Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

The Social Question Is Radically an Anthropological Question: The Perspective of Caritas in Veritate

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

The Social Question Is Radically an Anthropological Question: The Perspective of Caritas in Veritate

Article excerpt


A most interesting feature of the encyclical Caritas in Veritate is the acknowledgement of "the global dimension of the social question":

   we need to affirm today that the social question has become a
   radically anthropological question, in the sense that it concerns
   not just how life is conceived but also how it is manipulated, as
   bio-technology places it increasingly under man's control. (1)

This means, the encyclical stresses, that "the field of bioethics" is a crucial part of Catholic social teaching because it is in this field "that the very possibility of integral human development is radically called into question." (2)

This article aims to show the importance of this statement for understanding in more depth the very essence of the social teaching of the popes. This will allow us to understand better the tensions between this teaching and the liberal position and to propose a way for overcoming mutual differences.

The Foundations of Law Are Also the Foundations of the Christian Faith

Catholic teaching on bioethics is based on the following principle: The human person and her rights are defined by her belonging to the human species. A human individual shares the status of a person, and personhood is inseparably united to humankind. This principle means that the fundamental rights of a person cannot be established by belonging to a subgroup of humankind, be it by race, religion, nation, or political class. Neither can one reduce the rights of humankind to the rights of the present-day generation.

This principle can surely be considered crucial in the field of bioethics. However, it actually underpins the whole social teaching of the popes: The social question was always "a radically anthropological question."

It is important to note that this principle is something more than a "principle of natural law." In his pastoral visit to Switzerland in 2004, John Paul II stressed that the truth is a person: Jesus Christ. (3) This is a basic principle of the Catholic faith. With Jesus Christ, "the Truth in Person" enters history. (4) The incarnation of the second person of the blessed Trinity starkly reveals the personal character of the human body: "The glory of the Blessed Trinity is reflected in human beings, created by God." (5)

Additionally, through his incarnation this divine person carries out the redemption of the whole human race. Finally, declaring that God enters human history as the "fruit of a woman's womb," the Catholic Church confesses that among created persons the most excellent is a woman and thus puts motherhood at the core of religious faith.

Therefore, the pillars of the Catholic faith, like the incarnation and redemption, become emptied of their meaning if one denies that the person and her fundamental rights are defined by her belonging to the human species. In this sense, the Catholic faith appears as a guarantee for humanity.

Therefore the human body reveals personal identity and constitutes the observable basis for establishing rights. Indeed, the body is like the "basic document" of any contract inasmuch as any identity document refers to the human body.

This means, in conclusion, that the foundation of the ascription of rights (be it through natural, civil, penal, or constitutional law) is at the same time the foundation of the Christian faith. (6)

Ontological Individualism and Collectivism

By contrast, the principle that the person is defined by her belonging to the human species is missing in the main ideologies that dominate the thinking about society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: liberalism and socialism. This is the real cause of the reluctance of the popes to engage with these ideologies.

Liberalism highlighted the excellent principle of the "free market." On the other hand, it led, in some cases, to an ontological individualism, which applies the concept of ownership to the basic interaction among human beings and disregards the metaphysics of "interpersonal relations. …

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