Distributism for All of Life

I was recently sent a video clip featuring a Protestant theologian, author, and apologist by the name of Gary DeMar concerning his opinion as to why evangelicals are not appointed to the Supreme Court. His rationale was that, unlike Catholics, evangelicals tend to be piece-meal in their application of Divine Revelation. On the other hand, Catholics have historically understood the dominion mandate, both in its meaning and extent. It is all too unfortunate, according to DeMar, that modern evangelicals have a tendency to be so focused on "saving souls" that they forget that there is still a life to live and a world to disciple once one has been born again. To paraphrase my father, "they are too heavenly minded to be any earthly good." Add to this the belief that the end is moments away, and you have about as much reason to reconstruct a Christian social order as you would shining the brass on a sinking ship.

Understanding DeMar's remarks requires one to have a basic knowledge of the distinction he makes between the modern (and typically American) run-of-the-mill evangelicals as opposed to the Protestant school of Dominion Theology that he would identify with. Prior to my conversion, I also believed much like DeMar & Co. DeMar's works in the field of what has become known as Christian Reconstruction ranked up there with notables like Greg Bahnsen, R.J. Rushdoony, David Chilton, and, most importantly for me, Gary North. All of these men are "black coffee" Calvinists, adhering rigorously to Sola Scriptura, Covenant Theology, TULIP, Van Tilian apologetics (i.e. presuppositionalism), and postmillennialism. And all of these men have a strong conviction that by our applying kingdom principles to every sphere of human life we will bring about the kind of justice and peace that fulfills the Great Commission though subjecting all thoughts to Christ and by being the instruments through which King Christ takes dominion over all people in all nations, until the only enemy remaining is death.

The above mentioned convictions, when combined, create a holistic worldview. This school of thought literally touches on every area of human life. Sola Scriptura provides, at least it is believed, a normative standard by which Christians must live. Their form of Covenant Theology, over against the theological dinosaur known as Dispensationalism, places a special emphasis on the Torah. They see within God's law principles from which we can formulate political, legal, economic, and even environmental policies. Gary North and R.J. Rushdoony have written a myriad of economic commentaries seeking to draw out those theonomic principles underlying the case law of the Old Covenant, as well as those principles that can be found in New Covenant texts. James Jordan, who prefers to be called a theocrat rather than a theonomist, takes this further by including the ceremonial laws and historical narratives in his search for a truly authentic Christian order. And their postmillennialism provides the kind of optimism, not to be confused with triumphalism, that spurs them and their adherents to living this faith diligently in their daily lives, holding fast to the belief that such efforts would do more than save their souls, but would also works towards the reconstruction of a truly Christian order.

It is not my intention here to hold these men or their works as standards of hermeneutical excellence that ought to be emulated by faithful Catholics. Rather, it is in an effort to renew within the mind and heart of the faithful Catholic the age-old conviction that our faith is neither piece-meal nor meant to be lived out on Easter and Christmas. Instead, the orthodox faith handed down to us over the past 2,000 years is, and always has been, meant to be applied on a personal level, to the family unit, and to the political-economy as a whole. It is, by its very nature, holistic.

Distributists, in common with most all groups or schools of thought ending with an -ism, tend to ride hobby horses. It has been brought to my attention that I tend to overemphasize foreign policy and international trade at the expense of many other pressing issues. For others it may be the Fed. For others it might be guilds and localism. Still for others it could be a mixture of all these things at the expense of the "other" topics typically getting little more than a passing glance. At any rate, most of us are guilty. And while the principle of the division of labor may be applicable here, at least to a certain extent, it should not be seen as a justification for our enthusiasm for certain teachings at the expense of others.

All of this poses a particularly sticky problem for those wishing to embrace and live out the fullness of Catholic social and moral teaching. Life isn't just about money, nor is it merely concerned with the ownership of land or family farms. Catholic Social Teaching, of which distributism most accurately reflects, deals with people as they are and life as it is. This requires the distributist to at bare minimum to familiarize himself with the entirety of Holy Mother Church's social, moral, and dogmatic teaching. As She is concerned with life in its entirety, so ought we. We must, therefore, become at least respectfully acquainted with those issues which may not be most appealing to our special interests. In short, it means becoming Catholic in the fullest sense, with the devout life as our aim, and the realization of Christ reign as Lord and King of Heaven and Earth as our primary objective.

