The metaphysics of being and the Social Doctrine of the Church Montefiascone, 7 November 2016

It is a pleasure for me to open this Conference on “The Reasons of the Common Good” in the seminary of the Institute of the Incarnate Word here in Montefiascone. I do so first of all by thanking all those who worked so hard so it could take place, and expressing gratitude to our host, the Institute of the Incarnate Word. I know how important the reference to St. Thomas Aquinas is for this Institute, also through the theoretical input from Fr. Cornelio Fabro. Therefore, heartfelt thanks to the Father Provincial and to the Rector Fr. Andrés Bonello. The International Thomas Aquinas Society is also one of the parties that worked closely with our Observatory and the IVE in the planning and holding of this event. I would also like to thank Prof. Giovanni Turco, one of today’s speakers, as well as all the speakers who so generously accepted our invitation.

The Observatory Cardinal Van Thuân is very committed to defending the possibility of the Social Doctrine of the Church. I say “defending the possibility” because the philosophical and theological theories that deny this possibility, and which were perhaps considered part of the past after the thrust given to the Social Doctrine of the Church by John Paul II, are nowadays even more widespread than before. For this reason we are committed to reiterating its premises and its foundations. Within this realm of the Observatory’s concern and interest, one of the first positions is occupied by the relationship between the Social Doctrine of the Church and philosophy, which is the key for engaging in theology and also moral theology, which, as we know, is the disciplinary formality of the Church’s social teaching, at least according to n° 41 of  the Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo rei socialis. Hence the idea of this Conference, which is one of contents – examined, in fact, is the theme of the common good – as well as method insofar as clarifying which philosophy and which philosophical method are suited to the Social Doctrine of the Church and, far from stifling the selfsame possibility thereof, also permit its appropriate development.

Nowadays people argue that theological pluralism and philosophical pluralism are not only a de facto situation, but also a good in their own right. Nonetheless, those who deal with the Social Doctrine of the Church – limiting ourselves to this ambit – know very well that its teachings and its very nature cannot go hand in hand with just any theological and philosophical approach. The situation of pluralism has to be considered an imperfect situation, in many ways a tragic one due to our degenerated situation and our own fault, and in no way whatsoever may it be uplifted to an ideal or nothing short of a theological locus. Herodotus recorded the varied mores and customs of peoples, but did so in order to assess them in the light of higher principles. Cultures certainly embody positive aspects, but these are avenues leading to human nature, which is the same in all persons. Truth is not pluralistic. Accepting pluralism as an ideal situation means placing truth and error on the same level. In this sense, pluralism accepted and idealized coincides with relativism.

I am referring here to the pluralism of contents, as well as the pluralism of methods. The main question is whether or not there is a “natural” way to engage in philosophy. Natural means consonant with human nature, and hence spontaneous insofar as proper to each person. Therefore, not only a universal method – because even Descartes or Kant retained they had found a universal method proper to each human intelligence – but a realistic method, a method that is the expression of what man ontologically is.  If we admit methodological pluralism we thereby deny the existence of a naturally true and correct method. In this case as well, the admission of pluralism automatically turns into the admission of relativism, the admission of methodological relativism. It is not my intention to say we must raise the problem of method here, much like modern philosophy did when it first dawned. In fact, raising the problem of method already opens the way to methodological pluralism: you begin with Cartesian doubt and end up with the methodological anarchy of Fayerabend, or even well beyond that. The very fact of raising the problem of method means denying the existence of a natural method of engaging in philosophy, the expression of our being and immediately revealing being itself.

This is a matter of vital importance for the Social Doctrine of the Church. Moreover, it is also so for faith itself, which without the linkage with a truly realistic method ends up weakening and then disrupting the relationship with reason, thereby excluding itself from any possibility to engage in public discourse. If methods are debatable and adopted is methodological and philosophical pluralism, the Christian faith is no longer able to project its historical, social and public role, and its truths are downgraded to opinions on a par with so many others. If the Social Doctrine of the Church is the Catholic faith speaking to the world about its truth, the pluralism now accepted as providential bars any common language between the Church and the world. If the world abandons the concept of truth, the Church is no longer able to speak with it, unless the Church itself also foregoes the concept of truth and replaces it with other concepts, apparently more workable, but undoubtedly more confused and problematic.

When I say philosophical and theological pluralism is now theorized as providential I am referring to specific currents of contemporary theology and specific authors. It is a matter of schools of thought and authors that reject metaphysical realism and, perhaps even saying they draw inspiration from St. Thomas, distort his thought not only in terms of substance, but first and foremost in terms of method. If God reveals Himself within our transcendental experience in an existential sense, the situation of philosophical and theological pluralism is then the ordinary way of revelation and God will be more of a question than a response. The Church will be in the world as one of its parts and no longer be able to claim a unique role in salvation. It will have to cease “manipulating” the world on the basis of its own truths because at that point any doctrinal pretension will be an ideological pretension.  The problem of philosophy and its method seems apparently far removed from faith, salvation, evangelization and the nature of the Church. It also seems apparently far removed from the Social Doctrine of the Church which, people say today, must bear democratic pluralism in mind. But this is not the way things stand at all. This is why contents-related and methodological aspects of the philosophy of being assume special importance.

This has also occurred with respect to the theme of this conference, that is to say the common good. While leaving the meat of the matter up to the speakers, I would just like to point out that nowadays there is pluralism of visions as far as the common good is concerned as well. If this pluralism is looked upon as ideal, it follows that the common good no longer has reasons, contrary to what our title indicates. Hence the current impoverishment of the substance, the contents of the common good in Catholic circles as well. Just like themes such as peace or ecology, the common good is also running the risk today of waning in terms of realistic, rational and religious content, and the speakers at this conference will certainly react to that. A common good without reasons is a contradiction in terms. The concept of “good” and that of “common” emerge only from reason and do not issue forth from empirical data. But from which reason? From that which gives greater guarantees of being “natural” reason, because only in this case will it be open in origin, and not through any artifice of ours, to “good” and to “common”, to the common good.

I would like to conclude by recalling that the Encyclical Letter Aeterni Patris (1879) of Leo XIII stands at the origin of the Social Doctrine of the modern Church, a role played by the Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio (1998) of John Paul II for the Social Doctrine of the contemporary Church. Both encyclicals refer explicitely to the philosophy of being. The reference to St. Thomas is more explicit in Aeterni Patris, and even though reference is made in Fides et Ratio to the names of other reliable philosophers, the overall exposition of contents is clearly expressive of the philosophy of being.  Perhaps the most decisive point of all was flagged by Augusto Del Noce: a metaphysics is implicit in the Catholic faith and reason does not have to go outside the faith to know and develop it. This conference will also move along this same line.

 

Most Rev. Giampaolo Crepaldi