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.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Human Person as Imago Dei

ONE OF THE FOUNDATIONAL CONCEPTS of the Church's social doctrine is the concept of personhood. The notion of personhood is a philosophical concept, but it finds its inspiration and deepening in the revealed doctrines that man is made in the image of God (imago Dei), and that man is called to a supernatural destiny, or, as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church puts it, "is constitutively related to God in the most profound manner." (Compendium, No. 108)

The Medieval scholastics had wonderful aphorisms that encapsulated this latter notion, that man is "constitutively related to God in the most profound manner," that both heaven and God hound him. Homo est Dei capax. Man has a capacity for God. This capacity for God is what gave man a supernatural dignity. Homo non proprie humanum, sed superhumanum est. Man is not properly human, but superhuman. The Compendium quotes Ecclesiastes 3:11 in saying that God "has put eternity into man's mind," and also refers to St. Augustin's beautiful saying in his Confessions: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

Only persons are made in the image of God, have a capacity for God, and have supernatural destinies. Remove God from the picture and invariably the concept of person becomes unintelligible. The dignity of man, the concept of personhood, cannot be built upon agnostic, much less atheistic, foundations. It is philosophical, but it is also theological.

Man is Imago Dei, Capax Dei, that is to say, a Person

"All of social life," the Compendium states eliciting an image of the drama of human life, "is an expression of its unmistakable protagonist: the human person." The origin of social life, as well as its subject, foundation, and goal, is the human person. (Compendium, No. 106) The centrality of personhood in Catholic social doctrine cannot be underestimated. "The whole of the Church's social doctrine, in fact, develops from the principle that affirms the inviolable dignity of the human person." (Compendium, No. 107)

Being ordered to the good of the human person, the whole of social life can therefore be critiqued by reference to whether it promotes or instead redimensions or distorts the human person and the human dignity that follows in its train. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church therefore focuses on this concept.

It is essential to understand the concept of personhood as an ontological concept, and not a functional concept. Man is a person because of who he is, because of his being what he is, not because of what he is capable of doing or becoming, because of what functions, mental, psychological, biological, etc. he is capable of performing.

Insidiously, when many moderns use the word "person," they have a functional concept in mind, a notion that most have traced to John Locke's definition of self in his Essay on Human Understanding as "a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places."

Such a functional conception of personhood is convenient when you want to dispose of men who do not have all the functions you happen to think are important. Hence, fetuses, those in a persistent vegetative state, and the mentally infirm are not persons under a functional dimension, though under an ontological dimension they are. This is the sort of redimensioning of the concept of person against which the Compendium warns.

The concept of personhood, of course, transcends the distinction of sex, and so man and woman, being both persons, "have the same dignity and are of equal value." (Compendium, No. 111) They are complementary expressions of the human person, and this complementarity finds its apex or epitome in the reciprocal giving that is part of the I-Thou and Thou-I covenant of marriage, a relationship that "gives life to the 'we' in the human couple," which itself is an image of God and and image of God's love for the Church.

There is a certain tragedy in this creature that is imago Dei and capax Dei, and that is the notion of original sin, and man's fallen nature. Philosophy knows nothing of it, though, as G. K. Chesterton quipped in his book Orthodoxy, it is a fact "as practical as potatoes" that there is "indisputable dirt" on the countenance of man, and "is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved."

The Church will not allow man to divert himself, indeed to deceive himself by hiding himself, from the fact that he suffers from original sin. She will prevent him from trying to use foils to avoid having to confront his deep guilt, and his deep need for God the Redeemer:

This doctrine [of original sin] encourages men and women not to remain in guilt and not to take guilt lightly, continuously seeking scapegoats in other people and justification in the environment, in heredity, in institutions, in structures and in relationships. This is a teaching that unmasks such deceptions.

(Compendium, No. 120)

Original sin not only divided man from God, but also man from woman, and man from man. Though the doctrine of the fall of man and original sin are revealed doctrines, a cursory look at man's history, a quick assessment of the personal and social divisions which plague us, a brief introspection of oneself ought readily prove the existence of original sin and our fallen nature which predisposes us to personal sin, to wounding both self and others.

"The mystery of sin is composed of a twofold wound, which the sinner opens in his own side and in the relationship with his neighbor. That is why we can speak of personal and social sin." As the Compendium correctly notes, there simply is no such thing as a "victimless sin." All sins have both personal and social dimensions.

Every sin is personal under a certain aspect; under another, every sin is social, insofar as and because it also has social consequences. In its true sense, sin is always an act of the person, because it is the free act of an individual person and not properly speaking of a group or community. The character of social sin can unquestionably be ascribed to every sin, taking into account the fact that "by virtue of the human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual's sin in some way affects others."

(Compendium, No. 117) (quoting JP II, Reconciliatio et paenitentia, No. 16)

Though all sins have a social component in addition to their foundational personal one, it is true that some sins particularly offend the social fabric in that they represent direct and intentional assaults on another person. Every act that intentionally takes the life of another, that attacks the physical integrity of another, that violates the human rights of another or offends the dignity or honor due another, that vitiates the common good are clearly social in nature.

One of the horrible consequences of personal sins and their invariable social nature is that they become institutionalized, consolidated in what are called "structures of sin." (Compendium, No. 119) These "structures of sin" give rise to a vicious social inertia which is difficult to overcome, since they result in certain self-interest in sin, they condition those who grow up or participate in such structures, and they tend to normalize behavior which is sinful. One might favorably cite to Pascal's Pensées (No. 458):
'All that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, or the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life; libido sentiendi, libido sciendi, libido dominandi." [1 John 2:16] Wretched is the cursed land which these three rivers of fire enflame rather than water!
The Compendium cites in particular to two categories of such structures prevalent in the modern world, structures built upon the "all-consuming desire for profit," and structures built upon the "thirst for power, with the intention of imposing one's will upon others."

The Church's understanding of original sin and of man's fallen state is therefore realistic. The Church is fully cognizant of the tragic flaw that is resident in the intimate parts of man which tends to bar him from his destiny. However, she is not, by any means pessimistic. She does not cry as it were with a leaden echo the words: "despair, despair, despair, despair." At her heart is an optimistic and positive conception of man because she has in her ken the mighty solution to man's problems. The Church yells as with a golden echo, "Spare!" and points us "Yonder, yes yonder, yonder, yonder."*
Christian realism sees the abysses of sin, but in the light of the hope, greater than any evil, given by Jesus Christ's act of redemption, in which sin and death are destroyed . . . . The new reality that Jesus Christ gives us is not grafted onto human nature nor is it added from outside: it is rather that reality of communion with the Trinitarian God to which men and women have always been oriented in the depths of their being thanks to their creaturely likeness to God. . . . The universality of this hope also includes, besides the men and women of all peoples, heaven and earth . . . . According to the New Testament, all creation, together indeed with all humanity, awaits the Redeemer: subjected to futility, creation reaches out full of hope, with groans and birth pangs, longing to be freed from decay.

