Chapter One (4/10)

The working class

From Arizmendiarrieta’s first writings, a lively interest in the worker question is observed. However, in the writings from his early years, perhaps because of their character, this is posed more as a religious issue than as really social or political-economic. The evolution of his thought on this problem is clear. Later writings will no longer highlight the family as the cell of social life, but rather the factory. It will no longer be about creating the conditions of a more human life at home, but rather, on the job. Certainly one influence on this evolution was the fact that the acute problem of housing, in the early postwar years, is being solved, while the blind development of capitalism in Euskadi, during the same years, intensifies the worker problem. But helped, without a doubt, by such situations, Arizmendiarrieta will come to a more economic vision of society, in which the factory replaces the family as the core of the social fabric. This period of his thought will be analyzed in the second part of this chapter. For the moment, we limit ourselves, as indicated, to the statements in his first writings.

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Apostasy of the working-class masses

Arizmendiarrieta is very concerned about distancing of the working masses from the influence of the Church, about the apostasy of the working masses.

In the first place, there exist the cores, considerable groups of workers, who already publicly flaunt of their lack of religion and who do not hide their hatred for the Church, who vulgarly were called reds (CAS, 15). It is a grave fact in itself, since the mission of the Church is to win everyone for Christ; but it would not be so important if it was not accompanied by the phenomenon of general indifference. It is not only they who find themselves separated from the Church: "it is all or almost all the workers, even those who externally still practice religion and go to church, who are also intimately unlinked, disconnected from the Church, because they have lost trust in her and in the solutions she advocates" (CAS, 15-16). It is the workers who remain united with and trust in the Church who are the exception, such a small number that it can barely be taken into consideration, because they do not represent anything; the rest, which is to say, almost all, have lost all trust in doctrine, in the methods of the Church, in the Church itself; "in a word, they have personally apostatized from the Church, even when they externally remain united to her" (Ib. 16). They will have to end up breaking all external ties, taking the position of those who already flaunt their impiety.

The problem is grave. First, because the mission of the Church is to preach the gospel to the poor, and it is precisely the poor who "leave the Church because they feel that we who represent it are helpless; they leave the Church and abandon faith because they do not find in us solutions for the pressing problems in their lives" (Ib.).

It is also grave because, in many cases, we are talking specifically about people who are very sensitive to the truth and to justice, people of magnificent dispositions. "Does the Gospel, message of life, teach us nothing more than to live on our knees? Does the Gospel, perfect code of justice and charity, teach us nothing more than to live for heaven, with the kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, having no reflection here on Earth?" (SS, II, 21).

"One would have to be quite deaf or live very far from where we are not to take heed of one of the most widespread complaints among all working people, victims of unbearable conditions of life. This most grave complaint to which I refer is harshly censored by the activity of the hierarchy and of the clergy, who pretend not see or do not see the very heavy burden that weighs upon the weak, upon the workers, and they do not raise their voice to condemn all those mercantile procedures that exploit the need and hunger of the people, or the apathy or evasiveness of the authorities who do not provide this problem all the attention it deserves. Nobody should be shocked at what I say; I do nothing more than affirm a fact, without passing any judgment" (SS, II, 306).

The distancing from the Church and the enmity against Christians are not due to the doctrine of the Gospel itself, or the Popes. On the contrary, these continue to be considered beautiful and just doctrines by the workers. Distancing, and sometimes hatred, come from the contradiction that Christians show when, on the one hand, they publicly profess those doctrines and, on the other, in their social, moral, and economic life, completely disregard them and organize a world totally differently from what they say they profess (Ib. 272).

The apostasy of the masses does not come, then, from the insufficiency of Christian social doctrine, but from the inadequacies of people who do not practice it, and make themselves responsible for its disrepute. In the middle of everything, Arizmendiarrieta discovers a ray of hope in this evil. Our situation (that of Christians) would have been desperate, he observes, if we had done our part to confront evil, if we had lived our Christianity fully, if we had faithfully applied the social principles of our doctrine, and in spite of everything, we had seen the world leave the path, and go off in other directions. But we still have not seriously faced those demanding masses, with their thirst for justice, offering them the practice of our social doctrine; it has been left in the Encyclicals, and the Encyclicals left in the archives. And this encourages us today, because doctrine is to be practiced and lived (Ib. 217; cf.Ib. 200, 291): there is not a failure of doctrine, but rather the failure of its application.

