Non negotiable principles: if they aren’t only “maladroit expression”.

Non negotiable principles: in the recently published issue of “Teologia”, Giuseppe Angelini, dean of the Faculty of Theology of Northern Italy, refers to this as a “maladroit expression”. Then again, in the preceding issue of the same publication, Antonio Lattuadahad made a series of comments about the selfsame notion of non negotiable principles, leaving very little still standing. Prior to these episodes Giorgio Campanini, Luigi Alici, Antonio Maria Baggioand  Giuseppe Savagnone had vented their irritability towards this doctrine enunciated by Benedict XVI. One of them denied the very existence of a doctrine of non negotiable principles, forgetting that it is nothing more than the traditional notion of natural law. Others argued that since politics is the realm of relativeness, nothing in that sphere can be deemed non negotiable, forgetting what we read in the Ratzinger Note of 2002: “It cannot be denied that politics must also refer to principles endowed with absolute value”.

Despite all this, held in Biella on 18 April was an important conference entitled “The Non Negotiable Principles Today”. Speakers: Stefano Fontana, Tommaso Scandroglio, Marisa Orecchia, and Most Rev. Luigi Negri. What’s the story; do these non negotiable principles exist or not? Who’s right; the theologians of the theology faculty in Milan, who look upon them much akin to wool pulled over people’s eyes, or the organizers of the conference in Biella, who consider them to be a bulwark to be defended at all costs?

The fact of the matter is that the non negotiable principles have become the cause of all problems, a source of division, and a sign of contradiction within the Church. Moreover, this depends on the fact that they are at the very crossroads of important choices, with respect to which two different languages are being spoken in the Church. High indeed is what is at stake. At risk is the selfsame identity of the Church.

The non negotiable principles evoke the order of creation which is in organizational relationship with the order of redemption, and to which it is already oriented. A Catholic who is a member of a city council and votes in favor of a law permitting abortion, euthanasia, or same sex matrimony interrupts the continuity between the order of creation and the order of salvation. By virtue of his vote he denies there is an order of creation – except to then resort to it with respect to trash separation and collection or energy savings – into which the order of salvation is inserted in order to purify and elevate it, but without contradicting it. The disruption of this connection, however, wipes out the essence of Catholicism: the relationship between reason and faith, nature and above nature, nature and grace. If the order of creation is removed, the resurrection of Christ can no longer be understood as a re-creation and salvation will travel other pathways with respect to the construction of humanness in the community of human beings. Thus explained are the various heresies that can be traced back to Gnosticism or Pelagianism, both of which destroy the relationship between the order of creation and the order of salvation.

The Catholic faith needs the natural order, without which there is no nature fallen due to original sin, nor any need for the Savior. It needs the natural order in order to be able to speak the universal language of all men. In needs the natural order in order to say it is religio vera and religion “with a human face”. Bereft of this relationship the Catholic faith becomes sentiment, experience and not knowledge, opinion and not truth. This is what is safeguarded by the non negotiable principles.

If the reference to non negotiable principles falls by the wayside the process of the ‘Protestanization’ of the Catholic Church will be accelerated. Both Luther and Barth annul nature. In fact, however, the Catholic who denies the non negotiable principles also annuls nature. In the mind of the Reformation nature is irreparably corrupt and political power is basically evil, forced, as Barth wrote, “”to wage war against evil through evil”. Basically speaking, politics is hence essentially “filthy”. In no way does a believer belong to it, but he must be subservient to it: “Submit yourselves to it! Let the State go its way and you as Christians go your own way”. These as well are words of Karl Barth. Christians must be submissive “not out of deference, but out of radical disdain for what exists”. The outcome, however, is deference, and, in fact, Protestant sects are gradually denying the non negotiable principles, becoming subservient to the dominant political will.

Lastly, the non negotiable principles are a sign of contradiction between a metaphysical vision of reality and a hermeneutic. At stake is the possibility for reason to know something meta-historic or else remain confined within an interpretation of interpretations ever historically limited. From this point of view the abandonment of said principles means packing away in mothballs the Fides et Ratioof John Paul II, and not just that.

I have indicated three of the points on the ridge where the non negotiable principles are situated. It’s difficult to take a middle-of-the-road position; it’s either here or there. The Church is today in the throes of living this travail.

Stefano Fontana