Fr. Edward Leen against the Marxists…
A Brief Catholic Critique of Communism
Early protagonists of Communism: Vladimir Lenin, Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx
In 1939, the magnificent Irish Catholic writer Fr. Edward Leen (1885-1944) published a book entitled The Church before Pilate. Released at a critical moment in history, it addresses the relations between the Catholic Church and the secular authority. At only 78 pages, it is a short read and highly recommended.
In Chapter 2 of The Church before Pilate, the author devotes a subsection to the topic of Communism. He offers a sobering analysis of the despicable, materialistic, godless system introduced by Karl Marx (1818-1883), identifying it as “the most uncompromising enemy of Catholicity”, indeed “the most thorough expression of the partial, incomplete and somewhat illogical revolts that have marked the course of Christianity from the first years of the Christian era.”
Whereas many mistakenly hold that Communism is merely an economic theory, thus confusing it with Socialism, the truth is that Communism is much more than that. It is nothing less than “an ethics and a religion”, as Fr. Leen explains. Communism seeks to upset and replace, by means of revolution, the entire social order. Whatever contributes to this goal, is morally acceptable to the Communist, who holds to the cruel error that “the end justifies the means”.
The true Popes have strongly condemned Communism and Socialism. Among the most relevant magisterial documents are the following:
- Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris on Socialism (1878)
- Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Rerum Novarum on Capital and Labor (1891)
- Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno on the Reconstruction of the Social Order (1931)
- Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Divini Redemptoris on Atheistic Communism (1937)
It must be pointed out that the Church’s condemnation of Communism is not to be understood as an endorsement of Capitalism. Although not intrinsically evil like Communism, Capitalism tends to corrupt the legitimate quest for making a profit by turning it not only into an end in itself but into the highest of all ends to be sought ferociously, even at the expense of people’s individual rights and of the common good.
The economic theory that corresponds most closely to the Church’s social doctrine is what is known as “Distributism”, although the label is prone to being misunderstood. The following article explains it at some length:
- “Distributism: Economics as if People Mattered” by Peter Chojnowski, Ph.D.
The antidote to Communism, then, is not Capitalism but the social and moral doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Below we produce the full text of Fr. Leen’s critique of Communism, with the hopes that as many people as possible will read it. It will not be difficult to discover striking and frightful parallels to our own day.
In 1917, the Mother of God appeared at Fatima to warn the world of the “errors of Russia” that were beginning to unfold during that critical year in what was soon to become the Soviet Union. May we, through Our Lady’s intercession, be spared from an ever-increasing spread of the infernal Communist system.
Fr. Edward Leen on Communism
from The Church before Pilate (1939), pp. 33-41
For the Christian moral philosopher, that is good which conduces to the true, final end of human life, that is evil which turns a man aside from or causes him to turn his back on that final end. It is the bearing of an act on the goal of existence that determines its moral value.
So with Communism, the world revolution, ending in a satisfactory distribution of material goods—that is the final end of man. What makes for that—be it murder—is good. What impedes its attainment, be that impediment the natural love of children for their parents—is evil.
The Church, wise not only in supernatural things, but wise to all important matters, saw long since whither the false philosophies were inevitably tending and raised Its voice again and again in solemn warning. It is an indubitable principle with Her that false beliefs beget inevitably evil conduct. During the past hundred years especially, Pope after Pope has striven to awaken mankind to a sense of the disasters that were impending, pointing out in the clearest terms that these disasters would be the logical issue of the false theories that misguided men were eagerly embracing on matters, political, social, and economical. These warnings fell on deaf ears and today we are witnessing the beginning of the woes the Vicars of Christ have predicted.
For Communism is not a strange unconditioned irruption from outside into the orderly sequence of human events, violently interrupting that orderly sequence. It is not a flash of lightning suddenly appearing without cause in a perfectly cloudless sky. It is not a something wholly incalculable that men arranging for the temporal welfare of mankind could not possibly reckon with. Communism is not without antecedents. It is not the first, though it is the most uncompromising enemy of Catholicity. In what it essentially stands for—and the name it has is something [sic] misleading—it is the most thorough expression of the partial, incomplete and somewhat illogical revolts that have marked the course of Christianity from the first years of the Christian era.
