Saturday, July 11, 2009

New Encyclical and Tony Campolo

I will write more on Caritas in Veritate soon, but I've wanted to add a quote by Tony Campolo, and a footnote in the encyclical made me think of it. The footnote reads: 
[88] Saint Augustine expounds this teaching in detail in his dialogue on free will (De libero arbitrio, II, 3, 8ff.). He indicates the existence within the human soul of an “internal sense”. This sense consists in an act that is fulfilled outside the normal functions of reason, an act that is not the result of reflection, but is almost instinctive, through which reason, realizing its transient and fallible nature, admits the existence of something eternal, higher than itself, something absolutely true and certain. The name that Saint Augustine gives to this interior truth is at times the name of God (Confessions X, 24, 35; XII, 25, 35; De libero arbitrio II, 3, 8), more often that of Christ (De magistro 11:38; Confessions VII, 18, 24; XI, 2, 4).
Here is the full paragraph from the encyclical:
34. Charity in truth places man before the astonishing experience of gift. Gratuitousness is present in our lives in many different forms, which often go unrecognized because of a purely consumerist and utilitarian view of life. The human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension. Sometimes modern man is wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life and society. This is a presumption that follows from being selfishly closed in upon himself, and it is a consequence — to express it in faith terms — of original sin. The Church's wisdom has always pointed to the presence of original sin in social conditions and in the structure of society: “Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action and morals”[85]. In the list of areas where the pernicious effects of sin are evident, the economy has been included for some time now. We have a clear proof of this at the present time. The conviction that man is self-sufficient and can successfully eliminate the evil present in history by his own action alone has led him to confuse happiness and salvation with immanent forms of material prosperity and social action. Then, the conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from “influences” of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way. In the long term, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom, and are therefore unable to deliver the justice that they promise. As I said in my Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi, history is thereby deprived of Christian hope[86], deprived of a powerful social resource at the service of integral human development, sought in freedom and in justice. Hope encourages reason and gives it the strength to direct the will[87]. It is already present in faith, indeed it is called forth by faith. Charity in truth feeds on hope and, at the same time, manifests it. As the absolutely gratuitous gift of God, hope bursts into our lives as something not due to us, something that transcends every law of justice. Gift by its nature goes beyond merit, its rule is that of superabundance. It takes first place in our souls as a sign of God's presence in us, a sign of what he expects from us. Truth — which is itself gift, in the same way as charity — is greater than we are, as Saint Augustine teaches[88]. Likewise the truth of ourselves, of our personal conscience, is first of all given to us. In every cognitive process, truth is not something that we produce, it is always found, or better, received. Truth, like love, “is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings”[89].

There is a lot to unpack here, but for now it gives me a chance to throw in a Tony Campolo quote that I’ve wanted to post that makes a similar point:
Those who have tasted transcendental reality can never again be convinced that this world and the society that regulates them can satisfy their need. Those who have tasted of the heavenly gift will always hunger because they know there is more to life, and that something more is not controlled by the system but lies beyond anything that the rulers of the system can provide. Out of such holy discontentment new movements are born. The sense of what is absent makes us discontented with what is present….  

Again, I say, Marcuse would have understood. In his analysis of our modern one-dimensional society, he made the point that, in earlier times, when alienation from nature was not so severe, eroticism was more diffused. Marcuse explained that there were people in another time who experienced passionate love with all the world. These were the people who sensed the mysterious tremendom in all they saw and touched and smelled and heard. Such saints were erotically stimulated by everything. Nothing for them was prosaic. Everything was poetic. The life-giving energy of eros seemed to flow out of everything around them, and Thanatos, the death force, seemed to have lost its sting. Death was overcome in victory, and its power was unable to threaten either young or old.  

Marcuse explained that as humanity entered the era of modernity and all but the rational categories were excluded from experience people still had the hunger for erotic satiation. But the rationalists taught us that the only eroticism was sexual and that is was only through the sexual that we would find the release that would leave us with a sense of fulfillment and well-being. And that is why we have become a people preoccupied with sex. We expect all of our erotic appetites to be gratified through orgasms. 

From “Carpe Diem”
To repeat the second line from the paragraph above in Caritas in Veritate, “Gratuitousness is present in our lives in many different forms, which often go unrecognized because of a purely consumerist and utilitarian view of life. The human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension.”

Recognizing gratuity as the foundation of economics changes a lot. 

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

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