Trinity and Society: The Search for
a "New Way"
[This article was first published in The Chesterton Review in November 1993. Minor corrections and slight revisions have been made to this version.]
"The theological dimension is needed both for interpreting and solving present-day problems in human society." (John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 55)
"God Himself is a society" (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Ch. 8)
1. Some Alternatives
After the fall of Communism in the former Eastern Bloc, a multitude of peoples rediscovered their sense of nationhood and asserted their right to independence. But what kind of society, with what kind of economy, is likely to emerge from the present political confusion? It is not a simple matter of adopting an alternative, "Capitalist" ideology to replace Communism. Criminal elements and unreconstructed Socialists are, besides, poised to exploit any new system to their maximum advantage. Nor should the danger of the "consumerist temptation" be underestimated, as the Pope has frequently emphasised. Although consumer goods will certainly remain scarce in much of Europe for the foreseeable future, even the images of those goods projected by the media are enough to condition a whole generation to seek for their heaven on earth – and to turn against their new political leaders if a change in government is not followed by economic progress. At the outset, it would be well to recall that "The Church’s social doctrine is not a ‘third way’ between liberal Capitalism and Marxist collectivism, nor even a possible alternative to other solutions less radically opposed to one another; rather, it constitutes a category of its own" (John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 41). The Church proposes not an ideology, but a theological and moral perspective for those who are involved in social action. In Centesimus Annus, published in 1991, John Paul II repeats that "the Church has no models to present; models that are real and truly effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, through the efforts of all those who responsibly confront concrete problems in all their social, economic, political, and cultural aspects, as these interact with each other" (43).
Yet none of this is to say that Catholics who do responsibly confront a given historical situation – within the perspective or "orientation" provided by Church teaching – may not try to find a "third way," or a "new way," which is neither a form of Socialism nor a form of liberal (in the sense of "free-market") Capitalism. In fact, it seems that they are obliged to do so, for the very criteria for a just social order sketched in the Pope’s encyclical letter Centesimus Annus – a delicate balance of solidarity and subsidiarity – appear to rule out both these supposed alternatives. Although "the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilising resources and effectively responding to needs ... there are many human needs which find no place on the market" (34), and there are "goods which by their nature are not and cannot be mere commodities" (40). Consequently, the Pope seems to favour a "social market approach that subjects market mechanisms to strong public control (14), in order to ensure, among other things, "an abundance of work opportunities, a solid system of social security and professional training, the freedom to join trade unions and the effective action of unions," and "assistance provided in cases of unemployment" (19). Yet it would be over-hasty to hold up the German social market economy as the definitive embodiment of Catholic social principles. The debate in this area is complex and profound. Only a certain kind of "fool for Christ" (a fool such as G.K. Chesterton) would attempt to wade into it without any expertise in economics, armed only with common sense, intuition, and faith. Nevertheless, an outsider can sometimes glimpse things that are hidden from the experts; and, in the situation created by the fall of Communism, there is an opportunity – and a need – to consider the possibility that Catholic social principles might imply a more radical departure from current economic orthodoxy than any nation has yet attempted.
Inspired by the encyclicals Rerum Novarum (1891) and Quadragesimo Anno (1931), G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, with numerous associates, including the Dominican Father Vincent McNabb, formulated a third way that they named "Distributism", because it was based on a conception of the importance of widely and well-distributed private property. The craftsman, Erie Gill, summed up the Distributist critique of "advanced" industrial society as follows:
The term "servile state" came from the title of an influential book by Hilaire Belloc. With Chesterton, he believed that, prior to the Reformation and despite the defects of the feudal system, the English had lived in what was, in effect, a Distributist society. Through the enclosure of common land and the appropriation and exploitation of monastic property by the Tudors this society was destroyed, and the ground prepared for the development of modern Capitalism during the Industrial Revolution. If his analysis is right, Capitalism was built on the ruination of the monasteries; in a sense, it presupposed the destruction of contemplation, or at least the destruction of that particular synthesis of contemplation and action that lay at the heart of feudal civilisation. The effect of Industrial Capitalism was to re-create the institution of slavery under a new form – not as obviously as Communism was to do, but really nonetheless. As Dermot Quinn expresses it:
The Distributists idealised the medieval guild system as a way of regulating production and ensuring quality. They proposed "to re-establish the peasant, the craftsman and the small (and secure) retail tradesman."  Although they were in favour of what is now called "subsidiarity," and against government interference wherever possible (including any forcible imposition of Distributist solutions on the nation), they were not above appealing to the government for help in getting Distributism started, by encouraging education in handicrafts or farming, and the development of a less centralised market system for distributing produce. They advocated special legislation to shelter the small, and differential taxation to handicap the large; measures that would be anathema to any free-marketeer. Such measures might seem to work against freedom - but the Distributists argued that they were intended only to hamper the freedom of the few who wished to destroy the independence of the many.
The widespread distribution of shares in big business enterprises (of which we have seen much recently) was regarded by the Distributists as a very imperfect way of realising economic freedom, for the control exercised by a shareholder in a privatised industry is "distant, indirect and largely impersonal."  It may be a necessary transitional stage, but the real object of the Distributists was the personal, immediate ownership of the tools of one’s trade, and especially of the land necessary to support one’s own family. The British government of the day, as we know, did not support the Distributists. In fact, it stifled their Birmingham Land Scheme, which was intended as a practical device for settling the urban unemployed on land-holdings of their own. Although several Distributist communities did nevertheless spring up (the best known and most lasting being at Ditchling in the South and Laxton in the North of England), the movement was therefore widely perceived as eccentric, and its influence ever since has tended to be indirect.
