L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia
Two Essential Points
[This text was written by Esdras Minville in 1939. For the precise bibliographical information, see the end of the document.]
The statements made in the introduction concerning trade unionism in Quebec may be applied here mutatis mutandis.
However, a proper understanding of the specific character of social conditions in Quebec province requires a definite and clear comprehension of two absolutely essential points of Catholic doctrine: social justice and charity. Here indeed the nature and character of social institutions are the concrete expression of a doctrine, not merely the result of historical evolution.
The duty of social justice is derived from one of the fundamental laws of human nature: man's duty to society is to return to the community part .of the wealth he receives from the community.
In other words, and to illustrate by example -what the foregoing definition sets forth in general terms, social justice "demands that national and international institutions should work towards the common good; that the product of labour be judiciously distributed among the various classes ,of producers, that the wealthy should not hug their possessions to themselves in selfish greed, that the poor should vanquish all feelings of rancour or envy; that extreme poverty should not rub shoulders with extreme opulence."
Under these conditions, as things are in our present-day society, organized on the principle of free competition, with the peculiar evils brought about or made worse by existing social conditions, there are few if any charitable institutions or welfare associations, whether corporal or spiritual, which are not based directly or indirectly on social justice as well as on charity and thus impose a dual obligation on the conscience of all citizens.
In the province of Quebec in particular it was at the precise moment when, under the almost sudden pressure exerted by industry, the ranks of the proletariat were swollen beyond all precedent, that the charitable institutions which, up till then, had succeeded in meeting the needs of the population, were overwhelmed and had to appeal to the state for aid.
This took place about 1921. Ten years later private charity, even when subsidized, was no longer able to cope with the situation. For the first time in the history of the province, the state had to assume direct responsibility for the relief of a new class of indigents—the unemployed—leaving to charity, with or without state-aid, the care of the sick, the suffering and all other destitute classes. These two occurrences which followed each other emphasize the fact that the sudden transformation of our economic structure is in large measure responsible for the new requirements, more numerous and more urgent, with which our social institutions have to contend. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the duty of sustaining these institutions and undertakings is today more than ever incumbent upon the propertied classes as a matter not only of charity but of social justice.
This phase of the problem had to be pointed out; otherwise one might have been at a loss to understand why institutions whose aim is self-sufficiency accepted, even asked for, the co-operation of the state; there was danger also of misconception regarding the state's attitude toward these bodies and the special peculiarities under which social welfare organizations operate in the province of Quebec.
When we come to consider charity we touch on the very essence of Catholic doctrine. The Catholic conception of charity transposes to the supernatural plane mankind's rather instinctive inclination towards mutual assistance. The Church lays on the faithful the personal duty of charity even unto the gift of one's self, and the performance of this obligation is essential to the attainment of their ultimate end. From its very inception the Church associated in one and the same apostolate the teaching of the Gospel and the succouring of human misery; throughout the entire world it sought to raise organizations of all sorts to which, in every age in all climes, it invited the devoted adherence of thousands of men and women desirous of attaining a state of holiness.
Hence derives its attitude toward social under-takings: it is the bounden duty of each individual to provide, according to his means, for assistance to the destitute and the unfortunate, and the state should intervene only when private initiative finds it impossible to supply existing needs. The Church claims that justice and equity are not enough, by themselves, to bring about the era of social appeasement, that legislation does not suffice for the redemption of a soul: there must be an offering of the soul. In the absence of justice, charity would be nothing but an empty word; but without charity, justice could never triumph nor advance. If justice does away with the obstacles to peace, the causes of strife, charity alone is the architect of peace. If the need for justice brings men closer together, makes them accept social dependence, it is charity that unites them.
This simple reminder of the Catholic conception of social justice and of charity will suffice to explain the character and the nature of charitable institutions and welfare organizations in the province of Quebec. Hence it is not history, it is a thought, a doctrine, which first gave this organization its character. In this field the Catholic Church was the worker of the first hour in Canada; and for a long time she worked alone. It was natural that her work should bear her impress and that, acting in and on behalf of the great majority of the people, she should insist upon, and strive with all her might to maintain here, a regime which reflected her convictions, her own conception of charity—a regime which by that very fact differs from that obtaining in the other provinces.
(1). Rev. Fr. Rutten: The Social Doctrine of the Church.
Source: Esdras MINVILLE, “Two Essential Points”, in Labour Legislation and Social Services in the Province of Quebec. A Study Prepared for the Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations, Ottawa, 1939, 97p., pp. 45-46.
© 2006 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College