Do I believe any of this to be possible? Apart from the grace of God and the works of Our Lady that result from a life of prayer, no. Do I believe that this revolution will happen overnight, or that progress will always be seen in leaps and bounds? No. The distributists of old, in harmony with the teachings of Mother Church, were as much realists as they were pragmatists. The theory of one brick or one step at a time, regardless how small or insignificant it may initially appear, is at the heart and soul of Catholic social reconstruction. But none of this can be done without a more comprehensive study and application of the kingdom principles laid out for us in the Holy Scripture, the writings of the saints, the papal encyclicals and the catechisms. Still, prayer is an absolute essential. Pray we can, and pray we must. For without prayer our most valiant efforts will be of little to no avail.

Gary DeMar was right. Historically, Catholics have been holistic in their application of their religion to each and every area of human existence. It is for this reason that the Catholic faith and Mother Church are seen as the one's who shaped and preserved Western civilization. So let us pray that we too can live up to that high calling and standard of excellence provided for us by the saints of old. Then, and only then, will we see the dominion of King Christ manifest within the world and the affairs of those God chose to create in His most sacred image.

NOTE: I am now on Twitter. http://twitter.com/Paleocrat and Plaxo


Peregrinus_PF Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 9:09:00 AM CDT  

I have been saying for awhile that any economic system that does not follow the Catholic Moral and Social teachings is bound to be be corrupted and ultimately fail. Global Capitalism and Socialism (especially the radial ones like Marxism and Fascism) are prime examples of this corruption and failure.

I believe that a combination of Distributism, Catholic Land Movement, and Catholic Workers movement provide the bulk of what is needed to formulate a coherent and viable economic system as long as it stays within the bounds of Catholic Moral and Social teachings.

Nuno Fonseca Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 4:11:00 PM CDT  

Happy St Anthony's day all the way from Portugal, Paleo.

In the Protestant side, there are movements such as the Emerging Church, the Church-Planting movement (Keller, Driscoll, Chandler, etc), and the Federal Vision, that understand this holistic void - the fruit of years of an escapist, separatist view of Christian living. Some try the up-down tactic, by trying to influence the governament and the magistrate, etc; others, try the down-up approach, by engaging culture and actually transforming it, in hopes of working their way up.

But, not so amazingly, even these are met with tremendous consternation, scrutiny, even repudiation - by the fundamentalists of old. The result is as obvious: American evangelicals are demographically shrinking into suburbia, staying glued to their TV sets, waiting for rapture.

The new calvinists, as Time Magazine calls them, seem to bring a fresh idea to the younger generation: God is indeed sovereing over all spheres of life. (Funny how they believe that predestination is a Protestant thing, when it's actually a milennial Catholic dogma!).

But I must add, Paleo, that this is, in part, very positive. These people are one step away from Rome. And as soons as they start taking their postmillenial agendas more seriously, they'll make that step back home.

Deus te abençoe,
Nuno Fonseca.

Viking Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 5:08:00 PM CDT  

I'm neither Catholic nor a theologian, but it was my understanding that, while St. Augustine did indeed believe in predestination and influenced the Catholic church in that regard and others for centuries, St. Thomas Aquinas's work had largely superseded it by the time Calvin came onto the scene. So, if this is correct, then Calvin did revive a doctrine that the Church of Rome had largely abandoned. If I'm mistaken about this, someone please correct me. Btw, I believe that St. Paul had heard such talk of predestination in his rabbinical studies, as reflected in that famous passage comparing human souls to pottery. So, again assuming I'm not in error, Catholics are not wholly original on the matter either.


John Médaille Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 5:15:00 PM CDT  

St. Thomas also believed in predestination (ST I, 23). But then, Thomas struggled a lot with the idea of free will, and it is a very ambiguous question in the Summa. This resulted in the voluntarist reaction of the next century of Duns Scotus and William of Ockham.

Viking Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 6:10:00 PM CDT  

Thank you for that, John. Did Duns Scotus and William of Ockham's voluntarist reaction then clear the way for Catholics to believe in free will, and do a majority now so believe? Incidentally, it was my understanding that Duns (unwittingly) lent his name to the dunce cap, an ironic and terribly misguided "tribute" to a brilliant thinker. And from that, I'd gotten the impression that he wasn't always properly appreciated after his death. I'm glad to hear that in this, at least, he did gain some posthumous respect.


Nuno Fonseca Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 6:28:00 PM CDT  

Being an Augustinian myself, I relish in magisterial confirmations such as these:

“We confess a predestination of the elect to life, and a predestination of the wicked to death; that, in the election of those who are saved, the mercy of God precedes anything we do, and in the condemnation of those who will perish, evil merit precedes the righteous judgment of God.”

