It has just occurred to me that there’s a pretty big lacuna in my essay. One of the ultimate truths that is central to the encyclical is the nature of the human person. I don’t really say much about that. Maybe next time.
There are two points on which I concur with Prof. Finnis's work published at thepublicdiscourse.com. The first is that the catechetical insert can only signify prudentially, a point that among others I argue in an essay that will soon be published. The second I would articulate by saying that the Catholic tradition is not Kantian regarding penalty, that is, that it may be the case that several distinct penalties may each suffice for retributive proportion, which accordingly must then be further prudentially differentiated in terms of their medicinal effects for the common good.
I do differ from what I take to be his view--perhaps I am incorrect in reading him this way?--that for Thomas retributive proportionality is not essential to penalty. To the contrary, Thomas teaches very formally on this point: "Punishment is proportionate to sin in point of severity, both in Divine and in human judgments” (STh I-II, q. 87, a. 3, ad 1).
Also, Prof. Finnis's account of the oath required of the Waldensians seems to me both historically and doctrinally inaccurate. The Waldensians held that the death penalty was intrinsically wrong, the type of act that could not rightly be chosen with knowlege and full consent without mortal sin. They were made to swear an oath to the effect that if the penalty were imposed without hatred, and "judiciously" ("iudicio" which here denotes "good reason") and "cautiously," it was not mortally sinful, i.e.: this is the kind of act that *can* be performed judiciously. One cannot, for instance, rape and torture an individual judiciously and cautiously, commit sacrilege judiciously, etc. The Waldensian teaching which was held important for the heretics to abjure, was the teaching that the death penalty was of its nature such as to be a grave sin, objectively speaking. Subjective culpability could as well be imported into the consideration of everything else they were asked to abjure, which would essentially have been simply to require them to hold that if someone doesn't know what he is doing, he isn't culpable. But the issue wasn't and isn't whether one is *culpable* or not, but whether objectively the act is or isn't a grave sin (i.e., such that when undertaken with adequate knowledge, sufficient reflection, and full consent it would always be mortally sinful). Finally, Thomas's line about those who do grave evil falling to the level of the beasts does not concern the natural dignity of the wrongdoer, but the acquired and infused dignity in virtue and grace. The inceptive natural dignity of the human person is further ordered to this acquired and infused dignity, and when the latter is lost, the human person *in this respect* "falls to the level of the beast" or in fact even lower, since beasts are not culpable for any disorder they suffer vis a vis their ends. This is important, because in fact it is the very doctrine of the imago dei on which Scripture reposes the foundation of the essential justice of the penalty, and the imago naturae is ordered further to the imago gratiae and finally the imago gloriae.
I do not think it makes sense to say that Thomas, who teaches that certain species of intentional killing are justified by the transcendence of the common good, simply didn't understand his own teaching well enough to avoid this conclusion. Given the consensus of the Fathers, the wide papal teaching on the matter, many papally approved catechisms, and the testimony of Sacred Scripture, the essential validity of the penalty—as distinct from its prudential reasonability in some given place and time—seems to have been taught by the ordinary universal magisterium for two millennia.
Professor Long went on to contend that Finnis misrepresented what Pius XII said in his article dated August 23rd, in which he argued that the "logical conclusion" of Pius XII's teaching is "that capital punishment is inherently wrong." Long comments:
I think that his reading of Pius XII's proposition is unfoundedly tendentious and does not cohere well with Pius XII's own teaching that the death penalty is essentially valid. The power of the state to punish in general is addressed by the Romans passage, but it does so by iterating the most radical punishment which is that imparted through the sword, the "maximum of the genus" as it were. So, it is "about" the foundation of the penal power, but addresses this synecdochally through the authority of the state to impose the most severe penalty which is death. Even more problematic is Finnis's proposition that "Read with the rest of the completed scriptures, Genesis 9:6 no more commands us (or even licenses us) to shed the blood of those who have shed human blood than Genesis 9:4 forbids us to eat any meat not drained of blood." The reason is that the ratio of the death penalty in the imago dei is affirmed in the Genesis passage, which is a very central and crucial ratio for Catholic reflection. The dignity of human nature derives from its ordering to noble ends in nature and grace, and the achievement of this ordering through acquired and infused virtue and infused grace signifies a superordinate dignity with reference to the inceptive natural dignity which is in potency to such perfections. Scripture addresses this continually in a variety of ways. The imago naturae is ordered to the imago gratiae and the imago gloriae, and the latter are of higher dignity than the former and specify it. Even simply in the natural order, the dignity of acquired virtue is loftier than merely the inceptive dignity of human nature unfulfilled and "truncated" in vice, as it were. But understanding the dynamism of the imago dei in nature and grace requires teleology, and the first tutoring here is natural teleology, whose significance for moral reflection is of course a vexed subject of controversy of NNLT advocates with the older tradition. I do think Finnis's reflections are of great interest, and that the Romans passage isn't simply or merely about the death penalty, but about the death penalty as "standing for" or adumbrating the just power of the state in general. So the Romans passage does teach the validity of the death penalty, but does so as a means of addressing the penal power in general. I do think Pius XII took this for granted, given his other statements on the death penalty and the unity of the tradition...
