Question: In a recent sermon you seemed to
say that health insurance and even food are not natural rights. How
could such basic things not be rights?
And God said: Let us make man to our image and
likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the
fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping
creature that moveth upon the earth. And God created man to his own
image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.
And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and
Answer: Men and women are made in the “image and likeness”
of God. That is to say that they possess some of His perfections or
attributes. For example, they possess life, intellect, liberty, and
dominion over property. Since these attributes are gifts freely given
by God, no one, and no state, may take them away. On the “opposite
side of the same coin,” we see that God created man with certain duties
toward Himself—for example to worship Him, to bring forth progeny.
Since these duties are assigned by God, it follows that no one may take away
the means necessary to carry them out. Such rights are known through
the Natural Moral Law.
The usual definition of a right is
A moral power vested in a person owing to which the
holder of the power may claim something as due to him or belonging to him or
demand of others that they perform some acts or abstain from them.
Rights are more explicitly granted by God in Divine
Positive Law, particularly in the Commandments given to Moses on Mount
We also speak of rights granted by society, either the
Church or the state. For the most part theses societal rights define
the qualifications for participation in the government of the society, or
grant rewards for those who serve it. One might have, for example, a
right to run for office or to vote for those who do, a right to
ecclesiastical or military honors, or a pension for faithful service.
There is a legitimate hierarchy of rights.
Clearly, those rights granted by God and relating to a man’s direct
relationship with Him are paramount. Thus, the right to life and its
defense, the worship God in the manner He has appointed, the right to
behavior according to an informed conscience, and the right to family
integrity and fidelity may not be infringed. While the right to hold
private property is divinely granted, it may have to yield to the needs of a
starving man, at least as it concerns the surplus of the property owner.
A higher right, like the right to life, may supercede a lower right, like
the right to surplus property, but it cannot void a right of the same
order—e.g. apart from self defense, I cannot take someone else’s life to preserve my own, nor can
I take his property apart from dire necessity, and not even then if it would
threaten his life or his family’s.
The state cannot take away the “unalienable rights”
with which men and women “are endowed by their Creator,” but it may
prohibit their unjust exercise against those who misuse their rights at the
expense of others. I may forfeit my right to life by committing murder
or other heinous crimes; I may forfeit my property or the right to use
it in ways that damage the rights of others.
It is important to note that the state does not grant
and cannot take away natural rights. Unless one transgresses the
rights of others, the state may not intervene in matters of natural right.
Justice must be even-handed, not based on a person’s wealth, connections,
or social standing. The right to hold office or to vote may be subject
to qualifications, but these also must be uniform throughout society.
In general, the right of one person does not impose a
positive obligation on other people. I have the right to worship God,
but that does not extend to forcing others to build a church in which I may
worship him. I have the right to life, but that does not extend to
forcing others to feed, clothe, shelter, and provide medicine for me.
I have the right to an integral family, but cannot expect others to provide
their necessities, their education or social development. Under all
but the most extreme circumstances, my rights do not extend to infringing
the rights of others in order to carry them out. Food, clothing,
shelter, education, medicine, and even a church building are “goods,” or
“commodities” which I must earn if I wish to have them. Apart from
extreme urgency, if I do not earn them I have no right to them in justice,
although I may have some expectation of receiving them (or their use)
through the voluntary charity of others in less than extreme
emergencies. To accept un-needed charity is to defraud those truly in
Voluntary charity is an essential dimension of
Christian society. It is most properly carried out at the individual,
family, parish, or community level where the true needs of those requiring
it are best known and most efficiently met. Large scale disasters may
require the intervention of the Church or the state but these should be few
and rare—intervention ought not set the stage for additional problems in
the future (like rebuilding the underwater land between the powerful river
and the large lake). It makes no sense to send money to a far away
bureaucracy to have only part of it returned to meet local needs.
