16 May

Love and truth precede justice

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 05/16/16

James Matthew Wilson on Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate

“If men are frequently tempted to see life as open possibility (unconstrained by natural laws including those of human nature) and so subject to whatever their independent geniuses may devise, Benedict [XVI, in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate] corrects this sinful presumption of self-fashioning with a confession more true and earnest. Existence is chiefly informed not by necessity or natural fixed laws demonstrable to the natural reason any more than it is founded on the laws of justice. Rather, everything comes to us — we come to ourselves — in the mystery of the gratuitous. This deprives neither the laws of nature nor those of justice of their metaphysical foundations; it simply resituates those foundations — or rather the foundation of Being — as pure gift upon which we can make no prior claim of necessity, as if something could be owed to a being who did not exist at all until given the gift of his own created being. 

“[In the 1960s,] Paul VI had worried that the vast structures of international development would become so fixated upon the easing of the physical human estate through rationalistic and technocratic means that the transcendent destiny of the human person would be forgotten, and the cultural and religious institutions necessary for that destiny to be realized would be neglected or excluded. [His 1967 encyclical] Populorum Progressio . . . is partly an admonishment against such forgetting, which would result only in an incomplete or half-built humanism. On this scheme, such incomplete ‘secular’ human development may hypothetically be legitimate but inadequate.

“Benedict renders this hypothesis absurd. Human nature must, of course, be understood in terms of man’s telos for eternal life in God, but even his present personhood, his dignity and nature now, as experienced immanently, is informed by his status as created by God as the imago Dei. And thus, justice is preceded by charity, but charity must in turn be preceded by, or identical with, truth. As such there can be no ‘incomplete’ humanism or human development; unless we have a clear knowledge of the truth of the human person’s transcendent dimension (which includes but is not limited to his supernatural destiny), we cannot possibly know what is good for him, what is in keeping with his dignity, and what will allow him to become more fully himself. Benedict argues that only 

in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived.  Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. The light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion.

“Modern liberal society generally presumes there are necessities — such as food, housing, and perhaps political participation and other ‘rights’ — that are owed to human life as a matter of justice, but that society does not have to possess a shared conception of what is true and good for it to reach a consensus on these necessities. Justice and rights, ostensibly, float free of questions of truth and goodness. It claims, in other words, that one’s ‘opinions’ on truth and goodness are essentially private ‘values’ and can be relegated to the private realm; what is of immediate public concern are only those ‘matters of fact’ required in justice for the sustaining of human life in conditions of relative equality. Clearly, Paul’s notion of integral humanism was reconcilable with this model: it was as if he simply wished to assert that those questions of truth and goodness — man’s supernatural destiny — must not be pushed to the private sphere but must be included in the public realm of necessity and justice. If the knowledge of faith was thus permitted a place in the public realm, liberal society could be deemed an unmixed good. Here, however, Benedict throws at the feet of the modern world a more troubling premise. Truth is either prior to or identical with charity, and both are prior to justice: we therefore cannot do what is right if we do not know what is true; we cannot act pragmatically in charity without a sense of the Truth that is gift and reveals man to himself in the face of his creator. We cannot be kind without being wise; we cannot be rational without turning, in some sense, first to the Logos revealed by faith.”

—from James Matthew Wilson, “Gratuitous Foundations: Benedict XVI’s Humanism of the Gift, Part II,” Front Porch Republic, April 19, 2010

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