I came across the statement recently that women priests are ontologically impossible. This seems to me an overly strong claim for two reasons, of which the second is more interesting.
First, it does not seem impossible for Christ to have made a co-ed or all-female priesthood. It may be inappropriate, but it seems hardly impossible. It just didn't happen.
Second, suppose that a validly ordained man becomes a woman not through some sort of operation or sex-change, but some truly natural or supernatural process. The identity of the individual would be the same. The priesthood is permanent. It seems then that there would be a woman priest. It doesn't happen, but it isn't impossible.
In Der Satz vom Grund Heidegger writes:
Wenn wir von etwas sagen: “Es ist” und “es ist das und das,” dann wird es im solchen Sagen als Seiendes vorgestellt. Nur Seiendes “ist,” das “ist” selber, das “Sein” “ist” nicht (GA 10, p. 93).
In his commentary on Boethius’s De ebdomadibus Aquinas writes:
[S]icut non possumus dicere quod ipsum currere currat, ita non possumus dicere quod ipsum esse sit; set id quod est significatur sicut subiectum essendi, uelud id quod currit significatur sicut subiectum currendi; et ideo sicut possumus dicere de eo quod currit siue de currente quod currat in quantum subicitur cursui et participat ipsum, ita possumus dicere quod ens siue id quod est sit in quantum participat actum essendi. Et hoc est quod dicit quod ipsum esse nondum est quia non attribuitur sibi esse sicut subiecto essendi, set id quod est, accepta essendi forma, scilicet suscipiendo ipsum actum essendi, est atque consistit, id est in se ipso subsistit (Expositio De ebdomadibus, l. 2; Leonine, L, p. 271).
I truly doubt that Heidegger's Sein is the same thing as Aquinas's esse. There is very good reason (which I won't go into here) to see them as different things. Nevertheless, the parallel between these two texts is interesting and worth thinking about.
Today is the liturgical feast of St. Dominic de Guzmán, founder of the Ordo Praedicatorum. Dominic died on August 6, 1221 at the convent of San Nicolò delle Vigne in Bologna.
Why is St. Dominic's feast celebrated today and not on the 6th? Gregory DiPippo has an informative post on the history of the feast of St. Dominic at the New Liturgical Movement that explains this and a few other things.
Pope Francis has revised the text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that deals with the death penalty (see the Bollettino here). The previous version of CCC 2267 went like this:
Traditionalis doctrina Ecclesiae, supposita plena determinatione identitatis et responsabilitatis illius qui culpabilis est, recursum ad poenam mortis non excludit, si haec una sit possibilis via ad vitas humanas ab iniusto aggressore efficaciter defendendas.
Si autem instrumenta incruenta sufficiunt ad personarum securitatem ab aggressore defendendam atque protegendam, auctoritas his solummodo utatur instrumentis, utpote quae melius respondeant concretis boni communis condicionibus et sint dignitati personae humanae magis consentanea.
Revera nostris diebus, consequenter ad possibilitates quae Statui praesto sunt ut crimen efficaciter reprimatur, illum qui hoc commisit, innoxium efficiendo, quin illi definitive possibilitas substrahatur ut sese redimat, casus in quibus absolute necessarium sit ut reus supprimatur, “admodum raro [...] intercidunt [...], si qui omnino iam reapse accidunt”
[Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”]
The new version goes like this:
Quod auctoritas legitima, processu ordinario peracto, recurrere posset ad poenam mortis, diu habitum est utpote responsum nonnullorum delictorum gravitati aptum instrumentumque idoneum, quamvis extremum, ad bonum commune tuendum.
