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.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The International Community, Stoic Contributions

WHEN DIOGENES OF SINOPE WAS ASKED from whence he came, he answered, "I am a citizen of the world." The word he used when he uttered somewhere around 412 B.C. was kosmopolitēs, from which we obtain the word cosmopolitan. In the Greek milieu in which he answered--focused so much upon the individual city, the polis--Diogenes's concept transcended the conventional.

That concept was taken by the Stoics and expanded as a central them of their political philosophy. For example, the "grave and holy"** Hierocles (f. 2nd century A.D.) describes the Stoic cosmopolitanism as a series of concentric circles of community, from self, to nuclear family, to extended family, to local community, etc. extending more broadly until the outer circle of humanity itself. At this outer level was the cosmopolis. Each and every man was composed of a layered reality, and just as it was a false conception to focus only and self in disregard of outer layers, so likewise it was a false conception to focus on the most general layer--humanity--and neglect the interior core of self. Though the concept was Cynic in origin, it was embraced by the Stoic philosophers, and we find it in full flower with the Roman Stoics. For example, we find the notion peppered in the writings of Cicero.*** The Roman concept viewed the cosmopolis as an outermost community of men governed by natural law.

"Hierocles's Circle"

The early Church found an affinity between the moral teachings of Christ and the Stoic philosophers. For example, it found an allied philosophical thought in the Stoic notion of the natural law and the Stoic notion of the cosmopolis. However, the Church did not accept the Stoic philosophy wholesale, but adapted it, conformed it, and synthesized it with the truths of the Gospel. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains:

Nowhere was Stoic cosmopolitanism itself more influential than in early Christianity. Early Christians took the later Stoic recognition of two cities as independent sources of obligation and added a twist. For the Stoics, the citizens of the polis and the citizens of the cosmopolis do the same work: both aim to improve the lives of the citizens. The Christians respond to a different call: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's” (Matthew 22:21). On this view, the local city may have divine authority (John 19:11; cf. Romans 13:1,4,7), but the most important work for human goodness is removed from traditional politics, set aside in a sphere in which people of all nations can become “fellow-citizens with the saints” (Ephesians 2:20).†

It is therefore from this confluence of a biblical stream and the Stoic stream that the Church sees, at the outermost circle of our obligations, an obligation to humankind which it calls the "universal common good." This Stoic notion of men bound by one God and one universal moral law, and the compatible Scriptural notion of one God, one Redeemer, and one Golden Rule, is at the heart of its vision of the international order.

*Diogenes Laertius, The Lives of Eminent Philosophers VI.63. (κοσμοπολίτης). The work κοσμοπολίτης is a word derived from world or universe or cosmos (Κόσμος) and city or state or polis (Πόλις). A citizen of the city was a πολίτης (politēs) Thus a κοσμοπολίτης is a citizen of the State.
**The description is from Aulus Gelius,
Attic Nights, ix.5.8. Hierocles of Alexandria wrote a book called Elements of Ethics and a book (of which only extracts survive) entitled On Appropriate Acts. It is from this latter text that the notion of the Hierocles's Circle is drawn. See Ilaria Ramelli, Hierocles the Stoic: Elements of Ethics, Fragments, and Excerpts (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009), 123-27. (trans. David Konstan). The fragments are found in Stobaeus (Eclogai, 4.671-3, 11). Related to this is the doctrine of oikeiōsis which describes how these various levels interact and ought to accommodate to each other.
Each one of us is as it were entirely encompassed by many circles, some smaller, others larger, the latter enclosing the former on the basis of their different and unequal dispositions relative to each other. The first and closest circle is the one which a person has draws as though around a center, his own mind. This circle encloses the body and anything taken for the sake of the body. For it is virtually the smallest circle, and amost touches the center itself. Next, the second one further removed from the center but enclosing the first circle; this contains parents, siblings, wife, and children. The third one has in it uncles and aunts, grandparents, nephews, nieces, and cousins. The next circle includes the other relatives, and this is followed by the circle of local residents, then the circle of fellow tribesmen, next that of fellow citizens, and then in the same way the circle of people from neighboring towns, and then the circle of fellow-countrymen. The outermost and largest circle, which encompasses all the rest, is that of the whole human race. Once these have all been surveyed, it is the task of a well-tempered man, in his proper treatment of each group, to draw the circles together somehow towards the center, and to keep zealously transferring those from the enclosing circles into the enclosed ones. It is incumbent on us to respect people from the third circle as if they were those from the second, and again to respect our other relatives as if they were those from the third circle.
(A. Long & D. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), §§ 53B, 57C-D, p. 349)
De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods), II.78, 154; De finibus bonorum et malorum (On the Ends of Good and Evil) III.64, and Paradoxa Stoicorum (Paradoxes of the Stoics) 18. We might cite to De finibus for an example:
Again they hold that the universe is governed by divine will; it is a city or state of which both men and gods are members, and each one of us is a part of this universe; from which it is a natural consequence that we should prefer the common advantage to our own. For just as the laws set the safety of all above the safety of individuals, so a good, wise and law-abiding man, conscious of his duty to the state, studies the advantage of all more than that of himself or of any single individual. The traitor to his country does not deserve greater reprobation than the man who betrays the common advantage or security for the sake of his own advantage or security. This explains why praise is owed to one who dies for the commonwealth, because it becomes us to love our country more than ourselves.

Mundum autem censent regi numine deorum, eumque esse quasi communem urbem et civitatem hominum et deorum, et unum quemque nostrum eius mundi esse partem; ex quo illud natura consequi, ut communem utilitatem nostrae anteponamus. ut enim leges omnium salutem singulorum saluti anteponunt, sic vir bonus et sapiens et legibus parens et civilis officii non ignarus utilitati omnium plus quam unius alicuius aut suae consulit. nec magis est vituperandus proditor patriae quam communis utilitatis aut salutis desertor propter suam utilitatem aut salutem. ex quo fit, ut laudandus is sit, qui mortem oppetat pro re publica, quod deceat cariorem nobis esse patriam quam nosmet ipsos. quoniamque illa vox inhumana et scelerata ducitur eorum, qui negant se recusare quo minus ipsis mortuis terrarum omnium deflagratio consequatur (quod vulgari quodam versu Graeco pronuntiari solet), certe verum est etiam iis, qui aliquando futuri sint, esse propter ipsos consulendum.

†Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (s.v. "Cosmopolitanism").

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The International Community, Biblical Aspects-2

JESUS IS THE UNDERSTOOD in the New Testament as the "new Adam" or the "last Adam." Whereas "in Adam all died, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life." (1 Cor. 15:22) "So, too, it is written, 'The first man, Adam, became a living being,' the last Adam a life-giving spirit." (1 Cor. 15:45)

Church iconography reflects this unity between the first Adam--whose disobedience brought death and division into the world--and the second Adam--whose obedience brought life and the promise, as indicated in the new Adam's highly priestly prayer, that man "may be one" even as the Father and the Son are one(John 17:21)--by showing Christ's death on the Cross occurring at Golgotha, Calvary the "place of the skull" (Matt. 27:33, Mark 15:22) understood as being Adam's skull.

Adam's Skull below the Cross
(Detail from a Crucifixion by Fra Angelico, ca. 1435)

Jesus, the "new Adam," is at the center of the Church's understanding of the international community of nations, the nations to which she addresses the Gospel and seeks to baptize with its truths. "The Lord Jesus is the prototype and foundation of the new humanity." (Compendium, No. 431) Not Moses, not Muhammad, not Buddha, not Kant, not anyone or anything else.

In [Christ Jesus], the true "likeness of God (2 Cor. 4:4), man--who is created in the image of God--finds his fulfillment. In the definite witness of love that God has made manifest in the cross of Christ, all the barriers of enmity have already been torn down (cf. Eph 2:12-18), and for those who live a new life in Christ, racial and cultural differences are no longer causes of division (cf. Rom. 10:12; Gal. 3:26-28; Col. 3:11).

(Compendium, No. 431)

This same Jesus promised to his disciples the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Counselor, the helper who he stated would not come until he went away. "And when he comes," Jesus told his disciples, "he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation: sin, because they do not believe in me; righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned." (John 16: 8-11)
Thanks to the Spirit, the Church is aware of the divine plan of unity that involves the entire human race (cf. Acts 17:26), a plan destined to reunite in the mystery of salvation wrought under the saving Lordship of Christ (cf. Eph 1:8-10) all of created reality, which is fragmented an scattered. From the day of Pentecost, when the Resurrection is announced to diverse peoples, each of whom understand it in their own language (cf. Acts 2:6), the Church fulfills her mission of restoring and bearing witness to the unity lost at Babel. Due to this ecclesial ministry, the human family is called to rediscover its unity and recognize the richness of its differences, in order to attain "full unity in Christ."
(Compendium, No. 431) (quoting VII, LG, 1)

The Church's universality is explained by this "new humanity" that is to arise as the Church preaches its Gospel and fulfills her Lord's command to "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." (Matt. 28:19). This is a "new humanity" not to be brought out by man's efforts, but a "new humanity" wrought by the mission of God in Christ.

The unity of mankind envisioned by the Church is deeply, fundamentally Patrological, Christological and Pneumatological, that is to say Trinitarian. It is informed by Christ, who taught us of the Father, and who promised the Holy Spirit. It is informed by the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Church therefore has a "divine agenda," a holy agenda, a Trinitarian agenda entirely separate and apart from the machinations and designs of men.

