Wednesday, December 16, 2009
As part of our ongoing conversation about George Weigel's recent column on the "presumption against war" in the Catholic just war tradition (for other posts in this thread, read this, this, and this), Christopher Dodson comments:
I am certainly no expert on the church’s just war teaching or its historical manifestations through the centuries. However, upon reflecting on Weigel’s column two thoughts come to mind that might contribute to the discussion.
First, Weigel appears to conclude that a presumption against war does not exist because it does not expressly appear in the traditional manifestations of the just war teaching. Just because it does not appear in those cases, however, does not mean that it does not exist or could not exist In this respect, Weigel makes the same error he made in his response to Caritas in Veritate. He fails to look at Catholic social teaching as a whole. Specifically, he fails to interpret individual portions of the teaching, such as the just war tradition, in light of the whole Ironically, Weigel missed this very point in Caritas in Veritate.:
In this sense, clarity is not served by certain abstract subdivisions of the Church's social doctrine, which apply categories to Papal social teaching that are extraneous to it. It is not a case of two typologies of social doctrine, one pre-conciliar and one post-conciliar, differing from one another: on the contrary, there is a single teaching, consistent and at the same time ever new. It is one thing to draw attention to the particular characteristics of one Encyclical or another, of the teaching of one Pope or another, but quite another to lose sight of the coherence of the overall doctrinal corpus. (No. 12)
The civil law principle of in pari materia is helpful here. Just as statutes should be construed, if possible, so as to harmonize, and to give force and effect to the provisions of each, expressions of Catholic social teaching - indeed, all Catholic teaching - should be read and interpreted with a view toward the whole and with a view toward harmonizing and giving all parts the same force and effect.
Therefore, rather than viewing the just war tradition in isolation, it should be interpreted so as to harmonize with the entire teaching of the church. As already noted in some of the posts, there is support for the presumption against war in the Compendium, scripture, and elsewhere.
Second, Weigel argues that the just war teaching begins with “legitimate public authority’s moral obligation to defend the common good by defending the peace composed of justice, security, and freedom.” That is essentially the same basis for the state’s use of the death penalty. However, as Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism make clear, those obligations of the state do not exist in isolation. We are instructed that if “non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.” (emphasis added.)
Thankfully, the Catechism points us in the direction of understanding why the “hurdle” - to use Weigel’s words - exists with regards to use of the death penalty. It’s purpose is to conform to the dignity of the human person and the common good. In practice, this is a presumption against the use of the death penalty.
Following Weigel’s logic, if the explanatory clause was not there, we would have no reason to conclude that a presumption against the use of the death penalty exists. He would, however, be wrong. Like the hurdles in the just war tradition, the hurdle for using the death penalty does not exist in isolation and without reason. We would have to discover it’s reason by interpreting the hurdle with a view toward harmonizing it with the entire teaching of the church.