Social action of the Church

We must begin by remembering that for Arizmendiarrieta, the intervention of the Church in the social question is never about apostolate work with the purpose of winning workers for the Church: Arizmendiarrieta is firmly convinced that the social question has no solution outside of the doctrines of the Church, since neither liberalism nor collectivism provide any acceptable solution. Sometimes, Arizmendiarrieta declared in the first National Assembly of Technicians of Catholic Action, what leads us to think about social work is not necessarily this feeling of the good of the worker, a generous feeling of justice or charity, but rather a rather narrow zeal and interest in the conquest of souls, as if they had to be won with a baited hook (CAS. 143).

When the Church’s social doctrine is referred to, in reality, very ancient principles are referred to, as he himself will underscore—basic, like the dignity of man, of the worker, etc., but which still are waiting to be put into practice. The social doctrine of the Church, which later admits various possible formulas for being put into practice, is the basis of the search for the "Third Way," beyond collectivism and liberalism, blind violence and unlimited freedom.

Arizmendiarrieta does not want to conceive of the social action of the Church "as something that can and must be constrained in the narrow limits of a formula and of assorted formulas designed a priori. While it is true, on some occasions, that the perfect is the enemy of the good, when it comes to social problems, it is easy to find that, in fact, certain manipulated and massaged formulas, magnificent in their apparent structure, are not viable, or that working to carry them out with the purity of their schematic simplicity entails so many drawbacks that, in fact, it is not worth the trouble of adopting them as redemptive signs" (Ib. 175). Liberalism, collectivism—Arizmendiarrieta recognizes that all systems have positive aspects, and all of them have somehow contributed to the development of mankind. If there is a need to strive to find other solutions, it should not be so much to combat those systems, but to find solutions that are more appropriate to human dignity.

A unique, concrete formula, fixed in all its terms, which need only be put into practice, cannot be deduced from the Church’s social doctrine, or from the Gospel. The gospel is a source of inspiration, not a cookbook. By "social action" (of the Church), Arizmendiarrieta understands, therefore, "a disposition of the spirit with which one runs in parallel with the times, a detachment from formulas and the ballast of interests, so that one can empirically accommodate aspirations and confront problems, because every moment and every place has a particular character" (Ib.).

Christians have been unable to create social order in accordance with their doctrines. It could be said that there has not even been a serious attempt to do so: Christians possess good doctrine and bad praxis, or rather, no praxis (Ib. 45-46; 87), a sad fact, which, for Arizmendiarrieta, turns out to be an incentive and a reason for optimism, given the failure of the other two paths.

Together with those who still maintain a relationship and a certain faith in the Church, the principles of Christian social doctrine must begin to be expounded. But these constitute a minority, with the immense majority of the workers separated from the Church, at least in the sense of that they expect nothing from her. To talk to them about the encyclicals will not make much sense, because they will immediately respond that the encyclicals have already existed for a long time, but that Christians themselves are not capable of putting them into practice, and it is as if they did not exist. This is why Arizmendiarrieta thinks that "we do not so much need the Encyclicals, but rather men who have assimilated the doctrine and the spirit of these Encyclicals" (Ib. 18).

"The great enterprise that the Christian apostolate must undertake in our day is the restitution of trust to those masses that still remain faithful to her, at least externally, and then the attraction of all those who are distant" (Ib. 104). But that trust can be only won "when we have provided workshops and factories with men who have an exquisite social sense, with men with a well-developed social spirit, capable of promoting social action in tune with the circumstances in those sites; men capable of earning the trust of their workmates, men to whom the others look and who constitute carriers and representatives of all the desires for justice and equity of the others" (Ib. 18).

