LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 34, No. 4 - Winter 1988
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
Copyright © 1988 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
THE SOCIAL PORTRAIT OF BLESSED GEORGE MATULAITIS, M.I.C.
VYTAUTAS BAGDANAVIČIUS, M.I.C.
The deep personal and spiritual nature and make-up of George Matulaitis is generally known. This factor of his life and personality has been ratified and publicly acclaimed by his Beatification.
However, St. Ignatius Loyola in one of his letters to a Religious Superior of the Jesuits expressed a truism that is worth exploring and affirming. The truism is that God at times loves in us, even more, accomplishments besides and beyond personal holiness (Geistliche Briefe; Karrer and Rahner, 1942, Benzinger, Koeln, p. 163).
This statement finds reality in the life and accomplishments of George Matulaitis. Aside from the fact of personal holiness and his success in renovating a Religious Order, he was a man who understood the universal problems of social living and made many efforts toward fostering a deeper and better understanding of sociology. This was not an academic subject he pursued formally under a teacher who was inclined toward socialism as a form of government, but he did organize a group of leading Catholics in Warsaw who were sociology majors and became one of their outstanding members. This acquired knowledge he sought to propagate to the populace of Poland and Lithuania by giving lectures in St. Petersburg University.
For these and other reasons further to be presented, it is worthwhile to become acquainted with the writings of George Matulaitis on sociology. In these we shall find a person whom many admirers have not as yet discovered. In the journal Draugija published in Kaunas in the July-August issue of 1909 (pp. 337-350) is found his essay "A Short Explanation of Today's Social Question." Its sub-title is that socialism is not responsible for the existence of social problems in those days. He directly contradicts those who postulate that an attack on political socialism is the sole means of overcoming social problems. They, he said, "think that Socialism is the cause of all social unrest prevalent in those days. This is simply not true." (p. 328)
He found it necessary to repeat often that this outlook is myopic. "The deficiencies and ills of the body politic were not created by socialism, but it was because of these prevalent ills that socialism arose and is spreading." (p. 328)
We shall see further how Matulaitis understands clearly the reality of this problem and how this problem should be a matter of common concern. "Each citizen should recognize and understand this problem and how each should contribute to its solution." (p. 327)
What Are The Social Problems?
In answer to this question, Matulaitis leaves the general formularies of the humanities and social sciences and goes to the concrete circumstances which create them. In the first place he stresses personal income for the worker. Each worker is entitled to a living wage. Craftsmen and small businessmen should be able to survive despite the onslaught of big business and corporations.
In the third place he brings up the plight of women in society. In this area, according to him, it is necessary to face the problem from two viewpoints. On the one hand, it is necessary that the woman be not forced to seek outside employment and neglect her family. On the other hand, he expresses concern for those women who went through much schooling and training and cannot find the proper field for their capabilities, (p. 329)
Among the social problems he puts great emphasis on the plight of the farmer. On the one hand there is the farmer who does not have sufficient land to make a living. On the other hand there are the farmers who are in deep financial debts, become disillusioned, and leave farming.
Then he stresses as a social problem the learned proletariat. After many years of schooling and hard study, they graduate and find no way of making a living. They cannot find their place in society. Without hope, they turn to hatred, revolt, and intolerance. This, no doubt, exacerbates the social problem.
Beyond these basic social problems Matulaitis brings up the specifics of caring for the needy, the sick, alcoholics, and criminals.
According to him all these problems are intertwined and are individual symptoms of a common social illness. However, as we shall see later, for the fact that they are recognized and addressed he sees signs of progress.
The History of Social Problems
Searching for means to alleviate mankind's social evils, Matulaitis did not seek quick solutions such as establishing refuges for the needy or proclaiming strikes. He strove to understand which feature of the problem commanded his immediate attention. For this reason he chose to study and analyze the agricultural history of mankind. He notices that this human endeavor was constantly changing and developing. In this he saw the evolution of the human species. "The developing and improving methods of farming demonstrate that mankind was evolving and demanding more of life and why it felt unfortunate in not being able to meet rising needs." (p. 330)
Developing economic means create social problems. For example, mechanical water pumping stations in cities replaced thousands of workers who supplied water by carting it (p. 331). Similarly, the production of electricity deprived many of work, not only in the field of lighting but also in the fields of communication. The lumber industry deprived many of incomes from logging and making building materials by hand. (p. 333)
Noticing in detail the economic progress in the first part of this century, Matulaitis concluded that farming alone was incapable of providing a living wage. "Less and less is the individual capable of supporting himself and more and more he has to depend on cooperation with others." (p. 335) The proof of this conclusion he finds in a deeper and wider study of agriculture as a factor in societal progress.
