Friday, February 27, 2009

From the California Catholic Daily calendar:

Berkeley: Renowned Univ. of Notre Dame professor and author, Dr. Jean Porter comes to Dominican School of Philosphy and Theology (DSPT) to present a lecture on Christianity and Human Rights. Titled "The Natural Law and the Law of Nations: A Medieval Perspective on a Contemporary Dilemma," the lecture will be held on Mar. 12, at DSPT Classroom 1, 2301 Vine Street, at 7:30 p.m. Dr. Porter's lecture is part of DSPT's Faith in Human Rights Project. The project will run from Jan. 12 through May 12, and will include a variety of components that will be offered to the general public, such as: courses of study, lectures, workshops, a film festival, and art exhibits.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Michael Liccione, Picking your hermeneutical circle

On the "Right of Association"

A continuation of this post. (The examination proceeds with an exclusive focus on justice, rather than charity, because no political state can enforce the precepts of charity. Only God can.)

Can a member of a political community be forced to remain a part of that community, simply because he no longer wishes to live with them? Or if they do not share the same conception of the good life?

It seems to me that one can choose to dissociate or separate from others because they are a bad influence or do not share the same goals. For example, the virtuous man may have to separate himself from bad friends. What then if the political community becomes so degenerate that one cannot live in it, because it is not pursuing the right end? It seems that the virtuous man should leave, and take his family with him. (It might be easier for a man living "on his own" to cope with a degenerate society, but I don't think it would be healthy for him to stay too long. Certainly that community would continue to be a source of temptation.)

This does not mean that society is not natural or that one's happiness does not consist in living with others. What it does mean is that as a result of Adam's fall and men's sins, one may not only separate from others, but it is prudent and even right to do so when his fellow-men do not seek to live virtuously, and are sources of scandal to him. One could even say that in such a case, a minority of the righteous has been rejected by the others; by rejecting the righteous they give up their claims to their aid and support in justice. (The example of the righteous man, Lot.)

Nonetheless, can the government compel a person to remain in the community? We may instantly reject such coercion as being wrong and unjust, but let me put forth an argument in defense of it.

Because of economic interdependence and the division of labor, the virtuous man may be needed for the community to survive. To take an extreme case, what if he is the only farmer, supplying all of the food for the rest of the community? Also, what is to be done about one's obligations in justice--making a return for the past benefits received from that community? While one should fulfill these obligations, it could be that love of self (in charity) may override any of these obligations. But so long as the community is not directly preventing him from worshipping God but only endangering his salvation through vicious living, the farmer may have a duty to remain and continue contributing to the community.

Would it not be better to get the rest of the community self-sufficient with respect to food, and allow him to go his way, instead of forcing him to stay indefinitely so that he provides a needed service for the community? Some might see continued coercion as nothing more than a form of slavery which cannot be justified as punishment, since he has not done anything wrong. How can he be forced by law or the threat of punishment to produce for others? Because the community has a legitimate interest in ensuring he carries out his obligations to the community. Still, if the community is actually vicious, it will probably have no compunction over forcing the farmer to stay and continue supplying food, even though he dislikes the company of the other members.

What then of the racist farmer? Can he be allowed to go his own way because he does not want to live with people of another race? As I stated in that previous post, while the farmer may not be bound by commutative justice to sell his produce to people he does not like, he may be bound out of legal justice to exchange goods with others, so long as they are living in a community together.

But does this mean that there is no "right of association"? Only that if there is such a right, it does not apply to commercial transactions for necessities. (And arguably, if all work is necessary for the sake of the members of the community, then even transactions for non-necessities.) Nor does it apply to the gathering of citizens, as citizens--anything touching upon "public" life. One can still choose one's intimate friends though.

Community is voluntary in so far as one must consent to living with others. (Happiness is voluntary in this way since it, too, must be willed.) In fact, one must do more than this for there to be a true community. On the other hand, the number of intentional communities that can come into existence without a violation of some virtue of justice are few -- most of them are religious, since one's duty to God supercedes one's duties to parents or community of birth patria. Just as one cannot choose the family one is born into, one usually cannot choose the political community one is born into, and once one starts living there, one picks up obligations to other members of that community.

A community is always in danger of decay, and ultimately falling apart or being destroyed because of sin and human weakness.

In the concrete, civic friendship cannot be identified with virtuous friendship, because not everyone is virtuous. But this does not mean that this is not the ideal. Aristotle's definition of friendship is applicable to those who live in a good regime, even if the citizens do not all share the same intimate friendship with one another.

