In the previous two postings in this series, we outlined what happens when people begin distorting the concepts of Church and State to achieve some private end or realize a personal goal or interpretation. This, of course, violates one of the principal “laws” of social justice, that the common good (that vast network of institutions within which humanity acquires and develops virtue) must remain inviolate:
“In all private dealings, in all exercise of individual justice, the common good must be a primary object of solicitude. To attack or to endanger the common good in order to attain some private end, no matter how good or how necessary this latter may be in its own order, is social injustice and is wrong.” (Rev. William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., Introduction to Social Justice, 1948, cf. Quadragesimo Anno, § 57.)
The problem is that abolishing the concept of natural rights as inhering in every human being by nature, effectively demolishes the common good by turning it into a vehicle for imposing individual goods . . . which often turn out to be not all that good.
In civil society, the State, the innovators have insisted that rights are a grant from the State to the people, whether the collective, or individuals deemed worthy of being recognized as persons. In religious society, the Church, the innovators have insisted that rights are a grant from God (usually through whatever organized religious body the innovator belongs to) to the people, again, whether the collective, or individuals deemed worthy of the status of person.
Yes, God is ultimately the source of natural rights. He is the source of everything.
God is not, however, the immediate source of natural rights. He is the mediate source of natural rights. God created humanity with natural rights as part of human nature itself, precisely as the term implies.
Natural rights are not, therefore, a gift or grant subsequent to the creation of humanity. They are part of human existence itself. Even God cannot take away natural rights, for that would change what was human, to non-human.
Neither any government nor any organized religion obtains whatever natural rights it has directly or immediately from God. Rather, all natural rights come from God through the human person, mediately (“reflected”) to our institutions, not immediately, that is, directly from God. As Pius XI noted, “Only man, the human person, and not society in any form is endowed with reason and a morally free will.” (Divini Redemptoris, § 29; cf. Quas Primas, § 19.)
Confusion over the source of natural rights versus supernatural rights, and the difference between absolute principles and truths, and the relative application of absolute principles and truths, resulted in the development of “modernism.” The chief tenet of modernism is “agnosticism.”
Pope Pius X defined agnosticism as rejecting or denying that we can come to knowledge of God’s existence and of the natural law through the force and light of human reason alone. (Pascendi Dominici Gregis, § 6.) Faith based on reason brings us to knowledge of the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity, but reason alone has the capacity to bring us to knowledge of the existence of God and of the natural law.
As is not surprising for something described as “the synthesis of all heresies” (ibid., § 39), the forms of agnosticism in modernism are seemingly as many as there are modernists. Among “liberals,” reason is expanded far beyond its proper role as the foundation of faith and the source of our understanding of the existence of God and of the natural law. Everything must be explained by reason, or it can’t be explained.
Among “conservatives,” faith is expanded far beyond its proper role as bringing us to acceptance and understanding of that which is not manifestly true and a guide for and illumination of reason. Everything must be explained by faith, or it can’t be explained.
Making the situation worse is the fact that modernists of all stripes “mix ‘n match” the liberal and conservative extremes in any way that suits them at the moment. Applying reason improperly and beyond its proper sphere, or putting faith and reason in opposition, denigrates and dismisses reason altogether by admitting contradictions. Contradiction even, in a sense, becomes a principle itself. Aquinas called this “intellectual self-annihilation.” Fulton Sheen translated this as “mental suicide.”