Archive for the ‘Vatican II’ Category

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The Relationship Between Objective Truth And Individual Conscience – Derek Jeter

February 25, 2014
No matter how much one intends to do good, inherently wrong acts remain evil and thus are detrimental to the well-being of the agent, even if the agent is ignorant of that evil. I might drink a glass of sulfuric acid, intending to satisfy my thirst, unaware of what the glass contains.  Nevertheless, the effect of such action is physical illness. So too with evil acts, which necessarily result in moral illness, regardless of whether one judges them to be good. American individualism is particularly susceptible to the error of making human subjectivity, expressed in the distorted notion of the primacy of conscience, the criterion of human dignity. Such a view involves the denial of true freedom and dignity; it leads to a society in which human choice serves as its own justification. What is right becomes nothing more than what is chosen.”

No matter how much one intends to do good, inherently wrong acts remain evil and thus are detrimental to the well-being of the agent, even if the agent is ignorant of that evil. I might drink a glass of sulfuric acid, intending to satisfy my thirst, unaware of what the glass contains. Nevertheless, the effect of such action is physical illness. So too with evil acts, which necessarily result in moral illness, regardless of whether one judges them to be good. American individualism is particularly susceptible to the error of making human subjectivity, expressed in the distorted notion of the primacy of conscience, the criterion of human dignity. Such a view involves the denial of true freedom and dignity; it leads to a society in which human choice serves as its own justification. What is right becomes nothing more than what is chosen.”

Funny. I always thought the Wars of Religion or the 30 years war (1618-1648) took place between the Protestants and the Catholics and plunged Europe into nightmare. But while religion was given as the reason for war; there were many other reasons as well. These included land, money and economics, political power, natural resources, and more. Over time I think religion has taken the rap for all of the other reasons. Hence in the modern era you will find atheists who view religion as a source of evil – look at the hundreds of years of European history, don’t you “get” it?

I was taking my music course and found this explanation by Professor Robert Greenberg:

The series of horrific wars that devastated Germany between 1618 and 1648 are collectively referred to as the Thirty Years’ War. More than just a German war though, the Thirty Years’ War was a pan-European struggle in which politics and national self-interesto became inextricably intertwined with the religious issues that, ostensibly, had given rise to the conflict in the first place.

That part of Germany that embraced Lutheranism had been, before Reformation, part of what was called the Holy Roman Empire, a political conglomerate created in 800 when Pope Leo III, crowned Charlemagne, or “Charles the Great,” emperor of the new Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire was founded for two reasons: one, to consolidate the power of the church across a vast stretch of only slightly civilized Europe and two, as a defensive bulwark against non-Christians, which included everyone from Vikings to Muslims.

The Holy Roman Empire was, by definition, a Catholic Empire. If a substantial part of it should cease being Catholic, well then it no longer had any reason to be. This was not lost on the Holy Roman Empire’s chief ally, the Catholic Habsburg Empire, based in Austria. The Habsburgs saw Protestantism as an intolerable threat to its national interests, so the Austrians declared war on Protestantism and brought the tremendous resources of their empire to bear on the Protestants of Germany.

Meanwhile, to the West, the French saw a resurgent Habsburg Empire as being extremely dangerous to their own national interests. As a result, and talk about strange bedfellows — Catholic France allied itself with the Protestants so that it could fight the Catholic Habsburgs on German soil, which sure beat fighting them on French soil.

The English, who were always at odds with the French, nevertheless allied themselves with the French during the Thirty Years’ War, not just because the English were Protestant and it was in their best interest to keep part of Germany Protestant, but because they feared the growing power of the Austrians more than they feared the French.

The Lutheran King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus, invaded Germany. Entire armies of mercenaries and criminals roamed central Europe, changing sides at will depending upon who had the upper hand and where the loot was. It was a terrible time, one that left Germany devastated.

The war ended in 1648, with Protestantism firmly established in what today is central and northern Germany.

So the “Religious Wars,” in the final analysis, resulted from (as Archbishop Scola noted in the previous post) the rigid admixture [vocab: The state of being mingled or mixed] of political power and religion that ruined the attempt in the Edict of Milan to define religious freedom. Heresy also muddied the waters.

The violence really raged all the way from the 1500’s by some estimations. Certainly that earlier era which produced the Edict of Milan in 313AD, when Constantine and Licinius, were the only two signatories to the Edict, “marked not only the gradual ending of the persecution of Christians but, above all, albeit within the limits of its time, the dawn of religious freedom.”

The notion of religious freedom, which, at the superficial level, attracts very wide approval, has in reality always to some degree lacked clarity. Archbishop Scola identified three complexities that muddied the waters of the modern era:

  1. The relationship between objective truth and individual conscience;
  2. The way that religious communities relate to state power;
  3. From the Christian theological point of view, the question of the interpretation of the universality of salvation in Christ, in contrast to the plurality of religions and world visions (“substantive” ethical visions)

I wanted here to address the first in a little more in depth from an essay I found by William E. Carroll in The Catholic Thing:

“There are few more famous phrases in American history than the Declaration of Independence’s affirmation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as inalienable, God-given rights. These rights, especially liberty, have come to be pillars of American culture. But the increasing emphasis on the radical autonomy of each human being has led in our time to a divorce between freedom and any notion of an objective order of truth. This is especially evident in various ethical theories that identify man’s dignity merely with the act of choice.  

It is true that freedom is a distinguishing human characteristic, but such freedom is grounded in an objective order of value; in fact, without such a grounding, without an essential ordering to what is true, freedom becomes a caricature of its real meaning. In our culture, it seems easy to forget, as President Obama has several times recently, that, in the original context, liberty and our inalienable rights have their source in the Creator.

One manifestation of this modern tendency to separate freedom from truth can be found in arguments about the primacy of conscience. Often appeals to this principle are at the core of justifications for dissent from the Church’s teachings on a wide range of moral questions.  Such arguments have been particularly attractive to many Americans, accustomed as they are to look at themselves and their society in terms of individual freedom and autonomy. The primacy of conscience, thus, seems to express a moral imperative.

As with human freedom, the role of conscience in moral decisions is a central tenet of Christian belief. But conscience and its primacy need to be understood correctly. In both popular culture and in the more sophisticated writings of some moral theologians, conscience has changed into something quite different from its traditional sense. 

Conscience is the act or condition of knowing the appropriate course to follow in a given situation. From the Latin cum scientia (conscientia), which means “with knowledge,” conscience is a habit or disposition of the intellect concerning specific human behavior. It is a judgment of practical reason rather than of speculative reason; that is, it is a judgment about praxis, about a course of action to be taken or an evaluation of action already performed. The obligation to follow one’s conscience flows from what conscience is. The summons of conscience to do what is good in particular concrete circumstances demands obedience only because it is the application of the objective and universal moral good.

The error into which many fall is to think that to judge an action to be good makes it good. But the judgment conscience makes is not infallible; one’s conscience could be poorly formed or one could act in ignorance, not knowing that a particular act is evil. Those who think that moral maturity, and hence moral well being, are only constituted by the autonomous decision of one’s conscience, misunderstand the role of conscience. 

Conscience is not some independent capacity to decide what is good and evil. Conscience functions within the moral order; it does not constitute that order. The moral imperative to follow one’s conscience is an obligation in the practical order not the speculative order: conscience commands behavior, it does not determine truth. Pope John Paul II made this point with great clarity in his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor

In the practical judgment of conscience, which imposes on the person the obligation to perform a given act, the link between freedom and truth is made manifest. Precisely for this reason conscience expresses itself in acts of judgment which reflect the truth about the good, and not in arbitrary decisions. The maturity and responsibility of these judgments – and, when all is said and done, of the individual who is their subject – are not measured by the liberation of the conscience from objective truth, in favor of an alleged autonomy in personal decisions, but, on the contrary, by an insistent search for truth and by allowing oneself to be guided by that truth in one’s actions. [61]

Both conscience and freedom are ultimately unintelligible apart from an order of truth and goodnessThe first principle of practical judgment, that is, of human action, is to do good and avoid evil. Practical judgment presupposes an understanding of good and evil by which it then measures the rightness or wrongness of particular actions. Both reason and faith allow man to discover that primordial insight about good and evil.

The recognition that some acts are inherently immoral regardless of the intention of the agent (e.g., abortion) is either a conclusion of speculative reason or a matter of revelation and is not called into question, much less invalidated, by the fact that a particular individual’s conscience might lead him to behave as though these acts are good.

No matter how much one intends to do good, inherently wrong acts remain evil and thus are detrimental to the well-being of the agent, even if the agent is ignorant of that evil. I might drink a glass of sulfuric acid, intending to satisfy my thirst, unaware of what the glass contains.  Nevertheless, the effect of such action is physical illness. So too with evil acts, which necessarily result in moral illness, regardless of whether one judges them to be good.

American individualism is particularly susceptible to the error of making human subjectivity, expressed in the distorted notion of the primacy of conscience, the criterion of human dignity. Such a view involves the denial of true freedom and dignity; it leads to a society in which human choice serves as its own justification. What is right becomes nothing more than what is chosen.”

