"Faith Liberates Reason From Its Blind Spots"
VATICAN CITY, 5 MAY 2007 (ZENIT)
Here is the text of an address from
Dominican Father Augustine De Noia, the undersecretary of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The address was given April 27 as part of the plenary session of the
Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. It focused on "Deus Caritas Est."
* * *
Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences
XIII Plenary Session 27 April 2007,10:30-12:30
CHARITY AND JUSTICE IN THE RELATIONS AMONG PEOPLE AND NATIONS: THE
ENCYCLICAL "DEUS CARITAS EST" OF
POPE BENEDICT XVI
J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P.
Undersecretary, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
It is an honor and a pleasure for me to address this
distinguished pontifical academy at the start of your 13th plenary
session, and to bring you the greetings of the Cardinal Prefect of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, William J. Levada, who, with
Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes and Cardinal Renato Martino, first
presented Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" to the world
at a press conference on Jan. 25, 2006, but who is unable to join you
It is a particular pleasure to share the podium with Archbishop Cordes
who, as president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, plays a crucial
and active role in securing the charity and justice in the relations
among people and nations that is your topic in this session of the
Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences.
The focus of your discussion is the Holy Father's short but tightly
argued first encyclical, ""Deus Caritas Est"." In its two parts, the
encyclical makes two hugely important points. I should like first to
state what I think these two points affirm, and then to suggest
something of their significance within a social scientific perspective
informed by the Catholic faith.
Eros and Agape: The Sanctification of Desire
As everyone who has read the encyclical will know, in his discussion of
eros and agape, Pope Benedict insists on the unity of these two forms of
love, as well as the continuity between them. He is particularly
concerned to refute the widespread notion that the Christian faith
separates these two loves, and even suppresses the one
in favor of the other
agape. On the contrary, asserts the encyclical, eros is ever reaching
out towards its fulfillment in agape. The powerful dynamism of desire is
itself a sign that human persons are made for and directed toward a love
that never ends.
In order to clarify this immensely significant first point, allow me to
turn for help to one of Pope Benedict's favorite authors, St. Augustine.
In his writings, and especially in his "Confessions," St. Augustine
frequently invites his readers to consider the things that they have
desired and the things that they desire now
to consider, in effect, the experience of desire. When we have thought
about things that we have desired very badly, and have worked very hard
to possess, St. Augustine asks us to acknowledge that, in the end, we
have often lost interest and become bored with these very things, and
that we then move on to seeking other things.
For St. Augustine, this is most definitely not a cause for lament. On
the contrary. In pondering the experience of desire, we learn something
very important about ourselves: No good thing that we have wanted and
even possessed can finally quench desire itself, because we are made for
the uncreated Good which is God himself.
This means that the good things of this world
and all the more so, the good of other persons
far from being obstacles in our quest for ultimate happiness, point us
to the Good itself which is their source and in which they share. If we
do not love the good things of this world, how shall we be able to love
The triune God, who made us for himself and who wants to share the
communion of trinitarian love with us, uses the good things of this
world to lead us to him who is, we could say, Goodness itself. The
and, sometimes, the tragedy
of human existence is to desire and love the created good as if it were
divine, to invest an absolute value in what cannot finally satisfy the
human heart. That is what sin is. But rightly ordered desire and love of
the good things of this world and the good of other persons is already a
participation in the Good which is God himself.
These lessons from St. Augustine help us to grasp the point the Holy
Father is making in the first part of "Deus Caritas Est"
that eros is meant to lead us to agape, to the love of God and to the
love of one another in God. Pope Benedict resists absolutely the
misreading, sometimes perverse, that claims to see in Christian faith
the suppression of the ordinary fulfillments of human earthly life,
particularly human intimacy and love, in favor of a good beyond life.
On the contrary, for Christian faith the whole range of human desire
or, to use more technical language, the inclination to the good embedded
in the very structure of human existence
finds it complete fulfillment in the love of the triune God, and nothing
less. Although Pope Benedict does not use this expression in the
encyclical, we might call this unity of and continuity between eros and
agape "the sanctification of desire."
The Service of Charity: The Integral Human Good
The second principal point argued in "Deus Caritas Est," according to
the reading I am suggesting today, is actually implicit in the first and
is advanced in the second part of the encyclical.