The "New Economics"
Whether due to the influence of Distributism or not, certain elements of Chesterton’s vision seem to re-emerge – combined with the more recent concern with ecology – in the writings of such later figures as E.F. Schumacher (of Small is Beautiful fame) and Leopold Kohr (The Breakdown of Nations). Jane Jacobs (Cities and the Wealth of Nations, 1984) argues for Community Land Trusts, worker-owned and managed businesses ("common ownership"), non-profit banks and even regional currencies, controlled locally. Herman E. Daly of the World Bank speaks of maximising the distribution of privately owned property. Mondragon and other successful co-operative experiments [described by Race Mathews in his book Jobs of Our Own] are often held up as proof that alternative models of industrial organisation are perfectly feasible. Among the newer approaches discussed by David Pearce, Paul Ekins and their colleagues in the "New Economics" movement  is the idea of building current assessments of long-term ecological cost into the retail price of goods, although the practicality of this is still disputed. The New Economics Foundation in London continues to be an important centre for the development of such ideas, which are also promoted in Britain by magazines such as Resurgence and publishers such as Earthscan.
It is not my intention to assess the practicality of the New Economics. What interests me rather is the extent to which it might be reconciled with the tradition of Catholic social teaching. In many respects I feel it can. On the other hand, the few points of obvious divergence may give us a clue to the distinctive contribution Catholics can make in this debate. One such point of divergence that is manifest, not in Schumacher but certainly in many of the other authors associated with the New Economics, lies in the area of population policy. Let us take For the Common Good, co-written by Daly and the theologian John B. Cobb, Jr. (Beacon Press, 1989), as a particularly interesting example. For the Common Good is virtually a compendium of New Economic thinking. It contains a powerful critique of the "concept of the human being that underlies price theory", Homo economicus. In terms very similar to those to be developed later in the present essay, Daly and Cobb make a distinction between man as an individual and man as a "person-in-community," arguing that individualism provides no basis for a collective or common good. If human beings are regarded, at least in part, as "constituted by their relationships," it becomes impossible to measure economic productivity or development without taking the quality of those relationships into account. For "relationships cannot be exchanged in a market." The economic order must be designed to support the "pattern of personal relationships that make up the community" (pp. 104-5). The analysis is persuasive and helpful. It enables the authors to advocate decentralisation of the national economy, the re-establishment of agricultural communities via the family farm, the rejection of "free trade," and the careful tuning of economy to ecosystem. The economy must be "constrained to operate with volumes of resource flows that are within the renewable biospheric capacities of regeneration and waste-disposal." 
But what is a Catholic to make of the chapter on population? There it becomes clear that the tuning of economy to ecosystem, for these authors, implies that "the right to reproduce can no longer be treated as a free good," and "reproduction rights must be subject to distribution and allocation" (p. 245). In some countries (though not the United States), it is argued that overpopulation is fast becoming the major threat to development, and even to the survival of the ecosystem itself. The authors, surprisingly, recommend "the application of market principles to this problem" (p. 244), issuing rights to reproduce in "deci-child certificates," ten of which would be required for a legitimate birth, and which may be freely given away, exchanged, or traded. Contraception, and even abortion and euthanasia, are also deemed acceptable measures to preserve community and the common good. 
The authors, it seems, have given in to the perennial "left-wing" temptation: the resort to centralised control. They want to ascertain the optimum sustainable population, but then bring it about by a process of social engineering. As a reaction to laissez-faire individualism, this is understandable. But it marks a failure to find a genuine third way beyond the impasse of modernity. Catholic teaching, which rejects population control, is more consistent in its personalism, deducing from the priority of the person-in-community an inalienable right of spouses "to found a family and to decide on the spacing of births and the number of children to be born, taking into full consideration their duties towards themselves, their children already born, the family and society, in a just hierarchy of values and in accordance with the objective moral order which excludes recourse to contraception, sterilisation and abortion."  A Catholic population policy could only be based on the promotion of NFP (natural family planning), combined with an education in demographic realities soberly assessed; but it would renounce any form of violence against the family in the name of essential human freedoms.
In Catholic social teaching, founded on the revelation of the Trinity and of the communio personarum [the inter-relationship of all persons], there is a fundamental difference between "community" and "collectivity," and this affects our conception of the common good. Also, among all communities great and small, there is a natural priority belonging to the family. The rights of the family, founded on mutual self-gift in the sacrament of marriage, cannot be overturned by the requirements of State or ecosystem. This may appear to planners and environmentalists to be putting an (unnecessary) obstacle in the path of progress. In reality, it provides the necessary foundation for any effective education in respect for life and the natural ecological order. Certain apparent "solutions" to social and planetary problems are simply illusory. Coercive population policies are one example of a "solution" that could only make things worse – that is, if the Church is right about the underlying structure of the world.
Michael Schluter and David Lee, in a remarkable book called The R Factor (Hodder & Stoughton, 1993), may have succeeded in providing a sounder basis for a "New Economics" than Daly and Cobb. In some ways, both narrower and deeper, their approach rests entirely on the importance of relationships as the undervalued links holding society together. "What is a Relational society?" they ask. "We could define it as a society that organises itself around the changing inputs of climate, technology and raw materials, with the conscious aim of preserving both choice and obligation, and of promoting quality of relationship in the same way as other social philosophies have promoted liberty or solidarity" (pp. 176-177). Their "Relational" Market Economy "accommodates competition, requires sustainable economic growth, affirms the necessity of non-state ownership, and seeks to boost income and material welfare within structures that facilitate Relational proximity" (p. 223) - foremost among them the family. 
In an editorial in Crisis magazine (July-August, 1993) entitled "The Crisis of the Welfare State," American neo-Conservative Michael Novak called for a "third way" between "the excessive individual[ism] of laissez-faire and the excessive collectivism of social democracy," a "new way" he terms the "welfare society," because it rests less on the State than on civil society. Novak asks us to rethink welfare so as to "use state resources only indirectly; to strengthen civil society; and to keep natural, organic human institutions (especially the family) as vital and active as possible." To allow a tax deduction that would enable the family to take care of its retarded daughter would, he says, cost the State a fraction of the sum needed to institutionalise her.