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The Nature and Scope Of Religious Freedom In Our Contemporary Culture

February 24, 2014
ANGELO CARDINAL SCOLA, previously the Patriarch of Venice, was named Archbishop of Milan in 2011. The longing for truth respects the freedom of all, even of the person who calls himself agnostic, indifferent, or atheist.

ANGELO CARDINAL SCOLA, previously the Patriarch of Venice, was named Archbishop of Milan in 2011. The longing for truth respects the freedom of all, even of the person who calls himself agnostic, indifferent, or atheist.

Every 3rd Sunday of the month I am off to St. Clement’s Eucharistic Shrine in Boston to participate in a Communio study group. The group chooses an article from The Catholic journal Communio for discussion and each member leads a discussion on it. This Sunday it was my turn and we read an article titled The Nature and Scope Of Religious Freedom In Our Contemporary Culture by Angelo Cardinal Scola, previously the Patriarch of Venice and currently the Archbishop of Milan. I posed a Q&A on the article and here are my notes.

If you would enjoy Catholic fellowship and a discussion group on Catholic topics, join us. Happy to provide information to any interested. Leave a comment and I will get back to you.

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Q:    What was the significance of the Edict of Milan?

A     It marked not only the gradual ending of the persecutions of the Christians but, above all, the birth of religious freedom. In a certain sense, we can trace as far back as the Edict of Milan the very first emergence in history of the two phenomena that today we call “religious freedom” and “the secular state”.

Q:    The author speaks of “the grave contradictions linked to the practice and conception of religious freedom.” What are some of those contradictions that arose over time?

A     Ambrose wrote that Christians should be loyal to the civil authority, while at the same time he taught that the civil authority must guarantee freedom to citizens on the personal and social level. In this way there developed recognition of the boundaries of the public weal, whose security citizens and authority alike are called to ensure together.

In the early years of Christianity social disorders connected with the phenomenon of heretics invalidated the framework of religious freedom and the secular state that Ambrose and the Edict of Milan had established.

The Protestant Reformation led to an intensification of the rigid admixture [vocab: The state of being mingled or mixed] of political power and religion that culminated in the Wars of Religion.

The French Revolution introduced the idea of the absolute autonomy of the individual and society in respect to God and his Church. The Church responded in Dignitatis humanae by stating that the right to religious freedom implies immunity from coercion in a twofold sense: man has the right not to be constrained to act against his conscience and at the same time not to be prevented from acting in conformity with it.

Q:    How did the promulgation of the Declaration Dignitatis humanae fundamentally change the classic doctrine of religious tolerance developed after the Edict of Milan?

A     Dignitatis humanae stated that the human person has a right to religious freedom, and this right continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it. Dignitatis humanae shifted the issue of religious freedom from the notion of truth to the notion of the rights of a human person .Although error may have no rights, a person has rights even when he or she is wrong. This is, of course, not a right before God; it is a right with respect to other people, the community and the State.

The moral law in question is a negative right that adequately establishes the limits of the state and of the civil powers, denying them any direct competence in the area of religious choice. Understood in this way, the right to religious freedom implies immunity from coercion in a twofold sense: man has the right not to be constrained to act against his conscience and at the same time not to be prevented from acting in conformity with it.

Q:    What does the affirmation of religious freedom entail (really mean)?

A     The affirmation of religious freedom is the acquisition of a renewed knowledge of truth and, as such, always constitutes the start of a journey more than an arrival point. In this case it really means the acknowledgement of a crisis:

  1. In countries still governed by atheist dictatorships, persecution of dissidents and members of religious communities continues to be common practice.
  2. In Western Europe and the U.S. several frequent legal acts and decisions have been taken in the West which tend to coercively prevent the full expression of religious freedom: from prohibitions of conscientious objection in a professional sphere to the ban on wearing and showing religious symbols to the obligatory teaching even in religion schools of subjects based on an anthropology or a scientism which is opposed to one’s own creed

Q:    Contemporary neo-liberalism (Think Barack Obama or Andrew Cuomo) advances the idea (née conceit) of a neutral state, one that is in-different to religious phenomena which are labeled in the article as secularity of laicité.  Describe the position citing examples from the article:

A     In no particular order:

  1. A vision of public power as the defender of a secularity (laicité) that is extraneous to and mistrusts — or even discriminates against — any religious group or institution
  2. Encourages a cultural prejudice, i.e., the idea of identifying — in a way that is more practical than theoretical — what is secular with what is non-religious. In this way, the public arena is willing to accommodate all different visions and practices other than the religious ones.
  3. Takes on a secularist orientation which, by means of legislative choices, especially in matters of a sensitive anthropological nature, becomes hostile toward cultural identities of religious origin.
  4. By means of the objectivity and the authority of the law, it spreads a culture that is a secularized vision of man and of the world that improperly limits religious freedom.
  5. Takes on a secularist orientation by means of an anthropological vision marked by a profound individualism with an undue emphasis on “rights” rather than duties or obligations and the exercise of/moral conscience. Freedom “from” rather than freedom “to.”
  6. Elevating a scientistic and technocratic political culture at the expense of the religious.

Q     When Cardinal Scola speaks to the notion of religious freedom he encounters what he calls a complex knot of “classic problems.” One is the relationship “between objective truth and individual conscience.” What do you think he means by that?

A     A reference to a kind of Vatican short hand shown in this quote from Veritatis Splendour, encyclical letter of John Paul II:

The relationship between man’s freedom and God’s law is most deeply lived out in the “heart” of the person, in his moral conscience. As the Second Vatican Council observed: “In the depths of his conscience man detects a law which he does not impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience can when necessary speak to his heart more specifically: ‘do this, shun that’. For man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged (cf. Romans 2:14-16)”. 101  The way in which one conceives the relationship between freedom and law is thus intimately bound up with one’s understanding of the moral conscience. Here the cultural tendencies referred to above – in which freedom and law are set in opposition to each other and kept apart, and freedom is exalted almost to the point of idolatry – lead to a “creative” understanding of moral conscience, which diverges from the teaching of the Church’s tradition and her Magisterium.
Veritatis Splendour, #54

Q     The following is a reading selection from pp 326-27 about some of the features of American neo-liberalism. How does it contrast with your understanding of what the American Founding Fathers had in mind or traditional American religious values vis-à-vis the state?

Contemporary neo-liberalism has taken positions that try to found what is political on procedures that are totally neutral with regard to any “substantive” vision, wanting to guarantee an active neutrality. In some cases, however, this even goes so far as to theorize that people who believe in a truth must be marginalized from liberal political debate… it is now a widespread conception in European juridical and political culture, particularly within European institutions. This conception interprets the categories of religious freedom in the light of the so-called “neutrality” of the state, and tends to become an institutional negative prejudice toward the religious phenomenon, instead of protecting an irreducible distinction between state and religions…. [It] encourages the idea of identifying – in a way that is more practical than theoretical — what is secular with what is non-religious. In this way, the public arena is willing to accommodate all different visions and practices other than the religious ones. … By means of the objectivity and the authority of the law, a culture spreads that is marked by a secularized vision of man and of the world, which is a legitimate voice in a plural society, but which the state cannot assume as its own, without implicitly taking up a position which improperly limits religious freedom. … Consequently, the so-called “neutral” state is not, in fact, impartial, in cultural terms. Rather, it takes on a secularist orientation which, by means of legislative choices, especially in matters of a sensitive anthropological nature, becomes hostile toward cultural identities of religious origin.
pp 326-327

Q     Based on the reading what is the difference between a non-confessional state and a secular state?

A     Couldn’t find it but I found this (my previous post on PayingAttentiontotheSky.com):  A non-confessional state is one in which no religious belief is given precedence over any other. The government refrains from favoring or imposing one particular world view, and, without being dogmatic about it, tries insofar as is possible to treat different religious communities evenhandedly. This presumably is what the majority of the American founding fathers had in mind. A secularist state, on the other hand, is one in which religion as such — the notion or even mention of God — is as far as possible excluded from public life, public affairs, and public documents — with the purpose of eventually making godlessness, coupled with a humanistic adulation of man and his achievements, the reigning belief of the majority of citizens. This is the current American state.

Q     Were the American founding fathers being inconsistent when, in establishing equal treatment (at least in theory) for all religious denominations, they allowed references to God and the natural law in their Declaration of Independence and their Constitution?

A     I (Philip Trower, previous post, speaking here) would say No, because belief in a Creator, in the natural law, and in a moral conscience are not matters of faith. They are logical inferences based on the evidence, and as such are acts of reason within all men’s reach. This is at least implicitly recognized in the Vatican II documents on religious liberty.

Q     After describing a crisis in our current state of affairs living under secularism, Scola asks how are we to find a remedy for this serious state of affairs? What is his solution?

A     Recognizing that under the Edict of Milan (313) a) Adherence to truth is possible only in a voluntary and personal way, and b) external coercion is contrary to its nature, it has to be acknowledged that the realization of this double condition hinges on a presupposed personal commitment to truth. Indeed, to follow “the duty, and even the right, to seek the truth” (DH, 3) releases religious freedom from the suspicion of being just another name for religious indifferentism, which, in turn, presents a precise worldview, at least practically speaking. In the present historical moment, the worldview of religious indifferentism tends to dominate the others.