His autem temporibus magis magisque agnoscitur dignitatem personae nullius amitti posse, nec quidem illius qui scelera fecit gravissima. Novus insuper sanctionis poenalis sensus, quoad Statum attinet, magis in dies percipitur. Denique rationes efficientioris custodiae excogitatae sunt quae in tuto collocent debitam civium defensionem, verum nullo modo imminuant reorum potestatem sui ipsius redimendi.
Quapropter Ecclesia, sub Evangelii luce, docet “poenam capitalem non posse admitti quippe quae repugnet inviolabili personae humanae dignitati” atque Ipsa devovet se eidemque per omnem orbem abolendae.
[Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.
Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.
Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it opposes the inviolability and dignity of the person,” and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.]
The revised text was released five days ago and was accompanied by an official commentary by Luis Ladaria, SJ, the cardinal prefect of the Holy Office. Ladaria’s commentary takes the form of a letter addressed to the bishops of the Catholic Church.
There are already a number of public responses to the revision of CCC 2267 by Catholic philosophers and theologians. I want to single out four responses that I think will be of particular interest to readers of Thomistica:
• Ed Feser at First Things
• Peter Kwasniewski at LifeSiteNews
• Michael Pakaluk at First Things
• Thomas Petri, OP at the Catholic News Agency
I encourage you to read their comments. All four are eminently qualified to speak on the topic. They have different things to say about the revision but they seem to agree that the antecedent teaching of the Church, according to which the death penalty is morally permissible in certain circumstances, is irreformable. I don’t know how anyone could seriously question that. (If you’re tempted to, then read this essay by Ed Feser.)
I don’t have the time to write anything long and sophisticated but to the comments that have already been made I would like to add a few of my own that I think might be useful.
One controversy over the revision of CCC 2267 that has already emerged has to do with whether it teaches that the death penalty is “inadmissible” for prudential reasons (which would be a version of John Paul II’s approach) or because it is a malum in se (a view that the Church has consistently rejected). The revised text gives three reasons for the inadmissibility of the death penalty. Two reasons appear to refer to contingent circumstances whereas a third, taken by itself, seems not to. According to this third reason, the death penalty “opposes the inviolability and dignity of the person.” Now, this sounds like we could be talking about a malum in se. But looking back at the rest of the text, it might be argued that it only intends to claim that “today” (his temporibus) in certain circumstances the death penalty constitutes such an opposition. I think this is how Fr. Petri reads the text. In any case, whoever wishes to claim that the revision of CCC 2267 teaches that the death penalty is a malum in se must contend with the fact that neither the new text itself nor Ladaria’s commentary on it expressly uses that language.
There’s reason to think that this is deliberate. One of the most problematic statements, from a doctrinal perspective, that the Holy Father made in his comments on the death penalty last fall was this:
Si deve affermare con forza che la condanna alla pena di morte è una misura disumana che umilia, in qualsiasi modo venga perseguita, la dignità personale. È in sé stessa contraria al Vangelo perché viene deciso volontariamente di sopprimere una vita umana che è sempre sacra agli occhi del Creatore e di cui Dio solo in ultima analisi è vero giudice e garante.
[It must be forcefully affirmed that the death penalty – in whatever way it is carried out – is an inhumane practice that humiliates personal dignity. It is in itself contrary to the Gospel because there is a free decision to suppress a human life, which is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator and with respect to which God alone, in the final analysis, is the true judge and guarantor.]
If this isn’t code for malum in se, I don’t know what is. If it is, it contradicts what should look to all the sane and educated Catholic world like an irreformable teaching. But none of this absolutist language made it into the final draft of the revision of CCC 2267 and Ladaria doesn’t employ it in his commentary either. It’s entirely conceivable that the CDF saw the above statement as impossible to reconcile in any reasonable way with the antecedent teaching and concluded that it expresses merely a personal opinion of Pope Francis.
The revised text only quotes a small fragment of last fall’s speech, the one that tells us that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it opposes the inviolability and dignity of the person” – “la pena di morte è inammissibile perché attenta all’inviolabilità e dignità della persona.”* As I just said, that fragment, taken in isolation, could give the impression that the death penalty is a malum in se but, as I also just said, if we look at the revised text as a whole, it could also be interpreted as relating only to certain contemporary circumstances.
The hermeneutic rule of thumb in interpreting new magisterial pronouncements is to understand them in the light of established teaching. In other words, they should be read in such a way that they don’t contradict that teaching. Why? Well, this could be explained in a few different ways. But perhaps it’s put best by Holy Writ: “Iesus Christus heri et hodie, ipse et in sæcula.”
