Friday, August 13, 2010

Principles of Catholic Social Teaching: Subsidiarity

The principle of subsidiarity says that "all societies of a superior order must adopt attitudes of help ("subsidium") — therefore of support, promotion, development — with respect to lower-order societies. In this way, intermediate social entities can properly perform the functions that fall to them without being required to hand them over unjustly to other social entities of a higher level, by which they would end up being absorbed and substituted, in the end seeing themselves denied their dignity and essential place" (section 186). Or, in the more straightforward words of the ever-trusty Wikipedia, "matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority."

The "intermediate social entities" are those organizations that grow naturally out of the social, economic, and political interactions of people:
This is the realm of civil society, understood as the sum of the relationships between individuals and intermediate social groupings, which are the first relationships to arise and which come about thanks to "the creative subjectivity of the citizen". This network of relationships strengthens the social fabric and constitutes the basis of a true community of persons, making possible the recognition of higher forms of social activity. (section 185)
Subsidiarity has both positive and negative senses. In the positive sense, larger entities should offer whatever assistance is necessary for smaller entities to flourish. In the negative sense, larger entities must not do anything that would prevent the smaller entities from flourishing. "The principle of subsidiarity protects people from abuses by higher-level social authority and calls on these same authorities to help individuals and intermediate groups to fulfil their duties" (section 187).

A denial of the principle of subsidiarity "limits and sometimes even destroys the spirit of freedom and initiative", which is why it is "opposed to certain forms of centralization, bureaucratization, and welfare assistance and to the unjustified and excessive presence of the State in public mechanisms" (section 187).
In order for the principle of subsidiarity to be put into practice there is a corresponding need for: respect and effective promotion of the human person and the family; ever greater appreciation of associations and intermediate organizations in their fundamental choices and in those that cannot be delegated to or exercised by others; the encouragement of private initiative so that every social entity remains at the service of the common good, each with its own distinctive characteristics; the presence of pluralism in society and due representation of its vital components; safeguarding human rights and the rights of minorities; bringing about bureaucratic and administrative decentralization; striking a balance between the public and private spheres, with the resulting recognition of the social function of the private sphere; appropriate methods for making citizens more responsible in actively "being a part" of the political and social reality of their country. (section 187)
Various circumstances may require that the State step into what would otherwise be the functions of the smaller entities, e.g., to stimulate the economy or to address issues of injustice. "In light of the principle of subsidiarity, however, this institutional substitution must not continue any longer than is absolutely necessary, since justification for such intervention is found only in the exceptional nature of the situation" (section 188).

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
Wikipedia entry on subsidiarity

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thoughts on reading, inspired by Neil Gaiman's library.

What I love about these pictures of Neil Gaiman's bookshelves (apart from the "OMG! It's Neil Gaiman's bookshelves! Squee!" factor) is how it shows that his library is an expression of his interests - at least, what I assume to be his interests. You see plenty of SF, fantasy, horror, and graphic novels. And a cat. It looks nothing like those massive, beautiful, leather-bound libraries which used to strike me as the epitome of what a library should be.

It is probably not coincidental that I was most impressed with those libraries when I was most under the sway of the "great books" mentality. Mind you, I do believe that the great books are truly great and are worthy of our attention. But at that time I felt guilty reading a book I enjoyed if it was not part of the great books canon. I had, as C.S. Lewis calls it, a hygienic view of reading. I read what I thought was "good for me".

(And before that time I collected books by authors that were popular in my circle of friends. For most of my reading life I have allowed myself to be influenced by others' taste and not my own.)

I don't want to say that the answer is just to read what we enjoy. We should, of course, but I also believe in reading challenging books and books that are outside our normal interests. One of the purposes of reading is to step outside ourselves and view the world through different eyes. If we only read in our favorite subjects or genres then we're less likely to move outside ourselves. If we do not read the great books then we will only ever see the world through lesser eyes.

Read what you like - but don't limit yourself to the familiar and easy. Rebel against anyone who tries to dictate to you what you should or should not read. By all means read the great books, but because you want explore the world in a new way and not because it's "good for you". For some people these lessons are obvious. But for those of us who have been overly concerned about others' opinions, they're the result of a long process of achieving intellectual independence.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Principles of Catholic Social Teaching: The Universal Destination of Goods

