The Dignity of Work: Poverty, Property, and Fraternity in Pope Francis's Fratelli Tutti (Brothers & Sisters All) / Martin Schlag


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"There is no poverty worse than that which takes away work and the dignity of work. In a genuinely developed society, work is an essential dimension of social life, for it is not only a means of earning one’s daily bread, but also of personal growth, the building of healthy relationships, self-expression and the exchange of gifts. Work gives us a sense of shared responsibility for the development of the world, and ultimately, for our life as a people." (Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti 162)

In the resurgence of worldwide populism, Pope Francis has said that employment is the biggest issue. And because of the global pandemic, work has become a fraught and challenging part of life. In this episode, Father Martin Schlag explores the concept of work in Fratelli Tutti, explaining the Catholic social ethic of the dignity of work and inclusion of all people into the human economy; the Pope’s perspective on private property and the suggestion that “the world exists for us all”; and the relevance of Catholic social thought and Fratelli Tutti for businesspeople, with a vision of work grounded in friendship, responsibility, dignity, justice, and love. Interview by Ryan McAnnally-Linz.

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Show Notes

  • Read Fratelli Tutti in its entirety online here
  • Fratelli Tutti is basically a summary of all of Pope Francis’s teaching.
  • Pope Francis on politics and love: “The biggest issue is employment."
  • "Bread and work”
  • Psychological and sociological catastrophe of long term widespread unemployment
  • Pope Francis defines poverty as the exclusion of the dignity of earning one’s own bread
  • Left and Right are categories that don’t work for the Catholic social tradition.
  • Dignity and Catholic Social Ethics and Anthropology—labor and the common good
  • Human dignity is grounded in the Image of God, as a representative of the absolute and unconditional; never as a means, always as an end
  • Human dignity formulated as friendship or fraternity
  • The right to work and rights in work: access, just wage, safety, rest, social security (health care, insurance, retirement benefits)
  • Christian perspectives on private property: St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, St. Gregory—“your affluence belongs to the poor"
  • Not communism but generosity and sharing
  • Private Property: One of the most striking passages for the outside reader
  • Two Christian perspectives on private property: (1) Augustinian strand—private property as consequence of original sin and is regulated only by human law; “in paradise there was no private property” / (2) Aristotelian/Thomist tradition—private property is derived from natural law and the common good (this is the dominant Catholic tradition)
  • Absolute vs Derived Rights. Property is a secondary, or derived, right.
  • Property has a social mortgage, creates responsibility
  • Horizontal vs Vertical dimensions of private property
  • Vertical dimension of private property: “The world exists for us all”; the universal destination of all goods;
  • Horizontal dimension of private property: 7th commandment presupposes private property (“Thou shall not steal”); under human society, private property exists and needs to be protected by laws
  • “We belong to the whole.” Aquinas: Human beings exist as part of a whole, a human being stops being a human being when they leave the polis/community or whole. Aquinas corrects that: Only to God do we belong.
  • Catholic social teaching has four big principles: Human dignity, Common good, Solidarity, Subsidiarity
  • All people of good will. What two or three big takeaways are available for someone who does own property/business person?
  • No to the idolatry of money. You need money in the world, but it’s only a means to an end, like gas in a car
  • Friendship: How can you create meaningful work for others and yourself, creating variety of tasks, giving significance, give recognition, empowered, autonomously?
  • Oppose elitism and false universalism: does my business have an inclusive mechanism, do we listen, have regular debates, does everyone contribute to decision making?
  • Where societal change comes from: not come from the elites but from the peripheries
  • “The People”
  • What does a fraternal society look like in Pope Francis’ imagination?
  • Consider the French revolution: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”—liberalism built a politics on liberty; socialism built a politics on equality; but who has built a politics on fraternity?
  • “Good politics combines love with hope and with confidence in the reserves of goodness present in human hearts.” (Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti 197)
  • 'At times, in thinking of the future, we do well to ask ourselves, “Why I am doing this?”, “What is my real aim?” For as time goes on, reflecting on the past, the questions will not be: “How many people endorsed me?”, “How many voted for me?”, “How many had a positive image of me?” The real, and potentially painful, questions will be, “How much love did I put into my work?” “What did I do for the progress of our people?” “What mark did I leave on the life of society?” “What real bonds did I create?” “What positive forces did I unleash?” “How much social peace did I sow?” “What good did I achieve in the position that was entrusted to me?”’ (Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti 197)

About Father Martin Schlag

Father Martin Schlag is Alan W. Moss Endowed Chair for Catholic Social Thought at the University of St. Thomas and is author of The Business Francis Means: Understanding the Pope's Message on the Economy. He studies the nexus of Christian faith with markets, trade and exchange, money, private property, and their net effect on social justice.

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