"Faith in Jesus Christ who is 'the way, the truth, and the life' (Jn
14,6), calls Christians to exert a greater effort in building a culture
which, inspired by the Gospel, will reclaim the values and contents of
the Catholic tradition" (Doctrinal
Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics
in political life, n. 7).
We must ask how does the substantial and obviously
non-negotiable identity of believers (that doesn't allow for opinions
and differences) relate to "the legitimate freedom of Catholic
citizens to choose among the various political opinions ... what best
corresponds to the needs of the common good" (ibid., n. 3)
(a freedom that leads fatally to a pluralism of behaviour and to
divisions among brothers of the same faith in their public action)?
The question is concrete, unavoidable, and does not have an easy
The Note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in
the passage quoted, seeks the correct determination of the problem by
using among other things the idea of "culture".
In the modern world, "culture" is a very much used and
almost mythical term, even if all do not always assign to the term the
same conceptual content. In this way, normally, we need to define the
term before we can use it.
For the purposes of our discussion, let us say right away that,
whatever may be the meaning that from time to time we want to use (at
least among those more commonly accepted and used), the existence and
legitimate understanding of a "Catholic culture" is
incontrovertible. It is in the duty of safeguarding the "Catholic
culture" that we find the reply to the question we deal with.
It means that it is not enough to guarantee the obligatory identity
of the Christian who is involved in politics that he maintain in
conviction an acceptance of the Creed, respect the sacramental
life, not oppose the obligatory character of the commandments of God. It
is necessary to remain firmly and actively faithful to that
"culture" which in the last analysis is in a homogeneous way
derived, within the Church, from Christ and his Gospel, the
Besides the Note warns us "the presentation of the fruits
of the spiritual, intellectual, and moral heritage of Catholicism in
terms understandable to modern culture is a task of great urgency today,
in order to avoid also a kind of Catholic cultural diaspora" (n.
First definition of culture
To give substance to these affirmations of principle and a useful
articulation of the argument, we can briefly show how the principal
understandings of "culture" in the idea of "Catholic
culture" find response and plausibility.
The original meaning (still present today) comes from an image taken
from the world of agriculture: "culture" is used to indicate
the "cultivation of the human person" above all in his
interior reality. Already Cicero spoke of the "development of the
In turn, the disciples of Jesus never forgot that, according to his
teaching, the Father is the first and truest "cultivator of the
human person" (cf. Jn 15,1) since every anthropology is genuine and
enlightening to the extent that, at least objectively, even if not
always intentionally, it refers to his plan in which the only Son made
man, crucified and risen, is the "archetype" of all humanity.
For this reason, the Second Vatican Council was able to assert in a
universal way that "only in the mystery of the Word Incarnate is
the mystery of the human person revealed" (Gaudium et Spes,
In this perspective we can understand why within Christianity we find
the highest and most motivated humanism. Already classic antiquity could
proclaim: "Many things are wonderful in the world, but the human
person surpasses them all" (Sophocles, Antigone, chorus
of the first stasm). Christianity accepts and assimilates Greek
humanism, and transfiguring it, transcends it to give it meaning, even
in the case of the first and immediate finality of visible things, as we
gather from what St Ambrose wrote: "The human person is the peak
and the compendium of the universe, and the highest beauty of the whole
of creation" (Exameron, IX, 75).
A recognizable and characteristic anthropology is an eminent and
characteristic part of "Catholic culture". It is an
anthropology that certainly can at least partially be in agreement with
another humanist vision provided that it be sound and founded on real
values wherever they are found—of truth, justice, beauty which feed
and adorn the human soul: with which we can say one "is
cultivated" (as the classic world intuited). But it can never be
identified or even assimilated to a vision of the human person that
effectively contradicts or is removed from the "archetype" of
humanity which is "the man Jesus Christ" (cf. I Tm 2,5).