"The Christian message," to wit, the Gospel, "offers a universal vision of the life of men and peoples on the earth that makes us realize the unity of the human family." The Compendium makes clear that this unity is the work of God, and not the work of man:

This unity is not to be built on the force of arms, terror or abuse of power; rather, it is the result of that "supreme model of unity, which is a reflection of the intimate life of God, one God in three Persons, ... what we Christians mean by the word 'communion'"; it is an achievement of the moral and cultural force of freedom.

(Compendium, No. 432)

The unity of all mankind, as the Church understands it, is a fruit of the Gospel, and not of any other religious, philosophical, or political tradition.
The Christian message has been decisive for making humanity understand that peoples tend to unite not only because of various forms of organization, politics, economic plans or in the name of an abstract ideological internationalism, but because they freely seek to cooperate, aware "that they are living members of the whole human family."
(Compendium, No. 432) (quoting J XXIII, Pacem in terris, 296)

This is part and parcel of the mandate given to the Church by her Lord to preach to all nations, and bring them into her fold. The unity of men in nature, the nature of the Old Adam, is to made real in the supernatural unity promised them in Christ.

The world community must be presented, over and over again and with ever increasing clarity, as the concrete figure of the unity willed by the Creator.
(Compendium, No. 432) The "figure of unity" is, of course, the new Adam, Christ.

Grace, one may recall, supposes, builds upon, and does not destroy nature. Hence it is that the unity willed by God as reflected in the expressed will of Christ, the new Adam, recognizes a pre-existing unity of all men upon which this supernatural unity in Grace is to be achieved. It is with this understanding that the Compendium closes the introduction to its handling of the international community by quoting John XXIII's encyclical, Pacem in terris (292):
"The unity of the human family has always existed, because its members are human beings all equal by virtue of their natural dignity. Hence there will always exist the objective need to promote, in sufficient measure, the universal common good, which is the common good of the entire human family."
(Compendium, No. 432)

Why does the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church spend its opening paragraphs on the international community on the Biblical narrative? Why this sort of excursus?

Because the Compendium wants to communicate the fact that the Church's vision of the international community is not a secular humanistic vision, but is a Biblical vision, indeed a Christological vision, where "God may be all in all," omnia in omnibus, πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν. (1 Cor. 15:28)

The Church is not interested in building a "tower of unbelief," but she is interested in building the City of God. She looks to the Lord on the Cross, who uttered the words, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani (Matt. 27:46), a reference to the opening words of Psalm 22, a Psalm which itself contains the intendment of the Church's teaching, a Psalm which we may quote in the same languages as those contained under the sign that Jesus languished in the eyes of the world, but, in the eyes of God, emerged a victor over sin and death:
μνησθήσονται καὶ ἐπιστραφήσονται
πρὸς κύριον πάντα τὰ πέρατα τῆς γῆς
καὶ προσκυνήσουσιν ἐνώπιόν σου
πᾶσαι αἱ πατριαὶ τῶν ἐθνῶν
ὅτι τοῦ κυρίου ἡ βασιλεία
καὶ αὐτὸς δεσπόζει τῶν ἐθνῶν

recordabuntur et convertentur ad Dominum
omnes fines terrae
et adorabunt coram eo
universae cognationes gentium,
quia Domini est regnum
et dominabitur gentibus

יזכרו וישבו אל־יהוה כל־אפסי־ארץ
וישתחוו לפניך כל־משפחות גוים׃
כי ליהוה המלוכה ומשל בגוים׃

All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD;
All the families of nations
will bow low before him.
For kingship belongs to the LORD,
the ruler over the nations.
(Psalm 22:27-28 [21:28-29])

These are the words of the New Adam, the Son of Man.

*Quoting from, and citing to, John Paul II, Address to the Fiftieth General Assembly of the United Nations (5 October 1995), 12: L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 11 October 1995, p. 9.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The International Community, Biblical Aspects-1

“GOD REIGNS OVER THE NATIONS," regnavit Deus super gentes. (Ps. 47:8 [46:9]) It is with this understanding of God's universal reign that the Church assesses the relationship between nations.

Beginning with creation, it is apparent that God's creative action "embraces the whole world and the entire human family." (Compendium, No. 428) It is for God for which all creation, that creation which "awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God," which is "subject to futility . . because of the one who subjected in hope," the creation which "would be set free from slavery to corruption," which hopes to "share in the glorious freedom of the children of God," which is "groaning in labor pains even until now," is destined. (Rom. 8:19-22) "Creation is the foundation of 'all God's saving plans,' the 'beginning of the history of salvation' that culminates in Christ." CCC § 279 (quoting GCD, 51).

In particular, God's "decision to make man in his image and likeness gives the human being a unique dignity that extends to all generations and throughout the entire earth." Man is the only creature "that God has willed for its own sake." (Gaudium et spes, § 3). There is no human being in any time and any place that did not bear God's image and likeness and who did not have the common destiny in God.

Even when God seeks man and reveals himself to particular men in particular places in particular nations--in Noah, in Abraham, in Moses, in the Hebrew prophets--his message was not particular to Israel, but was already universal in semine, in germ. The covenant with Noah, betokened by the rainbow, is not for Noah alone, but for every living creature and every generation. Gen. 9:1-7. Indeed, as if to highlight the universality of the Noahide covenant, we find immediately after the Noahide covenant the so-called Völkertafel or "Table of Nations," where the Scripture "presents with admiration the diversity of peoples, the result of God's creative activity." (Gen. 10:1-32) Here the Scriptures relates the generations of the sons of Japheth, Ham, and Shem. These, in the view of the Scriptures, were the postdiluvian progenitors of all humankind. All humans come from Adam through Japheth, Ham, and Shem, all heirs to the Noahide covenant.* And all peoples had "one language and the same words," and indeed the same fundamental law.

Orbis Terrarum (OT) or Beatine Map from St. Isidore's Etymology
Dividing the World Between Japeth, Shem, and Ham

Humanity, however, became divided and lost its original unity. This reality is told us in the story of the Tower of Babel, the "tower of unbelief."** And where unbelief reigned, faith had to be renewed. So it was in the covenant that God established with Abraham, "the father of all those who believe," both those circumcised and uncircumcised, which is to say, the whole world. (Rom. 4:9-12) Along with being a "father of faith," Abraham was the "father of a multitude of nations." (Gen. 17:4). So the unbelief that led to the division in men was to be repaired by faith in God which would open "the way for the human family to make a return to its Creator." (Compendium, No. 430) All nations are to find unity not through unbelief, but though faith in God who is the Father of all humankind.

God's revelation to man continued: in the patriarchs, in Moses, and the Prophets. The message was particular, but universal in its particularity. "Little by little, however, the conviction grows that God is at work also among other nations." (Compendium, No. 430) "Blessed by my people Egypt, and the words of my hands Assyria, and my inheritance, Israel." (Isaiah 19:25) Israel's prophets intimate that the particularity of Israel's election will spill over to become universal in scope:
In days to come, The mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it;
many peoples shall come and say: "Come, let us climb the LORD'S mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, That he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths." For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.
Isaiah 2:2-3
I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.
I will set a sign among them; from them I will send fugitives to the nations: to Tarshish, Put and Lud, Mosoch, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations.
They shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, on horses and in chariots, in carts, upon mules and dromedaries, to Jerusalem, my holy mountain, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their offering to the house of the LORD in clean vessels.
Some of these I will take as priests and Levites, says the LORD.
As the new heavens and the new earth which I will make Shall endure before me, says the LORD, so shall your race and your name endure.
From one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, All mankind shall come to worship before me, says the LORD.
Isaiah 66:18-23.

It is this particularity of the election of Israel which intimates a universal message which become even more particularized--in one God-man Jesus--and yet so universal as to extends to the ends of the earth, even beyond history. The same Jesus who told the Samaritan woman that salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22), also says that "I am the way and the truth and the life" and "no one comes to the Father but through me." (John 14:6) This same Jesus also said, "I am the light of the world." (John 8:12) Here we find incarnate in the God-Man Jesus, both the scandal of particularity and the scandal of universality.***
*For the Noahide covenant, the sheva mitsvot benei Noah as an expression of the natural moral law binding all men, see The Way of the Edomite, the Ammonite, the Moabite, and the Ishmaelite.
**So called by Thomas Merton in his play, "The Tower of Babel," Thomas P. McDonnel, A Thomas Merton Reader (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962), 393.
***For the "scandal of particularity," see Religious Freedom for the Church of Christ (footnote).

Monday, March 26, 2012

Religious Freedom for the Church of Christ

THE ISSUE OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM is cleft into two. There is the religious freedom and freedom of conscience that is part and parcel of the natural man who seeks the truth, the homo quaerens Deum. But there is also the religious freedom and freedom of conscience that arises out of the Deus quarens in homine hominem, that is to say the God who seeks man in man, God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, and the Church which he founded.