A worker is not won with good words. Many workers, says Arizmendiarrieta, have no difficulty recognizing that the Church possesses an excellent social doctrine, better and more perfect than any other (Ib. 104-105). Nor do they fail to recognize, many of them, that all that the term "socialism," or "communism," can evoke has provided meager results to respond to the need of contemporary man. Not everyone, even among the very followers of such doctrines, is fooled by the illusion that the socialization of the means of production is capable of resolving the grave issues of life in all aspects. "But they conceive of us Catholics as incapable of applying even the smallest part of our doctrine, and it tells them nothing that a given law is inspired by Christian principles, because they see that all that is trampled every day by others who ceaselessly flaunt their Catholicism. We will not win these with exposure to doctrine. I do not mean that the preaching, instruction or teaching of social doctrine are unnecessary—far from it. They are not enough. Nor has it usually been the speculative arguments of Marx’s Capital that has brought them to the enemy ranks, but rather the actions and the spirit of men who, imbued with those ideas or justifying their social reaction to injustice with those ideas, have been able to gain their trust and have been able to confront injustices with integrity" (Ib. 105; cf. Ib. 18).

There is no reason to see any contradiction between this last statement and Arizmendiarrieta’s insistence on underscoring the strength of truths, of ideas. Rather, Arizmendiarrieta has always insisted that ideas should be embodied in people. Arizmendiarrieta then demands dedication to study from those men with social spirit, who must gain the trust of their workmates, (SS, II, 251-251; CAS, 105-107). "We must form these elements. This should be the first concern of our apostolate" (CAS, 105).

Social action, understood in the sense indicated above, was spread especially through Catholic Action. Catholic Action, Arizmendiarrieta insists endlessly, should not be identified with any social formula. "It must be kept in mind that in this social field, the fundamental difficulty of every advance, for one and all, is the excessive attachment to immediate and personal material interests" (Ib. 176).

This insistence on denying the possibility of identifying the Church’s social doctrine with a concrete formula makes one think that the issue was not so much a general principle, but a problem posed by a State that defined itself as Catholic and its economic policy as inspired by the social teaching of the Popes. Arizmendiarrieta did not want to allow himself to be framed in any political Upper Room, nor did he want to allow Catholic Action to be. "What Catholic Action has never been, is not, and will never be, is a vine that needs political support." (SS, II, 233-234).

Working people, he already says clearly in 1945, see the Church at the service of the State. "The Army, the Clergy and the Falange are the three claws of the capitalist," it is said and believed as dogma among them, and it is difficult to uproot this idea from their mindset. It is not enough that we instruct them in social doctrine. With that, we will not win their trust; they already recognize that we know how to preach a very good doctrine. They need to see us together with them, suffering with them. We need to win their heart" (PR, I, 91).

Among the causes Arizmendiarrieta cites (1945) for Catholic Action not working well in the Diocese of Vitoria, with its established religious spirit, and where so many other religious associations are flourishing, is a "suspicion among a very numerous sector of the faithful, from the moment it was presented at the end of the war, coinciding with the consolidation of the dominant political situation, about the political undertones of the people who, in those moments, began to appear among their ranks and their leaders, who were almost inevitably welcomed and trusted by the rulers, because of the intelligence and mutual cooperation between the civil authorities and the leaders of Catholic Action in gatherings and public events, which gave attendees the conviction that Catholic Action and this regime were all one, and mutually supported each other, and because of the publications, flags, hymns, etc., that confirmed those suspicions, all of which constitutes a powerful motive that has created an attitude that is little less than hostile in a very high percentage of the people, many of them sincerely religious (…). There are towns where those suspicious people make up as much as eighty percent, and in most towns of Guipuzcoa and Biscay they make up more than sixty percent" (PR, I, 70-71).1

Arizmendiarrieta tries to reinforce Catholic Action as a means of Christian social action precisely because he hopes for it to be able to gather to its bosom all sincerely Catholic people, and those of lively social consciousness. "It is," he says, "the only association that can make the Church independent of the guardianship of political parties and of partisan Catholics who do so much damage when they do not know to leave that partisan overtone out of their Catholic behavior. It offers a channel for ordered, effective, uniquely Catholic behavior" (Ib. 75).

