Of the many non-Christian doctrines that, like parasitic plants, shoot up again from time to time, there is perhaps none that attracts so much attention, and that is so likely to undermine the whole social order as the statement put forward by the socialists, that all men are equal, and therefore all class distinctions must be abolished and property distributed equally among all human beings. The advocates of these views go from country to country, seeking to confuse men's minds and to win adherents, and they succeed, partly because their doctrines appeal to the pride, greed, and natural indolence of mankind, especially of the working classes and the poor, and partly because they give a very specious and attractive expression to their opinions. It cannot be denied that from the purely human standpoint they seem to have much right on their side, and so, wishing to be regarded as benefactors to the people, they are wise when they make the most of the facts that appear to support their theories. No words ring more sweetly in the ears of men, or appeal more directly to their hearts, than "liberty and equality," and although many so-called friends of the people are far from wishing to obliterate all class distinctions and to distribute their goods to the poor, they know that the masses delight in hearing of such things and will applaud them loudly if they discuss how all men can be made equal, but they have no intention of suffering any loss themselves in the process. These false principles are promulgated therefore by men of two kinds—by those who really are convinced that universal equality ought to be brought about, and also by those who preach this doctrine only in order to win popularity, or rather to secure influence and authority over the people.
Under these circumstances there is much reason to fear lest Christians, too, should be led astray by false prophets, who lay their snares and insinuate themselves everywhere. Hence I wish to show you today what we, as Christians, are bound to think of the doctrines that all men are equal, and that all distinctions of rank and property ought to be abolished. Let us, however, first invoke the assistance of the Holy Ghost.
If we look about us, we cannot fail to perceive the great inequality that exists among men with regard to their rank, possessions, talents, capabilities and happiness. One is of noble, another of lowly birth; one has many intellectual talents, another has few; one is poor, another rich; one has to labor daily in the sweat of his brow, another spends his time in idleness; one has to provide for wife and children, another is unmarried, and has few needs; one is a master and another a servant; one is healthy and another diseased; one is happy and another miserable. Do you suppose that it is in our power to remove this inequality, or that we ought to remove it, if we could? No, we neither can nor ought to remove it. Men are so constituted that they cannot be independent of one another; they are obliged to depend upon one another's help, and none can say to his fellows: "I require you not." Life would be an unending series of miseries, if none of us helped his neighbors. How wretched would be the lot of the sick, if they received no skilful treatment from the physician, and no tender care from their friends! How unhappy would the weak be if they derived no support from the strong! What confusion would prevail in human society, and what dangers would threaten our persons, property and reputation, if there were no authority able to control the follies of undisciplined hearts and minds, and to govern the passions of men! Do you imagine that, supposing one man possessed as much money as another, he would be satisfied ? The desires of the human heart are insatiable; never has it enough, and though it may possess abundant wealth, its craving for more continues. Assuming that all the money in the world were distributed equally to all men, what would happen when one had wasted his share? Would he not insist upon a re-distribution as often as his own supply was exhausted? And would not this give rise to the greatest confusion and disorder in society, and ultimately effect its ruin?
As long as we are imperfect creatures, liable to sin and error, perfect equality, at which the socialists aim, can never be secured, and there must be inequality in rank and property. This inequality is in accordance with God's will, is recognized and protected by His express commands, and therefore man has no right to remove it. The spirits in heaven are arranged by God in different classes, and it is the same with men, and just as there are many mansions in the kingdom of heaven, so are there many ranks on earth. "The rich and the poor have met one another, and the Lord is the maker of them both." These words of Holy Scripture mean that rich and poor, masters and servants, rulers and ruled, learned
and ignorant, wise and simple, must all live together; God has created them all, and prescribed and sanctified their differences in rank and property. St. Paul writes: "There are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit; and there are diversities of ministers, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all. And the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man unto profit. To one indeed by the Spirit is given the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit. To another faith, in the same Spirit; to another the grace of healing in one Spirit. . . . But all these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to everyone
according as He will" ( I . Cor. xii, 4-11).
You see, then, how God in His unsearchable wisdom distributes His gifts and favors to mankind. To one He gives much, to another little; one He orders to rule and another to serve; to one He imparts many intellectual talents and abilities, and to another very few, but to all He gives what they require in order to work out their salvation. As, therefore, differences in rank and property are ordained by God, how can it be right for us to rebel and to seek violently to overthrow this order? To do so would be to outrage God's rights, for He alone is Lord, able to do and to bestow what He will; it would be to assail His majesty and to offer Him an insult, which He must speedily punish.
