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Friday, May 22, 2015

The Two Lungs of God’s Revelation: The Current State of Catholic/Orthodox Ecumenism

The current state of ecumenism between the Catholic Church and representatives from a multitude of diverse faiths could not have been predicted even one-hundred years ago. Singular among the organizations who
have taken issue with the Catholic Church over the last two-thousand years is the Eastern Orthodox Church. Soon after the end of the first millennium, political and theological circumstances led to the unfortunate and calamitous schism between the Churches of the East and West. This wound to the body of Christ would not be the last, but it has been the most long-standing. There are multiple calls to unity among God’s people in Scripture. In his Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul the Apostle made his case for unity through Word of God: “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose” (NRSVC, 1 Cor. 1:10). The Gospel according to John recounts that as Jesus ascended into heaven he petitioned God for the unity of his Church: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (NRSVC, Jn 17:11). With all of this in mind, the Second Vatican Council renewed the quest for ecumenical dialogue between the Church and her estranged brethren. While there are those who oppose these discussions, there is little denying that the current environment between the Churches of the East and West are closer than they have been in centuries. In order to gain a better understanding of the present climate of ecumenism between the Church in Rome and the Eastern Orthodox church we must consider the theological issues at hand, the persons involved, and the documents produced from the dialogue. Before we delve into how these discussions have developed since the end of the Second Vatican Council, we must first take a brief look at what caused the initial separation.

The fracturing of the Catholic Church into other denominations has been referred to as “wounds to unity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 817). By their very nature, wounds are not surgical, and are, therefore traumatic, messy, and painful. The Schism that caused the wounds to the Church have scabbed over and scarred, but the evidence of harm remains. Fortunately, Christ is “The Great Physician”, and, as such, tends to our “wounds”. As with any organization, there has been a degree of infighting within the Church since its inception. The major political and theological disagreements that plague the Church have traditionally been addressed either at councils, by local bishops, or, ultimately, the Bishop of Rome. Unfortunately, as the whole of Christendom grew, so did the political aspect of the Church’s hierarchy. Heretical sects were numerous and problematic. “In the effort to settle heresies which were rending the empire asunder, emperors seriously tried to bring about reconciliation… in their efforts to suppress heresy… called all the first councils… [and] would continue to be a constant third party disturbing Christian harmony between East and West” (Bausch 172). This empirical meddling complicated relations between the see of Rome, which had an agreed upon primacy, and the see of Constantinople, which was the political seat of the Empire. While there had always been liturgical and traditional differences between the two geographical locations, they had not been divisive enough to indicate a break. Theologically, it was the inclusion of the filioque to the Creed that has caused the most dissension. “The Orthodox churches of the East have remained fiercely attached to the language of the Constantinopolitan creed, while the Latin church unilaterally inserted the term filioque, by which it affirmed that the Spirit PROCEEDS FROM THE FATHER AND THE SON, not simply from the Father” (Marthaler 248). While this had been contentious for quite some time, and undoubtedly colors Eastern and Western approaches to the Trinity, it was nearly five-hundred years before additional political tensions merited the type of opposition that would lead to schism. As time passed political affiliations waxed and waned, as did the influence of Rome and Constantinople. Questions of Papal primacy and jurisdiction grew. Hordes of invading Normans and Muslims only served to complicate the matter. The political split between Constantinople and Rome finally came in the form of the mutual excommunications of 1054. The East had appealed to the West in an attempt to bolster their forces against these invading forces, and it seemed that diplomatic relations between the East and West were at their highest point in decades. Unfortunately, both Pope Leo IX and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, sought to have each opposing church bend to the customs and will of the other in order to make this alliance possible. They both refused. “The ultimate result was that on July 16, 1054, the Cardinal [Humbert] publicly delivered the bull of excommunication to Cerularius. In turn, an Eastern synod condemned the Western ‘heresy’ and excommunicated the cardinal and his associates” (Bausch 178).While there have been several unsuccessful attempts at reunion since this event, it was seen as the point in which conflict had reached critical mass. Until the Second Vatican Council here had been very little ecumenical dialogue since the Council of Florence in 1452 (Bausch 180).

