Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Good Conscience of a Catholic

Church Principles in the Public Square
Bishop Paul S. Loverde, Diocese of Arlington
June 29, 2011
Summer is a time when many things slow down, including politics and governmental activities. Yet, at the same time, it is also a patriotic season when we remember with gratitude the great legacy of a democratic republic given to us by our Founding Fathers. In this time of relative calm, I would like to address some issues regarding Catholicism, electoral politics and the public life, and invite you to reflect upon them.

The Catholic Church is not a political party nor does She endorse political parties or candidates. She does not take sides in elections and political debates as would an interest group or civil association. However, the Church does have a place in the public square, but Her place is unique. Her role is to inform public debate about the universal truths and principles of a just society rather than to make specific policies or to promote candidates for office. The Church serves as a conscience for civil society. The principles that the Church defends in public life are not strictly religious principles knowable only through supernatural revelation, but are derived from the natural law, which can be known by right reason. These natural law principles can be discussed by all people of good will who are open to rational discourse and truth. Thus, the Church reminds voters and those in public life of the law written in their hearts and of that law’s necessary role in maintaining an equitable and harmonious society.

Often, the way that the Church contributes to political debates is by drawing upon basic principles about human dignity and the common good. For example, in the debate over undocumented immigration in the United States, the Church reminds all involved to balance the rights of national sovereignty and legal borders with respect for the dignity of each person and family. She does not propose specific political solutions to the problem, but calls for those deliberating these policies to be guided by humane principles as they strive to do what is best.

While most issues debated in the public square are matters of prudential judgment, there are others that touch on intrinsic evil and thus require the Church in Her prophetic mission to take an absolute stand against them. In our age, these issues especially concern the respect for human life and the definition of marriage and family. It is always, and at all times, evil to willfully take an innocent human life, or to willfully assist someone in those acts. Therefore, witnessing to the truth, the Church must call for an end to all forms of abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research.

Another clear-cut truth is that marriage between a man and a woman is not a societal construct, but a reality that exists because of the nature inherent in each human person. Human beings did not invent or define marriage; therefore we should accept and live out the reality that truly exists. Life and marriage do not attain their meaning and dignity from government or even from a democratic vote, because they are more elemental than these institutions. Life, marriage and family exist first and then governments of various kinds gain their being from them. Governments are instituted to aid and protect life and the family — not to decide what they are. The Church resists all attempts to redefine these fundamental human realities and invites all to enter into a rational dialogue about the full meaning of these God-given realities.

As a communion of brothers and sisters in Christ, the Church enjoins all her members to embrace the fullness of the truth and to live in accord with it. Catholics are called to a unity of life in which they uphold the natural law through their personal relationships and their participation in the civil arena. They are to oppose intrinsic evil and to defend the good in the public square. A faithful Catholic should protect the unborn and the aged, and stand for the truth of marriage in his or her political life, whether he or she is a politician or a voter.

In a world that rejects such basic truths of life and existence, it is not surprising that Catholics, as adherents to the truth, have become targets of a new bigotry. This prejudice, born of a relativistic ethos which denies the existence of absolute truth, questions the capacity of Catholics to participate as societal leaders and rejects their views out-of-hand as religious and unreasonable. Bigotry is an unfounded prejudice that seeks to marginalize, discredit and exclude individuals because they belong to a particular group. There have certainly been attempts in politics to smear Catholics as unfit to lead because they profess their Faith in its fullness and to dismiss their positions without reasoned debate as irrational religious convictions. However, the governmental principles proposed by the Catholic Church in the public square are based on natural law which, as we have discussed, is known through reason. These attacks are often subtle and may not always be intentionally bigoted. Regardless of intent, however, they are an assault against the truth that seeks to prevent a real dialogue based on reason. This new bigotry is part of what our Holy Father has called the “dictatorship of relativism.” As Bishop of the Church of Arlington, I recognize the need to identify publicly this form of injustice and call for its cessation.

Sadly, there are some Catholics who have used these discriminatory attacks against their brothers and sisters in public life. This is neither charitable nor just and falls short of how a Catholic is called to treat others. As members of the Church, we need to challenge this bigotry when we see it in public life or hear it in private conversation. We need to challenge others who use these methods or agree with them. We must always challenge with kindness, and invite them to discuss these false assertions on the basis of reason. In this dialogue, we can help them discover the true basis of our convictions. In order to do this, we have to be prepared to defend our position with reasoned knowledge and a dispassionate discourse, free from rancor. Because of this obligation, all Catholics are to deepen continually their understanding of the Church’s social and moral teaching.

Each of us is called toward a unity of life. We must seek to understand the truth that the Church teaches and then to uphold that truth by the example of our lives. This witness, however, must be visible not only in our private lives, but also in our participation in the public square. As citizens, we have the privilege and the responsibility to protect the common good. This common good is a reality, which we seek to know in a deepened way through prayer and through reasoned discourse.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Science, Theology, and the Question of Truth

Discourse of Pope Benedict at the Ratzinger Prize Award Ceremony
June 30, 2011
Theology is the science of faith, tradition tells us. But here the question immediately arises: Is this really possible? Is this not, in itself, a contradiction? Is not science, perhaps, the contrary of faith? Does faith not cease to be faith when it becomes science? And does not science cease to be science when it is ordered or even subordinated to faith?