Novak’s criticisms of the Welfare State, and his proposed alternative, illustrate the application of a distinction that he has long advocated (and now sees reflected in Centesimus Annus), between three interacting systems that make up a free society, which he calls the economic (that is, the market), the juridical-political, and the moral-cultural:
In the book from which 1 have been quoting, Novak criticises the Classical Liberal Economists for taking the moral heritage of Western civilisation for granted.  In fact, "a free economy cannot function unless its participants have mastered certain moral virtues. Important ethical assumptions are built into the free economy."  Some of the "new virtues" required are listed as initiative, enterprise, social co-operation, public spiritedness, and civility. Trust, too, is "at the core of voluntary activities, and habits of mutual regard are normal among fellow workers."  Indeed, Novak writes:
At the heart of Novak’s vision lies the (economically) creative individual, whom he identifies with the "acting person" of Karol Wojtyla [later Pope John Paul II]’s personalist phenomenology. "New wealth can be created," he emphasises; "Human creativity is nature’s primary resource. Removing the institutional repression that now stifles that creativity is the immense task to which the Catholic (and catholic) ethic calls us." Yet Novak denies being a laissez-faire "libertarian." He tries to focus on the problems of the poor; he claims to be conscious of the need to preserve our environment; he is critical of many aspects of the current American ethos; and he is open to a variety of forms of Capitalism - including the social market. He wants "to find the practical institutions that reach all of the destitute, poor, and vulnerable on this planet and include them in the creative economy." 
Can we identify the position of Novak and his associates with that of John Paul II and the Catholic "centre"? My own impression is that Novak’s thought continues to evolve. At present, it is still very much the American mixed economy that he is concerned to defend. The rhetoric of "wealth creation" that he deploys so persuasively serves to disguise a process that surely deserves closer attention: the creation of markets by the stimulation and exploitation of human desire, over and above legitimate human need. The conception of "wealth" which he employs throughout seems to be entirely quantitative, and oriented towards consumption; it would be worth listening to what many of the New Economists are saying about the problem of defining "economic growth" in a global context. Nor does one have to go as far as Jacques Ellul  to suspect that the increasing dominance of technology and the mass media in forming our consciousness (all part of innovation and wealth creation) may not be exactly benign. And what of the tendency in Capitalism to lead to oligopoly, if not outright monopoly? What of the effect of the multi-nationals (effectively colluding with each other in their competition for a global market) on the diversity of local cultures and communities, not to mention all the examples that we have seen in recent years of the "export of hazard"?
As for the virtues required for the smooth running of business, Novak’s list is not enough to reassure. A Mafia family also runs on a code of honour, diligence, and mutual regard (of sorts). What we should be looking for is the balance of virtues fostered and required by the system, and it is clear that Novak’s list is far from exhaustive. The point is certainly well made that a free economy requires a controlling ethos, but is it possible (as I have just been hinting) that Capitalism in fact contains an inbuilt ethos of its own - a materialist and consumerist ethos, actively and corrosively opposed to the values of Novak’s own Judaeo-Christian tradition?  Such questions are implied throughout John Paul II’s encyclical, and they should be squarely faced without any fear that the answers will lead us back towards Socialism, which rests on an even more erroneous anthropology.
A less romantic and therefore more convincing theory of the mixed economy than Novak’s can be found in Jonathan Boswell’s Community and the Economy: The Theory of Public Co-operation (Routledge, 1990). It is subtle and realistic, faithful to the complexities of the real-life economy. At the same time, it resembles Michael Schluter’s "Relationism" in basing its argument on the fundamental importance of community, with its three dimensions (according to Boswell) of fraternity, associativeness, and civic participation. Profit becomes, as in Centesimus Annus, merely one among several regulators of the life of a business, and not at all the purpose for which it exists (35), Boswell believes that ultimately "economic health and a community renaissance are inseparable, and that of the two it is a community renaissance that would come first" (p. 201). 
How radical can we be? Dare we begin, as Chesterton once did, "with a little girl’s hair"? In What’s Wrong with the World (1910), he comments on the suggestion that little girls in poor areas of London should have their hair cropped to prevent an infestation of lice:
2. The Divine Economy
Chesterton’s she-urchin is the measure for all social theories and economic systems. Fundamentally the same insight lies behind the Pope’s thinking in Centesimus Annus: the Church’s social teaching "reveals man to himself", and it is her "care and responsibility for man," for "each individual" (that is, for each urchin on the street) that inspires the systematic development of that teaching (53). To be "radical," then, in the Christian tradition, we must have recourse to theology, for "to know man ... one must know God," and "Christian anthropology therefore is really a chapter of theology" (55).
Christian theology begins with the Gospel; that is, with the message that perfect love is the meaning and ultimate goal of existence, a love revealed and incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. What Christians call "love" is not simply a feeling, whether of infatuation or sympathy. It is not reducible even to a high form of compassion or empathy. Where feelings come and go, or vary in their intensity, love remains constant. It is fundamentally an orientation or disposition of the will – a will that is not closed in upon itself, but able to receive from and give to another. To love is to open one’s heart in a way that allows the self to be shaped by the other; indeed, to be centred on another. When such a disposition expresses itself, it does so in acts of self-giving; that is, in the form of service or of obedience.  That, at least, is the claim of the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who will be our main guide in this section.
