Chapter One (10/10)

Need for a new order

Arizmendiarrieta is convinced—in his early years, to which we primarily refer in this chapter—that it is necessary to find an entirely new social order, on a new base, given that the fundamentals of both liberalism and collectivism have failed. The root of this failure, in Arizmendiarrieta’s opinion, lies in the insufficient recognition of human dignity on the part of both ideologies. He does not see, for the moment, another possible basis for fraternity and universal solidarity than the Christian message.

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The revolution of Jesus of Nazareth

To recognize God in Jesus Christ, or believe in the God of Jesus Christ, is to recognize the incomparable dignity of mankind, as a child of God, and confess the universal fraternity of all people, children of the same Father, breaking all barriers of nation, race or class. The revolution of Jesus Christ is the revolution of fraternity, of charity, which is fundamental to and complements the practice of social justice.

With the first European war over, mankind expected long years of peace and prosperity.

Again, writes Arizmendiarrieta, mankind forgot the horrors of war, and "the dizzying progress of technology presaged for many the definitive triumph of human intelligence and reason, and so, once again, rationalism is on the rise" (SS, I, 162). Food stocks had grown to a degree such that, little later, Australians will throw millions of rams into the sea, Argentines will burn their wheat, and Brazilians their coffee. For a moment, it seemed possible to transform the world into a paradise (Ib.).

Before long, it could be seen that all efforts were useless, powerless to assure peace. Neither Wilson’s fourteen points, nor the Versailles Pact could guarantee peace. Political war was followed by social war, encouraged by hatred and class enmities. "Distanced from God, rulers believed they could arrange this mad world concealed from divine law, and their efforts turned out to be children’s games. The world needs a ruler and a code; and that ruler, regardless of who does not like it, is Christ, and his Law, the universal code" (SS, I, 152).

After the Second World War, continues Arizmendiarrieta, instead of the optimistic euphoria felt after the first, a profound pessimism has spread, and more than pessimism, a radical skepticism, a climate in which the only thing that is saved and thrives is personal selfishness, such that we do not want know anything about anything, except life itself and existence, the basis and foundation of the philosophical system that is all the rage these days, replacing rationalism (Ib. 163). Once more, man is abandoned to his fate, in need of rediscovering the person and work of Jesus Christ.

With respect to the person of the historical Jesus, Arizmendiarrieta observes a change of attitude among Western intellectuals and wise people since the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, which is beginning to reach the masses, incorporating itself into opinion trends, into the struggles of parties and classes. Today, he says, all social factions seek to appropriate the figure of Jesus: so it is not strange hear in our days that Jesus was a revolutionary, socialist, communist… (Ib. 9).

In this time of social struggles, "it is partly true to say that Christ was a revolutionary," recognizes Arizmendiarrieta (Ib. 9). He undoubtedly caused a radical social transformation, and began a completely new order.

In the pre-Christian, pagan world, a father could put his children to death on a whim. The pagan world did not know social assistance in the form of orphanages, asylums, or hospitals. The pagan lord could have slaves flung in his pools for the simple pleasure of seeing them drown and be fish food. Might made right (Ib. 9). For the mere fact of having put an end to this state of things, Christ can be considered a revolutionary, though certainly not for the way he acted to put an end to all that, because he did it by instilling love, mutual respect and submission to authority. "Christ, the prototype of the new man, wanted to transform the ancient world; but he did not propose do it with violence, but rather by changing it on the inside, by transforming the spirit of man. The doctrine of Christ is not dynamite that devastates, but rather, yeast that ferments and quickens." Using the words of an unnamed author—as Arizmendiarrieta very frequently did—he says: "Christ was a revolutionary the way a springtime ray of sun might be, as it makes vigorous life bloom from the deathly breast of wintry nature" (Ib.).

Others, he continues, regard Christ as a Communist, and the early Christian community as an advocate of collectivism, as the first Communist society. In the same way, they present the gospel as the fundamental and initial constitution of a new social order, presaged by the current one, of the collectivization of everything, the diametric opposite of the existing order in the Roman Empire, whose fundamental concept of private property—right to use and abuse—neither Christ nor the early community could accept.

Arizmendiarrieta again responds similarly to the previous point (revolutionary Christ): "Christ was a communist, if "communist" is understood as ‘divide your bread with the hungry, and welcome the poor and homeless into your house,’ or if it commands whoever has two coats to give one to a neighbor who has none… But he did not tell us to take coats from others, or that we could enter another’s house and steal bread…, rather, he sanctioned the natural precept of not violating others’ rights" (Ib. 10-11).

