Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Zenit: Faith-Reason Harmony Praised in Duns Scotus

Faith-Reason Harmony Praised in Duns Scotus

Pope Recalls Franciscan Theologian on 7th Centennial of Death

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 22, 2008 ( Benedict XVI is proposing the Franciscan theologian Blessed John Duns Scotus as a model for believers and nonbelievers alike, due to his search for harmony between faith and reason.

Scotus, who died in 1308, was the subject of a papal letter sent in October to Cardinal Joachim Meisner, archbishop of Cologne, where the theologian was born. The Holy Father's statement was sent on the occasion of a conference on the theologian held in November. The Latin-language letter was made public Saturday.

The Pontiff referred to Scotus, currently in the process of canonization, as the "subtle doctor" who, "associating piety with scientific investigation, with his refined and deeply penetrating ingenuity into the secrets of natural and revealed truth, became a light and example for the entire Christian people."

"Firm in the Catholic faith, he labored to understand, explain and defend the truths of faith in the light of human reason," the Pope continued. "He labored especially to demonstrate the consonance of natural and supernatural truths, which emanate from the same source."

Benedict XVI emphasized both the theologian's fidelity and submission to the magisterium and his love for the Virgin Mary -- he was one of those who defended the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Holy Father also noted Blessed Scotus' concept of theology as "more like contemplation than speculation."

Scotus, he said, was a "great preacher of God as love," a truth that "should be delved into and taught especially in our times."

Looks like the Franciscan school is getting some renewed attention. There were a couple of conferences this year to commemorate Scotus, including the Quadruple Conference which began last year. Duns Scotus Anniversary Events

Related links: The Philosophical Vision of John Duns Scotus (pdf)
Fordham Philosophy

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Two ISN lectures in January 2009

From John Keck:

The ISN is co-sponsoring a series of two lectures in Cambridge, MA in January titled

"Insurgent Science Series:
Highlighting challenging developments in the conception of nature and science".

Both will be held at 1:30 pm at MIT.

The first lecture is January 16 by Stuart Newman of New York Medical College: "A Pattern Language for Animal Form".

The second lecture is January 28 by ISN Fellow Michael Augros: "A Bigger Physics".

I expect Dr. Augros's lecture to be quite good, and all Aristotelian-Thomists are encouraged to attend.

The ISN website.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fr. John Whiteford, Sola Scriptura: In the Vanity of Their Minds


Links to more stuff by Fr. John Whiteford here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Zenit: Pope to International Theological Commission

Pope to International Theological Commission

"Humility Renders the Theologian a Collaborator of the Truth"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 15, 2008 ( Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered Dec. 5 upon receiving in audience participants in the plenary session of the International Theological Commission.

* * *

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Distinguished Professors,
Dear Collaborators,

It is with true joy that I welcome you at the end of your annual Plenary Session works, which, this time, coincides also with the conclusion of the seventh quinquennial of the creation of the International Theological Commission. I wish above all to express warm thanks for the words of tribute that, in the name of all, Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, as the General Secretary of the International Theological Commission, has wished to address to me in his greeting address.

My thanks then also go to all of you who, in the course of the last five years, have expended your energies in a truly precious work for the Church and for the one whom the Lord has called to carry out the ministry of Successor of Peter.

In fact, the works of this seventh "quinquennial" of the International Theological Commissionhas already given a real fruit, as Archbishop Ladaria Ferrer has recalled, with the publication of the document "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised", and soon you will reach another important threshold with the document: "In Search of a Universal Ethic: New Look on Natural Law", which must still be submitted according to the Norms of the Statutes of the Commission, to the last steps before its final approval. As I have already been able to affirm on previous occasions, I repeat the necessity and the urgency, in today's context, to create in culture and in civil and political society the indispensable conditions of the natural moral law. Also thanks to the study that you have undertaken on this fundamental argument, it becomes clear that the natural law constitutes the true guarantee offered to each one to live in freedom and in the respect for his dignity as a person, and to feel protected from any ideological manipulation and from all abuse perpetrated based on the law of the strongest. We all know well that in a world formed by the natural sciences the metaphysical concept of the natural law is almost absent, incomprehensible. Moreover considering its fundamental importance for our societies, for human life, it is necessary that there be a new response and that in the context of our thought this concept is made comprehensible: being itself bears in itself a moral message and an indication for the paths of law.

Then, regarding the third theme "sense and method of theology" that has been the special object of study in this quinquennial, I am keen to underline its relevance and actuality. In a "planetary society" as that which is being formed today, theologians are asked by the public opinion above all to promote dialogue between religions and cultures, to contribute to the development of an ethic that has as its own base network peace, justice and the defence of the natural environment. And this truly concerns fundamental goods. But a theology limited to these noble objectives would lose not only its own identity, but the very foundation of these goods. The first priority of theology, as already indicated in its name, is to speak of God, to think of God. And theology speaks of God not as a hypothesis of our thought. It speaks of God because God himself speaks with us. The real work of the theologian is to enter into the Word of God, to seek to understand it for what is possible, and to make it understood to our world, and thus to find the responses to our important questions. In this work it also appears that faith is not only not contrary to reason, but it opens the eyes of reason, it expands our horizons and it permits us to find the responses necessary to the challenges of the various times.

From the objective point of view, the truth is the Revelation of God in Christ Jesus, who requires the response of the obedience of faith in communion with the Church and her Magisterium. Thus the identity of the theologian is regained, understood as a reasoned, systematic and methodical reflection on Revelation and on faith. Even the question of method is illuminated. The method in theology is not only the base of criteria and norms common to the other sciences, but must observe, above all, the principles and norms that derive from Revelation and from faith, from the fact that God has spoken.

From the subjective point of view, that is from the viewpoint of the one who does theology, the fundamental virtue of the theologian is to seek obedience to faith, the humility of faith that opens our eyes. This humility renders the theologian a collaborator of the truth. In this way it will not happen that he speaks of himself. Interiorly purified by obedience to the truth, he will reach, instead, the point that the Truth itself, that the Lord, can speak through the theologian and theology. At the same time it will happen that, by means of him, the truth can be brought to the world.

On the other hand, obedience to the truth does not mean to renounce the research and the fatigue of thought. On the contrary, the restlessness of thought, that certainly cannot be totally pacified in the life of believers, since they too are on the journey of research and deepening of Truth, it will still be, however, an unrest that accompanies and stimulates them in the pilgrimage of thought toward God, and it will be fruitful. Therefore I hope that your reflections on these themes is able to bring to light the authentic principle and the solid significance of true theology, in order to perceive and comprehend ever better the response that the Word of God offers us and without which we cannot live in a wise and just way, because only thus will the universal, infinite horizons of truth open.

My thanks for your commitment and your work in the International Theological Commission during this quinquennial is therefore, at the same time, a cordial wish for the future work of this important organism at the service of the Apostolic See and of the entire Church. In renewing the expression of sentiments of satisfaction, of affection and of joy for today's meeting, I invoke from the Lord, by the intercession of the Most Holy Virgin, copious celestial lights on your work and I impart to you a warm Apostolic Blessing, extending it to your loved ones.

© Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Commissio Theologica Internationalis -- International Theological Commission - Index

Friday, December 12, 2008

AP: Vatican issues major new bioethics document

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican hardened its opposition Friday to using embryos for stem cell research, cloning and in-vitro fertilization. But it showed flexibility on some forms of gene therapy and using vaccines created from cell lines derived from aborted fetuses.

In a major new document on bioethics, the Vatican also criticized "embryo adoption," whereby infertile couples adopt embryos frozen during in vitro techniques and subsequently abandoned. It said that while the intent was "praiseworthy" the result posed legal, medical and psychological problems.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued "The Dignity of a Person" to help answer bioethical questions that have emerged in the two decades since its last such document was published.

With it, the Vatican essentially confirmed in a single, authoritative instruction the opinions of the Pontifical Academy for Life, a Vatican advisory body that has debated these issues for years.

The Vatican's overall position is informed by its belief that human life begins at conception and must be given the consequent respect and dignity from that moment on. The Vatican also holds that human life should be created through intercourse between husband and wife, not in a petri dish.

As a result, the Vatican said it opposed in vitro fertilization because it involves separating conception from the "conjugal act" and often results in the destruction of embryos.

It similarly opposed the techniques involved in IVF — selective reduction of embryos, pre-implantation diagnosis and embryo freezing — because embryos are or can be destroyed.

It also said it opposed the morning-after pill, even if it doesn't cause an abortion, because an abortion was intended. That could complicate the situation of some Catholic hospitals in the United States that offer the morning-after pill to rape victims.

In the use of drugs such as RU-486, which causes the elimination of the embryo once it is implanted, the "sin of abortion" is committed, the document said, thus their use is "gravely immoral."

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, agreed that, on a superficial reading, the document could be seen as a litany of "no's."

"But it's not like that. It is based — starting with its title — on the fundamental affirmation of the dignity of the human person," he said.

The Vatican did show flexibility in saying that parents could in good conscience use vaccines for their children that were developed using cell lines from an "illicit origin." Religious groups in the United States have pressed the Vatican to issue a statement concerning the morality of using vaccines developed using cell lines derived from aborted fetuses.

"Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such 'biological material,'" the instruction said, adding that the parents would have to make known their disagreement with the way the vaccines were developed and press for alternatives.

But the document was strong in stressing that researchers using such material had a greater degree of responsibility. It said they had a moral duty to remove themselves from the "evil aspects" of the original, illicit act — even if they and their institutions had nothing to do with it.

The document said gene therapy on regular cells in the body other than reproductive ones was in principle morally licit since it sought to "restore the normal genetic configuration of the patient or to counter damage caused by genetic anomalies."

But it said cell therapy that seeks to correct genetic defects with the aim of transmitting the therapy to offspring was more problematic.

"Because the risks connected to any genetic manipulation are considerable and as yet not fully controllable, in the present state of research, it is not morally permissible to act in a way that may cause harm to the resulting progeny," the document said.

In the instruction, the Vatican repeated that it fully supported research involving adult stem cells. But it said obtaining stem cells from a living embryo, even for the sake of effective therapies, was "gravely illicit."

It repeated its opposition to human cloning for both medical therapies and reproduction. Such techniques could result in an individual being subjected to a form of "biological slavery from which it would be difficult to free himself."

It noted therapeutic cloning techniques in which embryonic-type stem cells can be produced without destroying true embryos. The document didn't rule definitively on the technology, known as altered nuclear transfer, saying there were still questions about what was produced.

As far as I can see, the new documents is not yet available on the CDF page.

Edit. Fr. Z has a the synthesis of the document: Regarding the Instruction Dignitas Personae.

Second Edit. Zenit also has it online.

