What are Catholic economic principles? Can “Tea Party Catholic” help American Catholics figure this out? (book review)

I might get the beat down for this just because “Tea Party” is in the title, but this is a much needed book, and it’s not for the title it bears. For me, it’s for the history of American Catholics that it elucidates.

Over the summer, I began developing a timeline for American Catholics, a collection of historical facts that American Catholics probably should know, especially since American Catholics really know so very little of their own history. Lo and behold! Samuel Gregg touched on many of the facts I painstakingly searched for and documented. But, he went one step further and pulled a lot of the history together into a very well-developed and insightful synthesis of Church documents on economic theory, Catholic philosophers on natural rights, and American Catholic manifestations on living as a Catholic in the United States of America.

This is a taste of some of the topics Gregg covers in his book:

  • Jesus and His innovative perspective on taking divinity out of money
  • Aquinas and his understanding of greed as the stifling of prosperity
  • Vitoria, the School of Salamanca, and the vision of natural rights–life, liberty, and property
  • Recent encyclicals and contemporary concerns from Pius XI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Pope Francis, Chaput and Nell-Breuning as well as recent American political movements
  • Principles of subsidiarity, solidarity, liberty, and the spirit of innovation and how that differs from the very erroneous prosperity gospel
  • Catholic participation in the founding of the United States of America through Charles Carroll as well as the varying roles of American Catholics who came from all over the world seen up to today
  • One of my favorite saints–St. Francis de Sales! How influential St. Francis was in helping laypersons, even in the early United States, understand their responsibilities in the New World!

This book does not say everything that needs to be said about our American Catholic history, but it is a fantastic start to our history, and it has the added bonus of giving insight to our Catholic economic principles. American Catholics, I am telling you–it is a must read!

At the very least, it will get the conversation started…

Some of my conclusions after thinking about the recent controversy with the newest document by Pope Francis and American politics:

1. Teaching, translation, and further study. First of all, when Pope Francis teaches, he is not just teaching Americans. To read his document in an American-centric way would be a false understanding of the nature of the Catholic Church. Step back from political perspectives, and try to read it another way. I know that is hard for Catholic Americans, especially since having a political voice is part of our culture. That said, is it possible that we have received a faulty translation? I can only say that one of our best attributes as Americans could have been the ability to translate many languages since we are of people who come from many lands–this could have been a tremendous strength!–but since politicians in the past did not want go that route, we do have trouble understanding many languages. This weakness in language has confused American Catholics in the past. Here I am thinking of Vatican II: How many misinterpretations have we had on that one? Whose interpretation did Americans depend on? What happened to the American Catholic Church when those interpretations were believed as true? So, could translation be a problem? Sure. That’s why it is always best to be patient, prayerful, and continue to study what the Church truly teaches and to see how Pope Francis’ work fits into that heritage.

2. Abuse of the free-market system. With that, we might be able to admit that some American Catholic persons [I try to avoid detraction when I can] have used the American capitalistic system to push forward their political agenda in other countries, for instance, pushing birth control, abortion, and other ideas onto other peoples who are living in desperation. Not only is this not helpful to less-developed countries, it just furthers the control by a self-selected few who offer what is needed on condition–a conditional love; this is done by a few elitists who feel like they know better than these developing countries in addition to arrogating themselves above well-grounded Catholic teaching, un-biased research, and natural law. Rather than open the doors for another country’s prosperity, these self-selected few only uphold their own personal riches even if it hurts people’s perception of the United States and the other country whom they say they help. In the end, they help no one. This is the self-centered way to use the American capitalistic system. For evidential support that a certain political group has decided to use capitalism, after what it felt was a failure to pass on its own ideas through other avenues and in order to push forward its political perspective, I suggest reading documents in the Social Sciences.

3. Bifurcation. Granted, there are very good people who use the system of capitalism in a way that helps the common good. What we as Americans have not figured out is that there are two versions of American capitalism running at this point. One version, as said before, is self-centered and has, from some perspectives, quite possibly bought the government; that means, that the government has not only the power of the economy but also the power of the legal system as well as the power of defense. The other version, on the other hand, seeks to see human flourishing through authentic freedom and discusses the need for human virtue in order for that to happen. This bifurcation in economic thought on capitalism has occurred here in the United States, but I don’t know that many people have been able to give words to these two very different perspectives on the free-market system.

4. Subsidiarity. This is something that has not been discussed enough by American Catholics. It means, the most local person or persons who can take care of something should take care of that something. That means that mothers and fathers are responsible for their children; that husbands should take care of their wives as their wives take care of their husbands; that a person is responsible for him or herself by a certain age and to a certain practical extent; that the next people to help someone who cannot care for him or herself, if the parents or immediate family (grandmas, grandpas, brothers, sisters) cannot do so, should be the most local community–that means churches in most cases. In other cases, it means the place of employment, schools, groups, or town. It means not depending on distant government peoples to do what you can do for yourself. It also does not mean shoving off those who are in your immediate vicinity to government programs. It means being charitable to your neighbor when your neighbor is in need. Thus, not only does subsidiarity allow for individual initiative, it allows for that individual to give Christian aide to those who cannot stand on their own because of age, disability, or situation.

5. A balanced perspective. Catholic teaching has never embraced all-out capitalism, what Samuel Gregg calls anarcho-capitalism. Anarchy is not good for anybody–the powerful few always end up exploiting others in that type of system. However, Catholic teachers also do not embrace strict government control of the economy, what we know as communism. Ironically, the powerful few end up exploiting others in that type of system, too. Can we find a better way? As Catholics, shouldn’t we do this for our brothers and sisters around the world? As American Catholics, shouldn’t we do this for our brothers and sisters in this country? Aren’t we all a part of the human family?

