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, May 16, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences

On May 4, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the participants in the fifteenth Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences is charged with the mission of advancing the Church's social doctrine in the areas of the economy, politics, law, and other social sciences. The focus of the session was human rights, what the Pope called a "a point of encounter between the doctrine of the Church and contemporary society."
The world’s great religions and philosophies have illuminated some aspects of these human rights, which are concisely expressed in “the golden rule” found in the Gospel: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk 6:31; cf. Mt 7:12). The Church has always affirmed that fundamental rights, above and beyond the different ways in which they are formulated and the different degrees of importance they may have in various cultural contexts, are to be upheld and accorded universal recognition because they are inherent in the very nature of man, who is created in the image and likeness of God. If all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, then they share a common nature that binds them together and calls for universal respect. The Church, assimilating the teaching of Christ, considers the person as “the worthiest of nature” (St. Thomas Aquinas, De potentia, 9, 3) and has taught that the ethical and political order that governs relationships between persons finds its origin in the very structure of man’s being. The discovery of America and the ensuing anthropological debate in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe led to a heightened awareness of human rights as such and of their universality (ius gentium). The modern period helped shape the idea that the message of Christ – because it proclaims that God loves every man and woman and that every human being is called to love God freely – demonstrates that everyone, independently of his or her social and cultural condition, by nature deserves freedom. At the same time, we must always remember that “freedom itself needs to be set free. It is Christ who sets it free” (Veritatis Splendor, 86).

The Pope observed that the tragic suffering called by the world wars and the crimes against humanity spurred the formation of a new system of international law based upon the notion of human rights.
Human rights became the reference point of a shared universal ethos – at least at the level of aspiration – for most of humankind. These rights have been ratified by almost every State in the world. The Second Vatican Council, in the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae, as well as my predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II, forcefully referred to the right to life and the right to freedom of conscience and religion as being at the centre of those rights that spring from human nature itself.

These human rights are predicated on reason, on the natural law which participates in the eternal law. Though based upon reason, and so accessible by reason alone, revelation both confirms and enlightens our knowledge of the natural law.
Strictly speaking, these human rights are not truths of faith, even though they are discoverable – and indeed come to full light – in the message of Christ who “reveals man to man himself” (Gaudium et Spes, 22). They receive further confirmation from faith. Yet it stands to reason that, living and acting in the physical world as spiritual beings, men and women ascertain the pervading presence of a logos which enables them to distinguish not only between true and false, but also good and evil, better and worse, and justice and injustice. This ability to discern – this radical agency – renders every person capable of grasping the “natural law”, which is nothing other than a participation in the eternal law: “unde…lex naturalis nihil aliud est quam participatio legis aeternae in rationali creatura” (St. Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II, 91, 2). The natural law is a universal guide recognizable to everyone, on the basis of which all people can reciprocally understand and love each other. Human rights, therefore, are ultimately rooted in a participation of God, who has created each human person with intelligence and freedom. If this solid ethical and political basis is ignored, human rights remain fragile since they are deprived of their sound foundation.

The Church’s action in promoting human rights is therefore supported by rational reflection, in such a way that these rights can be presented to all people of good will, independently of any religious affiliation they may have. Nevertheless, as I have observed in my Encyclicals, on the one hand, human reason must undergo constant purification by faith, insofar as it is always in danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by disordered passions and sin; and, on the other hand, insofar as human rights need to be re-appropriated by every generation and by each individual, and insofar as human freedom – which proceeds by a succession of free choices – is always fragile, the human person needs the unconditional hope and love that can only be found in God and that lead to participation in the justice and generosity of God towards others (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 18, and Spe Salvi, 24).

The Pope pointed to the "flagrant contrast" between the "attribution of rights and the unequal access to the means of attaining those rights." He urged leaders to collaborate in reducing the gap between the theory of human rights and their practice. Recently returned from Africa, the Pope expressed solicitude to that one-fifth of humanity that tragically "still goes hungry."
For Christians who regularly ask God to “give us this day our daily bread”, it is a shameful tragedy that one-fifth of humanity still goes hungry. Assuring an adequate food supply, like the protection of vital resources such as water and energy, requires all international leaders to collaborate in showing a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the natural law and promoting solidarity and subsidiarity with the weakest regions and peoples of the planet as the most effective strategy for eliminating social inequalities between countries and societies and for increasing global security.

He exhorted the participants to continue their efforts, and to be "credible and consistent witnesses to the defense and promotion of these non-negotiable human rights which are founded in divine law."

For a copy of the Pope's address, click here.

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