Church represents the memory of what it means to be human in the face of a
civilization of forgetfulness
, which knows only itself and its own criteria.
Yet just as an individual without memory has lost his identity, so too a human
race without memory would lose its identity.”
Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia, December 21, 2012.
say that the Christian can afford to be supremely confident, yes, fundamentally
certain that he can venture freely into the open sea of the truth, without
having to fear for his Christian identity. To be sure, we do not possess the
truth, the truth possesses us; Christ, who is the truth, has taken us by the
hand, and we know that his hand is holding us securely on the path of our quest
Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia, December 21, 2012.
the Holy Father gives a significant lecture to the Roman Curia about the events
of the previous year. In this year’s account, Benedict spent time recalling his
trips to Mexico, Cuba, and Lebanon. In the course of a year, the modern popes
probably see more important (and “unimportant”) people in the world than any
other public figure. Their trips to various countries are usually major events
in those countries. It is said that John Paul II was seen in person by more
human beings than any man in history.
Pope Benedict, Cardinal Sodano recalled the liturgical antiphon: “Propre est
jam Dominus, venite adoremusThe Lord is near, come let us adore Him.” The
Child in the stable in Bethlehem, Benedict continues, “is God himself and has
come so close as to become a man like us.” Benedict never hesitates to identify
Christ as true God and true man. These very wordsthe “Child is God
Himself”defy and challenge the whole world by affirming its truth.
made a most interesting remark about Cuba: “That country’s search for a proper
balancing of the relationship between obligations and freedom cannot succeed
without reference to the basic criteria that mankind has discovered through
encounter with the God of Jesus Christ.” One presumes that, if that statement
is true for Cuba, it will be true for other lands, including our own.
Evidently, mankind has learned something about obligation and freedom from its
dealing with the reality of Christ. Essentially it is that no freedom exists
without corresponding obligation. Likewise, an obligation that is not freely
accepted is more like determinism or coercion than free responsibility.
Curia, Benedict devotes considerable discussion to two topics: the family and
the meaning of dialogue. The meeting on families in Milan gave the Holy Father
an opportunity to reflect on the nature of the family and the modern effort to
eliminate it as the central institution of human life.
questions come up about the family with which we must be familiar: “First of
all there is the question of the human capacity to make a commitment or to
avoid commitment. Can one bind oneself to a lifetime? Does this correspond to
man’s nature? Does it not contradict his freedom and the scope of his
self-realization? Does man become himself by living for himself alone and only
entering into relationships with others when he can break them off again at any
time? Is lifelong commitment antithetical to human freedom?” These are the
common questions that we hear when we try to justify divorce or infidelity of
various sorts. They are rooted in an individualism that does not see human
perfection as a relationship of commitment to others, including to God Himself.
Benedict brings up something of great profundity about the nature of the modern
attack on marriage. Evidently, the pope has been reading a reflection on
marriage by the Chief Rabbi in France, Giles Benheim. Rabbi Benheim points out
that the current attack on the family, child, and marriage is not just rooted
in a false notion of freedom. This latter view has been characteristic of much
modern opposition to permanent marriage. Now the issue goes to the very nature
of what a human being is, not just his freedom.
questioned is the being of man as we have known it. It is only if we deny the
being of man that we can embrace views of human relations that undermine the
structure of man. Traditionally, Rabbi Benheim notes, to be a human being meant
to be born “of woman.” Chesterton noted somewhere what a terrible thing it
would be if we were “born of man.” But today, the notion of gender is not
something of given fact but of choice. What one is born of makes no difference.
“Sex is no longer a given element of nature that man has to accept and
personally make sense of; it is a social role that we choose for ourselves.”
