Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Church's Social Doctrine Will Not be Muzzled

AT THE HEART OF THE CHURCH'S social doctrine is her anthropology, her "word" about man, the "reason" behind man. This anthropology is both realistic and optimistic. It is built upon reason and revelation, and what both tell us about man. It blends both man's individuality as well as his commonality. And it refers both to man's nature, and to his supernatural calling.

"Unique and unrepeatable in his individuality, every person is a being who is open to relationships with others in society." (Compendium, No. 61) In this short sentence, the Church rejects wholly collectivist notions of man and rejects wholly individualistic or atomistic notions of man. The Church negotiates deftly between the Charybdis of Hobbes and the Scylla of Marx. Man both "is," and "is with" others. He is being and he is being-in-relation.

According to the Church, man seeks both his individual good, but at the same time he is naturally ordered to seek the good of others, the common good of those personal, familial, or other associations in which he finds himself placed.

The social doctrine of the Church is the Gospel applied to the whole complex of human relations: man-to-man, man-to-woman, man-to-State. It is the Gospel applied to the bonds between men.

While attending to the "moral quality" of the earthly bonds between men, viewing them in light of the "authentically human and humanizing aspects," the Church does not stray from her essentially supernatural or spiritual mission. Rather, she is faithful to it, and this is because it is an error to suggest that man is split into two: nature and supernature, secular and sacred, matter and spirit. Man is each and he is both.

"The supernatural," which is in man and in his relations, "is not to be understood as an entity or a place that begins where the natural ends, but as the raising of the natural to a higher plane." (Compendium, No. 64) This is classic Catholicism: Gratia supponit naturam, gratia elevat naturam, grace presupposes nature, grace elevates nature. For this reason, "nothing of the created or the human order is foreign to or excluded from the supernatural or theological order of faith and grace, rather it is found within it, taken and elevated by it." (Compendium, No. 64).

One of the unfortunate connotations of the term "social doctrine," or "social justice," is that it has the feel of something liberal, something leftist, something heterodox, something that cannot be entirely trusted. In some ways, the term has been co-opted, compromised, branded somewhat like the title Madonna, Our Lady, has been co-opted, compromised by the singer who has arrogated to herself that name.

One must overcome this hesitation, because the Church's social doctrine, and her teaching on social justice, is at the heart of orthodoxy. It is essential Catholicism. It is time for the orthodox to make that term their own. The notion of social justice is built upon that bedrock notion that grace presupposes and builds upon nature, and that grace elevates nature. One cannot get more authentically Catholic than that.

The particular nature of man to which the Church's social doctrine addresses itself is the social nature of man, and through this doctrine she seeks to redeem that part of man. This is essential if see is going to redeem the whole man, to restore all things to Christ, to instaurare omnia in Christo. "The whole man--not a detached soul or a being closed within its own individuality, but a person and a society of persons--is involved in the salvific economy of the Gospel." (Compendium, No. 65)

This is the Church's social Gospel: Do not limit the Gospel! Do not constrain it! Do not bracket it! Do not put a leash on it! Do not try to keep it from being the yeast the leavens the entire loaf! "Nothing that concerns the community of men and women--situations and problems regarding justice, freedom, development, relations between peoples, peace--is foreign to evangelization, and evangelization would be incomplete if it did not take into account the mutual demands continually made by the Gospel and by the concrete, personal, and social life of man." (Compendium, No. 66)

The Church reminds us that we ought not to "respond to the gift of salvation" with a "partial abstract or merely verbal acceptance, but with the whole of [our] lives." (Compendium, No. 70) Is there any part of our lives where Christ will not be invited? Where Christ is not welcome?

We must not impoverish our life by thinking that the Gospel does not infiltrate the entirety of it. For a variety of reasons, we moderns are inheritors of a vision of life which is secularized, which, in the words of Max Weber, is no longer charmed, is disenchanted. It is as if the enchantment of the Gospel has been blown out of man's social relations, like a candle might be blown out, and only wisps of smoke, vestiges of its past light and warmth, remain, leaving an acrid reminder of the light and the warmth that should be.