Balthasar goes on to connect love with religious experience as follows. We learn to love by receiving love. Love is first kindled in us as a response to the Other from whom the gift of existence comes – perceived, as it may be, in the mother’s smile by the newborn child. As we grow, our need to show gratitude also grows. It begins to reach deeper than the mother, who (we eventually recognise) did not give us existence, but is herself a gift from the source of being. Awoken by the mother and by the others who teach us to love, our love reaches towards God. This primordial sense of dependency, of contingency, of being somehow not our own origin, but "received from another," is the beginning of the religious sense.
And what is the destiny of love? Will it – like all else in the world – come to an end, even if God exists? If all we can say of God is that He is One, Absolute, Transcendent, then the path on which we have embarked with the first awakening of love seems destined to end at death, or else in re-absorption by God at the end of some longer cycle of existence. Love becomes merely the force that drives the moth to the flame of its origin, or the raindrop to the sea. Christianity is unique among the religions of the world for saying that there is more to love than this. It can say more because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as we shall see in the next section.
The Discovery of the Trinity
Jesus claimed the divine name ("I am"), and for this He was crucified. But He distinguished Himself from God the Father, and also from the Holy Spirit whom He promised to send down upon His Apostles. Reflecting on this fact, Christians were forced to the conclusion that God must (somehow) be Three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And yet they could not deny the truth, already perceived by other religions, that God is One. According to the perennial philosophy agreed upon by all great civilisations, the divine nature must be perfectly "simple," in the sense of being non-composite, undivided. Certainly two infinities, let alone three, are inconceivable. To say that God is Three, then, cannot mean that there are three Gods. It is the One, undivided God who is a Trinity. In order to explain this paradox, the Church Fathers drew a distinction between nature and person. God is not three individual natures or substances, but three Persons. A divine nature, they agreed, cannot be divided. It can, however, be related to itself in more ways than one. What is revealed through the Incarnation is the existence in God of precisely three "subsisting relationships" (as they were later called), which are the Divine Persons.
The distinction of Persons in God illuminates the formulation of St. John: "God is love" (1 John 4:8). For love involves both giving and receiving: it means a relationship between persons. Thus the nature of God is possessed by the Father primarily as the Giver to the Son: the same nature is possessed by the Son as Receiver from the Father. As Balthasar explains: "He in God whom we call ‘Father’ is the ‘fruit’ of His self-giving to the One we call ‘Son’; He exists as this self-giving and the Son exists as receptivity, gratitude and giving-in-return". Father and Son exist only in relation to each other, as eternal origin and term of this one act of giving which is the actus purus (pure act) of existence of the One Divine Being.
The Divine Giver, the Father, hands over His own nature in its entirety to the Son. He holds nothing back. In doing this, He does not "part" himself from His nature, for it is Himself that He is handing over; it is simply that in the act of self-giving the Divine Nature is both a Giver and a Receiver. But there is a third relation implicit in this same act of bestowal. In order to be given, the Divine Nature must be Gift. This is the Holy Spirit: equally a Person, and equally divine. In the encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem John Paul II writes:
The Spirit is the Love of Father and of Son, their reciprocal and infinite openness and affection. He is the Divine Nature not as Giver or Receiver, but as Given and Received. The Holy Spirit is from the Father, but also from the Father-and-Son, for the Son will always give himself to the Father, just as the Father gives Himself to the Son in the Spirit. Thus the dualistic confrontation of Self and Other is overcome in God by the presence of the Holy Spirit, the third Relation in that act of giving which is also the act of knowing and the act of loving. That single Act is God’s very existence. It is a "circle dance," a "circumincession" or perichoresis; the heavenly model of human love and of its ultimate source.
Salvation and the Re-invention of the Self
At first sight, the doctrine of the Trinity, even if it can be expounded in a way that does no violence to the laws of logic, might seem highly abstract and uninspiring. Generations of preachers have been faced with this very problem on Trinity Sunday. But the problem is an artificial one, because we have mentally "stepped back" from God in order to "explain" the Trinity. In reality, we are never confronted with the three Persons in this way. The doctrine of the Trinity means that, thanks to the Spirit, we are with the Son as He loves and worships the Father. For the Son is the image of the Father, and we know the Father in the Son. By loving the Son, we love the Father. We are not face to face with the three Persons, but face to face with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
Thus the Trinity does not remain merely a divine Archetype, some kind of supernatural constellation forever infinitely distant from us. Through the Incarnation, we not only know about the Trinity but are invited to enter it. As St. Athanasius wrote: "Why did God become man? So that man could become God." For if the fact of the Incarnation proves that a Divine Person can share the same Divine Nature with other Persons in God, it also proves that a Divine Person can share a human nature with us. What makes a person is not nature, but relationship. If God the Father gives himself completely to a human being, communicating to it in love the entirety of His Divine Nature, then that human being will be in the same relation to the Father as is the Eternal Son. In other words, it will be the Eternal Son. This is exactly what happened at the Annunciation. Thanks to Mary’s fiat, God was able to give Himself completely to a human being from the first moment of its existence in her womb. As the Receiver of the Divine Nature, the Child was not a human, but a Divine Person, the Son of God. And yet He had a human body and a human soul; a complete human nature.
The relationship that we form with the Person of the Son through this human nature is what "saves" us. It gives us a new personal (that is, relational) existence that cannot be destroyed by death, because it is anchored in the eternity of God. As Balthasar writes, "In Christ, through grace, creaturely man can become a (theological) person, that is, the Father’s child." In other words, we become "sons in the Son". Christianity reinvented the human self. This new "self" was conceived in the image of a theological Person, and belongs to a community. The "I" of this self exists only with respect to an Other; "I" and "Thou" are united at the level of the heart by the act of giving. No thinking, no feeling, no imagining, can bridge the gulf between myself and the Other. Only love. It is love that makes us persons, and joins us (whether we yet realise it or not) to the Church.