The real existence of the "archetype" allows and imposes
the duty to defend the person from every manipulation and from every
enslavement, enrolls every believer in the fight to combat every attack
on the living image of the Saviour of the universe in whom we have been
Obviously the "Christian cultivation of the human person",
if it is not to remain just an abstract affirmation of principle, should
have the means to achieve its own goals and particularly in the
formation of the young generations. The Catholic involved in politics
should never forget it.
Second definition of culture
During the 20th century, another and different conception of
"culture" became widespread and prevalent. In it
"culture" comes to mean a collective system for evaluating
ideas, actions, events and therefore an ensemble of "models"
of behaviour. Every "culture" understood this way presumes a
"scale of values" proposed and accepted within a certain human
group. For this reason we can speak of a "positivist culture",
an "idealist culture", a "Marxist" or a
That there is a "Christian culture" in this understanding
that for the believer is necessary and non-negotiable, could only be
denied by someone who wants to reduce Christianity to an extrinsic
folklore or to a pure fact of conscience without impact on the external
witness or on life.
In this field the disciple of Jesus will be able to rejoice at times
over unsuspected agreements with unbelievers, in the defence of an
ethical principle or in a practical choice. Further, he will listen with
respect and with sincere interest to the opinions of all because he does
not forget that, as St Thomas repeated often, "Every truth by
whomever it is said is from the Holy Spirit" (I-II, q. 109, a. 1 ad
More often we have to register—especially
when we deal with substantial problems that touch on the nature and
dignity of the human person—disagreements
and incompatibility. It is very difficult that they will agree on the
same scale of values, who on the one hand, affirm and, on the other,
deny the divine plan of the origin of the universe. The same is true of
those who affirm and those who deny eternal life beyond the doorway of
death, of those who affirm and deny the existence of an invisible world
beyond the varied colourful and transient scene of what appears. The
believer dedicated to public life will have to confront with open eyes,
serenity and firm conviction the inevitable tensions between the
different "cultures" that in fact coexist in a pluralist
Undoubtedly, living in a culturally multiform humanity and having to
behave in public affairs according to the obligatory dictates of the
democratic method, the believer will often be led to a will for
mediation and to a quest for practical positions that can be shared by
all; absolutely shared by the majority, hopefully in a way that will
allow an effective practice. Politics, we are used to saying, is the art
of the compromise. The Note of the Congregation offers careful
reflections so that such "compromises" may be held acceptable
by an upright conscience.
In every case, one must pay attention not to extend—in
the effort to arrive more easily and quickly at practical solutions—the
attitude of mediation (that can be admissible in the "political
moment") even to the "cultural moment", for the expense
of an identity that cannot ever be endangered.
Third definition of culture
There is a third meaning of "culture" that from the
language of the ethnological disciplines spread throughout the second
half of the 19th century. "Culture" is all that is expressed
by a particular race and recognized as specific to it: its mentality,
institutions, forms of existence and work, customs, inventions and
creative genius. In this sense one can speak of an "African
culture" or a rural culture", etc.
In this understanding does a "Catholic culture" exist? It
exists because a Catholic people exist and should exist despite the view
of those who think that there is no longer any Christian society nor
that there should be any. Today's Christian society may be a social
minority, different from what was the case a century ago, but this is
not a reason why it should be less alive and less clearly identifiable.
And it will not be defined as a reality that is devoid of continuity in
time, without premises and without roots; nor as something that is
purely intellectual, without any relevant social manifestations. What is
not operative in the social order and cannot ever be present there,
little by little loses its relevance in the consciousness of simple and
ordinary persons and in the end dies out.
Moreover, the act of faith—by
its intrinsic dynamism—cries out to
invest and transform the whole human person in all his dimensions, not
only personal but also familial and social.
In the two thousand years of our history, many distinctive
contributions to the elevation of the human person and many of the more
noble and valuable fruits of the spirit in all fields (philosophy,
literature, figurative arts, music law, etc.) bear very clearly the
signs of the Christian vision.
Among the tasks of the Catholic who is involved in politics is that
of protecting, making known and appreciated, at the service of a true
humanism, our immeasurable "family treasure".