Here is the reality of it: "Society--and with it, politics, the economy, labor, law, culture--is not simply a secular and worldly reality, and therefore outside or foreign to the message and economy of salvation." (Compendium, No. 62) The way the Church understands it, we are to re-enchant the world by seeking that the light of the Gospel once again warms the entirety of man's relations.

To be sure, the Church is something distinct from civil society. "Christ did not bequeath to the Church a mission in the political, economic, or social order; the purpose he assigned to her was a religious one." (Compendium, No. 68) The Church's vision is thus significantly different from that of Islam, for Islam does not distinguish between such orders, and it seeks--despotically--to submit all orders--religious, political, economic, and social--under the Procrustean law of Shari'a.

The Church, on the other hand, is about grace, is about freedom, and, even in her social doctrine which is extensive and expansive, she does not arrogate to herself any specific prescriptions, any specific recipe. (Compendium, No. 68) Only in few instances are there rules or laws, principally the negative prescriptions of the Ten Commandments, that may not be trespassed. But in the main, the Church's social doctrine leaves the details, the prudential decisions, to the laity. So the Gospel can insinuate itself into myriad political, economic, and social structures of many kinds, with the variety, flexibility, adaptability that is the hallmark of evangelical and catholic freedom.

The Church has one mission given to her by God: to preach the Good News of salvation--in its fullness, every jot and tittle, every iota of it--to all mankind. That is her universal duty, and it is the source of her universal rights. "The Church has the right," given to her by Christ (who had all authority, in heaven and on earth, Matt. 28:18),"to be a teacher for mankind, a teacher of the truth of faith: the truth not only of dogmas, but also of the morals whose source lies in human nature itself and in the Gospel." (Compendium, No. 70)

"To the Church belongs the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order, and to make judgments on any human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls." (Compendium, No. 71)

Raphael, Paul Preaching at the Areopagus in Athens.

This is a radical Magna Charta:

The Church has the right given to her by God and by the exigencies of her nature and mission, to enter into the public square, just like St. Paul at the Areopagus in Athens. She has the right to confront those in whose hands is the reign of power, just like Sts. Peter and Paul confronted the Emperor Nero. She has the right to confront other religions, just like St. Francis confronted the Sultan of Egypt, Malik-al-Kamil.

The Church has the right, therefore, to go to Washington, D.C. and tell the justices in the Supreme Court, and the legislators in Congress, and the occupant of the White House, that abortion is an intrinsic evil, that no human being has a right to abort a child, and that our law, which allows such, is disordered and evil.

The Church has the right to stand in the middle of Mecca, and to proclaim to the Muslim world, that Muhammad's teaching regarding polygamy and divorce and remarriage is intrinsically wrong, that it offends the dignity of family life and of women, and that it contradicts good morals whose source lie in human nature and in the Gospel.

The Church has the right to stand in the middle of Tienanmen Square in Beijing, and condemn the Communism that animates that government, and oppresses the spiritual rights of those under her rule.

The Church has the right to occupy Wall Street, to condemn any greed, personal or institutional, of untrammeled capitalism, of overemphasis of the profit motive, of a heartless, cruel, lawless laissez-faire capitalism.

Sts. Peter and Paul before Nero (Byzantine Mosaic)

To be sure, the Church is practically constrained by men who do not want to hear her word from exercising her God-given right. She is constrained, by the hand of men, from fulfilling her duty. But it remains uncompromisingly true: The Church has a "right to proclaim the Gospel in the context of society, to make the liberating word of the Gospel resound in the complex world of production, labor, business, finance, trade, politics, law, culture, social communications, were men and women live." (Compendium, No. 70)

"This right of the Church," the Compendium states, "is at the same time a duty, because she cannot forsake this responsibility without denying herself and her fidelity to Christ." She is meant to "walk all paths of evangelization," avoiding none. She is not only to walk the path of evangelization that "lead to individual consciences," in spiritual direction or confession. She is not confined to the internal forum. The paths of evangelization include the external forum, those that "wind their way into public institutions." (Compendium, No. 71)

St. Francis preaching before the Sultan (Giotto)

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