"It is not necessary," he repeated in 1955 in Saturrarán, "for those of us who want to present ourselves as Catholics to act on a plan as a united front, we could almost say as a compact group, with a single way of interpreting the social doctrine of the Church. The social doctrine is abstract and general enough that various interpretations can always be made of it, and, on the other hand, social life, in turn, is also complex enough that the behavior of different people can take a variety of forms. The only unforgivable thing for those who call ourselves Catholics is, perhaps, conservatism and inaction. The action can be highly varied, if we attend to circumstances of form, of rhythm, and of vigor. No doubt Christian groups of men from various origins and political-social labels have carried out magnificent social work. Let us not forget that many of the attitudes that at one time were described as extreme or excessively bold and reckless, with the passage of time, we have found to be normal and sound. The experience of what has occurred in this field of social activity predisposes us to be cautious about being too quick to condemn some attitudes as revolutionary, and therefore inappropriate" (CAS, 235-236).

Arizmendiarrieta wanted to save the independence of the Christian message at all costs. "We are all cramped," he wrote in his notes. "The Church, the ecclesiastics, the secular, both employers and workers. We each have our idol, our solution, our formula, and behind that, our own love, if not our pesetas, to defend, conserve or increase. Which is good because it is ours. If there are no great souls, it is not because there are no souls capable of heroic acts, but rather, they are incapable of daily service, of small sacrifices. If there is no Christian social action in tune with the times… it is because every one is comfortable and surreptitiously installed in his selfishness or comfort. Souls are not opened… Souls open to hearing others…, souls open to admitting the goodness of different formulas… and trying them out in practice…, souls that hold dialogue…" (Ib. 176).

In fact, Arizmendiarrieta, as early as 1946, did not hide his sympathies for democratic socialism, especially for British laborism, as can be seen in his writing on the right to property (CAS, 68-69; 71, 76), sympathies that manifested rather indirectly through all his writings of these years.

The priest’s work

Disregarding other reasons or principles which advised this position, Arizmendiarrieta preferred political and social neutrality of priests towards parties and associations because he considered it urgent to remake unity in the people (PR, I, 19), in his concrete case in Mondragon, where "fratricidal struggles, hatred, and vengeance have, for many years, opened some very deep wounds, which must be healed" (SS, II, 226-228; PR, I, 17). The idea that it was necessary to forget the old positions—liberals, Marxists—and to start to raise a new order, on new foundations, was very profound in him. For this reason, it was necessary to be able to renounce the formulas and know how to dialogue among all, to raise up the new order.

It will demand of every priest an identical posture of material and spiritual austerity. "It is not possible to approach the social field without a great detachment from material goods, but nor can anything effective be done day by day without a nearly absolute spiritual detachment. By "spiritual detachment," we mean a lack of concern for, and the relinquishment of, all those ideas and feelings that are purely and exclusively evangelical. We have to ignore all other ideological constructions to be able to approach the masses. What the times have produced are as variable as the times themselves, and can even be debatable by the necessary people the times have provided to themselves" (CAS, 192).

He compares the social apostle with David, who must confront a powerful giant who has all the elements in the world in his favor: Goliath, the authentic figure of temporal power, of money, of ambition, of overlapping machinations. With his armor, he is hidden from every human risk and can challenge anyone. To confront him, David first tried on Saul’s royal armor, but saw that it was too heavy for him. He chose to fight with poor weapons and freedom of movement. "The social apostle of our days needs that interior freedom, which he will enjoy if he conforms to values, with evangelical affections and interests. This is how he can be molded to everyone, and will be Hebrew with the Jews, and Hellenic with the Greeks: he will be no more than Christian, Christian above all" (Ib. 193). Only with this disposition will a priest be able to come to a meeting of the workers and enter into dialogue with them; it will be possible for the trust which the poor once placed in Christ to be reborn.

