So far we’ve stated the problem and summarized both the liberal and the conservative positions on the issue. Today we look at what we’ve identified as the fundamental error of both the liberal and the conservative positions, and then give our opinion as to what we think is the correct or “orthodox” position.
This is why the insistence of the popes that the Catholic Church’s social teaching is based not on faith, but on reason is so important to us, and why we’re even bothering with it at all. If the Catholic Church’s social teachings were based on faith, as both conservative Catholics and liberal Catholics tend to insist, they would apply only to Catholics. They would be irrelevant to most of the world, and would certainly have no interest for CESJ.
So much for the commercial. Now back to our subject.
The errors should be obvious. Both liberals and conservatives merge the natural law and the supernatural law, to the detriment of both. They mix faith and reason, confuse objective knowledge and subjective opinion, and replace the Intellect with the Will.
These “attack[s] on all sides” on “the principles of Christian culture” (Humani Generis, § 1) spread dissent and massive confusion throughout both religious and civil society, from whence it has spread to domestic society, the Family. As Pius XI pointed out, “[C]ertain doubts have arisen concerning either the correct meaning of some parts of Leo's Encyclical [i.e., Rerum Novarum] or conclusions to be deduced therefrom, which doubts in turn have even among Catholics given rise to controversies that are not always peaceful.” (Quadragesimo Anno, § 40.)
This is why the Fathers of the First Vatican Council, and every pope since Pius IX except for John Paul I (who didn’t have time, at least as pope), have condemned without qualification the belief that faith is required (essential) to come to knowledge of God’s existence and of the natural law. As Canon 2.1 clearly states, “If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema.”
The orthodox view, that of the Catholic Church, is a bit more subtle than that of either the liberals or the conservatives. The orthodox position puts the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, at the center, not the Church or the State. Respect for the dignity of the human person is paramount.
Nor is “respect for the dignity of the human person” a meaningless catch phrase. It has a specific meaning: recognition and protection of the natural rights that are inherent in human nature, and the supernatural rights that are infused into (granted to) every human being.
The orthodox position is that every single human being who exists, has existed, or will ever exist from the moment of conception has the full spectrum of inherent natural rights and infused supernatural rights.
Natural rights exist in order that the human person can realize his or her inherent capacity to acquire and develop natural virtue through the exercise thereof, thereby becoming more fully human. The job of the State is to maintain and protect, sometimes provide, the institutional environment (the common good, or “the system”) within which humanity can optimize the inherent capacity to become more fully human by the exercise of natural rights, however human positive law defines that exercise within a particular social context.
Supernatural rights exist in order that the human person can realize his or her infused capacity to acquire and develop supernatural virtue through the exercise thereof, thereby becoming more fully adopted children of God. The job of the Church is to maintain, protect, and (in most cases) provide the environment (religious society) within which individual human beings can become more fully adopted children of God by the exercise of supernatural rights, however human tradition defines that exercise within a particular social context.