Third Edit. Instruction "Dignitas Personae"

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Benedict XVI's Message for World Peace Day

"Fighting Poverty to Build Peace"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 11, 2008 ( Here is the message Benedict XVI wrote for World Peace Day 2009, to be observed Jan. 1. The text, titled "Fighting Poverty to Build Peace," was presented today in the Vatican.

* * *

1. Once again, as the new year begins, I want to extend good wishes for peace to people everywhere. With this Message I would like to propose a reflection on the theme: Fighting Poverty to Build Peace. Back in 1993, my venerable Predecessor Pope John Paul II, in his Message for the World Day of Peace that year, drew attention to the negative repercussions for peace when entire populations live in poverty. Poverty is often a contributory factor or a compounding element in conflicts, including armed ones. In turn, these conflicts fuel further tragic situations of poverty. "Our world", he wrote, "shows increasing evidence of another grave threat to peace: many individuals and indeed whole peoples are living today in conditions of extreme poverty. The gap between rich and poor has become more marked, even in the most economically developed nations. This is a problem which the conscience of humanity cannot ignore, since the conditions in which a great number of people are living are an insult to their innate dignity and as a result are a threat to the authentic and harmonious progress of the world community" [1].

2. In this context, fighting poverty requires attentive consideration of the complex phenomenon of globalization. This is important from a methodological standpoint, because it suggests drawing upon the fruits of economic and sociological research into the many different aspects of poverty. Yet the reference to globalization should also alert us to the spiritual and moral implications of the question, urging us, in our dealings with the poor, to set out from the clear recognition that we all share in a single divine plan: we are called to form one family in which all – individuals, peoples and nations – model their behaviour according to the principles of fraternity and responsibility.

This perspective requires an understanding of poverty that is wide-ranging and well articulated. If it were a question of material poverty alone, then the social sciences, which enable us to measure phenomena on the basis of mainly quantitative data, would be sufficient to illustrate its principal characteristics. Yet we know that other, non-material forms of poverty exist which are not the direct and automatic consequence of material deprivation. For example, in advanced wealthy societies, there is evidence of marginalization, as well as affective, moral and spiritual poverty, seen in people whose interior lives are disoriented and who experience various forms of malaise despite their economic prosperity. On the one hand, I have in mind what is known as "moral underdevelopment"[2], and on the other hand the negative consequences of "superdevelopment"[3]. Nor can I forget that, in so-called "poor" societies, economic growth is often hampered by cultural impediments which lead to inefficient use of available resources. It remains true, however, that every form of externally imposed poverty has at its root a lack of respect for the transcendent dignity of the human person. When man is not considered within the total context of his vocation, and when the demands of a true "human ecology" [4] are not respected, the cruel forces of poverty are unleashed, as is evident in certain specific areas that I shall now consider briefly one by one.

Poverty and moral implications

3. Poverty is often considered a consequence of demographic change. For this reason, there are international campaigns afoot to reduce birth-rates, sometimes using methods that respect neither the dignity of the woman, nor the right of parents to choose responsibly how many children to have[5]; graver still, these methods often fail to respect even the right to life. The extermination of millions of unborn children, in the name of the fight against poverty, actually constitutes the destruction of the poorest of all human beings. And yet it remains the case that in 1981, around 40% of the world's population was below the threshold of absolute poverty, while today that percentage has been reduced by as much as a half, and whole peoples have escaped from poverty despite experiencing substantial demographic growth. This goes to show that resources to solve the problem of poverty do exist, even in the face of an increasing population. Nor must it be forgotten that, since the end of the Second World War, the world's population has grown by four billion, largely because of certain countries that have recently emerged on the international scene as new economic powers, and have experienced rapid development specifically because of the large number of their inhabitants. Moreover, among the most developed nations, those with higher birth-rates enjoy better opportunities for development. In other words, population is proving to be an asset, not a factor that contributes to poverty.

4. Another area of concern has to do with pandemic diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS. Insofar as they affect the wealth-producing sectors of the population, they are a significant factor in the overall deterioration of conditions in the country concerned. Efforts to rein in the consequences of these diseases on the population do not always achieve significant results. It also happens that countries afflicted by some of these pandemics find themselves held hostage, when they try to address them, by those who make economic aid conditional upon the implementation of anti-life policies. It is especially hard to combat AIDS, a major cause of poverty, unless the moral issues connected with the spread of the virus are also addressed. First and foremost, educational campaigns are needed, aimed especially at the young, to promote a sexual ethic that fully corresponds to the dignity of the person; initiatives of this kind have already borne important fruits, causing a reduction in the spread of AIDS. Then, too, the necessary medicines and treatment must be made available to poorer peoples as well. This presupposes a determined effort to promote medical research and innovative forms of treatment, as well as flexible application, when required, of the international rules protecting intellectual property, so as to guarantee necessary basic healthcare to all people.

5. A third area requiring attention in programmes for fighting poverty, which once again highlights its intrinsic moral dimension, is child poverty. When poverty strikes a family, the children prove to be the most vulnerable victims: almost half of those living in absolute poverty today are children. To take the side of children when considering poverty means giving priority to those objectives which concern them most directly, such as caring for mothers, commitment to education, access to vaccines, medical care and drinking water, safeguarding the environment, and above all, commitment to defence of the family and the stability of relations within it. When the family is weakened, it is inevitably children who suffer. If the dignity of women and mothers is not protected, it is the children who are affected most.

6. A fourth area needing particular attention from the moral standpoint is the relationship between disarmament and development. The current level of world military expenditure gives cause for concern. As I have pointed out before, it can happen that "immense military expenditure, involving material and human resources and arms, is in fact diverted from development projects for peoples, especially the poorest who are most in need of aid. This is contrary to what is stated in the Charter of the United Nations, which engages the international community and States in particular 'to promote the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world's human and economic resources' (art. 26)" [6].

This state of affairs does nothing to promote, and indeed seriously impedes, attainment of the ambitious development targets of the international community. What is more, an excessive increase in military expenditure risks accelerating the arms race, producing pockets of underdevelopment and desperation, so that it can paradoxically become a cause of instability, tension and conflict. As my venerable Predecessor Paul VI wisely observed, "the new name for peace is development"[7]. States are therefore invited to reflect seriously on the underlying reasons for conflicts, often provoked by injustice, and to practise courageous self-criticism. If relations can be improved, it should be possible to reduce expenditure on arms. The resources saved could then be earmarked for development projects to assist the poorest and most needy individuals and peoples: efforts expended in this way would be efforts for peace within the human family.

7. A fifth area connected with the fight against material poverty concerns the current food crisis, which places in jeopardy the fulfilment of basic needs. This crisis is characterized not so much by a shortage of food, as by difficulty in gaining access to it and by different forms of speculation: in other words, by a structural lack of political and economic institutions capable of addressing needs and emergencies. Malnutrition can also cause grave mental and physical damage to the population, depriving many people of the energy necessary to escape from poverty unaided. This contributes to the widening gap of inequality, and can provoke violent reactions. All the indicators of relative poverty in recent years point to an increased disparity between rich and poor. No doubt the principal reasons for this are, on the one hand, advances in technology, which mainly benefit the more affluent, and on the other hand, changes in the prices of industrial products, which rise much faster than those of agricultural products and raw materials in the possession of poorer countries. In this way, the majority of the population in the poorest countries suffers a double marginalization, through the adverse effects of lower incomes and higher prices.

Global solidarity and the fight against poverty

8. One of the most important ways of building peace is through a form of globalization directed towards the interests of the whole human family[8]. In order to govern globalization, however, there needs to be a strong sense of global solidarity [9] between rich and poor countries, as well as within individual countries, including affluent ones. A "common code of ethics"[10]

is also needed, consisting of norms based not upon mere consensus, but rooted in the natural law inscribed by the Creator on the conscience of every human being (cf. Rom 2:14-15). Does not every one of us sense deep within his or her conscience a call to make a personal contribution to the common good and to peace in society? Globalization eliminates certain barriers, but is still able to build new ones; it brings peoples together, but spatial and temporal proximity does not of itself create the conditions for true communion and authentic peace. Effective means to redress the marginalization of the world's poor through globalization will only be found if people everywhere feel personally outraged by the injustices in the world and by the concomitant violations of human rights. The Church, which is the "sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race" [11] will continue to offer her contribution so that injustices and misunderstandings may be resolved, leading to a world of greater peace and solidarity.

9. In the field of international commerce and finance, there are processes at work today which permit a positive integration of economies, leading to an overall improvement in conditions, but there are also processes tending in the opposite direction, dividing and marginalizing peoples, and creating dangerous situations that can erupt into wars and conflicts. Since the Second World War, international trade in goods and services has grown extraordinarily fast, with a momentum unprecedented in history. Much of this global trade has involved countries that were industrialized early, with the significant addition of many newly- emerging countries which have now entered onto the world stage. Yet there are other low-income countries which are still seriously marginalized in terms of trade. Their growth has been negatively influenced by the rapid decline, seen in recent decades, in the prices of commodities, which constitute practically the whole of their exports. In these countries, which are mostly in Africa, dependence on the exportation of commodities continues to constitute a potent risk factor. Here I should like to renew an appeal for all countries to be given equal opportunities of access to the world market, without exclusion or marginalization.

10. A similar reflection may be made in the area of finance, which is a key aspect of the phenomenon of globalization, owing to the development of technology and policies of liberalization in the flow of capital between countries. Objectively, the most important function of finance is to sustain the possibility of long- term investment and hence of development. Today this appears extremely fragile: it is experiencing the negative repercussions of a system of financial dealings – both national and global – based upon very short-term thinking, which aims at increasing the value of financial operations and concentrates on the technical management of various forms of risk. The recent crisis demonstrates how financial activity can at times be completely turned in on itself, lacking any long-term consideration of the common good. This lowering of the objectives of global finance to the very short term reduces its capacity to function as a bridge between the present and the future, and as a stimulus to the creation of new opportunities for production and for work in the long term. Finance limited in this way to the short and very short term becomes dangerous for everyone, even for those who benefit when the markets perform well[12].

11. All of this would indicate that the fight against poverty requires cooperation both on the economic level and on the legal level, so as to allow the international community, and especially poorer countries, to identify and implement coordinated strategies to deal with the problems discussed above, thereby providing an effective legal framework for the economy. Incentives are needed for establishing efficient participatory institutions, and support is needed in fighting crime and fostering a culture of legality. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that policies which place too much emphasis on assistance underlie many of the failures in providing aid to poor countries. Investing in the formation of people and developing a specific and well-integrated culture of enterprise would seem at present to be the right approach in the medium and long term. If economic activities require a favourable context in order to develop, this must not distract attention from the need to generate revenue. While it has been rightly emphasized that increasing per capita income cannot be the ultimate goal of political and economic activity, it is still an important means of attaining the objective of the fight against hunger and absolute poverty. Hence, the illusion that a policy of mere redistribution of existing wealth can definitively resolve the problem must be set aside. In a modern economy, the value of assets is utterly dependent on the capacity to generate revenue in the present and the future. Wealth creation therefore becomes an inescapable duty, which must be kept in mind if the fight against material poverty is to be effective in the long term.