If the letter of some new magisterial pronouncement can’t be reconciled with established teaching or is so unclear that no one can honestly make heads or tails of how it’s supposed to relate to established teaching, then we have a problem. In my view, the revision of CCC 2267 falls into the latter category. This makes it quite unhelpful as a formulation of the Church’s teaching. As such, it should be retracted. If it isn’t retracted, then it should be rewritten to conform more clearly with the Church’s previous consistent teaching. If neither of these courses is taken, then it will be Amoris laetitia redux.
* The Latin text renders attenta as repugnet. I think the most straightforward English translation of attenta here is “attack.” I’m not sure if repugnet is the best Latin translation of attenta but it is certainly a possible translation. I have translated repugnet into English as “opposes.” The Vatican’s official English translation has “is an attack.” That may be perfectly fine even if it does turn a verb into a noun.
In my previous post I replied to Christopher Tollefesen's critique of my Public Discourse essay on Catholic confessional states. Public Discourse has now published a second critique. Robert T. Miller is the author.
In my reply to Tollefsen I noted that John Courtney Murray and Charles Curran, who both disapprove of the Church's integralist teaching, respond to it in different ways. Murray interprets the integralism out of it by historicizing it and Curran argues that it is simply erroneous. Miller takes Curran's approach.
A strong point in Miller's response to me is his insistence that we use more precise theological language to talk about the Church's teaching. I am happy to concede that my language wasn't as precise as it could have been. In my Public Discourse essay and what I have written at Thomistica I have had an educated but non-specialist audience in mind, so I have minimized technical language as much as possible. That might have been a mistake on my part.
Miller wants to argue that Leo XIII and the other popes whose Church-state teaching agrees with his were mistaken. According to Miller, the Church changed her teaching on this point starting with Dignitatis humanae. He makes what may be the strongest hermeneutics of discontinuity argument that can be made. It seems stronger to me than Rhonheimer's. But, in the end, Miller's arguments only have the force of probability and, I would say, a pretty weak probability at that.
Perhaps I will have the occasion in the future to offer lengthier comments on Miller's essay. I would encourage you to read it for yourself and see what you think.
UPDATE (July 30): We've been traveling, so I haven't been able to dedicate any serious time to thinking about the issues mentioned in the above post. Today, as I was going back over De Smedt's comments as relator on DH's continuity with preconciliar teaching (which I mentioned in my Public Discourse essay), especially its articulation by Leo XIII, I wondered whether it was too generous to say that Miller's arguments have the force of a weak probability. I think a case could be made independently of an appeal to the statements of De Smedt recorded in the Acta but these statements can't be overlooked.
Last month Public Discourse published an essay of mine in which I argued that, contrary to what seems to be a fairly common postconciliar belief, the Catholic Church continues to teach that the Catholic confessional state is the normative political ideal. Christopher Tollefsen graciously responded to my essay a couple weeks ago, also at Public Discourse, raising some excellent questions. Here I offer a reply to Tollefsen.
Tollefsen prefaces his remarks by referencing Richard John Neuhaus’s practical argument against Catholic confessional states. Neuhaus’s argument is easily summarized: We’ve tried this. It hasn’t worked. So, we should avoid it in the future. We could call this the “bad record” argument against Catholic confessional states. While it seems to me that Tollefsen thinks this argument has some merit, he doesn’t clearly endorse it.
According to Jörgen Vijgen, the conclusion of the “bad record” argument is a non sequitur. “Such an objection,” he writes, “often finds its inspiration in the conventional cliché that monotheistic religions are more inclined to intolerance and violence than ideologies that define themselves as ‘secular’ and ‘pluralistic’.” But, he goes on, “[i]n recent years this cliché has been found wanting” (cf. "Is a Catholic State Still Possible and Desirable in the Light of Vatican II?").
We could debate the genealogy of the objection but Vijgen’s reply points us in an interesting direction. Consider that you could also claim bad records for secularized states. Nazi Germany and the Eastern Bloc countries of the last century are just the most conspicuous examples. Our own country, which has been blessed with arguably one of the most benign liberal regimes in history, has a troubling past — slavery, civil war, racial segregation — and an equally troubling present — over 600,000 abortions per year, same-sex "marriage," a booming porn industry, etc.