Following a half century of harrowing World Wars, a war of another type was to be the background upon which a new era of interfaith dialogue would emerge. Prior to the close of the Second Vatican Council, in the midst of the Cold War, Pope Paul VI met with Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople in Jerusalem. The momentousness of this encounter cannot be understated. Vatican II was reaching its conclusion, and the renewed focus on ecumenism was a central issue. Together, these two leaders prayed, exchanged gifts, and created an environment favorable to ecumenical dialogue that the East and the West had not enjoyed in centuries. “As a direct result of their meeting in Jerusalem in 1964, Pope Paul VI and the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I came to issue, on December 7, 1965, the day before the end of Vatican Council II, the of their Common Declarations officially lifting the joint excommunications which had been issued… in 1054 (Whitehead 57). They would meet once again in 1967; promulgating yet another joint statement concerning the state of Catholic/Orthodox dialogue. These meetings between the Bishop of Rome and Orthodox Patriarchs continue to this day. One of the most influential Vatican Documents detailing the nature of ecumenical dialogue was Unitatis Redintegratio. With this decree, the council put forth the principles by which the Church hoped to proceed ecumenically with diverse ecclesial communities. The document makes “Special Consideration of the Eastern Churches” and seeks to inform the method by which unity is achieved: “It is the Council's urgent desire that, in the various organizations and living activities of the Church, every effort should be made toward the gradual realization of this unity, especially by prayer, and by fraternal dialogue on points of doctrine and the more pressing pastoral problems of our time” (Unitatis Redintegratio 18). The Pope has the ability to speak on behalf of the Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church, however, is conciliar and does not have a central authority. That being the case, Pope John Paul II’s meeting with Bartholomew I in 1979 resulted in the commissioning of a joint committee, The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, by which ecumenical dialogue would continue and issue cooperative statements. “Bartholomew I was essential… in getting fourteen national Orthodox Churches to participate in the renewed dialogue conducted by The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church” (Whitehead 194). Together with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, these fourteen autocephalous churches have promoted ecumenical dialogue and released numerous statements spanning over thirty years. Many important documents were produced by this commission prior to the end of the millennia were. 1982’s The Mystery of the Church and the Eucharist in the Light of the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, concerns the commonality we share in the Holy Eucharist, and the authority by which it is presented by both the churches of the East and West. In 1988 the commission released a document that detailed Eastern and Western stances on hierarchy, authority, and apostolic succession. This document addresses issues that have been historically divisive; such as Papal primacy and the conciliar nature of the Eastern Church (The Sacrament of Order 55). 1993 saw the promulgation of a different type of joint document altogether. Whereas the previous documents had been, for the most part, positive; Uniatism: Method of Union of the Past, and Present Search for Full Communion, was primarily negative in tone. This document deals with the conversion of certain Oriental Orthodox Churches to Catholicism. Representatives of the Eastern Orthodox Church believe that this was done:
In the course of the last four centuries, in various parts of the East, initiatives were taken within certain Churches and impelled by outside elements, to restore communion between the Church of the East and the Church of the West. These initiatives led to the union of certain communities with the See of Rome and brought with them, as a consequence, the breaking of communion with their Mother Churches of the East. This took place not without the interference of extraecclesial interests. In this way Oriental Catholic Churches came into being. And so a situation was created which has become a source of conflicts and of suffering in the first instance for the Orthodox but also for Catholics (Uniatism 8).
While it is clear that the hope for unity continues, the path by which this is achieved is highly contested. Fortunately, the post-millennial search for communion continues despite bumps in the road.