The Church was founded by Jesus Christ, and so we have to focus on who this Jesus Christ was, and what authority in heaven and earth was given him in order to understand what authority in heaven and on earth was given to the Church. As the Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith puts it in Dominus Iesus, "The Lord Jesus, before ascending into heaven, commanded his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world and to baptize all nations . . . . The Church's universal mission is born from the command of Jesus Christ and is fulfilled in the course of the centuries in the proclamation of the mystery of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the mystery of the incarnation of the Son, as saving event for all humanity." DI, 1. We have here two realities: Jesus and the Church. We shall briefly treat of who Jesus is, and then what the Church Jesus established sees herself to be.*

This reflection will take us directly into what the Protestant theologian Gerhard Kittel, in Mysterium Christi, called "das Ärgernis der Einmaligkeit," which been translated as "the scandal of particularity," the scandal of particularity of Christ.** Because of the Catholic Church's doctrine that there is a unity between Christ and his Church, the "scandal of particularity" also includes the Church. The "scandal of particularity" wholly rejects a religious indifferentism, and this "scandal of particularity" has a great effect upon the Church's understanding of her freedom as against the various States.

The Church firmly believes "that, in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who is 'the way, the truth, and the life' (Jn 14:6), the full revelation of divine truth is given." DI, 5. She is convinced that in the revelation of God in Jesus, "the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines forth," as he is "at the same time the mediator and the fullness of all revelation." DI, 5. Jesus ushered into the history of man a new dispensation, a Christian dispensation, and this is "the new and definitive covenant," one which "will never pass away," and one which expects "no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ." God's revelation to man is fully completed in Christ. There is for man no other Savior. There is for man no other Way.

There is only one salvific economy of the One and Triune God, realized in the mystery of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, actualized with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, and extended in its salvific value to all humanity and to the entire universe: "No one, therefore, can enter into communion with God except through Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit."

DI, 12 (quoting John Paul II, Redemptoris missio, 5)

"The Lord Jesus, the only Savior," continues Dominus Iesus, "did not only establish a simple community of disciples, but constituted the Church as a salvific mystery: he himself is in the Church and the Church is in him (cf. Jn 15:1ff.; Gal 3:28; Eph 4:15-16; Acts 9:5). Therefore, the fullness of Christ's salvific mystery belongs also to the Church, inseparably united to her Lord." In short, just as there is one mediator, there is one Church. "[T]herefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him."* DI, 17.

The Church was given a mission by the God who revealed himself in Christ. "With the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ, God has willed that the Church founded by him be the instrument for the salvation of all humanity (cf. Acts 17:30-31)." DI, 22 (citing VII, Lumen gentium, 17; JP II, Redemptoris missio, 11). "The mission of the Church is 'to proclaim and establish among all peoples the kingdom of Christ and of God, and she is on earth, the seed and the beginning of that kingdom." DI, 18 (quoting VII, Lumen gentium, 5) She has been divinely appointed to proclaim and to establish, to say and to do.

What rights, then do Jesus and his Church have against civil society, in particular against the political community which orders civil society? Those answer to that question is briefly treated in sections 424-27 of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Like the State, the Church manifests itself in a "visible organizational structure." It is, along with the State, a "perfect society" with all the means at its disposal for its function. (Compendium, No. 445) To be sure, the "organizational structures . . . are by nature different because of their configuration and because of the ends they pursue." (Compendium, No. 424). Their respective ends principally determine their spheres, although, since societies and the men which compose them are one and not divided, they may be some overlap. "The Second Vatican Council," the Compendium states, "solemnly reaffirmed that, 'in their proper spheres, the political community and the Church are mutually independent and self-governing.'
The Church is organized in ways that are suitable to meet the spiritual needs of the faithful, while the different political communities give rise to relationships and institutions that are at the service of everything that is part of the temporal common good. The autonomy and independence of these two realities is particularly evident with regards to their ends.
(Compendium, No. 424)

The State must not only respect the religious freedom of its citizens and of the religious bodies in which they, as demanded by the natural moral law which impels those of good will to seek truth, to accept it once recognized, and to live their life in accordance with their well-formed conscience as they travel--knowingly or in ignorance--to the one True God. The State must in particular respect the religious freedom of the Church, as a perfect society, one whose constitution and function is by divine warrant. With respect to the Church, "[t]he duty to respect religious freedom requires that the political community guarantee the Church the space needed to carry out her mission." (Compendium, No. 424) Failure to do so is against the will of God.

It should be noted that though the State and the Church have their separate spheres, this separation does not exclude overlap, nor does it exclude cooperation. In those areas that are the States, the Church has no role, but in those areas of overlap, the Church does have say, even in democratically-organized societies:

"The Church respects the legitimate autonomy of the democratic order and is not entitled to express preferences for this or that institutional or constitutional solution." nor does it belong to her to enter into questions of the merit of political programs, except as concerns their religious or moral implications.

(Compendium, No. 424 (quoting JP II, Centesimus annus, 47)

In a well-ordered society, the political community and the Church will not be at odds, but will cooperate for the benefit of the common good and salvation of souls:
The mutual autonomy of the Church and the political community does not entail a separation that excludes cooperation. Both of them, although by different titles, serve the personal and social vocation of the same human beings. The Church and the political community, in fact, express themselves in organized structures that are not ends in themselves but are intended for the service of man, to help him to exercise his rights fully, those inherent in his reality as a citizen and a Christian, and to fulfill correctly his corresponding duties. The Church and the political community can more effectively render this service "for the good of all if each works better for wholesome mutual cooperation in a way suitable to the circumstances of time and place."
(Compendium, No. 425 (quoting VII, Gaudium et spes, 76)

The Church likewise claims rights, rights which every State is duty-bound to recognize, as it is God's will as reflected in the fullest revelation of that will in Christ the Lord. We might therefore craft a sort of "Bill of Rights" of the Church as summarized by the Compendium:
  • The right to the legal recognition of her proper identity
  • The right to express her moral judgment on "all of human reality," to the extent that it may be needful to "defend the fundamental rights of the person or for the salvation of souls."
  • The right to freedom of expression
  • The right to teach and to evangelize
  • The right to worship God in a public manner
  • The right to her own organization, her own internal government, without interference from the State, including the right to select, educate, name, and transfer ministers
  • The right to construct religious buildings
  • The right to acquire and possess sufficient goods for her activity
  • The right to form associations not only for religious purposes, but also for educational, cultural, health case, and charitable purposes

This is the "elbow room" that is her right, by natural and divine law.***

The relationship between Church and State may be further ordered through agreements between them. As the Compendium concludes:

In order to prevent or attenuate possible conflicts between the Church and the political community, the juridical experience of the Church and the State have variously defined stable forms of contact and suitable instruments for guaranteeing harmonious relations. This experience is an essential reference point for all cases in which the State has the presumption to invade the Church's area of action, impairing the freedom of her activity to the point of openly persecuting her or, vice versa, for cases in which church organizations do not act properly with respect to the State.
(Compendium, No. 427)

*I am dealing with the core reality of Jesus and his Church. I do not intend to address the more difficult issue of how other adherents of other religions and other Christian churches and ecclesial communions may relate to Christ and his Church and implicitly, and despite their various errors or deficiencies, may participate in a way known to God alone who desires the universal salvation of mankind, in the salvation of Christ which is to be found in his Church. See generally Dominus Iesus. These subsidiary issues, while important, do not change the central reality of Jesus and his Church which is what drives the Church's understanding of her particular religious freedom and freedom of conscience.
**The Oxford English Dictionary states (s.v. "scandal of particularity") the following:
scandal of particularity [tr. Ger. (see quots. 1930, 1936)], the difficulty of seeing the particular man, Jesus, as the universal Saviour. Cf. PARTICULARITY 1.
1930 tr. G. Kittel in Bell & Deissmann Mysterium Christi ii. 31 The scandal of the problem of history. Can a particular historical happening be peculiar? Can it be significant sub specie aeternitatis? And above all, can this particular occurrence be either peculiar or significant? 1936 C. H. Dodd Apostolic Preaching & its Development iv. 219 ‘Like a strange people left on earth After a judgment day.’ This view of the historical status of the events comprised in the coming of Christ introduces us at once to what Professor Gerhard Kittel, in Mysterium Christi, calls ‘das Ärgernis der Einmaligkeit’, ‘the scandal of particularity’. 1961 Listener 9 Mar. 435/2 We do no service to religion by reducing either term of the problem, the total mystery of the Godhead or the scandal of particularity. 1979 C. F. D. Moule in M. D. Goulder Incarnation & Myth iv. 86 The ‘scandal of particularity’ is by no means a denial but rather a confirmation of the ubiquity and continuity of God's activity.

It should go without saying that by quoting this valuable concept, I abjure any of Kittel's anti-Semitism.
***Communist governments (e.g., China) and Islamic governments (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, etc.) grossly violate these rights, and so, in their laws which prevent the Church from exercising freely her mission, may be said to be acting manifestly against the will of God as revealed both in the natural moral law and in divine law as contained in the Gospels. Particularly offensive are the actions of the Islamic countries which, ostensibly in name of God act against the will of God.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Religious Freedom and Freedom of Conscience

IN EXPLORING THE ISSUE OF RELIGIOUS freedom, we may conveniently divide the issue into two. The first, the issue of religious freedom as a fundamental human right. The second, the relationship between that fundamental human freedom and the Catholic Church. In this blog posting we shall deal with the first issue. In the next blog posting, we shall deal with the second.

