July 28, 2011
Benedict XVI and the Future of the West
Here is a George Weigel essay, "Benedict XVI and the Future of the West," which I read recently and liked very much. A taste:
year ago, my subject would probably have struck some as counter-intuitive, implausible, even absurd: why would an octogenarian German theologian with little practical experience of political and economic life have anything interesting or important to say about "the future of the West"? Pope Benedict XVI's Westminster Hall address last September ought to have put paid to at least some of that cynicism. For as many Britons conceded after last September's papal visit, the elderly German theologian had indeed given the United Kingdom, and the rest of the West, a lot to think about in his reflections on the relationship between the health of a culture, and the health of the democratic institutions that culture must sustain. . . .
Evangelical Catholicism, in the line of development that runs from Leo XIII through Benedict XVI, . . . takes a rather different stance toward public life than the Catholicism of Christendom (whose conception of Church and State—or, more broadly, Church and Society—long outlasted the 16th-century fracturing of Christendom). Evangelical Catholicism declines the embrace of state power as incompatible with the proclamation of the Gospel: the Gospel is its own warrant, and the power of that warrant is blunted when coercive state power is put behind it, however mildly. Evangelical Catholicism is also wary of a direct role by the Church, as institution, in the affairs of the state. There may be moments when a robustly evangelical Church must speak truth to power, directly and through its ordained episcopal leadership, bringing the full weight of their unique form of authority to bear on a matter in public dispute. But the normal mode of the Church's engagement with public life will not be that of another lobbying group. Rather, Evangelical Catholicism takes its lead from the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem), and from Blessed John Paul II's teaching in the encyclicals Redemptoris Missio and Centesimus Annus and the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici: it seeks to form the men and women who will, in turn, shape the culture that creates a politics capable of recognising the transcendent moral norms that should guide society's deliberations about the common good. . . .
I'd welcome, in particular, Patrick Brennan's thoughts about the essay, given that he knows so much more about (inter alia) Pope Leo XIII's writings and thought than I do.
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Rick generously asks what I think about George Weigel's discerning a line of development of "Evangelical Catholicism" that runs from Leo XIII through Benedict XVI and that, above all, "declines the embrace of state power as incompatible with the proclamation of the Gospel." I just happen to have Leo's 1885 encyclical Immortale Dei, "On the Christian Constitution of States" on my desk, and in it one can read that "there must, accordingly, exist between these two powers [the ecclesiastical and the civil] a certain orderly connection, which may be compared to the union of the soul and body in man" (no. 14). One can also read there that "the civic order of the commonwealth should be maintained as sacred" (no. 18) and that "to exclude the Church, founded by God himself, from life, from laws, from the education of youth, from domestic society is a grave and fatal error. A State from which religion is banished can never be well regulated" (no. 32). Leo argued in favor of a cooperative concordia between the Church and the civil authority, and he certainly defended the Church's -- not just individuals' -- power to judge the actions of the civil ruling authority in an exercise of the so-called "indirect power." But even more, how about this from Tametsi futura (1900): "As with individuals, so with nations. These, too, must necessarily tend to ruin if they go astray from 'The Way'." What I hear in Weigel is a version of J.C. Murray's revised Leo, and of that I think E.A. Goerner's indictment is sufficient for the moment: "historicism as antidote." As I said in a recent post here, I don't see how individuals lose their obligations to God when they unite in civil society, designate a civil authority, and act corporately. The stubborn fact of religious pluralism may prevent civil society through its ruling authority from offering God what is God's right, but that is not because society is under less obligation to God than individuals are. NONE of this, of course, is to say that Leo defends the proposition that the civil authority should compel non-believers to "profess" the faith (cf. Immortale no. 36), only that Leo sought the "Christian organization of civil society" (id. at no. 16).
Posted by: Patrick Brennan | Jul 28, 2011 9:44:17 PM