Thursday, July 23, 2009

Response to an Email Defending Weigel

Email from Janice: referring to his "Caritas in Veritate in Gold and Red"

“I agree that Weigel goes too far here. Yet does there not remain the possibility that a layperson may legitimately highlight the portions of an encyclical that address only matters of faith and morals, which "Lumen Gentium" defines as alone possessing binding force (in the 1964 Notificationes, Appendix)? Certain technical details might be mentioned, for example of public policy or economic concern, but it is left open to the layperson's free prudential judgment to discern such issues. The point of this, perhaps, is that it is even possible to quibble a bit with the Holy Father on technical details: in this case, the dispute might be over how an "international political authority" might be structured, whether it would be consistent with the principle of subsidiarity, what "wealth distribution" means and how we should achieve it, etc. Doesn't the Pope affirm this general policy himself in his later comments on "Caritas" (a July 8th general audience), when he states that "the Encyclical does not aim to provide technical solutions to today’s social problems but instead focuses on the principles indispensable for human development", viz. principles pertaining to faith and morals?

If so, then it may be possible to interpret Weigel and Novak's political and economic position as not a "politicization of the Magisterium", but rather a faithful adherence to the Magisterium's sacred teaching authority while exercising one's free intellectual judgment as an individual layperson. Those who are truly guilty of "politicization of the Magisterium", it appears, are those who would compromise the Church's doctrine concerning faith and morals while embracing wholeheartedly every seemingly "progressive" suggestion on technical issues.

Respondeo: I would suggest that Weigel is not just quibbling about “technical details” that would provide “technical solutions to today’s social problems.” Weigel is raging against the constitutive social dimension of the human person and human work as “gratuitousness and communion” as well as “gift.” Interestingly, Weigel marks the references to the social dimension in “red” suggesting that perhaps we are dealing with an ideological socialism or Marxism in what he suggests to be so-called “default positions” by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace” and “that Benedict evidently believed he had to try and accommodate.”

Getting the enemy in his sights, Weigel now fulminates against this relationality and gratuitousness of gift. He rages: “Some of these [passages] are simply incomprehensible, as when the encyclical states that defeating Third World poverty and underdevelopment requires a ‘necessary openness, in a world context, to forms of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion.’ This may mean something interesting; it may mean something naïve or dumb. But, on its face, it is virtually impossible to know what it means.” He thunders on: “The encyclical includes a lengthy discussion of ‘gift’ (hence ‘gratuitousness’), which, again, might be an interesting attempt to apply to economic activity certain facets of John Paul II’s Christian personalism and the teaching of Vatican II, in Gaudium et Spes 24, on the moral imperative of making our lives the gift to others that life itself is to us. But the language in these sections of Caritas in Veritate is so clotted and muddled as to suggest the possibility that what may be intended as a new conceptual starting point for Catholic social doctrine is, in fact, a confused sentimentality of precisely the sort the encyclical deplores among those who detach charity from truth.”

I must admit that this is the sort of language – “clotted and muddled,” “confused sentimentality” - is heard whenever there is a migration from a conceptual rationalism that reduces reality to neatly dissected bundles of intelligibility to the horizon of Being experienced as consciousness. It must be kept in mind that Benedict XVI is talking about development, and by development, he means that of the human person as “I.”. And since the person has been created in the image and likeness of the divine Persons who are relationalities constitutively – such that One cannot be given without the Other [and hence God, Who is nothing but Personal
[1]] and therefore God is “One” (“Communio”), the human person must also be constitutively relational. The language of the encyclical is the following: “This perspective is illuminated in a striking way by the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity within the one divine Substance. The Trinity is absolute unity insofar as the three divine Persons are pure relationality[2]. The reciprocal transparency among the divine Persons is total and the bond between each of them complete, since they constitute a unique and absolute unity. God desires to incorporate us into this reality of communion as well: “that they may be one even as we are one” (Jn 17:22)” (#54).

