September 7, 2009

Truth Amidst Error

Justin Katz

The question of papal infallibility has probably been on the minds of conservative Roman Catholics since the publication of Caritas in Veritate. Not surprisingly, the encyclical's controversial pararaph declaring an "urgent need of a true world political authority" has dominated coverage and conversation. Some on the right, perhaps having not had a chance to digest the entire document, have fallen back on the "challenges both sides" truism, which is certainly applicable, but not excusive of the Holy Father's call to develop the United Nations into the source of the "real teeth" required for "the family of nations."

Cardinal Henry Manning provides a framework for considering Catholics' obligation for agreement, here quoted in a First Things review by Edward Oakes of Mark Powell's book surveying papal infallibility from a Protestant perspective:

So, in the face of this contradiction between his maximalism [with regard to papal infallibility] and his dismay at the pope's ruling, he had no choice but to adopt Newman's more minimalist interpretation. "The Decree of Leo XIII was absolutely true, just, and useful," Manning said in painful embarrassment. "But in the abstract. The condition of Ireland is abnormal. The Decree contemplates facts which do not exist....Pontiffs have no infallibility in the world of facts, except only dogmatic. The [rent strike] is not a dogmatic fact, and it is one thing to declare that all legal agreements are binding, and another to say that all agreements in Ireland are legal." This was exactly Newman's view in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (1874): "But a pope is not infallible in his laws, nor in his commands, nor in his acts of state, nor in his administration, nor in his public policy. Let it be observed that the Vatican Council has left him just as it found him here."

As arose in yesterday's post related to literature, there are deep truths visible only in artificial constructs in which complications may be constrained. A novel draws out truth by defining the reality of the setting, characters, and plot in such a way as to bring it into focus; the Author of life, however, has defined reality with an eye toward evoking a truth that humanity must strain beyond its own reason to see. The pope, in the minimalist understanding, cannot run afoul of that truth, even as he remains fully human — which is to say, fully fallible — when it comes to the complications of circumstances. As Oakes quotes Cardinal Avery Dulles:

... when the Church, through its highest teaching office, defines a truth pertaining to revelation, divine providence, working through a multiplicity of channels, will preserve the Church from error. But it may well be necessary, as ­generations pass, to reinterpret the defined dogma in accordance with the presuppositions, thought categories, concerns, and vocabulary of a later age.

To my eye, frankly, Pope Benedict's controversial paragraph reads as if out of nowhere — as if it required further qualification in a round of editing that didn't happen. The encyclical may be seen as an exhortation to expand our sense of community across the entire globe, and the pope is manifestly wise when it comes to first principles and the requirement to acknowledge the complexity of human society. Consider (all quoted emphasis in original):

Integral human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of peoples: no structure can guarantee this development over and above human responsibility. The "types of messianism which give promises but create illusions" always build their case on a denial of the transcendent dimension of development, in the conviction that it lies entirely at their disposal. This false security becomes a weakness, because it involves reducing man to subservience, to a mere means for development, while the humility of those who accept a vocation is transformed into true autonomy, because it sets them free. Paul VI was in no doubt that obstacles and forms of conditioning hold up development, but he was also certain that "each one remains, whatever be these influences affecting him, the principal agent of his own success or failure."

In striving toward a truly just society, we must beware of making gods of men and be aware that God works through our individual consciences. Thus:

The significant new elements in the picture of the development of peoples today in many cases demand new solutions. These need to be found together, respecting the laws proper to each element and in the light of an integral vision of man, reflecting the different aspects of the human person, contemplated through a lens purified by charity. Remarkable convergences and possible solutions will then come to light, without any fundamental component of human life being obscured.