Q     What is Truth to the secular vision?

A     Truth is conceived only in relation to the subject and the subject’s freedom (which more than occasionally declines into subjectivism and its consequent relativism), it is, however, also true that religious adherence to established traditions is lived, too often, as a mere reaction. It is thus increasingly conceived solely in terms of public, community, and social life, to the point where it is quite difficult today to find cases in which the words “private,” “intimate,” “interiority,” “particular” and “individual” are used without a derogatory connotation.

Q     What does “a search for truth in the existential sense” mean for religious freedom and how does the current secularist state view it?

A     A search for truth in the existential sense still remains an inescapable part of life. However the secularism that embraces us encourages that the very idea of the search for a truth that is ultimate and therefore religious is simply losing any meaning.

Q     “A faith that is lived integrally” What does that mean to religious freedom?

A     The recognition of the fact that a faith that is lived integrally has an anthropological, social, and cosmological importance, which carries extremely concrete political consequences with it. If in every sphere of human existence, including the political, one witnesses to one’s convictions, this does not infringe anyone’s right. On the contrary, in the moment in which one promotes it, one sets in motion the virtuous search for the “noble compromise” (cum-promitto) on specific goods of an ethic, social, cultural, economic, and political nature. Where it is not possible to agree with other members of a pluralistic society on unrenounceable principles, one can resort to conscientious objection. It is more necessary than ever, today, to reflect deeply on the social dimension of conscientious objection, a reflection that is sadly still lacking.

Q     How are we to react then to the objection of a secular society that does not perceive an obligation to seek the truth in order to adhere to it? How does the Truth seek us? How does that longing for Truth affect society and religious freedom?

A     Our free invitation to them to reflect on what it means to have the obligation and the right to search for the truth is crucial. Augustine, a genius at giving expression to human anxiety, had grasped the secret of it, as Benedict XVI observes: “It is not we who possess the Truth after having sought it, but the Truth that seeks us out and possesses us.” In this sense, it is truth itself, through the significance of the relations and circumstances of life in which each person is a protagonist, which presents itself as the “serious event” in human existence and the shared life of human beings. The truth which seeks us out is evidenced in the irrepressible longing which makes man aspire to it: Quid enim forties desiderat anima quam veritatem? [What does the soul desire more strongly than the truth?] This longing respects the freedom of all, even of the person who calls himself agnostic, indifferent, or atheist. Religious freedom would otherwise be an empty word. The claim for religious freedom would become absolutely empty if we did not suppose the existence of human beings who personally and intimately cannot renounce the desire to adhere to an ultimate truth that determines their life.

Q:    What is the duty of the state vis–à–vis religious freedom

A     To guarantee space for public expression of religion (a safety zone which guarantees the inviolability of a human space) and communication between subjects.

Q:    What is the role of the laity in society?

A     It is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.” This is not an invitation to pursue hegemony or domination, but rather the recognition of the fact that a faith that is lived integrally has an anthropological, social, and cosmological importance, which carries extremely concrete political consequences with it. If in every sphere of human existence, including the political, one witnesses to one’s convictions, this does not infringe anyone’s right. On the contrary, in the moment in which one promotes it, one sets in motion the virtuous search for the “noble compromise” (cum-promitto) on specific goods of an ethic, social, cultural, economic, and political nature. Where it is not possible to agree with other members of a pluralistic society on unrenounceable principles, one can resort to conscientious objection. It is more necessary than ever, today, to reflect deeply on the social dimension of conscientious objection, a reflection that is sadly still lacking.

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The Tridentine Genius of Vatican II (Part II) — Thomas Joseph White O.P

November 28, 2012

The Nativity (also known as The Holy Night (or La Notte) or as Adoration of the Shepherds) is a painting finished around 1529-1530 by the Italian painter Antonio da Correggio. It is housed in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.
The work was commissioned from Correggio in October 1522 by Alberto Pratoneri for the family chapel in the church of San Prospero of Reggio Emilia: completed at the end of the decade, it was placed in the chapel in 1530. In a what was considered a minor sacrilege, the painting was absconded in 1640 by duke Francesco I d’Este and taken to his private gallery, it was moved to Dresden in 1746.
The artist, following the trail blazed by a number of celebrated works by Titian, interpreted a scene that is fully ‘à la chandell’ and produced an outstanding result in the treatment of light. The scene pivots around the Child, surrounded by Mary’s arms, with a group of shepherds on the left, of which the bearded figure is portrayed in the same position of Jerome in the Madonna with St. Jerome (c. 1523). On the right are the traditional presepe animals and St. Joseph. The upper left part features several angels reminiscent the ardite positions in Correggio’s dome of the Cathedral of Parma, executed in the same years.
From Wikipedia Article on Correggio.

Vatican I’s emphasis on the unifying role of the papacy is not lost at Vatican II but reasserted as the basis of a communion in the one Church. If each local Church is to be fully herself, she must be in communion with the larger principle of unity, the Church in Rome and her prelate. This does not mean that there are no other grounds for ecumenism, but rather that ecumenism is truly possible and necessary especially because the Roman primacy provides a way for Christians to be one in a visible way, holding to a common doctrine.

How would we find mutual doctrinal accord if there were no way to attain to a touchstone of unity and to know in what we must be unified? Thus some form of doctrinal infallibility is the necessary condition for doctrinal unity. We can say with certitude: No pope, no true and final ecumenism.

Analogously, if Vatican II states that the laity are to be consulted in their practices and beliefs because of the sensus fidei — the sense of the faith — they hold, it is not because this functions independently of the ecclesial hierarchy. Rather, they are to be consulted because the life of the laity in ordinary society can embody and express, with its own unique genius and sanctity, the concrete truth of the gospel proclaimed by the apostolic hierarchy. Because there is a hierarchy, the laity can have a distinct and complementary mission of witness and teaching.

On this reading, Newman is right. The Church is alive in myriad ways, both in profound unity and in genuine, diversified vitality: in the sacraments, in the grace of Christ working invisibly to lead persons outside the Church to encounter Christ fully in the sacraments, in the Church in Rome and in her sister Churches, in the bishops and in the laity. The Council’s insistence on the sacramental visibility of the Church becomes a point of continuity with the past, not a point of rupture.

Consider another modern Catholic touchstone: the relationship between authority and rationality. The standard secular narrative is that we have to choose between an appeal to a unified doctrinal authority and the openness of human rationality to the fullness of universal truth. From Trent to Vatican II we see a contrary teaching, that authentic apostolic authority and vital human rationality are not only complementary, but also deeply and mutually enriching.

Trent committed the Catholic Church to this stance through that most authoritative of pronouncements: the affirmation of the Greek-language books of the Old Testament as inspired. By accepting the complete Septuagint as the authoritative Scripture of the Church, the Roman Catholic Church knowingly committed herself to a very ambitious project of historical study. How should we understand the narrative of the development of the books of the Bible, from the Torah and prophets (in Hebrew) to the inter-testamental literature (Hellenized Judaism), to the New Testament? What are we to make of the interpretations of the patristic age and the formation of the biblical canon during the time of the early christological disputes?

The Council of Trent saw that historical rationality and the divine authority of Scripture are not in competition but in profound concord. After the Council, the Church sought to win over the academic culture of Europe by making historical arguments about the true genesis and development of early Christianity. As Newman said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” This strategy committed the institution, however, to an ambitious new program of seminary and university studies, one that was in turn propagated throughout Europe by the episcopacy and renewed the study of philosophy and sacred theology in the early modern period.

Vatican I carried this program forward in conversation with the secular Enlightenment. Dei Filius insisted, against secular reason, on the infallibility of divine revelation: Revelation is a gift that human rationality cannot procure for itself. Yet it also underscored the high natural capacities of human reason, our philosophical capacity to know of the existence of God and to cooperate with divine revelation.

Against the reductive tendency of modern thought that so quickly rejects appeal to divine authority, that council sought to underscore the existence of a fruitful, liberating interaction between sacred theology and human rationality. The two are not at war, but may mutually interact with one another in peace and liveliness. Revelation is a gift to human reason seeking perspective. Reason seeking meaning can arrive at the threshold of the question of God and can therefore admit the possibility of divine revelation.

The modern Church’s living confidence in both divine authority and human rationality flowers at Vatican II, bringing to greater fullness what is present in seed at Trent and in stem at Vatican I. For instance, Dei Verbum, the dogmatic constitution on divine revelation, affirms that the Holy Spirit is the principal author of sacred Scripture but that it is also always to be understood as the simultaneous product of true human authors. There is no rivalry between divine causality and human creativity.

Rather, God the Holy Spirit works through the living instrument of human rationality. Consequently, there need be no opposition between the study of the cultural context of a particular author and pursuit of the inspired, deepest meaning of the text. Each should in principle facilitate a deeper appreciation of the other.

Analogously, Gaudium et Spes, the pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, called for an integrated understanding of modern cosmology and human political and moral life in concord with divine revelation. Engagement with the sciences or modern constitutional law are profoundly compatible with a biblical understanding of reality.

