther renounce all his writings, what ensued was a breakdown of Christian unity in one Holy Catholic Church that reshaped 16th century power relations between Church and State that defines “modernity.”.

Another Pope, Leo XII, in 1894 issued the encyclical Rerum novarum on Capital and Labor. That encyclical attempted “to define the relative rights and mutual duties of the rich and of the poor.” Pius XI, in 1931 resumed the teaching of Pope Leo XII in Rerum novarum and excoriated the economics of classical liberalism of the Manchester School that posited that laws of economics are violated only at great damage to society. Pope Pius XI also inadvertently transvalued the basis of Catholic philosophy in reason affirmed by  St. Thomas, and insights of St. Augustine, that salvation in the world is not possible. In Quadragesimo Anno Pius XI introduced “Social Justice” as the focus of  faithful Catholics.

Anyone trained in political philosophy or market economics will conclude from this history that theologians, and especially Popes, should focus on theological truth and leave political and economic theory to political philosophers and economists.




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