(Compendium, No. 120-23)

*Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Maiden's Song from St. Winefred's Well."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Church's Social Doctrine: And Now for Something Completely Different

THE CHURCH'S SOCIAL DOCTRINE presents itself as a thing utterly unique, a "category unto itself." It is not a political or social theory. It is not a political ideology, such as democracy or communism. It is not an economic ideology, such as capitalism or Marxism. It is not a social science in the manner that anthropology, sociology, or economics, or political science might be. It is not a product of culture, custom, or taste, of what Associate Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called "can't helps." It transcends all those human categories.

The Church's social doctrine is above and beyond ideology, empirical science, and cultural norms. It bursts forth into man's world as a branch of theology, particularly moral theology, and it confronts us in our time and in our place much like Moses was confronted by a burning bush. But that social doctrine has not sprung forth like Athena fully formed from the head of Zeus; rather, it has developed and shall continue to develop as it confronts new things, new contingencies, "over the course of time, through numerous interventions of the Magisterium on social issues." (Compendium, No. 72) It is nevertheless, at germ, in its "permanent nucleus"--its "principles of reflection," its "criteria of judgment," its "directives for action," and most fundamentally, its "vital link with the Gospel of the Lord"--constant, immutable, and irreformable. This permanent nucleus, "moves through history without being conditioned by history or running the risk of fading away." (Compendium, No. 85) It is immutable because it participates in the eternal law of God himself, and it is deeply embedded in our very created nature which, as St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, participates in that eternal law.

While the Church's social doctrine, in its essentials, is unchanging, one must not harbor the impression that it is closed to new things and unadaptable. The Church's social doctrine is not like the Islamic Shari'a, once set and incapable of change. Unlike Islam, it does not drag into the 21st century the 7th century carcass and burial shrouds of Bedouin morality--which easily accommodated itself to polygyny, slavery, low regard for women, divorce, child brides, animal sacrifice, and violence, and senseless ablution and prayer ritual. Unlike the Shari'a of Islam, where the gates of ijtihad or judgment are now closed and the most liberal cannot seem to open with incurring the wrath of his fellow Muslims, the Church's social doctrine is open to all things new:

Standing firm in its principles does not make [the Catholic social doctrine] a rigid teaching system, but a Magisterium capable of opening itself to new things, without having its nature altered by them. It is a teaching that is "subject to the necessary and opportune adaptations suggested by the changes in historical conditions and by the unceasing flow of the events which are the setting of the life of people and society. . . . Mother and Teacher, the Church does not close herself off nor retreat within herself, but is always open, reaching out to, and turned toward man, whose destiny of salvation is her reason for being.

Compendium, Nos. 85-86 (quoting John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 3)

In his book Ideas Have Consequences, Richard M. Weaver speaks of the need of a "metaphysical dream," an underlying foundation behind reason. The Church's social doctrine may be said to be a "meta-ethical dream," an underlying foundation behind morality, one, moreover, whose truth is guaranteed by Christ inasmuch as it is anchored in Christ, the Christ who is himself God.

Unlike ideologies which it rejects as tendentious, or customs which it views as superficial, or human law which is based upon human enforcement, the Church's social doctrine directs itself to the human conscience, and so is found "at the crossroads where Christian life and conscience come into contact with the real world." (Compendium, No. 73) It speaks the words of faith, but it also speaks the words of reason, for both of these are the stuff that feeds the jawbones of conscience. For that reason, Papal encyclicals that deal with social doctrine are addressed to "men of good will" in addition to Christ's faithful.
Besides being destined primarily and specifically to the sons and daughters of the Church, her social doctrine also has a universal destination . . . . It is to all people--in the name of mankind, of human dignity which is one and unique, and of humanity's care and promotion of society--to everyone in the name of the one God, Creator and ultimate end of man, that the Church's social doctrine is addressed.

(Compendium, No. 84)

Giotto: Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount

Since it directs itself to the conscience of all human persons, the Church's social doctrine shares in the tools of conscience, and it provides foundations, norms, and and applications of those norms to contingent circumstances. It has, according to the Compendium, a foundational level which is concerned with "motivations," a directive level concerned with the "norms for life in society," and a deliberative level which is concerned with the application of "objective and general norms in concrete an particular social situations." (Compendium, No. 73) "With her social doctrine, the Church does not attempt to structure or organize society," and that is not her role. Rather, with her social doctrine, the Church seeks to "appeal to, guide, and form consciences" in the way man ought to live with man. (Compendium, No. 81)

The bedrock foundation of the Church's social doctrine is the word of God, that is to say, biblical Revelation and the Tradition of the Church. It therefore rests ultimately on Faith. It is this which allows the Church to understand man's dignity and his end: "Before anything else and above everything else is God's plan for the created world and, in particular, for the life and destiny of men and women, called to Trinitarian communion." (Compendium, No. 74)

Yet it would be wrong to deny its universality because of its fundamentally confessional character that Jesus Christ is Lord: "Being centered on the mystery of Christ . . . does not weaken or exclude the role of reason and hence does not deprive the Church's social doctrine of rationality or . . . universal applicability." (Compendium, No. 75) In fact, saying that Jesus Christ is Lord is the most human of all acts, for it is that very reason that man exists.

Though the Church's social doctrine unapologetically relies on faith, it does not reject, much less contradict reason. By no means. "Faith," especially that "faith leading to practical action," "effectively interacts with reason," "is structured by reason," and "makes use of every contribution that reason has to offer." Therefore the Church's social doctrine "brings 'fides et ratio' together and is an eloquent expression of that rich relationship." "Faith and reason represent the two cognitive paths of the Church's social doctrine: Revelation and human nature." (Compendium, Nos. 74, 75)

The Catholic doctrine shuns "isms": It is neither built on fideism, nor built on rationalism, but is built on "faith and reason," fides et ratio, the two great streams of truth.

The Church's social doctrine accordingly expresses the "integral truth," that is, the complete, total, and consistent truth, "of the human person as a spiritual and corporeal being, in relationship with God, with other human beings, and with other creatures." (Compendium, No,. 75) "The intent of the Church's social doctrine, therefore, "is of the religious and moral order," and is therefore a doctrine of faithful evangelism and authentic humanism. (Compendium, No. 82) Inasmuch as any ideology departs from the Church's social doctrine by denying faith or reason, it lack integrity, and is to that extent a false, aberrant, or incomplete truth about man. Any time man lives without truth, that is a lie, it enslaves him. The Catholic social doctrine is the path given to man to authentic and perfect freedom, it is--par excellence--the true liberation of the whole man.