Hence, “thinking of this kind requires a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation” (53). In fact, this is the entire task of the encyclical, i.e. “to embark on a new trajectory of thinking in order to arrive at a better understanding of the implications of our being one family” (#53); and to do this, there must be a “broadening [of] our concept of reason and its application” (31). Such language and thought is not originating from the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, but from the mind of Joseph Ratzinger now Benedict XVI and author of “Caritas in Veritate.”

Janice raises the question whether Weigel’s parsing out the “gold” which belongs to Benedict and the “red” which belongs to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, could be an exercise of the legitimate freedom of autonomy believers enjoy with regard to the Magisterium. Weigel’s “red” would be mere “technical solutions to today’s social problems” and could be otherwise than stated in the encyclical.

Authority of the Encyclical

As the short answer to Janice, I would reply that the authority of the encyclical is not limited to certain parts dealing with faith and morals and pronounced by the pope with Magisterial power, while the authority of other parts stands or falls according to rational coherency.

Ratzinger comments that if such were the case, “doctrinal decisions [could] exist – if at all – solely in situations where the Church may lay claim to infallibility; [and] outside of that sphere, only argument would hold weight. The result is that there could be no certainty shared by the whole community of the Church. It seems to me [Ratzinger] that we have before us a typically Western restriction and legalistic reduction of the notion of faith which radicalizes certain one-sided developments which begin to make their appearance around the High Middle Ages. A parallel may render the issue clearer: from about the thirteenth century on, interest in the conditions necessary for validity begins to push every other consideration to the margin of sacrament al theology. Increasingly, everything ceased to matter except the alternative between valid and invalid. Those elements which do not affect validity appear to be ultimately trivial and interchangeable. Thus, in the case of the Eucharist, for example, this is expressed in an ever-stronger fixation on the words of consecration; that which is actually constitutive for validity becomes more and more strictly limited. Meanwhile, the eye for the living structure of the Church’s liturgy is progressively lost. Everything other than the words of consecration appears to be mere ceremony, which happens to have evolved into its present form but in principle might just as easily have been omitted. The characteristic nature of liturgy and the irreplaceable liturgical sense cease to be regarded as important, falling as they do outside the narrow limits of a legally defined minimalism….

“Both in doctrine and in liturgy, what really matters is lost when one feels obliged to distill a juristical minimum, beyond which everything is left subject to arbitrariness. Here too we would do well to look once more beyond the fence of Western thinking and to make the attempt to understand anew the original vision which has remained largely intact in the East.”

Caritas in Veritate is an act of the ordinary Magisterium of the Church. Revelation is the Word of God as Person Who reveals Himself to the Church as Subject who hears the Word, receives the Word and becomes the Word. The entire encyclical is an act of the Magisterium that speaks the Word authoritatively and that is assisted in that speaking by the Holy Spirit.

Vatican II (LG#25) teaches that ordinary Magisterium must receive “loyal submission of the will and intellect… in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra…”

Conclusion: Weigel is excising a constitutive dimension of Christian anthropologys that is the very core of the mind of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, i.e. the human person as gift, relation and gratuitousness. He denigrates the reference to relationality as “clotted,” “muddled,” “confused sentimentality,” “incomprehensible” “multiple off-notes,” “incoherent,” “impenetrable,” “the warbling of an untuned piccolo,” “naïve or dumb,” “fantasy,” “fideist,” “a realism… of little account.” Since this relational dimension of the human person is as profoundly embedded in John Paul II (as spousal self-gift) as in Benedict XVI (Image of Trinity and Jesus Christ), it makes me wonder whether Weigel ever really reached the ground of John Paul II. Perhaps this may explain why it took him 864 Of "Witness to Hope"(which was a fabulous work) to hide what he now denies.

[1] Although Benedict uses the word “Substance,” he is not using it in the Greek philosophical mode but in the theological parlance of one reality with the Father.
[2] The person are neither “relations” neither as accidents or substance. The divine Persons are “other” than Greek metaphysical categories that are the result of abstraction from sense perception.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “On the ‘Instruction Concerning the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian’,” The Nature and Mission of Theology. Ignatius (1995) 111-113.

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