Instead of possessing merely extrinsic and "accidental" relations to other individuals, through love we possess relations (entailing obligations) that are intrinsic to the person that we are. Love gives us a "reason for living," a "mission" in the world. In Christ, according to Balthasar, we see a man whose Person was entirely Mission. His very existence was indistinguishable from his dynamic relation of obedience to the Father in the Spirit. Loving obedience presupposes freedom; indeed, it is the very highest possible expression of freedom. Only one who is totally in charge of himself can give himself. Nor does the gift bind the recipient. When I love others, it is their own good that I want (for them); I act in order to recall them to their personal integrity, their own highest self, their reason for existing, their destiny. As Balthasar points out:
This priority of love is not restricted to the realm of human experience: it is a cosmic priority. Existence itself is relational, culminating at its highest point in the love of God. "Being is communion," in the famous phrase of John Zizioulas. Cosmic existence, therefore, culminates in human personality, through which it is taken up into the intimate and eternal relations of the Trinity. The whole world, knowingly or unknowingly, is in the process of being "saved" from death by Christ. This process has enormous implications both for cosmology and for ethics. On the one hand, it reconnects the natural sciences to theology by way of metaphysics. On the other, it transforms the idea of a "natural moral law" by integrating it within a covenantal ethics centred on the call to holiness.
When Boethius defined person as "an individual substance of a rational nature" –a definition that was widely adopted by Latin theologians – he planted one of the seeds of individualism in Western thought. His definition is crucially silent on the importance of relationship. Within the Aristotelian framework of a later Scholasticism, it was all too easy to think of "substance" as a nature existing in itself, obedient to a set of laws that could in theory be studied without reference to the Creator who originally implanted them. Applied to non-human substances, this set the scene for the development of modern science in complete independence of the "humanities." Applied to human substances, it meant that the doctrine of natural law came to be applied to man with scant reference to Christ – as though morally correct behaviour did not depend on the supernatural call to love. As a result, ethics became detached from theology, and the theory of natural law became vulnerable to many of the criticisms directed at it by modem philosophers.
As far as ethics is concerned, the only way forward is to ground the natural law in the concrete and universal norm of love. Persons exist only in relation to each other and to God, and they are centred in Him rather than in themselves. As a modern theologian has said:
Our "integral human fulfillment," our ultimate happiness, lies not on any natural level, but in the supernatural life of the Holy Trinity, and in response to a specific and unique "call" from God. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, "all human beings, without any exception whatever, were specially made, were shaped and pointed like shining arrows, for the end of hitting the mark of Beatitude,"  and again Chesterton writes: "Christian optimism is based on the fact that we do not fit into the world." 
3. Marian Economics
The implication of the theology of the Trinity outlined above is that, in Christ, we see the divine model of a fully human person; a Person who exists entirely "in love" and for the sake of love. At the same time, Christ is not merely a model for us to imitate. As God-Made-Man, He is God’s gift of grace to us, the gift of God’s own self. Surpassing even the "first gift" of existence, the gift of grace offers us eternal life – that is, enables us to share in the life of the Trinity. Because Christ’s gratuitous act of loving self-sacrifice breaks the hold of the past and of the "powers of this world," this gift (which is identical with the Eucharist) initiates a new civilisation. Jesus Christ, according to Balthasar, is "the concrete categorical imperative," and "the universal norm of ethical action" who "empowers us inwardly to do the Father’s will together with him" [see Principles of Christian Morality, Heinz Schurmann et al, Ignatius Press, 1986]. His life defines the way that we ourselves must try to behave in the teeth of opposition, misunderstanding, and persecution, among people who behave in a very different fashion, and who will take advantage of us as we do so.
The human person who most fully embodies the way of living "in Christ," and this new civilisation, according to catholic teaching, is the Blessed Virgin Mary. Dwelling by grace continually in the heart of the Holy Trinity, her position before God is fundamentally one not of taking or choosing, but of accepting. This does not mean that she is purely passive. Her fiat, the acceptance of God’s Word as described in Luke 1:38, was the summit of human activity; it was her own act, not that of another forced upon her. She had the gift of human freedom in its fullness, and this freedom meant the power to commit herself voluntarily and without regret to goodness and to truth: her "yes" meant "yes." As the Immaculate Conception, her whole being was posited on gratitude; her obedience was purely an expression of love for the Other to whom she owed herself. All of which should explain why "Marian economics" might (for Catholics at least!) be an appropriate name for the elusive "third way" we have been seeking, the path of a genuinely Christian civilisation. How does our present culture measure up against this standard, the fiat of the "she-urchin" Mother of God?
The End of Individualism
A Christian personalist who takes Mary in Christ as his model of the human norm will be critical of any society that places so much emphasis on what we take, make, and sell that it neglects our prior duty to receive in gratitude, and to give in love. He will observe that, in the society which we see all around us, people are brought up to think of themselves as free floating social particles, individuals whose only fulfillment lies in choice. In this society, from which the Marian and feminine dimension has almost been eliminated, we "are" what we choose, what we take and what we make. We fill up the void of the self by choosing. All the world becomes potential "property," material to be chosen; to be hoarded or consumed. Human freedom has effectively been reduced to the freedom to choose between an unlimited range of consumer goods.
In such a society, we are regarded as having no moral obligations toward others prior to an act of choice. All morality comes down to a matter of subjective preference, or of pragmatic negotiation with others in some kind of mythical "social contract." It has, therefore, become normal to enshrine our social ideals entirely in codes of rights. The individualist self has no intrinsic relations to others, only extrinsic claims – and obligations imposed on him from the outside by the claims of others. Small wonder, in a way, that we see a widespread breakdown of public order and civilised life.