—Council of Valence, 855

Paleocrat Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 10:13:00 PM CDT  

I, too, am a proud Augustinian in regards to election, reprobation, and God's sovereignty. I think, though, that Calvinists would be quite surprised to read some of his material on the matter. It wouldn't be a fool's wager to bet the bulk of them would decry him as some kind of Semi-Pelagian.

It is nice to meet another Augustinian. We are few and far between, my friend.

John Médaille Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 10:37:00 PM CDT  

The Church comes down solidly on the side of free-will, but fudges the issue of predestination. The Catechism contains only six scattered references to the topic, and most of those are just quotes from scripture that mention predestination, but without really commenting on it.

I believe that what the Church does condemn is double predestination, the idea that God made some for hell, the council of Valence notwithstanding. I believe that only one person is predestined for heaven, Jesus Christ, and everybody else gets in by participating in his merits by faith and works. And I think we have to hold out the possibility that God's mercy overcomes all sin. This, of course, can only be a hope, but being a hope it cannot be hopeless. My further reflections on this topic are at http://www.medaille.com/the%20daring%20hope%20of%20hans%20urs%20von%20balthasar.pdf

John Médaille Saturday, June 13, 2009 at 10:39:00 PM CDT  

Here's a tinyurl for that article:

Nuno Fonseca Sunday, June 14, 2009 at 6:07:00 AM CDT  

I see what you mean, Paleo.

St Augustine, despite the fact that he believed in double predestination*, he did concede that a man be regenerated in the baptismal waters, be granted the gift of faith and religious piety, but still not possess the gift of preserverence, resulting in his condemnation for abandoning communion with the Church of Christ. All material that can be read in his book 'On Preserverence'.

But again, this would just be answered by a series of Protestant cherry-picking, or historical revisionism, or their 'what he really meant was'-schtick.

Have you been also keeping up with the NT Wright 'final justification'-related controversy? I think he hasn't realised that he's become either Anglo-Catholic or Roman Catholic in view of justification. Anyway, the feeling of social staticism among Low-Church/Evangelicalism is becoming too self-evident, and men like Wright and the FVists and the Emergents are trying very hard to repair that.

I'm perhaps going off-topic here, but I also find his critique of the Enlightment very cunning. Too bad he didn't realise that the consequent social secularisation was a fruit - although unwanted - of the Reformation.

I'm officially in the midst of a blogger rant. Please, Paleo, do stop me.

(note to Mr Médaille: single predestination to life implies predestination to death, though not as symmetrical positive/positive decrees, like the calvinist would assume)

Donald Goodman Monday, June 15, 2009 at 9:23:00 AM CDT  


The Church's teaching on free will and predestination has not changed; it has remained the same since the Apostles received it from Christ. Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas taught in accordance with the teaching of the Church.

St. Thomas unquestionably supported free will without any ambiguity. "Man does not choose of necessity...man chooses not of necessity, but freely." ST Ia-IIae, Q. 13, Art. 6. Nor do I see anything contradictory to this proposition in his articles on predestination.

St. Augustine also argued forcefully in favor of free will. His magnum opus, Civitas Dei, in the words of the Catholic Encyclopedia, "takes up the defence of free will, even in man as he is, with such ardour that his works against the Manichæan are an inexhaustible storehouse of arguments in this still living controversy." Indeed, Protestants and Jansenists who read Augustine often consider him a Pelagian for this reason. He asserts clearly that the dichotomy between grace and free will is a false one ("there are some persons who so defend God's grace as to deny man's free will, or who suppose that free will is denied when grace is defended"; On Grace and Free Will, 1), and he states in chapter 2, "Now He [God] has revealed to us, through His Holy Scriptures, that there is in a man a free choice of will." So trying to set up Augustine and Thomas as opposed concerning free will, or saying that either is ambiguous in his support of free will, simply doesn't hold water.

It's worth noting that, for all the dichotomy that some like to set up between Doctor Gratiae and Doctor Angelicus, St. Thomas loved Augustine, was intensely respectful of him even when disagreeing with him, and cites St. Augustine more often than any other source save the Scriptures---including Aristotle. A quick search of Corpus Thomisticum reveals St. Thomas citing Augustine in 7312 places; Aristotle is only is in 1215 places. No one else, save Holy Writ, gets even close to Aristotle. The Catholic tradition running through Augustine and Thomas has developed; but it's still one.