Here is the catalogue of virtues Arizmendiarrieta establishes for the priest who wants to act in the workers’ world: 1. Freedom, 2. Disinterest and detachment, 3. Spirit of sacrifice and service, 4. Austerity, 5. Charity (Ib. 209). Elsewhere, these virtues are reduced to three: freedom, austerity, and industriousness, the latter revealing a new aspect, compared to the first catalog cited (Ib. 214). Naturally, Arizmendiarrieta did not pursue any systematic goal in establishing such lists of virtues of social apostles, but it will be helpful to observe how he reasoned its necessity. "The life of the priest who wishes to support his teaching with life," he says, referring to industriousness, "has to be one of intense work, because in the mentality of the people who surround us, work is one of the great undisputed values, and perhaps for many, we priests are little more than undesirable bureaucrats, because they do not see us as consecrated to work. Between them and us there will be a stream of mutual sympathy from the moment that they can consider us true workers: let us work on what we can. Let us work in schools, let us work in assistance to the sick, let us work in the formation of youth, let us work even in the care and cleaning of our temple. Let us be the first worker of the parish or the town. But let us work also disinterestedly" (Ib. 212-213).

With these dispositions and virtues, the social apostle will be able to establish relationships with the working masses. But the temples and parish centers, Arizmendiarrieta observes, are not the places where they tend to congregate: whoever wants to approach them must go and coexist with them wherever they ordinarily are. Only there can there be spontaneous and natural contact, since forced or imposed contact makes souls close and all action elusive. The priest must be present in the places of recreation, of meeting, in the neighborhoods of the workers, and his physical presence must be accompanied by a "sincere and intensive social co-existence and true spiritual rapport. This experience and rapport require of the priest a sufficient sensitivity, no longer just to understand, but even to intuit the problems and concerns of the worker" (Ib. 134-135).

However, Arizmendiarrieta is absolutely opposed to the appointment of chaplains of factories, while he is sympathetic to the movement of worker priests. The chaplain of a factory will be inevitably seen by the workers as an ally of the boss; and if he is truly interested in the situation of the workers, he will easily enter into conflict with the directors of the business (Ib. 135-136).

The social apostle must be informed on social doctrine, but does not need to be a social technician who knows how to resolve concrete matters. He must inspire; workers themselves must learn to search for the concrete solutions required. "The people, the masses, are not demanding this or that social work from us, this or that activity, but rather this spirit of understanding, this compassion and intelligence about their moral and material problems" (Ib. 193). Many priests excuse their social apathy, alleging that they are not given concrete orientation, that they do not know about that. Arizmendiarrieta is confronted on several occasions with this objection (Ib. 175, 193, 210, 214, 226, 235). "Nor have they told the doctor what prescription he has to give on every occasion," responds Arizmendiarrieta (Ib. 210). It is impossible to proceed with received prescriptions and formulas. There would be no lack of doctors, if this system of prescriptions and formulas was possible.

"… There is a warning that the social problem is posed in a field of technical efficiency, with such a complexity of elements that are presented concatenated such that, when it is difficult to foresee the circumstances of their development or evolution, certain reservations must be accepted in the concrete formulas.

We, however, are always demanding concrete solutions, and we regret that the Church often does not offer a palpable, ponderable, sensible Christian social program for all. We need not talk about the danger of giving undue credit to very concrete solutions or formulas, imposing on them all the weight and all the authenticity of an exclusively Christian interpretation of the Gospel message, always so enduring and so current in all situations.

The Church always offers principles and, above all, a magnificent spiritual potential to overcome all subjective and objective obstacles that contribute to maintaining social unease between men.

The Church is the guardian of the true dignity of man and subordinates the combination of all the elements which condition man’s existence to the demands of his dignity and destiny" (Ib. 226).

This is how, free from formulas, the task of the social apostle is fundamentally reduced to two fields: formation of consciousness and the promotion of social initiatives (Ib. 96 ff.).

Arizmendiarrieta laments that the Church, with its preaching and teaching, has managed to create a fairly accurate mentality and standard in the masses about other matters in life, and hardly done anything to build social consciousness. Where are the campaigns against abuses in commerce, against excessive profits in sales and industry, against insufficient wages, against immorality in business? The silence of the Church compromises very sacred interests. In imparted moral instruction it is undoubtable, says Arizmendiarrieta, that the teaching of moral principles as applied to professional life is lacking (Ib. 96-97). There are silences that are betrayals.