For the first matter, we must turn to human nature which, indeed, is the source and foundation of the natural moral law, and hence also the source of human right. Man has a natural inclination, an intellectual and felt need, to seek the truth and to worship God. He has this inclination to seek the truth and to worship God irrespective of, one might say "before" coming upon, God's own revelation of Himself as Truth, and God's revelation to man as to the means of worship.

In short, there is in man a religious impulse. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it: "The desire for God is written in the human heart," and this desire is satisfied only with the God that reason only outlines in the most vague way. This religious impulse, of course, is what explains the world's religions, since these represent cultural expressions of man-seeking-God, of homo quaerens Deum. We find it so beautifully displayed--albeit with admixture of error--in, for example, the writings of Plato, in Cicero, and in some of the sacred and philosophical texts of Hinduism.* In dealing with the issue of religious freedom and freedom of conscience, we are not yet dealing the God of revelation, the Deus revelatus. We are not yet dealing with the Deus quaerens hominem, the God seeking man of the Old Testament, much less the Deus quaerens in homine hominem, as St. Augustine so beautifully put it in one of his sermons, the God seeking man in man of the New Testament. (375/C)

This religious impulse or natural inclination is of the natural law, and the natural law is therefore the source of those rights, specifically, the right to religious freedom. Man, alone and with others of his kind, must be free to exercise this religious impulse, to search for the truth and for God in freedom, to find that balm of Gilead for his restless heart. It is this natural inclination that is ordered to truth and to God that the Church seeks to protect when she proclaimed in the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae the right of the person and of communities to social and civil freedom in religious matters. As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church elaborates:

In order that this freedom, willed by God and inscribed in human nature, may be exercised, no obstacle should be placed in its way, since "the truth cannot be imposed except by virtue of its own truth." The dignity of the person and the very nature of the quest for God require that all men and women should be free from every constraint in the area of religion. Society and the State must not force a person to act against his conscience or prevent him from acting in conformity with it.

Freedom of conscience and religion 'concerns man both individually and socially." The right to religious freedom must be recognized in the judicial order and sanctioned as a civil right . . . . .

(Compendium, No. 421) (quoting DH, 1; citing DH, 2, 3; CCC 2106, 2108)

Inextricably intertwined with religious freedom is the freedom of conscience, since conscience, though not infallible, is nothing less than man's internal window to God, a "window through which one can see outward to that common truth which founds and sustains us all." It is the aperture of the soul wherein man finds an "openness to the ground of his being, the power of perception for what is highest and most essential." It is the soul's route by which "the way to the redemptive road to truth," into "a 'co-knowing' with the truth" that is God, is gained. This is the conscience which Cardinal Ratzinger once described as "an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine."**

The right to religious freedom and freedom of conscience is therefore one ordered to truth and to God. It is for this reason, that the the Church distinguishes between "religious freedom" and "freedom of conscience," and what might be called "religious license" or moral libertinism. "Religious freedom is not a moral license to adhere to error," nor should it be viewed as "an implicit right to error." (Compendium, No. 421) (citing CCC 2108) It is ordered to the truth and to good, ultimately God who is the source of both truth and good.

Properly understood, therefore, freedom of conscience and of religion "is not of itself an unlimited right." (Compendium, No. 422)

What, then, are the just limits of this freedom?
The just limits of the exercise of religious freedom must be determined in each social situation with political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority through legal norms consistent with the objective moral order.
(Compendium, No. 422)

The "objective moral order" is a reference to the natural law. Therefore, there is no religious freedom or freedom of conscience that would justify a right to breach the natural moral law. Consequently, the just limits of religious freedom or freedom of conscience may include prohibitions of practices against, or offensive to, the natural moral law. For example, it would not be a violation of religious freedom or freedom of conscience to prohibit polygamy or family intermarriage, human or animal sacrifice, or religions that practiced offensive sexual religious rituals or which advocated assassination, violence, or disobedience to positive laws that were in accord with natural law.

The reason behind imposing just limits on freedom of religion and of conscience relates to the public order and the common good:

Such norms are required by "the need for the effective safeguarding of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also by the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally by the need for a proper guardianship of public morality."

(Compendium, No. 422) (quoting DH, 7).

Since the natural moral law binds all men regardless of confession, and since religious freedom and freedom of conscience find their source in the natural moral law itself, it is reasonable to impose upon all men limits based upon that natural moral law. In other words, religious freedom and freedom of conscience (which are founded on the natural moral law) do not provide freedom or license for beliefs or acts that are contrary to that very same natural moral law.

Finally, the Church recognizes the intrinsic historical and cultural ties that a religious tradition may have with a people, and recognizes that the common good might allow for "special recognition" of that reality. Thus, the Church might recognize that the natural moral law would not be violated if special recognition were given to Islam in Saudi Arabia, Hinduism in India, Catholicism in Malta, or a more vague Christianity in the United States. These would be justified because of those particular religions' ties to those countries. But even so, religious freedom and freedom of conscience survive such "special recognition."
Such norms are required by "the need for the effective safeguarding of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also by the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally by the need for a proper guardianship of public morality."
(Compendium, No. 423) (quoting JPII, Message for the 1999 World Day of Peace, 5)

*I have in mind in particular the Katha Upanishad VI.12:
Not by speech, not by mind,
Not by sight can He be apprehended.
How can He be comprehended
Otherwise than by one's saying "He is"? . . .
I also have in mind the Shvetashvatara Upanishad III.7, 9:
Higher than this is Brahman. The Supreme, the Great,
Hidden in all things, body by body,
The One embracer of the universe--
By knowing Him as Lord, men become immortal.
. . . .
Than whom there is naught else higher,
Than whom there is naught smaller, naught greater.
Quotes from Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, eds., A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy (Princeton University Press, 1957). I find the former eerily similar to the revelation of God to Moses, and the latter reminiscent of St. Anselm's ontological proof of God. Hinduism is, of course, an eclectic hodgepodge of a religion, and includes sects within it which are crassly materialistic as well as some which reach very near the heights of monotheism, and all sorts in between.
**Joseph Ratzinger, On Conscience (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007), passim. One cannot understand the Church's teaching on religious freedom without understanding what she means by "conscience." This is not a word by which one can excuse all manner of beliefs and activities, one's wishes, desires, tastes, or society's conventions. As the Puritan Thomas Brooks captured the concept it in his epistle "The Privy Key of Heaven": "Conscience is God's deputy, God's spy, God's notary, God's viceroy." Thomas Brooks, The Complete Words of Thomas Brooks, "The Privy Key of Heaven"(London: James Nisbet & Co., 1866), Vol. 2, p. 150.

It is also valuable to reflect on conscience along the lines of the Platonic anamnesis, which Ratzinger in his reflection does, or as a dim memory of Eden or an implanted proto-monotheism or urmonotheismus, as did the linguist, anthropologist, and ethnologist Fr. Wilhelm Schmidt, S.V.D.

In the words of Orestes Brownson:
The soul appears to every nice observer to retain traces of a lost grandeur, and to be filled with an undying regret for what once was, but is no longer, hers. She appears to be tortured by her reminiscences. Even before illumined by faith, she regards herself as expelled from her early home, as an exile from her native country, and a sojourn-er in a strange land. She bears with her the secret memory of a lost paradise, for which she sighs, and with her recollections of which, dim and fading though they be, she contrasts whatever she finds in the land of her exile. What is the poetry of all nations but the low wail or wild lament of the soul over her lost Eden, the music in which she expresses the wearisomeness of her banishment, and her longing to return and dwell again in the sweet bowers of her early youth, of her childhood's home?
Orestest Brownson, "Admonitions to Protestants No. 3," Brownson's Quarterly Review (July 1848). Pascal referred to this as the feeling of unsettledness, unhappiness even, coming from the fact that we have fallen from a better nature that was once us, we are, as it were, fallen royalty. This is the "greatness" and yet the "wretchedness" of man. But it is what spurs him on, his hound of heaven:
In order to make man happy, it must prove to him that there is a God; that we ought to love Him; that our true happiness is to be in Him, and our sole evil to be separated from Him; it must recognize that we are full of darkness which hinders us from knowing and loving Him; and that thus, as our duties compel us to love God, and our lusts turn us away from Him, we are full of unrighteousness. It must give us an explanation of our opposition to God and to our own good. It must teach us the remedies for these infirmities, and the means of obtaining these remedies. Let us therefore examine all the religions of the world, and see if there be any other than the Christian which is sufficient for this purpose.
Pensées, No. 430. To preserve and allow for this Pascalian search for happiness, which first leads to the God of the philosophers and then quickly progresses further to the God of Christianity, is the reason for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. This uniquely human quest, this yearning for the Other, for the First Cause, for the One, the Good, the Beautiful, for the I am Who am, ultimately for the Triune God and communion with Him by Grace, is the most valuable human endeavor, greater far than any earthly good. It is therefore, the right of rights.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Democracy: Relationship Between State and Civil Society

THE POLITICAL COMMUNITY, i.e., the political life, finds itself within a greater reality, what the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church calls "civil society." The Compendium defines civil society as the "sum of the relationships between individuals and intermediate social groupings, which are the first relationships to arise and which come about thanks to 'the creative subjectivity of the citizen.'" (Compendium, No. 185) (quoting JP II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 15). It also defines it a little more broadly as "the sum of relationships and resources, cultural and associative, that are relatively independent from the political sphere and the economic sector." (Compendium, No. 417) Civil society is, in a sense, an organic and therefore "messy" reality:

Civil society is in fact multifaceted and irregular; it does not lack its ambiguities and contradictions. It is also the arena where different interests clash with one another, with the risk that the stronger will prevail over the weaker.