The new century has born witness to a multitude of substantial moments within the Catholic Church. We have seen the death and canonization Pope John Paul II. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has become the first Pope to resign from office in nearly six-hundred years. The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, makes him the first pontiff from the Americas. In keeping with these groundbreaking developments, much has happened in the way of ecumenism over the last fifteen years. Fortuitously, the eighth plenary session in, Baltimore, Maryland, recognized both the history of the ecumenical movement while also looking to the future: “This year, 2000 years after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Joint International Commission celebrates the 20th anniversary of the beginning of its work at Patmos and Rhodes in 1980. It is a beautiful opportunity to thank God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - for what has been accomplished together during these two decades” (Communiqué ). In an encouraging show of support by the Church, Pope John Paul II, only months from death, returned the relics of St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I (Whitehead 63). Bartholomew I, whose ecumenical agenda had not slowed since his installation in the early nineties, met with Pope Benedict XVI in late 2006 to discuss the state of both Churches and the world in which they reside. The Levant, and the area surrounding it, has been embroiled by violence for over 2000 years. Woefully, the wars rage on. “We take profoundly to heart the cause of peace in the Middle East, where our Lord lived, suffered, died and rose again, and where a great multitude of our Christian brethren have lived for centuries. We fervently hope that peace will be re-established in that region, that respectful coexistence will be strengthened between the different peoples that live there” (Common Declaration 5). Despite the convivial nature of these meetings, the need to also address issues that continue to be divisive is crucial. 2007 found the dialogue once again turning toward the question of Papal authority and primacy versus Orthodox sobornost: “It remains for the question of the role of the bishop of Rome in the communion of all the Churches to be studied in greater depth. What is the specific function of the bishop of the ‘first see’ in an ecclesiology of koinonia and in view of what we have said on conciliarity and authority in the present text?” (Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity, and Authority 45). The thirteenth of March 2013 joyfully marked an ecumenical first since the Great Schism, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I attended the inauguration of the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis. In May of 2014, on the 50th anniversary of the institution of modern ecumenical dialogue between the East and West, Pope Francis and the (ever present) Bartholomew I met in Jerusalem to discuss peace and humanity:
United in our intentions, and recalling the example, fifty years ago here in Jerusalem, of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, we call upon all Christians, together with believers of every religious tradition and all people of good will, to recognize the urgency of the hour that compels us to seek the reconciliation and unity of the human family, while fully respecting legitimate differences, for the good of all humanity and of future generations. In undertaking this shared pilgrimage to the site where our one same Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and rose again, we humbly commend to the intercession of the Most Holy and Ever Virgin Mary our future steps on the path towards the fullness of unity, entrusting to God's infinite love the entire human family (Pilgrimage to the Holy Land 9-10).
In the light of all that has happened, and with the lengthy history of separation, it would be difficult to predict where these dialogues may go. On the one hand the prospect of reunification seems remote. With nearly one-thousand years of opposition behind us, fifty years of real ecumenical dialogue seems negligible. However, Jesus Christ only walked the Earth for thirty three years, three and a half of which, according to scripture, were active ministry. In this small amount of time he: rebukes Satan, draws apostles, turns water to wine, drives the moneychangers from the temple, walks on water, feeds the multitudes, heals the sick, and raises the dead. He does all of this before saving the souls of all humanity on the cross! The point is, I firmly believe that through Christ anything is possible. More than anything, I believe this is possible because he wills it. When and where this will happen is up for debate. What is certain is that the pride and ego that permeates man’s heart must take a back seat to the movement of the Holy Spirit within these ecumenical dialogues. The Church is the Body of Christ; and, as with any body, a fully functioning healthy body has the ability to reach its full potential. As Pope John Paul II was fond of saying: “the Church must breathe with her two lungs!” (Ut Unum Sint 54).