This second point is captured brilliantly in a passage from paragraph 19
of the encyclical: "The entire activity of the Church is an expression
of a love that seeks the integral good of man: it seeks his
evangelization through Word and Sacrament
; and it seeks to promote man
in the various arenas of life and human activity. Love is therefore the
service that the Church carries out in order to attend constantly to
man's sufferings and his needs, including material needs. " This "the
service of charity" is directed to the integral human good, a
description of which is the substance, as we have seen, of the
encyclical's first major point.
For, while it is true that no created good can satisfy the desires of
the human heart, God nonetheless intends us to enjoy these created goods
precisely as his gift to us, affording a participation in his own
Goodness. These created goods are not rendered irrelevant or dispensable
by the fact that they are not themselves ultimate or absolute. The
ultimate good does not cancel out or exclude limited or subordinate
goods: They retain their integrity and finality in their very ordering
to the ultimate good.
Man does not live on bread alone, indeed, but he needs bread in order to
live. Integral human fulfillment encompasses a range of created goods
even as it necessarily entails a directedness, an inner tendency, toward
the enjoyment of the uncreated Good who is God himself, the Father, Son
and Holy Spirit who enjoy a communion of life into which we, created
persons who are not God, are invited to share as their friends
and nothing less.
This integral human good is the object of the Church's service of
charity: the ultimate good and the intermediate or subordinate goods,
the spiritual well-being and the material well-being, the goods of this
earthly life and the good beyond life.
Again, Pope Benedict is concerned to refute the pernicious suggestion
that, by affirming the priority and ultimacy of a good beyond earthly
life, the Church overlooks the poverty and suffering of this world, or,
worse, conspires with the "prinicipalities and powers" to maintain the
unjust structures that are responsible for this human suffering.
On the contrary. The service of charity encompasses the whole range of
the integral good of human beings. The encyclical explains at length how
this service of charity has been exercised in Christian history and how
it can be exercised in the present day. In the midst of this service,
the Church keeps to the forefront that vision of the human good and
human dignity that God himself has revealed and inscribed in the human
heart from the very moment of the creation of the universe. "The entire
activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the
integral good of man" ("Deus Caritas Est," No. 19).
"Deus Caritas Est" in the Perspective of the Faith and the Social
What I have identified as the two major points of the encyclical "Deus
Caritas Est" pose a range of challenges to the reflection of Catholics
whose professional life is devoted to one or other of the social
sciences. In this brief paper, I can only hint at some of the more
significant of these challenges
not only because of the richness of the encyclical's teaching, but also
because of the diversity of the social sciences themselves.
For the most part, the program of this plenary session takes its
inspiration from the second part of "Deus Caritas Est" in which the Holy
Father has a great deal to say about the Catholic understanding of the
service of charity and about the practical implications of this
understanding for contemporary politics, society and culture. These
issues are the bread and butter of social scientists like those who make
up this distinguished academy.
To contribute to a robustly Christian engagement with these issues,
social scientific inquiries informed by faith must take into account the
truth about human nature which is in part already legible in the
creation of men and women in God's image and is fully revealed in the
contours of the face of Christ
what the encyclical terms "the integral human good."
The contribution of the social sciences to Christian reflection on these
issues thus needs to be framed within the context of the Church's
expressed with great clarity in Pope John Paul II's encyclical "Fides et
according to which the truth discovered in the sciences is in principle
coherent with the truth contained in revelation.
The fundamental reason for this lies not in our ability to manipulate
bodies of knowledge, but in the nature of truth itself which is one, and
thus more radically, in the nature of God himself who is the author of
the created order just as much as of the economy of salvation. The
Catholic principle is that what is discovered to be true by human reason
cannot contradict what is known to be true by faith. This principle
forms the background for the important things that Pope Benedict XVI has
to say about faith and reason in his discussion of politics in paragraph
28 of "Deus Caritas Est."