God destined the earth and all it contains for all men and all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity. This principle is based on the fact that the original source of all that is good is the very act of God, who created both the earth and man, and who gave the earth to man so that he might have dominion over it by his work and enjoy its fruits (Gen 1:28-29). God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone. (section 171)
This is the basis for the "universal destination of goods" principle, which states that "each person must have access to the level of well-being necessary for his full development" (section 172). It is a natural and inherent right that has priority over every social or economic system. "All other rights, whatever they are, including property rights and the right of free trade must be subordinated to this norm; they must not hinder it, but must rather expedite its application" (section 172), even if it requires "regulated interventions".
The principle of the universal destination of goods is an invitation to develop an economic vision inspired by moral values that permit people not to lose sight of the origin or purpose of these goods, so as to bring about a world of fairness and solidarity, in which the creation of wealth can take on a positive function. (section 174)
This principle impinges upon the idea of property rights. "Private property and other forms of private ownership of goods 'assure a person a highly necessary sphere for the exercise of his personal and family autonomy and ought to be considered as an extension of human freedom ... stimulating exercise of responsibility, it constitutes one of the conditions for civil liberty'". In fact, the Church's social teaching "requires that ownership of goods be equally accessible to all, so that all may become, at least in some measure, owners" (section 176).

Property rights, however, are not "absolute and untouchable". Since God has given the earth to all and all have an equal right to it then property rights are subordinate to the universal destination of goods principle. This does not eliminate the idea property rights; it orders and regulates it. Private property is best understood as a means to the fulfillment of this principle. That is to say, private property has a social function related to the common good. Owners are obligated to consider how their property may be used in a way that contributes to the common good.

If the principle is true and "each person must have access to the level of well-being necessary for his full development" then those who are particularly destitute deserve special attention:
The principle of the universal destination of goods requires that the poor, the marginalized and in all cases those whose living conditions interfere with their proper growth should be the focus of particular concern. To this end, the preferential option for the poor should be reaffirmed in all its force. "This is an option, or a special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness. It affects the life of each Christian inasmuch as he or she seeks to imitate the life of Christ, but it applies equally to our social responsibilities and hence to our manner of living, and to the logical decisions to be made concerning the ownership and use of goods. Today, furthermore, given the worldwide dimension which the social question has assumed, this love of preference for the poor, and the decisions which it inspires in us, cannot but embrace the immense multitudes of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without health care and, above all, those without hope of a better future".
This special attention to the poor flows not only from the teachings of Jesus, but also from the fact that he was himself one of the poor and focused his ministry on them. The Church has always worked "for their relief, defence and liberation through numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always and everywhere" and taught that Christians "should assist their fellow man in his various needs and fill the human community with countless works of corporal and spiritual mercy". This teaching goes beyond alms-giving alone, however, and encourages Christians to address "the social and political dimensions of the problem of poverty":
In her teaching the Church constantly returns to this relationship between charity and justice: "When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice". The Council Fathers strongly recommended that this duty be fulfilled correctly, remembering that "what is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity".
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Principles of Catholic Social Teaching: The Common Good

The first principle of Catholic social teaching is the common good. It is defined as "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily" (section 164). It belongs to all (it is "common") and is accomplished by joint effort. It is the pursuit of moral good on the social level. "Just as the moral actions of an individual are accomplished in doing what is good, so too the actions of a society attain their full stature when they bring about the common good. The common good, in fact, can be understood as the social and community dimension of the moral good." (section 164)

Given that all human persons have equal dignity and that they cannot find fulfillment in solitary existence, the common good must be the goal of all forms of social life. Every individual must "seek unceasingly — in actual practice and not merely at the level of ideas — the good, that is, the meaning and truth, found in existing forms of social life." (section 165) This is, of course, a very difficult goal. Nevertheless, the temptation to work to one's own advantage must be resisted. Rather, everyone must assume greater responsibility.

The demands of the common good include "the commitment to peace, the organization of the State's powers, a sound juridical system, the protection of the environment, and the provision of essential services to all, some of which are at the same time human rights: food, housing, work, education and access to culture, transportation, basic health care, the freedom of communication and expression, and the protection of religious freedom" (section 166).

Some of these demands are clearly beyond the capacity of individuals and demand the involvement of government. The common good is, after all, the purpose of government. It must create an environment in which individuals and groups working toward the common good may pursue their goals unhindered. Furthermore, it must harmonize disparate interests so that the collective efforts works for the good of all, including those of racial, political, religious, etc., minorities.

The common good, however, is a penultimate good:
The common good of society is not an end in itself; it has value only in reference to attaining the ultimate ends of the person and the universal common good of the whole of creation. God is the ultimate end of his creatures and for no reason may the common good be deprived of its transcendent dimension, which moves beyond the historical dimension while at the same time fulfilling it. This perspective reaches its fullness by virtue of faith in Jesus' Passover, which sheds clear light on the attainment of humanity's true common good. Our history — the personal and collective effort to elevate the human condition — begins and ends in Jesus: thanks to him, by means of him and in light of him every reality, including human society, can be brought to its Supreme Good, to its fulfilment. A purely historical and materialistic vision would end up transforming the common good into a simple socioeconomic well-being, without any transcendental goal, that is, without its most intimate reason for existing. (section 170)
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Principles of Catholic Social Teaching: On the Human Person

This will be the first in a series of posts on Catholic social teaching as expressed in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. First we will look at the teaching on the human person.
The Church sees in men and women, in every person, the living image of God himself. This image finds, and must always find anew, an ever deeper and fuller unfolding of itself in the mystery of Christ, the Perfect Image of God, the One who reveals God to man and man to himself. (Section 105)
Jesus perfectly expressed the image of God that was given to humanity in the beginning. In the Incarnation God joined himself to humanity in a unique way - not only by taking on human nature but also by dying on behalf of humanity. This bestows on every human person a dignity that demands recognition.