12. If the poor are to be given priority, then there has to be enough room for an ethical approach to economics on the part of those active in the international market, an ethical approach to politics on the part of those in public office, and an ethical approach to participation capable of harnessing the contributions of civil society at local and international levels. International agencies themselves have come to recognize the value and advantage of economic initiatives taken by civil society or local administrations to promote the emancipation and social inclusion of those sectors of the population that often fall below the threshold of extreme poverty and yet are not easily reached by official aid. The history of twentieth-century economic development teaches us that good development policies depend for their effectiveness on responsible implementation by human agents and on the creation of positive partnerships between markets, civil society and States. Civil society in particular plays a key part in every process of development, since development is essentially a cultural phenomenon, and culture is born and develops in the civil sphere[13].

13. As my venerable Predecessor Pope John Paul II had occasion to remark, globalization "is notably ambivalent"[14] and therefore needs to be managed with great prudence. This will include giving priority to the needs of the world's poor, and overcoming the scandal of the imbalance between the problems of poverty and the measures which have been adopted in order to address them. The imbalance lies both in the cultural and political order and in the spiritual and moral order. In fact we often consider only the superficial and instrumental causes of poverty without attending to those harboured within the human heart, like greed and narrow vision. The problems of development, aid and international cooperation are sometimes addressed without any real attention to the human element, but as merely technical questions – limited, that is, to establishing structures, setting up trade agreements, and allocating funding impersonally. What the fight against poverty really needs are men and women who live in a profoundly fraternal way and are able to accompany individuals, families and communities on journeys of authentic human development.


14. In the Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, John Paul II warned of the need to "abandon a mentality in which the poor – as individuals and as peoples – are considered a burden, as irksome intruders trying to consume what others have produced." The poor, he wrote, "ask for the right to share in enjoying material goods and to make good use of their capacity for work, thus creating a world that is more just and prosperous for all" [15]. In today's globalized world, it is increasingly evident that peace can be built only if everyone is assured the possibility of reasonable growth: sooner or later, the distortions produced by unjust systems have to be paid for by everyone. It is utterly foolish to build a luxury home in the midst of desert or decay. Globalization on its own is incapable of building peace, and in many cases, it actually creates divisions and conflicts. If anything it points to a need: to be oriented towards a goal of profound solidarity that seeks the good of each and all. In this sense, globalization should be seen as a good opportunity to achieve something important in the fight against poverty, and to place at the disposal of justice and peace resources which were scarcely conceivable previously.

15. The Church's social teaching has always been concerned with the poor. At the time of the Encyclical Letter Rerum Novarum, the poor were identified mainly as the workers in the new industrial society; in the social Magisterium of Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II, new forms of poverty were gradually explored, as the scope of the social question widened to reach global proportions[16]. This expansion of the social question to the worldwide scale has to be considered not just as a quantitative extension, but also as a qualitative growth in the understanding of man and the needs of the human family. For this reason, while attentively following the current phenomena of globalization and their impact on human poverty, the Church points out the new aspects of the social question, not only in their breadth but also in their depth, insofar as they concern man's identity and his relationship with God. These principles of social teaching tend to clarify the links between poverty and globalization and they help to guide action towards the building of peace. Among these principles, it is timely to recall in particular the "preferential love for the poor"[17], in the light of the primacy of charity, which is attested throughout Christian tradition, beginning with that of the early Church (cf. Acts 4:32-36; 1 Cor 16:1; 2 Cor 8-9; Gal 2:10).

"Everyone should put his hand to the work which falls to his share, at once and immediately", wrote Leo XIII in 1891, and he added: "In regard to the Church, her cooperation will never be wanting, be the time or the occasion what it may"[18]. It is in the same spirit that the Church to this day carries out her work for the poor, in whom she sees Christ[19], and she constantly hears echoing in her heart the command of the Prince of Peace to his Apostles: "Vos date illis manducare – Give them something to eat yourselves" (Lk 9:13). Faithful to this summons from the Lord, the Christian community will never fail, then, to assure the entire human family of her support through gestures of creative solidarity, not only by "giving from one's surplus", but above all by "a change of life- styles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power which today govern societies" [20]. At the start of the New Year, then, I extend to every disciple of Christ and to every person of good will a warm invitation to expand their hearts to meet the needs of the poor and to take whatever practical steps are possible in order to help them. The truth of the axiom cannot be refuted: "to fight poverty is to build peace."

From the Vatican, 8 December 2008.


[1] Message for the 1993 World Day of Peace, 1.

[2] Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 19.

[3] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 28.

[4] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 38.

[5] Cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 37; John Paul II, Encyclical LetterSollicitudo Rei Socialis, 25.

[6] Benedict XVI, Letter to Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino on the occasion of the International Seminar organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on the theme: "Disarmament, Development and Peace. Prospects for Integral Disarmament", 10 April 2008:L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 30 April 2008, p. 2.

[7] Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 87.

[8] Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 58.

[9] Cf. John Paul II, Address to the Christian Associations of Italian Working People, 27 April 2002, 4: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, XXV:1 (2002), p. 637.

[10] John Paul II, Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, 27 April 2001, 4: L'Osservatore Romano, English Edition, 2 May 2001, p. 7.

[11] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 1.

[12] Cf. Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 368.

[13] Cf. ibid., 356.

[14] Address to Leaders of Trade Unions and Workers' Associations, 2 May 2000, 3:Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, XXIII, 1 (2000), p. 726.

[15] No. 28.

[16] Cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 3.

[17] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 42; cf. Encyclical LetterCentesimus Annus, 57.

[18] Encyclical Letter Rerum Novarum, 45.

[19] Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 58.

[20] Ibid.

© Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Related links:
Philosophical Theory and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Google Books: The Human Rights Reader
SEP: Jacques Maritain
Justice and Peace President on UN Declaration

"Sure Guide for the Promotion of the Dignity of the Human Person"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 11, 2008 ( Here is the address Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, delivered Wednesday at a concert held in Paul VI Hall to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

* * *

Eminences, Excellencies, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am especially happy to open this celebratory event, promoted and organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With this event, the Holy See wishes to confirm its appreciation for the document of the United Nations, expressed so many times by the Supreme Pontiffs and, at the same time, indicate the value of human rights, how they are formalized in it, as a sure guide for the promotion of the dignity of the human person in our time.

The program planned for this intense evening has three parts. The first is dedicated entirely to reflection on the contents of the Declaration with two significant and authoritative interventions by His Eminence Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, His Holiness' secretary of state, and Juan Somavia, director-general of the International Labor Organization. They will furnish us with the most appropriate coordinates for an adequate understanding of the Declaration, which was able to offer a sure orientation to humanity's path after the dramas of World War II and which remains an indispensable point of reference to build a future of justice and peace for the whole of humanity.

The second part will be dedicated to awarding the Cardinal ardinal Văn Thuận prizes, conferred by the St. Matthew Foundation in memory of Cardinal Văn Thuận. The foundation is closely connected with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and entirely dedicated to spreading the social doctrine of the Church. The award is presented to those that distinguished themselves in the field of defense and promotion of human rights. In memory of Cardinal Văn Thuận, man of God and Christian full of hope, whose cause of beatification is under way, the prizes will be conferred on Doctor Cornelio Sommaruga for his effort in the promotion of humanitarian law when he was president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and on the following persons and institutions that, in one way or another, have given concrete realization to the most noble exigencies contained in the Universal Declaration: Father Pedro Opeka, the GULUNAP Project, the project Villaggio degli Ercolini, and Father Raul Matte.

The commemorative event will end with a concert of classical music -- effectively supported by Vacheron-Constantin, which will be performed by the Brandenburgisches Staatorchester of Frankfurt, directed by maestro Inma Shara with the participation of pianist Boris Berezovsky. To render this final part particularly precious and rich, the Holy Father Benedict XVI will be with us who, with his presence and his word, will offer all the most eloquent proof of the importance that the Catholic Church assigns to the promotion of the fundamental rights of man, as instrument to affirm, always and everywhere, the dignity and centrality of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by the Lord Jesus.

There is a long Catholic tradition on the subject of human rights. This historic itinerary of the Christian tradition of human rights has certainly not been a peaceful itinerary. There were, in fact, on the part of the magisterium also many reservations and condemnation in face of the affirmation of the rights of man in the wake of the French Revolution; but such reservations, repeatedly manifested by the Pontiffs, especially in the 19th century, were due to the fact that such rights were proposed and affirmed against the liberty of the Church, in a perspective inspired by liberalism and secularism. The dominant individualism made the claims of the rights of man to be transmuted into affirmations of the individual's rights more than those of the person, namely of the human being divested of the social dimension and deprived of transcendence. Such is the image of man considered as the measure of all things, absolute creator of the moral law, consigned to a destiny of pure immanence.

In the Catholic vision, a correct interpretation and an effective tutelage of the rights depends on an anthropology that embraces the totality of the constitutive dimension of the human person. Human dignity, which is "equal in every person," therefore, the ultimate reason for which the rights can be claimed first of all because they are children of one and the same Father, not by reason of their ethnic, racial and cultural membership. The ensemble of the rights of man must correspond, therefore, to the essence of the dignity of the person. They must refer to the satisfaction of his essential needs, to the exercise of his liberty, to his relations with other persons and with God. The reference to the human person, to his integral being, obliges us to single out the ultimate source of human rights[1] beyond the mere will of human beings,[2] of the state, but in man and in God his Creator. The rights, belonging originally and intrinsically to persons, are therefore natural and inalienable.[3] Thank you for your participation and your encouraging support!

[1] John Paul II, UN Address, Oct. 2, 1979, 13-14.

[2] Cf. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter "Pacem in Terris," 45.

[3] Cf. John XXIII, "Pacem in Terris," 46.

[Translation by ZENIT]
Cardinal Bertone on Human Rights Declaration

"Exalts the Liberty and Membership of the Human Family"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 11, 2008 ( Here is the address Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Benedict XVI's secretary of state, delivered Wednesday at a concert held in Paul VI Hall to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

* * *

Eminences, Excellencies,
Most Appreciated Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to address you in this solemn celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations. It is a significant moment to which the Holy Father Benedict XVI will join himself personally to underline, yet again, the importance that the Holy See assigns to the recognition and tutelage of the fundamental rights of the human person. Still alive in us is the echo of his word addressed to the U.N. General Assembly last April 18, which indicated the Declaration as "the result of a convergence of religious and cultural traditions, all motivated by the common desire to put the human person at the heart of institutions, laws and interventions of society, and to consider the human person essential for the world of culture, of religion and of science."