In summary, the natural “unalienable rights” are
God given. The higher order rights of one person may not usurp those
of another. The state may not pretend to create or abolish natural
rights, although it may step in when one person infringes the rights of
another, and it may even-handedly elaborate rights of citizens within the
framework of its legitimate governmental functions. Goods or
commodities are not rights, but their use may become a right, although only
in cases of extreme emergency.
Question: On the Octave of Christmas you
mentioned “the Solemnity of the Mother of God.” Isn’t that a
Modernist innovation? How can Mary be God’s Mother?
Knox: Mother of God
From The Belief of Catholics
They have said that we deify her; that is not because
we exaggerate the eminence of God's Mother, but because they belittle the
eminence of God. A creature miraculously preserved from sin by the
indwelling power of the Holy Ghost -- that is to them a divine title,
because that is all the claim their grudging theologies will concede, often
enough, to our Lord Himself. They refuse to honor the God- bearing Woman
because their Christ is only a God-bearing Man. We who know that God could
(if He would) annihilate every existing creature without abating anything of
His blessedness or His glory, are not afraid less the honor done to His
creature of perfect Womanhood should prejudice the honor due to Him.
Touchstone of truth in the ages of controversy, romance of the medieval
world, she has not lost with the rise of new devotions, any fragment of her
ancient glory. Other lights may glow and dim as the centuries pass, she
cannot suffer change; and when a Catholic ceases to honor her, he ceases to
be a Catholic.
Answer Devotion to Mary as the Mother of
God is quite ancient. Dom Prosper Guéranger tells us that many years
ago two Masses were celebrated in Rome on January 1st, one as the Octave of
Christmas and the other in honor of the Mother of God. He also notes
that the Greeks celebrate the day after Christmas as a “Synaxis” or
joint feast in honor of the Divine Mother.
In the traditional Roman Rite the Mass and Office
commemorate all three aspects of the feast: the Octave of Christmas,
the Circumcision of Our Lord, and Mary as the Mother of God. The
Gospel, of course, is that of the Circumcision. The Collect and
Postcommunion are taken from the seasonal Mass of the Blessed Virgin.
The Divine Office is rich with antiphons and hymns praising the Divine
Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin.
To be perfectly clear, the title Mother of God does not
in any way assert that Mary came before God in eternity. She is
God’s creature and her motherhood took place in created time. Mary
is the Mother of God in that she conceived and bore Jesus Christ, true God
and true man in her womb and gave birth to Him nine months later. It
is erroneous to speak of Mary as though she were only the mother of the
human Christ, as thought it were possible to separate the human from the
divine in the hypostatic union. The Greeks accord Mary the title of
“Theotokos,” the “God bearer.” The heresy of Nestorious,
that Mary was only “Christotokos,” or “Christ bearer,” was
condemned in 431 by the Council of Ephesus.
On the 1500th anniversary of the Council of Ephesus,
Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of the Divine Maternity.
from last month]
Question: Were there moral aspects to the
Great Depression? A lot of
people suffered for well over a decade. Shouldn’t someone be held
responsible? Can we prevent such a thing from happening again?
Answer: As a former union member
and then as a manager within the same company, the author will testify to
the good a reasonable union organization can do for all concerned.
This installment deals with excesses, often brought about by over-regulation
of business and under enforcement of the moral law—themes generally common
to all aspects of the Great Depression.
● NLRB ●
teaching, harking back to the trade guilds of the middle ages, recognizes
the right of working men to organize in order to obtain just wages and
working conditions, while simultaneously guaranteeing the quality of their
work. In his 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum, Pope Leo XIII
reiterated the desirability of organizations to protect the working man and
to provide for him and his family in retirement or disability. Pope
Leo envisioned organizations that were Catholic in nature, or at least
supportive of the worker’s right to religious observance and a moral
working environment. Leo advanced the possibility that labor
organizations might include both workmen and employers (“company
unions”). Pope Leo demanded the protection of private property, not
only to protect the employer against vandalism, but also as a means for the
working man to build an estate for himself, his family, and his heirs.