Works Cited

Catechism of the Catholic Church: With Modifications from the Editio Typica. 2nd ed. NewYork: Doubleday, 1997. Print.

John Paul II. Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint: On Commitment to Ecumenism. The Holy See, n.d.Web. 9 May 2015.

The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Communiqué: Emmitsburg- Baltimore USA, July 9-19, 2000. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 9 May 2015.

The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Common Declaration of Pope John Paul II and the Ecumenical Patriarch His Holiness Bartholomew I (July 1, 2004). The Holy See, n.d. Web. 9 May 2015.

The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Common Declaration by Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (25 May, 2014). The Holy See, n.d. Web. 9 May 2015.

The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church: Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity, and Authority. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 9 May 2015.

The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Joint declaration of Pope John Paul II and the Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I at the conclusion of the visit of the Pope to the Phanar [30 November 1979]. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 9 May 2015.

The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. The Mystery of the Church and the Eucharist in the Light of the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 9 May 2015.

The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. The Sacrament of Order in the Sacramental Structure of the Church, with Particular Reference to the Importance of the Apostolic Succession for the Sanctification and Unity of the People of God. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 9 May 2015.

The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Uniatism: Method of Union of the Past, and Present Search for Full Communion. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 9 May 2015.

Marthaler, Berard. The Creed. 2nd ed. Mystic, Connecticut: Twenty Third Publications, 1993. Print.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with The Apocrypha. 4th ed. Ed. Coogan, Michael D. Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

Orthodox Roman Catholic International Dialogue. The Joint Catholic-Orthodox Declaration of 1965. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 9 May 2015.

Whitehead, K. D. The New Ecumenism: How the Catholic Church After Vatican II Took Over the Leadership of the World Ecumenical Movement. Staten Island, N.Y.: St. Pauls/Alba House, 2009. Print.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Word Made Flesh and The Inauguration of the Kingdom of God

As Catholics, we have been privileged to bear witness to the inauguration of two Popes within recent memory. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis were appointed to the role of Bishop of Rome and leader of the Holy Catholic Church in the sight of millions, if not billions, of people as successors
to St. Peter; the rock upon which Christ founded his Church. Unlike the inauguration of the Kingdom of God, by Jesus Christ, these inaugurations were formal, traditional, and laden with ceremony. That is not to say, however, that Christ’s very own inauguration was not present in these events, as the Papal inauguration takes part during a liturgical celebration at Mass. Inaugurations, while not frequent, are familiar. The inauguration of the Kingdom of God, as it occurs in scripture is not the same animal. Many of the same implications of this inauguration are, however, similar to these earthly appointments. The King of God’s Kingdom is Jesus Christ. In recognizing the arrival of our King, we must also recognize the portents of and implications of his Incarnation: The gospels detail the actualization of the kingdom, preparation for its arrival, the calling to it, the response to the call, and the faith that results in having responded. Every one of these aspects are integral to understanding how the coming of Christ, the Word Made Flesh, represents the inauguration of the Kingdom of God.

While the coming of Christ was prefigured numerous times throughout the Old Testament, it was John the Baptist who most explicitly told of Jesus’ arrival in the New Testament.  Prior to Christ’s baptism, in Matthew, we find John urging those who have come for baptism to repent of their sins as a true authority greater than he would soon arrive:
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near… I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:2, 3:11).
The Baptist makes it clear that should any oppose the will of Christ suffering would ensue. The will of Christ is none other than love, or “good fruit.” “Bear fruit worthy of repentance… every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:8-10).

After the inauguration of the Pope, and similarly the inauguration of the president, we are charged with adhering to the power of their office. Following Jesus’ Baptism and his time in the wilderness Jesus goes to Galilee where he initiates a call for disciples:
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him (Mark 1:16-20).
Simon, Andrew, James, and John recognized Jesus’ authority. It was by Jesus’ authority, and the faith displayed by the apostles, that Jesus established a mission of evangelization: “And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons” (Mark 3:14-15). As disciples of  Christ, and pilgrims en route to the Kingdom, we are similarly called.
Returning the inaugural analogy of the elected president, we realize that his authority, and the rewards that may be had from its observance, are only possible through willing participation. Christ has invited, encouraged, and facilitated our entry into the Kingdom of God, but none of that is sufficient if we are unwilling. What good is a map if we insist that it need not be followed? There are many parables within the Gospels that illustrate this point. The parable of the Sinful Woman illustrates consequences of both great and little faith; great and little reverence:
I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little… Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace (Luke 7:44-50).
Jesus rebukes Simon for his judgment on the Sinful Woman and praises her faith. It is her willingness to submit to and recognize the dominion of Christ that garners her acceptance within the eyes of the Lord. We are called to respond comparably.