I would also like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino and to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace for the organization of this significant event.

1. At the moment it was adopted, the Universal Declaration expressed the primacy of liberty against oppression, of the unity of the human family in regard to ideological and political divisions, as well as to differences of race, sex, language and religion. The intention was to defend the person from the idolatry of the state, which totalitarianisms had in fact divinized, proposing an ulterior way to build the "city of men," basing it on the conviction that "recognition of the inherent dignity of all the members of the human family, and of their equal and inalienable rights, constitutes the foundation of liberty, of justice and of peace" (Preamble, Universal Declaration).

In fact, the Universal Declaration attests to a renewal of the hope to make of the human person the sign of a future capable of freeing itself from the weight of the past, as though wishing to purify the memory of the human family. Some 60 years or so ago, in fact, the victims of barbarism, the horrors of war, the acts of genocide were all contradictions to be overcome in order to seek in international relationships and in the internal life of states that necessary balance capable of projecting humanity toward a future worthy of man.

2. In proposing an ensemble of the person's rights and faculties, the Declaration exalts the liberty and membership of the human family, reconciling the idea of justice with the affirmations of the primacy of life, the idea of sociality, the appreciation of the democratic methods understood as an ensemble of rules, institutions and structures able to express and convey values.

We are not just faced with a proclamation, but rather with a new consideration and placement of human dignity by the international community and the various political communities that animate it, up to now little inclined to admit the person as protagonist. An approach that is still valid and not replaceable because it calls the person to live his rights with an attitude of sharing the other's rights, and of looking at others not in terms of opposition or limit, but in recognizing their "essential equality" and determined to live in a "spirit of fraternity" (cf. Universal Declaration, article 1).

3. The Church, which for her part considers with great respect all that is true, good and beautiful that is found in the community of mankind (cf. "Gaudium et Spes," 42), has seen in the Declaration a "sign of the times," regarding it as "an important step in the path to the juridical-political organization of the world community" (encyclical "Pacem in Terris," 75), an act able to synthesize the meaning of human liberty by reconciling present-day needs with immutable principles, capable of offering guidelines founded anthropologically and juridically so as to respond to the most profound human needs.

The idea itself of fundamental rights has a profound root in the Christian tradition since the initial proclamation of the Good News, which enriches the precepts of the Decalogue with the invitation to be sympathetic to every person (cf. Matthew 25:35-36), without any distinction: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).

In the doctrine of the Church, then, the tutelage of the human person evokes subsidiarity as ruling principle of the social order and that, beginning with the person, guarantees individual rights and liberty as well as those rights connected with the community dimension, including the liberty to associate, to give life to social formations, to intermediary entities, up to the reality of the state and, therefore, to the international community with its institutions.

4. The Supreme Pontiffs have expressed on many occasions the Church's appreciation for the great values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of Dec. 10, 1948. I would like at least to recall here the teachings of Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI on the occasion of their interventions before the U.N. General Assembly. On Oct. 4, 1965, Paul VI expressed himself thus before the representatives of nations: "For you who proclaimed the fundamental rights and duties of man, his dignity, his liberty and, first of all, religious liberty."

John Paul II spoke twice before the U.N. Assembly. The first time, on Oct. 3, 1979, in connection with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he affirmed: "This document is a milestone on the long and difficult road of humankind. We must measure humanity's progress not only with the progress of science and technology, of which all the singularity of man stands out in confronting nature, but contemporaneously and even more so with the primacy of spiritual values and with the progress of the moral life."

In the second intervention, on Oct. 5, 1995, John Paul II described the Declaration as "one of the highest expressions of human conscience of our time" and underlined forcefully how "there are indeed universal human rights, rooted in the nature of the person, rights which reflect the objective and inviolable demands of a universal moral law. These are not abstract points; rather, these rights tell us something important about the actual life of every individual and of every social group. They also remind us that we do not live in an irrational or meaningless world. On the contrary, there is a moral logic which is built into human life and which makes possible dialogue between individuals and peoples. If we want a century of violent coercion to be succeeded by a century of persuasion, we must find a way to discuss the human future intelligibly. The universal moral law written on the human heart is precisely that kind of 'grammar' which is needed if the world is to engage this discussion of its future."

Benedict XVI, speaking in his turn to the United Nations Assembly on April 18, 2008, and recalling explicitly the event that we celebrate today, namely the 60th anniversary of the Declaration, said: "It is evident, though, that the rights recognized and expounded in the Declaration apply to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high-point of God’s creative design for the world and for history. They are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations. Removing human rights from this context would mean restricting their range and yielding to a relativistic conception, according to which the meaning and interpretation of rights could vary and their universality would be denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks."

5. Today, in face of a worrying global picture that is above all the reflection of economic structures that do not respond to man's value, basic rights seem to depend on anonymous, uncontrolled mechanisms and on a vision that is enclosed in the pragmatism of the moment, forgetting that the code of the future of the human family is solidarity.

We are asked, then, if it is the economic structures and their recent changes that are the cause of the denial of rights, or if it is not, rather, the abandonment of the vision of the person that from subject has become ever more an object of economic conduct, often reduced to claiming the only rights linked to his function of consumer and not of person.

6. In face of the global dimension that characterizes our era, the universality of the person, as the Holy Father reminded at the U.N. is the criteria that furnishes to human rights the characteristic of being universal, and thus to avoid partial applications or relative visions. This means that every political community "called to realize the contents of the Universal Declaration by analyzing objectively its own situation, but being clear that that act is not deprived of force because it was adopted and elaborated in a different social, political or juridical content from that in which we operate today: thus it brings all its permanent efficacy of "innateness" to the history of every human person.

The lack of tutelage of human rights that is often evidenced in the attitude of so many institutions and functions of the authority is the fruit of the disintegration of the unity of the person about whom thought is given to proclaim different rights, of constructing ample spaces of liberty that, however, remain deprived of every anthropological foundation.

Sixty years having passed now since that Dec. 10, 1948, it does not seem possible any more to guarantee rights if their indivisibility is neglected and if the conviction is not abandoned that the tutelage of civil and political rights passes through a "not doing" of the institutional apparatus, while the commitment to those that are economic, social and cultural is to be considered only pragmatic.

7. The Church feels that particular attention should be given to a return to religious liberty, which article 18 of the Universal Declaration made explicit in meaning and limits, foreseeing likewise the rights and situations that are connected to such liberty. The object of that right is not the intrinsic content of a determined religious faith, but immunity from every coercion, virtually a zone of security able to guarantee the inviolability of a human space in which the individual believer and the community in which he expresses his own faith are free to act, without external pressures from individuals, social groups or any other authority.

It is an altogether evident fact that the religious event has a direct influence on the unfolding of the internal life of states and of the international community. This notwithstanding, perceived ever more are indications and tendencies that seem to want to exclude religion and rights from the possibility to contribute to the construction of the social order, also in full respect of the pluralism that marks contemporary society.

Religious freedom risks being confused only with freedom of worship or in any case interpreted as an element belonging to the private sphere and increasingly replaced by an imprecise "right to tolerance." And all this while ignoring that religious liberty as fundamental right marks the overcoming of religious tolerance, which was solidly anchored to a relative vision of truth and to individualism without limits.

Similarly, the international perspective itself allows the tendency to emerge of relegating the religious event to the dimension of culture and to associate it with traditional practices and knowledge which are not strangers to a syncretistic vision, forgetting that religion, and the liberties and rights connected with it, are an experience of life, an indication of the most profound aspirations that the person wishes to reach through his action.

8. An aspect on which it is necessary for us to turn our attention is that of the exact nature of the rights that the Declaration derives from the dignity that is common to every human being, an aspect to which it is necessary that claims, thoughts, proposals can converge to give them an order, without making the demand for rights spread in every direction. To defend fundamental rights means, in fact, not to confuse them with simple and often limiting contingent needs. To be able to go back to the original position of the Declaration including the new situations is possible and could be a path to follow to give renewed vigor to man's cause.

Moreover, once recognized and finally fixed in an eventual convention, human rights are always in need of being defended. They are in need of fidelity on our part, because they can be lost from view, reinterpreted in a restrictive way or actually denied. The pedagogy to which we owe their formulation is the same with which they need to be preserved. The Holy Father often reminds us that humanity's moral progress always needs to be undertaken again. Not being a material fact, it cannot happen by accumulation. This is also true for human rights, which every day need to be confirmed, re-founded in our consciousness and relived.

9. To respect and reinvigorate the fundamental rights will be a concrete way to oppose the various and diffused forms of abandonment of the foundations of moral order in social relations, from interpersonal dimensions to that of international relations. In fact, it is ever more difficult to foresee an effective and universal tutelage of rights, without a connection to that natural law that fecundates the same rights and is the antithesis of that degradation that in so many of our societies is interested in questioning the ethics of life and of procreation, of marriage and family life, as well as of education and the formation of the young generations, introducing only an individualistic vision on which to arbitrarily construct new rights that are not more precise in content and juridical logic.

Rights, therefore, cannot be containers that, according to the historical, cultural and political moments, are full of different meanings and elements. In fact, it is the absence of values to which to link the rights that is the principal cause of their inefficacy and their violation. The natural law, instead, allows all to find a common root, also in face of positions that, although having a different ethical foundation, are not prepared to yield in face of the abandonment of that truth that is common to the human species.

Only a weak vision of human rights can hold that the human being is the result of his rights, not recognizing that the rights remain an instrument created by man to give full realization to his innate dignity.

10. The Declaration of 1948 is a point of arrival. It must also always be a new point of departure; it still maintains all its potential that is not consumed, rather, it requires a greater sharing so as to be translated into concrete acts. In fact, the Universal Declaration is called not only to defend liberty and its rules, but also to impede that they degenerate into the negation of the primacy of the human being.

Among the human rights, in the rigor of terms, there is no hierarchy. They are all together one, they are as only one right: the right to be able to become man or, as Paul VI wrote, to be able to become more man. The Church, along with political and juridical wisdom, has always held the principle of the indivisibility of human rights: each one of them reflects all the others and refers to them as complementary and irreplaceable elements of itself. Its insistence on the importance of the right to life and the right to religious liberty does not derive, therefore, from the desire to insert some division among man's rights, a hierarchy. The insistence is born, rather, from the need to make explicit the fact that the rights themselves are not founded by themselves, but are expressions of the face of the human person and of his dignity.

To have received life as a gift and to be able to thank the Author of life are the first two human rights. This does not mean to put the other rights on an inferior level, rather, with this all human rights are indivisibly raised to be expressions of a dignity received out of love and not produced by human techniques. The discourse can also be upside down. We see that when there is a failure to recognize the right to life and to religious liberty, respect for other rights also vacillates.