Who can argue with God or complain of having received at His hands gifts of body and mind in less abundance than another? Our temporal and eternal happiness does not depend upon these gifts— if it were dependent upon them, then perhaps those to whom less is given might with some justice complain; but you know the value of earthly possessions, and are well aware that they are accidental, non-essential, deceptive and transitory. Only the possessions of the soul are essential, valuable and permanent. Hence St. John writes: "Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him; for all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away and the concupiscence thereof; but he that doth the will of God, abideth for ever" (I. John ii, 15-17)-
However great may be the unequality between men in respect of their rank, property, abilities and happiness, there is one point on which they are all on one level, viz.: that they are all human beings, and, if they profess Christianity, there is another point of equality, viz.: that they are Christians. All of us, rich and poor, high and low, great and small, are alike in possessing a human body and an immortal soul; we are all made in God's likeness; all are His children, destined for eternal life. All have to bear, in different degrees, the same weaknesses, sufferings and annoyances; we all must some day die and be buried. Neither riches, nor power, nor honor can protect us from death.
But we weak, mortal creatures all resemble one another in more respects than in being children of God, made in His likeness; there is a far higher equality, consisting in the fact that we are all Christians, the brethren and disciples of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and redeemed by Him; we are temples of the Holy Ghost and heirs of heaven.
Men may belong to various ranks and classes according to their wealth, reputation and talents, but they are all equal as regards what is of supreme importance, viz.: their dignity as children of God, redeemed of Christ, temples of the Holy Ghost, participators in all the graces and truths of the Gospel and heirs of eternal life. The point of view of Christianity is not the same as that of the world, and he is not regarded as great who has money and wealth and high position, so that he can satisfy all the cravings of his nature, but he who is adorned with many virtues, that make him resemble God, the all-perfect. In the fact that we are Christians and children of God, we all, rich and poor, high and low, enjoy the same dignity, and we all possess similar rights, on which no one is entitled to encroach. The poorest and most miserable of men, the very sight of whom arouses feelings of disgust and horror in one more happily situated, has a right, equally with a rich man, of aspiring to the highest and most glorious possessions. He has a right to lift his thoughts and send up his prayers to the throne of the Most High, feeling sure that God in all His majesty and glory, amidst the praises of His elect, will nevertheless look mercifully upon him and hear his requests. The poor man is justified in saying to himself: "Although the Lord of heaven and earth has to govern the universe, this does not prevent Him from remembering me, and from caring for me, my children and family, my salvation, my sustenance and for even the smallest thing that concerns me, even the hairs of my head. Such a man is justified in calling God by the most tender and familiar names, such as one gives otherwise only to one's intimate friends; he may speak of Him as his Master, his Friend and his Father, and of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as his Brother. This poor man is entitled to kneel with princes at the Lord's table, and to receive His sacred Body, the Bread of Angels. He has a right to all the comfort and refreshment offered so abundantly by the Church of Christ, and to say to himself: "It was for my sake that the Son of God became Man, to teach us and to suffer a death of agony on the Cross. It was for my sake that He instituted the holy Sacraments, founded His infallible Church, and sent down the Holy Ghost to teach us all truth and to counsel, comfort and sanctify us." When death comes, the poor man has a right to the last consolations of religion. He may live in a gloomy shed, and have no other bed than a little straw; he may be suffering from some disgusting, infectious disease and be abandoned by all his friends, but God's servant will not forsake him, and will bring him the Lord's Body as Viaticum and strengthen him with all the rites of the Church before he enters upon his last agony, the last struggle between life and death. Finally, at the moment of his departure hence, he has a right to knock at the gate of heaven, and ask permission, and it may well be that they open to him more readily than to the rich and arrogant man, who goes about in fashionable attire and has never troubled so much as to look at the beggar. At least we read in Holy Scripture that "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt, xix, 24). To show you what will be the end of those who deny God's existence—and we must class the socialists amongst them—let me quote to you what Chateaubriand, a famous Catholic writer of France, says of a physician, who had been an atheist, and spent his life in a career of vice. As he grew old, and could no longer seek amusements, he declared that he was far from regretting the time wasted in excesses, for he was going to die, and hoped to greet death as his last friend. "However," says Chateaubriand, " I witnessed the pitiful tears that he shed when dying; it was impossible for him to conceal his despondency. Only the unbeliever is really unhappy when he quits this earth; to him earthly existence ends in the terrible fact of annihilation; if he had never been born, he would not have to face the awful fate of ceasing to exist. The life of such an atheist is like a flash of lightning, only serving to reveal to him the abyss awaiting him. O God of mercy and compassion, Thou hast placed us in this world, not that we may suffer aimlessly, nor that we may enjoy a meagre portion of happiness. The disenchantment that is inevitable at death proves our destiny to be of a loftier nature."