(Compendium, No. 418) Civil society as distinguished from political and economic relationships, and is frequently referred to as the "third sector."
The activities of civil society — above all volunteer organizations and cooperative endeavors in the private-social sector, all of which are succinctly known as the “third sector,” to distinguish from the State and the market — represent the most appropriate ways to develop the social dimension of the person, who finds in these activities the necessary space to express himself fully. The progressive expansion of social initiatives beyond the State- controlled sphere creates new areas for the active presence and direct action of citizens, integrating the functions of the State. This important phenomenon has often come about largely through informal means and has given rise to new and positive ways of exercising personal rights, which have brought about a qualitative enrichment of democratic life.
(Compendium, No. 419)

Because civil society proceeds with relative autonomy, it does need some ordering. Hence, civil society needs a political community, a political order, ultimate formalized into a State. The relationship between the political community and civil society (and hence the State and civil society) is threatened by two extreme ideologies, extreme individualism or atomism, on the one hand, and collectivism, on the other hand. Though their view of the relationship between the individual and civil society are at opposite poles, they lead to the same practical result: the absorption of civil society into the political community. The Church warns us to steer clear of these two ideologies and advocates a "social pluralism" which rejects both extremes, accepts that which is true in both, to the end of "bringing about a more fitting arrangement of the common good and democracy itself, according to the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, and justice." (Compendium, 417)

Several truths must be kept in mind in understanding the relationship between the political community and civil society. First, one should keep in mind that the political community "originates" from civil society. (Compendium, No. 417) Second, the "political community and civil society, although mutually connected and inter-dependent, are not equal in the hierarchy of ends." (Compendium, No. 418) In the hierarchy of ends, the political community is clearly subordinate to civil society. The political community is "at the service of civil society."

Holding to a proper understanding between civil society and the individual, helps us see that "in the final analysis" the political community will be at the service of "the persons and groups of which civil society is composed." (Compendium, No. 418) Because the political community is subordinate to civil society, it is an error to see civil society as "an extension or a changing component of the political community." To the contrary, it is civil society that "has priority" over the political community, "because it is in civil society itself that the political community finds its justification." (Compendium, No. 418)

The State is the formal expression of the political community, and it is charged with the task of providing an "adequate legal framework for social subjects," what we call its citizens, "to engage freely in their different activities." The State and its agencies "must be ready to intervene, when necessary and with respect for the principal of subsidiary, so that the interplay between free associations and democratic life may be directed to the common good." (Compendium, No. 418). To this degree, one might view the state as a "night watchman state," but, as we shall see, it is more than a "night watchman state."*

"The political community is responsible for regulating its relations with civil society according to the principle of subsidiarity." (Compendium, No. 419) Its role should be hands-off unless the various associations of which civil society is composed are unable responsibly to handle the matter, and any intervention should be one in aid, and not in replacement of, the activities of that part of civil association.

The Church discourages Statism, insists on the principle of subsidiarity, and its social doctrine actively supports and encourages the role of the "third sector" as the means of humanizing, de-bureaucratizing, de-politicizing and advancing the needs of persons within civil society. It sees the third sector as the means also of removing the plague of extreme individualistic competition (dog-eat-dog) too often found in a disordered economic sector, and replacing it with more personalist notions of cooperation and solidarity.

Cooperation, even in its less structured forms, shows itself to be one of the most effective responses to a mentality of conflict and unlimited competition that seems so prevalent today. The relationships that are established in a climate of cooperation and solidarity overcome ideological divisions, prompting people to seek out what unites them rather than what divides them.

Many experiences of volunteer work are examples of great value that call people to look upon civil society as a place where it is possible to rebuild a public ethic based on solidarity, concrete cooperation and fraternal dialogue. All are called to look with confidence to the potentialities that thus present themselves and to lend their own personal efforts for the good of the community in general and, in particular, for the good of the weakest and the neediest. In this way, the principle of the “subjectivity of society” is also affirmed.

(Compendium, No. 420)
*The phrase "night-watchman state" (Nachtwächterstaat) was coined by the German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle in speech on April 12, 1862. He used the term in a critical, polemical sense, caricaturing the "bourgeois" liberal limited government state, the laissez faire et laissez passer ("let do and let pass") State by comparing it to a night watchman whose sole duty was preventing theft. The phrase quickly caught on as a description of limited government. It should be noted that Lasalle's own vision of the State was frightening and ominous, in that he viewed the State similar to Hobbes, using the expression "The State is God" ("Der Staat ist Gott"). According to Ludwig von Mises, Lassalle's view of the State would make the State concerned with "the preparation of sauerkraut, with the manufacturer of trouser buttons, or with the publication of newspapers." (Doch es ist nicht einzusehen, warum der Nachtwächterstaat lächerlicher oder schlechter sein sollte als der Staat, der sich mit der Sauerkrautzurichtung, mit der Fabrikation von Hosenknöpfen oder mit der Herausgabe von Zeitungen befaßt.) Ludwig von Mises: Liberalismus (Jena: Verlag von Gustav Fischer, 1927), 33.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Democracy: Political Parties and the Media

IN HIS FAREWELL ADDRESS, President Washington famously warned against the "danger of parties," "the baneful effects of the spirit of party," and "the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party."

[The party spirit] serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

Originally, of course, there were no political parties in the United States. Washington's concerns, unfortunately, were not theoretical, and they were aimed at the incipient incarnations of the "spirit of party" as Hamilton was busy forming the Federalist Party and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were busy forming the Democratic-Republican Party.

Washington's warnings went unheeded, and our country has either suffered or enjoyed a party system ever since. It is simply part of the political landscape.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church has a few words to say about political parties. It reminds us, not of the evils, but of the good of political parties, yet warns that they--like all things political--must be ordered to the common good and not to private interests, to what James Madison would call the "mischiefs of faction."

For the Compendium, political parties ought to be a door into democratic government. "Political parties have the tasks of fostering widespread participation and making public responsibilities accessible to all." (Compendium, No. 413) How this participatory function works in a Two-party System such as we effectively have in the United States, will be different than how that function works in Multi-party systems such as is more typically the case in democratic governments worldwide. In either event:
Political parties are called to interpret the aspirations of civil society, orienting them towards the common good, offering citizens the effective possibility of contributing to the formulation of political choices.
(Compendium, No. 413)

Political parties should be organized with a view to their participatory function. Therefore, they "must be democratic in their internal structure." Moreover, they must have internal systems of government so that they are "capable of political synthesis and planning." (Compendium, No. 413)

Political participation should not be limited to participation through the party system. The Compendium also advocates participation through referendum, "whereby a form of direct access to political decisions is practiced." The Compendium notes that the institution of representative government "does not exclude the possibility of asking citizens directly about the decisions of great importance for social life." (Compendium, No. 413)

In order to participate effectively in political life--whether through political parties, through referenda, or otherwise, the citizen must have access to information. "Information," the Compendium reminds us, "is among the principal instruments of democratic participation." (Compendium, No. 414)

The Compendium sees the media as the principal organ which allows participation in government by the people. The media's role is to provide information to the public. Such information is essential for political participation because "without an understanding of the situation of the political community, the facts and the proposed solutions to problems is unthinkable." (Compendium, No. 414)

"An informed citizenry is the bulwark of democracy," is a quote frequently attributed to Thomas Jefferson. But whether Jefferson said it or not, it is undeniably true that it represents the sentiments of both Jefferson and every other Founding Father.*

Because of the media's important role in the political process, in assuring an informed electorate, and in preserving freedom, the Compendium expresses concern about the control of that media. It advocates a sort of subsidiarity in the media, and is highly suspicious of concentrations of power in the media:

Among the obstacles that hinder the full exercise of the right to objectivity in information, special attention must be given to the phenomenon of the news media being controlled by just a few people or groups. This has a dangerous effect for the entire democratic system when this phenomenon is accompanied by ever closer ties between governmental activity and the financial and information establishments.

(Compendium, No. 414) The Compendium therefore advocates a diversely owned and highly variegated media, and encourages that all be done to achieve this.
It is necessary to guarantee a real pluralism in this delicate area of social life, ensuring that there are many forms and instruments of information and communications. It is likewise necessary to facilitate conditions of equality in the possession and use of these instruments by means of appropriate laws.
(Compendium, No. 414)

The Compendium sees the media as essentially ordered to the common good. "Society has a right to information based on truth, freedom, justice, and solidarity," the Compendium states quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2494). The media's purpose is not only to inform the public so that they may participate actively and intelligently in public life, the media also serve to "build up and sustain the human community in its different sectors: economic, political, cultural, educational, and religious." (Compendium, No. 414)

Though it unquestionably ought to be free, the media have responsibility. With the media's freedom comes responsibility: the freedom of the different forms of media is given them to do what they want, but do do what they ought. "Moral values and principles apply also to the media" (Compendium, No. 416) And this moral or ethical dimension means an effort to be objective, to respect legitimate cultural differences, but most importantly to communicate truth. In this regard, the Church is personalist and holistic:

The essential question is whether the current information system is contributing to the betterment of the human person; that is, does it make people more spiritually mature, more aware of the dignity of their humanity, more responsible or more open to others, in particular to the neediest and the weakest.

