Principles & Politics

Hehir, J. Bryan

WORLD WATCH J. Bryan Hehir______ PRINCIPLES & POLITICS DIFFERING WITH DULLES A very Dulles, S.J., holds a special place in the community of Catholic theologians in the United States. Perhaps the...

...The mode of inquiry is itself important to note, for counting costs inevitably means that we are in the realm of contingent choice...
...It is equally clear, I believe, that a social ethic stated at this level of generality will fail to engage the issues it must address...
...While standing with him on both, I depart from him on a major theme of his address...
...Other groups do debate the issues...
...Dulles's review of the biblical data, theological tradition, and papal teaching provides no comfort to anyone seeking to restrict the church's ministry to procla169 mation and sacramental ministry, relegating social responsibility to a secular function, beyond the substance of the Gospel or the scope of the church's ministry...
...170...
...A recent paper by Fr...
...the second, the role of religious leadership on social questions...
...In it Dulles intends "to present a constructive Catholic position" on the relationship of the temporal and eternal aspects of life...
...Murray's 1959 essay on warfare through 1980 when the bishops began their work, the amount of writing devoted to the ethics of nuclear policy is embarrassingly scant (I count two articles in Theological Studies from 1959-1980...
...Dulles which has received wide notice in the Catholic press will contribute to his reputation as a balanced observer of the Catholic community...
...His goal is "to show the legitimacy of the church's concern for social order while at the same time cautioning against the politicization of religion...
...This point was made precisely by the late John Courtney Murray in a famous article on warfare in 1959: "Power can be invested with a sense of direction only by moral principles . . . But moral principles cannot effectively impart this sense- of direction to power until they have first, as it were, passed through the order of politics...
...In my view there are two distinct steps in counting the costs of specificity...
...The thirty-page essay ("Gospel, Church, and Politics'') was delivered at a meeting of the Rockford Institute's Center on Religion and Society in January...
...The division drawn here between "worldly affairs'' and faith seems too sharp in light of Vatican II's statement in Gaudium et Spes: "While earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ's Kingdom, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the Kingdom of God...
...where we divide is on how the costs should be counted when the episcopal teaching role fails to engage the specific places where justice is done and peace preserved.There are high costs to silence also...
...Here, too, I stand with him...
...It is clear that one function of moral teaching is to specify values and principles, duties and rights that the ecclesial and human community can use to assess social issues...
...that is until they have first become incarnate in public policy...
...Certainly if one uses the standard literature of the nuclear debate for the past thirty years it could not be demonstrated that a variety of groups, and institutions had made the moral assessment of strategic policy a central theme...
...At the same time, the guiding motif of Dulles's paper is "to insist on the utter transcendence of the Kingdom," and to prevent "the politicization of religion...
...Murray points toward a basic fact: in social policy, principles in isolation from the intrinsic complexity of the issues provide little sense of direction, less guidance, and no capacity to cut into the density of socio-political discourse where decisions with significant moral content are made often without explicit moral testing...
...The first involves the nature of moral argument...
...To stress worldly affairs as part of the pursuit of holiness is a main theme of the pastorals...
...This statement is open to empirical testing, and my sense is that Fr...
...This methodological claim I am making is related to the question of religious leadership and how Fr...
...Dulles's view of the secular debate on these topics is mistaken...
...The full text is now available in Origins (February 19, 1987), and merits careful reading and response...
...He wishes to examine "the price of such specificity," and he finds the price too high...
...Dulles's major points...
...Hence, how one calculates the costs is the essence of the debate...
...Dulles makes no claim that this question of episcopal specificity can be decided with finality...
...Dulles's response goes to a second criticism he makes of episcopal specificity, touching again on the religious leadership of the bishops.'' When the bishops devote so much attention to worldly affairs they can unwittingly give the impression that what is truly important in their eyes is not the faith or holiness that leads to everlasting life but rather the structuring of human society...
...The strategic literature and the theological literature of the 1980s is markedly different it is filled with moral analysis...
...It would be presumptuous and plainly mistaken to argue that the peace pastoral generated the new debate...
...But if nuclear war and equity in the economy are regarded as significant moral issues, and if the moral argument does not hold a central place in the national debate, why are the bishops acting either imprudently or inefficiently when they invest time and effort to catalyze the wider moral debate...
...It is public policy in all varied concretions that must be 'moralized...
...It would also be mistaken not to note how often it is used in the arguments of other analysts...
...To come closer to home, if one reviewed the major Catholic theological journals from the time of Fr...
...The issue, as stated by Dulles, is whether the bishops "ought to give detailed answers in controverted areas such as nuclear policy, taxation, welfare programs, and the like.'' Essentially, Dulles proposes a utilization calculus for deciding the question...
...The address stretched from biblical exegesis (the teaching of Jesus and the social ethic of the New Testament) to commentary on magisterial social teaching (from Leo XIII to John Paul II) to an analysis of the role of the U.S...
...Dulles finds the time devoted to specifics on the pastorals misspent in light of other responsibilities which bishops have...
...Dulles counts the costs against episcopal specificity...
...It is impossible to stand in the Catholic social tradition and disagree with these two goals...
...In writing the pastorals "the bishops make an enormous investment of time and energy in questions that are also being dealt with, from a similar perspective, by a variety of foundations, public interest groups, and educational institutions...
...bishops, as teachers and pastors, in issuing the pastoral letters on peace and the economy of 1983 and 1986...
...Perhaps the adjective which best defines Dulles's reputation is balance balanced judgment which is the product of comprehensive reading, careful testing of views, and charitable statement of differences...
...The distinct role of the laity in grappling with the specifics of the "vital concern of the Kingdom" is one of Fr...
...the disciplined, systematic moral argument is often absent...

Vol. 114 • March 1987 • No. 6


 
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