Since reason is a component of the Church's social doctrine, it follows that it may avail itself "of contributions from all branches of knowledge, whatever their source," and so has a particularly "interdisciplinary dimension," without thereby compromising the role of faith. From philosophy to the several empirical sciences and social sciences, none of these are to be disregarded, but all truths to be had in those disciplines embraced. (Compendium, Nos. 77-78)

The last thing Catholic social doctrine can be said to be is obscurantist, the stuff of supposed "monkish ignorance or superstition" as Jefferson, were he alive, might unfairly accuse it of being, displaying therein his own form of "ignorance or superstition" and lack of judgment based upon the arbitrary presupposition which rejects the contribution and lights of faith.

In terms of its more fundamental principles, philosophy is perhaps the most important corroborator to the Catholic social doctrine project, as it is in the language of philosophy that real-though-abstract concepts such as "person," "nature," "society," "freedom," "conscience," "ethics," "law," "justice," the "common good," "solidarity," "subsidiarity," the "State," and so forth are comprehended, are understood. But this is not to deny that the more empirical "human sciences and the social sciences" have a significant contribution to make as well. Indeed, it is impossible to know the Church's social doctrine without knowledge of political science, economics, anthropology, biology, fetology, psychology, and so forth.

The Church's social doctrine must also confront the evolution of old things or the advent of new things, which is part and parcel of human travel through history, and its truth must therefore be adapted to the contingency of time and place. For that reason it is "presented as a 'work site' where the work is always in progress, where perennial truth penetrates and permeates new circumstances, indicating paths of justice and peace." (Compendium, No. 86)

This necessary interplay between pure doctrine--the competency of the teaching Church, the ecclesia docens--and the necessary contributions of philosophy and the human and social sciences, which is outside any special competency of the Magisterium, makes the Catholic social doctrine unique in terms of being a product of the entire corpus of the Church: "The whole of the Christian community--priests, religious, and laity--participates in the formulation of this social doctrine, each according to the different tasks, charisms, and ministries found within" that community.

We are not dealing with something, to refer back to Jefferson and his letter to Roger Weightman, wherein the laity has "saddles on their backs," and there are a "favored few booted and spurred," clerics and religious, "ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God." Rather, the image is that all members of the Church take on the easy yoke and light burden of Christ of understanding and putting into practice the Church's social doctrine, ultimately guided, to be sure, by the Church's Magisterium:

These many and varied contributions--which are themselves expression of the 'supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) of the whole people'--are taken up, interpreted, and formed into a unified whole by the Magisterium, which promulgates the social teaching as Church doctrine. To the Church's Magisterium belongs those who have received the "munus docendi," or the ministry of teaching in the areas of faith and morals with the authority received from Christ. The Church's social doctrine is not only the thought or work of qualified persons, but is the thought of the Church, insofar as it is the work of the Magisterium, which teaches with the authority that Christ conferred on the Apostles and their successors: the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him.

(Compendium, No. 79) (internal quotes from Lumen gentium, 12)

Importantly, "insofar as it is part of Church's moral teaching, the Church's social doctrine has the same dignity and authority as her moral teaching, It is authentic Magisterium, which obligates the faithful to adhere to it." (Compendium, 80) However, because of its subject matter, the Church's social doctrine necessarily results in varying weight of bindingness: "The doctrinal weight of the different teachings and the assent required are determined by the nature of the particular teachings, by their level of independence from contingent and variable elements, and by the frequency with which they are invoked." (Compendium, No. 80)

We must not expect more precision than the subject matter admits, Aristotle famously tells us in his Nicomachean Ethics.* (1094b11-17) Analogously, we should not expect more doctrinal force in Catholic social doctrine than the subject matter of Catholic social doctrine admits.

Giotto: Jesus Cleansing the Temple

The Church's social doctrine is at the service of "the human person called to salvation," and therefore "entrusted by Christ to the Church's care and responsibility." (Compendium, No. 81) Since God intends all human persons "to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth," 1 Tim. 2:4, it follows that the Church's social doctrine applies to all human persons.

Inasmuch as the Church is responsible for the care of human persons, she has both the "task of proclamation," and also the right of "denunciation." (Compendium, No. 81) The Church must needs be both rabi and navi, rabbi and prophet, teacher of morals and decrier of immorality. She sometimes takes the hortatory role of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, and utters benedictuses, blessed are those who do good and share their brother's burdens. At other times she takes the role of Jesus with his whip who takes after the money changers in the temple and declaims auferte ista hincs, get these sins of here!
The social doctrine also entails a duty to denounce, when sin is present: the sin of injustice and violence that in different ways moves through society and is embodied in it. By denunciation, the Church's social doctrine becomes judge and defender of unrecognized and violated rights, especially those of the poor, the least, and the weak.
(Compendium, No. 81)

*"Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts."

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)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Our Mission to the World

THE CHURCH PROCLAIMS man's fundamental freedom from every earthly good. This is a natural outcome of her message that man is a transcendent person. He is a person who is by nature and by grace called to eternal life with Christ in God. Her message is, of course, comprehensive. Yet it can be boiled down to St. Athanasius's shocking statement: "God became man so that man might become a god."*

Man has a transcendent destiny. He is called to eternal life. He is called to eternal communion with God, in what we call the beatific vision. This is the message of the Church to man who often wallows in mud of brothels, markets, or foxholes. You--her message is to each man, and to all men--are called to the Kingdom of God. As a result, the Church is "the sign and safeguard of the transcendent dimension of the human person." The Church is further a "kind of sacrament--a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men." (Compendium, No. 49)**

The Kingdom of God, "embraces all people," and the Church has been given the "mission of proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God, and she is, on earth, the seed and beginning of that Kingdom." (Compendium, No. 49)*** Naturally, as part of her mission, the Church promotes the values, the moral teachings, the rectitude of the Gospel. And, if allowed, these can have a potentially huge effect on civil society and its governance. They are, we may note, not always welcome. .

The Church's eternal message will affect, sometimes challenge the temporal. But it is important to note that the Church is separate from civil society and from any political system, and, in fact is independent and autonomous of the civil society and political system. "[T]he Church is ... not bound to any political system. In fact, the political community and the Church are autonomous and independent of each other in their own fields." (Compendium, No. 50) Of course, neither is independent of God. Both, in addition, are devoted "even if under different titles," "to the service of the personal and social vocation of the same human person." (Compendium, No. 50) They ought not be enemies, and, unless there is disorder, ought to work hand-in-hand.