The faith that results in the inauguration of God’s Kingdom through the Word is compelling and resolute. The amount of denial necessary to disbelieve something that you have prepared for witnessed and responded to would be considerable if not impossible. Perhaps a more appropriate term would be hubris. The intention of faith in God’s kingdom is deliberate and participation in Him is necessary.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Centrality of the Family in Catholic Social Teaching

In his Apostolic Exhortation on the role of the Christian family in the modern world, Familiaris Consortio, St. Pope John Paul II proclaimed that: “Willed by God in the very act of creation,
marriage and the family are interiorly ordained to fulfillment in Christ”” (3). In a way, John Paul the Great, has summarized the reason for the centrality of the family in Catholic Social Teaching. The omnipresence of familial themes throughout Holy Scripture and Church Tradition are a testimony to the sacred nature of the family and the role that it plays in God’s divine plan. The Second Vatican Council produced one of the most profound documents concerning the modern Church, Gaudium et Spes. This dogmatic constitution assesses much, including the role of the family. “The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the Kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come. Thus by its example and its witness it accuses the world of sin and enlightens those who seek the truth” (Lumen Gentium 35). This truth is evident in every aspect of society, from the individual to the whole of civilization. Because of this, Catholic social teaching (CST) is informed greatly by the needs and duties of the family. Why and how does family play such crucial role in CST? To know this we must first understand what CST gleans from the Bible by way of the Old Testament and the Holy Family, how today’s families figure into God’s divine plan, and how the magisterium has illustrated these things to us through CST.

When speaking of the family, as it relates to CST, one would be remiss to forego the impact that the Holy Family has had on its development. That being said, the significance of the Holy Family is bolstered by the familial themes found in the Old Testament. In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church there is a passage that beautifully references the depth of the Bible’s reverence for the family:
It is in the family that one learns the love and faithfulness of the Lord, and the need to respond to these (cf. Ex 12:25-27, 13:8, 14-15; Deut 6:20-25, 13:7-11; 1 Sam 3:13). It is in the family that children learn their first and most important lessons of practical wisdom, to which the virtues are connected (cf. Prov 1:8-9, 4:1-4, 6:20-21; Sir 3:1-16, 7:27-28). Because of all this, the Lord himself is the guarantor of the love and fidelity of married life (cf. Ma 2:14-15)” (209-210).
Here The Compendium illustrates the significance of the family utilizing only the Old Testament as reference, and these are far from the only Scriptures that pertain to the subject. The importance of this is that just as the Old Testament Messianic prophecies came to fruition in the person of Jesus, so did the Holy Family come to exemplify the tenets of what the Old Testament shows a family to be. CST’s concern for the plight of the impoverished and marginalized and the corollary experiences of the Holy Family are unmistakable. From Mary’s (perceived) pregnancy out of wedlock to Christ’s birth in a stable, the Holy Family had much to contend with in the way of social exclusion. Christ’s first miracle, at Cana, was at the ultimate celebration of family, a wedding! In addition to the humble circumstances of Christ’s socio-economic status are his very specific calls to help the underprivileged. In the Gospel of St. Matthew Jesus puts forth a soteriological call to the “human family”: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me… just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (NRSVC Matt 25:35-40). 1994 was declared the “Year of the Family” by Pope John Paul II. In his letter to families, Gratissimam Sane, he artfully illustrates how the Holy Family remains a beacon of hope for modern families. In concluding his letter he mentions the significance of each member of the family of Christ:
May the Holy Family, icon and model of every human family, help each individual to walk in the spirit of Nazareth. May it help each family unit to grow in understanding of its particular mission in society and the Church by hearing the Word of God, by prayer and by a fraternal sharing of life. May Mary, Mother of "Fairest Love", and Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer, accompany us all with their constant protection (Gratissimam Sane 23).

