“The obligation to earn one’s bread by the sweat of one’s brow also presumes the right to do so.”*
+Saint John Paul II, 95 characters [Tweet this]
The full quote comes from JP II’s Centesiimus Annus (1991). The message is a hard one for some who would take 2 Thessalonians 3:10 as a slam against the unemployed, underemployed, or those unwilling to submit to the exploitation of work lacking decency – which wouldn’t really be work – “If any one will not work, let him not eat.” Of course, this is often misunderstood and today more appropriately refers to capitalists – the idle, the busybody – not those denied the right to work in dignity. That is, those living off of the work of others – their surplus labor – instead of by their own “toil and labor” (cf. 2 Thes 3:8). Clearly, everyone should have the right to full and just compensation and return in their labor, thus the duty of doing so, and back to the right to do so. Consider Paul’s second letter to Timothy, “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” (2:6). Additionally, consider the letter of James, which reads, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud,” that is, exploitation, the extraction of surplus labor towards profit, the building up of capital, “cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have killed the righteous man; he does not resist you” (5:1-6). Anyways… the idea is that if we can work, labor, toil – not merely collect returns or employ with capital – for what we deserve in accordance to our dignity, that is, for what is just, then we ought to, but we also have the right to even though throughout most of history society does not protect – or even recognize – this right.
Back to CA, the full quote reads: “The obligation to earn one’s bread by the sweat of one’s brow also presumes the right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied, in which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of employment, cannot be justified from an ethical point of view, nor can that society attain social peace.88 Just as the person fully realizes himself in the free gift of self, so too ownership morally justifies itself in the creation, at the proper time and in the proper way, of opportunities for work and human growth for all.” (Par. #43.)
Until next time,
*This post was originally published on October 28 of 2016.*
*CST in 140 Characters or Less is an attempt to provide short pieces from within our Catholic tradition to an audience subject to the tendencies of consumerism and immediate gratification. When possible, and please remind me if I forget, I will include a fuller portion of the quote above for additional context, and may add a line or two of comment. Certainly, we can learn much from short statements, but we must see things from within the whole of our faith tradition. This reminds me of what Henri de Lubac wrote in The Discovery of God, concerning Saint Augustine’s dilige et quod vis fac, that this exhortation is proper and may be embraced without error “if you love enough to act, in every circumstance, according to the dictates of love.” De Lubac continues, “One might also say ‘love and believe what you will’ – if you know how to extract all the light from love, whose source is not in you.” Therefore, start with and share small pieces, but learn the whole.
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