All the rights of mankind are upheld together, "simul stabunt, simul cadent," but even in their violation, unfortunately, they are upheld together. The principle of indivisibility is true whether in good or in evil. The Church affirms that the reasons of those who struggle for the right to life and to religious liberty should be enlarged in order to also understand all the other rights and affirms that those who are sensitive to any other right cannot be indifferent to that of life or the right to religious liberty. They cannot divide between their human rights, choose ideologically the one preferred, or attribute to one or the other political connotations.

In the addresses pronounced at the United Nations that I have briefly recalled, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI specified that the ultimate and fundamental reason why the Church has human rights at its heart is of the ethical-religious order and refers to its own mission. Thus the Church expresses to the international community in a way that is yet more multi-form her contribution to the promotion and respect of human rights.

As Benedict XVI confirmed last Sunday, "For the populations worn out by poverty and hunger, for the ranks of refugees, for all those who suffer grave and systematic violation of their rights, the Church places herself as watchman on the high mountain of faith and proclaims: 'Behold your God! Behold, the Lord comes with might'" (Isaiah, 40:11).

For the believer, and for all those who put their faith in human dignity, the full tutelage of rights cannot but coincide with a model of life and of social order in which the expectation is realized of that new heaven and new earth in which justice finds a stable dwelling (cf. 2 Peter 3:13). This is our common hope.

[Translation by ZENIT]
Eirenikon comes to an end. Will anyone continue its work?
Benedict XVI's Words at Human Rights Concert

"Build a World Where Every Human Being Feels Accepted"

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 10, 2008 ( Here is the address Benedict XVI gave today at a concert held in Paul VI hall to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

* * *

Illustrious Gentlemen and Kind Ladies,

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

I address my cordial greetings to the authorities present, in particular to the president of the Italian Republic, to the other Italian authorities, to the grand master of the Order of Malta and to all of you who took part in this evening's event dedicated to listening to classical music, interpreted by the Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester of Frankfurt, directed for the occasion by Maestro Mrs. Inma Shara. To her and to the musicians I wish to express the common appreciation for the talent and effectiveness with which they interpreted these thought-provoking musical passages.

I thank the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the St. Matthew Foundation in Memory of Cardinal Francois Xavier Van Thuan for having promoted the concert, which was preceded by the commemorative ceremony for the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by the bestowal of the Cardinal Van Thuan prize on Mr. Cornelio Sommaruga, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the awarding of the prizes "Solidarity and Development" to Father Pedro Opeka, missionary in Madagascar; Father Jose Raul Matte, missionary among lepers of Amazonia; to the recipients of the Gulunap Project, for the realization of a Faculty of Medicine in Northern Uganda; and to those responsible for the Village of the Ercolini project, for the integration of Rom infants and children in Rome.

My kind thoughts go also to all those who have collaborated in the realization of the concert and to RAI, which broadcast it, prolonging, so to speak, the "seat" of those who were unable to benefit from it.

Some 60 years ago, on Dec. 10, the U.N. General Assembly, meeting in Paris, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which still today constitutes a very high point of reference in the intercultural dialogue on liberty and the rights of man. The dignity of every man, really guaranteed only when all his fundamental rights are recognized, protected and promoted. The Church has always confirmed that the fundamental rights, beyond the different formulations and the different weight they might carry in the realm of the different cultures, are a universal fact, because they are inscribed in the very nature of man. The natural law, written by God in the human conscience, is a common denominator for all men and for all peoples; a universal guide that all can know and on the basis of which all can understand one another. The rights of man are, therefore, ultimately founded in God the Creator, who has given each one the intelligence and freedom. If one ignores this solid ethical base, human rights remain fragile because deprived of a solid foundation.

The celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Declaration constitutes therefore an occasion to verify in what measure the ideals, accepted by the greater part of the community of Nations in 1948, are respected today in the different national legislations and, even more so, in the conscience of individuals and of the collectivity. Undoubtedly, a long road has already been traveled, but a long track remains to be completed: Hundreds of millions of our brothers and sisters still see their rights to life, liberty, and security threatened; the equality of all and the dignity of each is not always respected, while new barriers are raised for reasons linked to race, religion, political opinions or other convictions. The common effort to promote and better define the rights of man, therefore, does not cease, and the effort is intensified to guarantee this respect. I support these good wishes with the prayer that God, Father of all men, will enable us to build a world where every human being feels accepted with full dignity, and where relations between individuals and peoples are governed by respect, dialogue and solidarity. My Blessings for all.

[Translation by ZENIT]
Archbishop Migliore on Human Rights Declaration

"The Result of Justice and the Guarantee of Peace"

New York, DEC. 10, 2008 ( Here is the address Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, gave today at the United Nations on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

* * *
Mr. President,

Allow me first of all to express congratulations on the part of the Holy See Delegation for this session celebrating the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a fundamental document for international life and that of every single State. By this Declaration, people, States, international institutions can even today rediscover the true significance of the person, his concrete humanity, the individual and communitarian dimensions of his rights, and in particular the universal value of human dignity.

The Declaration, in fact, clearly shows that human rights, which require application and protection, are not only an expression of mere legality but find their source and ends in ethics and natural reason common to all men. It can well be said that by means of this proclamation the whole human family has affirmed that the respect of rights is the result of justice and the guarantee of peace. Through the international protection of rights, persons, people, States and governments have manifested the will to avoid conflicts and major contrasts to proceed instead on a united path consisting of cooperation and integration.

Many present here today at this commemoration still vividly recall the words uttered in this same hall on April 18 last by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who linked human rights and their protection to two fundamental objectives: the promotion of the common good and the safeguarding of human freedom.

From international activity, and from the action of the United Nations Organization in particular, we see how much the idea of the common good is the essential condition to adopt effective decisions in the realm of security, of cooperation for development, as well as special humanitarian action that the Organization is all the more called to carry out in the face of events and situations that gravely affect the person, his dignity and therefore his rights. The common good is well expressed in the call “to act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood” (Art. 1) that the Universal Declaration addresses to all the members of the human family. In fact, we cannot fail to recognize that the first violation of rights comes from the lack of essential living conditions, when there prevails an inequitable distribution of wealth, conditions of poverty, of hunger, lack of medical care. It is not by accident that the first of the Millennium Goals proclaimed by the United Nations is appropriately aimed at the overcoming of this situation that involves a substantial part of the world population.

Regarding human freedom, protecting its various dimensions and manifestations, not only guarantees the building of the common good and overcoming the threats to the dignity of every person, but also recognizes that “all humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (Art. 1). This allows for the building of that necessary correlation among rights and duties that brings every person, every State, every community to assume the responsibility for the choices made, and to recognize its reciprocal relationship with others.

Today, in the face of significant milestones humanity has reached, are unfortunately evident negations of rights that violate the order of creation, contradict the sacred character of life, deprive the human person, the family, communities of their natural identity. Protecting rights means, therefore, to respect ethical imperatives that are the necessary precondition for freedom.

Human rights express the unity of the human creature, of his aspiration at satisfying his essential needs while attaining at the same time freedom, human relations and spiritual values.

In this sense, rights are also an instrument through which the person manifests his relationship with the truth, protects his conscience, his dimension of faith and his most profound convictions. Everyone should be able to express these aspirations as part of a community of citizens, of believers and free to propose his vision of the social order, of freedom, of institutions and of rules without this being cause for discrimination or limiting participation in the social body.

In the specific area of religious liberty, the Universal Declaration concretely provides a manifestation that is at the same time individual and communitarian, and does not set the dimension of the citizen against that of the believer, recognizing instead the full freedom of the relationship between the person and his Creator. No principle, no national or international law can cancel or limit this relationship if it wants to recognize with coherence the rights proclaimed sixty years ago. The free relationship between the person and his Creator, today as then, should not be limited to the exercise of religious belief, but open to the public expression of religious worship through the channels of formation, instruction and full participation in all decision making within a given country.

Mr. President,

The Universal Declaration has made human rights and action aimed at their protection one of the primary objectives of the international Community and of States. Human rights consist no longer in mere proclamations or legislative and institutional modifications.

Human rights, in fact, are not a rhetorical remembrance, but the result of the responsible deeds of everyone. Deeds necessary in a world that has adequate means and specialized structures to end the scandal of hunger and poverty, to guarantee security that is not violated or derided, to safeguard the life of everyone in every moment. To celebrate this day means to place the person in the heart of the international Community and of its law and to overcome present obstacles on the path of humanity.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church gives this definition of solidarity:

Solidarity is also an authentic moral virtue, not a “feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good. That is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all”[418]. Solidarity rises to the rank of fundamental social virtue since it places itself in the sphere of justice. It is a virtue directed par excellence to the common good, and is found in “a commitment to the good of one's neighbour with the readiness, in the Gospel sense, to ‘lose oneself' for the sake of the other instead of exploiting him, and to ‘serve him' instead of oppressing him for one's own advantage (cf. Mt 10:40-42, 20:25; Mk 10:42-45; Lk 22:25-27)”[419].
(via Insight Scoop)

Is solidarity, then, identical to legal or general justice? Or is it a virtue allied to legal justice, akin to the virtue of perseverance or endurance (a kind of fortitude)? From the text it does not seem that different from legal justice. Is it distinguished within the Compendium from (the virtue of) social justice?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Zenit: Vatican Official Considers Aquinas' Comeback

Vatican Official Considers Aquinas' Comeback

Recalls How Morality Was Scorned in the 60s

By Antonio Gaspari

ROME, DEC. 3, 2008 ( Moral theology based on St. Thomas Aquinas is among one of theology's most popular branches today, says a Vatican official, but this popularity has come about only after decades of disdain.

Archbishop Jean Louis Bruguès, secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, spoke about his journey with moral theology when he delivered an address at a conference last Friday in Rome, which marked the 30th anniversary of the St. Thomas Aquinas International Society.

Archbishop Bruguès contended that "after May of '68, moral theology, at least in France, fell into profound neglect."

"During two years, the seminarians of Toulouse received no classes on this subject, considered disagreeable and boring, as no one was found who was willing to teach them," he said. It fell to then Father Bruguès, a young priest with a doctorate in morality, to take up these courses.

The prelate recalled that his spiritual assistant, Father Michel Labourdette, tried to encourage him with these words: "You are concerned with a subject that today is disparaged, but have patience: The day will come when it will be envied by others."

Indeed, Archbishop Bruguès noted, by the beginning of the 80s, many issues referring to ecology and the development of medical techniques began to be at the center of attention of bioethics.

"So, from one day to another, ethicists -- that dreadful neologism coined to avoid saying 'moralist,' as the word 'morality' still caused fear -- were in demand everywhere," he said. "My professor had understood [the situation] well. Moral theology was becoming the most appreciated subject, the only branch of theology that was really taken into account in a secularized society."