More to the point, only the theological vision of the human person who is created in the image of God can give final explanation to the development of the physical cosmos and the world of living things. Only theological recognition of the dignity of the human being who is redeemed in Christ can give ultimate justification to the humanist aspirations of modern democratic government and the legal system of rights.

As a last example, Nostra Aetate, the declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions, underscored the importance of a search for intelligent points of contact between divine revelation and the diverse religious traditions of humanity. One can seek to explain and promote Christianity while also seeking to understand and learn culturally from the Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim traditions.

Most especially, the Church’s engagement with the Jewish people stems first from her recognition of the authority of Christ. This engagement requires that the Church take account of the theological and moral implications of the grave mistreatment of Jews by baptized persons in both medieval and modern Europe.

The Church in modernity has understood that human reason is enriched by revelation, and in its teachings on this matter Vatican II is thoroughly and faithfully Tridentine. While the Church simultaneously embraces the exploration of divine revelation and the expansion of human reason, the mystery of the faith itself does not change, but the way that mystery is understood, articulated, and transmitted does develop. Through this development, doctrines are clarified and purifications occur. In and through the process, the Church is called to become more herself, more attentive to the truth that she bears within herself in order to proclaim it with integrity and vitality to the world.

Consider the third theme, that of holiness. The Reformation was most fundamentally about the doctrine of justification: What is it that makes us righteous before God? We know Luther’s bold answer: justification by faith alone, apart from works. The Church took issue with this definition, but not with the notion of justification as a gift of grace. All were agreed on that. Nor did the Church dispute the need for supernatural faith. Again, the Church insisted at Trent that faith is necessary for salvation.

Rather, the heart of the matter had to do with Luther’s formula simul justus et peccator: the claim that by faith one could be just while simultaneously alienated from God in the will by the interior wound of sin. Against such a notion, Trent taught that the infusion of supernatural charity is an essential dimension of justification. In the fallen human person, the disordered loves of sin turn the human will away from God. By the grace of justification, faith, hope, and love together turn the human person freely and voluntarily away from sin and back toward God, all through the power of Christ.

What is at stake in this technical theological argument? One answer is: the Church’s insistence on the essential character of holiness at the core of Christian life. For there is no Christian life without charity. The seed idea of Trent, then, is that charity is at the root of all authentic Christian life.

Charity, however, is not only interior but lived out in the street. At Vatican I, the Church militant insisted on the public and social character of religion, in the face of the militant secular state that wished to confine religion to a merely privatized “freedom of worship.” The inner core of this Catholic militancy is based on a deep understanding of the all-embracing character of religion. Since charity impels the human person toward the service of God in all things, it is not feasible to ask the religious person to quarantine his or her belief behind the walls of private life. Catholic charity bears fruit through public, Christian institutions.

This is not to say that Vatican I pushed for a state-imposed religiosity (it did not). It did hold for the principle of integrity. For the Catholic Christian is called to submit the whole of his life to the mystery of God, in all spheres of life. Holiness is the fruit of such integrity, and it tolerates no half measures of self-offering. It stems instead from the victory in the human person of radical, oblative love.

This, too, is a theme that flowers in Vatican II. The Council emphasized the “universal call to holiness” of all of Christ’s faithful, the people of God. Baptism brings with it intrinsically a vocation to holiness that is grounded in the life of charity. This pursuit of holiness should affect both family and social life at their root, and the effect can transform the world.

But the world also can and does resist the holiness of God. Gaudium et Spes enjoins Christians to public practices of Christian charity that can be performed through the instrumentality of the state: education of the poor, economic development in underprivileged countries, and the pursuit of international peace, for example. The Council also calls upon Christians to demarcate clearly those threats to sacramental married life that strike at the heart of the holiness of a civilization, referring particularly in this respect to adultery, abortion, and contraception.

This theme of the Council is deeply interconnected with the sacramental vision mentioned above. We are frail human beings, in need of spiritual healing and elevation, dependent upon nourishment and continual aid from God. The sacramental life is the visible sphere wherein the baptized Christian can be habitually rejuvenated, in order to bring the mystery of Christ visibly and invisibly into the heart of modernity. Vatican II’s emphasis on holiness is grounded in Tridentine presuppositions in the charity of the sacraments of reconciliation, and the Eucharist stands at the heart of the Christian calling to renew the world.

Some today, particularly among younger Catholics, wonder not if the Council’s teaching is true but whether it is of any great help to us in our contemporary setting. The council fathers did not really foresee the radical secularization of Europe and the Americas that was beginning (or beginning to be seen) just as the documents were being published.

In our new and very challenging context, in which the Church suffers internal dissent and external persecution, many look back to the liturgical spirituality and theology of Trent and Vatican I as expressions of vibrant Catholic identity, and this makes perfect sense in light of the life of the Church as Newman described it. A plant under attack from disease will protect the roots and the stem and let the flowers go. These earlier configurations of Catholicism are like the root and the stem of modern Catholicism, wherein the life of the modern Church is expressed in concentrated fashion.

But we cannot do without the Second Vatican Council. The stem and the root are meant to flower, and the flowering of the Church occurs through the Christian life of charity and the public, credible proclamation of the truth, the realities of her life developed and articulated at Vatican II. It is precisely because Catholic Christianity is not sectarian but cosmopolitan and culture-forming that it must remain ever engaged with the world around it.

The modern Church is indeed a sacramentally visible order. She recognizes simultaneously the absolute importance of divine authority and public rationality. She is committed at her heart to the life of holiness. Because all this is true, the confidence of the Second Vatican Council should continue to speak to us.

The faith of the Church truly can transform the world, even as leaven in the dough or as the lamp that illumines an entire room. Newman was acutely sensitive to the great difficulty and simultaneous grandeur of being a Christian in the contemporary age.

The Christian is always a stranger in the world, but the Christian is the soul of the world as well. The greatness and promise of this vocation can be underscored by a patient reading of the Second Vatican Council that understands its place in the living tradition of the Church, particularly its place as the third great council of modern Catholicism.

That Council teaches us confidence. For in modernity the Church surely does travel through a dark night of faith, but she also bears within herself the hidden and radiant presence of the inextinguishable light of Christ.

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The Tridentine Genius of Vatican II (Part One) — Thomas Joseph White O.P

November 27, 2012

At the heart of the world is the mystery of Christ and the Church. And yet this provokes some very different responses…

Thomas Joseph White, O.P., is director of the Thomistic Institute at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. I came across his article in last month’s First Things and it explained a great deal to me the constant topic of Vatican II and how Catholics seem to stress one thing and yet another on the topic.

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Fifty years after the opening of the Second Vatican Council, two schools of thought dominate the interpretation of that event. One derives from the theology surrounding the post-conciliar journal Concilium, founded by theologians like Hans Küng and Edward Schillebeeckx. It advances a progressivist reading of the Council: Vatican II stands for engagement with modernity, liberation of women, dialogue with world religions, liberalization of sexual mores, laicization of the mission of the Church, and liberal political advocacy.

The other school stems from the thinkers who founded the journal Communio: Hans Urs von Balthasar and Joseph Ratzinger. It reads the Council as a bold new vision of a distinctively Catholic way of being in the midst of modernity. The agenda is inevitably countercultural: the Church as a sign and instrument of salvation in Christ, nuptial theology that stresses the importance of gender complementarity, Eucharistic communion and sacramental marriage as the core of a healthy society, teaching and evangelization as the heart of the Christian mission in the modern world.

It can be useful to frame the debate between these two schools as a way of thinking about the Council and its aftermath. Perhaps, however, there is another juxtaposition to propose, one that does not overlap exactly with the options mentioned above. On this reading, there are also only two ultimate ways of reading the Council’s message: one through the interpretive lens of Friedrich Nietzsche, the other through that of John Henry Newman.

Nietzsche is undoubtedly the hermeneutic master of our age. His influence, once confined primarily to the Parisian Left Bank and Ivy League English departments, is now the intellectual stimulant of the culture at large. Every interpretation of a text, no matter how supposedly authoritative, is always-already laced with the dominating will to power of the interpreter. We invoke authoritative texts (the Constitution, the Bible, the Magisterium) not to get at the truth, but to leverage influence over others and for one’s self or one’s ideological tribe.

Even more radically, texts are invoked not only to such political ends, but precisely to create theory itself. The interpreter is not a discoverer but a fabricator of truth. Prelates and professors spin narratives to believe in. In reality, then, truth claims have only the objectivity of works of art. This battle of the “will to power” Nietzsche also calls in his later notebooks a “will to art.” Every time we encounter the other’s opinion, a war of loves ensues. Whose art is better? Which should we love most? Of course, on this understanding of textual interpretation, there is no such thing as a solid truth claim. Everything falls into the realm of preferences and power. Everything is perspectival.

However unwillingly or not, the Catholic progressivist left has taken up in its own way the hermeneutical presuppositions of Nietzsche, in its implicit interpretation of Christian teaching as centering above all upon the power of authority. The presupposition of modern Catholic liberalism is that the Church’s teaching throughout history is inevitably composed of heterogeneous perspectives, both moral and doctrinal. On this reading, Vatican II is in some way a repudiation of the teachings of Trent or Vatican I. Doctrinal unity does not come about through an intellectual vision of the whole, of the organic continuity of perspective across the ages. Rather, the unity of Church teaching ultimately comes about by way of judicial fiat. It is the product of willful fabrication.