Perhaps, then, the “bad record” argument cuts both ways. If so, it seems vulnerable to a reductio objection: Confessional states don’t work nor do secularized states. So, let’s just abolish the state. Well, this isn’t an argument I want to make. To paraphrase Michel Foucault, it’s not that all states are bad but that all states are, in a sense, dangerous (including confessional states). This is because they are composed of human beings, who are notoriously fallible. No state will be perfect but that shouldn’t stop us from striving for the ideal.
If there is any value to comparing records – and what that value is needs further scrutiny – then we have to talk about the “metrics.” We need to settle on the criteria by which we determine that a regime has a bad record. I would contend that whatever the exact shape those metrics take, they can’t be consequentialist and need above all to concern themselves with how a regime positively affects the cultivation of virtue since, as I have argued elsewhere in league with a more classical approach, human flourishing is the end of politics.
A normative ideal?
As I said above, in my earlier essay I claimed that the Church continues to teach that the Catholic confessional state is the normative political ideal. At the same time she recognizes that in most contemporary circumstances such a state isn’t a practical possibility. Tollefsen wonders whether the Church can teach as normative something that is an ideal in this sense. He seems to doubt that she can: “The Church has authority to teach what is necessary for salvation, and something that is an ‘ideal’ but not in most circumstances a practical possibility couldn’t be that.”
Tollefsen considers whether there is anything else that the Church holds up as a normative ideal in the way that I’m saying she holds up the Catholic confessional state. The only thing he can come up with that he believes might be thought of as an ideal in this way is the call of some people to leave ordinary life behind to enter into "a closer relationship with the Lord."
But surely there are others. Wouldn’t it be a normative ideal, for instance, for everyone in a Catholic family to remain Catholic? We know, however, that often, perhaps even most of the time, this doesn't happen and it's not practically possible for parents to prevent some of their children from leaving the faith. Nevertheless, it seems to me that parents still have an obligation to do whatever they reasonably can to help their children remain faithful.
If I'm right about this normative ideal with respect to Catholic families, isn't it a lot like what I have said about Catholic confessional states as a normative ideal? I think it is.
So, must Catholics believe that Catholic confessional states represent the ideal political order? The Church teaches that our salvation depends on, among other things, the observance of the precepts of the Decalogue. The very first precept, not only textually but in importance, commands our adherence to the true religion. This is a naturally knowable precept that is likewise included in the doctrine of the faith.
Pope Leo XIII teaches in Immortale Dei that this precept applies not only to individuals but to people living together in society and, therefore, to the state itself as the state is necessarily concerned with the common good of society:
For men living together in society are no less under the power of God than are individuals; and society owes as much gratitude as individuals do to God, who is its author, its preserver, and the beneficent source of the innumerable blessings which it has received. And, therefore, as it is not lawful for anybody to neglect his duties towards God, and as it is the first duty to embrace religion in mind and in conduct — and not merely the religion that each person may prefer, but that which God has commanded, which he has proved, by certain and indubitable evidence, to be the one true religion among all the others — in the same manner states cannot, without crime (scelus), act as though God did not exist, or cast off the care of religion as alien to them or useless, or out of the several kinds of religion adopt indifferently whichever one they please; but they are absolutely bound, in worshiping God, to adopt that way and manner that he himself has shown us that he wants to be worshiped.
Because of our duty toward the true religion, Leo insists, the state must concern itself with and privilege this religion. Thus, he continues:
Therefore, among rulers the name of God must be holy, and it must be reckoned among the first of their duties to favor religion, protect it, and cover it with the authority of the laws, and not to institute or decree anything which is incompatible with its security. They owe this also to the citizens over whom they rule.
At the moment I see no better way to describe what Leo is doing than to say that he is teaching that the Catholic confessional state is the ideal (but I welcome suggestions for more appropriate language). He finds secularized states unacceptable (although tolerable in certain circumstances) and calls on Catholics to create the conditions favorable to confessional states. Yet, pointing to the first few centuries of the Church’s evangelizing of pagan cultures as an example, he understands that this can’t be achieved over night.
But, again, must Catholics believe that the confessional state is the ideal? Leo sees it entailed by the commandment that we must worship the true God, which, as I have already mentioned, is knowable by reason but also taught by faith. However, as Aquinas explains, not all truths of the faith need be explicitly believed by everyone but they should all at least be implicitly believed, that is, we should all be ready to believe whatever we come to understand to be included in the doctrine of the faith (cf. Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 2, a. 5). I have no problem granting that the normativity of the Catholic confessional state need not be explicitly believed by everyone but, if we follow Leo’s teaching, then we can only conclude that it’s something that all Catholics must at least implicitly believe.