The question of whether egoism or altruism is true of human motivation may be raised by some -- do individuals gather together merely for the sake of self-interest? Should people gather together merely to exchange the necessities of life? If what is meant by self-interest is survival (and reproduction), then no. But what if self-interest is extended to higher goods, such as having the company of others?

We would think it strange to call a group of self-sufficient (with respect to basic necessities) individuals who do not communicate with one another in any way a community.

Because of the associations of the words egoism and altruism, and how they are understood by certain philosophers, it would be better to employ Aristotle's distinction between the various kinds of self-love. It is part of our perfection to live well with others, communing not only in the necessities for the sustaining of life, but also in higher goods.


Robert Weissberg, Stuff White People Like

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Josef Pieper’s Contemplative Assent to the World Thomas Austenfeld (from Modern Age 42:4, Fall 2000) - 02/26/09

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Living in community as a good or end in itself.

Liberals tend to think that civic friendship is merely a kind of 'commercial' or 'advantage' friendship--people associate with one another in a political community only because they can secure some sort of private benefit from them, as it happens in commercial exchange. It is mutually advantageous for people to associate in community. If they recognize Aristotle's virtuous friendship, this type of friendship is limited to and perhaps between husband and wife.

For example, Bernard Yack interprets Aristotle as identifying political friendship as a form of shared advantage friendship (The Problems of a Political Animal, 55-6). See page 98 for his brand of personalism/individualism.) How do such liberals reach such conclusions when reading Aristotle? Because they believe the good life of which Aristotle speaks is a private good, determined by the individual alone, and in relation only to himself, not in relation to others, (except, perhaps, in so far as they contribute to his happiness).

Aristotle does concede that virtuous friendships are rare, but this is because virtue is rare. iirc, he also says that it is not possible for us to become close friends with everyone. Nonetheless, this does not mean that civic, or political, friendship cannot be an instance of virtuous friendship. It depends on the constitution of the polity, and what character the citizens have. But more importantly, friendship is defined by the good which is being pursued. The shared good that two people have when engaging in commerce is that commercial relationship they have, which is desired not for its own sake but for the sake of the goods which are being exchanged and the private benefit each derives from the relationship as a result. That is to say, the relationship is mutual beneficial (human mutualism), but it is ordered towards the private good of each participant. In contrast, the virtuous friendship is ordered towards the shared pursuit of virtue, not as individuals, but together. Or, the shared life of virtue. Similarly, the common good of a political community is the shared good life.

The word synergy may help us better understand what is meant by the common good of a community -- it should be obvious living well together cannot be done by the participants alone, it must be done by all. But this apparently is very difficult to grasp. On the other hand, it may be misleading to use this term--the citizens are not working together for some other goal; the goal is precisely to live well with one another.

Hence, among liberals there is a conceptual confusion of what is truly private and what is common. If there wasn't such a confusion, they should be able to see that the friendship that a husband and a wife share is tied to their domestic life. One's happiness is achieved through living this common life well. Domestic happiness is not the pleasure or other goods one is able to secure through one's spouse.

Let us take an extreme case. Is it possible for the virtuous man (and his family) to live among the vicious (Lot in Sodom?). They could refuse to associate with others, except when it is necessary to do so in order to exchange products. Otherwise, one may end up living like them, to one degree or another. (As is the case with Lot, who may not have indulged in the same sins as the Sodomites, but was not fully righteous either?)

Would we say that there is something incomplete about his happiness? Not if he had a right relationship with God. His opportunities to perform charitable external actions for his neighbor might be limited, but he could still pray for them. However, if he did not have a right standing with God, but his ultimate end was his own good, would his happiness not be affected in some way?

If human beings are not ordered to living with others by their very nature, then do not political associations (non-familial or non-commercial) become purely voluntary, unless there is some mutual and necessary advantage to be derived from it? To obtain from others what satisfies the exigences of life? External goods may be necessary for survivial, but they are not sufficient unto themselves for true happiness.

Started on January 17.

Zenit: Pope's "Lectio Divina" on Paul's Letter to Galatians

Pope's "Lectio Divina" on Paul's Letter to Galatians

"Only a Shared Freedom Is Human Freedom"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 23, 2009 ( Here is a translation of the "lectio divina" Benedict XVI delivered Friday during a visit to Rome's Major Seminary on the eve of the feast of the seminary's patroness, Our Lady of Confidence. The "lectio divina" is a reflection on St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians.

* * *

Lord Cardinal,
Dear Friends,

For me it is always a great joy to be in my seminary, to see the future priests of my diocese, to be with you under the sign of Our Lady of Confidence. We go forward with her, who helps and accompanies us, and who really gives us the certainty of always being helped by divine grace.