Archbishop Bruguès pointed out that in the 60s students were characterized by an essentially critical mentality.

"The very idea of making reference to the masters of Tradition stirred in them allergic reactions," he quipped. "It was impossible even to mention the name of Thomas Aquinas: One ran the risk of having people plug their ears."

Father Labourdette also offered advice in this regard, the Vatican official remembered, encouraging him to "always teach [Aquinas] but without mentioning his name."

"Hence, for years I practiced so to speak an 'amphibious Thomism," recalled the archbishop, until "finally, one day […] they asked me for classes on the moral theology of St. Thomas: The time of 'clandestine' Thomism had ended."

Archbishop Bruguès commented that "the generation of May '68, which described itself as critical, rejected the transmission of Christian culture and tradition. The following generation was practically deprived of any Christian culture -- it knew that it didn't know. This led to not sharing the prejudices of their predecessors; now we can start again and share the great masters."

The prelate proposed the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the text that best reflects this change.

The "Catechism is based on a conviction that further reflection is necessary: The great institutions of St. Thomas' morality are the best instrument of critical dialogue with modernity," continued the secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education.

"The theory of virtue will stimulate a renewal of moral theology," he affirmed, and thus "the teaching of moral theology stemming from the great institutions of Thomism, still has a luminous future before it."

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I need to find that passage where St. Thomas says that those who do not share the same conception of God do not worship the same God... or something to that effect...

Monday, December 01, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Papal Greeting to Catholicos of Cilicia of the Armenians

"Continue to Shape the Culture of Your Nation"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 24, 2008 ( Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered today when he presided at an ecumenical celebration with Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia of the Armenians. A delegation from the Catholicosate also participated in the event.

Aram I is on a visit to Rome that will include a pilgrimage to St. Paul's Outside the Walls.

* * *

Your Holiness,

With heartfelt affection in the Lord I greet you and the distinguished members of your delegation on the occasion of your visit to the Church of Rome. Our meeting today stands in continuity with the visit which you made to my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II in January 1997, and with the many other contacts and mutual visits which, by God's grace, have led in recent years to closer relations between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church.

In this year of Saint Paul, you will visit the tomb of the Apostle of the Nations and pray with the monastic community at the basilica erected to his memory. In that prayer, you will be united to the great host of Armenian saints and martyrs, teachers and theologians, whose legacy of learning, holiness and missionary achievements are part of the patrimony of the whole Church. We think of Saint Nerses Shnorkhali and Saint Nerses of Lambon who, as Bishop of Tarsus, was known as "the second Paul of Tarsus". That testimony culminated in the twentieth century, which proved a time of unspeakable suffering for your people. The faith and devotion of the Armenian people have been constantly sustained by the memory of the many martyrs who have borne witness to the Gospel down the centuries. May the grace of that witness continue to shape the culture of your nation and inspire in Christ's followers an ever greater trust in the saving and life-giving power of the Cross.

The See of Cilicia has long been involved in encouraging positive ecumenical contacts between the Churches. Indeed, the dialogue between the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church has benefited significantly from the presence of its Armenian delegates. We must be hopeful that this dialogue will continue to move forward, since it promises to clarify theological issues which have divided us in the past but now appear open to greater consensus. I am confident that the current work of the International Commission – devoted to the theme: "The Nature, Constitution and Mission of the Church" – will enable many of the specific issues of our theological dialogue to find their proper context and resolution.

Surely the growth in understanding, respect and cooperation which has emerged from ecumenical dialogue promises much for the proclamation of the Gospel in our time. Throughout the world Armenians live side by side with the faithful of the Catholic Church. An increased understanding and appreciation of the apostolic tradition which we share will contribute to an ever more effective common witness to the spiritual and moral values without which a truly just and humane social order cannot exist. For this reason, I trust that new and practical means will be found to give expression to the common declarations we have already signed.

Your Holiness, I cannot fail to assure you of my daily prayers and deep concern for the people of Lebanon and the Middle East. How can we not be grieved by the tensions and conflicts which continue to frustrate all efforts to foster reconciliation and peace at every level of civil and political life in the region? Most recently we have all been saddened by the escalation of persecution and violence against Christians in parts of the Middle East and elsewhere. Only when the countries involved can determine their own destiny, and the various ethnic groups and religious communities accept and respect each other fully, will peace be built on the solid foundations of solidarity, justice and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples.

With these sentiments and with affection in the Lord, I thank Your Holiness for your visit, and I express my hope that these days spent in Rome will be a source of many graces for you and for all those entrusted to your pastoral care. Upon you and to all the faithful of the Armenian Apostolic Church I invoke an abundance of joy and peace in the Lord.

© Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Remnant: Religious Freedom and the Catholic Church (A short text by Bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel Von Ketteler.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

via Francis Beckwith: R.I.P. Fr. Clarke (1915-2008)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Zenit: Benedict XVI on John Paul II and Vatican II

Benedict XVI on John Paul II and Vatican II

"A Qualified Interpreter and Coherent Witness"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 14, 2008 ( Here is the address Benedict XVI sent Oct. 28 to the international congress on the theme "The Second Vatican Council in the Pontificate of John Paul II." The event was sponsored by the St. Bonaventure Theological Faculty and the Institute for Documentation and Study of the Pontificate of John Paul II.

* * *

To the Most Reverend Father Marco Tasca
Minister General of the Friars Minor Conventual and Grand Chancellor
of The Pontifical Theological Faculty of St Bonaventure Seraphicum

I learned with joy that the Pontifical Theological Faculty, together with the Institute for Documentation and Study of the Pontificate of John Paul II, has chosen to promote an International Congress on the theme "The Second Vatican Council in the Pontificate of John Paul II". With this initiative the Theological Faculty's intention among other things, is to develop a deeper reflection on the current situation of the Church in view of the celebration of the eighth centenary of the Rule that St Francis presented to Pope Innocent III in 1209, for which he received verbal approval. With this important scientific event the Institute for Documentation and Study proposes to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the election of Karol Wojtyla to the See of Peter with a view to making better known the great Pontiff's teaching and love for the Church in the historical and theological context of the Council which was so dear to his heart.

Dear Minister General, as I address my cordial greeting to you, I ask you to express to your Conventual Confreres, the Professors of the Athenaeum, the Director and Members of the Institute and all who are taking part in the Congress the sentiments of fatherly affection that I feel for each one of them.

I can only rejoice at the choice of a theme that unites two topics of quite special interest to me: on the one hand, the Second Vatican Council, in which I had the honour of taking part as an expert and on the other, the figure of my beloved Predecessor John Paul II who made a significant personal contribution to that Council as a Council Father and subsequently, by God's will, became its first executor during the years of his Pontificate. In this context it seems only right also to recall that the Council sprang from the great heart of Pope John XXIII, the 50th anniversary of whose election to the Chair of Peter we are commemorating today, 28 October. I said that the Council sprang from John XXIII's heart, yet it would be more accurate to say that ultimately, like all the great events in the Church's history, it came from the Heart of God, from his saving will: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3: 16). To make divine salvation accessible to contemporary man was Pope John XXIII's main reason for convoking the Council, and the Fathers worked with this in mind. For this very reason, "As the years have passed, the Conciliar Documents" as I recalled on 20 April 2005, the day after my election to the Pontificate, "have lost none of their timeliness; indeed, their teachings are proving particularly relevant to the new situation of the Church and the current globalized society" (Message to Cardinals, 20 April 2005).

In practically all his documents, and especially in his decisions and his behaviour as Pontiff, John Paul II accepted the fundamental petitions of the Second Vatican Council, thus becoming a qualified interpreter and coherent witness of it. His constant concern was to make known to all the advantages that could stem from acceptance of the Conciliar vision, not only for the good of the Church but also for that of civil society itself and of the people working in it. "We have contracted a debt to the Holy Spirit", he said in his Reflection prior to the Angelus on 6 October 1985, referring to the extraordinary session of the Synod of Bishops which was about to be celebrated precisely in order to reflect on the Church's response during the 20 years that had passed since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. "We have contracted a debt to the Spirit of Christ.... This, in fact, is the Spirit who speaks to the Churches (cf. Rv 2: 7); during the Council and by means of it, his word has become particularly expressive and decisive for the Church" (ore, 14 October 1985, p. 12).

We are all truly indebted to him for this extraordinary ecclesial event. The multiple doctrinal legacy that we find in its Dogmatic Constitutions, Declarations and Decrees still stimulates us to deepen our knowledge of the Word of God in order to apply it to the Church in the present day, keeping clearly in mind the many needs of the men and women of the contemporary world who are extremely in need of knowing and experiencing the light of Christian hope. The Synod of Bishops that has just ended placed these needs at the centre of its own rich and fruitful reflections, reaffirming the hope expressed in the past by the Constitution Dei Verbum: "So may it come that, by the reading and study of the sacred books, "the Word of God may speed on and triumph' (2 Thes 3: 1), and the treasure of the Revelation entrusted to the Church may more and more fill the hearts of men" (n. 26), bringing them the salvation of God and with it authentic happiness.

This is a commitment that I am pleased to entrust in particular to you, dear Professors of the Pontifical Theological Faculty, who venerate the Seraphic Doctor St Bonaventure as its heavenly Patron. In the wealth of his thought, St Bonaventure can offer interpretative keys which are still up-to-date and with which you may approach the Conciliar Documents to seek in them satisfactory answers to the many questions of our time. The anxiety for humanity's salvation which motivated the Council Fathers, guiding their commitment in the search for solutions to the numerous problems of the day was equally alive in St Bonaventure's heart as he faced the hopes and anguish of the people of his own time. On the other hand, since the basic questions that man carries in his heart do not change with the changing of times, the answers the Seraphic Doctor attained have remained substantially applicable also in our day. In particular, the Itinerarium mentis in Deum that St Bonaventure composed in 1259 has remained valid. Although it is a guide to the heights of mystical theology, this precious little book also speaks to all Christians of what is essential in their lives. The ultimate goal of all our activities must be communion with the living God. Thus, for the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council too, the ultimate aim of all the individual aspects of the Church's renewal was to lead the faithful to the living God revealed in Jesus Christ.

I am certain that the Pontifical Faculty of St Bonaventure and the Institute for Documentation and Study on the Pontificate of John Paul II will continue to develop their reflection on the Conciliar texts, also availing themselves of the insights shared during this Congress. I assure you in this regard of the support of my prayers and, as a pledge of heavenly illumination for work that will yield abundant fruit, I impart the Apostolic Blessing to you, Most Reverend Minister General, to the Relators of the Congress and to all the participants, as well as to the John Paul II Foundation which generously contributed to it.