In the West, and in particular in the United States, we take for granted (though we also frequently misunderstand) the notion of the "separation of Church and State." The distinction between secular and ecclesiastical spheres, which defends the rights of conscience and precludes State power from trampling over this sacred internal realm, is a unique contribution of Christianity to the world:

Indeed, it can be affirmed that the distinction between religion and politics and the principle of religious freedom constitute a specific achievement of Christianity and one of its fundamental historical and cultural contributions.

(Compendium, No.50)

"Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar, and to God the things that are God's" (Matt.22:21). What a marvelous history have these words had, all stemming from the son of God who eyed the portrait (and the hubris) of his human rival on a Tiberius denarius who claimed, in opposition to Christ, to be God's high priest and the divine son of God!

It may have been the biggest power grab in history, as it was, at least inchoately, both a veiled challenge to, and a wresting from, the State any pretensions to divinity, to absoluteness. It was God's and the Church's declaration of independence from powers that man had arrogated, had usurped to himself. The State is not transcendent. Man, called to eternal life in Christ, is!†

(Tiberius Caesar Divi Augustus Fili Augustus)
trans: Tiberius Caesar, the worshipful son of the God Augustus.
(Pontifex Maximus)
trans: High Priest

The Church in a way is a perpetual challenge to the non-Christian State. She is a bone stuck in the throat of any overweening modern State or State that rebels against the natural moral law:
[T]he Church offers an original and irreplaceable contribution with the concern that impels her to make the family of mankind and its history more human, prompting her to place herself as a bulwark against every totalitarian temptation, as she shows man his integral and definition vocation.
(Compendium, No. 51)

There will be tension between Church and State where there is a disordered social life. This is a necessary reality because Christ did not just redeem individual men and leave them where they were. "God, in Christ, redeems not only the individual person but also the social relations existing between men." (Compendium, No. 52) In an earlier installment, we distinguished between the "is" and the "is with," and Christ came to redeem both.

There is, to be sure, great adaptability and flexibility in the Gospel, though there are also some boundaries that are adamantine and inflexible as stone, specifically those "unchangeable principles of the natural law." (Compendium, No. 53) But, aside from the principles of natural law, the Gospel does not offer a ready-made recipe like Islam: a fixed code of Shari'a, which forces a one-size-fits-all law upon all societies, in a positivistic, unimaginative, and even tyrannous recipe:

The transformation of social relationships that responds to the demands of the Kingdom of God is not fixed within concrete boundaries once and for all. Rather, it is a task entrusted to the Christian community, which is to develop it and carry it out through reflection and practices inspired by the Gospel. It is the same Spirit of the Lord, leading the people of God while simultaneously permeating the universe, who from time to time inspires new and appropriate ways for humanity to exercise its creative responsibility. This inspiration is given to the community of Christians who are a part of the world and of history, and who are therefore open to dialogue with all people of good will in the common question for the seeds of truth and freedom sown in the vast field of humanity.

(Compendium, No. 53)

The superiority of the Christian Gospel is manifest in its driving force. It is not submission to a code, it is love that is the driving force, and it is love and not primarily submission that colors the view of Christian society. "Jesus Christ reveals to us that 'God is love' (1 Jn 4:8)," observes the Compendium, "and he teaches us that the 'fundamental law of human perfection, and consequently of the transformation of the world, is the new commandment of love." (Compendium, No. 54)†† The commandment of love is a law, the law "called to become the ultimate measure and rule . . . of the person, of social relations, of human activity in the world . . . " (Compendium, No. 54).

There is, in fact, a huge need for the Church to transform the world, for the Church to season the world with the salt of the Gospel. The modern world stands not unlike the time of the world at the time of Christ: in partibus infidelium, in the realm of the unbelievers. And the Church's evangelical role must strive to bring the world back to Christ. The Church's social doctrine is one of the tools she has to further the new evangelization to a world that has become old, but must become young again: indeed must become like a little child. (Cf. Matt. 18:3)

"For he must reign," St. Paul assures us (1 Cor. 15:25). It is time for the world to end its revolt, to slough off Satan's response: non serviam! I will not serve. In mud of brothels, markets, or foxholes, and wherever else man may be found, we must proclaim the Jeremiad:
For long ago I broke your yoke And tore off your bonds; But you said, 'I will not serve!' For on every high hill And under every green tree You have lain down as a harlot.
Jeremiah 2:20.

Time for the world to respond, like Mary the perfect Christian disciple, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum. Be it done unto me according to your Word! (Luke 1:38)

But to respond, they must hear a message. And to hear a message, there must be a messenger with a message. Hence has the Church put together the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. It is one of the take down moves in our repertoire as "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12).

*St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione 54:3 (Αυτός γαρ ενηνθρώπησεν, ίνα ημείς θεοποιηθώμεν), PG 25:192B; also Catechism of the Catholic Church § 460.
**Quoting VII,
Gaudium et spes, 76 and Lumen gentium, 1.
***Quoting VII,
Lumen gentium, 5.
†Interestingly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to this incident to justify acts of civil disobedience or to limit the loyalty to the State in commanding wrongful acts.
††Quoting VII,
Gaudium et spes, 38.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Jesus and the City

WHAT DOES JESUS HAVE TO DO with the the city? Understanding the term city in its broadest sense, that is, as any human community, the answer is everything. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name," Jesus says, "there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20) This is broad enough to include any human community, from marriage upwards. Jesus is thus at the center of the Church's social doctrine.

What, more precisely, is the "everything" that Jesus has to do with the human community? The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church explores this and identifies those areas where Christ's role is key. We might call them the apocalyptical, the kenotic, the soteriological, the paradigmatic, the transformational, the eleutherian, and the transcendent.

The apocalyptical Christ and the apocalypse of man. The term apocalyptical comes from the Greek term apocalypsis which means "lifting of the veil," or revelation. In this sense, Jesus is the final apocalypse of God. "He who has seen me," Jesus says, "has seen the Father" (John 14:9). There is no veil between God and man in Christ: the veil of the temple that separated man from the Shekinah of God is rent forever. God is fully and finally revealed to man in Jesus. In Jesus one sees the naked God, as it were.

Our response to this great act of benevolence and mercy, of love, ought to be to remove the veils that separate us from Jesus. This is the meaning behind the beautiful formula of St. Jerome so loved by the Franciscans: Nudus nudum Christum sequi.* Nakedly we ought to follow the naked Christ. "Jesus' followers are called to live like him," the Compendium says, "and, after his Passover of death and resurrection, to live also in him and by him, thanks to the superabundant gift of the Holy Spirit, the Consoler, who internalizes Christ's own style of life in human hearts." (Compendium, No. 29)

Let us explore this a little more. What does Jesus reveal about God? How are we to be like him, and live in him, and by him? How is this possible?