Secondly, the social apostle should promote entities in the defense of the poor, of aid and social development. In what industrial town of our diocese, wonders Arizmendiarrieta, could businesses, individually or collectively, not implement health or life insurance, on their own, long before the State made them do so, and, naturally, with lower premiums than those that are demanded now, and with more morality and efficacy in its application? If there was spirit and social initiative, practices of this kind would not be lacking. But in general, we continue to expect that it will be the State that takes care of giving solutions, forgetting what we ourselves we could solve, and what, even after the State has intervened, still remains to be done. What town or industrial zone cannot provide means to put an end to the plague of tuberculosis? However, nothing is done, and the day will come when the State will have to intervene, costing much more and having to bear all this burden. The same thing could be said about housing, teaching, etc.

Finally, the Church possesses various centers of social action, like dispensaries, etc. It is urgent that the workers themselves take responsibilities in such centers. "We all recognize the hazards of disorganized and irresponsible masses, and the urgency of transforming them into an organized and responsible people. For this, it is necessary that each one, or the majority of society, feel an interest and responsibility for something. Even when worker participation seems premature to us in some positions that require a lot of preparation and maturity, we are not ever going to obtain those conditions if we continue to exclude them from everything, as if they were minors, making them maintain a passive stance" (Ib. 141). Social assistance works are to provide workers with material relief, but these works can also provide a spiritual satisfaction as great or greater than the material, from the moment in which their thought, opinion or judgment is given a role in their organization and orientation. There is no motive to avoid their participation; on the contrary, they must participate, if they are not to be condemned to inevitable opposition or passivity. Workers, like all others, have a sensitive heart, and their feeling of dignity is hurt with the excessive paternalism that is shown by treating them as minors.

The social doctrine of the Church requires that the worker find a place on the job as the intelligent and responsible being he is. In words of the prelate M. Ruoast, "if one wants the worker to work, it is necessary to not treat him as a beast of burden, but rather as an intelligent being who is made to understand the need for his effort (…)… He must be freed of his status as passive subordinate, to become an intelligent collaborator" (Ib. 93). The Church should begin by applying this principle to its own house. The Popes call for worker participation in even the running of the national economy, but then we find ourselves reticent to agree to their participation in a town dispensary (Ib. 197). "We do not pay due attention to the need to treat the laborers or workers, or men in general, like intelligent beings. And we would affirm that, in this, we priests run into a great difficulty, because almost by the very nature of our dignity, we tend to be authoritarian, absorbent and personalist, and our works can easily suffer from this defect" (Ib. 196).

Christianity and social emancipation

Can the Christian struggle against injustice? How are justice and charity related? These two matters should be dealt with here briefly, even though Arizmendiarrieta’s reflections that we will present are from later times.

Gospel and social struggle

The first issue emerges from the Beatitudes, which define the Christian: blessed are the poor, the meek, the persecuted, etc.; "resist not evil; rather, to the one who strikes you on the right cheek, offer the other also; to the one who would sue you for your tunic, give also your cloak," etc. (Matthew 5:39 ff). How can such texts coexist with a decisive spirit of struggle social?

Arizmendiarrieta responds by quoting the following words of Mounier: "The Christian can accept, for his perfection, suffering the injustice that strikes him. It is a question of private asceticism. But the Christian is not alone in the world, and can reconcile, without contradiction, the desire to not fight injury with the duty to struggle against the establishment of injustice in the world. A regime like modern capitalism is a sort of social sin. It is no longer against affliction itself that the Christian must fight, but rather against Evil. And it is well-known that such combat requires everyone" (FC, IV, 61; Ib. 62). What is in question is what Christian consciousness can give of itself socially. And for Arizmendiarrieta, there is no doubt that the cooperative experience, for example, is a practice of the development of methods of combat and self-improvement inspired by this Christian consciousness. "Bread for me," Arizmendiarrieta recalls, "is a material problem, but my neighbor’s bread is a spiritual problem" (Ib.), clarifying that bread means the synthesis of all human problems.