The Holy Spirit leads God’s family ever further along the path of salvation. The 20th and 21st centuries have been integral in hastening us upon this course. CST has grown by leaps and bounds. Pope Francis’ recent Synod on the Family, and the one to come in 2015, are testimonies to the continued focus on this most basic social institution. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have had a hand in the development of social doctrine, especially as it pertains to the family: “Marriage and the family are the central social institutions that must be supported and strengthened, not undermined. We believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable” (Themes of Catholic Social Teaching). It is the pursuit of these rights that serve to illuminate the need for healthy and contributing family units, households, communities, and the Church alike. The precursor to next year’s fourteenth ordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops, and the follow up to this year’s third extraordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops, was 1980’s Synod on the Family. St. John Paul II’s postsynodal apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio presents a brief list of what CST hopes to address with respect to the modern family; “Thus, with love as its point of departure and making constant reference to it, the recent Synod emphasized four general tasks for the family: 1) forming a community of persons; 2) serving life; 3) participating in the development of society; 4) sharing in the life and mission of the Church” (17).

“Forming a community of persons” involves the responsibility of society to foster the well-being of the individual. What better expression of a communion of persons than that which is established in the Sacrament of Marriage. It is for this reason that the integrity of marriage, as the building block upon which families are established, is held in such high regard. “For the good of the spouses and their off-springs as well as of society, the existence of the sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone. For, God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes” (Gaudium et Spes 48). It is a union by which God joins a man and wife and perpetuates that community of persons through procreation and the promotion of God’s divine plan. As Catholics it is our responsibility to cultivate a culture that preserves this most sacred of institutions. Through active participation in our communities and at the polls we can do our part in encouraging a society built upon the morals of the Church. “Marriage must be defined, recognized, and protected as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and as the source of the next generation and the protective haven for children. Policies on taxes, work, divorce, immigration, and welfare should help families stay together and should reward responsibility and sacrifice for children” (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship 70).

Once children enter the picture, the small “community of persons” that God has created is focused on providing for those who cannot provide for themselves, our children. This is where the “participation in the development of society” comes in. The First Epistle of John speaks to this directly. The language is familial in nature, and the priority placed on charity through action is explicit: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (NRSVCE, 1 John 3:17-18). Children are dependent upon their parents for food, shelter, clothing, education, moral support, and the tools by which to further the family/society as adults. Fostering a family environment that promotes empathy and love through affection, in God’s name, creates a small society that encourages the tenets of Christ’s Law (NRSVCE, Galatians 6:2):
The first and fundamental structure for "human ecology" is the family, in which man receives his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person. Here we mean the family founded on marriage, in which the mutual gift of self by husband and wife creates an environment in which children can be born and develop their potentialities, become aware of their dignity and prepare to face their unique and individual destiny. (Centesimus Annus 39).
To achieve this we must be socially aware and proactive. “Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2207). The lessons learned at the family level, and perpetuated through the generations inform who we are as a society. “A truly sovereign and spiritually vigorous nation is always made up of strong families who are aware of their vocation and mission in history. The family is at the heart of all these problems and tasks. To relegate it to a subordinate or secondary role… would be to inflict grave harm on the authentic growth of society as a whole” (Gratissimam Sane 17). To prevent this subordination of the family it is our duty as Catholics to take an active role in protecting our children. As much as we would like to be there for them every minute, it is impossible. Because of this we must ensure that the social institutions responsible for our children in our absence are correctly ordered. An example of one such institution would be our education system: “Government, through such means as tax credits and publicly funded scholarships, should help provide resources for parents, especially those of modest means, to exercise this basic right without discrimination. Students in all educational settings should have opportunities for moral and character formation (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship 72). This is just one example of society’s responsibility for the care of our young. In addition to this we must have the moral fiber to ensure that laws, rules, and regulations are in place to protect our most valuable assets, our children, from exposure to pornography, gratuitous violence, and similar threats to their developing minds.

In step with this theme of providing for those who are unable to care for themselves is the Church’s stance against abortion, contraception, euthanasia, capital punishment, and similar threats to human life. In this way the family is central to “serving life.” Rather than a place where life is optional in the face of suffering, Pope John Paul II demands that that family be a “sanctuary of life.”
It is necessary to go back to seeing the family as the sanctuary of life. The family is indeed sacred: it is the place in which life — the gift of God — can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life (Centesimus Annus 39).
The dignity due to the individual is rooted in God’s creation of man, and similarly in man’s reproduction: “In procreation therefore, through the communication of life from parents to child, God's own image and likeness is transmitted, thanks to the creation of the immortal soul” (Evangelium Vitae 43). God’s imprint upon our beings informs all that we do in striving for the greater good, and similarly informs the dignity due to men as children of God.

