On this day in 1884, Pope Leo XIII released the papal encyclical, Humanum genus. Oh, that Catholic Church! It is always angry about something. And at that time, it was angry about, well, democracy. Or more precisely, it was not keen on popular sovereignty — the idea that government has the right to rule because of a mandate by the people and not because God decided it. Or as Dennis puts it Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony!” Pope Leo begged to differ.
It also isn’t keen on separation of church and state. So basically, the whole damned thing was very un-American. The funny thing is that now a good 35% of the country — almost exclusively protestants — would totally agree with Leo the Pope. Among conservatives, democracy itself is out of favor. And most of these ninnies think the Constitution itself — you know, that document that rather pointedly doesn’t mention God — is divinely inspired. I really do wonder what kind of American history these people learned. Or is it just anything to justify getting what they want?
Anyway, back to the Humanum Genus, most of it was presented as an attack on the Freemasons. That makes sense, because they were a secular force. And they were of what is fast becoming my favorite American religious group: those who just don’t care enough to have much of an opinion about God. They are much more sensible than atheists like me who spend a lot of time on it. I mean, I would save a lot of time if I just became a Catholic and went to Mass each Sunday.
The Pope was also concerned about public education. Basically, the Pope was concerned that the people would be self-reliant and not dependent upon the hierarchy that God himself set up. In other words, Pope Leo was the same as the power elite at any time: he was just complaining about trends that were threatening his power. I think people should give Pope Francis a little slack in that regard. But it’s a different time. At least in America, it isn’t the pope who is oppressing us. It is the corporate state. And just like the many Catholics in 1884 who loved the oppression of Humanum genus, so there are many today who love their modern subsistence wage economy.
Happy anniversary Humanum genus!