From the Vatican, 28 October 2008


© Copyright 2008 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Robert George, Public Morality, Public Reason

Public Morality, Public Reason
by Robert P. George

Copyright (c) 2006 First Things (November 2006).

A contest of worldviews in our time pits devout Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and other believers against secularist liberals and those who, while remaining within the religious denominations, have adopted essentially secularist liberal ideas about personal and political morality. The contest manifests itself in disputes over abortion, embryo-destructive research, and euthanasia, as well as in issues of sex, marriage, and family life. Underlying these specific conflicts are profound differences about the nature of morality and the proper relation of moral judgment to law and public policy.

I am hardly the first to recognize the existence of this conflict of worldviews. People on both sides have noticed it, commented on it, and proposed ideas about how an essentially democratically constituted polity ought to come to terms with it. The trouble is that the issues dividing the two camps are of such profound moral significance—on either side’s account—that merely procedural solutions are not good enough. Neither side will be happy to agree on decision procedures for resolving the key differences of opinion at the level of public policy where the procedures do not guarantee victory for the substantive policies they favor. This is not a matter of people being irrationally stubborn; rather, it reflects the considered judgment of people on both sides that fundamental and therefore nonnegotiable issues of justice are at stake.

Jurgen Habermas in Europe and the late John Rawls in the United States are perhaps the premier examples of secular thinkers who have taken the measure of the problem and proposed terms of engagement that, they believe, can be affirmed by reasonable people across the spectrum of opinion. Both single out Catholicism as an example of a non-liberal “comprehensive doctrine” that may nevertheless affirm essentially liberal terms of engagement with competing comprehensive doctrines. Indeed, they argue, one needn’t be a secular person, much less a secularist, to endorse their teachings. There is plenty of room, they say, for religious people of various stripes to affirm the secular principles and norms that should govern political life in contemporary pluralistic democratic societies. Indeed, their goal is to identify principles and norms that can reasonably be accepted by believers and unbelievers alike, and affirmed by people irrespective of their convictions about human nature, dignity, and destiny.

From a Catholic vantage point, there is nothing startling or troubling about the quest to identify moral and political principles that can reasonably be affirmed without appeal to theological claims or religious authority. That’s one description, accurate so far as it goes, of the enterprise known as natural law theory. But there is something deeply alien to Catholic thought about separating inquiry into moral and political principles from questions pertaining to human nature, dignity, and destiny. According to the Catholic understanding, moral and political philosophy is, in significant measure, an inquiry into human nature, dignity, and destiny.

Inasmuch as Habermas and Rawls propose theories of political morality that purport to prescind from such basic questions, there appears to be a fundamental incompatibility between their proposals and the Catholic approach to moral and political theory. This is a problem for Habermas and Rawls. Both men offer theories that reasonable people of diverse faiths, including Catholics, are supposed to be able to endorse without compromising their faith.

Moreover, for both Habermas and Rawls it is important that Catholics in particular be able to endorse their theories—in part because Catholicism is the world’s largest religion, and in part because contemporary Catholicism affirms and even promotes liberal democracy as a political ideal. Pope John Paul II repeatedly praised democracy, describing it as the political system most consistent with both man’s nature as a rational creature and the principle of the equality in dignity of all human beings. Since the Second Vatican Council, popes and other Catholic officials have regularly preached the obligation of governments to respect and protect human rights, including the freedom of religion. While the Church does not rule out state-established religions (such as exist in Great Britain and Israel), it does not promote them, even where Catholicism is the dominant faith, and it strictly demands respect for religious liberty, even where established religions exist.

Given these and other “liberal” dimensions of Catholic social and political teaching, it would be particularly awkward for Rawls or Habermas if Catholics could not, in good conscience, affirm their political theories. Indeed, the inability of these theories to accommodate Catholics, if proven, would invite the suspicion that there is something distinctly sectarian about them. It would suggest that the theories are not merely secular but fully secularist.

In his influential 1971 book A Theory of Justice, Rawls defended what he called “justice as fairness,” in which basic principles for a well-ordered society are identified as those that would be chosen by free and equal persons in what he called “the original position.” Parties in “the original position” select principles in a state of ignorance regarding their personal moral and religious convictions, social and economic status, and related factors that will distinguish them from many of their fellow citizens when they emerge from behind “the veil of ignorance” to live in a society governed in accordance with the principles they had selected.

In 1993, Rawls published a new book, Political Liberalism, which amends certain features of the theory he had advanced in 1971. Most important, Rawls conceded that the argument for “justice as fairness” in A Theory of Justice relied on a premise that was inconsistent with the theory itself: the belief that “in the well-ordered society of justice as fairness, citizens hold the same comprehensive doctrine, and this includes aspects of Kant’s comprehensive liberalism, to which the principles of justice as fairness might belong.”

By a “comprehensive doctrine,” Rawls means something like a worldview—an integrated set of moral beliefs and commitments reflecting a still more fundamental understanding of human nature, dignity, and destiny. Rawls’ problem with the position he had adopted in A Theory of Justice is that liberalism (considered a “comprehensive,” as opposed to a merely “political,” doctrine) is not held by citizens generally in contemporary pluralistic societies. Liberalism considered as such—plainly a secularist view—competes in such societies with Catholicism, as well as with various forms of Protestantism and Judaism, and with other religious and secular comprehensive doctrines. Indeed, liberalism considered as a comprehensive doctrine is plainly a minority view in the United States. Most Americans reject secularism of any type, including secularist liberalism. In any event, Rawls’ revised understanding is that a plurality of comprehensive views, religious and secularist, is natural and unavoidable in the circumstances of political freedom that characterize constitutional democratic regimes. Political theorizing that accepts the legitimacy of such regimes must begin, therefore, by acknowledging what Rawls calls “the fact of reasonable pluralism.”

To appeal to comprehensive liberalism, Rawls concedes, would be no less sectarian than to appeal to Catholicism or Judaism. Some alternative must, therefore, be found or the social stability of such regimes would be in constant jeopardy. Everything would depend on the capacity and willingness of people with fundamentally different moral views—including radically different conceptions of justice and human rights—to reach and preserve a modus vivendi.

The alternative Rawls proposes is “political liberalism.” Its ideal is that “citizens are to conduct their public political discussions of constitutional essentials and matters of basic justice within the framework of what each sincerely regards as a reasonable political conception of justice, a conception that expresses political values that others as free and equal also might reasonably be expected to endorse.”

The core of this political liberalism is the idea that, whenever constitutional essentials and matters of basic justice are at stake, political actors must refrain from acting on the basis of principles drawn from their comprehensive views except to the extent that “public reasons, given by a reasonable political conception, are presented sufficient to support whatever the comprehensive doctrines are introduced to support.” Thus, citizens are constrained from appealing to and acting on beliefs drawn from their most fundamental moral understandings and commitments precisely at the most fundamental political level.

Rawls’ political liberalism aspires, then, to be impartial with respect to the viewpoints represented by the various reasonable comprehensive doctrines that compete for the allegiance of citizens. It “does not attack or criticize any reasonable [comprehensive] view,” Rawls claims. “Rather than confronting religious and nonliberal doctrines with a comprehensive liberal philosophical doctrine, the thought is to formulate a liberal political conception that those nonliberal doctrines might be able to endorse.”

Rawls maintains that terms of cooperation offered by citizens to their fellow citizens are fair only insofar as citizens offering them “reasonably think that those citizens to whom such terms are offered might also reasonably accept them.” This “criterion of reciprocity” is the core of what Rawls labels “the liberal principle of legitimacy”—the notion that “our exercise of political power is fully proper only when it is exercised in accordance with a constitution the essentials of which all citizens as free and equal may be expected to endorse in the light of principles and ideals acceptable to their common human reason.” When, and only when, political power is exercised in accordance with such a constitution do political actors—including voters—maintain fidelity to the ideal of “public reason.”

The “liberal principle of legitimacy” and ideal of “public reason” exclude as illegitimate any appeal to principles and propositions drawn from comprehensive doctrines. At first glance, the scope of “public reason” seems to be wide. It would, to be sure, rule out as illegitimate any claim based on the allegedly “secret knowledge” of a gnostic elite or the putative truths revealed only to a select few and not accessible to reasonable persons as such. But it would not exclude any principle or proposition, however controversial, that is put forward for acceptance on the basis of rational argumentation.

Now, Rawls himself cannot accept this wide conception of public reason. His goal, after all, is to limit the range of morally acceptable doctrines of political morality in circumstances of moral pluralism to the single doctrine of “political liberalism.” The wide conception of public reason will not rule out propositions drawn from comprehensive forms of liberalism. More important, it will not exclude propositions drawn from non-liberal comprehensive doctrines that content themselves with appeals to “our common human reason.”

Notable among such doctrines is the broad tradition of natural law thinking about morality, justice, and human rights. This tradition poses an especially interesting problem for Rawls’ theory of public reason because of its integration into Catholic teaching. So it is, at once, a non-liberal comprehensive philosophical doctrine and part of a larger religious tradition that, in effect, proposes its own principle of public reason.

If Rawls is to defend a conception of “public reason” narrow enough to exclude appeals to natural law, he must show that there is something unfair about such appeals. And he must demonstrate this unfairness without appeal to comprehensive liberalism or any other comprehensive conception of justice that competes with the natural law conception. In other words, he must avoid smuggling in principles that are themselves in dispute among adherents to reasonable comprehensive doctrines.

This, it seems to me, he has not done and, I believe, cannot do. Rawls does not explicitly address the claims of natural law theorists. He seems, however, to have their beliefs in mind in his critique of what he calls “rationalist believers who contend that [their] beliefs are open to and can be fully established by reason.” Rawls’ argument rests entirely on the claim that these “rationalist believers” unreasonably deny “the fact of reasonable pluralism.”

But do they? Rawls’ own methodological commitments mean that he cannot rule out the views of natural law theorists or rationalist believers on such issues as homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, and drugs on the grounds that their views are unsound, unreasonable, or false—or else his political liberalism would have collapsed again into a comprehensive liberalism. He thus limits himself to a simple denial that the claims of the rationalist believers “can be publicly and fully established by reason.”

But how can this denial be sustained independently of some engagement with the specific arguments they advance—arguments that Rawls’ idea of public reason is meant to exclude without an appeal to their soundness and reasonableness or the truth or falsity of the principles and propositions in support of which they are offered? It will not do for Rawls to claim that he is not denying the truth of rationalist believers’ claims but merely their assertion that these claims can be publicly and fully established by reason. What makes rationalist believers “rationalist” is precisely the belief that their principles can be justified by rational argument and their willingness to provide just such rational argumentation.