Leo repeats the essentials of his teaching on the Church and the state in Libertas praestantissimum (1888), Sapientiae christianae (1890), Au milieu des sollicitudes (1892), and Longinqua oceani (1895). This teaching, which Leo intends in part as an interpretation of the pronouncements of Gregory XVI and Pius IX, is reaffirmed in various ways by subsequent popes. (For a good overview of the magisterial teaching on the Church's relationship to the state as expressed by Leo and other popes, I recommend John Lamont's "Catholic Teaching on Religion and the State.")
Who can confess?
Tollefsen also asks whether a state can really confess. “Can a state believe, intend, and act in precisely the way necessary to confess — that is, for an act of faith?” To convey what he has in mind by an act of faith, Tollefsen quotes a definition from John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary. The essential part of the definition would seem to be this:
The assent of the mind to what God has revealed. An act of supernatural faith requires divine grace, either actual or sanctifying or both. It is performed under the influence of the will, which requires its own assistance of grace to render a person ready to believe.
Of the act of faith, so understood, Tollefsen says that it “does not seem like something that a state can do; nor does it seem that a state could be the recipient of the grace mentioned in this passage,” even if the state is understood to be an agent or person in an analogous sense. (This is, incidentally, also a position taken by John Courtney Murray in "The Problem of 'The Religion of the State'.")
But Tollefsen says that we might understand “confess” in a weaker way, as when we record a belief that we have, as “in the way that our own founding political document records a belief that inalienable rights are endowed by a Creator.” However, in Tollefsen’s view, this mere recording of belief doesn’t seem sufficient to make a state “confessional.”
I’m not wedded to the term “confessional state” and mostly adopt it out of convenience to go along with common parlance. All the same, I do believe that there is a sense in which we can attribute a real act of faith to the state. It's evident (and this was argued against Murray too in days of yore) that the state, like any other group, acts through the medium of the real people who constitute it. In this regard they are the state (not in the absolutist L’état c’est mois sense). We typically have no difficulty saying things like "The United States declared war on Germany in 1941,” and understand that by this we mean, concretely, the members of Congress did this and that Roosevelt signed the declaration. We don’t suppose this act was carried out by some faceless Platonic form.
All Catholic parties to this debate would agree that real people — Mary, Peter, Paul — can perform acts of faith and be recipients of grace. I only wish to add that insofar as they are identified with the state (as, say, public officials such as presidents or legislators), what we attribute to them qua agents of the state we can also attribute to the state.
A transgressive state?
As Tollefsen sees it, it’s the necessary business of the state to help people meet certain pre-political needs: defense against hostile insiders and outsiders, coordination, and care for people who, through no fault of their own, can’t provide for themselves. And Tollefsen tells us that satisfying these needs appears to “exhaust the limits of the state’s authority.”
So, the last question that Tollefsen poses in his essay has to do with whether the state’s authority should expand beyond what’s necessary to take care of the above-listed needs and concern itself with promoting some particular religion. He suggests that the answer to this question is “No” since religion is something we can only cultivate successfully if we can do so freely. The state, says Tollefsen, should only limit our religious freedom in order to protect the goods and freedoms of others.
Tollefsen, following Joseph Boyle, worries that if the state were to promote some particular religion, this would “skew” public life in such a way that it would hinder rather than facilitate religious inquiry and “inevitably and unfairly [coerce] some to support actions whose rationales are incompatible with deep elements in their worldviews.” Tollefsen believes that this could occur even in a confessional state where the freedom of the non-established religions and of non-believers is respected.
If this is meant as a principled defense of political liberalism, then I can't go along with Tollefsen here. First, I would note that political liberalism isn't religiously neutral since it a priori rejects integralist religions, i.e., it doesn't take them to be legitimate religious options within a polity. (For another take on political liberalism's non-neutrality vis-à-vis religion, see David Schindler's classic Communio piece "Religious Freedom, Truth, and American Liberalism: Another Look at John Courtney Murray.") And to add to this point: every state – liberal, integralist, communist, whatever – makes laws and these inevitably express views about how to live and what to believe (whether this is officially acknowledged or not) and these views will be compatible or incompatible with some religions. No state, then, can claim religious neutrality and, for that reason, no state can avoid “skewing” public life in the way that concerns Boyle. What I'm saying is that the state that Boyle wants doesn't exist and can't exist. Second, to side with political liberalism on the Church-state question is to side against the magisterial teaching that I referred to earlier. That's not something I'm prepared to do. (But it might also be that Tollefsen isn't mounting a principled defense of political liberalism, in which case what I've said just now would need to be revised.)