Christ, Christians believe, is God incarnate. The ultimate meaning of the Incarnation is the"full revelation of Trinitarian love." (Compendium, No. 30) Most fundamentally, Christ reveals that "God is Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; truly distinct and truly one, because God is an infinite communion of love." (Compendium, No. 31)

Now, if man was made in God's image, as the first chapter of Genesis has taught us, and God is Trinity, it follows that man is made in the image of the Trinity. In our created nature is the image of the communion of love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are by nature made to love others, and thereby imitate God.

Drawing on Pope John Paul II's insights, the Compendium summarizes this truth: "'To be human," therefore, "means to be called to interpersonal communion,' because the image and the likeness of the Trinitarian God are the basis of the whole 'human ethos, which reaches its apex in the commandment of love." (Compendium, No. 33) We are designed to be in communion with God and with all men as God is in communion within himself.

In John Paul II's highly-charged words: "Being a person in the image and likeness of God . . . involves existing in a relationship, in relation to the other 'I'." (Compendium, No. 34)** This is a high calling, with both relation to the "other 'I'" above us, God, and relation to the "other 'I'" about us, our fellow man. Communion therefore has both vertical and horizontal components. This is reflected in the first table and second table of the Ten Commandments. "The revelation in Christ of the mystery of God as Trinitarian love . . . sheds light on every aspect of the personal dignity and freedom of men and women, and on the depths of their social nature." (Compendium, No. 34)

This, of course, is something inaccessible to reason. Accepted by faith, it will, however, open up an entirely new realm of reality to reason. Christ's revelation about the internal life of God "has opened up new horizons [otherwise] closed to human reason by implying that there is a certain parallel between the union existing among the divine Persons and the union of the children of God in truth and love." (Compendium, No. 34)*** "Christian revelation shines a new light on the identity, the vocation, and the destiny of the human person and the human race." (Compendium, 35).

Using Platonic imagery, Christ has taken all mankind out of the cave. We no longer have to look at shadows, but we have access to the realities outside the cave. This is Christ's gift.

This means the Church has the key to understanding man that no other philosophy and no other religion has. This is her pearl of great price, her great treasure, her great boon to the world, and it means that the Church has the obligation to share this key and this treasure with every person.

The kenotic Christ and the kenotic man. Not only does Jesus reveal the Trinitarian life in God and in man, Jesus rendered that inexpressible love concrete in his exemplary passion and in his death, which represented the total giving of his self for others. This takes us to the kenotic message of Christ. Kenotic comes from the Greek word kenosis, which means emptying out. It comes to us from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians: "Jesus emptied himself (ekenosen), taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:7).

Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) by Salvador Dalí. (1954)

By his giving of himself, Christ revealed the hallmark of Trinitarian love. Jesus' commandment that we "love one another, even as I have loved you" (John 13:34), means that we have to learn to empty ourselves out so that we may give ourselves more effectively to others. "The commandment of mutual love, which represents the law of life for God's people," the Compendium states, "must inspire, purify, and elevate all human relationships in society and in politics."

The "Politics of Selfishness" as author Paul Nevins in a book by that title called the regime under which we live,† are anathema to the Christian, who follows an other-regarding kenotic paradigm entirely different from the self-regarding egotistic paradigm advocated by John Locke or Adam Smith or their legion of followers.††

The soteriological Christ and the soteriology of man. Christ's message is more than just reformist or prophetic; at its heart it is soteriological. The word soteriological comes from the Greek soteria, which means salvation.

It would be a mistake of huge proportions to limit Christ, as Thomas Jefferson did, to a mere moral teacher. Christ is more than a moral teacher, more than a moral model. Christ is man's savior, a unique, irreplaceable, and necessary office. "The salvation offered in its fullness to men in Jesus Christ . . . is salvation for all people and of the whole person: it is universal and integral salvation." (Compendium, No. 38)

Not only is Christ the savior of all men, he is the savior of every single part of man. We are not to parcel, bracket, or remove any part of human life from the salvation offered to us in Christ. Salvation, "concerns the human person in all his dimensions: personal and social, spiritual and corporeal, historical and transcendent." (Compendium, No. 38). Nothing human is outside the salvific pale of Christ.

In the Heautontimorumenos 1.1.25, the Roman playwright Terence said: "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto," which translated says, "I am a man, I consider nothing that is human alien to me." Jesus Christ can say the same thing with an entirely different meaning. Nothing human is alien to Christ. Christ is alien to nothing human.

Now, as St. Augustine so felicitously phrased it, "God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us."††† The salvation universal and integral offered to all men in Christ is not forced, as it "requires [man's] free response and acceptance." (Compendium, No. 39). Salvation is not forced, but the offer of salvation beckons, courts, even woos a response, an act of faith, an act in which a person freely commits his entire self to God. The divine bridegroom asks us to marry him as if we were to be his bride.

The other part of this message--that Christ is man's only salvation, man's only spouse, as it were--is this: that man can do nothing to save himself. There is nothing but "error and deception" in any "purely immanentistic visions of the meaning of history and in humanity's claims to self-salvation." The ideologies that are built by man as means for self-salvation--Communism, Fascism, Liberalism, even Islam--calculated to exclude the salvific Christ who is the one and only God, are nothing less than social, economic, political, or religious towers of Babel.‡ "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it. Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain." (Psalm 127:1)

Christ the paradigm of man. Christ's message is paradigmatic, exemplary. Christ gives us an example of what it means to love our neighbor. He is the incarnation, the paradigm, the epitome, the model of the Divine law in action, in all its concreteness: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mk 12:29-31). It is Jesus who teaches us that we must love our fellow man, that he "must be treated as another self," whether he thinks and acts "differently from us in social, political, and religious matters" such as the Samaritan woman at the well, and indeed, "even if he is an enemy," such as Judas whom Christ loved and with whom Christ broke bread. (Compendium, Nos. 40, 43)

Even if he is an enemy, our neighbor must be treated as another self! Banned, then, is any form of dualistic ethic, of tribalistic moralism, an "us-them" mentality, where there is one moral law for "us," and another for "them." This seems like an impossible burden. Even the best of us are beset by sin, riddled with selfishness, and suffer from the weakness of the flesh, where even if the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. Christ's paradigm seems impossible for man. And it is, unless we keep in mind the transformational Christ.