Do you understand this, you who work in our mines, factories and shops, you who labor in the fields, you who are servants, poor perhaps as regards earthly possessions, intellectual endowments and reputation; do you appreciate your privileges, dignity and rights? Can kings and princes lay claim to anything higher or more glorious ? Do their luxuries, their fine houses, their extravagant feasts, or their proud titles really give them any advantage over you, who may not indeed enjoy their pleasures in this life, but can proudly boast of the dignity and rights which I have tried, though in a very imperfect way, to describe to you? The great ones of earth as a rule care nothing for these rights, and treat you as if you were beings of a lower sort, altogether inferior to themselves, but in so doing they prove their own pettiness, and their inability to judge things at their true value. Each of you, no matter how poor, wretched and degraded, can with justice claim from every man recognition of and respect for his dignity and rights; he can demand to be treated by all as a brother partaking in the benefits of Christ's redemption. "In order that we may all be of one accord," says St. John Chrysostom, "we have all received the same nature, we all have a body and a soul, we inhabit the same earth, and we are fed with the same fruits that the earth brings forth."
If you, who are wealthy and exalted, despise, oppress, ill-treat, defraud and trample down those whom Providence has set in a lower position, you are not only despising yourselves and renouncing your dignity, but you are insulting God, the Creator of these people, Christ, their Redeemer, and the Holy Ghost, their Sanctifier. By looking down upon others and humbling them, you hope to win honor and glory among your fellows, but you are showing that you have no conception of the real meaning of honor and glory. A man's true glory does not consist in being a gentleman, rich, aristocratic and respected, but rather in having been created in the likeness of God, in being a child of God, a brother of Jesus Christ and an heir to the kingdom of heaven; it is his true honor to recognise, respect and uphold this dignity in those about him. We read in Holy Scripture that "The fear of God is the glory of the rich, and of the honorable, and of the poor. . . . The great man, and the judge and the mighty is in honor, and there is none greater than he that feareth God" (Eccl. x, 25, 27). St. Augustine writes: "Do not fancy that you are not bound to love your neighbor because he is poor and you are rich. It is true that you have no need of him, because you have wealth, but he, though poor, wretched and needy, is a man as you are; he is like you. It rested with God to make him rich and exalt him above you, and perhaps he would have deserved it better. What greater service did you render to God, that you should possess riches, which your neighbor possesses not? Could not God have placed you in the position which he occupies? Therefore you should see yourself in him whom you despise. He is your brother, a part of yourself, and as such he deserves your love."
You see, then, that, looked at in the light of Christianity, differences of rank and property are not very important, though they certainly exist by God's ordinance. They are something nonessential and accidental, on which we should not lay too much stress, since men are all equal in what is essential, viz.: in their imperishable dignity and glorious destiny. Moreover, Christianity sanctifies differences of rank and property, and makes them a source of merit and of eternal salvation. In the ancient world, before Christianity existed, the outward inequality prevailing among men was the reason why some should enslave, oppress and ill-treat others, and thus it caused a great aggravation and intensification of the inevitable sorrows of life. Although this inequality was not removed by Christianity, it was nevertheless not only rendered bearable, but turned into a source of merit.
Christianity teaches that the outward inequality of men, and their mutual dependence upon one another, are intended by God to be means of carrying out His designs with regard to the human race. Inequality is a consequence of sin, but it may now become a means of salvation. God has given to every human being a temporal existence, that he may employ it in meriting eternal life; and in the same way He prescribes to each individual the path that he must follow in order to perform his allotted task. Every one of us ought to use the position assigned him and the temporal gifts bestowed upon him, as means and sources of his own salvation; one should thus avail himself of his poverty, another of his wealth, one of his exalted and another of his lower rank, but all should tend to sanctification.