With respect to the second point above, apart from expressing skepticism about the possibility of the Church teaching something as an ideal in the way that I have claimed she does with Catholic confessional states, Tollefsen says nothing about the substance of the magisterial teaching on the Church and the state. It would be interesting to know more about what he thinks of it, for the criticisms he directs at my essay could likewise be directed at that teaching. Perhaps Tollefsen will take it up in a future contribution to this discussion.
Natura et ratio
The Church’s teaching on her relationship to the state is not only something that makes sense in the context of faith. As Leo observes, it's also in accord with reason. Here’s how he puts it in Immortale Dei:
Nature and reason which command each person to cultivate his relationship to God in a holy and religious way, because we belong to him, and coming from him must return to him, binds by the same law the civil community.
And in Libertas:
Justice, therefore, forbids, and reason itself forbids, [civil society] to be godless (athea) or to treat the various so-called religions the same and promiscuously bestow upon them equal rights, which would likewise bring [civil society] to godlessness (atheismum).
In other words, the magisterial teaching on the Church and the state contains truths that are within the reach of philosophy. Let me quickly run through what I take some of those truths to be.
(1) First, religion is a natural moral virtue belonging to justice. It belongs to justice because it concerns what we owe to another, namely, God. And what we owe to God is worship, which, as Aquinas points out, is what religion is essentially about (cf. Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 81, a. 1).
(2) And, among the moral virtues, religion is first in rank. Why? This is how Aquinas explains it in Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 81, a. 6:
Whatever is directed to an end takes its goodness from being ordered to that end; so that the nearer it is to the end the better it is. Now moral virtues, as stated earlier, are about actions that are ordered to God as their end. And religion approaches nearer to God than the other moral virtues, insofar as its actions are directly and immediately ordered to the honor of the Divinity. Consequently, religion is preeminent among the moral virtues.
All moral virtues are about actions proximately or immediately ordered to God under the formality of summum bonum. Religion is situated at the top of the hierarchy of moral virtues since it alone disposes us to actions that “aim” directly at honorem divinum. There are other reasons to privilege religion among the moral virtues but I'll go with this one for now.
(3) I said earlier that the primary end of politics — let’s say of the state — is human flourishing. Let me put this more precisely. The primary end of the state is to create the conditions, in the way appropriate to it, that are most conducive to human flourishing. The state is concerned with the good of the political community as a whole. That is, the state is concerned with the bonum communum. What’s good for all citizens is to thrive or flourish as human beings. Ergo…
(4) To flourish, to live the good life, requires virtue. This means that the state naturally has an interest in virtue. If religion is the most important of the moral virtues, as Aquinas argues, then religion must be of foremost concern to the state.
(5) But we can be wrong in our beliefs about God. And if we get our theology wrong, then our religion may well become a vice rather than a virtue. Or rather, what we call “religion” would in this case merely be a simulacrum. From this it is evident that the state can’t satisfy itself with supporting whatever happens to go by the name “religion” but is obliged to support true religion.
(6) But how, exactly, does the state do that? Much of this — although not all of it — will be a question of wise prudential judgments that need to take into account the historical and cultural circumstances of the time and place. But one thing that can be said generally is that the principle of subsidiarity would require that the state’s supportive role with respect to religion would be secondary to the roles of the Church and the family. Put differently, the state would be at the service of the Church and the family.
(7) The state shouldn't physically coerce people against their will to adopt specifically religious practices since this would force them quite literally to "live a lie." Does this mean that all religions must be granted equal rights in a state? Obviously this doesn't logically follow. What rights other religions would have in a particular state would — like the positive support of the state for true religion — mostly be a question of wise prudential judgments that take into account the historical and cultural circumstances of the time and place.
Of course, there are a host of objections that people will be eager to raise against the philosophical vision I’ve just outlined. If you’re a skeptic or an atheist, this view of things will seem incredibly wrongheaded and dangerous. It will likewise seem that way if you don’t believe religion is a moral virtue or that the state should concern itself with human flourishing. And – ça va sans dire – if you’re a political liberal, you’ll want to reject it too. Well, bring on the objections! I haven't given much by way of philosophical argument to back up the claims I'm making in (1)-(7). So, there's plenty more to do.