Liberal Capitalism was originally shaped partly to suit the interests of the trading classes, the entrepreneurs and explorers of the New World and of the Industrial Revolution. Its major flaw (the fact that it is based on individualism) has for some time been disguised by the cultural dominance of values derived from the Christian ethos. But now, with the decline of Christian influence in society, the "anti-ethos" of consumerism has begun to reveal itself in the erosion of public morality. The transactions of the market-place are becoming the new norm for human behaviour. Everything external to the self is assigned a numerical value, in order to be bought or sold. As Chesterton writes:
The logic of the process has been well analysed by Kenneth L. Schmitz, who connects social individualism with the historically parallel search for elementary particles in physics:
Following such logic, even the human body is eventually regarded as external to the self – a commodity like any other. It is not part of the "in-dividual": it can be divided; therefore it is not "me". Starting with Descartes, my self or my soul becomes a ghost inhabiting the machine of my body, a mere dimensionless owner of the body and of its experiences. As owner, it possesses "rights" over the body, and there is little to prevent anyone concluding that these must include such rights as the right to have an abortion, or the right to commit suicide when life becomes intolerable. Also, since my body has become a tool that I may in principle modify as I wish for my own ends, it goes almost without saying that I may have recourse to contraception whenever the body’s fertility becomes inconvenient to this "I", or decide to sterilise it completely if I wish to continue having sex without having children. In any case, another natural result of an individualist philosophy is the development of a private sphere, regarded as private even from God, and without consequences for the wider community; thus what is done by consenting adults in private becomes "none of your business," and none of God’s.
This logic of individualism may now almost be played out in the West. Chesterton believed that "the commercial and industrial progress which began by professing individualism has ended with the complete swamping of the individual." The economic liberation achieved by the entrepreneur and extolled by the Neo-Capitalist would seem to give the lie to Chesterton’s remark, but it is achieved in the context of an ongoing cultural collapse that is gradually reducing genuine human freedom for entrepreneur and consumer alike: a numerically greater range of choices may exist (in times of prosperity), but the quality of choice is reduced by the "flattening" of culture. What we are seeing is the reductio ad absurdum of individualism. Just as the search for a basic unit in physics revealed only an ever more complex order of inter-relationships, so the
"atom" of the self is today dissolving into a multiplicity without foundations. The only alternative now to accepting the dissolution of the self (which would mean accepting nihilism, or else a thoroughgoing and consistent Buddhism), is to retrieve the Christian notion of theological personhood. We have to re-align the various structures and assumptions of modern society around the new centre formed by the Marian fiat.
Property and Responsibility
In a Marian culture, the human body would not be a commodity to be bought and sold in the market place. A thing can truly be "mine" (in that sense) only to the extent that it is an expression of my own labour and creativity. For something that is my "property" is something that I am entitled to dispose of, or even to destroy. It is something that I can fix the price of because, having made it, I know what I put into it and what it would take to make it again; I can say the minimum that I would accept in exchange for it. None of this applies to the human body; nor does it apply to the human blood, organs, and genetic material that currently find themselves on the international market – these days the price tag is attached not only to the Mad Hatter’s hat, but to his head and to his heart as well.
It has been assumed that the enclosing of land, the capturing, taming and husbanding of animals, and the cultivation of plants is enough to place them all within "the market." But now that genetic engineering has led to the patenting of animals and plants, we have to decide how far this principle can extend. In any case, our rights even over what is clearly our own are not absolute, for the raw materials that we have used, and the creatures themselves, are not created by us. Catholic social teaching speaks of the "universal destination of the earth’s goods," meaning that these goods, even if owned by us, are essentially held in trust or administered for others, and the right of ownership carries with it a responsibility to use whatever is so owned for the common good. The existence of a limit to our authority, and a responsibility to others, including future generations, means that we cannot "make arbitrary use of the earth... as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray" (Centesimus Annus, 37).
It is notable that the "division of labour" under an industrial system involves a loss of responsibility over the results of one’s work that goes hand-in-hand with a sense of alienation, of what the sociologists call anomie. The parts of my work, like the parts of my body, become commodities to sell. Why do we work? Under Liberalism, we work in order to be able to consume, since this is how we expect to achieve fulfillment. Society regards consumption as the goal of human existence, and consequently technology is used increasingly to "free" the consumer from the drudgery of labour – to free him, in reality, for unemployment. One of the failures of Liberalism is that it must eventually create massive, long-term unemployment, by turning "jobs" into the kind of easily mechanised operations that most people want only for the sake of the money that they can earn by performing them. In his book, The Just Enterprise, advocating a radical reform of company law in the light of natural justice, the industrialist George Goyder writes:
He goes on to say: "for Britain this moment has arrived. The first industrial revolution is over, and what will replace it has yet to be devised."
In the ideal I am calling a Marian culture, we should not work in order to consume; it would be truer to say that we should consume in order to be able to work. For work, as John Paul II puts it in his encyclical Laborem Exercens (9), is the way man "achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being’." But the kind of work we do is important. Our goal is creative, personal, vocational labour, in which we can fulfill ourselves at the same time as we serve the common good. For this work, we should receive a sufficient family wage. To take all of this seriously would mean restoring personal responsibility over both the means and the ends of production, as the Distributists (and notably Eric Gill) in fact argued. The social norm would become the workshop or farm rather than the assembly line, the family firm or guild rather than the corporation.
The Importance of the Family
The most direct way to bring about such a system is to centre public policy consciously on the family. Catholic teaching is unambiguous on this point: it is the family that is the basic cell of human society, and so it must be the family that lies at the heart of any Catholic third way. Cardinal Lopez Trujillo writes: "The Church rejects the individualism which is the presupposition of contemporary Western societies and hence of many lawmakers. The fundamental living cell of society is not the individual person, but the family. While in the forefront of the struggle for the human rights of individuals, the Church takes a position which is distinct from either Western Liberalism or Marxism.... If the law favours individual rights against the rights of that coherent natural unit which is the family, the result is social atomism. This is the disintegrating condition in which many societies now find themselves."
