Monday, April 04, 2005

The Root of Peace

Pope John Paul II has crossed the temporal horizon to huis eternal reward. He was a man of unparalleled stature in the modern world. What made him such a giant was his unswerving drive to follow Christ in all things, even to the Chair of Peter, which for every faithful occupant, is built in the shape of the Cross. It is possible to find fault with his papacy, as it would be for that of any human, but it is critical not to take his tremendous legacy for granted. (We must make every effort to avoid fulfilling Fyodor Dostoevsky's defintion in Notes from the Underground of man as "ungrateful biped.")

One of the most brilliant stars of a vast constellation of his outstanding documents was Veritatis SplendorThe Splendor of Truth "regarding certain fundamental questions of the Church's moral teaching" (as the original English edition summarized it). The document is well worth reading (particularly nos. 84-87), but since time is limited, I'm going to focus on another, but closely related teaching of his, given in "his address to the U.N. in 1995 (emphasis added):

It is important for us to grasp what might be called the inner structure of this worldwide movement [for freedom]. It is precisely its global character which offers us its first and fundamental "key" and confirms that there are indeed universal human rights, rooted in the nature of the person, rights which reflect the objective and inviolable demands of a universal moral law. These are not abstract points; rather, these rights tell us something important about the actual life of every individual and of every social group. They also remind us that we do not live in an irrational or meaningless world. On the contrary, there is a moral logic which is built into human life and which makes possible dialogue between individuals and peoples. If we want a century of violent coercion to be succeeded by a century of persuasion, we must find a way to discuss the human future intelligibly. The universal moral law written on the human heart is precisely that kind of "grammar" which is needed if the world is to engage this discussion of its future.

In this sense, it is a matter for serious concern that some people today deny the universality of human rights, just as they deny that there is a human nature shared by everyone. To be sure, there is no single model for organizing the politics and economics of human freedom; different cultures and different historical experiences give rise to different institutional forms of public life in a free and responsible society. But it is one thing to affirm a legitimate pluralism of "forms of freedom", and another to deny any universality or intelligibility to the nature of man or to the human experience. The latter makes the international politics of persuasion extremely difficult, if not impossible

In other words, it is precisely the "essentialism" that the (elite) world flees that will allow peoples (and people) to cooperate. Meaningful dialogue can only be rooted in the objective world. Without persuasion and reason, justice can only be "the advantage of the stronger" (as Thrasymachus says in Plato's Republic).

Pope Paul II faithfully fulfilled his role as Pope to be "a scandal and a mystery," as the chapter was titled in his book with Vitorio Messori. Messori's summary of the Pope's significance is instructive:

Confronted with you—as with each of your predecessors and successors—one must wager, as Pascal said, that you are either the mysterious living proof of the Creator of the universe or the central protagonist of a millennial illusion.

It was no accident The Passion of the Christ followed three sucessive years of The Lord of the Rings. Neither is the latest visitation: worldwide coverage of the life and passing of John Paul II. A great choice presents itself to each person on the planet. How will the world decide?


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