(Compendium, No. 415)

In fact, this is how the media is judged:
In all three areas — the message, the process and structural issues — one fundamental moral principle always applies: the human person and the human community are the end and measure of the use of the media. A second principle is complementary to the first: the good of human beings cannot be attained independently of the common good of the community to which they belong.
(Compendium, No. 416)

Factors which plague the media in its role to inform the public, and which must be fought against are "ideology, the desire for profit and political control, rivalry and conflicts between groups, and other social evils." These, unfortunately, the media often exploit or often exploit the media.

The Compendium seems most concerned about private, special interest, and governmental control over the media, since these seem to present the greatest threat that the media will forget their essential role to the common good and lapse into a propaganda machine in favor of faction or special interest.

It is the public's role (and not government's role) to assure that the media is fair and objective and ordered to the common good. "It is necessary that citizens participate in the decision-making process concerning media policies. This participation, which is to be public, has to be genuinely representative and not skewed in favor of special interest groups when the media are a money-making venture." (Compendium, No. 416)

*See Richard D. Brown, The Strength of a People: The Idea of an Informed Citizenry (University of North Carolina Press, 1996), xiii ("At the birth of the republic, the necessity of an informed citizenry was proclaimed loudly and often by such notables as Samuel Adams, John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Madison . . . .")

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Democracy: Separation of Powers, Rule of Law, Representation, and Bureaucracy

THE CHURCH IS LESS CONCERNED about form than substance when it comes assessing any kind of government, including democracy. However, there are some natural procedural components of democracy and some which through history have been found to be valuable. In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church mentions some of these institutions.

One important principle is the division of powers in a State. As John Paul II states in his encyclical Centesimus annus, "it is preferable that each power [legislative, executive, judicial] be balanced by other powers and by other spheres of responsibility which keep it within proper bounds." The check and balances caused by the separation of powers promotes the rule of law. (Compendium, No. 408) (quoting Centisimus annus, 46)

The "rule of law" is also an important feature of democratic systems. The notion of the "rule of law" is the notion that "law is sovereign, and not the arbitrary will of individuals." (Compendium, No. 408) (quoting Centisimus annus, 46) Of course, the law here must be based upon reason--as Coke called it, "artificial reason and judgment of law"--yet one not repugnant to the natural moral law. It "rule of law" was famously described by Chief Justice John Marshall who, in the famous case of Marbury v. Madison stated that there ought to be "a government of laws and not men."

But the branches of government are not only limited by checks and balance and the rule of law. They ought also to be answerable to the people in a democracy. In this case, particularly the legislature, the representative body, "must be subjected to effective social control." The principal means by which such "social control" is exercised is through elections. These must be free and meaningful in that they allow "the selection and change of representatives." Thus the representatives are to be held accountable to their constituents for their work.

Legislators are not merely passive agents of their constituents. Nor are they independent agents entirely unresponsive to their constituents. As John F. Kennedy summarized it in his Profiles in Courage, a legislator must "on occasion lead, inform, correct and sometimes even ignore constituent opinion, if [he is] to exercise fully that judgment for which [he was] elected." The Compendium recognizes this tension in the role of the legislator:

Those who govern have the obligation to answer to those governed, but this does not in the least imply that representatives are merely passive agents of the electors. The control exercised by the citizens does not in fact exclude the freedom that elected officials must enjoy in order to fulfill their mandate with respect to the objectives to be pursued.

(Compendium, No. 409)

They therefore have duties to the common good above and beyond their specific constituents:
In their specific areas (drafting laws, governing, setting up systems of checks and balances), elected officials must strive to seek and attain that which will contribute to making civil life proceed well in its overall course.
(Compendium, No. 409)

There is always the danger of special interests. While the concerns of special interests are something that must considered, these must be assessed--not based upon the needs of the special interest as against the common good--but in relation to the common good. As the Compendium puts it, the mandate and objectives to be pursued by legislators "do not depend exclusively on special interests, but in a much greater part on the function of synthesis and mediation that serve the common good, one of the essential and indispensable goals of political authority." (Compendium, No. 409)

The Church reminds politicians that they must engage in their "art of the possible" in a virtuous, moral way. Here there is an insistence of personal morality.

Those with political responsibilities must not forget or underestimate the moral dimension of political representation, which consists in the commitment to share fully in the destiny of the people and to seek solutions to social problems. In this perspective, responsible authority also means authority exercised with those virtues that make it possible to put power into practice as service (patience, modesty, moderation, charity, efforts to share), an authority exercised by persons who are able to accept the common good, and not prestige or the gaining of personal advantages, as the true goal of their work.

(Compendium, No. 410)

This notion of a virtuous legislator of course would exclude any notion of political corruption, something which the Compendium recognizes as being a deformity, a blight on the democratic process:
Among the deformities of the democratic system, political corruption is one of the most serious because it betrays at one and the same time both moral principles and the norms of social justice. It compromises the correct functioning of the State, having a negative influence on the relationship between those who govern and the governed. It causes a growing distrust with respect to public institutions, bringing about a progressive disaffection in the citizens with regard to politics and its representatives, with a resulting weakening of institutions. Corruption radically distorts the role of representative institutions, because they become an arena for political bartering between clients' requests and governmental services. In this way political choices favor the narrow objectives of those who possess the means to influence these choices and are an obstacle to bringing about the common good of all citizens.
(Compendium, No. 411)

Whether we are dealing with the executive, legislative, or judicial branch, any organ of public administration--national, regional, or municipal--must recognize that they are "oriented towards the service of citizens." They are the "steward of the people's resources, which [they] must administer with a view to the common good." (Compendium, No. 412)

One evil which seems to be endemic and which must always be fought against is the problem of excessive bureaucratization. Excessive bureaucratization occurs when "'institutions become complex in their organization and pretend to manage every area at hand.'" (Compendium, No. 412) (quoting Christifidelis laici, 41). Excessive bureaucratization works against the common good and against efficient stewardship of public resources. "In the end," excessively bureaucratic agencies of government "'lose their effectiveness as a result of an impersonal functionalism, an overgrown bureaucracy, unjust private interests, and an all-too-easy and generalized disengagement from a sense of duty.'" (Compendium, No. 412) (quoting Christifidelis laici, 41).

"The role of those working in public administration is not to be conceived as impersonal or bureaucratic, but rather as an act of generous assistance for citizens, undertaken with a spirit of service." (Compendium, No. 412).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Values and Democracy

THE CHURCH HAS TRADITIONALLY MAINTAINED that no form of civil government is imposed upon man by God. The traditional doctrine is found, for example, in Leo XIII who stated that "in truth it may be affirmed that each of [the forms of government] is good, provided it lead straight to the end--that is the common good, for which social authority is constituted,--and finally, it may be added that from the relative point of view, such and such a form of government may be preferable because of being better adapted to the character and customs of such or such a nation. In this order of speculative ideas, Catholics, like all other citizens, are free to prefer one form of government to another, precisely because no one of these social forms is, in itself, opposed to the principles of sound reason or to the maxims of Christian doctrine."*

In line with this traditional stance, the Church has not hesitated to point out the benefits of a democratic form of government, while yet pointing out the dangers of such a system.

The benefits of a democratic form of government are perhaps summarized best by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Centesimus annus, which the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, describes as containing "an explicit and articular judgment with regard to democracy." (Compendium, No. 406):

"The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate.

Thus she cannot encourage the formation of narrow ruling groups which usurp the power of the State for individual interests or for ideological ends.

Authentic democracy is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person. It requires that the necessary conditions be present for the advancement both of the individual through education and formation in true ideals, and of the ‘subjectivity' of society through the creation of structures of participation and shared responsibility."

(Compendium, No. 406) (quoting Centesimus annus, 46).

The Church distinguishes between "authentic democracy" and one that is not authentic. The most significant distinction between an "authentic democracy" and an inauthentic one relates to substance: does it promote the common good, the rule of law, the dignity of the human person properly understood? Does it recognize objectively-informed human rights based upon the natural moral law? Does it advance the good life? Or does it put right over the good?

If viewed as a mere procedure, devoid of substantive values, democracy may be more a hindrance to the good life than a benefit to it. So the Compendium warns:
An authentic democracy is not merely the result of a formal observation of a set of rules but is the fruit of a convinced acceptance of the values that inspire democratic procedures: the dignity of every human person, the respect of human rights, commitment to the common good as the purpose and guiding criterion for political life. If there is no general consensus on these values, the deepest meaning of democracy is lost and its stability is compromised.
(Compendium, No. 407) Democracy as a form of government, in fact, is no panacea. It can become intolerant, dangerous, even inhuman if it does not build upon the notion of an objective moral order. If democracy is built upon a people who have rejected an objective order--so that all morality is conventional, a matter of agreement only--then there is great danger of a form of tyranny.

In fact, the problem of "ethical relativism" is what presents democracies in the West with the greatest threat:

The Church's social doctrine sees ethical relativism, which maintains that there are no objective or universal criteria for establishing the foundations of a correct hierarchy of values, as one of the greatest threats to modern-day democracies. "Nowadays there is a tendency to claim that agnosticism and skeptical relativism are the philosophy and the basic attitude which correspond to democratic forms of political life. Those who are convinced that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it are considered unreliable from a democratic point of view, since they do not accept that truth is determined by the majority, or that it is subject to variation according to different political trends. It must be observed in this regard that if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political action, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism."