The governments of the United Kingdom and of the United States today pay only occasional lip-service to the importance of the family as the foundation of society; their actual policies have the effect of increasing economic pressure upon it, and of encouraging divorce. It is, I suspect, impossible to respect fully the nature of the sacramental family without undermining current economic assumptions. Distributism was based on the idea that families ought to be the primary owners of land and of capital, giving them a measure of economic independence and therefore of freedom. Otto von Habsburg has (half jokingly) suggested giving greater political weight to families by granting a vote to every child, to be exercised by the parents until majority. A wide variety of other proposals ought to be considered. The point is that the fundamental unit of economic theory – perhaps of political theory also – should be the family rather than the individual. As Centesimus Annus reaffirms:
We are left, at the end of these reflections, with no detailed conclusions, no blueprint for a Marian economy, but with some questions asked. If there is to be some new social paradigm or "third way," it will not be in the form of a compromise between Capitalism and Communism. In that sense, the Neo-Conservatives have always been right to reject the term. The solution is not a "market socialist" economy; it is more likely to resemble the "social market." But my suspicion is that the real answer can only be something that lies at right angles to both opposed systems; something that can only be reached by introducing into the debate a third dimension, at present impossible for most vested interests to conceive. In something of the way Hans Urs von Balthasar has helped to break the "log-jam" of the Enlightenment in theology, someone needs to go beyond the Enlightenment in economics, and to reintroduce the "contemplative-mystical" into the heart of what has become a narrowly specialised and purely quantitative science.
It may be that the smaller Christian nations of Europe, freed from Communism and alerted to the dangers of an uncritical acceptance of Western consumerism, will be inspired to initiate a "Marian revolution" before they are destroyed by the political and emotional forces that were unleashed in 1989. Centesimus Annus pointed to the powder-keg of "hatred and ill-will" accumulated during the Communist period, and the need for "patient material and moral reconstruction" (27). At the same time, it warned the West against seeing the collapse of Communism as "a one-sided victory" of its own economic system, "and thereby failing to make necessary corrections in that system" (56). It is not only the Balkans that need a Marian revolution, and the New Evangelisation challenges us to nothing less. Not necessarily all at once, but little by little, this revolution must begin; in pockets of resistance, in communities and in "networks of solidarity", in new forms of co-operation between men and women of good will.
1. Eric Gill, A Holy Tradition of Working (Ipswich, Suffolk: Golgonooza Press, 1983), p. 124.
2. Dermot Quinn, "Distributism as Movement and Ideal," The Chesterton Review (May, 1993), p. 158.
3. Hilaire Belloc, An Essay on the Restoration of Property (London, 1936).
4. Hilaire Belloc, An Essay on the Restoration of Property.
5. See, for example, Paul Ekins (ed.), The Living Economy: A New Economics in the Making, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986; Herman E. Daly and Kenneth N. Townsend (eds), Valuing the Earth; Economics, Ecology, Ethics, MIT Press, 1993; James Robertson, Future Wealth: A New Economics for the 21st Century, Cassell, 1990; David Pearce et al., Blueprint for a Green Economy (and the sequels, especially Blueprint 3), Earthscan, 1989; Michael Redclift, Sustainable Development: Exploring the Contradictions, Methuen, 1987; Dennis Lawrence, The Third Way: The Promise of Industrial Democracy, Routledge, 1988; and, of course, E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: a Study of Economics as if People Mattered, Sphere Books, 1973.
6. Daly and John B. Cobb, Jr., For the Common Good (Beacon Press, 1989, pp. 104-105 and 142-143).
7. This is not to rule out the possibility that a concerted Catholic response to a demographic crisis in some parts of the world might be called for. But even environmentalists differ on the scale of the crisis and the best response: in a book called Taking Population Seriously (Earthscan/ WWF, 1989), Frances Moore Lappe and Rachel Schurman (Earthscan/ WWF, 1989) argue that the need is to address underlying social and economic conditions which make population growth a problem. See also detailed Vatican statements on Environment and Development in L’Osservatore Romano, June 17 and 24, 1992, and articles by Sophia Maria Aguirre accessible from the Sane Economy section of the Second Spring web site. Opposites sometimes resemble each other, and the call for crude "population control" is a case of incipient "Green Fascism." The intention, of course, may be excellent; to restore order and harmony to creation. But it is a profound insight of the Christian tradition that harmony cannot be restored unless our means, as well as the end or goal we are trying to reach, is morally good.
8. Charter on the Rights of the Family (1983), Article 3.
9. The "R Foundation" has been set up in Cambridge to develop and further these ideas. It is not linked to the New Economics Foundation, but rather to the Jubilee Centre, which has been researching Christian economic policy for some years.
10. Michael Novak, The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York, 1993), p. 147.
11. Michael Novak, The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, p. 107.
12. Michael Novak, The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, p. 113.
13. Michael Novak, The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, p. 28.
14. Michael Novak, The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, pp. 99-100.
15. Michael Novak, The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, p. 237.
16. See Jacques Ellul, The Technological Bluff (Eerdmans, 1990).
17. For example, the encyclical speaks of an "idolatry" of the market (40), of the artificial needs created by consumerism (36), of the importance of a long-term respect for environmental and "human" ecology (37-39), of the dangers of the commodification of labour (4,34), and of the "alienation" characteristic of a society whose "social organization, production and consumption make it more difficult to offer [the] gift of self’ (41).
18. In Socialism, "the concept of the person as the autonomous subject of moral decision disappears, the very subject whose decisions build the social order. From this mistaken conception of the person there arise both a distortion of law, which defines the sphere of the exercise of freedom, and an opposition to private property. A person who is deprived of something he can call ‘his own,’ and of the possibility of earning a living through his own initiative, comes to depend on the social machine and those who control it" (Centesimus Annus, 13).