The Gospel teaches us that God gives wealth to the rich that they may spend it in the service of the poor, not that they may regard it as their own property, of which they are free to dispose as they please, to gratify their pride, ambition and lust. God destines the wealthy to be the instruments of His mercy and stewards of temporal goods for the benefit of their neighbors; hence He does not merely remind them to give alms of their superfluity, but He lays it down, as an absolute law, that they are to help the poor. Speaking
through Moses, He said: " I command thee to open thy hand to thy needy and poor brother, that liveth in the land" (Deut. xv, II) . The Hoiy Ghost makes almsgiving a duty, and bids us give what we owe to the poor, signifying that it is not left to our discretion whether to give alms or not, but it is an absolute obligation to do so. In order to make us more ready to be charitable, we are reminded in Holy Scripture how God daily opens His Hand and fills all living things with blessings; and our Divine Saviour bids us to imitate Him, when He says: "Be ye merciful, as your Father in heaven is merciful." It was through charity and mercy that Jesus Christ came down from heaven, became Man and went about doing good. "He that giveth to the poor shall not want; he that despiseth his entreaty shall suffer indigence" (Prov. xxviii, 27). This is the teaching of Holy Scripture, which assures us that "by mercy and truth iniquity is redeemed" (Prov. xvi, 6 ); and promises to the merciful that they shall find mercy at the judgment seat of God.
Christianity tells the poor that they are God's children, the brethren of Christ, temples of the Holy Ghost, and destined, equally with the rich, for eternal happiness, since God has no respect of persons. They are urged to work out their salvation in patience, humility and obedience, looking constantly at Christ, the Son of God, who left the glory that He enjoyed with the Father, and became poor, in order to make us rich. He was born of a poor maiden in a wretched stable, and had not where to lay His head; He who hung on the Cross for our sakes, abandoned by all, calls upon the poor to take up their cross and bear it after Him, and He tells them:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The Gospel bids masters, employers and those in authority not to forget that they too have a Father in heaven, to whom they will have to answer for the use made of their power and influence, and whose representatives they should be on earth, by their justice, mercy and goodness; it reminds them that as Christians they are the brethren of those under them, and ought to respect and love each of their subordinates as a brother and an equal. Christianity admonishes servants and work people to be patient, obedient, and contented with their lot, following the example of Christ, who came, not to be served, but to serve, and said: " I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also" (John xiii, 15).
You see, therefore, that although the world contains rich and poor, high and low, strong and weak, they are all brethren in Christ, and the greatest is the servant of the least; every rank is sanctified and should be a source and means of merit and of eternal salvation. Do not despond if God has not lavished earthly possessions upon you, nor placed you in a lofty position, nor bestowed outward honors upon you; submit with all humility to His ordinances. A pot cannot blame a potter for not having fashioned it otherwise, and we too cannot murmur against God for having created us as we are, and for not arranging things in another way. He would only say: "Have I not power to act as I will?" Bear ever in mind that riches, high rank and exalted position are not the greatest advantages in life, nor are poverty, lowly birth and obscurity the greatest evils. Instead of being deceived by the specious appearance of transitory things, and instead of complaining like angry children of your inferior position and poverty, you should each of you strive to sanctify yourselves in your own station, and to discharge the duties assigned to you for the honor of God, your own good and the welfare of your fellow men. Remember St. Paul's words: "As the Lord hath distributed to every one, as God hath called every one, so let him walk" ( I . Cor. vii, 17). "With fear and trembling work out your salvation" (Phil, i i , 12).
In order to sum up shortly and give you a clear impression of what I have been saying, let me have recourse to an allegory. The human race resembles a body with many parts, all of which are equally useful, but they are not all equally honorable. The eye ranks higher than the mouth, the mouth than the ear, the ear than the hand, and so on. Now it is the same with mankind—they are all equally good, because they were created by God as His children^ but they are not all equally rich or equally honorable. In the body each member has its own place and the eye cannot complain of being an eye, nor the ear of being an ear. In the same way a position is assigned to every human being; one is a master, another a servant; one is a father, another a son, and no one has any right to grumble. In the body each member has its own function; the eye has to see, the mouth to speak, the ear to hear. In the same way every human being has his own peculiar duties, indicated by his rank and calling. In the body one member supports another, and when one suffers, all suffer with it; when one is at ease, all the rest share its comfort. The same ought to be the case with men; one ought to support another, and help him to the best of his abilities, sharing his joys and sorrows. "Rejoice," says St. Paul," with them that rejoice, weep with them that weep" (Rom. xiii, 15).