How, in this understanding, should we interpret the meaning of Vatican II and the essence of modern Catholicism? The Magisterium (Bl. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, the Catechism of the Catholic Church) asserts one reading of the Council, but that reading is the artificial imposition of an extrinsic, authoritarian will.

Against this, we should substitute the will and insights of the laity or the dissenting clergy, who, authorized by their human experience, authentically reconstrue the narrative of Catholic doctrine from their own heterogeneous perspective, usually with the idea of the Council as revolution. John XXIII’s “opening the windows” of the Church is something like breaking down the door of the Bastille.

This helps explain why the left is so obsessed with incessantly retelling the history of the Council. Recounting their own cathartic story of liberation again and again is not merely the collective means of safeguarding meaning against the bishop’s telling. It is the act of fabricating an alternative doctrinal truth.

Understanding the tradition this way, progressivist Catholics lack any way back to a fundamental doctrinal unity, because their hermeneutic of suspicion has blocked any possible appeal to final authority. Instead, construing divine revelation as artifice, they are left with mere human perspectives.

In saying all this I seem to be less polite to the Concilium people than I ought. After all, I am clearly suggesting that the essence of Catholic liberalism is nihilism, and that seems too extreme a claim. But it is in fact an accurate one. There is either meaning in the world or there is not. And Catholic liberalism, because of its hermeneutical stance toward the tradition of the Catholic Church, is simply unable in the end to sustain a coherent claim that there is meaning in the world.

Unlike liberal Catholicism, traditional forms of Protestantism have the advantage of being internally coherent and therefore more intrinsically credible. They are also deeply unstable as forms of belief and practice, but that is a different problem to have, and it is not something inherently incompatible with the affirmation of meaning. The choice between Catholicism and Protestantism is an intelligibly meaningful one. The choice between orthodox and heterodox Catholicism is not.

Newman offers us a different view. In the late nineteenth century, he stood for certain values that anticipated the developments of Vatican II, even things the theological left might consent to: a moderate interpretation of papal infallibility, an emphasis on the ecclesial significance of the laity, theological ecumenism, and the idea that the Church in the modern world should distinguish between her unchanging essence and a particular historical instantiation of Catholicism that predominated just prior to the French Revolution. Presumably for such reasons, Pope Paul VI went as far as to speak of Vatican II as “Newman’s Council.”

And yet, Newman’s interpretive principles of Church councils were not liberal. As he made very clear in his Biglietto speech of 1879, delivered when he was made a cardinal: “For fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion. . . . [It] is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another. . . . It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion as true.”

As it turns out, Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua offers the most rhetorically potent defense of Roman authority written in the nineteenth century. His hermeneutical principles function, however, not from the perspective of the primacy of the will to power but from the perspective of consent over time to a unified and perennial truth perceived across the ages.

Accordingly, he proposes the interpretation of ecclesial texts by something like what has come to be called a hermeneutic of continuity: Ideas expand and develop in harmonious ways down through time. The Apologia and the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine allow for a fair amount of human dialectic and political battle to be the occasion (but not the inner mechanic) of this development.

But on a deeper level, Newman sees something more mysterious and more real: the life of the Church as a life of “truth and grace.” Through time, the Church goes from being herself more intensively to being herself more fully, from stem to blossom. It is not merely that there are common ideas that persist, though this is true and especially important. It is also that there is a common dynamic development of the inner life of the Church in the world, a mysterious life spanning across ages, growing in a consistent fashion. Not human political art, but divine supernatural life, is the essence of Catholic Christianity.

How, then, can we identify the living expression of the Catholic Church in the modern age? Trent is the first of the great modern Catholic councils, and we might rightly see it as creating a kind of doctrinal embryo that grows and develops, in organic continuity, into the modern Catholicism of both Vatican I and Vatican II. Three traits of the Council of Trent reassert themselves in vital fashion across the ages: sacramentality, authority and rationality, and holiness. By these measures, Vatican II shows itself a council in Trent’s genetic legacy, and one of great organic vitality, as well as intellectual genius. We might speak then of the Tridentine genius, and the Tridentine vitality, of Vatican II.

In response to the Reformers, the Council of Trent underscored that the Church is a unified reality, both visible and invisible, composed of political society and the life of grace. As Robert Bellarmine provocatively put it: The Church is as visible as the kingdom of France.

The unity of the Christian religion is grounded in something very visible and particular: the seven sacraments. Water, oil, the Eucharist, spoken words of forgiveness, a society of ordained clerics, the grace of married love, these are the humble vehicles, encountered in concrete instances, that communicate to the world the grace of communion with God. In defining the seven sacraments as both signs and true causes of grace, the Council of Trent made everything very tangible: This sacramental economy is at the heart of the Christian life.

Vatican I added to this the emphasis on the particularity of communion with the Bishop of Rome. The Petrine office in the Church is meant to hold together in unity the plurality of a diversity of Churches in the midst of the tumults of the modern world. Here the key interlocutor was not Protestantism but modern secularism. Nineteenth-century Europe saw the rise of post-Napoleonic regimes that wished to purge public culture of all or most religious influences.

In this context, the Catholic Church insisted on the visible bond among all Christians, in visible communion with the pope, the center of all Christendom. His juridical authority to govern and unite the faithful is the living sign of a deeper vitality that transcends the secular state and the particularities of nationalist politics. The Church unites humanity over and above the totalizing ideologies of the modern nation-state and the intellectual velleities of the secular culture’s intellectuals and pundits.

Admittedly, there is a common account of Vatican II that claims that the Council sought to correct the heritage of Trent and Vatican I on both these points. The Council’s ecumenical aspiration is supposed to have led it to downplay the seven sacraments, because Protestantism typically affirms only two, and its openness to modernity led it to soften the stridency of Vatican I. Such an idea ignores a core truth. For Vatican II not only presupposes the Tridentine vision of the Church as a concrete, visible reality, but reclaims it as the key to understanding the mysterious working of grace in all of humanity.

This is the deeper significance of the famous statement at the beginning of the Council’s dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium: “The Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race.” Turn that around: All human beings, to the extent that they cooperate with the grace of Christ, come under a kind of implicit relationship to the sacramental life of the Catholic Church. Vatican II universalizes or expands the comprehension of what is already present at Trent. The human person is called into a visible and invisible fellowship with God, within a unified ecclesial body.

One can fail culpably to recognize or embrace this mystery (with terrible consequences), but what is of core importance is that this is the deeper mystery of the human race: the visible, sacramental ecclesiality of life in Christ. It is because this is the case, and not in spite of it, that the Church can be open to the modern world without being threatened by it, as the key to unlocking the inner secret at work in that world. At the heart of the world is the mystery of Christ and the Church.

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Henri de Lubac: In Appreciation — Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J.

November 20, 2012

From September 28, 1991. Originally published in First Things, which everyone should read.

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Together Rahner, Lonergan, Murray, von Balthasar, Chenu and Congar, Henri de Lubac stood among the giants of the great theological revival that culminated in Vatican II (1962-65). His death on Sept. 4, 1991, leaves Yves Congar, O.P., ill and hospitalized, as the only surviving member of this brilliant Pteiade. (Congar died in 1995)

Born in 1896, de Lubac entered the Society of Jesus in 1913. After serving in the army and being severely wounded in World War I, he studied for the Jesuit priesthood under excellent masters. During his studies he gained an enthusiasm for Thomas Aquinas, interpreted along the lines suggested by Blondel, Rousselot and Marechal. Without any specialized training or doctoral degree he was assigned to teach theology in the Catholic faculty at Lyons, where he taught, with some interruptions, from 1929 to 1961. There, and in his occasional courses at the neighboring Jesuit theologate at Fourviere (1935-40), de Lubac quickly began to forge new directions in fundamental theology and in comparative religion.

DeLubac’s first book, Catholicism (1938), was intended to bring out the singular unitive power of Catholic Christianity and its capacity to transcend all human divisions. Developing his interest in the fathers of the church, he founded in 1940, with his friend Jean Danielou, S. J., a remarkable collection of patristic texts and translations, Sources Chrétiennes (French “Christian sources”), which by now includes more than 300 volumes.

During the Nazi occupation of France, he became coeditor of a series of Cahiers du Témoignage Chrétien (Christian witness notebooks).. In these papers and in his lectures, de Lubac strove particularly to exhibit the incompatibility between Christianity and the anti-Semitism that the Nazis were seeking to disseminate among French Catholics. On several occasions his friends had to spirit him away into hiding to prevent him from being captured and executed by the Gestapo, as happened to his close friend and colleague, Yves de Montcheuil, S.J.

After the war, de Lubac developed his theology in several directions. In an important study of medieval ecclesiology, Corpus mysticum (completed in 1938 but not published until 1944), he demonstrated the inner bonds between the church and the Eucharist. To his mind, the individualism of modern Eucharistic piety was a step backward from the great tradition, which linked the Eucharist with the unity of the body of Christ. Seeking to stem the spread of Marxian atheism, he wrote on the intellectual roots of French and German atheistic socialism. He also composed several shorter works on the knowability of God and the problems of belief.

