I believe it is possible to speak about a “secularization” of the Social Doctrine of the Church. In so saying I am naturally referring not to the texts of the Church, but to the way they are interpreted and used. This secularization of the Social Doctrine of the Church consists in presenting it especially as a sort of secular teaching, a proposal for the construction of a society open to all, and which, in order to be embraced by all, must not involve all the doctrinal richness of the Catholic faith. In other words, it would also be possible to speak about a ‘horizontalization’ of the Social Doctrine of the Church, with the discarding or downplaying of its religious elements in order to bring the more secular and profane ones to the forefront.
This secularization of the Social Doctrine of the Church seems to have forgotten that the aim of this doctrine is the ordering of temporal things to God, to His creative and salvific plan. It is therefore in blatant opposition with the selfsame reasons why this social doctrine saw the light of day, that being to respond to an anguished craving for the attainment of the world’s complete autonomy in order to reiterate that without God not even earthly society may be constructed.
Often evoked in this process of this secularization of the Social Doctrine of the Church is Vatican Council II and the new relationship it would have established with the world. No matter from which viewpoint or vantage point Vatican II is examined, however, ever emerging in the centrality of God. The emergency of the anthropological dimension, a legitimate positive evaluation of the autonomy of earthly realities, and recognition of conscience and liberty not as the world understands it, but as the Catholic faith understands it, in no way eliminate God from the construction of the world. Moreover, the selfsame and so-called ‘pastoral’ intention of the Council was destined to make God ever more present in the world and not less so. And the intention certainly wasn’t to replace God with man.
Especially in some of its expressions, Christian personalism may have been a cause of the secularization of the Social Doctrine of the Church. If taken on their own and isolated from all the rest, even some phrases of Vatican II itself could lend themselves to conveying excessive personalism, almost as if the main subject and end of society was the human person and not God. True Catholic personalism, however, does not replace God with man, and this is something that has been taught by all the post Conciliar pontiffs.
What is true, instead, is that developing after the Council was a theology that revisited the relationship between the Church and the world, and this is where we find the origin of the secularization of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The basic idea of this theology is that God’s revelation does not unveil nature and human history, showing us a core of transcendent truths that enlighten with truth the construction of this world and the preparation of the next one. On the contrary, God’s revelation would take place within history and through experience. It would therefore be evolutionary in nature. Faith would not be a knowing, but an experiencing, and would be explained not in dogmatic formulas, but in narrations of one’s own biography of faith. The world, therefore, becomes the place of this revelation, and the Church’s dialogue with the world becomes the original habitat of the doctrine of the faith. Any dogmatic and doctrinal affirmation has to be put into context; situations of sin remain unknown insofar as they would have to be examined in the light of complex and articulated existential experience; natural moral law would no longer exist because the concept of nature is surmounted by the concept of history. When faced with what was called ‘error’ or ‘sin’ once upon a time, the Church should adopt a listening stance and assume an attitude open to dialogue. Moreover, dialogue is no longer just a method, and has become substance. It is in dialogue with the world that the life of faith emerges, and faith in this sense is historical experience of a revelation that doesn’t enter experience from the outside, but educates within this existence.
Instead of enhancing nature, however, the secularization of the Social Doctrine of the Church ends up by making it useless. This is one of the reasons, and perhaps the main one, that slowed down the relaunching of the social doctrine over decades past, even though it was so resolutely augured by the supreme pontiffs. Strictly speaking, and on the basis of those theological premises, the Social Doctrine of the Church should not even exist, replaced as it would seem to be by a journeying of the Church in the world and together with the world in the common search for a truth issuing forth from this journeying experience. In this journey, the truth of faith would not necessarily emerge from the Catholic Church alone, but also from other religions, historical situations that challenge consciences, or concerns raised by atheists. Likewise, the solutions regarding the social issue would not ultimately stem forth from the Gospel, as assumed by the Social Doctrine of the Church, but from each life experience.
With respect to the past, the difference is enormous and readily evident. As formulated by Leo XIII and so resolutely launched anew by John Paul II, the Social Doctrine of the Church draws nourishment from the truths of the Catholic faith, and the dogmas of the Church constitute its underlying context. In fact, it is the “announcement of Christ” in temporal realities. Separated from all that it becomes secularized and is impoverished. This may be considered positive by those who embrace the theological vision I briefly summarized above, but it is looked upon with dismay by those who think the dogmatic truths of the Catholic Church represent an eternally valid nucleus given to us by Divine Providence for our navigation on this earth and in the life of His Kingdom. Only if dogmas do not belong to history may they make history.
This is the reason why we decided to dedicate an issue of our ‘Bulletin’ to Marian dogmas and the Social Doctrine of the Church; certainly not a customary theme, and, in my opinion, thus far not taken into consideration at all.
Quite naturally, this issue could have been dedicated not only to Marian dogmas, but to all the dogmas of the Church. We, however, wanted to concentrate our undivided attention on Mary Most Holy for a series of additional reasons. Firstly because it is a matter of dogmas overlooked as regards the Social Doctrine of the Church, and hence more in need of renewed enhancement. Secondly, for a purely theological reason: in Mary we are shown the already coming-to-be of the new humanity revealed to us by Christ, and taking place through Mary is the encounter between Heaven and Earth of the birth of the Savior. The Catholic faith is therefore preserved from both materialism and spiritualism, and the Social Doctrine of the Church becomes possible. There is also a third reason: devotion to Our Lady is very much alive in the life of so many faithful, and Marian movements bear witness to this. I consider it important to let them know that Marian devotion also has a very strong bond with the Social Doctrine of the Church.
Each social encyclical of the Pontifical Magisterium concludes with a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and among all of them I wish to recall the final words of the Caritas in veritate of Benedict XVI: “May the Virgin Mary — proclaimed Mater Ecclesiae by Paul VI and honored by Christians as Speculum Iustitiae and Regina Pacis — protect us and obtain for us, through her heavenly intercession, the strength, hope and joy necessary to continue to dedicate ourselves with generosity to the task of bringing about the “development of the whole man and of all men”
Bulletin 2 /2015
Most Rev. Giampaolo Crepaldi
President of the Observatory