The transformational Christ and the transformation of man. "The inner transformation of the human person, in his being progressively conformed to Christ, is the necessary prerequisite for a real transformation of his relationships with others." (Compendium, No. 42) Social change cannot come about without an inner conversion, a conversion of the heart. "The acknowledged priority of the conversion of heart," however, "in no way eliminates but on the contrary imposes the obligation of bringing the appropriate remedies to institutions and living conditions when they are an inducement to sin, so that they conform to the norms of justice and advance the good rather than hinder it." (Compendium, No. 42‡‡)

This transformation--where we conform ourselves to Christ--is not the fruit of our own efforts. "This path requires grace, which God offers to man in order to help him overcome failings, to snatch him from the spiral of lies and violence, to sustain him and prompt him to restore with an ever new and ready spirit the network of authentic and honest relationships with his fellow men." (Compendium, 43)

Finally, this transformation will show itself not only in the manner in which he treats his neighbor, but in the manner that he treats the entirety of the created universe, and the "human activity aimed at tending it and transforming it, activity which is daily endangered by man's pride and by his inordinate self-love." (Compendium, 44).

Christ, therefore, will order the liberal and fine arts, technology, even science, for, although they have a certain autonomy relative to their discipline which needs to be respected, these also are meant to operate under the transformative power of Christ, so that they are used not for selfish reasons, but as an expression of love of neighbor and act within the confines of the natural law.

The euletherian Christ and the authentic freedom of man. By demanding man to follow the way of love exhibited by God to man in Christ, man is in no wise restricted or constrained. No. Rather this demand is a call to freedom, to authentic liberty. For this reason, the last of the implications of Christ's revelation is eleutherian, from the Greek word eleutheria, meaning freedom. "[T]he more that human realities are seen in the light of God's plan and lived in communion with God," the Compendium observes, "the more they are empowered and liberated in their distinctive identity and in the freedom that is proper to them." (Compendium, No. 45)

Though activities of man have a certain ordered autonomy and independence, it is a falsehood of great proportion to suggest that any discipline of man is entirely autonomous from God. Quoting from Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, the Compendium concludes: "If the expression 'the autonomy of earthly affairs' is taken to mean that created things do not depend on God, and that man can use them without reference to the Creator, anyone who acknowledges God will see how false such a meaning is. For without the Creator, the creature would disappear." (Compendium, No. 46).

It is absurd to believe that anything can have reality apart from God.

The transcendent Christ and man's transcendent destiny. Man is not meant for this world, but is meant for another world. Christ, who was God transcendent and God immanent, pointed to this reality. "The human person, in himself, and in his vocation, transcends the limits of the created universe, of society, and of history: his ultimate end is God himself." (Compendium, No. 47) This transcendent destiny makes man's earthly existence relative to another, greater, overarching existence. The Compendium calls this reality the eschatological relativity and theological relativity. All things in heaven and on earth are passing, and they are relative to our ultimate eternal destiny, and relative to the one God who is our destiny.

This truth relativizes all human plans and activities, since it puts at the forefront persons, and most especially the three persons in one God. Quoting from John Paul II's encyclical Centesimus Annus,‡‡‡ the Compendium states: "Man cannot give himself to a purely human plan for reality, to an abstract ideal, or to a false utopia." Anything short of God will result in man's alienation from his destiny and alienation from his brother.

"[A] man is alientated if he refuses to transcend himself and to live the experience of self-giving and of the formation of an authentic human community oriented towards his final destiny, which is God." But not only may man be alienated from God. A society can be similarly alienated from God. "A society is alienated if its forms of social organization, production, and consumption make it more difficult to offer this gift of self [to God and to others] and to establish this solidarity between people." (Compendium, No. 47)

The transcendent destiny of man relativizes of all of man's temporal doings. At the same time, that destiny will reject any vision man which refuses to recognize that transcendent destiny. For any absolutization of man's earthly world is a form of idolatry. "Any totalitarian vision of society and the State, and any purely intra-worldly ideology of progress are contrary to the integral truth of the human person and to God's plan in history." (Compendium, No. 48)

These are bold words, bold concepts. Where does the Church get the audemus dicere, the "we have the courage to say," to the world that she holds the key to man's nature, to his social relations, to his history, to his freedom, and to his ultimate destiny?

In the final introductory component of the Compendium, the divine warrant of the Church, her credentials as it were to speak to all men, is placed before the world.
*St. Jerome uses it in Letter 125 and in his Homily on Luke.
**Quoting John Paul II,
Mulieris dignitatem, 7.
***Quoting VII,
Gaudium et spes, 24.
†Paul Nevins, The Politics of Selfishness: How John Lock's Legacy is Paralyzing America (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2010).
††As one instance of Lockean thinking which is fundamentally anti-Christian, we might point to the following: "***"
†††St. Augustine, Sermo 169.10(13) ("
Qui ergo fecit te sine te, non te iustificat sine te")
‡Islam may be the most vicious and most intractable since it excludes God as Trinity and Christ as God from all institutions which it comprehends--political, economic, legal, familial, social, religious. And it does so claiming the warrant of God, under the auspices of a Monotheism which is anti-Trinitarian and anti-Christian. By definition, Islam, which is an utterly comprehensive doctrine of life, expressly excludes God as Trinity and Christ as God.
‡‡Quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 1888.
‡‡‡John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 41.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ten Words: We Are Not Our Own, for There is an Other

ALL OF US, Christian or not, have to concede two things as truths, and it is these two things that are at the basis of the religious and even moral sentiments of all mankind. The German philosopher Schleiermacher had two rather cumbersome words for these truths, but they express the entirety of this insight: We are all Sichselbstnichtsogesetzthaben (we-have-not-brought-ourselves-into-being) and things about us are Irgendwiegewordensein (things-have-somehow-come-to-be).

None of us can say that we have made ourselves be. None of us can say that we have brought to be that which is outside of us. For both ourselves and what is outside of us have been received from an Other. The entirety of existence, of being and its laws, is contingent upon an Other. It is this self-evident insight, which is at the center of all religious experience which seeks this Other, that leads to the recognition of "the dimension of gift and gratuitousness" of being, of life, ultimately of the existence of all creation. (Compendium, 20) This is bedrock reality.

The unquestionable fact that existence is a gift given to us freely by the Other, however we know him to be, necessarily imposes upon all of us--every single man, woman, and child--a moral obligation of caretaking, of stewardship. Any other response is to be an ingrate. And ingratitude is never justified: ingratitude in the face of undeserved generosity is self-evidently wrong. The fact that our life, the life of others about us, and the cosmos in which we live are gifts gratuitously given us is at the heart of our moral obligations. In light of the fact that being, life, and the world are contingent, are gifts, our conscience is spurred into sensing that "it is called to manage responsibly and together with others the gift received." (Compendium, 20) The gift of life, of being, is not my gift alone; it is our gift.