Such questions -- which already for medieval theology represented a serious problem -- with the modern concept of science, have become even more difficult, at first glance, even unsolvable. Hence we understand why in the modern age, in vast ambits, theology retracted primarily to the field of history, in order to demonstrate in this area its serious scientific nature. It is necessary to acknowledge, with gratitude, that grandiose works were carried out in this vein, and the Christian message received new light, rendering visible its profound richness. However, if theology withdraws totally into the past, it leaves faith today in darkness.

In a second phase, theology then concentrated on praxis, to show how theology, in connection with psychology and sociology, is a useful science that gives concrete indications for life. This is also important. But if faith, the foundation of theology, does not become at the same time an object of study, if praxis refers only to itself, or lives only by borrowing from the human sciences, then praxis becomes empty and deprived of foundation.

Hence, these paths are not sufficient. For as useful and important as they might be, they become escapes if the true question remains unanswered. The real question is this: Is what we believe true or not? The question of truth is at stake in theology; it is its ultimate and essential foundation.

Something Tertullian said can bring us to take a step forward here; he wrote that Christ did not say: "I am custom," but, "I am the Truth" -- non consuetudo sed veritas (Virg. 1,1).

Christian Gnilka has shown that the concept consuetudo can refer to the pagan religions that, according to their nature, were not faith, but were "custom": what is done is what has always been done; the traditional forms of worship are observed and one thus hopes to remain in the right relationship with the mysterious ambit of the divine. The revolutionary aspect of Christianity in antiquity was precisely the break with "custom" for love of the truth. Tertullian speaks here above all on the basis of the Gospel of John, in which is found the other fundamental interpretation of the Christian faith, which is expressed in the designation of Christ as Logos.

If Christ is the Logos, the truth, man must correspond to Him with his own logos, with his reason. To arrive at Christ, man must be on the path of truth. He must open himself to the Logos, to creative Reason, from which derives his own reason and to which his reason refers back. In this way we see that Christian faith, by its very nature, must give rise to theology, must question itself on the reasonableness of faith, even if, of course, the concept of reason and that of science encompass many dimensions, and thus the concrete nature of the nexus between faith and reason should and must always be plumbed anew.

Thus, even when the fundamental nexus between Logos, truth and faith is clearly presented in Christianity, the concrete form of this nexus has aroused and always arouses new questions. It is clear that at this moment such a question, which has occupied and will occupy every generation, cannot be treated in detail, and not even broadly. I would like to proposes only a very small note.

In the Prologue to his Commentary on the Sentences, St. Bonaventure spoke of a double use of reason -- of a use that is irreconcilable with the nature of faith and of a use that instead belongs precisely to the nature of faith. There exists, he says, the violentia rationis, the despotism of reason, which makes itself the supreme and ultimate judge of everything. This kind of use of reason is certainly impossible in the ambit of faith.

What does Bonaventure mean by this? An expression of Psalm 95:9 can show us. Here God says to his people: "In the wilderness ... your fathers tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work." Here there is reference to a double encounter with God: they "saw." This, however, was not enough for them. They put God "to the proof." They want to subject him to experiment. He is, as it were, subjected to a questioning and must submit Himself to a procedure of experimental testing.

This way of using reason has reached the culmination of its development in the modern age in the realm of the natural sciences. Experimental reason widely seems today to be the only form of rationality declared scientific. What cannot be scientifically verified or falsified falls outside the scientific ambit. With this approach, great works have been accomplished, as we know, and no would dare to seriously deny that this approach is right and necessary in the realm of knowledge of nature and of its laws. However such a use of reason has a limit: God is not an object of human experimentation. He is Subject and manifests himself only in the person to person relationship, which is part of the essence of person.

In this perspective Bonaventure refers to a second use of reason, which is valid for the ambit of the "personal," for the great questions regarding man himself. Love wants to know better the one it loves. Love, true love, does not make one blind but seeing. Part of it is a thirst for knowledge, true knowledge of the other. Because of this, the Fathers of the Church found precursors and forerunners of Christianity -- outside the world of revelation to Israel -- not in the ambit of conventional religion, but in men searching for God, searching for truth, in the "philosophers": in persons who were thirsting for truth and hence were on the path to God.

When there is not this use of reason, then the great questions of humanity fall outside the ambit of reason and are left to irrationality. Because of this authentic theology is so important. Right faith orients reason to its openness to the divine, so that, guided by love for the truth, it can know God more closely. The initiative for this path is with God who has put in man's heart the search for his Face. Hence, part of theology, on one hand, is humility that lets itself be "touched" by God, and on the other hand, discipline that is linked to the order of reason, which preserves love from blindness and which helps to develop its strength for seeing.

I am well aware that with all this an answer has not been given to the question about the possibility and the task of correct theology. Only the greatness of the challenge innate in the nature of theology has been held up for consideration. However, it is precisely this challenge that man needs, because it pushes us to open our reason, asking ourselves about truth itself, about the face of God.

That is why we are grateful to the prize winners who have shown in their work that reason, walking on the path traced by faith, is not an alienated reason but is reason that responds to its very lofty vocation. Thank you.