In the previous posting in this series we learned that, while a specific candidate for canonization may be absolutely orthodox (at least according to the beliefs of the Catholic Church), the interpretation or understanding that other people put on the candidate’s thought or writings may not be quite so orthodox or consistent with Catholic belief. It may, in fact, be 180 degrees from what the candidate actually meant — and from the understanding of the Catholic Church.
We see this often in other areas and with other institutions. In the Just Third Way, for example, Professor Rodney Shakespeare’s understanding of binary economics appears to be substantially different from that of a number of other binary economists. This is especially the case with respect to money, credit, banking, and finance. This resulted in Professor Shakespeare making vitriolic denunciations of people with whom he disagrees, and in attacking them personally. The differences have been analyzed at some length on this blog, and can be found in the “Response to Shakespeare” we published awhile back.
Incidentally, this brings in another factor that the Catholic Church takes into consideration when deciding whether or not to canonize someone, or even to begin the process. Are disagreements regarding the correct interpretation or understanding of someone’s thought or writings settled in an atmosphere of mutual respect, solidarity and compassion? Or are people who fail to toe the accepted “party line,” regardless of its orthodoxy, punished, shunned, or denigrated in some fashion, even attacked, ridiculed, or mocked?
“Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Matt. 7:16) If purported followers of a proposed candidate for canonization consistently violate fundamental Christian teachings in their relations with others, then the candidate may not be a good model for emulation, however blameless and praiseworthy, even heroic, his or her own personal behavior and beliefs.
Thus, a candidate can be absolutely orthodox and have led a blameless life, but he or she is not a good model for others because of misunderstandings or misapplications that have been forced on his or her words or work, and the behavior of the candidate’s followers. Take, for example, the case of St. Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, whom the Catholic Church today honors as a “Doctor of the Church,” i.e., someone whose contribution to theology or doctrine is considered particularly important, and whose personal life was exemplary.
For three hundred years or so, however, Bellarmine was pretty much swept under the rug. Some people thought this was due to his involvement in “the Galileo Affair,” and the Catholic Church was somehow “covering up” a big mistake out of embarrassment.
On investigation, however, that doesn’t turn out to be the case. Bellarmine was a friend of Galileo, and actually “got him off” in his first trial. The real reason that Bellarmine was “ignored” was that Bellarmine was a champion of democracy against the “divine right of kings.” Unfortunately, there were also a lot of other champions of democracy whose theories were not quite as consistent with Catholic doctrine as those of Bellarmine.
Take, for instance, John Locke. Locke’s was a peculiar case, anyway. Possibly because his patron was the violently anti-Catholic Lord Shaftsbury, Locke distorted Bellarmine’s theories when he put them into his Treatises on Government. The way Locke described Bellarmine’s theories, no reasonable person could possibly accept them.
Even Algernon Sidney, who was favorable to Bellarmine, and who was otherwise reasonably accurate in his presentation of Bellarmine’s thought in his, Sidney’s, Discourses Concerning Government, managed to get wrong what sounds to us like a very unimportant point. To Bellarmine, following Aristotle and Aquinas, man is by nature a political animal, that is, naturally a member of an organized political unit, the pólis. Thus, to Bellarmine, “contract theory” referred to any agreement to form, enter, or remain a member of a specific political unit or grant rights to the political unit. This is an application of the “principle” that man is by nature a political animal, having inherent rights and free will.
To Sidney (and to Locke, Hobbes, and many others), however, man’s “natural state” is outside the political unit. “Contract theory” in this case meant that the entire human race at some point in time agreed to enter “society,” binding the human race for the rest of time; the decision was not to form or enter a particular society as a political animal, thereby exercising humanity’s political nature, but to become a “political animal” by conscious decision.
This seemingly insignificant difference actually makes all the difference in the world when we are talking about fundamental human rights. If humanity is naturally a political animal, then human beings only realize their natural rights — are persons (possession of rights makes someone or something a “person”) — as members of a political unit, and everyone has the same full spectrum of natural rights as everyone else. If, on the other hand, humanity’s natural state is outside of an organized political unit, i.e., humanity is not naturally a political animal, then agreeing to enter society necessarily means becoming less of a person by surrendering some rights to gain protection for others, notably life, liberty, and property.
In the outside-of-society nature theory, societies can differ depending on which rights people agreed to surrender, and to what degree. There is thus presumably no such thing as a fundamental human right that does not come from the State, because any or all rights may have been bargained away to gain protection, even to the point where citizens are utterly dependent on the State.
This is impossible under true natural law theory in which humanity is political in its essential nature, a member of society by nature, and the recognition of rights and the definition of their use is one of the main purposes of the social order. The State was made for man, not man for the State.
There was no way the Catholic Church was going to accept a theory of society that changes part or all of the definition of human nature and thus of human society, especially one that ultimately puts the State in charge of everything. As Pius XI made clear centuries later in his condemnation of socialism,
“If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.” (Quadragesimo Anno, 1931, § 120.)
Thus, even though the Catholic Church fully backed (and continues to back) Bellarmine’s political theories (with a few corrections added by Pius XI, such as the act of social justice, to remove Bellarmine’s perceived necessity for inserting the collective between God and man to account for some rights that it appeared individuals as individuals do not have), Bellarmine could not be canonized or even beatified. The Catholic Church would otherwise have given the appearance of endorsing and validating political theories that sounded like what Bellarmine was saying, but that were actually very different at the most profound level.