Christians believe that the Other has not stayed quiet, but that he has revealed himself. Strikingly in the history of mankind, "God's progressive revelation of himself to the people of Israel stands out." (Compendium, 21) He intervened in the life of that nation while they were yet slaves, living oppressed under their Egyptian masters. He delivered them from that slavery, and revealed himself to Moses as the "I am who am." (Exodus 3:14) The Other, the necessary Being, the Being from which all other being comes, the Gift-Giver of all that is, spoke. His speaking was yet another gift.

And in this revelation given to a Jew named Moses and through him to all Israel, the world lept upwards in what the philosopher Eric Voegelin called the great "leap in being," a leap for all humanity, Jew and Gentile. What was a "leap in being" was also a "leap in morals," and a "leap into freedom." The "leap into freedom" was derived from being bound to a covenant with the Gift-Giver, at the heart of which was the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are also known as the Decalogue, from Greek, Deka-logos, "Ten words."

In these"Ten Words" given to Moses by the One God whose name is "I am who am," we found our freedom. "The Ten Commandments, which constitute an extraordinary path of life and indicate the surest way for living in freedom from slavery to sin, contain a privileged expression of the natural law." (Compendium, No. 22). The Ten Commandments and the natural moral law which binds all men are substantively equivalent.

Moses and the Burning Bush by Domenico Feti (1613)

Americans taught by such misguided groups such as the ACLU or Americans United for Separation of Church and State think that the Ten Commandments are sectarian, and that our social, political, and governing institutions can, and indeed must as a requirement of pluralism and justice, disassociate themselves from the Ten Commandments. The Ten Words must not be seen in the public square.

This is a lie, a folly, not to be believed because the Ten Commandments are not sectarian. Quite the opposite, they are universal. The Ten Commandments bind all mankind, and are part of mankind's patrimony, moral treasure. The are part of our "leap of morality," our "leap into freedom," a gift of God through the Jew to the world. Moreover, they, and the authority of the God behind them, are the objective source of human rights. Get rid of the Ten Commandments and you get rid of any basis of human rights. Human rights have to be tied to something, and if you untie them from the natural law, they sink.

More ominously, once you get rid of the Ten Commandments, they will be replaced by something worse, and you will be at the mercy of man in power, who, unlike and apart from God, is not very merciful. Without the Ten Commandments or the natural law, man invariably tends to lapse into a "might means right" mentality. If you harbor doubts about that, look at the history of the 20th Century, and focus on China, on the U.S.S.R., and on Nazi Germany, where the Ten Commandments were also not seen in public.

Importantly, the Ten Commandments can be divided into what traditionally has been called "Two Tables." The first table deals with the relationship between man and God, the second table deals with the relationship between man and man. In the words of the Compendium, the first table concerns itself with "fidelity to the one true God." The second table concerns itself with the "social relations among the people of the Covenant."

Now here is something crucial, and something often forgotten if we divorce ourselves from the historical and biblical context of the Ten Commandments. Americans have a tendency--I am not sure where it comes from--to view the Ten Commandments individualistically, as if they are laws of the bourgeoisie, fat-cat laws, as it were. But we are soon disabused of that impression if we read Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus with an open mind, or perhaps even more importantly, with an open heart.

The second table of the Ten Commandments was understood not only to apply to the healthy Jew who was a member of the Mosaic covenant, but it also embraced the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger and sojourner. Hidden within this second table is a built-in solicitude toward the weak and disenfranchised. It is a recognition that might does not make right. And the Jews are constantly reminded by God and their prophets to remember what it was like living under the might makes right jurisprudence of the Pharaohs. Their big feast--the Passover--revolved around this.

Built in to the Mosaic covenant, therefore, is also a concept of "justice and solidarity," and it reflects itself in such social and economic institutions such as the law of the sabbatical year (celebrated every seven years) and the jubilee year (celebrated every fifty years).* These institutions governed such things as the tilling of fields, the cancellation of debts, and the release of persons and goods from ownership or burdens. Part of this "justice and solidarity," therefore, clearly involves a respect toward creation and an aversion against the concentration of, and particularly the abuse of, wealth. Viewed positively, these institutions sought to ameliorate economic poverty and curb social injustice. "The precepts of the sabbatical and jubilee years constitute a kind of social doctrine in miniature." (Compendium, 25)

Finally, we must also recall the role of the Prophets who, in their message against the powers that be and a recalcitrant people, focused so much on justice, social solidarity, and the abuse of the weak and the poor. The Prophets ceaselessly work against social stratification. The Prophets ceaselessly denounced any sclerosis in the law, where law is implemented stiffly, inflexibly, even against its very spirit. The Prophets sought above all to have this solicitude to the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger internalized. "This process of internalization gives rise to greater depth and realism in social action, making possible the progressive universalization of attitudes of justice and solidarity, which the people of the Covenant are called to have towards all men and women of every people and nation." (Compendium, No.25) In short, the Prophets insisted that men should imitate the gift-giving God, especially "the Lord's gratuitous and merciful action on behalf of man." (Compendium, No. 26).

Sin was the great blotch: the great distorter of God's message and law, the source of resistance to a eucharistic response to God's gratuitous love that was so much at the heart of the Prophetic urgency. But there is in man the faculty of what Budziszewski calls the "deep conscience," which can't not know what is wrong. And if we do not face this deep conscience and turn back to the merciful God, we shall necessarily turn away, and run, and hide, much like Cain did after he slew his brother with malice aforethought. But we shall not run into freedom. Rather we shall run into the hives nest of conscience, and there suffer the sting of its furies.

This turning away does more than harm the is, "the internal unity of the human person." It also harms the is with, "the relations of communion between man and woman," and the "harmonious relations" between man and man, and "mankind and other creatures." "It is thus in this original estrangement that are to be sought the deepest roots of all the evils that afflict social relations between people, of all the situations in economic and political life that attack the dignity of the person, that assail justice and solidarity." (Compendium, No. 27)

If sin is the cause of all these ills, it seems that we are in need of a Redeemer. And it is precisely to that issue to which the Compendium next turns.

*See Exodus 23, Deuteronomy 15, and Leviticus 25.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Gospel of the "Is With"

TWO THINGS THERE ARE FROM WHICH THE CHURCH can never separate: Jesus Christ and mankind. Christ is head of the Church. Christ is the bridegroom, the Church his bride, the two bound in an eternal marriage. The Spirit of Christ is the Church's spiritual soul. Christ--body, soul, flesh, and divinity--is the meat of her spiritual and supersubstantial food, the Eucharist. And Christ is the chief subject, the centerpiece, of her universal message of the salvation proferred to all men in Christ by a merciful God.