The name ‘communism,’ as has been said, is somewhat misleading. It conveys the impression that what it stands for is primarily an economic theory. The economic aspect of this greatest of heresies is but an aspect and far from being an important aspect. It is, above all else, an ethics and a religion. The proof of that stament is easy. Were communism merely an economic theory, then its advocates would extend their fervid admiration to those societies in which their economic ideal is most perfectly realized. Yet when Communism obtains sway it is those very societies that are marked out for their special hatred and for their destructive fury. The economic ideal of Communism is that all should work for the good of the whole body, that none should exercise individual proprietorship and that the fruits of the labor of the members should be distributed according to the needs of each—the needs, not only of those who work, but also of those who, through illness or age, are incapacitated from labor. This ideal is realized in the religious life and yet religious are the first objects of attack when the disciples of Karl Marx seize the reins of power.
What is called Communism is not interested in “communism” as such. It is interested in it as a very useful means to realize its main end. This end is the substitution of the god it has made for itself, for the true God—the substitution of the anti-Christian god for the Christian God—and the vast resources of wealth and power that are placed at the disposal of the so-called Communistic State are unscrupulously used to bring about the enthronement of their deity on the altars of all the nations.
Religion is the relation of man to his final end and the ensemble of obligations and duties that arise from that relation. Supernatural religion is such because its end is God, to be seen and loved in His most divine life. Communism is a religion because it sets up a final end for man, establishes the relation between the individual and that end, and finally outlines and prescribes the duties that spring from that relation. Mass-humanity, well fed, well housed and well supplied with bodily comforts and having no lord or master other than itself—that is the deity of Communism. Good morals and right conduct consist in working towards this final end of human life. The means to reach this goal are ruthless cruelty and cynical lying. The Communist has an utter contempt for human life. He has an equally complete disregard for actual facts. What is not, is—if that is needful for him to gain his ends. Every revolt against Catholicity from the beginning, every heresy, was a masked attack of Satan on the true God. In Communism the mask is torn off and the revolt is open and avowed. It is no wonder that equivocation marks its every procedure and that its progress is traced in blood and ruin. The words addressed to the first enemies of Christ are in all literalness applicable to their more modern successors. “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and he stood not in the truth; because truth is not in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father thereof” [John 8:44]. The events which we are witnessing in the present day  underscore all the phrases of this text in vivid red.
On the lips of these heretics and on the lips of those who are their more or less close followers, words completely change their meaning.
Liberty is their constant cry. It does not mean, as it should mean, the unimpeded opportunity—the physical and moral power for each man to do what he may and ought to do. In theory, for the heresiarchs, human liberty means the power for each man to do what he likes to do. In practice, it means for those who have been lured on by this mirage of liberty, the power to do only what the heresiarchs will them to do. Liberty turns out to be a tyranny which enslaves a man, body and soul.
Fascism is the arch enemy for the protagonists of the Russian heresy. Fascism is a word that should stand for a political philosophy which is practically applied only to the Italian state. The word should signify this and this alone. By the Communists and their sympathizers the word is completely wrested from its proper sense and is made to stand for anything they object to. It is in their diatribes a term of abuse levelled against all “those who stand for any one of the giant traditions of Christendom.”
It is for this reason that I cannot rally myself to the oft expressed opinion that economic reform would do away with Communism. This presupposes that the economic distress of the day is the cause of the red revolution. This is not so. The economic distress of the toiling millions is but the favourable occasion which the evil, bearing the name of Communism, lays hold of in order to execute its malignant purposes. Communism is but the spear-head, a sharp one and tipped with deadly poison, of the age-long attack on Christ living in His Church. If the leaders of the Russian heresy were sincere in their efforts at social reform, why is it that, when they gain power, they never show a tendency to use that power to compel men to reduce to practice the program of economic reform outlined by the Popes? Avowedly that program carried into effect would do away with the evils of capitalism and bring a remedy to the woes of the poor—and this could be done without the fearful armies, the crying injustices and the appalling cruelties which the red revolution brings. Communism is not the foe of capitalism and imperialism for it is itself capitalist and imperialist in an extreme degree. It is not against dictatorship because it is on its own avowal a dictatorship—and of the most relentless type. It styles itself the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is not against injustice for it is stained with the grossest injustices. It is not against hypocrisy, for it seeks to achieve its end by lies and equivocation. The evil force that at the moment dons the red armour of Communism is as old as the world. It constantly assumes new disguises. Communism is the fashion of an hour. When it decays the old evil—”That which opposeth and is lifted up above all that is called God” [2 Thess 2:4], will present itself anew in an armour of fresh design. That evil cannot be overcome by mere economic reform. It can be vanquished only by a radical acceptance of the Christian code and its application to all the aspects of human life, private and public, spiritual, intellectual, and moral, as well as economical.
We thank a Novus Ordo Watch volunteer for transcribing this text for publication.
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