Let us now see what St. Paul says to us with this text: "You were called to freedom." At all times, freedom has been humanity's great dream, since the beginning, but particularly in modern times. We know that Luther was inspired by this text of the Letter to the Galatians, and his conclusion was that the monastic Rule, the hierarchy, the magisterium seemed a yoke of slavery from which he had to free himself. Subsequently, the age of the Enlightenment was totally guided, penetrated by this desire for freedom, which it was thought had already been attained. However, Marxism also presented itself as the path to freedom.

Tonight we ask: What is freedom? How can we be free? St. Paul helps us to understand the complicated reality which freedom is by inserting this concept in a context of fundamental anthropological and theological divisions. He says: "Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another." The rector has already told us that "flesh" is not the body, but, in St. Paul's language, it is the absolutizing of the I, of the I that wants to be all and have everything for itself. In short, the absolute I, which does not depend on anything or anyone, seems really to possess freedom. I am free if I do not depend on anyone, if I can do everything I wish. However, precisely this absolutizing of the I is "flesh," namely, the degradation of man, it is not the victory of freedom: libertinism is not freedom, instead, it is the failure of freedom.

And Paul dares to propose a strong paradox: "Through charity, be of service " (in Greek "douleuete"); in other words, paradoxically, freedom is realized in service: We are free if we become one another's servants. And so Paul puts the whole problem of freedom in the light of the truth of man. To reduce oneself to the flesh, apparently raising oneself to the rank of divinity -- "I, man alone" -- introduces a lie. Because in fact, it is not like this: Man is not an absolute, being able to isolate himself and behave according to his own will. This goes against the truth of our being. Our truth is, above all, that we are creatures, creatures of God and we live in relationship with the Creator. We are rational beings, and only by accepting this relationship do we enter into truth, otherwise we fall into falsehood and, in the end, are destroyed by it.

We are creatures, hence dependents of the Creator. In the age of the Enlightenment, especially for atheism, this dependency seemed like something from which it was necessary to free oneself. In reality, however, it would be a fatal dependency only if this Creator God was a tyrant, not a good Being, only if he was as human tyrants are. If, however, this Creator loves us and our dependence implies being in the realm of his love, in this case, in fact, dependency is freedom. Thus, we are, indeed, in the love of the Creator, we are united to him, to the whole of his reality, to all his power. This, therefore, is the first point: To be a creature means to be loved by the Creator, to be in this relationship of love that he gives us, with which he provides for us. From this derives above all the truth about ourselves, which at the same time is a call to love.

And because of this to see God, to orient oneself to God, to know God, to know the will of God, to insert oneself in his will, that is, in the love of God is to enter increasingly into the realm of truth. And this path of knowledge of God, of the relationship of love with God, is the extraordinary adventure of our Christian life: Because in Christ we know the face of God, the face of God who loves us even to the cross, to the gift of himself.

However, the creaturely relationship also implies a second type of relationship: We are in relationship with God but, at the same time, as human family, we are also in relationship with one another. In other words, human freedom is, on one hand, to be in the joy and great realm of the love of God, but it also implies being only one thing with the other and for the other. There is no freedom in being against the other. If I absolutize myself, I become the other's enemy, we can no longer coexist on earth and the whole of life becomes cruelty and failure. Only a shared freedom is human freedom; in being together we can enter the symphony of freedom.

Hence, this is another point of great importance: Only by accepting the other, by accepting also the apparent limitation that respect for the other implies for my freedom, only by inserting myself in the network of dependencies that makes us, finally, only one human family, will I be on the way to common liberation.

A very important element appears here. What is the measure of this sharing of freedom? We see that man needs order and law, to be able to realize his freedom, which is a freedom lived in common. And how can we find this just order, in which no one is oppressed, but each one can make his own contribution to form this sort of concert of freedom? If there is no common truth of man as it appears in the vision of God, only positivism remains and one has the impression of something imposed even in a violent manner. Hence the rebellion against order and law as if it was a question of slavery.

However, if we can find the order of the Creator in our nature, the order of truth that gives each one his place, order and law can be in fact instruments of freedom against the slavery of egoism. To serve one another becomes an instrument of freedom, and here we can include a whole philosophy of politics according to the social doctrine of the Church, which helps us to find this common order that gives each one his place in the common life of humanity. The first reality that must be respected, therefore, is truth: Freedom against truth is not freedom. To serve one another creates the common realm of freedom.

