Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Part I: Solidarity and Sexuality

Part I: Solidarity, Sexuality and the Liquification of the Body


Tina Beattie, in her most recent book The New Feminism, is not the first to be baffled by what is often called John Paul II’s “progressive” social policy and his “conservative” sexual ethics. She puzzles:
Although the Catholic Church has become increasingly radical in its social teachings, particularly under the papacy of John Paul II… Its continuing power to influence western politics has been most apparent, not on issues of justice and peace but on issues of gender and sexuality.
She goes on to express deep concern about this “increasing conservatism of the Catholic Church” and to wonder what the “influence of the new papacy on questions concerning the role of women in the Church” will be. Others have more recently been equally puzzled by Benedict XVI’s connection of marriage and the family to world peace and disarmament. What is the connection between sexual marital ethics and global solidarity? It is this important connection that I will explore here. John Paul II’s theology of the body was deeply grounded in Thomistic philosophy as G.J. McAleer has recently argued. Yet I would claim that his ethics of solidarity is also Thomistic and therefore Christological at heart and that Benedict XVI has followed closely in this same tradition. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have also argued closely for the meaning of solidarity as linked to the spiritual unity of humanity. I explore these arguments with de Lubac and Dostoevsky’s spiritual vision of humanity. Exploring first the arguments that John Paul II and Benedict XVI have made for global solidarity in the human family and the similarities of these arguments to the thought of de Lubac and Dostoevsky, I will then show how the roots of this solidarity are in a Thomistic philosophy of the body and that calls for a sense of global solidarity of all with all are best made on such grounds.

The Meaning of Human Solidarity

In an address Benedict XVI made to the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences on May 9, he develops the meaning of solidarity in relation to subsidiarity and the other two fundamental principles of Catholic social thought: the dignity of the human person and the common good. He defines solidarity as “the virtue enabling the human family to share fully the treasure of material and spiritual goods.” Here we begin to see the close connection made by Benedict XVI between the family and solidarity. Solidarity operates within the human family as love does within a family unit. Yet after tracing solidarity to its connection with the human family, Benedict further traces it back into the very center of God himself:
“The solidarity that binds the human family, and the subsidiary levels reinforcing it from within, must however always be placed within the horizon of the mysterious life of the Triune God (cf. Jn 5:26; 6:57).” Since the “heavenly and earthly cities interpenetrate and are intrinsically ordered to one another,” so “the natural human inclination to live in community is confirmed and transformed by the ‘oneness of Spirit’ which God has bestowed upon his adopted sons and daughters (cf. Eph 4:3; 1 Pet 3:8).”
Benedict here echoes closely the thought of Henri de Lubac, who he explicitly cites in his most recent encyclical letter Spe Salvi:
Drawing upon the vast range of patristic theology, de Lubac was able to demonstrate that salvation has always been considered a “social” reality…. Hence “redemption” appears as the reestablishment of unity, in which we come together once more in a union that begins to take shape in the world community of believers…. Let us concentrate on the Letter to Proba in which Augustine tries to illustrate to some degree this “known unknown” that we seek.
While the natural unity of human nature is not sundered by sin, the effective knowledge of this unity, otherwise called its spiritual unity in Christ, is destroyed, so that each appears to the other as an individual, an Other that does not demand anything from me, and is to be used only for my benefit. The virtue of solidarity counteracts this social monism, premising itself not on the “equality” of all with all, since equality makes no demands, but rather on the kenotic image of Christ, “slain before the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8) and anteriorly shaping human relationships as service. Benedict explains:
True solidarity - though it begins with an acknowledgment of the equal worth of the other - comes to fulfillment only when I willingly place my life at the service of the other (cf. Eph 6:21). Herein lies the “vertical” dimension of solidarity: I am moved to make myself less than the other so as to minister to his or her needs (cf. Jn 13:14-15), just as Jesus “humbled himself” so as to give men and women a share in his divine life with the Father and the Spirit (cf. Phil 2:8; Mat 23:12).
The call of human solidarity in the vision of the Other is to “make myself less,” to recognize in the other a sufficient reason to give in self-donation. Since “the family is the first and indispensable teacher of peace,” solidarity is founded upon an understanding wherein the family – in the marital self-giving relationship – teaches the kenotic self-diffusiveness of Christ as the principle of unity.

