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The IV “St. Thomas and the Social Doctrine of the Church” Conference was held on Saturday, 23 November 2019, in Montefiascone (Viterbo), to consider the following subject: “DEFEND PERSONS FROM PERSONALISMS. The complete programme is available here. The conference took place in the magnificent Rocca dei Papi Hall and was chaired by Rev. Samuele Cecotti, deputy director of the Observatory Cardinal Van Thuân, who also extended greetings to those present on behalf of Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi and Giordano Faccincani president of the Observatory. Present as well was Massimo Paolini, the mayor of Montefiascone, the municipality that had granted its patronage to this cultural endeavor.

Stefano Fontana, the Observatory’s director, opened the proceedings with a brief presentation on “THE PRESENCE OF PERSONALISMS IN THE SOCIAL DOCTRINE OF THE POSTCONCILIAR CHURCH”. He called for the need to deepen the theme from two viewpoints. On one hand, the relationship of XX century personalisms (for example, those of Mounier and Maritain, but not only them) with St. Thomas, since many of those scholars argued their continuity with classical Thomism. On the other hand, the influence these philosophies had had on the Council and the postconciliar period. In fact, evident was the fact that postconciliar encyclicals do not speak of the person as the foundation and end of society, whereas quite the contrary had been the case during the Council and the immediate postconciliar period. He then explored the connection between the personalisms of the 1930s and 1940s – a span of time considered critical in this regard – and the “anthropological turning point” of Karl Rahner.

Giovanni Turco, a professor at the University of Udine, delivered his talk on THE SEMANTICS OF THE (HUMAN) PERSON IN THE THINKING OF ST. THOMAS. He first spoke about dignity as reality in both the order of being (ex natura, ex officio) and the order of acting (ex actu, ex virtute). Dignity is intrinsic perfection, rightness, and the expression of the good that confers honor and authority. The term ‘person’ indicates subjects constituted in dignity, and refers mainly to God (S Th, I, q. 29. a 3). Dignity is received, and is not identified with either activity or liberty.

Prof. Turco went on to explain that dignity is an analogous concept. It indicates the dignity of God and then the dignity of all creatures at their respective levels. Therefore, the dignity of God is the cause of all dignity. He then spoke about ontological dignity and ethical dignity, drawing a distinction between having dignity and being worthy. The latter depends on moral merits, and above all on being in the state of grace. In closing, the speaker addressed the relationship between dignity and responsibility insofar as the loftier the dignity, the greater the responsibility. Dignity is not an end unto itself. Its end is the common good and therefore it requires conformity with the order of the created universe.

Danilo Castellano, a professor at the University of Udine, addressed the subject of “CONTEMPORARY JURIDICAL PERSONALISM AS THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF LAW”. Contemporary personalism is a liberal doctrine based on a concept of liberty as negative, Gnostic and satanic: liberty as the sole criterion (in better terms, non criterion) of human action.  This is evident in truth as system (Hegel), opinion and shared action (Habermas), and authenticity (Heidegger). Democracy thereby becomes a method for making any choice. The individual becomes his will, and his rights are not only to be respected, as is the case in classical liberalism, but implemented.

Prof. Castellano then drew an analytical distinction between a classical profile of ‘person’ and a modern profile. According to the latter, the ‘person’ is essentially self-deterministic, and hence ‘law’ is limited to setting limits and guaranteeing the coexistence of wills. In his mind, the Constitution of the Republic of Italy has embraced this second profile of ‘person”, and this was readily evident in the laws approved by Parliament and Court sentences that he described in detail.

Fr. Arturo Ruiz Freites, a member of the Institute of the Word Incarnate, then delivered his talk about “THE CREATUREHOOD OF THE HUMAN PERSON: ETHICAL-POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS”. He illustrated the creatural aspect of the human person, his/her dignity of origin, nature and destination, as well as the creatural aspect of society, insofar as the creation of male and female, their socialbleness with respect to God, and procreation as “creation” of human persons express a teleology of both the person and society, with God as their efficient cause and their ultimate cause. Human liberty is a “participated creativity” (Cornelio Fabro) and society is a virtuous organization of liberty dependent on God as its end. The end pursued by human laws is the common good subordinate to the ultimate end. Authority must order things to the common good, but also avoid an improper use of free will, doing so also through coactive force. The Church has both the duty and the right to proclaim the Gospel with regard to a Christian civilization.

The speaker therefore underscored a negation of the creaturehood of persons in forms of personalism, arguing that this has occurred on three levels: a) Maritain’s personalism in pursuit of a new pluralistic Christianity; b) Karl Rahner’s personalism; c) current personalism understood as accompaniment of the moral autonomy of consciences.

Fr. Andrés Bonello, the provincial of the IWI province of Italy, addressed “CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN PERSONALISM AND ST. THOMAS OF AQUINAS”.  He radically challenged Maritain’s “Thomism”, arguing that his conception of ‘person’ was Kantian, not Thomist. The original liberal approach evident in his thinking was never abandoned later on. Fr. Bonello focused his analysis more specifically on Maritain’s famous distinction between individual and person already present in his Trois réformateurs (1923), and which characterized his personalism in depth and in an enduring way. The individual would be the material hub undistinguishable from all the rest, and much like a node of a network. The person would be the spiritual hub, not subservient to anything, not a ‘part of’, but an entirely independent wholeness that can only refer to another wholeness. Stemming there from is a conception of liberty as autonomy: make man aware of his superiority and independence. The farther he moves away from institutions (both social and ecclesial), all the more does he assert said liberty, ordering self to the Beatific Vision alone. Hence the separation between Church (spiritual hub) and State (maerial hub) whereby the person is deprived of the assistance relative to the ultimate end that he could receive from the common political good. Denying separation between State and Church would have been an error committed by medieval Christianity. The Church only has a spiritual mission and must not get involved in politics. The Gospel must be looked upon as leaven sustaining temporal hope in a pluralistic society. Society must not be “one” by virtue of the profession of a single faith.

Rudi di Marco, professor at the University of Udine, brought the proceedings of the Conference to an end with his presentation on “SELF-DETERMINATION AND BIO-JUDICATURE: THE QUESTION OF ALL QUESTIONS”. Self-determination is understood nowadays as a right. In the presence of sound mind and will, any act becomes self-determination with neither moral nor political responsibility. This is the new right to exercise negative liberty with no criteria and no responsibility. The subjective right becomes the volitional right. For that matter, Mounier argued that the person is self-creation, a movement of personalization. This new conception of right also demolishes positivism, according to which the “system” is perfect and complete.  Hence the “a-legality” of the new rights that have to be liberated from rules, using to that end the selfsame rules in favor a subjective vitalism. In real terms, however, self-determination is belied: it is not possible to use one’s self according to self-determination: for example, it is not possible to apply self-determination to the payment of taxes, etc. Coming into the picture here, however, is a new function of the State, the function of being a “regulatory transformer”. The State does not disappear; it just becomes the instrument of this “a-legality” transformation.

Giuseppe Tires