The answer does not seem at all satisfactory: every legitimation of social struggle is made to rest on the rights of one’s neighbor, not on one’s own, which, apart from perhaps not being very realistic, is clearly insufficient within Arizmendiarrieta’s general conception. In effect, he recognizes, on the one hand, that a certain level of material well-being is necessary for personal development: from which it should be deduced that man must struggle for himself, at least until he has insured the minimum level necessary to save his human dignity. And, on the other hand, Arizmendiarrieta conceives of man as a being in constant development, by his very nature, which also seems to demand the struggle against impediments to personal development. Social struggle, therefore, should be able to be legitimated both in the name of one’s neighbor and in one’s own name. Arizmendiarrieta does not do so, perhaps to highlight the values of generosity, solidarity, etc., and because, without doubt, putting man himself as an end and objective of the struggle puts him in danger of falling into the same thing for which he has so sharply criticized liberalism and collectivism. Even with all this, and although the idea of inalienable personal development is the most fundamental part of Arizmendiarrieta’s conception (continuous creation), juxtaposed with this are the teachings on evangelical meekness, which certainly are not in the perspective of human development and promotion, without considering that between the positions, some conflict may emerge.

In Arizmendiarrieta’s religious thought, without doubt, creation plays a much more important role than redemption, which is to say, original sin does not seem to have a place in him, and the cross is reduced to little more than personal asceticism. Because of all this, his concept of the Christian closely resembles a humanism of an ascetic cut, in which God equals the absolute Ideal (without forgetting his significance as Creator) and Jesus Christ appears as the Teacher and moral model (not without reason does he consider Cicero and Seneca as very close to Christianity) (SS, I, 109-110). Consequently, Arizmendiarrieta’s Christian man always appears as "most human," "most man," that is, most free, most generous, etc. Man, incomplete nature, is brought into its human plenitude by Christianity. These are habitual expressions of his: "neither as a man, nor as a Christian," "no Christian, or even a humanist" can talk, for example, about justice without referring to charity, etc.

It is surprising, therefore, that for him the idea of social struggle and, most concretely, of the meaning of cooperativism, is a complement to the passion of Christ, an idea that appears only once in his writings, during Holy Week of 1962. It seems like another test, as many of his ideas were born along the way.

Arizmendiarrieta wants cooperators to deepen in the "cooperative mystique," to realize the value and scope of what they are doing, and of the rich content of the cooperative movement. The ideal is vast, without limits, a truly revolutionary idea, Arizmendiarrieta insists. "A new world is being born today, there is a clear trend towards a new society, one that is more just, more human, and in this tendency, we cooperators have a very important role to play." Cooperators cannot be satisfied simply because things are going well for them, or because they have been able to demonstrate the error of the many who opposed such an experiment, arguing that it was a utopian ideal and not realizable in practice. It is certainly not about that: "it is simply and fully about the birth, and about collaborating on the gestation and delivery, of a new society, of a new world. Let us not forget, birth is painful" (FC, I, 105). The cooperator should never forget that being a cooperator could, one day, perhaps not so distant, demand true sacrifices and deprivation, and that he must be willing to accept them.

Other than the distances, between the passion of Christ and the cooperative movement, a marked parallelism can be noted: as Christ, "in the pains of his passion, gave birth to a new man, a new society," so the cooperative movement, between sacrifices and deprivation, cooperates in the birth of a new man and of a new social order. Arizmendiarrieta uses the words of Saint Peter, that it is necessary "to complete what the Passion of Christ lacks."

"It is, then, and I do not believe it is presumption to say so, a task of co-redemption, a collaboration with Christ in the redemption of men, at the same time as it is a collaboration with God in the task of creation and its perfection" (Ib. 107).

This work, Arizmendiarrieta keeps insisting, must demand from us sacrifices, selflessness, surrender to others, frequently quashing our disorganized material interests and our selfishness. The position of the true cooperator must be one of openness, of generous acceptance and total surrender to the requirement of the ideal. "I think that we all, more or less, dream of Easter day, we yearn and sigh for the birth of this child that we are gestating today, of that society made for man, tailor-made and at his service, in that society, which undoubtedly will arrive, as the radiant morning of the Resurrection arrived, in which man, served by all things and master of them, becomes ever more man, more free and happy, and definitively nearer to God and open to the grace of the Redemption. But let us not forget that radiant Easter came after the painful Passion" (Ib.).

