The last week’s lecture of the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, Texas caused a wide-range irritation across the aisle of the American political thought. Liberals rushed to ridicule Scalia on his stance on the establishment (or rather non-establishent one: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”) clause of the Constitution: “The most disreputable area of our law is the establishment clause… A violation of the establishment clause that does not affect someone’s free exercise — there is no reason why you should have standing“.
Protestant conservatives too readily dismissed his thinking of the Christianity being an non-economic way of restricting inherited savagery of Capitalism: “… it does seem to me that capitalism is more dependent on Christianity than socialism is… For in order for capitalism to work — in order for it to produce a good and a stable society — the traditional Christian virtues are essential“.
However, we should remember that Scalia is a devoted Catholic, and understanding of Christianity for Catholics is quite different than the one of the radical (or Judo-Christian) Protestants. The real perl (no jokes there) which many overlooked is this: “While I would not argue that capitalism as an economic system is inherently more Christian than socialism…“. Of course Scalia can not, and would not argue, as many Judo-Christians do, that Capitalism is more Christian in its nature than Socialism, for the very Orthodox (Catholic and Eastern) Christianity were effectively founded by Roman Emperor Constantine the Great with intention to replace a crumbling (after the III century crisis) socialist safety net of Annona – a guarantied state supply of the free or substantially subsidized grain and meat to the poor Romans.
Problems of the III century crisis were not only in the fast succession of the one Emperor after another (35 Emperors, of whom non died from the natural cause, zoomed through 75 years), and not in the disintegration of the Empire into three pieces. Most these short-lived, butterfly Emperors were barbarians, under-assimilated and without any respect to the native Greco-Roman culture. For example a Phoenician Severan dynasty brought their blood-thirsty and orgiastic gods into Rome, throwing away traditional gods and traditional pretty strict Roman morals. But that was not all, by the end of 3rd century the traditional culture of earning respect for what rich give to their fellow less-fortunate citizens was replaced by the opposite, Middle Eastern culture of the respect to luxury, wealth, oppressive force and favoritism.
Pre-Constantinian Christianity already had a charitable tradition inherited from Judaism, but, as its parent, Christian charity was strictly limited by the members of community, and the target of the charitable activity was quite utilitarian and practical. Christian bishops strictly prohibited a personal level charity, instead, all donations had to go directly to bishops, and only them distributed the resources according to their discretions.
And main types of them was isolation of the Christian community members from the help of non-Christians, and financial help to promising members of the community who had potential to economically and politically rise and infiltrate and influence non-Christian society.
Constantine used the Christian charitable traditions and infrastructure, but instead of “adopting” Christian ways of helping the poor, he, in opposite forced the traditional Roman mechanism on Chrisitan bishops, openly buying them off with the huge infusion of Imperial money, but with the one condition – to disperse them among all poor of the Empire. And he made bishops accountable for that. For example the fall of the Athanasius of Alexandiria was caused by the speculation of the latter on the market by the grain which was given him by the Emperor for distribution among the poor.
So, don’t be mistaken – it’s not the question of what system (Capitalism or Socialism) rose from the Christian background – it’s the answer that the Christianity (at least Greco-Roman) which was created by the socialist culture of the Classical World.