The Church and Economic and
Religion before the war was most practised by the bourgeoisie: the Church had largely lost the battle for the working class. As an institution it supported the established order, and under the influence of Action Française, until the Ligue was banned, and even afterwards, was strongly patriotic. Traditionalists within it held up an almost medieval ideal, where the peasant family worked the land--until 1934, it must be recalled, less than half the population lived in towns. Where industry existed, the ideal was of a docile work-force ruled by an elite.
This view of the relationship of the Church to the economy and society was challenged by another trend which may be broadly characterised as social catholicism. This had many different points of emphasis. Mounier's philosophy of personalism, for example, as regards society, sought to discover a rationale based neither on capitalism nor on socialism. Others such as Joseph Folliet, of the review Chronique sociale, stressed social justice. Whilst social catholicism held its main purpose ultimately to be evangelisation, it believed the Church had a major role to play in social and even political life.
Social catholicism was based on the encyclical Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII, promulgated in 1890, when he was already eighty years old--the same Pope who two years later had urged Catholics to rally to the Republican regime. The encyclical contrasted the wealth of the rich to the misery of the poor, and the easy life of the employer to the hard lot of the worker. It exhorted both social partners to acknowledge their mutual duties. The worker should not be treated as a slave, a mere tool for the production of profit, but his employer had a right to expect him to give of his best. 1 These precepts of the encyclical had been reinforced in another papal pronouncement, Quadragesimo Anno ( 1931). In this Pius XI had likewise shown a distrust of capitalism as well as socialism or communism.