Catholics and other natural law theorists maintain that on certain issues, including certain fundamental moral and political issues, there are uniquely correct answers. The question whether there is a human right against being enslaved, for example, or being punished for one’s religious beliefs admits of a uniquely correct answer that is available in principle to every rational person. Pro-life advocates assert that there is similarly a human right against deliberate feticide and other forms of direct killing of innocent human beings, irrespective of race, ethnicity, and sex, but also irrespective of disability, age, size, location, stage of development, or condition of dependency. Differences over such issues as slavery, religious freedom, abortion, and euthanasia may be “reasonable” in the sense that reasonable persons can err in their judgments and arrive at morally incorrect positions. But, assuming there is a truth of these matters—something Rawls cannot deny and, one would think, has no desire to deny—errors of reason must be responsible for anyone’s failure to arrive at the morally correct positions.

Rawls certainly cannot declare such views unreasonable because they maintain that on certain morally charged and highly disputed political questions—including questions of human rights—there are uniquely morally correct answers. The fact that reasonable people can be found on competing sides of such questions in no way implies that the competing views are equally reasonable. Reasonable people can be wrong, as Rawls himself implicitly acknowledges in his claims against the rationalist believers who are, after all, reasonable people even if their claim that their beliefs can be fully and publicly justified by reason is unreasonable. There is simply no unreasonableness in maintaining that otherwise reasonable people can be less than fully reasonable (sometimes culpably, other times not) in their judgments of particular issues.

In fairness to Rawls, we should acknowledge his treatment of the sources of moral disagreement in connection with what he calls “the burdens of judgment.” To preserve the integrity of his political liberalism, however, we must read his account of the sources of disagreement in such a way as to avoid its collapse into relativism. If we do, then Rawls’ idea of “fully reasonable” views—and even “perfectly reasonable” though erroneous views—refers to false beliefs that are formed without subjective fault. I think that this is what people generally have in mind when, though fully persuaded of the truth of a certain view, they allow nevertheless that “reasonable people” can disagree with them. The fact of “reasonable disagreement” in this sense is not a valid warrant for ruling out argument as to the truth of matters in dispute on the ground that reasons adduced in any argument “on the merits” cannot qualify as “public reasons.”

In A Theory of Justice, Rawls identified the basic principles of “justice as fairness” by the method of “political constructivism,” which asked what substantive principles would be chosen by parties in the “original position” behind the “veil of ignorance.” In a key passage of Political Liberalism, he says that the “liberal principle of legitimacy” and the ideal of “public reason” have “the same basis as the substantive principles of justice.” This basis remains insecure. Over more than thirty years, Rawls failed to provide any reason to suppose the injustice of principles of justice not selected under conditions of artificial ignorance by the unnaturally risk-averse parties in the “original position.” Rawlsians seem to suppose that from the proposition that principles that would be selected by such parties under such conditions are just, it follows that other principles—which might well be chosen by reasonable and well-informed persons outside the original position—are unjust. But that does not follow at all.

Central to J?rgen Habermas’ political thought is a distinction between “morality” and “ethics.” As John Finnis has observed, in Habermas’ work, this distinction “has much the same role as Rawls’ untenable distinction between ?comprehensive doctrines’ and ?public reasons.’” The distinction, in Habermas’ case, is part of what he calls an “ethics of discourse” that “adopts the intersubjective approach of pragmatism and conceives of practical discourse as a public practice of shared reciprocal perspective taking: each individual finds himself compelled to adopt the perspective of everyone else in order to test whether a proposed regulation is also acceptable from the perspective of every other person’s understanding of himself and the world.” “Ethics,” on this account, has to do with “how one sees oneself and who one would like to become,” while “morality” has to do with the proper concern for “the interests of all.” Political theory is fundamentally concerned, then, with “morality,” not “ethics.” And fundamental questions of the nature, dignity, and destiny of the human person are putatively excluded from the realm of political theory precisely because they are “ethical,” not “moral.”

According to Habermas, “Ethical questions point in a different direction from moral questions: the regulation of interpersonal conflicts of action resulting from opposed interests is not yet an issue. Whether I would like to be someone who in case of acute need would be willing to defraud an anonymous insurance company just this one time is not a moral question, for it concerns my self-respect and possibly the respect that others show me, but not equal respect for all, and hence not the symmetrical respect that everyone should accord the integrity of all other persons.”

Finnis has put his finger on the problem here: “The compatibility of self-respect with this dealing with the insurance company cannot . . . be rationally assessed without making ?moral’ judgments about the conditions on which property rights are justly respected and justly overridden, and about the injustice of fraud, and so forth.” But if that is true, the distinction itself begins to collapse.

Worse still, Habermas employs the distinction in a way that implicitly answers the question much disputed in our culture of who is to count as within the “all” whose interests must be taken into account in making moral judgments, while purporting to lay aside the evaluation of certain types of homicide as merely ethical. Writing in a law-review symposium devoted to his work in legal and political theory, Habermas raised the questions of abortion and euthanasia as cases involving “ethical” judgment and not “morality.”

Of course, the claim of pro-life citizens is that a just law will protect the lives of the unborn and the frail or disabled precisely because justice requires respect for the fundamental interests of “all.” No human being may be excluded from the community of the commonly protected on the basis of age, size, stage of development, disability, condition of dependency, or any other of the grounds on which supporters of abortion and euthanasia seek to exclude some human beings in order to justify these practices. The discourse into which pro-life people invite their fellow citizens is precisely a discourse about the reasonableness or unreasonableness of such exclusion. People on the pro-life side offer rational grounds—public reasons—for protecting the unborn and the disabled from being killed. They offer to show that the exclusion of the unborn and the disabled from the protections of the law is arbitrary and, as such, unjust.

Habermas, however, expressly speaking of Catholics, suggests that pro-life citizens are bound to accept legal abortion and euthanasia precisely because these are ethical questions, concerned with what is the best way to live, and not moral questions, concerned with the interests of all. Indeed, he implies that morality requires pro-life citizens to refrain from acting on the basis of their ethical judgments, not because these judgments are in any way unsound, untrue, or unreasonable, but because they are ethical. The abstention is required, in other words, by a due regard for “the interests of all.”

Yet, on what ground are the interests of the unborn or the severely disabled to be excluded from consideration? If the question of who is to count as within the all whose interests must be taken into consideration is an ethical one, then it is clear that moral questions depend on ethical judgments—judgments regarding the nature and dignity of the human person—that cannot be avoided or relegated to the domain of the private.

There is in John Rawls’ later work an almost exact parallel to J?rgen Habermas’ error on this point. In Political Liberalism, Rawls raises the issue of abortion in a footnote—the one concrete contemporary political issue Rawls uses to illustrate the application of his doctrine of public reason. He asserts, “as an illustration,” that “any reasonable balancing” of the political values of respect for human life, “the ordered reproduction of political society over time,” and women’s equality would “give a woman a duly qualified right to decide whether or not to end her pregnancy during the first trimester” and perhaps beyond. For the law to protect the life of the human being in the early stages of development would be to impose, according to Rawls, a “comprehensive doctrine” in defiance of the strictures of political liberalism.

Like Habermas, Rawls offers no argument as to why the developing human being should be excluded from the law’s protection. He does not offer reasons to rebut those scientific and philosophical arguments and fully public reasons offered in defense of the rights of the unborn by pro-life citizens. (In the end, as Rawls himself later acknowledged, he merely expressed an opinion, not an argument. )

Also, like Habermas, he eventually gets around to addressing “Catholics” as such on the issue:

Some may, of course, reject a decision, as Catholics may reject a decision to grant a right to abortion. They may present an argument in public reason for denying it and fail to win a majority. But they need not exercise the right of abortion in their own case. They can recognize the right as belonging to legitimate law and therefore do not resist it with force. To do that would be unreasonable: It would mean their attempting to impose their own comprehensive doctrine, which a majority of their fellow citizens who follow public reason do not accept. Certainly Catholics may, in line with public reason, continue to argue against the right of abortion. That the Church’s nonpublic reason requires its members to follow its doctrine is perfectly consistent with their honoring public reason.

Even if interpreted generously as granting that advocacy of the strict prohibition of abortion can be consistent with public reason, Rawls’ admonition to Catholics here is awkward. Plenty of American Catholics and others, most of whom reject resort to violence to protect the unborn from the injustice of abortion, reasonably refuse to recognize the right to abortion as “belonging to legitimate law.”

Rather, they believe that any law recognizing a right to abortion is so gravely unjust as to be illegitimate in principle. As such, any law of this type should be opposed resolutely by people who understand its grave injustice.

As Finnis observes,

[T]he argument of [pro-life] citizens is that the killings whose legalization Rawls and Habermas defend are a radical basic injustice imposed on people deprived or to be deprived of the protections of citizenship. The responses suggested by the argumentation of Rawls and Habermas would run something like: “You free citizens need not exercise the right to [own slaves] [abort your children] in your own case, so you can and must recognize our law as legitimate as it applies to the rest of us (and as we will enforce it against you if you interfere).” “You people need not do any of this [slave owning] [killing] yourselves, so your integrity is undamaged and so you ought (and will be compelled) to stand aside to allow us, in the exercise of our prior right of coexistence with you, to [coexist’ with our slaves->?] [terminate our coexistence with these unborn children/fetuses and with people whose lives are not worth living].”

In fact, advocacy of the right to life against the forces advancing abortion and euthanasia is an example of how the Catholic tradition of thought about justice and political morality honors public reason (though not Rawls’ artificial and unreasonably restricted conception of it) and promotes an “ethics of discourse” (though not Habermas’ artificial and biased version of it). Natural law, as Catholics and those of a similar mind understand it, truly demands that “the interests of all” be taken into account.

This is the implication of the principle that each and every human being is fashioned in the image and likeness of the divine creator and ruler of the universe and, as such, shares a fundamental dignity that others, including those exercising the highest worldly authority, are bound in reason to respect and protect.

Moreover, natural law is nothing other than a doctrine of public reasons that, as Finnis puts it, “would command a universal consensus under ideal conditions of discourse and meanwhile are available to, and could be accepted by, anyone who is willing and able to give them fair and adequate attention.” These reasons, embraced and proclaimed by the Catholic Church, can be, and have been, affirmed by people who know nothing of, or do not accept, Jewish or Christian revelation or the authority of the Church or any other institution. Respect for these reasons as reasons accounts for the honored place of dialectic in the tradition of natural law theory and the emphasis of contemporary natural law theorists on full and fair debate in the forums of democracy on such issues as abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning, and marriage.

That is why, from the Catholic vantage point, there is something scandalous in the effort of theorists such as Rawls and Habermas to remove such issues from public debate by arbitrarily restricting reasons on one side of the debate over the nature, dignity, and destiny of the human person. There is nothing “liberal,” “democratic,” “reasonable,” “moral,” or “ethical” about that.

Robert P. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and a member of the First Things editorial board.