Charity, complement of justice

Many times charity has been understood as a "replacement" for justice (or rather, for the lack of justice) (SS, I, 127), which turns out to be insulting for those who are charitably served. Charity, in this sense, can only be vanity or hypocrisy, and not what it should be, the "complement of justice." Whoever does not feel it and does not practice it this way can be considered a trafficker in feelings that man does not have for sale (PR, I, 178).

The Christian, who believes in transcendence, must be equally able to embody faith in earthly realities. It continues to be surprising that Arizmendiarrieta, generally very attentive to data, statistics and problems in his reports, in the Elkarte Eguna of 1974 has a special reminder to those for whom "the living of transcendence does not attenuate substantivity and the interest in the tangible, visible, temporary, and therefore, the appeal and cultivation of other energy coming from, or nested in, the deepest recesses of the human spirit, faith and hope as well as charity, interpreted in its most theological sense, complement or harmonize with all the more circumstantial or temporary commitments" (CLP, I, 226).

No Christian, or even humanist, can talk about social justice without likewise referring to charity. The reason is that the law wants to establish an order of reciprocal duties and rights between men, starting from the recognition of their equality and dignity. But the establishment of such an order finds a large obstacle in the human will, in selfishness. "The only force that, above all else, can make us want and respect order is mutual love. That effective, broad, and generous love can only sprout from a Christian religious conception, which encompasses everyone as children of God and unites them in the common destiny of the present and future life. Justice needs the complement, the excellence of love, Christian charity" (CAS, 41-42).

Charity urges us, then, to the fulfillment of justice, and is a social bond that invigorates all others and perfects them. If, in our world, charity is regarded with suspicion, even with contempt, it is because it has been disfigured. "Love denies no right, but rather makes it less rigid. It reduces no duties, but rather makes them easier. It does not destroy social distinctions, but takes away the abyss which lies between them. All the social vices that oppose love, such as envy, hatred, anger, contempt, and pride, are causes and sources of injustice, while love, in social life, results in comprehension and mutual tolerance, in resolving differences and union" (Ib. 42).

Finally, Arizmendiarrieta states, along with the Quadragesimo Anno, that justice alone, even the most perfect, could make the differences and causes of social struggles disappear, but would never be able to unite hearts and link spirits. Therefore, "without the climate of charity, justice will be incapable of assuring true social peace and general well-being" (Ib. 43).

It no longer seems surprising that Arizmendiarrieta considers the Eucharist "the great social sacrament," "the Christian culmination of the rights of mankind, of the rights of man" (SS I, 210-211). For a believer, who accepts that "each man, each Christian, is a veil that covers the Most High, which is why the neighbor is Jesus Christ present in him" (SS, I, 135), loving God means loving one’s neighbor, and vice versa. In this way, "the proclamation of the rights of Jesus Christ is the affirmation of the rights of the disinherited" (Ib. 218).

We can conclude with the observation, now understandable, that for Arizmendiarrieta, religious life, generally, fulfills very "human" functions. This is how the sacrament of penitence is considered in the perspective of the austerity necessary for the conquest of freedom ("Christian penitence as a means to ones own liberation." SS, I, 178), prayer as a means of obtaining inner tranquility and firmness, etc. Arizmendiarrieta has a wonderful phrase, which he appears to owe to A. Carrel, that deserves to be transcribed: "Prayer produces as palpable effects the proper functioning of the glands, which is reflected in that air of satisfaction, joy, optimism…" (Ib. 236).


  1. Among the causes for Catholic Action of the Diocese of Vitoria not working well, the lack of faith in it on the part of the workers is mentioned, and, most surprisingly, on the part of the priests themselves and the clerics because of ignorance, etc., and because "they suffer the consequences of that silent campaign, ably carried out against Catholic Action and against the influence of the secular cleric, particularly by the Fathers of the Company of Jesus, from the pages of their very widespread magazines, and more, from the centers that they direct and even the retreats and exercises directed at priests, from the most remote village to the rooms of the Diocesan Seminary itself, and not excluding exercises directed at the secular, where, even when they do not say anything directly against Catholic Action and they abstain from orienting souls towards themselves, they always allow some commentary or some little phrase to escape, leaving a bad taste. This work, not being silent, has continued to make a dent in the mood of the priests themselves, to say nothing of the faithful" (PR, I, 72).

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