On Evangelii Gaudium
For those of you are sensitive to the epistemology, and have spent some time with the person as relation over the years, what Pope Francis is doing is living out the “New Evangelization” in front of our eyes as person-in-relation, and, in Evangelii Gaudium, pointing to the failure to move the entire ecclesial and global culture from “nature” to person. In EG, he is outing American and global economics as built on the reductive, positivist, materialist calculus of supply and demand where the work of the human person is split from the person and treated as a commodity. At best we will have an ethic of material justice, but the person is trashed, and relationality and gift as demanded by the real metaphysics of the person is trashed. And sexuality, even in the pre Vatican II mind, is nature with ends.
Let me explain. I first came to a shocking awareness that the meaning of reality - of “Being” – was not this sensible thing that I could take in my hand like a dollar bill or a neon sign, abstract from it, form a concept, create a proposition and elaborate it into a syllogism, and call it a “substance” (as in thing-in-itself). I was deeply prejudiced about the realism of common sense and that the whole intellectual endeavor that started with the senses and that gave me sensible things - clearly “this” and “that” – and that were “in themselves.” Relation was always something that took place between the “this” and the “that.”
Until I read Joseph Ratzinger’s “Introduction to Christianity” on “The Concept of Person” as revealed in the Trinity. He made the straight forward insistence that the Father was not the Father and then, in some derivative sense, engendered the Son, but rather that the Father was the act of engendering the Son. In a word, the Father was not a reality in Himself as “substance” but what He really is, is relation. This was followed by the assertion that here was concealed a revolution in the way the world is to be viewed, and then the unmitigated assertion: “the undivided sway of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality…. a new plane of being comes into view.”
This is a hard sell in a secularized world culture dominated by the empirical evidence that the real is the sensible “this” and “that,” and that has been traditionally elaborated into the philosophic notion of substance that grounds all relation but in itself is not relation. And in the Greek culture that this epistemology was derived from, the substance and the nature which are interchangeable, are what is real, and are the grounding and explanation of the moral goodness of human acts.
Pat Deneen recently published an insightful piece on the reaction of the public – particularly the Catholic public – to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.” In it he points to the discrepancy of reaction in general when the Church speaks of sexual matter and when she speaks on economy/political matters. Since the pope spoke little on matters sexual and much and forcefully on matter economic, Deneen writes: “Not far below the surface of many of these critiques one hears the following refrain: why can’t the Pope just go back to talking about abortion? Why can’t we return to the good old days of Pope John Paul II or Benedict XVI and talk 24/7/365 about sex? Why doesn’t Francis have the decency to limit himself to talking about Jesus and gays, while avoiding the rudeness of discussing economics in mixed company, an issue about which he has no expertise or competence?”
Deneen goes on to explain: “These commentators all but come out and say: we embrace Catholic teaching when it concerns itself with ‘faith and moral’ – when it denounces abortion, opposes gay marriage, and urges personal charity. This is the Catholicism that has been acceptable in polite conversation. This is a stripped-down Catholicism that doesn’t challenge fundamental articles of economic faith.”
But we must ask why the public embraces morality in terms of the biological and the sexual, but not in the economic. I would venture to suggest according to the Magisterium of John Paul II and Benedict XVI that work is the action of persons, and only of persons since it is an action of subjects. More important in the meaning of work is the development of the subject than the object made (although the giftedness of the subject in the work process is the very quality of the object made).
Consider that since the onset of industrialization, work has been neutered and split from gender, and therefore from the person. Ivan Illich writes:
“From afar, the native can tell whether women or men are at work, even if he cannot distinguish their figures. The time of year and day, the crop, and the tools reveal to him who they are. Whether they carry a load on their head or shoulder will tell him their gender. If he notices geese loose in the field, he knows a girl must be nearby to tend them. If he comes across sheep, he knows he will find a boy. To belong means to know what befits our kind of man. If someone does what we consider the other gender’s work, that person must be a stranger. Or a slave, deprived of all dignity. Gender is in every step, in every gesture…” He continues: “What Bohr and Heisenberg have done for the epistemology of physics has not yet been done for the social sciences. That light fits the paradigms of both particle and wave, that neither theory alone conveys its complex reality, and that no broader framework allows us to grasp it more clearly are today everyman’s truths. But that a similar approach is demanded for most social-science concepts is still news for many.”
I would argue that the separation of work from gender is the separation of work from the person which leaves it “a thing” or commodity subject to the mathematical and materialist calculus of supply and demand to determine its “value.” That done and you have evaporated the moral criterion. Hence, for a global society of imperfect persons, the correct narrative for those with economic power is to maintain the status quo with a morality of sexuality and to tip toe quietly by the absence of same in the political and economic.
Francis has disrupted this state of affairs. He is saying that the “Thou shalt not kill” of biological morality must be echoed as “Thou thalt not” “to an economy of exclusion and inequali ty. Such en economy kills” (53). He dramatizes it saying “it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person ldies of exposoure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points” (53).
Conclusion: The moral criterion has moved from nature to person, object to subject and must be applied fully in all dimensions of the human act.
Francis has caused great disruption What occurs to me after listening to Fr. William Smith of Brooklyn, is that the media is doing our job for us. They are bypassing this whole epistemological problem, i.e., how to move from a nature based ethic to a person based ethic semantically. They are doing it with pictures and headlines. The Church proposed the human person in GS#24 as moral criterion for all things sexual and economic. Both. The point made is that pope Francis is out of himself and into others living mercy, and that is on the side of the poor. He is cutting both ways because he is working with the human person as imaging Christ the prototype. This was the message of Vatican II, but it could not escape the gravitational pull of a reductive, objectified and abstractive way of knowing.
The effect that Francis is producing resonates in everybody. All buy it. And it turns out to be the central message of Christianity. Again, see Pat Deneen on this below. This week Francis is on the cover of Time as “Person of the Year” and “The New Yorker” as pope in full regalia making snow angels in the snow. Perfect. He is an icon of freedom liberated from himself and at the service of the poor with heart. That is the message. Semantically, it has been a nightmarish quagmire of verbiage trying to get this kind of giftedness across from a reductive, objectivized conceptualism. But it is happening thanks to the media. They do not really know what they are dealing with, but what they see, they like. They know the pubic likes it. It fits with what has played under the banner of political liberalism. And to the dismay of some, it turns out to be the truth. The “liberal” has been popularly conceptualized as non-truth, but as love for the other and being-in-relation, when turned into a metaphysics of person imaging the Person of Christ, it is the “new evangelization” that the Spirit is communicating through the person of this pope.