At least in part because of his work with the Solidarity movement in Poland, the virtue of solidarity became a central aspect of John Paul II’s papal teaching. John Paul II placed his teaching in the context of contemporary globalization. In Solicitudo Rei Socialis he explains:
Therefore political leaders, and citizens of rich countries considered as individuals, especially if they are Christians, have the moral obligation, according to the degree of each one’s responsibility, to take into consideration, in personal decisions and decisions of government, this relationship of universality, this interdependence which exists between their conduct and the poverty and underdevelopment of so many millions of people. Pope Paul’s encyclical translates more succinctly the moral obligation as the “duty of solidarity.”
Solidarity is that virtue whereby those who are more well off than others experience an ethical requirement to comport their lives towards the weakest of the earth. For John Paul II, there is an “ethical requirement” that goes along with “interdependence.” He argues that interdependence must be “accepted as a moral category” because we are “all really responsible for all.”

Whether or not this is a direct quote from Dostoevsky, there is a profound continuity between the thought of John Paul II and the man who wrote The Brothers Karamazov. Father Zossima, the elderly abbot/monk in the story, tells of his elder brother, Markel, who died when he was still young. He suddenly experienced a “metaphysical conversion” described thus: “Mother, little mother of mine,” he said…, “little heart of mine, my joy, believe me, every one is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything. I don’t know how to explain it to you, but I feel it is so, painfully even.” This mystery is experienced “painfully” because it is immersed in the truth of one of Dostoevsky’s favorite passages from Scripture: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Such a dying is not an optional choice offered to human beings, but rather a profound duty, a duty, as Benedict expressed, to make myself less than the other in order to serve him or her. This alone is the solution to the modern malaise. Dostoevsky describes it prophetically:
Why, the isolation that prevails everywhere, above all in our age – it has not fully developed, it has not reached its limit yet. For every one strives to keep his individuality as apart as possible, wishes to secure the greatest possible fullness of life for himself; but meantime all his efforts result not in attaining fullness of life but in self-destruction, for instead of self-realisation, he ends by arriving at complete solitude.
The only solution for Dostoevsky is a new way of “seeing” that happens through a metaphysical conversion, a sudden opening of the eyes to the interconnection and interdependence of all things upon all. As Benedict stated in his address for the celebration of the World Day of Peace: “In this regard, it is essential to ‘sense’ that the earth is ‘our common home’ and, in our stewardship and service to all, to choose the path of dialogue rather than the path of unilateral decisions.” Acting like Newman’s illative sense, this “sensing” or “seeing” is the result of a conversation of faith. Such a new mystical way of “seeing,” argues de Lubac, is the crowning theme of Dostoevsky’s life, summarized in the last words of The Brothers Karamazov in the year of his death:
“Karamazov,” exclaimed Kolya, “is it true, as religion says, that we will rise from the dead, that we shall see each other again, all of us, Ilyusha too?”
“… To be sure, we shall rise again, we shall see one another again, and we shall joyfully recount all that has happened to us”, replied Alyosha, half-laughing, half-eager.
“Oh, how lovely that will be!” said Kolya.
When Alyosha finally decides to leave the monastery, he suddenly receives an ecstatic vision wherein he sees in the wedding feast of Cana the transformation of the whole world. The mystical marriage of humanity is the spiritual foundation of solidarity, rooted, as I will show, in the visible expression of human marital love. Mystical seeing for Dostoevsky is a new way of “sensing” the world. It is, says de Lubac, “viaticum for his journey.” He continues: “’By hope you are saved’, said Paul to the Christians who had already passed through mystic death and resurrection. So it is with Alyosha. The mysticism of The Brothers Karamazov is the mysticism of the Resurrection.”

Markel, SJ

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