Another indispensable aspect of Catholic Social Teaching and the family is our call to “share in the life and mission of the Church.”  Families can do this in two ways. The first way is by creating what Pope John Paul II called “the little domestic church” within the walls of our own homes (Familiaris Consortio 51). The family unit should be a place of frequent prayer, constant learning, praise, and worship. Each member of the family should strive to emulate each of the members of the Holy Family, and in doing, catechize those around them:
As a sharer in the life and mission of the Church, which listens to the word of God with reverence and proclaims it confidently, the Christian family fulfills its prophetic role by welcoming and announcing the word of God: it thus becomes more and more each day a believing and evangelizing community… The discovery of and obedience to the plan of God on the part of the conjugal and family community must take place in "togetherness," through the human experience of love between husband and wife, between parents and children, lived in the Spirit of Christ. Thus the little domestic Church, like the greater Church, needs to be constantly and intensely evangelized: hence its duty regarding permanent education in the faith.” (Familiaris Consortio 51).

The second way the Church impacts the family is by being said family! In his papal encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI elaborates upon the role of the Church as family, provider, and caretaker: “The Church is God's family in the world. In this family no one ought to go without the necessities of life” (25b).
The Church offers an original and irreplaceable contribution with the concern that impels her to make the family of mankind and its history more human, prompting her to place herself as a bulwark against every totalitarian temptation, as she shows man his integral and definitive vocation. By preaching the Gospel, the grace of the sacraments and the presence of fraternal communion, the Church, “heals and elevates the dignity of the human person,… consolidates society and endows the daily activity of men with a deeper sense of meaning (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 51).
God the Father Almighty has gathered us into His house, into His Church, and eternally stands as the model upon which our own families are built. “Just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ” (NRSVCE, Ephesians 1:4). Our responsibility to the Church is similar to our civic responsibility. We are called to be active, concerned, and helpful. We are charged with contributing in a positive way and abiding by the rules that have been set. More than anything we have been appointed to perpetuate the message of Christ on earth.

If society as a whole is able to recognize the proper and natural order of God’s plan we will be able to make the progress necessary for peace “on Earth as it is in Heaven” (NRSVCE, Matthew 6:10). It is only through caring for each and every person of the human family with the same amount of care that society places on the achievement of power and monetary gain that we can improve the conditions of those who cannot do for themselves:
Man's social nature makes it evident that the progress of the human person and the advance of society itself hinge on one another… Among those social ties which man needs for his development… like the family and political community, relate with greater immediacy to his innermost nature; others originate rather from his free decision. In our era, for various reasons, reciprocal ties and mutual dependencies increase day by day and give rise to a variety of associations and organizations, both public and private. This development, which is called socialization, while certainly not without its dangers, brings with it many advantages with respect to consolidating and increasing the qualities of the human person, and safeguarding his rights. (Gaudium et Spes 25).
Catholic Social Teaching in the 20th and 21st centuries has continued to be one of the only constant sparks of light in a gradually darkening room. The influence of the Catholic Church, and ultimately He who instituted her, cannot be understated. The family as an institution is challenged on a daily basis. Traditional moral values are being undermined by the unfortunate redefinition of marriage, and the conjugal act has been relegated to recreational act. The flagrant disregard for life at conception has led to a loss of respect for life at any age. Death has become a viable alternative to pain and unwanted pregnancy. Only through nurturing the family unit as the most basic building block of society can we hope to effect humanity at large. Pope Francis, in his Papal Encyclical, Lumen Fidei, commented on the dire consequences of a modern society preoccupied with brotherhood without the benefit of a guiding father: “Absorbed and deepened in the family, faith becomes a light capable of illumining all our relationships in society… Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure (54).