DeLubac’s most famous work, Surnallirel (1946), maintains that the debate between the Baianists and the scholastics in the 17th century rested on misinterpretations both of Augustine and of Thomas Aquinas. Both parties to the debate, it maintains, were operating with philosophical and juridical categories foreign to ancient theology. Contemporary neo-scholastics, especially in Southern France and Rome, taking offense at de Lubac’s attack on their methodology and their doctrine, interceded with the Holy See for a condemnation. When Pius XII published the encyclical Humani generis (1950), many believed that it contained a condemnation of de Lubac’s position, but de Lubac was relieved to find that the only sentence in the encyclical referring to the supernatural reproduced exactly what he himself had said in an article published two years before.

Seeking to deflect accusations against the Society of Jesus in France, which was being accused of promoting a supposedly modernistic “new theology,” the Jesuit General, John Baptist Janssens, removed de Lubac and several colleagues from their teaching positions and required them to submit their writings to a special process of censorship. These regulations did not affect de Lubac’s work on Origen’s interpretation of Scripture, Histoire et Esprit, which came off the press in 1950, just as the storm was breaking. Because of the restrictions placed on his theological research, de Lubac in this period turned toward the study of non-Christian religions. He published three books on Buddhism, which interested him as an example of religion without God.

In 1953, during his “exile” in Paris, de Lubac published a popular work on the church constructed out of talks given at days of recollection before the war. (He was embarrassed by the triumphal sound of the title given to the English translation, The Splendor of the Church, as well as by suspicions in some quarters that his expressions of love and fidelity toward the church in this book were intended to atone for the offense given by his previous works.) Pained though he was by the widespread doubts about his own orthodoxy, de Lubac was even more distressed that some disaffected Catholics used his troubles as an occasion for mounting bitter attacks on the magisterium and the papacy.

The clouds over de Lubac began to dissipate in the late 1950’s. In 1956 he was permitted to return to Lyons, where he began research for his major study of medieval exegesis, which was to appear in four large volumes between 1959 and 1964. In 1960 Jesuit superiors, fearing that the works of Teilhard de Chardin were about to be condemned by Roman authorities, asked de Lubac to write in defense of his old friend, who had died in 1955. Beginning in 1962, de Lubac published a series of theological works on Teilhard and edited several volumes of Teilhard’s correspondence. Probably more than any other individual, de Lubac was responsible for warding off the impending condemnation.

In 1960 Pope John XXIII, who, as papal nuncio in France, had gained an admiration for de Lubac, appointed him a consultant for the preparatory phase of Vatican II. As a consultant, he found much to criticize in the schemas prepared by the neoscholastic Roman theologians. These schemas, which contained statements intended to condemn both him and Teihard de Chardin, were rejected when the council fathers assembled. De Lubac continued to serve as an expert (peritus) at the council, making his influence felt on many documents such as the Constitution on Divine Revelation and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Some of his ideas are reflected also in the Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity and in the Declaration on the Non-Christian Religions. ­

Greatly esteemed by Pope Paul VI, de Lubac was one of the 11 council theologians chosen to concelebrate with him at the Eucharist preceding the solemn promulgation of the Constitution on Revelation in November 1965. During the council de Lubac established a close working relationship with Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who as John Paul II was to elevate him to the rank of cardinal in 1983.

For several years after 1965, de Lubac traveled widely to explain the achievements of the council. He visited the United States and Latin America, as well as many parts of Europe. He published an important commentary on the Constitution on Revelation, and in other writings sought to clarify the relationships between primacy and collegiality, and between the universal and the particular church. Perceiving the advent of a new crisis of faith, he wrote La foi chretienne and L’Eglise dans la crise actuelle (both 1969). His preoccupations with the present state of the church, however, did not prevent him from continuing his studies in the history of theology, such as his work on Pico dell a Mirandola (1974) and on the spiritual posterity of Joachim of Fiore (2 volumes, 1979, 1981).

By his own admission, de Lubac was not a systematic thinker. He never tried to articulate any set of first principles on which to base his philosophical or theological findings. Many of his books are composed of historical studies loosely linked together. Although he made forays into many areas, he never composed a treatise on any of the standard theological disciplines. In his last work, an autobiographical reflection published in 1989, he chided himself for having failed to undertake the major work on Christology that he had once projected.

For all that, de Lubac’s work possesses a remarkable inner coherence. As his friend and disciple Hans Urs von Balthasar pointed out, de Lubac’s first book, Catholicism, is programmatic for his entire career. The various chapters are like limbs that would later grow in different directions from the same trunk. The title of this youthful work expresses the overarching intuition. To be Catholic, for de Lubac, is to exclude nothing; it is to be complete and comprehensive. He sees God’s creative and redemptive plan as including all humanity and indeed the entire cosmos. For this reason the plan demands a unified center and a goal.

That center is the mystery of Christ, which will be complete and plainly visible at the end of time. The universal outreach of the church rests on its inner plenitude as the body of Christ. Catholicity is thus intensive as well as extensive. The church, even though small, was already Catholic at Pentecost. Its task is to achieve, in fact, the universality that it has always had in principle. Embodying unity in diversity, Catholicism seeks to purify and elevate all that is good and human.

In the patristic and early medieval writers de Lubac found an authentic sense of Catholicism. He labored to retrieve for our day the insights of Irenaeus and Origen, Augustine and Anselm, Bernard and Bonaventure. He remained a devoted disciple of Thomas Aquinas, whom he preferred to contemplate in continuity with his predecessors rather than as interpreted by his successors.

In de Lubac’s eyes, a serious failure occurred in early modern times, and indeed to some extent in the late middle ages. This was the breakdown of the Catholic whole into separate parts and supposedly autonomous disciplines. Exegesis became separated from dogmatic theology, dogmatic theology from moral, and moral from mystical. Worse yet, reason was separated from faith, with the disastrous result that faith came to be considered a matter of feeling rather than intelligence.

One step in this process of fragmentation, for de Lubac, was the erection of an order of “pure nature” in the scholasticism of the Counter Reformation. The most controversial act of de Lubac’s career may have been his attack on Cajetan and Suarez for their view that human nature could exist with a purely natural finality. For de Lubac, the paradox of a natural desire for the supernatural was built into the very concept of the human.

De Lubac was convinced that the newness of Christ was both a fulfillment and a gift. Somewhat as nature was a preparation for grace, while grace remained an unmerited gift, so the Old Testament foreshadowed the New, without however necessitating the Incarnation. In his exegesis, de Lubac sought to show how the New Testament gave the key to the right interpretation of the Old Testament, which it fulfilled in a surpassing manner.

De Lubac’s exegesis has often been depicted as anticritical or precritical, but it was neither. It might with greater justice be called, in Michael Polanyi’s terminology, postcritical. De Lubac practiced what Paul Ricoeur was to call a “second naivete.” After having studied the literal sense of Scripture with the tools of modern scholarship, he returned to the symbolic depths of meaning with full awareness that these depths go beyond the literal. The “spiritual” meaning transcends, but does not negate, the “historical.”

At the root of de Lubac’s theology stands an epistemology that accepts paradox and mystery. Influenced by Newman and Blondel, Rousselot and Marechal, he interpreted human knowing as an aspect of the dynamism of the human spirit in its limitless quest for being. Without this antecedent dynamism toward the transcendent, the mind could form no concepts and arguments. Concepts and arguments, however, arise at a second stage of human knowing and are never adequate to the understanding they attempt to articulate. In every affirmation we necessarily use concepts, but our meaning goes beyond them.

De Lubac was satisfied that Vatican II had overcome the narrowness of modern scholasticism, with its rationalistic tendencies. The council, he believed, had opened the way for a recovery of the true and ancient tradition in all its plenitude and variety. But Catholics in France, and indeed in many parts of the world, having imbibed too narrow a concept of tradition, took the demise of neo-scholasticism as the collapse of tradition itself. In postconciliar Catholicism de Lubac perceived a self-destructive tendency to separate the spirit of the council from its letter and to “go beyond” the council without having first assimilated its teaching. The turmoil of the postconciliar period seemed to de Lubac to emanate from a spirit of worldly contention quite opposed to the Gospel.

For his part, de Lubac had no desire to innovate. He considered that the fullness was already given in Christ and that the riches of Scripture and tradition had only to be actualized for our own day. In a reflection on his own achievement he wrote: “Without pretending to open up new avenues of thought, I have rather sought, without any archaism, to make known some of the great common sources of Catholic tradition. I wanted to make it loved and to show its ever-abiding fruitfulness. Any such task required a process of reading across the centuries rather than critical application at definite points. It excluded too privileged an attachment to any particular school, system or period” (Memoire sur l’occasion de mes ecrits).

Terms such as “liberal” and “conservative” are ill suited to describe theologians such as de Lubac. If such terminology must be used, one would have to say that he embraced both alternatives. He was liberal because he opposed any narrowing of the Catholic tradition, even at the hands of the disciples of St. Thomas. He sought to rehabilitate marginal thinkers, such as Origen, Pico delia Mirandola and Blondel, in whom he found kindred spirits animated by an adventurous Catholicity of the mind. He reached out to the atheist Proudhon and sought to build bridges to Amida Buddhism.