Money in and through agriculture, Matulaitis concludes, is not a negative factor in itself. "It eases immensely cooperation with others." (334) The existence of credit and loans and percentages he sees as factors to ease agricultural life in all countries, (p. 334) It is interesting to read this in his writings, recalling that Christian tradition until that time stressed that usury is a moral evil in itself.
Pursuing further the progress in and through agriculture, Matulaitis noticed the rise of commercialism and its practitioners in this field. With time, these merchants became manufacturers of machinery, which "more and more replaced man." (p. 336) This applied also to craftsmanship. "The machine does not eliminate completely the human being, but the factory worker is not guaranteed security and independence, and for that reason becomes worried" (p. 337)
From this overview we can notice that Matulaitis goes beneath the surface in social questions and is not content with appearances. He does not view the problems of agriculture superficially or negatively, but as vital factors that affect human personhood.
To understand the main trend of Matulaitis' reasoning let us leave his conclusions about mankind's economic progress and concentrate on his personal views on human progress, education, and culture. His outlook on these matters will reveal more deeply his spiritual make-up.
His Understanding of Progress in Social Questions
We begin with his understanding of progress. When Matulaitis confronts the question of living through social reversals, e.g. poverty, he does not see there a lack of moral stamina, but contrarily, as a sign of personal progress. Successfully to withstand social negatives is to appreciate one's human worth. This philosophy he applies originally to the almost universal occupation of agriculture and to the rising of capitalism as a means of making economic life easier. "Concern with social questions we can call the result of progress." (p. 338, underlined by Matulaitis) For that reason he refused to equate the social question to just making a living. As mankind travels the road to progress, other social questions will arise.
For Matulaitis social questions and progress are intrinsically related. This was made manifest in that he even saw the French Revolution as a sign of progress. This revolution destroyed many unnecessary institutions, even as it destroyed some where people found care and support, (p. 340)
Some people held that the social question became more prominent as a result of rising materialism contrary to Christian faith and morality, (p. 341) He did not see it that way. He did not agree that social problems would disappear if everyone observed the Ten Commandments of God. "It is impossible to hold that social problems are just religious problems." (p. 342) He held firmly that rising consciousness of self-worth demands needed changes, (p. 345) From this he draws the conclusion that neglect here cannot be justified on humanistic grounds.
Constantly, he returns to the fact that social needs do not exist only among the deprived, unlearned, and underpaid working class. They arise equally among those in higher positions, the educated and more prosperous/The question of women's rights did not arise just from the underprivileged. "It was not just the servant-girls on farms and maids in the city who raised their voices first. It was the educated and socially conscious women." (p. 340) He invites the Lithuanians in general to recognize and understand social life, its demands, problems, and its total status, (p. 349-350).
The Social Question and Culture
If human progress is measured in material attainments, then culture is to be estimated as the perfecting process in self and by one's efforts. In Matulaitis' mind, the two are inseparable. "It would seem that culture develops when social questions are recognized and addressed. Therefore, we see that the social questions did not arise first where there was the greatest penury, but in those countries where culture was most advanced." (p. 346)
For the purpose he alludes to the more culturally advanced countries of England, France, and Germany. In other countries like Turkey and China where culture is not as advanced, social questions are not prevalent. This bond between the two, he states, exists clearly not just among nations and countries, but also in individual persons. Only the culturally advanced worker and those of better means are in a position to raise social questions, (p. 346)
Social questions, maintains Matulaitis, are not just matters of bread and butter, but a matter of culture, (p. 347) He reasons that the Lithuanian peasant is not concerned about social problems because he subsists on the food he produces, but they do arise for the city dweller who cannot afford to buy the food he needs, (p. 346)
For Matulaitis the connection between culture and social conditions is of the essence. "The problems between class and rank in society could be more serious than they are now; but if the populace does not rise to a suitable cultural level, the social problem will not arise." From this he draws the formal conclusion: "The deepest and most critical questions in social life are to be found in the area of culture." (p. 343) He does not see in culture an intrinsic value if separate from the social question: "It is not enough that cultural attainments be substantial, but it is still necessary that the fruits of civilization be available to humanity in general." (p. 329) In this sense he stresses the importance of security. Unless a man has security for himself and his family, we cannot expect that he will create a culture.