(For a more developed philosophical case for some of the foregoing, I recommend Aquinas's De regno. Alongside Aquinas's argument in that text is a defense of monarchy as the best regime. Although I have nothing in principle against monarchy, I'm not convinced that Aquinas's defense of it is essential to his main argument. If I'm wrong, I would be glad to be disabused of my misinterpretation.)
In a post here last week I mentioned how Paul VI's Humanae vitae is standardly regarded as a "dead letter" and observed that this is true for Leo XIII's Aeterni Patris as well. In this collection of dead letters we can certainly include the magisterial teaching on the Church and the state, and I'd like to comment on that briefly by way of conclusion.
In the last century John Courtney Murray was among the leaders of the resistance to the magisterial teaching in this area, subverting it through a masterful bit of revisionist hermeneutics, and many Catholics, from across the spectrum, have been happy to follow Murray. This has contributed much to making that magisterial teaching a dead letter.
Although I think it is deeply misguided, I prefer Charles Curran's straightforward rejection of the magisterial teaching on the Church and the state to Murray's distortions, which even an admirer like Curran (who calls Murray "the most outstanding Catholic theologian in the United States in this century") recognizes as distortions. "Murray's theory of development, especially with its historical analysis of Leo XIII, is ingenious," says Curran. It enabled its adherents "to affirm religious liberty without having to repudiate the teaching of one of the more recent popes." However, Curran doesn't believe that the texts can bear Murray's reading. Thus, he continues: "It seems that [Murray's] own prejudices have entered into his historical interpretation in a number of different areas." And further:
I do not think Leo XIII would have recognized himself in the picture drawn by Murray! There are many indications that Leo would not have accepted his defense of the confessional state as merely belonging to the polemical and/or historical aspect of his teaching (American Catholic Social Ethics: Twentieth-Century Approaches, p. 229).
William Portier and Michael Schuck, among others, have also noted the obvious untenability of Murray's interpretation. Of Murray's insistence that Leo's teaching on the state's care for religion was intended only to apply to a specific historical circumstance and not meant as a general doctrinal principle, Schuck tells us that "[c]lose reading of the texts does not support these claims" (That They Be One: The Social Teaching of the Papal Encyclicals, 1740-1989, p. 107, n. 79). I agree. In my Public Discourse essay I mentioned how Longinqua oceani makes Murray's distortions altogether evident. (But there are other ways to bring it to light.)
I'm unsure what Tollefsen thinks of Murray on this point. He doesn't mention him in his reply to me. Perhaps Murray's revisionism is another thing that Tollefsen will discuss in future comments.
Paul VI's encyclical Humanae vitae is often called a "dead letter," and, unfortunately, for good reason. The same could be said of Leo XIII's Aeterni Patris. In a lecture on the Thomistic revival to students and professors of Mount Saint Bernard Seminary and the Aquinas Institute in Dubuque, Iowa in 1962, James Weisheipl had this to say:
[H]istorically speaking, the program of Pope Leo XIII has never been universally implemented in Catholic colleges, universities and seminaries. Not even the ardent efforts of St. Pius X were able to effect this. Until this program is really attempted in a thorough manner, there will always be zealous priests who react to what they only half understand. Reactions against Thomism in the past half century have always been to a pseudo-Thomism, a half-understood St. Thomas.
For Fr. Weisheipl, this was particularly disturbing, since, as he adds:
[A]ccording to the mind of the Church, only the sound philosophical and theological principles of St. Thomas are capable of creating a modern Catholic Weltanschauung which will move forward with the modern world and save it for Christ. Ite ad Thomam is not the cry of an antiquarian pope. It is the cry of a prophet who sees what can be the millenium of Christianity in the modern world. Therefore a great responsibility is ours. It is up to us Thomists and Catholics throughout the entire world to show that we can incorporate everything that is good and modern in our age -- and take the great step forward to tomorrow.
And where do things stand today with the reception of Aeterni Patris? Need we ask?
Does anybody know of good sources for the history of the study of Catholic theology by lay people before the twentieth-century? I am thinking of Continental Universities before and after the Revolution, and especially English laymen who studied in Europe. Moreover, I would be interested to know about the curricula of American Universities in the late nineteenth century. My impression is that it was more or less clerical at first, but I could be wrong.
I don't think we got around to wishing you a happy feast day on January 28. So, we'll kill two birds with one stone today, which is Thomas's feast according to the old calendar of the Roman Rite. Buona festa a tutti!