Editor’s note: The following is the first of a two-part essay by Mr. McIntosh. The subsequent portion will be posted on October 1.
Since the Enlightenment and the rise of modernity, the power that Christianity once held over civil authority has decreased throughout Europe. Once-powerful Christian regimes and institutions have been abolished through revolution, destroyed in war, or democratically removed in favor of secular states or state atheism. A hallmark of liberal democracy throughout the world has been the separation of church and state, which has been interpreted in many different capacities; a softer distinction, like in Spain and Italy, or a hostile schism, expressed in the French laïcité.
The problem with this separation in liberalism is not that theocracy is outlawed, but that liberal democracy has voluntarily cut off theology and philosophy altogether from its jurisprudence, and many of the defects of the liberal regime that we experience and lament can be attributed to that forlorn divorce between the study of God’s interaction with man and the art of governing man’s behaviors. Particularly, Catholic theological and philosophical traditions have contributed greatly to jurisprudence in the past and liberal regimes suffer greatly by removing this cornerstone.
Man, being a political animal, is bound to participate in his political community whether he likes the institutions or not. The essence of philosophy is the pursuit of universal truth. Political philosophy studies the polis and man’s participation and activity in the city, which extends beyond his own family; the good is also studied because it comes from the union of man with his fellow men in a community which allows him to ascend to a higher good than he could achieve as an individual.
Both political and moral philosophy study man’s activity in life, in the polis, and in pursuit of the good, respectively. But the art of politics – one of action and subject to change and disagreement – cannot produce its own truths (legal positivism) nor operate under a “value-free” or “neutral” regime. Neither can it allot space for contemplation and true philosophy with its business and subjectiveness.
Theology, in its most general sense, pursues the transcendent truth that aids reason and completes what we can draw from reason alone. Catholic theology proclaims bold revelation through Christ and aims at the truth of man’s end and purpose – theosis – which transcends man’s life on earth.
The Church does not endorse a specific political philosophy nor a specific form of government, but her aim is the salvation of souls. She involves herself in social and economic affairs when the fundamental rights of the person are at risk and when the salvation of souls requires it. She is vested with concern for the common good’s temporal aspects because they lead man to the “sovereign Good” in eternal life. Catholic political philosophy has three main components: the person, the common good, and leisure or contemplation.
The conception we have of what a ‘person’ is has been more prominent with the doctrine of human rights, developed greatly since World War II, and it seems like a natural and universal doctrine. While the term prosopon has existed since ancient Greece, the notion of personhood and its distinction from the individual was foreign to the Greeks and Romans. Christian theologians began to use ‘person’ to describe the Holy Trinity with three distinct persons in perfect communion. With the revelation of Jesus Christ, the ‘person’ was studied more by the medieval scholastics as a divine subject distinct from the individual.
St. Thomas Aquinas writes that “Person signifies what is most perfect in all nature – that is, a subsistent individual of a rational nature.” St. Bonaventure and Bl. Duns Scotus further developed the metaphysics of the person as one with ‘exalted dignity’ and defined the person as ‘to be one human being with special dignity,’ as compared to the individuum which was only ‘to be one thing.’ More importantly, to be a person is to be in relation to others, not only for economic or political reasons, but it is to be in relation to the personal interior of other people; this is what drives communities to really exist.
Our culture of death and the epidemic of abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, contraception, and concupiscence are radically opposed to personhood as Christian theology has revealed. The doctrine of human rights is accepted by most people, but the transcendent notion of human dignity and the exaltation of the person has either been discarded entirely or distorted into a secular lens with no real basis. Value-free, complacent “humanism” disguises itself as a force for good while tearing down the institutions that have defended the dignity of the human person for centuries; liberalism’s divorce from Christian theology has not helped the idea of the person, which it claims to support as a democratic ideology.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.