The Holy Father's observations here have a direct bearing on the
contribution of the social sciences to Christian reflection on the
service of charity, understood as an instance of the interface of faith
and reason. As an encounter with the living God, faith opens up "new
horizons extending beyond the sphere of reason." "But," continues Pope
Benedict, faith "is also a purifying force for reason itself. From God's
standpoint, faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore
helps it to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object
more clearly" ("Deus Caritas Est," No. 28).
In accord with the traditional Catholic principle, reason retains its
integrity and proper finality, but faith contributes to its work by
locating the objects of scientific inquiry on, so to speak, the widest
possible conceptual map
that provided by our awareness of the divine desire to share the
communion of trinitarian life with creaturely persons, or, to use the
terms of the encyclical, the integral human good.
With these principles firmly in place, it seems to me of the greatest
possible importance for social scientists like yourselves to resist
reductionist accounts of human nature and society, and relativistic
accounts of moral reasoning and norms
accounts which almost by definition obscure the wider horizons of faith
about which Pope Benedict speaks in the encyclical.
Such accounts are by no means entailed by research in the social
sciences, but often arise from pre-existing philosophical assumptions
that come to influence and shape the conclusions of scholarship. This is
not the place to trace the complex history of these connections and
But there is no reason why research that focuses on specific aspects of
human behavior and interaction needs to deny the existence of the wider
horizon which faith reveals to us. As Pope Benedict tellingly affirms in
"Deus Caritas Est," "faith liberates reason from its blind spots."
What is not susceptible to observation and generalization within the
limits of a particular social scientific discipline or model can
nonetheless provide the context for a fuller understanding of the
objects of social scientific inquiry.
I mention this point because the Church faces a huge challenge in the
present day in her interaction with international agencies and national
governments whose social policies have been influenced by reductionist
social science. It can be demonstrated that an entirely secular
in the sense of an alternative account of the meaning of human existence
has, especially since the '90s, come to shape the programs and policies
of many international organizations, including the United Nations.
In place of an earlier paradigm in which universal human rights and a
common human nature played a normative role, the alternative
anthropology espouses the socially constructed character of truth and
reality, the priority of cultural diversity, the deconstruction of all
moral norms, and priority of personal choice. Although the roots of this
secular anthropology are philosophical, the social sciences have been
the principal vehicle for its diffusion in modern western societies.
When the Church, in this environment, advances her vision of the
integral human good, her interventions are frequently caricatured as
retrogressive and intrusive. The alternative anthropology has so
powerful a hold on the media, the international aid agencies, many NGOs,
and other influential bodies that it is difficult to advance the
Christian vision of the integral human good through dialogue, argument
and counter-argument. The new anthropology is viewed, in effect, as
self-evident and not in need of argument. This situation has created
many practical problems that sometimes make it difficult for Catholic
aid agencies even to function at the local, national, and even
Some years ago, when the then Cardinal Ratzinger was its prefect, the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith invited about thirty Catholic
university faculties across the world to sponsor consultations and
symposia on the natural law and universal human values. It is
significant that, now as Holy Father, he should state in "Deus Caritas
Est" that "the Church's social teaching argues on the basis on reason
and natural law, namely, on the basis of what is in accord with the
nature of every human being" (No. 28). But it must be admitted that this
newly emergent secular vision denies the applicability
indeed, the knowability
of any universal account of human nature and destiny.
It is urgent for social scientists whose practice of their disciplines
does not in principle exclude some broad account of the integral human
good to counter this secular anthropology and the social engineering
programs inspired by it. The straightforward, and well-argued account of
the Christian vision of the integral human good presented in "Deus
Caritas Est" should facilitate the kind of discussion and argument which
needs to take place. I cannot think of a better forum for this
much-needed debate than the floor of this distinguished academy.
* * *
The encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" bears the date of Christmas 2005,
the first Christmas of the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. This is
significant. The only-begotten Son of God took on human nature in order
that human persons might share in the divine life. It is this communion
of life with creaturely persons that the triune God desires. "I wish in
my first Encyclical to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and
which we in turn must share with others" ("Deus Caritas Est," No. 1).
St. Augustine somewhere remarks that it is very difficult for human
beings to believe in this love. But we can see that no account of the
human condition can be complete that neglects, excludes or denies that
the integral human good is found only in the love of God revealed to us
on the first Christmas in the Incarnate Word made flesh.