The moral internationalist necessarily walks a line between directing systems and leaving people free to reject direction. The precariousness of that line emerges in the subsequent paragraph, in which the pope insists that we "prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone." The counterbalancing weight that we too easily neglect is that spiritual development requires that the individual be free to strive and fail. Promotion of a human guarantor of economic stability cannot but displace the divine guarantor of eternal salvation. Benedict goes on:

The principal new feature has been the explosion of worldwide interdependence, commonly known as globalization. Paul VI had partially foreseen it, but the ferocious pace at which it has evolved could not have been anticipated. Originating within economically developed countries, this process by its nature has spread to include all economies. It has been the principal driving force behind the emergence from underdevelopment of whole regions, and in itself it represents a great opportunity. Nevertheless, without the guidance of charity in truth, this global force could cause unprecedented damage and create new divisions within the human family. Hence charity and truth confront us with an altogether new and creative challenge, one that is certainly vast and complex. It is about broadening the scope of reason and making it capable of knowing and directing these powerful new forces, animating them within the perspective of that "civilization of love" whose seed God has planted in every people, in every culture.

Intrinsic to the vastness and complexity of this "creative challenge" is the reality that success cannot be achieved in a wholly deliberate fashion. It requires a trust in a sort of communal reason in which God can work through each individual — an ambiguity between the powers of different social aspects. In other words, political authority must be bounded by religious, economic, and cultural authorities. Lines between these aspects are artificial and, especially where they place them in hierarchical order, will inevitably be exploited. That is why political bodies, which by definition have recourse to police and military force, must be limited in scope and checked by other such bodies. One of global scope will not fail to implement global tyranny, no matter what abstract laws its founders put in place to restrain it.

In like fashion to the armies of would be social engineers that the West has generated, Pope Benedict appears to be drawn to the elevation of political forces to control economic powers. Such is the implied solution to this problem:

Owing to their growth in scale and the need for more and more capital, it is becoming increasingly rare for business enterprises to be in the hands of a stable director who feels responsible in the long term, not just the short term, for the life and the results of his company, and it is becoming increasingly rare for businesses to depend on a single territory. Moreover, the so-called outsourcing of production can weaken the company's sense of responsibility towards the stakeholders — namely the workers, the suppliers, the consumers, the natural environment and broader society — in favour of the shareholders, who are not tied to a specific geographical area and who therefore enjoy extraordinary mobility. Today's international capital market offers great freedom of action. Yet there is also increasing awareness of the need for greater social responsibility on the part of business. Even if the ethical considerations that currently inform debate on the social responsibility of the corporate world are not all acceptable from the perspective of the Church's social doctrine, there is nevertheless a growing conviction that business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference. In recent years a new cosmopolitan class of managers has emerged, who are often answerable only to the shareholders generally consisting of anonymous funds which de facto determine their remuneration.

It would be a fatal error to set political authority, with the gauze of democratic accountability, as essentially the manager of the managers. All such power must ultimately filter through human beings, and those whose offices are titularly governmental are no less prone to greed and corruption than those whose offices are corporate. Socialistic solutions accomplish only the joining of police power with economic power, whereas any workable plan that would preserve individual freedom would have to set these powers in productive conflict.

Business managers must be addressed as people, not forces or offices. They must be held answerable to all, in a social sense, not to a few in a governing regime that is answerable to all in a highly manipulable democratic process. We must not fool ourselves into promoting a moral government as the guarantor of moral businesses.

Just so, the appearance of a "new" project of developing a worldwide community does not negate humanity's fundamental inability to comprehend all forces on a global scale. The individual person cannot be trusted to comprehend and control the intricacies of even a small village, and joining us together in legislative brain trusts does not increase our capacity for articulation. Instead, we must rely on a spiritual form of intelligence that subverts individual intentions for the universal good and remain fully cognizant of the reality that human beings will always and everywhere face a powerful temptation to reverse that subversion.

Just as no bolt of divine truth strikes a pope upon his elevation making him a superhuman seer, no wave of global charity will whelm a global governing bureaucracy. Cardinal Dulles phrased it well that "divine providence, working through a multiplicity of channels, will preserve the Church from error" on matters that it is the Church's role to discern. Similarly, only divine providence, working through the even greater number of channels throughout human society, can preserve us from tyranny.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

And only intense divine providence, working through an even greater number of channels throughout human society, can preserve us from Justin's convoluted take on theology.

Saints preserve us.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at September 7, 2009 10:52 AM
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