If man is
born of woman, the role chosen for him is essential to his own good. But if we
conceive “being given ourselves” to be a denial of our “freedom,” we must
develop a theory that denies our given nature. We thus have to choose our
“gender”, whatever it be. Of this view, Benedict states: “The profound
falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within
it is obvious.” This obvious falsity, however, does not prevent individuals and
governments from choosing it.
deny they have a “nature” that derives from the fact of the body (and soul)
given to them at conception and birth. They want to “make” themselves with no
relation to God or nature. They will seek to prove that nothing in them has an
origin from anything but themselves. “According to the biblical creation
account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of
human nature.” The male and female division of human beings is essential to
human nature as such. This duality is now questioned.
the consequences of this new view? It is the belief that it was “not God who
created us male and female.” What did this was “society,” whose authority we
now also deny We decide for
ourselves. “Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit
and will.” This is a new form of what Maritain once called “angelism.” The body
has nothing to do with our soul and spirit. Will is everything, shades of Nietzsche. We need not account
for our body, let alone see in it as part of our own real good. The pope points
out that now we are manipulating human nature, a manipulation often pursued by
the same people who are up in arms about manipulating the environment. They
oppose manipulating the latter but demand that we manipulate human nature.
only stand in awe at the force of the pope’s mind as he examines the logic of
these views of gender. “From now on there is only the abstract human being who
chooses for himself what his nature will be. Man and woman in their created
state as complimentary versions of what it means to be human are disputed.”
Yet, we are not just spirit and will but we are persons with body and soul in
one whole. We are a unified being, all aspects of which belong together in a
proceeds to draw out the logic of this denial of the normalcy of male and
female in one nature. “But if there is no preordained duality of man and woman
in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by
creation. Likewise the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and
the dignity pertaining to him.” The dignity of the child is that it is a gift,
not the product of human engineering or ownership. He is a good in his own
shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become
an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain.
When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then
necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately too man is stripped of
his dignity as a creature of God…. The defense of the family is about man
himself…. When God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends
God is defending man.” (See Schall, “On the ‘Right to Be Born,’” in Political
Philosophy and Revelation, The Catholic University
of America Press, forthcoming 2013).
maintain that someone, male or female, has an independent “right” to a child
apart from the stable male-female marital relation, it follows that any
arrangement in which a child can be obtainedin vitro, cloningis merely the
exercise of one’s rights. The child, who ought to be the center of the issue,
is deprived of his own need of father and mother, of his own dignity.. What
comes first is not the child but oneself, the complete opposite of the natural
next takes up the issue of dialogue. It is a confused area. The noble Platonic
notion has becomeif not useless in a world of relativism in which no truth can
be foundat least a justification for endless discussions that decide very
little. Benedict sees three areas of dialogue: with the state, with society,
and with religion. When civilizations forget what man is, the Church becomes
the memory of mankind, of what man is. What the Church knows from its
experience is relevant to non-believers.
draws a delicate line here. Knowing the almost impossible task of discussing
theological issues publicly, particularly with Muslims, he grants that dialogue
still must find some basis of agreement about common problems. Still, any
dialogue will lead in some way to fundamental issues. “A dialogue about peace
and justice is bound to move beyond the purely pragmatic, to become an ethical
struggle for the truth and for the human being.…” What began as a pragmatic
issue does bring up the question of what is the right way to live and why.
reasons are given for dialogue among those whom we are not seeking to change.
“1) Dialogue does not aim at conversion, but at understanding. In this respect
it differs from evangelization, from mission. 2) Accordingly, both parties to
the dialogue remain consciously within their identity, which the dialogue does
not place in question either for themselves or for others.” These principles,
of course, strike us as being a long way from Plato’s understanding of
dialogue. The pope himself finds problems with them. “I find them too
superficial. True dialogue does not aim at conversion, but at better mutual
understandingthat is correct. But all the same the search for knowledge and
understanding always has to involve drawing close to the truth.”
Christian cannot say that his discussion blocks out any approach to the truth.
“I would say that the Christian can afford to be supremely confident, yes,
fundamentally certain that he can venture freely into the open sea of truth,
without having to fear for his Christian identity.” He can do this because
reason open to revelation and revelation addressed to reason constitute a
grounding in the what is that unifies our knowledge and sees the truths in other views together with their
exists in part that we do not forget who and what we are. It sees that the most
fundamental institution of society, the family, is now an object of complete
elimination and the relations that are associated with the family, the most
fundamental ones, are left without grounding in nature or being. The dialogue
with any of the disparate religions and philosophies of our time cannot
ultimately forget that truth is the direction in which all reason tends. When
Socrates said that dialogue taught him what he did not know, he only reached
this conclusion after eliminating many positions that were in fact not true. Dialogue
may not be conversion but the establishment of any truth or the rejection of
any error remains a central task. The wars of the world are still fought in the
minds and hearts of men. Benedict quite clearly understands this fact.