The novelty or specific contribution of Jesus consists, above all, in his concept of God the Father. This is an aspect that we do not need to pause on; instead, it will be helpful to highlight what Arizmendiarrieta directly derived from it: the dignity of man, body and soul, constituted in a child of God (Ib., 108 ff.). This is the point that transforms the existing social and political order, the basis of the new social order that, little by little, will be able to be imposed on the old world. This doctrine constitutes, in Arizmendiarrieta’s opinion, "the spiritual basis for the greatest revolution history has seen" (Ib. 109). Arizmendiarrieta understands the establishment of a just social order as the establishment the kingdom of Christ. And the reign of Christ begins in the heart (Ib. 60 ff).

Today, it is urgent to remember the dignity of man, because "never has there been so much talk of freedom as there has been so far this century, and we have brought forth systems and theories that are the denial of every freedom; never have human value and dignity been spoken of as much as in these recent times and yet, never has there been so little respect or esteem than today for man, who was sacrificed with the greatest ease, whose life is looked down on as the vilest thing; never has there been so much talk as in these last years about mankind, about the common good, about class interests, about the good of mankind—so much absurdity has been justified with these pompous names—and we have reached a social situation in which never have whim and ambition, pride and arrogance, selfishness and cruelty of the strong been more the order of the day, to detriment of the true interests of the masses, of men, of mankind. That is what we have come to" (Ib. 113).

This being the situation, it is no wonder that everywhere voices rise to demand, or to promise, a new social order. However, history is the teacher of life, and we can be sure that the promised "new orders" will solve nothing, if they are not inspired by the gospel. The required new order cannot come from the ideologies that are dominant today.

Indeed, if we cast a quick glance at the history of the ideas and systems that have succeeded each other in Europe over the last hundred years, we see that "we have gone from corrosive individualism to degrading collectivism" (Ib. 113).

The prophets of freedom, proclaiming that man is just another force in the universe and that, like all things, finds his balance by being left to his fate, being left to develop his freedom and to operate freely, end up condemning the weak to death, "because they are not allowed to defend their rights by finding support in society, in forming groups, while the strong, the powerful, continue exploiting their freedom at the expense of the former" (Ib.). This is how class division is accentuated.

The liberal economic regime, in Arizmendiarrieta’s judgment, has allowed the rich to increase their wealth in the same measure that the poor increase their misery. This is how mankind is divided into two opposed worlds, the world of capitalists, and the world of the poor, who are ever more poor, the victims of every kind of injustice, who, moved by the instinct of preservation, find no other way to fight in their own defense than association. Day by day, the division becomes deeper, and the struggle becomes harder, a struggle that not infrequently takes on a violent character. We, ourselves, Arizmendiarrieta remembers, have seen revolutions and revolts of this character.

As a consequence of the awakening of the oppressed human consciousness, which has found support in groups and in association for the struggle, the spirit of solidarity has developed strongly, giving way to collectivist ideologies. These consider man not as an independent whole, but rather as a part that finds its necessary essential complement in association, outside of which it has no value and does not represent anything. Man is not valued as an absolute and universal value, but rather on the basis of being a part, on the basis of the utility he can provide to the State or to production. He himself is no longer the subject of his own rights, but rather the object of the rights held for him and over him by an anonymous entity called the State, which may intrude unscrupulously into human lives, even into the consciences of citizens, and reaching the extreme of impeding man from the exercise of unrefuseable and inalienable functions and rights he has as a man ("like it does when meddles in the name of the family or of marriage") (Ib. 114). This is Arizmendiarrieta’s vision.

Examining dominant ideologies and systems, "we must confess that man remains an unknown value" (Ib. 115). It is urgent, then, rediscover the dignity of man, as made manifest in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

People of good will

The most tenacious opposition the Church has found to the fulfillment of its mission on Earth has not come from its enemies, but rather has come from Catholics themselves, who are remiss when it comes time to fulfill the social norms given by the Roman Pontiffs. More than Masonic sects, what has hurt the Church is the mute opposition there has been to the application of the principles of justice and equity. "The internal enemies are the ones that, like microbes, destroy life and bring death to the living body" (Ib. 191).

Today there is a clamor for the unity of conservative forces against the forces of revolution. "The unity of conservative forces," Arizmendiarrieta comments, "is needed, not to contain a danger, but rather to create a new world, a more just, more equitable world, and the crusade that our Roman Pontiffs propose in these times is that which must culminate, not in fiery contention, but rather in the building, in the creation, of a more just, more equitable world" (Ib.).