(Compendium, No. 407) (quoting Centesimus annus, 46)

Like all other forms of government, democracy is a form of government. It is a means, and not an end in itself. Like all human government, democracy has been de-divinized by Christ. Democracy has no more claim to worship than did Caesar.

Democracy needs something extrinsic to it so that it may have an end. Though written constitutions and statements of rights attempt to impose such an extrinsic order, there has to be a law above these, what Thomas E. Cronin called the "Higher Law."

In fact, traditionally, the notion of this "Higher Law"--the natural moral law--was a central value held by all the signers of the Declaration of Independence and all the ratifiers of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The founders of our form of government recognized what the Compendium states is essential for democracy to recognize: that there is a law outside process, there is an objective realm of morality to which it must answer:
Democracy is fundamentally "a 'system' and as such is a means and not an end. Its 'moral' value is not automatic, but depends on conformity to the moral law to which it, like every other form of human behavior, must be subject: in other words, its morality depends on the morality of the ends which it pursues and of the means which it employs."
(Compendium, No. 407) (quoting Centesimums annus, 46)

For a variety of reasons, the moral consensus of the good behind our democracy has collapsed. We no longer hold to a central core of objective moral truth. A radical individual autonomy--freedom for freedom's sake--where we define what we want to be and what is to be our good has replaced any notion of an objective moral order. Indeed, there has been a revolution of sorts, and it has infected even the highest institutions who have institutionalized this ethical relativism.

In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), the majority of the Supreme Court refused to overturn Roe v. Wade. In that case, Justice Anthony Kennedy defined the "heart of liberty" to be this radical autonomy where each individual defines his or her good, where each individual has "the right to define one's concept of existence, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." A few years later, that passage was referred to in the Supreme Court case which overturned all laws that criminalized homosexual sodomy. In a scathing dissent, Justice Scalia referred to this "sweet-mystery-of-life" passage, as the "passage that ate the rule of law." Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 575 (2003).

The liberal political philosopher William Galston--who was critical of John Rawls--insisted that there had to be a minimum level of consensus regarding the good--a minimal perfectionism--for a liberal democracy to function. Such a consensus had to disavow secular nihilism, Nietzschean irrationalism, and barbarism.** The "sweet-mystery-of-life" passage comprehends all three.

Let not be fooled by the "sweet-mystery-of-life" passage. It is nothing other than a pleasant way of saying: "Evil, be thou my good." And by these saccharine words we have justified as good--for the mere reason that they were chosen as good and for no other reason--and institutionalized such moral enormities as contraception, abortion, and sodomy, all of which are sins which cry to heaven for vengeance. (Gen. 4:10, 18:20).

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil. (Isaiah 5:20) It presents a real danger to our democratic way of life.

*Leo XIII, Au Milieu des Sollicitudes (On the Church and State in France), February 16, 1892), No. 14.
William Galston, Liberal Purposes: Goods, Virtues, and Diversity in the Liberal State (New York: Cambridge University Press: 1991), 177.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Evangelium vitae: Reconciling Tradition, Part 2

THERE IS AN ORDER OF JUSTICE, and there is an order of mercy. St. Thomas speaks of an order of justice and an order of mercy in God,* both arising from God who is absolute Good. This notion of these two orders operating as one in the Word of God is intensely Scriptural. Justice and mercy are qualities of God, qualities of the Word, qualities of man, and indeed qualities of all creation.

Misericordia et veritas occurrerunt iustitia et pax deosculatae sunt.
"Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed," says Psalm 85(84):10. What is true in God is true for man, the image of God who is called to imitate his maker. The prophet Micah makes the justice-cum-mercy a mark of God's will, for what else does God want from us but facere iudicium et diligere misericordiam, to do justice and to love mercy? (Micah 6:8) Indeed, as St. Thomas makes clear in his Summa Theologiae, in all God's works there is truth, mercy, and justice. [S.T., I, q. 21, art. 4, c.] And nowhere is there more truth to this joinder of justice and mercy than on the Cross, where Jesus was the brute physical expression, as it were, of the mysterious reconciliation of God's Justice and God's Mercy.

"Mercy differs from justice, but is not in opposition to it," says John Paul II in his encyclical on mercy, Dives in misericordia (No. 4). Indeed, meditating on Christ crucified leads to no other conclusion. And in his encyclical on mercy, John Paul II is very Anselmian, for as St. Anselm reflected in his meditations on God's mercy and God's justice: "For, though it is hard to understand how your mercy is not inconsistent with your justice; yet we must believe that it does not oppose justice at all, because it flows from goodness, which is no goodness without justice; nay, that it is in true harmony with justice. For, if you are merciful only because you are supremely good, and supremely good only because you are supremely just, truly you are merciful even because you are supremely just. Help me, just and merciful God, whose light seek; help me to understand what I say."**

Iustitia sine misericordia crudelitas est, misericordia sine iustitia mater est dissolutionis, says St. Thomas Aquinas in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. "Justice without mercy is cruelty, and mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution."*** Pope John Paul II echoes this sentiment: "In no passage of the Gospel message does forgiveness, or mercy as its source, mean indulgence towards evil, towards scandals, towards injury or insult. In any case, reparation for evil and scandal, compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are conditions for forgiveness." DM, 14. "Thus the fundamental structure of justice always enters into the sphere of mercy. Mercy, however, has the power to confer on justice a new content, which is expressed most simply and fully in forgiveness" DM, 14.

Evangelium vitae is John Paul II's reminder to us that in the area of capital punishment, justice without mercy is cruelty, and mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution. It is his effort "to confer on justice" of the death penalty "a new content," one informed by mercy.

Mercy--like justice--is a virtue. This "movement of the mind" which is mercy, "obeys the reason, when mercy is vouchsafed in such a way that justice is safeguarded." [S.T. IIaIIae, q. 30, a. 3, ad. 1. De Civ. Dei, ix.5] Again, Evangelium vitae is John Paul II's effort to think about the death penalty within the order of mercy, yet safeguarding the order of justice.

It is within this great respect for human life and his great regard for God's mercy, that John Paul II addresses the relationship of the Fifth Commandment to the "problem of the death penalty" which is handled in paragraphs 56 and 57 of Evangelium vitae.

In understanding John Paul II's treatment of it, it is important to recognize its placement in the encyclical. His handling of the "problem of the death penalty," which addresses the relationship of the Fifth Commandment to malefactors guilty of capital offenses, is a preamble to handling the issue of the "innocent person." In other words, John Paul II focuses on the non-absolute force of God's commandment when malefactors are involved,† before moving forward to those instances where an innocent person is involved, when such commandment becomes absolute. EV, 57. Thus, Pope John Paul II addresses the order of mercy (which applies to how we handle the life of a malefactor guilty of a capital offense and not worthy, in justice, to life but worthy, instead, to the extreme punishment of death) before he goes into the order of justice (which applies to how we handle violations of the life of the innocent).

The basic thrust of this part of the encyclical is therefore rhetorical. It is the preamble intended to strengthen Pope John Paul II's main argument and the burden of the encyclical: the absolute inviolability of the right to life of innocent human beings. Essentially, Pope John Paul II is arguing that if a malefactor's life is to be treated with such regard, with such great care, what sort of absolute regard should be shown the innocent? If the guilty--those who in the order of justice deserve to die, those who by their crimes have yielded their right to life--are, in the order of mercy, given such concern, what should be our moral attitude of those who have not so yielded their right to life, those who, in the order of justice are innocent and not only do not deserve death but cannot even defend themselves? The whole force of the encyclical's argument is lost if the distinction between the order of mercy and the order of justice is ignored.

Significantly, John Paul II does not ever suggest that the execution of a malefactor guilty of a capital offense violates the Fifth Commandment or is unjust. This is very important in understanding the encyclical. He suggests that staying the execution of a malefactor through clemency is preferable if "bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect the public order and safety of persons." In such cases the "public authority must limit itself to such [bloodless] means," not because it would be unjust to do otherwise, but "because such bloodless means better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person." EV, 56.

The language which I have highlighted, in particular the comparative phrases ("better correspond" and "more in conformity") suggests several things. First, it suggests that public authority's use of the death penalty instead of bloodless means still corresponds to the common good, but, in the Pope's view, not as well in some particular "concrete" circumstances. One has to have two goods for one to be better than another. This is true also with respect to the death penalty's conformity to the dignity of the human person. Using bloodless means are "more in conformity with the dignity of the human person" which suggests that the death penalty is still in conformity with the dignity of the human person, but less so than the bloodless means. Again for something to be more in conformity with an end than another thing suggests that both are in relative conformity with that end. In other words, we are working with two goods or two just actions, one better and one less good. We are not dealing with evil on the one hand, and good on the other.

Second, this better correspondence of bloodless means of punishment to the common good is based upon "concrete conditions" and so it is not in each and every instance true. It is not true generally or absolutely in the Pope's mind (or he would have said so). This leads to the possibility that there may be "concrete" instances where the opposite is true, where the death penalty better corresponds to the needs of the common good.

