Sunday, January 27, 2013

The New Definition of Common Good, Again

Begun on January 17.

How often does it need to be repeated and referenced, before it is established in the minds of Catholics as being of Tradition? As it stands, is the definition currently in vogue sufficiently precise? What is a necessary social condition and what is ideal or desirable but not necessary?


Given by the Permanent Representation of the Holy See to the Council of Europe regarding the Catholic Church's freedom and institutional autonomy.

1. The distinction between the Church and the political community
The Church recognizes the distinction between the Church and the political community, each of which has distinct ends; the Church is in no way confused with the political community and is not bound to any political system. The political community must see to the common good and ensure that citizens can lead a "calm and peaceful life" in this world. The Church recognizes that it is in the political community that the most complete realization of the common good is to be found (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1910); this is to be understood as "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily" (ibid., n. 1906). It is the State’s task to defend it and ensure the cohesion, unity and organization of society in order that the common good may be realized with the contribution of all citizens and that the material, cultural, moral and spiritual goods necessary for a truly human existence may be made accessible to everyone. The Church, for her part, was founded in order to lead the faithful to their eternal end by means of her teaching, sacraments, prayer and laws.

Returning to the exposition given in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, it is stated that the common good is not "the simple sum of the particular[private?] goods of each subject of a social entity." Rather, "belonging to everyone and to each person, it is and remains 'common', because it is indivisible and because only together is it possible to attain it, increase it and safeguard its effectiveness, with regard also to the future." What, then, is it, if it belongs to each person and not common in praedicando? "The common good, in fact, can be understood as the social and community dimension of the moral good." Para 165 continues this line of thought. As stated before, the latter development is quite in harmony with Thomistic (traditional?) teaching on the common good.

It is still not clear to me if the first (or instrumental) sense can be harmonized with the second (or holistic) sense given in the Compendium. If the social or community dimension of the moral good is identical to the fulfillment of people as a group (specifically as the political community), then how can it be identical to the social conditions which enable it to be brought about? This confusion needs to be resolved - otherwise, devout Catholics who seek to talk about the common good may be doing so erroneously.