From the beginning, the new order to build demands the participation of everyone. For this reason, it must begin with a serious awareness of Christian obligations. Our task of universal reorganization will end up failing unless each one manages to escape that moral and spiritual lethargy, that apathy and even passivity in which we find ourselves, abandoned to an incomprehensible fatalism (Ib. 201). Arizmendiarrieta considers this attitude the consequence of collectivist ideologies and systems, that, he says, inspired by a pessimistic philosophy of mankind, which is considered incapable of intervening in life with all the weight of its personality, have judged that responsibilities should fall to a small minority, that can and should direct and control the masses. He writes in 1945, following the Christmas message of the Pope on democracy, that it is urgent to be free of those infections. "The most urgent task of this time, or in this instant, in which we find ourselves at the beginning of a new era, of a new order in which the will of a few is not going to be imposed, but rather, the will of the many is going to be respected one way or another, I repeat, the most urgent task is that of awakening the awareness of each one, and above all, the sense of responsibility of each individual" (Ib. 201).

To the objection that it is too late to preach, Arizmendiarrieta has responded in various ways, since he is confronted over and over with this objection (cf. Ib. 200, 217, 291 ff., 294 ff.). If the Church’s social doctrine has had little effect to date, it has been because of the indifference of Christians, will be the most general answer. "Barbarism, impiety, brutality, and force, have triumphed for no other reason than our negligence and neglect, and have triumphed and have won and defeated only the Christianity of varnish, and of ritual. Now we have to find out if is capable of dominating and triumphing over true Christianity, Christianity of the Ten Commandments, of the social encyclicals" (Ib. 218). "The gospel has not lost efficacy because many centuries have passed since it was revealed to men. If it has not given the sought-after fruit, it is not due to its age, but rather to the malice of men who have been able to excuse themselves from complete fulfillment" (PR, I, 200).1

Christianity is a religion of action, and of condemnation of the status quo, of conservatism, of accomplished facts; it is the disturbance of the satisfied. However, Christians easily forget the whole "uncomfortable" aspect of the Gospel, preferring a Christianity "that is no longer the religion of Christ" (SS, I, 158).

In order to build the desired new world, Arizmendiarrieta places an exceedingly high value on the idea, in this case truth, that must be the basis of that order. Correspondingly, he will give utmost importance to the formation of consciences, to education. Today, he says, there are no truths, there are only opinions. So, rather than men, we have reeds that sway when the wind blows, any wind of doctrine or novelty (SS, II, 252).

Who today has a thirst for the truth, anxiety to possess it, concern to have it, who suffers because of the lack of truth?

We understand that there can be suffering because of a lack of bread, because of the lack of wealth, because of the lack of health, because of the lack of love, because of the lack of certain satisfactions … Because of the truth?

Today we are passionate about sports, about politics, about art. Today, there is conversation about all this, but what is the truth or error, hardly anyone worries about that, such things are too Platonic.

The saddest symptom is not professing the error itself, because if the error is professed with interest, with zeal, it would be fitting to expect something. The saddest thing is for the truth not to matter to us, to consider it a luxury item or a trifle.

And so, today, we settle for opinions. It is the most man can aspire to or reach.

With only opinions, nothing can be built, nothing can be raised. It is all one can do to maintain one’s balance, like someone who stands on a sphere and so, has no stability. The column of truth is missing, and the stability the truth and conviction give.

This is how, fatally, a civilization, an order that lacks the firm possession of the truth, is doomed to its ruin, and necessarily must disappear.

This is the sign of our times (SS, I,160-161).2

"We lack men of convictions," he exclaims before Catholic Action youth (1950), "and convictions are a conquest that must be made, not something that is accomplished through a simple and superficial learning about the issues, about truths" (SS, II, 252). According to what can be inferred from his writings, Arizmendiarrieta gave utmost importance to the study sessions that he himself organized in the Parish for boys and girls, to "form men with consciousness of their dignity and of their responsibility, men that know what their position is in the world and their destiny in life" (Ib. 259). This is the only way for people to avoid being diluted in the masses like drops in the ocean, he will underscore (Ib. 260).

The presuppositions of a new order cannot be limited to teaching of the truth. "Doctrine that is not put into work, convictions that are not translated into acts, are something as abnormal as life that does not beat, movement that does not vibrate. We are not placed in the world to contemplate or regret, but rather to transform" (Ib. 252). The Church has long suffered the disjunction of doctrine and praxis, which is to say, as Arizmendiarrieta rather oddly puts it, it is left with Jesus Christ without his gospel. "For me, it is not the same thing to believe in Jesus Christ with relative facility—as we came to believe in his divinity—as it is to believe in the Gospel" (Ib. 265). Because to believe in the gospel is to believe in life; to believe in life is to hold to its fundamental law, which is to transform, progress, renew (Ib. 266).