And then Paul continues, saying: "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" After this affirmation the mystery of the Incarnate God appears, the mystery of Christ appears who in his life, Death and Resurrection becomes the living law.

Immediately, the first words of our reading -- "You were called to freedom" -- point to this mystery. We have been called by the Gospel, we have really been called in baptism, to participate in the death and resurrection of Christ, and in this way we have passed from the "flesh," from egoism, to communion with Christ. And so we are in the fullness of the law.

You probably all know St. Augustine's beautiful words: "Dilige et fac quod vis -- Love and do what you will." What Augustine says is the truth, if we have truly understood the word "love." "Love, and do what you will," but we must really be penetrated by communion with Christ, having identified ourselves with his death and resurrection, being united to him in the communion of his body. By participation in the sacraments, by listening to the Word of God, the Divine Will, the divine law really enters our will, our will identifies with his, they become only one will and thus we are really free, we can really do what we will, because we love with Christ, we love in truth and with truth.

Therefore, let us pray to the Lord that he will help us on this path that began with baptism, a path of identification with Christ that is always realized again in the Eucharist. In the third Eucharistic Prayer we say: "To be one body and one spirit in Christ." It is a moment in which, through the Eucharist and through our true participation in the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, we become one spirit with Him, we identify with his will, and thus we truly attain freedom.

After this word -- the law has been fulfilled -- after this unique word that becomes reality in communion with Christ, all the figures of the saints who have entered into this communion with Christ appear behind the Lord, in this unity of being, in this unity with his will. Above all, the Virgin appears, in her humility, her goodness, her love. The Virgin gives us this confidence, she takes us by the hand, guides us and helps us on the path of uniting ourselves with the will of God, as she was from the first moment, expressing this union in her "Fiat."

And, finally, after these beautiful things, the letter points out once more the rather sad situation of the community of the Galatians, when Paul says: "But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another ... walk by the Spirit." It seems to me that in this community -- which was no longer on the path of communion with Christ, but in the external law of the "flesh" -- naturally controversies also emerged and Paul says: "You become wild beasts, one bites the other." He refers thus to the controversies that arise when faith degenerates into intellectualism and humility is substituted by the arrogance of being better than the other.

We see clearly that also today there are similar things when, instead of being inserted in communion with Christ, in the Body of Christ which is the Church, each one wants to be better than the other and with intellectual arrogance wants to be regarded as the best. And thus controversies arise which are destructive, born is a caricature of the Church, which should be one soul and one heart.

In St. Paul's warning we should find today a reason to examine our conscience: not to think of being better than the other, but to meet one another in the humility of Christ, in the humility of the Virgin, to enter into the obedience of the faith. Precisely in this way the great realm of truth and freedom in love is really opened also for us.

Finally, we want to thank God because He has shown us his face in Christ, because he has given us the Virgin, the saints, because He has called us to be only one body, one spirit with him. And let us pray that He will help us to insert ourselves ever more in this communion with his will, so as to find love and joy in freedom.

[At the end of the dinner with the community of the Roman Seminary, the Holy Father said]

I am told that yet another word is expected from me. I have already spoken perhaps too much, but I would like to express my gratitude, my joy at being with you. In my conversation now at table I have learned something more about the history of the Lateran, begun by Constantine, Sixtus V, Benedict XIV, Pope Lambertini.

So I have seen all the problems of the history and ever-new rebirth of the Church in Rome. And I have understood that in the discontinuity of external historical events lies the great continuity of the unity of the Church at all times. And also in regard to the composition of the seminary, I have understood that it is an expression of the catholicity of our Church. From all the continents we are one Church and we have the future in common. Let us only hope that vocations will grow because, as the rector said, there is a need for laborers in the Lord's vineyard. Thank you all!

[Translation of Italian original by Inma Alvarez]

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
A Thomist brings up an interesting question regarding philosophical sin, conscience, and the knowledge of God's law.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Papal Address to Academy for Life Conference

Papal Address to Academy for Life Conference

"Confidence in Science Cannot Forget the Primacy of Ethics"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 22, 2009 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered Saturday to participants in a conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life on the theme "New Frontiers of Genetics and the Danger of Eugenics." The conference coincided with the Pontifical Academy for Life's 15th general assembly.

* * *

Lord Cardinals,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and Priesthood,
Illustrious Academicians,
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen!

I am especially pleased to receive you on the occasion of the 15th ordinary assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life. In 1994 my venerable predecessor, Pope John Paul II, instituted this body under the presidency of a scientist, Professor Jerôme Lejeune, understanding with foresight the delicate work that it would have to undertake over the course of years. I thank the president, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, for the words with which he wished to introduce this meeting, confirming the Academy's great dedication to the promotion and defense of human life.