The Council of Valence is certainly correct; this is a dogma of the Church. But it must be understood as the Church understands it. The damnation of some men is the product of God's *consequent* will, but not of His *antecedent* will. We know that God "wills that all men be saved" (I Tim. 2:4); on the other hand, we know that some men are damned. God wills all men be saved, and He provides all men with what is necessary to be saved ("sufficient grace"). That will is *antecedent* to the particular circumstances. However, God knows from all eternity that many men will not take advantage of the sufficient actual graces He gives them, and consequently from all eternity wills that they suffer the punishment for this refusal. This is His *consequent* will; that is, it is consequent to the particulars.

So while predestination is certainly a Catholic dogma, which Catholics are *not* free to deny, it is a far cry from Calvinist predestination, which essentially states that at each man's creation God hands him a card with "Heaven" or "Hell" written on it. Catholic predestination states that God knows and wills that you go to either Heaven or Hell; however, it's still your own free choice which sends you there. He just already knows what you're going to choose, and wills the appropriate consequence.

St. Thomas and St. Augustine disagree on several points. (Though often that difference is overstated; e.g., St. Augustine's "divine illumination" epistemology is quite close to St. Thomas's Aristotelian epistemology, significantly closer than it is to Plato's.) This disagreement extends to many details about the operation of free will in conjunction with divine grace. However, there is *no* disagreement as to the *existence* of free will.

Both free will and predestination are doctrines of the Catholic Church.

Donald Goodman Monday, June 15, 2009 at 9:31:00 AM CDT  

As Nuno correctly (in my opinion) notes, predestination to life implies predestination to death, as well. St. Thomas clearly explains this, in ST Ia, Q. 23, Art. 5, rep. 3. Some men are predestined to life, and others to death, all through the goodness of God. We are not entitled to Heaven; indeed, because of our sins, we are entitled only to Hell. Grace is a free gift which we do *not* deserve, and no one can say that God is unjust for distributing that free gift as He sees fit. On the other hand, we do know that He gives that free gift to every man, sufficiently to ensure each man's salvation, should that man's free will cooperate with it. So why are some men saved and not others? At this point, we must simply answer, "Because God wants it so." We can plumb the depths of God's will only to an extremely limited degree. As far as we in this veil of tears are concerned, our duty is the same either way: we must exercise our free will to cooperate with the grace that the Lord gives us, and thus "with fear and trembling work out []our salvation." Philippians 2:12.

As for Scotus, his chief contribution to Catholic theology is his explanation of how the Blessed Virgin Mary could have been conceived without original sin without violating the doctrine of original sin (namely, that all are conceived with it). While St. Thomas believed in the Immaculate Conception (the Summa "denies" it; however, the Summa is a beginner's text, and his more detailed writings on the subject confirm it), he had some trouble clearly describing how it was possible.

I think that grouping Scotus and Ockham is unfair to the good monk Scotus. Ockham was a nominalist, a heinous philosophical school which Scotus would have found reprehensible. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Scotus's view of free will is pretty much identical to St. Thomas's. "God recognizes the free future acts in His essence, and provides a free decree of His will, which does not predetermine our free will, but only accompanies it." No doubt there are differences in the particulars, but this general proposition, understood in a given way, does not seem opposed to the Thomistic teaching.

Praise be to Christ the King!

John Médaille Monday, June 15, 2009 at 9:56:00 AM CDT  

If any are interested, my comparison of Scotus and Thomas on the question of the will is at http://www.medaille.com/primacy%20of%20the%20will.pdf

Donald Goodman Monday, June 15, 2009 at 12:42:00 PM CDT  


John, thanks; I enjoyed the work a lot. Of course, being a dedicated Thomist (I love Leo XIII's Aeterni Patris), I obviously disagree with you that St. Thomas's doctrines essentially negate man's freedom, and I disagree fundamentally concerning your conclusions.

Clearly, this comment box is not the place to continue that discussion. I just wanted to make it clear that, while predestination is a Catholic doctrine, so is free will; there's been no confusion at any period about Catholic teaching as far as those simple propositions go.

Praise be to Christ the King!

Clare Krishan,  Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 3:30:00 PM CDT  

Oh yes! Embrace the philosophers, please do and while we're at it let's define some terms, why don't we? What is the ontology of "business" and wither the distributive justice of "profit"? Here's an excellent article for starters:


The Scylding Friday, June 19, 2009 at 12:42:00 PM CDT  

Peregrinus: Though I'm not Catholic, I'll ad Ordoliberalism (Roepke & co.) to that list.

Missavage Friday, June 19, 2009 at 2:33:00 PM CDT  

excellent post. well put together.

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