Was Jesus a Capitalist?
To answer whether Jesus was a capitalist we need to first define capitalism.
Capitalism is an economic system in which private actors own and control property and the means of production while demand and supply freely set prices for goods and services.
Its ‘modern’ intellectual basis is typically identified as found in the Scottish economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith’s 1776 book “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”.
DOES THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ENDORSE CAPITALISM?
“The answer is obviously complex.” (Centesimus Annus, 42)
“If by ‘capitalism’ is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative”. (Centesimus Annus, 42)
“But if by ‘capitalism’ is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.” (Centesimus Annus, 42)
So, while Jesus could not have been a capitalist (this economic system did not exist at the time) capitalism is well capable of representing the principles Jesus established.
TO BE SPECIFIC: THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND FREE MARKETS
We can better understand Jesus and Capitalism through Catholic social teaching on free markets.
The Church teaches through her social doctrine that a free-market economy is an “important source of wealth and should be viewed carefully and favorably” (Pope St. John Paul II, 40) – for “certainly every country needs economic growth and the creation of wealth, and the extension of these to each citizen, without exclusion.” (Pope Francis, 3)
Catholic social teaching says a “business economy has many positive aspects – its basis is human freedom exercised in the economic field”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 32)
In summary: “It would appear that at the national and international level the free market is the most efficient way for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 34)
WE NEED TO BE CLEAR THOUGH: SUPPORT OF FREE MARKETS IS NOT UNEQUIVOCAL
“The creation of this wealth must always be at the service of the common good, and not only for the benefit of a few.” (Pope Francis, 3)
In fact, “Insofar as it [Unbridled Capitalism] denies an autonomous existence and value to morality, law, culture and religion, it agrees with Marxism…it totally reduces man to the sphere of economics and the satisfaction of material needs.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 19)
Catholic Social Teaching points out that the “conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from ‘influences’ of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 34)
The current system “is by now intolerable”. “[T]hat system has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion…An unfettered pursuit of money rules. This is the ‘dung of the devil’.” (Pope Francis, 1)
THE BASIS OF A CATHOLIC ECONOMIC MODEL
“The crisis will not be completely over until situations and living conditions are examined in terms of the human person and human dignity…Our duty is to continue to insist…that the human person and human dignity are not simply catchwords, but pillars for creating shared rules and structures”. (Pope Francis, 2)
Only being “open to the Absolute can guide us in the promotion and building of forms of social and civic life — structures, institutions, culture and ethos”. (Pope Benedict XVI, 78)
Read more about the Church’s take on economic systems here
Learn more about the Right to Private Property
Three Key Principles
Catholic social teaching is built on three foundational principles - Human Dignity, Solidarity and Subsidiarity. Human Dignity, embodied in a correct understanding of the human person, is the greatest. The others flow from it. Good governments and good economic systems find ways of fostering the three principles.
This means a correct understanding of the human person and of each person’s unique value. All Catholic social teaching flows from this: the inherent dignity of every person that comes from being made in God’s image.
Solidarity is not “a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of others. It is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 38) Love of God and love of neighbor are, in fact, linked and form one, single commandment.
Subsidiarity “is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry. So, too, it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by the lesser and subordinate bodies”. (Pope Pius XI)
Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice, Inc (CAPP-USA) is the United States affiliate of Fondazione Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice at the Vatican. | Sitemap