But in all of these ventures he remained staunchly committed to the Catholic tradition in its purity and plenitude. He humbly and gratefully accepted what the tradition had to offer and made it come alive through his eloquent prose and his keen sense of contemporary actualities. His eminent success in enkindling love for Christ and the church in the hearts of his readers stemmed, no doubt, from his own devotion, humility and selfless desire to serve. The suffering of his long years of adversity, including two world wars and decades of great tension in the church, are still bearing fruit. In the last few years, as his earthly life drew to a close, his disciples and admirers became more numerous and influential. De Lubac’s creative reappropriation of the ancient tradition has earned him a place of honor in a generation of theological giants.

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Gaudium et spes: The Community Of Mankind

November 16, 2012

All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.
1 Peter 1:24-25

23. One of the salient features of the modern world is the growing interdependence of men one on the other, a development promoted chiefly by modern technical advances. Nevertheless brotherly dialogue among men does not reach its perfection on the level of technical progress, but on the deeper level of interpersonal relationships. These demand a mutual respect for the full spiritual dignity of the person. Christian revelation contributes greatly to the promotion of this communion between persons, and at the same time leads us to a deeper understanding of the laws of social life which the Creator has written into man’s moral and spiritual nature.

Since rather recent documents of the Church’s teaching authority have dealt at considerable length with Christian doctrine about human society, this council is merely going to call to mind some of the more basic truths, treating their foundations under the light of revelation. Then it will dwell more at length on certain of their implications having special significance for our day.

24. God, Who has fatherly concern for everyone, has willed that all men should constitute one family and treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood. For having been created in the image of God, Who “from one man has created the whole human race and made them live all over the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26), all men are called to one and the same goal, namely God Himself.

For this reason, love for God and neighbor is the first and greatest commandment. Sacred Scripture, however, teaches us that the love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbor: “If there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself…. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the Law” (Romans 13:9-10; cf. 1 John 4:20). To men growing daily more dependent on one another, and to a world becoming more unified every day, this truth proves to be of paramount importance.

Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one. . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.

25. Man’s social nature makes it evident that the progress of the human person and the advance of society itself hinge on one another. For the beginning, the subject and the goal of all social institutions is and must be the human person which for its part and by its very nature stands completely in need of social life. Since this social life is not something added on to man, through his dealings with others, through reciprocal duties, and through fraternal dialogue he develops all his gifts and is able to rise to his destiny.

Among those social ties which man needs for his development some, like the family and political community, relate with greater immediacy to his innermost nature; others originate rather from his free decision. In our era, for various reasons, reciprocal ties and mutual dependencies increase day by day and give rise to a variety of associations and organizations, both public and private. This development, which is called socialization, while certainly not without its dangers, brings with it many advantages with respect to consolidating and increasing the qualities of the human person, and safeguarding his rights.

But if by this social life the human person is greatly aided in responding to his destiny, even in its religious dimensions, it cannot be denied that men are often diverted from doing good and spurred toward and by the social circumstances in which they live and are immersed from their birth. To be sure the disturbances which so frequently occur in the social order result in part from the natural tensions of economic, political and social forms. But at a deeper level they flow from man’s pride and selfishness, which contaminate even the social sphere. When the structure of affairs is flawed by the consequences of sin, man, already born with a bent toward evil, finds there new inducements to sin, which cannot be overcome without strenuous efforts and the assistance of grace.

26. Every day human interdependence grows more tightly drawn and spreads by degrees over the whole world. As a result the common good, that is, the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment, today takes on an increasingly universal complexion and consequently involves rights and duties with respect to the whole human race. Every social group must take account of the needs and legitimate aspirations of other groups, and even of the general welfare of the entire human family.

At the same time, however, there is a growing awareness of the exalted dignity proper to the human person, since he stands above all things, and his rights and duties are universal and inviolable. Therefore, there must be made available to all men everything necessary for leading a life truly human, such as food, clothing, and shelter; the right to choose a state of life freely and to found a family, the right to education, to employment, to a good reputation, to respect, to appropriate information, to activity in accord with the upright norm of one’s own conscience, to protection of privacy and rightful freedom even in matters religious.

Hence, the social order and its development must invariably work to the benefit of the human person if the disposition of affairs is to be subordinate to the personal realm and not contrariwise, as the Lord indicated when He said that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.

This social order requires constant improvement. It must be founded on truth, built on justice and animated by love; in freedom it should grow every day toward a more humane balance. An improvement in attitudes and abundant changes in society will have to take place if these objectives are to be gained.

God’s Spirit, Who with a marvelous providence directs the unfolding of time and renews the face of the earth, is not absent from this development. The ferment of the Gospel too has aroused and continues to arouse in man’s heart the irresistible requirements of his dignity.

27. Coming down to practical and particularly urgent consequences, this council lays stress on reverence for man; everyone must consider his every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all His life and the means necessary to living it with dignity, so as not to imitate the rich man who had no concern for the poor man Lazarus.

In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception and of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union and wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord, “As long as you did it for one of these the least of my brethren, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:40).

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.

28. Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them.

This love and good will, to be sure, must in no way render us indifferent to truth and goodness. Indeed love itself impels the disciples of Christ to speak the saving truth to all men. But it is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error, who never loses the dignity of being a person even when he is flawed by false or inadequate religious notions. God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts, for that reason He forbids us to make judgments about the internal guilt of anyone.

The teaching of Christ even requires that we forgive injuries, and extends the law of love to include every enemy, according to the command of the New Law: “You have heard that it was said: Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy. But I say to you: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

29. Since all men possess a rational soul and are created in God’s likeness, since they have the same nature and origin, have been redeemed by Christ and enjoy the same divine calling and destiny, the basic equality of all must receive increasingly greater recognition.

True, all men are not alike from the point of view of varying physical power and the diversity of intellectual and moral resources. Nevertheless, with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent. For in truth it must still be regretted that fundamental personal rights are still not being universally honored. Such is the case of a woman who is denied the right to choose a husband freely, to embrace a state of life or to acquire an education or cultural benefits equal to those recognized for men.

Therefore, although rightful differences exist between men, the equal dignity of persons demands that a more humane and just condition of life be brought about. For excessive economic and social differences between the members of the one human family or population groups cause scandal, and militate against social justice, equity, the dignity of the human person, as well as social and international peace.

Human institutions, both private and public, must labor to minister to the dignity and purpose of man. At the same time let them put up a stubborn fight against any kind of slavery, whether social or political, and safeguard the basic rights of man under every political system. Indeed human institutions themselves must be accommodated by degrees to the highest of all realities, spiritual ones, even though meanwhile, a long enough time will be required before they arrive at the desired goal.

30. Profound and rapid changes make it more necessary that no one ignoring the trend of events or drugged by laziness, content himself with a merely individualistic morality. It grows increasingly true that the obligations of justice and love are fulfilled only if each person, contributing to the common good, according to his own abilities and the needs of others, also promotes and assists the public and private institutions dedicated to bettering the conditions of human life.

Yet there are those who, while possessing grand and rather noble sentiments, nevertheless in reality live always as if they cared nothing for the needs of society. Many in various places even make light of social laws and precepts, and do not hesitate to resort to various frauds and deceptions in avoiding just taxes or other debts due to society. Others think little of certain norms of social life, for example those designed for the protection of health, or laws establishing speed limits; they do not even avert to the fact that by such indifference they imperil their own life and that of others.

Let everyone consider it his sacred obligation to esteem and observe social necessities as belonging to the primary duties of modern man. For the more unified the world becomes, the more plainly do the offices of men extend beyond particular groups and spread by degrees to the whole world. But this development cannot occur unless individual men and their associations cultivate in themselves the moral and social virtues, and promote them in society; thus, with the needed help of divine grace men who are truly new and artisans of a new humanity can be forthcoming

31. In order for individual men to discharge with greater exactness the obligations of their conscience toward themselves and the various group to which they belong, they must be carefully educated to a higher degree of culture through the use of the immense resources available today to the human race. Above all the education of youth from every social background has to be undertaken, so that there can be produced not only men and women of refined talents, but those great-souled persons who are so desperately required by our times.

Now a man can scarcely arrive at the needed sense of responsibility, unless his living conditions allow him to become conscious of his dignity, and to rise to his destiny by spending himself for God and for others. But human freedom is often crippled when a man encounters extreme poverty just as it withers when he indulges in too many of life’s comforts and imprisons himself in a kind of splendid isolation. Freedom acquires new strength, by contrast, when a man consents to the unavoidable requirements of social life, takes on the manifold demands of human partnership, and commits himself to the service of the human community.

Hence, the will to play one’s role in common endeavors should be everywhere encouraged. Praise is due to those national procedures which allow the largest possible number of citizens to participate in public affairs with genuine freedom. Account must be taken, to be sure, of the actual conditions of each people and the decisiveness required by public authority. If every citizen is to feel inclined to take part in the activities of the various groups which make up the social body, these must offer advantages which will attract members and dispose them to serve others. We can justly consider that the future of humanity lies in the hands of those who are strong enough to provide coming generations with reasons for living and hoping.