Henceforth let none of you look down upon his neighbors nor encroach upon their rights. The laborers, the workers in mines and factories, toiling to provide for themselves and their families and giving their strength and health to increase their employers' capital, even the beggars in ragged clothing and with careworn faces, going from door to door in quest of food, all are God's children, all are your brethren, loved by God and destined for as glorious a future as yourselves. Do not follow the example of many wealthy and respectable people, who talk a great deal about the dignity and rights of men, whilst actually trampling them under foot; or who, when a poor man asks bread for his starving children, or employment for himself, question him at once as to his religious views, and should these not coincide with their own, refuse him all assistance. Others pamper their cats and dogs with delicacies, and refuse even the crumbs that fall from their table to their poorer fellow creatures; others again avail themselves of their intellectual superiority to outwit and ridicule the simple, and employ their strength in oppressing the weak. Treat your workpeople and the poor as your brethren in Christ, show them mercy and love, and their complaints of harsh and unjust dealings on the part of employers will gradually die away. These complaints are the cause of much discontent and bad feeling and drive many to adopt the doctrines of socialism. If you despise your fellow-creatures, you are despising not only your own flesh and blood, but also Him who created them, and God will not suffer you to escape punishment "Go to now, ye rich men," writes St. James "weep mid howl in your miseries, which shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten; your gold, and silver is cankered, and the rust of them shall be for a testimony against you, and shall eat your flesh like fire. You have stored up to yourselves wrath against the last days. Behold the hire of the laborers, who have reaped down your fields, which by fraud has been kept back by you, crieth; and the cry of them hath entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have feasted upon earth, and in riotousness you have nourished your hearts in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the just one, and he resisted you not" (James v, 1-6).
In the book of Ecclesiasticus we read: "The Lord will not be slack, but will judge for the just, and will do judgment; and the Almighty will not have patience with them, that he may crush their back; and he will repay vengeance to the gentiles, till he have taken away the multitude of the proud and broken the sceptres of the unjust; till He have rendered to men according to their deeds. . . . till He have judged the cause of His people, and He shall delight the just with His mercy" (Eccl. xxxv, 22-25). If then you are masters, treat your work people with Christian charity and justice, not forgetting that they are your brethren in Christ. If you are subordinates, accept your lot with patience, and walk worthily of your high calling. If you are rich and respected, remember that your position requires you to be generous, accessible and abounding in good works. Practise these virtues and let your hearts be ever ready to sympathize with the miserable, and your ears be open to their cry for help. Especially at the present time, when destitution stares so many in the face, "let your abundance supply their want," as St. Paul says, "that there may be an equality" (II. Cor. viii, 14). Never say that you are tired of giving, and will furnish no further help. Ought your charity to diminish when need increases? Do not complain that business is bad, and that it behooves every one to keep what he has. Of course the times are bad; poverty, distress and want prevail in every direction, and many are out of work. But who knows whether God will not have mercy on those whom He has stricken; and whether the sword, that He has brandished over our heads, may not be restored to its scabbard, when He perceives our charity and sees that we have mercy on others? "Son, defraud not the poor of alms, and turn not away thy eyes from the poor; despise not the hungry soul, and provoke not the poor in his want; afflict not the heart of the needy, and defer not to give to him that is in distress. . . . And thou shalt be as the obedient son of the Most High, and He will have mercy on thee more than a mother" (Eccl. iv, 1-4, 11). You who are poor, and forced to toil for your daily bread, endure your poverty and labor for the sake of God and our Lord Jesus Christ, and do not lose your courage and confidence. You are God's children, brothers of Christ, who was Himself poor, and so knows what it means to suffer want; you are temples pf the Holy Ghost, in short, you enjoy the same dignity, privileges and rights as the exalted on earth. God, your heavenly Father, will never forsake you. He who feeds the birds of the air and clothes the flowers of the field, will give you food as you need it; He will open His hand and bestow abundant blessings upon you and your families. "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart, and He will save the humble of spirit. Many are the afflictions of the just, but out of them all will the Lord deliver them" (Ps. xxxiii, 19, 20).
I acknowledge that it is galling to a man to have to occupy an inferior position, whilst he is aware of his own dignity; it is galling to owe his support to one who is only a man like himself; it is galling to have to carry out instructions given by one no better than himself. But, after all, the present order will soon pass away, and, if we have borne our cross patiently here on earth, and worked out our salvation with fear and trembling, we shall reach the place where there are no such conditions, and where whatever greatness each human soul possesses will shine forth in perfect splendor. Let us look forward to this time, and strive to do our best here, so that we all, rich or poor, high and low, masters and servants, may gain admission to our heavenly home. Let us look forward to the time when earthly things will have passed away, and when our good works alone will be seen to have any true value. Then, when each man's reputation depends upon his goodness, when his greatness depends upon his humility, his possessions on his hope, and his happiness on his charity and mercy—when all human respect, all differences of rank, and all subordination of one to another are at an end; we shall all with one accord rejoice in the contemplation of God in His infinity, and together with the choirs of Angels and the countless multitude of the elect, we shall praise and adore Him forever. Amen.