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Catholic View of the Economy: Excerpts from Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler's "The Labor Question and Christianity" (1864)

An influential Catholic bishop who advocated Christian social ideas, Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (1811-1897) applied both conservative criticism of occupational freedom and socialist economic theories in his writings. Here, he blames liberal free market economics for workers’ misery, yet also expresses his reservations about guilds. His proposed remedies include charitable institutions for destitute workers, Christian family life and morals, true Christian education, and producers’ cooperatives funded by wealthy Catholics.

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From all sides, voices are being raised to discuss the situation of the workers and to make proposals for improving their circumstances. Everywhere, societies have been formed to work “toward the improvement of the moral and economic condition of the working classes.” Periodicals and treatises have appeared under titles like “Arbeiterfreund” [“Worker’s Friend”], “Arbeiterkatechismus” [“Worker’s Catechism”], “Arbeiterlesebuch” [“Worker’s Reader”] etc., etc.

If I now undertake, as a Catholic bishop, to add my views to all these voices and proposals, if I also lay claim to the title “worker’s friend,” if I ask all Christian men who take the welfare of the working class to heart to please listen and consider my thoughts on this matter, then it is certainly appropriate for me to begin with a few words justifying my expression of this opinion and my purpose in doing so. Perhaps many people believe that, as a bishop, I have no justification, or at least no sufficient cause, for interfering in these sorts of things; others will say that, as a Catholic bishop, I should at most address myself to Catholics. I am of a different opinion.

I believe I have the right to offer judgment on the labor question insofar as it deals with the material needs of the Christian people. In this respect, it is also a question of Christian love. Our divine Savior bound the Christian religion, forever and indissolubly, to everything relating to the alleviation of people's spiritual and physical poverty. The Church has acted according to this precept everywhere and at all times. Practicing Christian love through works of Christian mercy has always been a prominent part of the life of the Christian Church. From this has emanated that magnificent solicitude for all types of human distress. Every question concerned with remedying that distress is therefore essentially a Christian, a religious question, in which the Church and all its living members should participate most fervently.

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