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Catholic Social Doctrine: The Communion of Nations
By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.
May 8th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
One cannot understand the Church's social doctrine and social thought on international relations without appreciating the Church's understanding of the universal nature of Jesus and the universal mandate given to her by Christ. Indeed, the term "Catholic" comes to us from Greek katholikos, which means "universal." The Church is not limited to a particular nation, but is intended to embrace all peoples. She lives with the Kingdom of God in her breast.CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) "God reigns over the nations," regnavit Deus super gentes. (Ps. 47:8 [46:9]) It is with this understanding of God's universal reign over man and his political communities that the Church assesses the relationship between nations and its inherently global perspective.
One cannot understand the Church's social doctrine and social thought on international relations without appreciating the Church's understanding of the universal nature of Jesus and the universal mandate given to her by Christ. Indeed, the term "Catholic" comes to us from Greek katholikos, which means "universal." The Church is not limited to a particular nation, but is intended to embrace all peoples. She lives with the Kingdom of God in her breast.
As Francis Cardinal George recently put it: "Living in the kingdom of God means thinking beyond and outside the boxes created by citizenship in a nation, by cultural or racial exclusivity, and by individual choice. In the kingdom of God, divisive markers are not needed to establish identity."
That is not to say that nation, culture, or race is unimportant or cannot be a source of identity or pride, but these "markers" are decidedly demoted when placed with the universality of the Gospel and the universality of the Church. There is no Jew or Gentile in Christ. (Gal. 3:28) Salus populi lex suprema est. The salvation of souls is the supreme law and transcends all borders.
Beginning with creation, it is apparent that God's creative action "embraces the whole world and the entire human family." (Compendium, No. 428) The end or purpose of creation is the glory of God himself. Creation without God is "subject to futility," but creation redeemed in God "awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God," is "subjected in hope," will be "set free from slavery to corruption," and will "share in the glorious freedom of the children of God," though it presently is "groaning in labor pains even until now." (Rom. 8:19-22)
God works his salvation within creation, not outside of it. "Creation is the foundation of 'all God's saving plans,' the 'beginning of the history of salvation' that culminates in Christ." CCC § 279
In particular, God's "decision to make man in his image and likeness gives the human being a unique dignity that extends to all generations and throughout the entire earth." Man is the only creature, the Second Vatican Council reminds us in beautiful language, "that God has willed for its own sake." (Gaudium et spes, § 3).
There is no human being in any time and at any place that bears not God's image and likeness, however he has marred it, and who does not share the common calling of all men into a communion with God.
Even when God seeks man and reveals himself to particular men in particular places in particular nations--in Noah, in Abraham, in Moses, in the Hebrew prophets--his message was not particular to Israel, but was already universal in semine, in germ.
The covenant with Noah, betokened by the rainbow, is not for Noah alone, but for every living creature and every generation. (See Gen. 9:1-7) Indeed, as if to highlight the universality of the Noahide covenant, we find immediately after the Noahide covenant the so-called Völkertafel or "Table of Nations," where the Scripture "presents with admiration the diversity of peoples, the result of God's creative activity." (Gen. 10:1-32)
In this "Table of Nations," the Scripture relates the generations of the sons of Japheth, Ham, and Shem. In the view of the Scriptures, these three were the postdiluvian progenitors of all humankind. All humans come from Adam through Japheth, Ham, and Shem, and all are heirs to the Noahide covenant. At this time this unity was reflected by the fact that peoples had "one language and the same words," Gen. 11:1, and indeed the same fundamental law.
Humanity, however, became divided and lost its original unity. This truth is told us in a particularly vivid way in the story of the Tower of Babel, the "tower of unbelief," as Thomas Merton called it in one of his poems.
Where unbelief reigned, faith had to be renewed. So it was renewed in the covenant that God established with Abraham, "the father of all those who believe," both those circumcised and uncircumcised, which is to say, the whole world. (Rom. 4:9-12) Faith cuts through the babel of languages, race, and nation state.
Along with being a "father of faith," Abraham was the "father of a multitude of nations." (Gen. 17:4). The unbelief that led to the division in men was to be repaired by faith in God which would open "the way for the human family to make a return to its Creator." (Compendium, No. 430) All nations are to find unity not through unbelief, not through their own efforts, but though faith in God who is the Father of all humankind.
God's revelation to man continued: in the patriarchs, in Moses, and the Prophets. The message was particular, but universal in its particularity. "Little by little . . . the conviction grows that God is at work also among other nations." (Compendium, No. 430) "Blessed be my people Egypt, and the works of my hands Assyria, and my inheritance, Israel." (Isaiah 19:25)
Israel is not the only nation in God's mind. While historically Israel has a unique place, it is not the only nation which is the subject of God's merciful love.
Israel's prophets intimate that the particularity of Israel's election will spill over to become universal in scope: "In days to come, the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills," prophesied Isaiah.
"All nations shall stream toward the Lord's house," God's temple, Isaiah continues. One might believe that Isaiah, like Jesus, spoke not of a physical building, but the temple of which he spoke was the temple of his body. (John 2:21)
And "many peoples shall come and say: 'Come, let us climb the LORD'S mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.' For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again." (Isaiah 2:2-3)
Elsewhere, Isaiah speaks of God's universal plans: "I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory. I will set a sign among them; from them I will send fugitives to the nations: to Tarshish, Put and Lud, Mosoch, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations. They shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, on horses and in chariots, in carts, upon mules and dromedaries, to Jerusalem, my holy mountain, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their offering to the house of the LORD in clean vessels. Some of these I will take as priests and Levites, says the LORD. As the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall endure before me, says the LORD, so shall your race and your name endure. From one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, All mankind shall come to worship before me, says the LORD." (Isaiah 66:18-23)
It is this particularity of the election of Israel which intimates a universal message which become even more particularized--in one God-man Jesus--and yet so universal as to extend to the ends of the earth, even beyond history.
Indeed, one might even say that Jesus is become Israel. Hosea says, "when Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son." (Hosea 11:1) Jesus whom the Father loved fled to Egypt and remained there until Herod's death, so that "what was spoke by the Lord the prophet [Hosea] might be fulfilled, saying 'Out of Egypt did I call my son.'" (Matt. 2:14-15) Jesus is Israel. The Church, which is Christ's body, is the New Israel.
It is this universality, this Catholicism, which is central to the Church's understanding of sacred history, of man's history, and of her duties to all mankind and mankind's nations and political communities. It is a deep stream in her social teaching, and it is one that requires us to demote those particularities which might otherwise divide us if we placed too much importance on them: our nation, our culture, and our race. These particularities are ordered under the universality of the Church's message.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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