Matulaitis became deeply convinced that to recognize that social problems exist and that to solve them requires knowledge of this and especially scholarship in this area. He stressed that social studies should not be simply electives. He gave the example of this in establishing sociology courses among Catholic leaders in Warsaw, and himself became deeply involved in this study. This knowledge for him was not just superficial. As his biographer (A. Kučas) states in his book: "The subject was studied at least three times a week and lasted three or four months."
The encouragement of this study was of great importance for him. "It is not sufficient just to gain knowledge of the principles in this science. To know how to apply these principles in practical living is of greater importance." And he adds: "The principles of this matter can be gained by study, but sometimes the application of them could be faulty." (p. 342)
The practical application of sociological principles was of greatest concern for him. "It is easy to recognize moral principles and ideals in the abstract. It is easy to propagandize them widely, but it is not easy to apply them to life properly. This takes .actual experience. In a word, theoretical principles in the social sciences cannot substitute for actual experience of the ills and evils in social living." (p. 342)
This statement by Matulaitis was directed mainly to the Catholic clergy for their non-involvement in social questions. Many of the Catholic intelligentsia, not excepting the more prominent, were satisfied with just a discussion of these norms of social living. For him that kind of sociology was insufficient. He demanded in addition a practical approach to the then existing forms of living which human progress had developed.
What is the connection between social questions and Christ?
An overview of Blessed George Matulaitis' teaching on social questions and their connection with progress, education, and culture leads to their connection with Christ. But Christianity, he held, was not the only solution. Even if all people became Christian, which Matulaitis did not expect, this would still not be the answer. However, what role did Christ play in this phase of life?
Matulaitis gives the same answers other serious students of Christianity give, i.e., Christ did not command or propose any exact or specific solution of this phase of life. "He did not do battle with any prevailing forces or institutions then in existence. Nor did he provide solutions he foresaw as necessary in the then existing or anticipated social changes." (p. 344) However, it is impossible that Christ as God-made-man would have no influence in social questions. The social question, for Matulaitis, is a manifestation of human progress. For that reason, too, Christ and Christianity would be a part of the solution. He wrote: "Primarily, Christ strove to improve the human person and to arouse and foster the higher spiritual aspirations of a creature of that nature." (344-5)
What, specifically, was the role of Christ in this matter? His total teaching covered much more than just man's present social situation. First of all, he implies that it is man's own responsibility to recognize and improve much more than his social nature. It is not a duty imposed from above, but brought into being by a consciousness of man's very nature as an intelligent creature of God living in society.
This solution is the affirmation of the dignity of the human being. The raising and solutions of social problems depend only on mankind's recognition of self-worth. Therefore, according to Matulaitis, Christ taught that abused or underprivileged people "who did not feel human were the same as everyone else created in the image of God." (p. 345) As an inference of this teaching, both the master and the slave could not remain as they were. "Slaves could not remain in their underprivileged and demeaned state and, recognizing their human dignity should not remain as they were, but to rise above it." (p. 345)
From this line of reasoning we can detect Matulaitis' conclusions about self-improvement. Whatever might have been thought of Blessed George as a representative of Christian tradition, his conclusions about human progress should be taken as a positive source of Christian advanced thinking.
Human progress, of course, is impossible without social cooperation. For that reason, Matulaitis' conclusions about social progress are not to be taken as solutions for some particular class of humanity, but must be understood as an obligation of humanity as a whole. Not all of humanity can reach simultaneously a sense of self-worth.
Because he was born into and lived mostly in countries where agriculture was the prevailing occupation, Matulaitis uses it as an example for his teaching of social progress. "Advancing methods and aspects of farming show how humanity is progressing upwardly and why in these days it is making so many demands and why it feels deprived j if these needs are not satisfied, (p. 350)
When Matulaitis describes social questions as a sign of mankind's cultural progress, then his teaching on Christ and Christianity are to be taken as a manifestation of mankind's increasing consciousness of self-worth as a child of God which is so necessary for our times.
That Christ did not establish a separate social system means that he was faithful to the Creator's original purpose which was that man himself, through reasoning and capacity for good, was to develop it in cooperation with others and with God.
Translated by Stanislaus C. Gaučias