October 29, 2011
More on the Pope's recent Address to the Bundestag
Before expressing my respectful disagreement with some of the personal theological opinion Pope Benedict shared in his Address to the Bundestag on September 22, 2012, I would underscore the importance of the Holy Father's calling the German government and people back to the touchstone of the natural law. The Pope is certainly correct that "[i]dea of natural law is today viewed as a specifically Catholic doctrine, not worth bringing into the discussion in a non-Catholic environment, so that one feels almost ashamed even to mention the term." I am grateful for the Pope's reminder to the Germans -- and to all of us -- of the truth that "[m]an too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipuate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rights ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled." This language enjoys the clarity and precision we have come to expect from Ratzinger-Benedict, and while I would have preferred for the Pope to return to the natural law in his exposition of the conditions of human freedom, there is, in my view, nothing to quarrel with in the quoted language. It reflects Catholic teaching about matters that are true not *just* for Catholics.
On the other hand, however, I have some serious questions about the *truth* of the following assertion made by the Pope in the same Address: "Unlike other great religions, Christianity has never proposed a revealed law to the State and to society, that is to say a juridical order derived from revelation. Instead, it has pointed to nature and reason as the true sources of law . . . ." While I concede that the common English translation I have just quoted is not adequate to the (gramatically odd) German text
("Wie erkennt man, was recht ist? In der Geschichte sind Rechtsordnungen fast durchgehend religiös begründet worden: Vom Blick auf die Gottheit her wird entschieden, was unter Menschen rechtens ist. Im Gegensatz zu anderen großen Religionen hat das Christentum dem Staat und der Gesellschaft nie ein Offenbarungsrecht, eine Rechtsordnung aus Offenbarung vorgegeben. Es hat stattdessen auf Natur und Vernunft als die wahren Rechtsquellen verwiesen – auf den Zusammenklang von objektiver und subjektiver Vernunft, der freilich das Gegründetsein beider Sphären in der schöpferischen Vernunft Gottes voraussetzt."),
serious questions remain, at least for me. Specifically, has the Church not *authoritatively* taught that Christ is king over all peoples and a giver of law that all those to whom it is promulgated must obey? Here is what the Magisterium taught in Quas primas (1925):
"17. It would be a grave error, on the other hand, to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to him by the Father, all things are in his power. Nevertheless, during his life on earth he refrained from the exercise of such authority, and although he himself disdained to possess or to care for earthly goods, he did not, nor does he today, interfere with those who possess them. Non eripit mortalia qui regna dat caelestia.
18. Thus the empire of our Redeemer embraces all men. To use the words of Our immortal predecessor, Pope Leo XIII: "His empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptized persons who, though of right belonging to the Church, have been led astray by error, or have been cut off from her by schism, but also all those who are outside the Christian faith; so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ." Nor is there any difference in this matter between the individual and the family or the State; for all men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. In him is the salvation of the individual, in him is the salvation of society."
Prescinding from questions of theology and philososphy for now, I think it's demonstrably *historically* false that the Church has not "proposed a juridical order derived from revelation." On the contrary, the Church has taught that the laws of civil society should be shaped in part by the divine positive law (e.g., the state's law of marriage should respect the Pauline privilege), recognizing, of course, that in countries where Catholics are not in the majority, this is not likely to happen.
I do not discover in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council any language that undertakes to contradict the language I have quoted from Quas primas.
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