Christ's universality, then, binds the Church to all mankind, of which she is also part. There is not one man, woman, or child which she would ban from her message, or for whom the message would be irrelevant or superfluous. Like the colonnades of Bernini at St. Peter's square which seem to reach out and embrace all mankind, Christ's love, which the Bernini colonnades symbolize, embraces all bar none. It is for this reason that the Church "continues to speak to all people and all nations," and always will. (Compendium, No. 1)

Bernini's Colonnade at St. Peter's: Symbol of Christ's embracing love

Now the Lord Jesus did come only to save spiritual souls, to pull them out of the shells of their bodies and leave the body behind like refuse, as if the Gospel were nothing more than emptying out the contents of a disposable can. No. Our Lord came to save every man, woman, and child in his or her integrity: soul and body. That is why the doctrine of the Resurrection of the body has always been central to the Christian message. This, of course, is the anchoring truth of John Paul II's "theology of the body."

But Jesus and his Gospel go beyond even this. Every human being is more than soul and body. Every human being is fitted within relations: is someone's son or daughter, is perhaps someone's father or mother, is the member of some tribe, or the citizen of some nation. Every human being rubs shoulders with, exchanges words with, trades goods and services with, works with, breaks bread with, consorts with, and sometimes even fights with others of his kind. Every human being is answerable to law, civil, religious, and natural, a law to which he is accountable, sometimes even with his life. Every person not only is but also is with others.

Again, Christ came not only to save spiritual souls and fleshly bodies: He came also to save relations. He came to save both the is of each of us and the is with of each of us. Relations among men, the is with, ought to be governed by justice and ought to conduce to peace. Like Christ, the Church therefore addresses her Gospel to all humans and all human reality: the is and the is with. That part of the Gospel that addresses the is with of each of us is the Church's social doctrine.

The Gospel addresses itself first to the is, and from the is it spills over to the is with:

Discovering that they are loved by God, people come to understand their own transcendent dignity, they learn not to be satisfied with only themselves [the "is"] but to encounter in their neighbor in a network of relationships that are ever more authentically human [the "is with"]. Men and women [the "is"] who are made "new" by the love of God are able to change the rules and quality of relationships, transforming even social structures [the "is with"].

(Compendium, No. 4) Love is what changes the is, and love moves from changing the is to changing the entire is with so that the entire world of is with also conforms to love.

Love is necessarily ebullient: it cannot be bottled up in a Coke bottle and sold by the fluid ounce. It can't be stored in a safe, kept safe for a later day. It can't be divided up and parceled out, as if it were a welfare dole, and therein remain satisfied. Love is no respecter of boundaries, and it does not limit itself to the is.

No, love is something like the five loaves of bread and the two fish the Jesus blessed, and then inexplicably fed a crowd of thousands, with plenty left over to spare after the thousands had their fill. Cf. Luke 9:12-17. It never stays water; it always changes into wine. It spills over almost recklessly, but never lawlessly, into the is with. It always, invariably will focus on another.

And so the Church's message of God's love, including her social doctrine, is not to be kept in any storehouse like the wealth of a rich man, or under a bushel basket such as one may foolishly put a candle.

The Church's social doctrine is something like a Mother Theresa of Calcutta or a Father Damien: especially while others suffer, it will not stay trapped in a convent in solitary contemplation or remain only a vacuous word, but it will clamber over walls, break through the gates, cross oceans and deserts if it has to, face the swords and rifles of power, and venture into the rough and tumble and dirty streets of Calcutta or the leprosorium of the island of Molokai, and engage in action, even, at times, to unpopular denunciation.
Christian love leads to denunciation, proposals and a commitment to cultural and social projects; it prompts positive activity that inspires all who sincerely have the good of man at heart to make their contribution.
(Compendium, No. 6)

Urged by love, we are both Marthas and Marys. We live in a world of both theory and practice, of being and doing, and the Church's social teaching comprehends both. Nothing is worse than a talker and not a doer, except a doer who does not know what he is about.

In fact, the bane of society is the social gadfly, the officious intermeddler, an activist without guidance, or worse, an activist guided by bad ideas. Nothing is worse than someone who wants to change the is with who has not changed the is. Nothing is worse than someone who wants to change the is with when he does not know what the is with ought to be. And so the social doctrine of the Church provides guidance for action by informing us what the is with ought to be.

[I]n the social doctrine of the Church can be found the principles for reflection, the criteria for judgment, and the directives for action which are the starting point for the promotion of an integral and solidary humanism. Making this doctrine known constitutes, therefore, a genuine pastoral priority, so that men and women will be enlightened by it and will be thus enable to interpret today's reality and seek appropriate paths of action.

(Compendium, No. 7)

It this felt urgency that drove the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to put together the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. It purports to provide a "complete overview of the fundamental framework of the doctrinal corpus of Catholic social teaching." And this complete overview, which must be taken in its complete integrity, is calculated to "suggest a systematic approach for finding solutions to problems, so that discernment, judgment, and decisions will correspond to reality." It is meant "as a guide to inspire, at the individual and collective levels, attitudes and choices that will permit all people to look at the future with greater trust and hope." It is meant as an "aid for the faithful concerning the Church's teaching in the area of social morality." (Compendium, No. 10)

For those, then, that confront the felt injustices of the world and her structures and institutions, for those who believe that they are their brother's keeper and want to extend a helping hand, for those who want to fix not only the is, but also the is with, for those who want to avoid being officious intermeddlers and mere social gadflies who do more harm than good, the Compendium is a valuable resource.

It is, in fact, a vade mecum that ought to be in the hand of every bishop, every priest, every religious, and every lay person in the Church. Indeed, it ought to find itself in the hands of our separated brothers and sisters in Christ, in the hands of those of other faiths, and in the hands of all men and women of good will. It comes with the same impetus, the same hope as the coming of Christ, of whom it bears witness: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will." Luke 2:14.
By means of the present document [the Compendium], the Church intends to offer a contribution of truth to the question of man's place in nature and in human society, a question faced by civilizations and cultures in which expressions of human wisdom are found . . . . The direction that human existence, society, and history will take depends largely on the answers given to the questions of man's place in nature and society; the purpose of the present document is to make a contribution to these answers. . . . The Church . . . intends with this document on her social doctrine to propose to all men and women a humanism that is up to the standards of God's plan of love in history, an integral and solidary humanism capable of creating a new social, economic, and political order founded on the dignity and freedom of every human person, to be brought about in peace, justice, and solidarity.
(Compendium, No. 14-15, 19)

The Compendium is the guide to the is with in all our lives. It is a sure guidance to those who feel that they are their brother's keeper, the brother who always is with them. It is, in fact, a compendium or exposition of the second table of the Ten Commandments, which Christ encapsulated in that Golden Rule: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Cf. Luke 10:26; Mark 12:31.