Contrast the Pope's comparative language when dealing with the malefactor with the language when dealing with the innocent. When it comes to the killing of an innocent, it always "contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity." EV, 58. The Pope never says that justice is contradicted by the application of the death penalty.

The Pope has been criticized for seeming to ignore the retributive or vindicative purpose of the death penalty and link justification of the death penalty to an unjust aggressor analysis. But such criticism is, in my mind, erroneous because it presumes that John Paul II is arguing the justice of the death penalty when he is not. He is handling the "problem of the death penalty" not within the order of justice, but within the order of mercy.

The reason why John Paul II does not address the notion of the retributive or vindicative justification of the death penalty in his encyclical is not because it has no relevance to the death penalty analysis, but rather because he presupposes it. In other words, he assumes in this part of the encyclical that the malefactor may justly be put to death. For his argument, the Pope supposes that the order of justice is met. If the order of justice were not met by the imposition of the death penalty, he would condemn the death penalty outright, which he does not.

Given that the order of justice is met, Pope John Paul II then goes a step beyond it into the order of mercy. Given that the malefactor deserves to die in the order of justice, what does the order of mercy say about it?

The order of mercy does not focus on the retributive or vindicative aspects of justice. It has to get beyond those aspects. But the order of mercy is not for all that without boundaries. And it is those boundaries precisely which John Paul II has focused on in his encyclical and which is his unique contribution to the Church's doctrine on capital punishment. What John Paul II is saying is that mercy cannot be exercised, and the life of one justly condemned to die cannot be spared, if to spare his life would result in harm against other human lives, would not protect the public order, or the safety of persons. Mercy's limits are set by the same sort of analysis that is used when determining the use of force against an unjust aggressor. It would be unmerciful and against charity (and, indeed, also against justice) for public authority to have a misguided sense of mercy which exposes others to harm from the malefactor, or which fails to comply with one's duty to preserve others from the harm that might be caused by a malefactor.

In the encyclical, Pope John Paul II reaffirms the traditional view that the "primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is 'to redress the disorder caused by the offense.'" EV, 56. In other words, death penalty, like all punishment, must be understood within its retributive or vindicative purpose, for it is there that it finds its principal justification. "Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime." This is clearly a recognition that the retributive or restorative aspect of punishment is a moral good, and the principal one in justifying any punishment.

However, the notion of retribution or vindication is strongly tinged by the perception of the people over whom the public authority has governance and whose common good has been harmed by the malefactor. When a population has lost faith in the death penalty as an expression of justice, it loses some of its subjective retributive or vindicative qualities. Simply put, if a significant majority of the population of a state find the death penalty offensive, it loses some of its subjective retributive or vindicative qualities in that it is perceived by the population as not an appropriate expression of justice. This is separate and apart from whether it is objectively appropriate.

The Pope also recognizes that there are other goods involved in punishment, some of which clearly may be negated by actually executing the malefactor guilty of a capital offense, e.g., his rehabilitation or conversion. An unrehabilitated man, a man who does not repent of his crime, and who is put to death in a state of mortal sin cannot be rehabilitated and cannot be saved.

Another good of punishment is that it protects society from future acts of the malefactor, and therefore protects the common good. In modern societies, given the state of penal technology, it is the Pope's prudential judgment that, in the context of malefactors guilty of a capital offense, this particular good of punishment can be equally achieved through "bloodless means." In other words, under modern penal science, the common good would be equally protected if such criminals were put to death or were properly confined.

All human beings--be they innocent or be they sinners and malefactors--"in as much as they are created in the image of God, have the dignity of a person." All men are endowed with a spiritual and immortal soul, intelligence and free will, and are ordered to God and call in both soul and body to eternal destiny, eternal beatitude with God. St. Dismas, who suffered with Christ in the neighboring cross, is the Scriptural attestment to this fact that even those who may be justly put to death have the opportunity to receive the grace of conversion. The last shall be first. Granted, this wonderful dignity can be "marred" through sin which "deforms the image of God in his own person." EV, 36. And yet that divine image can be "restored, renewed, and brought to perfection" in those who "commit themselves to following Christ." EV, 36. There is not one man who is excluded from this "Word of life," and therefore it includes the malefactor justly condemned to die who we might hope obtains God's grace of conversion and repentance.

Punishment of a malefactor is a physical evil, but a moral good because it is restorative of justice. This is true even when it pertains to the death penalty. If the death penalty were not a moral good it would have to be condemned outrightly, which it is not. The Pope's teaching is that, given the conditions of: (i) a population that does not view capital punishment favorably, and (ii) penal technology sufficiently advanced as to assure that the common good is protected, then certain judgments concrete judgments can be made about the death penalty.

Assuming the common good can be equally protected from potential harm of the malefactor as a result of penal technology, the Pope's concrete judgment is that the marginal increase in moral good obtained from putting a malefactor to death (instead of punishing him with a life sentence) is
less than the moral good obtained from exercising mercy and sparing his life because it leads to greater respect for the dignity of man, the right to life, and it holds out the prospect of conversion.

To be sure, unlike justice, mercy is not something that can be compelled. It can only be urged. And yet Christians are obliged to show mercy. We might recall Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice when Portia entreats the Jew Shylock to show mercy in his case against Antonio for his pound of flesh. "On what compulsion, must I? Tell me that."

To which Portia responds in words that are timeless:

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this—
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
Act IV, sc. 1. 191

It is within this great tradition of mercy that Shakespeare places in the words of Portia that we must place ourselves in order to understand John Paul II's hortatory plea that the moral law which allows that the malefactor who, in the order of justice may merit the death penalty as his just deserts--ought to seasoned with mercy by those who hold the dreadful and fearful power of the sword. And when so seasoned, the death penalty ought be something "very rare, if not practically non-existent."

But Pope John Paul II's plea is hortatory and is based upon prudence, and so his plea that the death penalty be "very rare, if practically non-existent" does not bind under penalty of mortal sin which would be the case if we had an act of injustice or an intrinsic evil. At most, failure to exercise mercy under the circumstances the Pope recites, if they in fact exist, would be a venial sin, or perhaps a positive imperfection, and unseeming lack of mercy and harshness for a Christian who should know far better than others not of the household of faith, that "in the course of justice none of us should see salvation," and who prays, in the prayer the Lord gave him, that same prayer wherein the Lord "doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy." The fact that one may stand with justice and refuse mercy and still be in good standing with the Church and even worthy of communion,†† of course, does not make the plea for mercy any less incumbent upon us or those who govern us.

We might recall the words of St. Anselm: "He who is good to the wicked by both punishing them and sparing them is better than he who is good to the wicked only by punishing them." And sparing the life of a malefactor who justly can be put to death gives God the room to exercise his marvels. "God spares the wicked out of justice," St. Anselm continues, "for it is just that God, than whom none is better or more powerful, should be good even to the wicked, and should make the wicked good." Proslogion, IX.

In closing, in dealing with the "problem of the death penalty" we should recall the words, indeed the prayers, of St. Anselm, which would serve us well as a motto:

"Spare, in mercy;
avenge not, in justice."

Parce per clementiam,
ne ulciscaris per iustitiam.
*St. Thomas Aquinas, IV Sententiarum dist.15 q.4 art. 7 qcula 3a. The context is regarding merit and prayer.
**St. Anselm,
Proslogion, IX. (Nam etsi difficile sit intelligere, quomodo misericordia tua non absit a tua iustitia, necessarium tamen est credere, quia nequamquam adversatur quod exundat ex bonitate, quae nulla est sine iustitia, immo vere concordat iustitiae. Nempe si misericors es, quia es summe bonus, et summe bonus non es, nisi quia es summe iustus: vere idcirco es misericors, quia summe iustus es. Adiuva me, iuste et misericors Deus, cuius lucem quaero, adiuva me, ut intelligam quod dico.)
***St. Thomas Aquinas,
Super Matthaeum, Cap. V, l. 2.
†I say non-absolute,but I don't mean without limit. The death penalty is not automatically just; it cannot be meted out without limit. Not only must the offense be one which, in justice, merits death, but the procedures involved in adjudication must give rise to moral certainty of guilt. Moreover, these have to be applied fairly and not selectively or with an aim against a particular group. Additionally, the inner attitude of the trier of fact, the judge, or the executioner must be proper. In other words, there are requirements of justice that must be met for the death penalty to be just. The ordo juris, the legal order, which results in the death penalty must comply with the requirements of the ordo justitiae, the order of justice.
††This is, of course, the opinion given by Cardinal Ratzinger in an instruction or memorandum to the U.S. Bishops concerning when one is worthy of receiving Holy Communion. In the memorandum (dated July 3, 2004), the future Pope gives the following clarification: "3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment . . . he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities . . . to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible . . . to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about . . . applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia." To be worthy of presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, one cannot be in a state of mortal sin, which would be the case is one had sinned against justice by putting a malefactor to death. A member of a jury, a judge, a governor, an executioner who participate in the conviction and execution of a man are therefore not sinning mortally.
†††One can beneficially recall that even the damned are shown mercy. "Even in the damnation of the reprobate mercy is seen, which, though it does not totally remit, yet somewhat alleviates, in punishing short of what is deserved." [S.T., I, q. 21, art. 4, r.1] If God shows mercy to the justly damned, can we do any less in showing mercy to those justly condemned to die?