So, where do American Catholics fit in all this controversy? Our beatings seem to come from every side on some days. Perhaps that means we are coming closer to actually living our faith.

Any thoughts?



Gregg, Samuel (2013). Tea Party Catholic, the Catholic case for limited government, a free economy, and human flourishing. The Crossroad Publishing Company: New York.

About lamehousewife

poetry, articles, thoughts, and quotes... on a quest to be authentic in my motherhood, sisterhood, and daughterhood, but i can tend to become Juvenalian sometimes, maybe in writing but also in life, reading Swift's "A Modest Proposal" as if i were hearing a friend speak to me about the how ridiculous some ideas can become, especially when they begin to drift into reality, mocking all of us really... i identify with Mary Magdalene, James, and Peter and am extremely grateful for that woman who said, "Yes!"...oh and i can be pretty lame...blessings to you, dear reader...pray for a single mother, her children, and the father of her children today!
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3 Responses to What are Catholic economic principles? Can “Tea Party Catholic” help American Catholics figure this out? (book review)

  1. Jeff Walker says:

    Thoughts. I have so many thoughts I don’t know where to begin. I’ve recently began reading through Evangelii Gaudium because of the ridiculous firestorm it spawned. The Left and the Right, so eager to co-opt whatever they can glean from the Holy Father’s words (even if it means falsifying them) and just as eager to condemn him when his words do not serve their purpose. I happened to be driving back from lunch with my brother this afternoon and heard for myself as Rush Limbaugh doubled down on his attacks against Pope Francis. It is the Theater of the Absurd. I watched another matinee at that absurd theater a few weeks ago when a Catholic Facebook site featured a post about Samuel Gregg’s book and those calling themselves Catholic lept at the chance to eviscerate one of their own for daring to utter the phrase “tea party”. The only allegiance these vultures have any more is to a political party…an ideology…and not to anything remotely resembling the full body of Christ. They would cut off their own arm or leg or heart and celebrate it with smug platitudes and arrogance in order to protect their Americanized and narrow political lens. When I saw you bravely post this piece I admitted I waited to see if those same vultures would appear to pick your bones clean. I plan to write more on this subject myself when time allows and the bile and disgust within me subsides long enough to allow for me to write charitably. I’m obviously not at that place just yet.🙂

    You’re a brave voice. Do not let it fall silent.

    I was not all that interested in Mr. Gregg’s book before, but after watching yet another episode of the shallow stupidity of it all yet again today I plan to look into it as I continue to read through “The Joy of the Gospel.”

    • Hi Jeff.
      Thank you so much for responding. I’m not quite sure why the silence is so loud on this one. Perhaps the busy season? I have also not been as routine as usual about blogging (just one here or there). I had these strange ideas of blogging a lot in the summer, and here it is December:) Ah well…
      By the title of Gregg’s book, I would not have bought it either. I heard him on the radio a few weeks ago and heard information from him that I had been searching for in regards to Charles Carroll. The more I have learned about our Catholic heritage in the US, the more I feel a paradigm shift as to my perspective of US history. Indeed, I have even become extremely grateful for all of the brave Catholic missionaries who came over to the US. I do not want to go to one extreme–hating the US and all its history as some have chosen to do–nor to the other extreme–being oblivious to the harm that some historical figures have done. With that, I have found some amazing Catholics in our past, and they were influential to the direction of this country, or they were able to remain faithfully Catholic (Christian) even when they had to stand alone. Not only that, this search has led me to dig even deeper and learn more about the Catholic Church prior to European colonization. Right now, I am deeply engaged in the very fruitful Irish history, and wow! another paradigm shift. Many significant things have been left out of world history as done by American schools methinks.
      Anyway, I think why many people in the US react politically might have something to do with our very poor historical and philosophical education in the US. I almost feel the media is acting somewhat bi-polar at this point with the Pope, mostly because they really do not understand everything that undergirds what he is saying. Are some actually trying to pervert what he is saying in order to push an agenda forward? Maybe, but I think we have far too many indications that many Americans suffer from a very poor education. It is something that is very frustrating for me as well. Unless parents are being very proactive, I think it will only get worse from what I have seen in the field of education so far.
      On a positive note, Gregg does point out the phenomenon of JPII Catholics, however; that is, those who came into the Church when JPII was Pope or have been educated by his documents. In the US, they are the ones who seem to be far stronger, better educated, and happier in their faith than what was seen previous to that time in the US. I probably should have mentioned, too, that Gregg’s book has one sentence about today’s Tea Party, which is only done to talk about today’s political landscape. His book covers American Catholic history (historical people and events) and encyclicals more than anything else. It’s a reminder of why so many people came here–for religious freedom–and the persecution that continued when Catholics arrived in the US. It also reminds me of the concept of posterity. If my grandparents had not believed in such a thing, I would have nowhere to stay. I don’t want to be guilty of not trying to help my future grandkids by detaching from what is happening right now in politics. Honestly, I was not really engaged in the things going on in politics until I took a class that was teaching politically-based hatred. I know too much about history to know that this is not a direction that is good for humanity. I also know that this hatred comes from both extreme sides of the political spectrum.
      Thank you again, Jeff, for stopping by, and God bless…

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