32. As God did not create man for life in isolation, but for the formation of social unity, so also “it has pleased God to make men holy and save them not merely as individuals, without bond or link between them, but by making them into a single people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness.” So from the beginning of salvation history He has chosen men not just as individuals but as members of a certain community. Revealing His mind to them, God called these chosen ones “His people” (Exodus 3:7-12), and even made a covenant with them on Sinai.

This communitarian character is developed and consummated in the work of Jesus Christ. For the very Word made flesh willed to share in the human fellowship. He was present at the wedding of Cana, visited the house of Zacchaeus, ate with publicans and sinners. He revealed the love of the Father and the sublime vocation of man in terms of the most common of social realities and by making use of the speech and the imagery of plain everyday life. Willingly obeying’ the laws of his country He sanctified those human ties, especially family ones, which are the source of social structures. He chose to lead the life proper to an artisan of His time and place.

In His preaching He clearly taught the sons of God to treat one another as brothers. In His prayers He pleaded that all His disciples might be “one.” Indeed as the redeemer of all, He offered Himself for all even to point of death. “Greater love than this no one has, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He commanded His Apostles to preach to all peoples the Gospel’s message that the human race was to become the Family of God, in which the fullness of the Law would be love.

As the firstborn of many brethren and by the giving of His Spirit, He founded after His death and resurrection a new brotherly community composed of all those who receive Him in faith and in love. This He did through His Body, which is the Church. There everyone, as members one of the other, would render mutual service according to the different gifts bestowed on each.

This solidarity must be constantly increased until that day on which it will be brought to perfection. Then, saved by grace, men will offer flawless glory to God as a family beloved of God and of Christ their Brother.

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Gaudium et spes: Human Dignity And Atheism

November 15, 2012

The iconic devotional image called the “Man of Sorrows” shows Christ, usually naked above the waist, with the wounds of his Passion prominently displayed on his hands and side, often crowned with the Crown of Thorns and sometimes attended by angels. It developed in Europe from the 13th century, and was especially popular in Northern Europe. The image continued to spread and develop iconographical complexity until well after the Renaissance, but the Man of Sorrows in its many artistic forms is the most precise visual expression of the piety of the later Middle Ages, which took its character from mystical contemplation rather than from theological speculation”.Together with the Pietà, it was the most popular of the Andachtsbilder-type images of the period – devotional images detached from the narrative of Christ’s Passion. This particular Man of Sorrows is by Colijn de Coter, circa 1500.

19. The root reason for human dignity lies in man’s call to communion with God. From the very circumstance of his origin man is already invited to converse with God. For man would not exist were he not created by Gods love and constantly preserved by it; and he cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and devotes himself to His Creator. Still, many of our contemporaries have never recognized this intimate and vital link with God, or have explicitly rejected it. Thus atheism must be accounted among the most serious problems of this age, and is deserving of closer examination.

The word atheism is applied to phenomena which are quite distinct from one another. For while God is expressly denied by some, others believe that man can assert absolutely nothing about Him. Still others use such a method to scrutinize the question of God as to make it seem devoid of meaning. Many, unduly transgressing the limits of the positive sciences, contend that everything can be explained by this kind of scientific reasoning alone, or by contrast, they altogether disallow that there is any absolute truth.

Some laud man so extravagantly that their faith in God lapses into a kind of anemia, though they seem more inclined to affirm man than to deny God. Again some form for themselves such a fallacious idea of God that when they repudiate this figment they are by no means rejecting the God of the Gospel. Some never get to the point of raising questions about God, since they seem to experience no religious stirrings nor do they see why they should trouble themselves about religion.

Moreover, atheism results not rarely from a violent protest against the evil in this world, or from the absolute character with which certain human values are unduly invested, and which thereby already accords them the stature of God. Modern civilization itself often complicates the approach to God not for any essential reason but because it is so heavily engrossed in earthly affairs.

Undeniably, those who willfully shut out God from their hearts and try to dodge religious questions are not following the dictates of their consciences, and hence are not free of blame; yet believers themselves frequently bear some responsibility for this situation. For, taken as a whole, atheism is not a spontaneous development but stems from a variety of causes, including a critical reaction against religious beliefs, and in some places against the Christian religion in particular. Hence believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion.

20. Modern atheism often takes on a systematic expression which, in addition to other causes, stretches the desires for human independence to such a point that it poses difficulties against any kind of dependence on God. Those who profess atheism of this sort maintain that it gives man freedom to be an end unto himself, the sole artisan and creator of his own history. They claim that this freedom cannot be reconciled with the affirmation of a Lord Who is author and purpose of all things, or at least that this freedom makes such an affirmation altogether superfluous. Favoring this doctrine can be the sense of power which modern technical progress generates in man.

Not to be overlooked among the forms of modern atheism is that which anticipates the liberation of man especially through his economic and social emancipation. This form argues that by its nature religion thwarts this liberation by arousing man’s hope for a deceptive future life, thereby diverting him from the constructing of the earthly city. Consequently when the proponents of this doctrine gain governmental power they vigorously fight against religion, and promote atheism by using, especially in the education of youth, those means of pressure which public power has at its disposal.

21. In her loyal devotion to God and men, the Church has already repudiated  and cannot cease repudiating, sorrowfully but as firmly as possible, those poisonous doctrines and actions which contradict reason and the common experience of humanity, and dethrone man from his native excellence.

Still, she strives to detect in the atheistic mind the hidden causes for the denial of God; conscious of how weighty are the questions which atheism raises, and motivated by love for all men, she believes these questions ought to be examined seriously and more profoundly.

The Church holds that the recognition of God is in no way hostile to man’s dignity, since this dignity is rooted and perfected in God. For man was made an intelligent and free member of society by God Who created him, but even more important, he is called as a son to commune with God and share in His happiness. She further teaches that a hope related to the end of time does not diminish the importance of intervening duties but rather undergirds the acquittal of them with fresh incentives.

By contrast, when a divine instruction and the hope of life eternal are wanting, man’s dignity is most grievously lacerated, as current events often attest; riddles of life and death, of guilt and of grief go unsolved with the frequent result that men succumb to despair.

Meanwhile every man remains to himself an unsolved puzzle, however obscurely he may perceive it. For on certain occasions no one can entirely escape the kind of self-questioning mentioned earlier, especially when life’s major events take place. To this questioning only God fully and most certainly provides an answer as He summons man to higher knowledge and humbler probing.

The remedy which must be applied to atheism, however, is to be sought in a proper presentation of the Church’s teaching as well as in the integral life of the Church and her members. For it is the function of the Church, led by the Holy Spirit Who renews and purifies her ceaselessly,  to make God the Father and His Incarnate Son present and in a sense visible. This result is achieved chiefly by the witness of a living and mature faith, namely, one trained to see difficulties clearly and to master them.

Many martyrs have given luminous witness to this faith and continue to do so. This faith needs to prove its fruitfulness by penetrating the believer’s entire life, including its worldly dimensions, and by activating him toward justice and love, especially regarding the needy. What does the most reveal God’s presence, however, is the brotherly charity of the faithful who are united in spirit as they work together for the faith of the Gospel  and who prove themselves a sign of unity.

While rejecting atheism, root and branch, the Church sincerely professes that all men, believers and unbelievers alike, ought to work for the rightful betterment of this world in which all alike live; such an ideal cannot be realized, however, apart from sincere and prudent dialogue. Hence the Church protests against the distinction which some state authorities make between believers and unbelievers, with prejudice to the fundamental rights of the human person. The Church calls for the active liberty of believers to build up in this world God’s temple too. She courteously invites atheists to examine the Gospel of Christ with an open mind.

Above all the Church knows that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart when she champions the dignity of the human vocation, restoring hope to those who have already despaired of anything higher than their present lot. Far from diminishing man, her message brings to his development light, life and freedom. Apart from this message nothing will avail to fill up the heart of man: “Thou hast made us for Thyself,” O Lord, “and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.”

22. The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown.

He Who is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15),  is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.

As an innocent lamb He merited for us life by the free shedding of His own blood. In Him God reconciled us to Himself and among ourselves; from bondage to the devil and sin He delivered us, so that each one of us can say with the Apostle: The Son of God “loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). By suffering for us He not only provided us with an example for our imitation, He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning.

The Christian man, conformed to the likeness of that Son Who is the firstborn of many brothers, received “the first-fruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:23) by which he becomes capable of discharging the new law of love. Through this Spirit, who is “the pledge of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14), the whole man is renewed from within, even to the achievement of “the redemption of the body” (Romans 8:23): “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the death dwells in you, then he who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also bring to life your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). Pressing upon the Christian to be sure, are the need and the duty to battle against evil through manifold tribulations and even to suffer death. But, linked with the paschal mystery and patterned on the dying Christ, he will hasten forward to resurrection in the strength which comes from hope.

All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.

Such is the mystery of man, and it is a great one, as seen by believers in the light of Christian revelation. Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful. Apart from His Gospel, they overwhelm us. Christ has risen, destroying death by His death; He has lavished life upon us so that, as sons in the Son, we can cry out in the Spirit; Abba, Father

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