19. Boswell’s research, and that of others like him connected with the Von Hugel Institute (which is based at St. Edmund’s College in Cambridge), seems to hold out some real hope of an adequate Catholic response to the challenge of recent social encyclicals. Meanwhile other works that have appeared recently, such as John Gray’s Beyond the New Right: Markets, Government and the Common Environment (Routledge,
1993), indicate that, quite independently of the encyclicals, a new and more balanced perspective may be emerging among conservatives who have developed severe doubts about the market liberalism and considerable sympathy for some "Green" ideas.
20. G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With the World (London, 1910), pp. 356-357.
21. In the twentieth century, obedience has been more frequently perceived as a vice than a virtue. But the blind obedience of submission to a dictatorship is poles apart from the "seeing obedience" of true humility, which is submission first to God and only secondarily to men.
22. See, for example, Balthasar, Love Alone: The Way of Revelation, Sheed & Ward, 1968. By the same author, see Theo-Drama (Ignatius Press, 1988- ), especially Vol. II, Part II (sections headed Social Mediation and the Trinity, Self as Gift, Individual and Community, The New Christian Reality) and Vol. III, Part II (Christ’s Mission and Person), Part III (The Individual in the World), and Part V (Deus Trinitas); also Explorations in Theology (Ignatius Press, 1989-1993), Vol. Ill: Creator Spirit (The Holy Spirit as Love). See also Communio, Spring 1996 (Person: Psychology and Spirituality), plus Kenneth L. Schmitz, "Selves and Persons", in Communio, Summer 1991. On implications for ethics, see Balthasar, "Nine Propositions on Christian Ethics", in Schurmann et al., Principles of Christian Morality (Ignatius Press, 1986), and discussion in Communio, Fall 1990.
23. See Communio, Winter 1988 (Oriental Religions and Christianity); also Raymond Gawronski SJ, Word and Silence; Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter between East and West, Wm. B. Eerdmans and T&T Clark, 1995.
24. Liberation and feminist theologians such as Leonardo Boff and Catherine Mowry LaCugna have also favoured a metaphysics of relation rather than substance, but generally carry this to an extreme. To avoid subordinationism or monarchism in the Trinity they abolish the distinctiveness of Persons in total mutuality, or to avoid the subordination of creature to Creator they abolish God’s transcendence. See LaCugna, God For Us (Harper, San Francisco, 1991). But see also the critique of this book in Thomas Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship: Re-conceiving the Trinity, 1995.
25. Balthasar does not refer explicitly to the three relations implicit in gift as a possible analogy for the Trinity. He does, however, on several occasions point out that St. Augustine’s intra- as distinct from inter-personal analogy (memory, knowledge, will) was inadequate and carried with it certain unfortunate consequences; for example, "On the Concept of Person," Communio, Spring 1986. On this question, as well as most others concerning the Trinity, see Colin E. Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, T&T Clark, 1991. See also Weinandy, in the work cited.
26. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, Vol. III, p. 527.
27. On the Church as Bride and Institution, see for example, Theo-Drama III, pp. 353-360. On the distinction between the meaning of "salvation" in different religions, see J.A. DiNoia, The Diversity of Religions, CUA Press, 1992.
28. Hans Urs von Balthasar, You Crown the Year (Ignatius Press, 1989), p. 29.
29. Caffara, Life in Christ (Ignatius Press, 1987), p. 58.
30. G.K. Chesterton, The Thing (London, 1929), Chapter 3.
31. G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (London, 1908), Chapter V.
32. The fourth chapter of E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, widely reprinted, is entitled "Buddhist Economics," and is very close in spirit to the present suggestion. Schumacher, himself a Roman Catholic convert, writes that "the Buddhist sees the essence of civilisation not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.... It is not wealth that stands in the way of liberation but the attachment to wealth; not the enjoyment of pleasurable things but the craving for them. The keynote of Buddhist economics, therefore, is simplicity and non-violence" (pp. 46-47). Thus the economic aim "should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption" (p. 48). Marian economics differs from this in some of the ways that Christianity differs from Buddhism; for example, by laying more emphasis on charity than on detachment. Detachment is, of course, included (for in order to give something we must detach ourselves from it), but it is always for the sake of the other; strictly speaking Buddhism denies the real existence of both self and other. On the difference between Christian "love" and Buddhist karuna (compassion) see Henri de Lubac, Aspects of Buddhism, Sheed & Ward, 1953.
33. G.K. Chesterton, The Well and the Shallows (London, 1935), pp. 225-226.
34. Kenneth L. Schmitz, "Is Liberalism Good Enough?" in Liberalism and the Good (Routledge, 1990), pp. 89-90.
35. For a full survey of the current facts, see Andrew Kimbrell, The Human Body Shop: The Engineering and Marketing of Life (Harper Collins, 1993).
36. George Goyder, The Just Enterprise (Andre Deutsch, 1987), pp. 11 - 12.
31. Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, addressing the First World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights, L’Osservatore Romano, July 28, 1993. The rights of the person (and corresponding responsibilities) are, of course, primary. But persons are relational and social, and the family is the basis of human society. An article in The Tablet (July 31, 1993) by Melanie Phillips suggests that the contemporary Left is belatedly waking up to this fact: "the economic individualism of the new Right and the social individualism of the Left were but two sides of the same coin. The Right said there was no such thing as society; the Left said there was no such thing as the family. The Right cut taxes and let the poor go to the wall; the Left cut family ties and let the children go to the wall." An important book on the family from an American perspective is Allan C. Carlson’s From Cottage to Work Station: The Family’s Search for Social Harmony in the Industrial Age (Ignatius Press, 1993).