God's gift of his image to humanity points us to the purpose of our creation. "The likeness with God shows that the essence and existence of man are constitutively related to God in the most profound manner. ... The whole of man's life is a quest and a search for God" (section 109). Or in Augustine's more felicitous expression (via Chadwick), "You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." This capacity for relationship with God is reflected in humanity's capacity and desire for social relationships ordered by love and mutual care.

Humanity, however, fell into sin, which disrupted its relationships with God and all his creatures. For more on the "twofold wound" of sin see my earlier post on the structures of sin. Nevertheless, "the doctrine of the universality of sin must not be separated from the consciousness of the universality of salvation in Jesus Christ. ... Christian realism sees the abysses of sin, but in the light of the hope, greater than any evil, given by Jesus Christ's act of redemption, in which sin and death are destroyed" (section 121). As St. Paul says in Romans 5, "For just as by the one man’s [Adam's] disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s [Jesus'] obedience the many will be made righteous." Jesus is the new Adam who "fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling" (section 121).

"The new reality that Jesus Christ gives us is not grafted onto human nature nor is it added from outside: it is rather that reality of communion with the Trinitarian God to which men and women have always been oriented in the depths of their being, thanks to their creaturely likeness to God" (section 122). Jesus places humanity back onto the path toward the beatific vision, which was their ultimate goal from the beginning.

There are many aspects to human persons, which may be summarized as follows.

1. The person is a unity of body and soul:
Through his corporeality man unites in himself elements of the material world. ... Through his spirituality man moves beyond the realm of mere things and plunges into the innermost structure of reality. ... The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature. (sections 128 and 129)
2. The person is open to transcendence:

"Openness to transcendence belongs to the human person: man is open to the infinite and to all created beings" (section 130). The human person has the capacity to transcend the self and open up to relationships with God and others. This same capacity gives the ability of self-understanding and self-awareness. (It is important to note that these characteristics flow out of the person; they do not define the person. Even if they are absent there remains the fundamental human dignity belonging to the person as a creation of God.) The openness to transcendence allows the person to distinguish themselves as an "I" apart from "thou", thus marking out each individual as a "unique and unrepeatable being".

3. The person flourishes in freedom:

Persons must be free to seek God and the true good. Economic, social, or political injustices are injurious to freedom; removing them allows humanity to flourish. "In the exercise of their freedom, men and women perform morally good acts that are constructive for the person and for society when they are obedient to truth" (section 138).

4. All people possess equal dignity:

Since all people bear the image of God and are the objects of God's love, then it follows that they must be regarded as equal.
Together with equality in the recognition of the dignity of each person and of every people there must also be an awareness that it will be possible to safeguard and promote human dignity only if this is done as a community, by the whole of humanity. Only through the mutual action of individuals and peoples sincerely concerned for the good of all men and women can a genuine universal brotherhood be attained; otherwise, the persistence of conditions of serious disparity and inequality will make us all poorer." (section 145)
The equal dignity of all persons gives rise to the idea of human rights. "The ultimate source of human rights is not found in the mere will of human beings, in the reality of the State, in public powers, but in man himself and in God his Creator" (section 153).

5. The person possesses a social nature:
The human person is essentially a social being because God, who created humanity, willed it so. Human nature, in fact, reveals itself as a nature of a being who responds to his own needs. This is based on a relational subjectivity, that is, in the manner of a free and responsible being who recognizes the necessity of integrating himself in cooperation with his fellow human beings, and who is capable of communion with them on the level of knowledge and love. (section 149)
This teaching about the human person is the foundation of the Christian belief in human dignity. Only with the recognition of this dignity can there ever be a just society:
The person represents the ultimate end of society, by which it is ordered to the person: "Hence, the social order and its development must invariably work to the benefit of the human person, since the order of things is to be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other way around". Respect for human dignity can in no way be separated from obedience to this principle. It is necessary to "consider every neighbour without exception as another self, taking into account first of all his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity". Every political, economic, social, scientific and cultural programme must be inspired by the awareness of the primacy of each human being over society. (section 132)

About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.