Sources:
Benestad, J. Brian. Church, State, and Society: An Introduction to Catholic Social Doctrine. Washington, D.C.: Catholic U of America, 2011. Print.
Benedict XVI. Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est: On Christian Love. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
Catechism of the Catholic Church: With Modifications from the Editio Typica. 2nd ed. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Print.
Catholic Church. United Sates Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response A Pastoral Letter on War and Peace by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Washington: USCCB, 1983. Web. 4 Dec. 2014
Catholic Church. United Sates Conference of Catholic Bishops. Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy. Washington: USCCB, 1997. Web. 4 Dec. 2014
Catholic Church. United Sates Conference of Catholic Bishops. Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States. Washington: USCCB, 2011. Web. 4 Dec. 2014
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. 7th ed. Cittá Del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana ;, 2004. Print.
Francis. Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei: On Faith. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
John Paul II. Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus: on the Hundreth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
John Paul II. Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio: On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
John Paul II. Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae: on the Value and Inviolability of Human Life. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
John Paul II. Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
McCarthy, David Matzko. The Heart of Catholic Social Teaching: Its Origins and Contemporary Significance. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2009. Print.
Paul VI. Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes: On the Church in the Modern World. The Holy See, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.
Themes of Catholic Social Teaching. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. USCCB Publishing, 1 Jan. 2005. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Proportionalism, Veritatis Splendor, and the Integrity of the Human Person

The ethically ambiguous road paved by nominalism, relativism, and other modern "isms" are not the only paths of unrighteousness. In the wake of Vatican II, even those who counted themselves
among the opposition to modern and freewheeling trends in moral thought could find themselves in
error.  Ever since the institution of the Church there has been the need for clarification and unity in the face of divergent arguments about the nature of faith. The prototypical council of Jerusalem was called to deal with issues of this sort as was the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II called for a rejuvenated interest in moral theology, and one of the results to arise from this appeal was an ethical concept called “proportionalism.” While the moral theologians who developed and promoted proportionalism did so with good intentions, the theory was summarily dismissed by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, The Splendor of Truth. Ultimately, proportionalism denies the integrity of the human person, the question that remains, however, is “what leads us to this conclusion?”

Catholic moral theology, and the Church as a whole for that matter, is teleological in nature. Together, we traverse through the ages in search of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a spiritual journey. For this reason, she is known as the “Pilgrim Church.” With all of this in mind, in conjunction with the input of Church reformists, it’s not surprising that a theory of ethical behavior divergent from classic Thomistic moral theology has emerged as of late. The issue, however, is not that moral theology is not teleological; the issue is that modern schools of thought have influenced great thinkers within the Church in a way that removes the plausibility of absolute sin. This philosophy is called “proportionalism” and, surprisingly, it resembles a sort of moral relativism. The basic gist of proportionalism is that a sin may be judged according to the end result. The severity of the sin is measured upon the good or evil produced. What proportionalism does is put the burden of deciphering the “greater good” or “lesser evil” in the hands of an individual (Veritatis Splendor 57). Deep rumination on the nature of good and evil, and our role in God’s creation is essential; however, the faulty attitudes perpetuated by “proportionalists” were in direct opposition to those of the Church. Pope John Paul II addressed this in his Papal Encyclical Veritatis Splendor: “The weighing of the goods and evils foreseeable as the consequence of an action is not an adequate method for determining whether the choice of that concrete kind of behaviour is ‘according to its species’, or ‘in itself’, morally good or bad, licit or illicit… an exhaustive rational calculation is not possible” (Veritatis Splendor 77).  One thing that proportionalism does not account for is that the nature of our decisions serves to contribute to the moral makeup and integrity of our souls. When a sin, such as murder, is absolutely off the table as a viable solution in any situation, then concern over what such an act may have on our person is of no concern. However, if we leave that door open, the possibility of faulty reasoning can lead one to commit one the most grievous sins imaginable. Just as with any act, to continue down that road becomes easier. The ability to rationalize it comes quicker and quicker.
To separate the fundamental option from concrete kinds of behavior means to contradict the substantial integrity or personal unity of the moral agent in his body and in his soul. A fundamental option understood without explicit consideration of the potentialities which it puts into effect and the determinations which express it does not do justice to the rational finality immanent in man's acting and in each of his deliberate decisions (Veritatis Splendor 67).