Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Q&A  February AD 2010
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

On this page:
What are "Natural Rights"?
"Mother of God"?
Morality of the Great Depression (Continued)


    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 subdue it....[1]

    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.[2]

    Rights are more explicitly granted by God in Divine Positive Law, particularly in the Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai.

    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 need.

    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.

Mother of God

    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?

Msgr. Ronald 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.[3]

    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.

The Great Depression


[Continued 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 ●

    Catholic social 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 spoliation.[4]

    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 negotiations..

    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 electricity.

    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 factions.[5]

    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.

 [To be continued]


[1]   Genesis i: 26-28.

[2]   Donald Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary, s.v. “Right.”

[3]   Guéranger, The Liturgical Year, Vol II, pp. 371-372.

[5]   Jim Powell, FDR’s Folly  (NY: Three Rivers, 2003) p. 202.


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