He urged an economy in which everyone benefited from the spiritual and
material fruits of harmonious production.
... the larger part of the workers prefer to better
themselves by honest labor rather than by doing any wrong to others. But
there are not a few who are imbued with evil principles and eager for
revolutionary change, whose main purpose is to stir up disorder and incite
their fellows to acts of violence. The authority of the law should intervene
to put restraint upon such firebrands, to save the working classes from
being led astray by their maneuvers, and to protect lawful owners from
Depression era labor law and organizations respected
little or none of the niceties described by Leo XIII. In 1935 the
Supreme Court declared the National Industrial Recovery Act
unconstitutional, dissolving the NRA. But Congress quickly enacted
legislation designed to strengthen big labor, and require businesses to
bargain collectively with a single union—it was compulsory that the
business recognize and deal with the union, and it might be compulsory that
all workers join that union. Herbert Hoover had already exempted the
unions from the “restraint of trade” provisions of the Sherman
Anti-trust Act , by signing the 1932 Norris-LaGuardia Act—indeed a union
could not only restrain, but shut trade down.
In June 1934 Roosevelt issued executive order #6763
which stripped the courts of their authority to try labor relations
disputes, and gave it to his administrative agency, the National Labor
Relations Board (NLRB). In this act of questionable legality FDR made
his agency prosecutor and judge over labor relations law. His action
was ratified by Congress a year later (July 1935) with the Wagner Act.
The Wagner Act was clearly anti-business, specifically
blaming employers, not only for employee violence, but for the
fact of the Depression itself. The Act reflected FDR’s notion that
the economic malaise was caused by competitive wage rates that needed to be
raised by the government—either by law, or by siding with unions in their
The Act increased the number of work stoppages and
incidents of violence. The “sit down strike” in which workers
refused to work but refused to leave the employer’s premises led to nasty
altercations. As 1936 became 1937 the United Auto Workers (UAW) “sat
down” at General Motors. About a quarter of the workers at Fisher
Body Plant #1 in Flint, Michigan brought operations to a halt by refusing to
work the assembly line. A similar “sit down” at Plant #2
found outside pickets throwing cans and ice balls and aiming hoses at the
police who had been summoned to eject the strikers inside. The police
eventually drew their weapons, leaving sixteen people dead.. In
February a “sit down” at Chevrolet Plant #4 was answered with a
court order, but the Governor refused to enforce it. Faced with
enormous production losses, GM capitulated to the UAW, recognizing that
Union and agreeing to allow further recruitment. Other automobile
manufacturers followed suit—often because strikes against them gave GM,
with its widespread plants and ability to produce an entire car in a single
plant, a competitive advantage.
Violence occasionally spilled out of the automobile
plants into the surrounding town. In July 1937 protestors blocked
traffic in downtown Lansing, Michigan and occupied city buildings. The
shut down the electric company, leaving a half million customers without
The union victories was not a victory for the depressed
economy, nor for all of the workers, nor even the union:
Above-market wages, extorted through force or the
threat of force, surely contributed to the ensuing recession. Between
November 1937 and January 1938, GM dismissed a quarter of its employees.
Overall U.S. car production dropped almost 50 percent. Thousands of
unemployed auto workers abandoned the UAW, and by 1939 only 6 percent of GM
employees were paying UAW dues. Socialists, communists, and other
factions battled for control, and GM aimed to avoid recognizing any of the
It is indisputable that unions serve a useful purpose
in American industry. However, the 1934 transfer of judicial power to
the administration was one more step in dismembering the constitutional
“separation of powers.” The decision of the Administration to
allow mob violence in strikes would be regrettable in any era. But the
accompanying rise in wages and decrease in employment served only to further
prolong the Great Depression. To some degree it made American industry
less competitive in the world—a problem that plagues us to this very day.