And who must be the ones who, over a world that lies in ruins, will raise the new order? After having insisted on the need for God, for the Gospel, for the Church, Arizmendiarrieta surprises us a bit with his response: the builders of the new order must be all men of good will. This is not a different way of indirectly naming Christians. He leaves that quite clear by judging that, perhaps, the communists, for example, are interpreting the gospel better than not a few Christians: they carry forward a flag that symbolizes many truths that we Christians have stopped practicing. "If an angel from far-off heaven heard the echo of evangelical preaching, the echo of that magnificent Sermon on the Mount, and came to Earth and wanted to discern who are the ones that have heard Christ, perhaps he would find that, no less than in the ranks and armies of Christian uniforms, there are individuals and people who feel those things among the enemies, among those forces of violence and barbarism" (Ib. 244). Comparing the Church with the people the Old Testament, Arizmendiarrieta says that just as because the infidelity of the Jewish people, God chose another people as his instrument, He can now do the same thing: God will lose nothing because we Christians we do not want put the principles entrusted by Him into practice. There will be those who do it, "communists, or socialists, or fascists" (Ib. 272). "And it may be that, as the Gentiles of that time received the inheritance of Christ and were the ones who took the kingdom of Christ to the farthest points, so it may also be others, whom we conceive of as Gentiles and pagans, who really defend the postulates and doctrine of Christ, of the Pope, if not on all points, then at least on many. So, many of the things that we Christians should have done before anyone else, have been done before us, or in greater proportions, and with more generosity, by the so-called communists or socialists and extremists. And the strange thing today is that we find much more Christian doctrine in those parties and in those groups whom we reject as enemies of Christ and of Christianity than in many party platforms and groups that are called Catholic and labeled Catholic " (Ib. 271). It cannot be denied that true courage is needed to talk in these terms from the pulpit, in Mondragon, in September of 1944.

As for the configuration of the new order to constitute, Arizmendiarrieta expressed himself in general terms most of the time: it shall be a kingdom of justice, of peace, etc.; it must be based on the Church’s social doctrine. In a text from 1944, he left us this concrete image: "The first slogan, the first objective of this new crusade that all humanity must undertake, is the redemption of the proletariat. The two pillars on which that new social order and human co-existence must rest are: an honest sufficiency of goods for all families, and the liberation of mankind, in the future, from all war" (Ib. 275).

1945, D. José María and three companions of his in the sanctuary of Aránzazu.


  1. Arizmendiarrieta uses this paradoxical argument on several occasions: pontifical social doctrine has not lost validity (1), the revolution of Jesus of Nazareth is possible and necessary (2), the cooperative system has not lost strength (3)… precisely because of the negative experience its failure (non-utilization, lack of attention) would mean in the history. It is the classic kind of apologetic argumentation, not without a certain sophistry, that we find formulated already in Demosthenes, First Phillipic: "The judgment of the past should be the source of our hopes for the future. If you had perfectly fulfilled your duty, and yet public affairs were not in better condition, it would no longer be fitting to expect a better future for them. But since, today, affairs are not in their bad state because of the strength of the things themselves, but rather because of your negligence, it is to be expected that, separated from your errors, with your minds amended, they will again take on a much more flourishing aspect."

  2. This insistence on the truth as the foundation of the just social order, as opposed to mere opinion, the cause of instability and decadence, that in the end, does nothing but reproduce well-known Platonic doctrines (cf. Popper, K.R., Die offene Gesellschaft und ihre Feinde, Francke, Bern 1957, vol. I), reminds us once more of the classical humanist training received by Arizmendiarrieta in the Seminary. The classical source of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought, especially various traditional Platonic and Aristotelian ideas, is easily perceptible. Over time, his own concerns will gradually lead him away from those roots. Arizmendiarrieta polemicizes, as we have seen above and we will again find, with classical social philosophy ("by nature," writes Aristotle, Politics, I, c.2, "the city is prior to the house and to each of us, since the set is necessarily previous to the part"), or with the conception of man and of work in the society of Greek philosophy. Later, he will also abandon the Platonism of the transcendent truth that is fundamental to the social order, considering the honest search for justice a sufficient basis. However, in this first chapter concerning the starting point of Arizmendiarrieta’s thought, what should stand out is his classical humanist training, on the one hand, and his traditional religious education, on the other. It is also necessary to confess that these influences become obvious first and foremost in his pastoral writing from the early years, while his social thought, which is the field where Arizmendiarrieta develops his own path, starting inapproximately 1950, and which will draw on influences that are quite different from modern philosophy, without ever ceasing to be a "classicalist" in his own way, due to the training he received. However, the recourse to illustrative examples or historical texts and Greco-Roman literature, which are very frequent in his first writings, disappears entirely in later writing.

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