• Speculation is rife on the internet over the content of Pope Benedict's new encyclical, expected now to be released Monday or Tuesday of next week. Naturally we won't know what the encyclical says until we see it, but most of the self-appointed analysts (none of which can have seen an official copy — the official text doesn't exist until it is released) seem to focus on two things: 1) an expected endorsement of socialism or capitalism (as if there is any substantial difference between the two as far as non-owners are concerned), and 2) a call for "renewal" as the start of a solution to the vast economic problems of the world, inevitably to be interpreted by most people as a call to conversion and personal sanctification. If that is indeed the case, we would respond that, 1) socialism can't be endorsed because it has already been condemned on the basis of its substantial nature and cannot be reversed or reconsidered; capitalism can't be endorsed because the Catholic Church, by its own admission, doesn't have the power to endorse specific systems. What the Catholic Church has the power to do is teach the principles that must be embodied in every system for it to be just, that is, the essential principles of the natural law. This leads into the second expectation about a call for "renewal." 2) How should we understand a call for renewal, however it is phrased? This is even easier to answer than the expectation that the pope will somehow endorse capitalism or socialism. As pope, and before that as cardinal, Benedict XVI has made it clear that society must return to the basic principles of the natural law as its guiding moral light. This is, in point of fact, the only thing that a call for renewal could possibly mean in the context of any encyclical. How this renewal, this getting back to basics, is to be achieved is a matter of prudential judgment. The important thing is that people learn the principles of natural law, and then apply them in the restructuring of the social order through acts of social justice. Since encyclicals are documents issued by the Catholic Church primarily for Catholics, it is inevitable that the recommended means by which Catholics are to learn and internalize the principles of the natural law would be greater participation in sacramental life, prayer and meditation. This is because understanding and adhering to the natural law means acquiring and developing virtue, which we must be careful to realize includes both individual and social virtue, in this context especially, social charity and social justice. Participation in the sacramental life of the Church is the chief (but not sole) means by which Catholics are expected to gain an understanding of the precepts of the natural law — although that is, paradoxically, not the chief reason for participating in the sacramental life of the Church. Does this mean, however, that only Catholics can participate in acts of social justice, or that people must be individually perfected in virtue before participating in acts of social justice? Such a demand would be self-contradictory. Our institutions exist to assist us in the acquisition and development of virtue. If they inhibit or prevent that task, they must be restructured through acts of social justice. To demand that people who have been prevented or inhibited from gaining virtue due to flaws in our institutions first gain virtue in order to fix the institutions so that they can gain virtue is, obviously, ridiculous. No, a call to participate in the sacramental life of the Church (or whatever act or acts are best suited to individuals of other faiths and philosophies) as the first step in restructuring the social order can only be understood in a social context as a call to learn and internalize essential principles of the natural moral law as a necessary prologue to engaging in acts of social justice. This is the only thing that makes sense, for we must know that to which we need to conform our institutions before we can conform the institutions. Does anybody need to be spiritually perfect before beginning the task of social restructuring? Such a demand would be both nonsensical and contradictory, as we already noted above. Can only Catholics participate in such a task? Again, no, for the natural law is "written in the hearts of all men," without any such qualification, as the Catholic Church admits, and, in fact, teaches as an essential doctrine. Thus, in a social context it is learning the essential precepts of the natural law, not specific religious practices, to which any call for renewal must necessarily apply.Those are the happenings for this week, at least that we know about. If you have an accomplishment that you think should be listed, send us a note about it at mgreaney [at] cesj [dot] org, and we'll see that it gets into the next "issue." If you have a short (250-400 word) comment on a specific posting, please enter your comments in the blog — do not send them to us to post for you. All comments are moderated anyway, so we'll see it before it goes up.
• On Thursday of this week we had a long and very interesting discussion with Dr. L. Michael Farrell, a professor from Montreal on Sabbatical. A participant in last year's Social Justice Collaborative, Dr. Farrell is studying how to integrate the principles of the Just Third Way into college and university curricula in order to help restore a sound moral orientation to all disciplines in academia.
• As of this morning, we have had visitors from 26 different countries and 41 states and provinces in the United States and Canada to this blog over the past two months. Most visitors are from the United States, Canada, Brazil, Venezuela, and the UK. People in Egypt, Venezuela, Chile, the United States and Brazil spent the most average time on the blog. Not surprisingly, the most popular postings are the series on usury (which may actually finish soon), and the news reports.
Friday, July 3, 2009
News from the Network, Vol. 2, No. 27
While the news items this week are few, they are significant. We would like to see more happening in the network, but it seems that people are too busy doing to be reporting. We urge everyone to send in their brief news notes.