From the time that the laws of heredity were discovered in the middle of the 19th century by the Augustinian abbot Gregor Mendel, who has been considered the founder of genetics, this science has truly taken giant steps in understanding the language at the basis of biological information, which determines the development of a living being. It is for this reason that modern genetics occupies a place of special prominence in the biological disciplines, which have contributed to the prodigious development of the knowledge of the invisible architecture of the human body and the cellular and molecular processes that preside over its multiple activities. Today science has arrived at revealing the recondite mechanisms of human physiology as well as the processes that are linked to the appearance of certain defects that are inheritable from parents along with processes that make some persons more susceptible to contract an illness. This knowledge, the fruit of the genius and toil of countless scholars, make it possible to more easily arrive at not only a more effective and early diagnosis of genetic maladies, but also to create therapies to alleviate the contraction of illnesses and, in some cases, to restore, in the end, the hope of regaining health. Moreover, from the time that the whole sequence of the human genome became available, the differences between one person and another and between different human populations have also become the object of genetic investigations, which allowed a glimpse of the possibility of new conquests.

Today the area of research still remains open and every day new horizons, in a large part unexplored, are disclosed. The work of researchers in such enigmatic and precious areas requires a special support; the cooperation between different sciences is a support that can never be lacking if results are to be arrived at that are effective and productive of authentic progress for the whole of humanity. This complementarity makes it possible to avoid the danger of a genetic reductionism that would identify the person exclusively with his genetic information and his interaction with his environment. It is again necessary to emphasize that man is greater than all of that which makes up his body; in fact, he carries with him the power of thought, which is always drawn to the truth about himself and the world. The words of Blaise Pascal, who was a great thinker as well as a gifted scientist, return: "Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapor, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he is able to know that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe, however, knows nothing of this" ("Pensées," 347).

Every human being, then, is much more than a singular combination of genetic information that is transmitted to him by his parents. The generation of man can never be reduced to the mere reproduction of a new individual of the human species, as is the case with all other animals. Every appearance of a person in the world is always a new creation. The words Psalm 139 recall this with deep wisdom: "You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb ... My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret" (13, 15). If we want to enter into the mystery of human life, then it is necessary that no science isolate itself, pretending to have the last word. Rather, the common vocation to arrive at the truth -- according to the different methodologies and contents proper to each science -- must be shared.

Your conference, in any case, does not only analyze the great challenges that genetics is held to face; but it also extends to the dangers of eugenics, which is certainly not a new practice and which in the past has been the cause of real forms of discrimination and violence. The disapproval of eugenics used with violence by a regime, as the fruit of the hatred of a race or group, is so rooted in consciences that it found a formal expression in the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Despite this, there are appearing in our days troubling manifestations of this hateful practice, which present themselves with different traits. Certainly ideological and racist eugenics, which in the past humiliated man and provoked untold suffering, are not again being proposed. But a new mentality is insinuating itself that tends to justify a different consideration of life and personal dignity based on individual desire and individual rights. There is thus a tendency to privilege the capacities for work, efficiency, perfection and physical beauty to the detriment of other dimensions of existence that are not held to be valuable.

In this way the respect that is due to every human being -- even in the presence of a defect in his development or a genetic illness that could manifest itself in the course of his life -- is weakened, and those children whose life is judged unworthy of being lived are punished from the moment of conception.

It is necessary to reemphasize that every discrimination exercised by any power in regard to persons, peoples or ethnic groups on the basis of differences that stem from real or presumed genetic factors is an act of violence against all of humanity. What must be forcefully reemphasized is the equal dignity of every human being according to the fact itself of having life. Biological, psychological or cultural development or state of health can never become an element of discrimination. It is necessary, on the contrary, to consolidate a culture of hospitality and love that concretely testifies to solidarity with those who suffer, razing the barriers that society often erects, discriminating against those who are disabled and affected by pathologies, or worse - selecting and rejecting in the name of an abstract ideal of health and physical perfection. If man is reduced to an object of experimental manipulation from the first stage of development, that would mean that biotechnologies would surrender to the will of the stronger. Confidence in science cannot forget the primacy of ethics when human life is at stake.

I hope that your research in this sector, dear friends, will continue with due scientific care and the attention that ethical principles require in matters that are so important and decisive for the fitting development of personal existence. This is the wish with which I would like to conclude this meeting. As I invoke copious heavenly light upon your work, I affectionately impart to all of you a special apostolic blessing.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana