The Christianising of our Debased Industrial Life


PREACHING recently at Pontifical Mass in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Hobart, His Grace, Archbishop Simonds made striking references to the cleavage between Capital and labor, the degradation of the working man in the” modern industrial machine, and -the splendid hope of the restoration of dignity and decency to the workman in the spirit of Catholic Action which is fast spreading over the world.

JESUS Christ the Workman at a craftsman’s bench is an alluring inspiration for those Christian workers of the twentieth century who are so anxious to Christianise the toil of modern industrialism instead of allowing it to degrade and demoralise them. Those of you who are familiar with the history of industry during the last couple of centuries know that a great industrial evolution—or revolution — developed during the eighteenth century when the newly invented power-driven machines began -gradually to displace the individual skill of the artisan. From this radical development the face of industrial life was changed. The ownership of the means of production passed from the hands of the workman to those who controlled capital, and with this change began most of the economic ills which afflict society to-day.

Dignity Debased.

Unhappily the economic philosophy which dominated men’s minds, at the time, encouraged the unhampered exploitation of labor, and violently resisted protective or ameliorative measures on behalf of the exploited workingman. The worker, in a condition of isolation and poverty, was forced to sell his labor on the cheapest market or suffer the cruel fate of unemployment, and slowly but surely the dignity of man became debased as he was gradually subjugated to the machine. As the victims of this system began to organise to protect their mutual interests, the laborer became conscious of his own strength and of his essential position in the industrial world. A growing chasm between the worker and his employer began to yawn, and there developed the modern state of class-warfare, which is one of the most tragic features of contemporary life. As Pope Pius XI sadly remarked, on the labor market of to-day men are sharply, divided into two classes, as into two hostile camps, and the conflicts between these two parties convert the industrial world into an arena where two armies are engaged in conflict. This line of cleavage cuts right through the whole of our social life, and as long as this condition perseveres society must be continually subjected to industrial conflicts tending towards the violence of revolution rather than to the peaceful evolution of social harmony.

Plan of Society.

Is there any Christian solution for this grave social evil except the gloomy prospect of slavery offered by the exponents of Atheistic Communism? Yes. , The Catholic Church, through the voice of her modern Pontiffs, proposes to the world a plan of society, in which the present class war may be replaced by a reign of social peace based upon the Christian virtues of justice and charity. Pope pius XI appealed for reorganisation of both Capital and Labor within each J;rade or industry by a realignment of men into occupational groups, which would replace the present class-warfare. The organisations that exist at present in industry are all on class lines; they are unions of employers alone or of employees alone, but not of employers an& employees. Wherever men have a common interest in trade or profession, the representatives of both Capital and Labor in each trade or profession should be united in joint occupational boards, sharing the interests of the trade, and meeting regularly for discussion on all points of disagreement, and for the purpose of promoting their mutual interests and this common good of all those affected by the industry.


All the occupational unions in any country would naturally be federated into a National Council of Co-operation, which would possess a large measure of autonomy in planning the economic life of its particular occupation. These autonomous unions would be able to defend the interests of all those who had any stake in the particular calling, and resist the growing tendency of the State to arrogate to itself the right of complete control. Just as every citizen in our present regime must belong to some political electorate, and be a member of some municipality, so he would belong to some occupational group or other, according to the profession or calling he pursues or according to his interests.

Pope Pius XI thus envisaged a society organically reformed and reestablished upon a true social basis, whose members co-operate for their mutual benefit in a spirit of social justice, while the soul of the whole order is charity, combined with a recognition of the dignity and the rights of man.

Human Dignity.

As a first step in implementing this Christian organisation of social and industrial life, the Popes have appealed for a recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of human labor, so that the workingman may enjoy that measure of self-respect and social esteem that is due to him. In the days of the individual artisan, whose skill produced the finished product of his particular trade, labor was invested with a radiance of its own, and appealed to the tradesman as a thing of joy. But in the mass production methods of our machine age, with its minute division of labor amongst factory “hands,” the workman has tended to become a mere appendage to the machine, and it generally happens that the repetition of monotonous and uninspiring actions is all that is required of him in his daily toil.

Is it possible to idealise or even to Christianise the soulless mechanism of modern industrial life ? Yes. Even those who take no account of the spiritual nature of man and his supernatural destiny must realise that when man is incorporated into a vocational organisation of production, such as is envisaged by the Pope, his relation to society is immediately elevated. He is no longer applying himself to his toil merely as a means of providing himself with the necessities of life, but is also conscious that the fruit of his labor is of value to the community. The usefulness which members of mast of the professions render to society is obvious to us. For example, we feel a sense of obligation and of gratitude to the medical man whose professional skill assists us to regain our health after a serious illness, and it is more or less apologetically that we offer him our fee, for his service to us is not something that can be, equated to a money value.

Under the workingman’s contribution to society is similarly realised, he has not attained to that position in society which the dignity of human labor demands. But when he is incorporated as an essential member in a vocational organisation of production, he will cease to figure in society as one who sells his labor as a mere wage-earner in order to keep body and soul together, and the social character and usefulness of his labor will be recognised in the community.

Young Christian Workers.

But for the Catholic there is something much more elevated and spiritual in the Young Christian Workers’ movement which began in Belgium about fifteen years ago, and which is fast spreading to most civilised countries. The members of this virile, organisation have taken their inspiration from Christ the Worker at His carpenter’s bench. In this lofty concept all human industry is capable of offering worship and glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.

St. Justin tells us that Jesus Christ at His carpenter’s bench fashioned the raw material of timber into simple works of his craft, such as ploughshares and yokes, which supplied some humble human need. As a lowly carpenter He was thus continuing, extending, and evolving the creative work, by which as the Word of God He created the universe at the beginning of time. In his characteristic fashion Papini asks us to imagine how, as the pale shavings curled beneath His plane, or the sawdust dropped to the ground to the strident rhythm of His saw, He must have thought that it is a law of life that all base material must be transformed and refashioned if it is to become the useful friend of man.

Soon He would leave His bench, where He labored on base matter, to toil for souls. But the same principle would guide His work in the realm of the spirit. For just as a. plough-share was fashioned by Him from the gnarled and twisted trunk of an olive tree, as also the most hardened and unregenerate soul can be transformed by the discipline of grace into a being fit for the Kingdom of Heaven. The young Christian worker, conscious of his incorporation into Christ by grace, proclaims that work is not a curse or a slavery, but is a co-operation and collaboration With the Creator of our race. This is a refreshing conception of life and labor. It has already proved to be a veritable revolution, for these young men have already succeeded in giving a mystic significance even to the whirring wheels of modern industrialism.

Catholic Ideal.

This is the spirit of Catholic Action. I exhort everyone who wishes to see the Christianising of our debased industrial life to pray for and to work for the expansion of these ideals. What new grounds for hope are here! The new order for which the Popes have appealed has its heralds in these young Catholic Actionists who are determined to bring to bear uppn their daily toil the religion of Jesus the Carpenter.


The Christianising of our Debased Industrial Life (Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1954), Friday 29 March 1940, page 7) (Trove)