Toward a Human Ecology: Person, Life, Nature

Introduction: Towards a Human Ecology: Person, Life, Nature

David L. Schindler opens the issue with an editorial on “The Repressive Logic of Liberal Rights: Religious Freedom, Contraceptives, and the ‘Phony’ Argument of the New York Times.” “Catholics make a grave mistake,” Schindler argues, “if they approach the current controversy on the assumption that all sides agree in principle about the nature and universality of rights, and if they thus think that what is at stake is simply a matter of a failure to apply this commonly held principle of universal rights with consistency.” On the contrary, the notion of rights presupposed by the Times as well as by the Obama administration “stands in deep tension with a Catholic understanding . . . : the two notions of rights rest upon significantly different ideas of human nature and dignity.” Thus, if Catholics fail to integrate their political strategies from the beginning “into a more adequate vision of rights based on a fuller vision of the human person,” such strategies, however effective in the short run, will serve over the long run to “reinforce the deeper terms of the crisis.” Schindler’s editorial shows the warrants for these judgments, demonstrating the peculiarly repressive—because hiddenly self-centered—nature of freedom and rights as affirmed in “classical” liberalism and exemplified in the Times’ editorial, and concluding with a description of freedom and rights as indicated in Dignitatis humanae.

The theme of the Winter, 2011 issue of Communio is: “Toward a Human Ecology: Person, Life, Nature.” In his encyclical letter Caritas in veritate, and in subsequent writings, Pope Benedict XVI has called for the development of a “human ecology” grounded in the idea of creation as gift. “The human being will be capable of respecting other creatures,” he writes, “only if he keeps the full meaning of life in his own heart. Otherwise he will come to despise himself and his surroundings, and to disrespect the environment, the creation, in which he lives. For this reason, the first ecology to be defended is ‘human ecology.’ This is to say that, without a clear defense of human life from conception until natural death; without a defense of the family founded on marriage between a man and a  woman; without an authentic defense of those excluded and marginalized by society . . . we will never be able to speak of authentic protection of the environment.” [1] Guided by these words, the present issue reflects on the reciprocal relationship between respect for the order of creation and respect for human life.

David S. Crawford, in “Benedict XVI and the Structure of the Moral Act: On the Condoms Controversy,” revisits the controversy sparked by Pope Benedict’s remarks on condoms in his book-length interview Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times (2010). Crawford situates the issue of condom use for disease prevention within the larger framework of Benedict XVI’s moral doctrine. In the eyes of Pope Benedict, “[m]odern thought tends to reduce the physical world, and in particular the human body, to its merely material properties and laws, those that can be measured and . . . which can be exploited by technical means.” As a result the “ethical message contained in being” has become unintelligible. In response to this crisis, Pope Benedict has articulated a moral theory grounded in an understanding of nature, and especially the human body, as created and thus saturated with moral meaning. The human body is not simply “a source of appetite in which practical reason is embedded and given its dynamic movement toward goods, but also an anamnetic expression of good as form or, we could also say, of beauty, disclosing the vocation of human nature itself.”

Mary Taylor, in “A Deeper Ecology: A Catholic Vision of the Person in Nature,” suggests that the ecological movement presents Catholics with a dilemma. They struggle with finding ways to harmonize their love for God and love for his creation while being faced with the ideological antagonisms directed against human life and dignity. Noting both the legitimate concerns and the shortcomings of the main currents of environmental thought, Taylor sketches a new trajectory for a “catholic” ecology, grounded in John Paul II’s teaching that the “covenant between human beings and the environment . . . should mirror the creative love of God.” “At the heart of [covenental] relations is solidarity: the recognition of a common desire for beauty and meaning, the realization that we share a common destiny with other beings, the apprehension that the participation of others is necessary for a common good that is deeper than the co-incidence of our private goods or our ideology.”

Peter Casarella, in “‘The Proper Weight of Love’: What Can We Learn From Pope John Paul II’s The Jeweler’s Shop?” interprets the play as an artistic unfolding of the relationship between time and eternity. “The jeweler reveals that eternity encompasses the finitude of a life not just because of its expansiveness but because our lives owe their existence to a Source or Creator. The embrace of eternity as a personal reality of love is what we implicitly aim to discover when we focus on the weight or specific gravity of our lives.”

Adrian J. Walker, in “‘Original Wholeness’: (Living) Nature Between God and Technê,” reflects on Aristotle’s understanding of nature as the innate principle in and through which a body is the primary, original source of its parts’ “standing together.” Walker shows how the original wholeness of nature is an intra-worldly analogue to God’s self-communication: “The life of animate beings is a received self-constitution, a caused uncausedness, a derived originality. . . . God, in the very act of communicating himself, produces matter as the receiver of his gift and, at the same time, lets matter originally co-produce the gift it receives.”

D. C. Schindler, in “Analogia Naturae: What Does Inanimate Matter Contribute to the Meaning of Life?” uncovers an essential aspect of analogy, namely, the positivity of difference.Within a  properly analogical concept of nature, the lower level not only reflects the higher at a diminished grade, but, at the same time, adds something to the higher and so contributes something genuine to the meaning of nature. “The very ecstatic quality that material being contributes to the meaning of life,” Schindler argues, “it also receives back from life in a surprising, but fulfilling way. And all of this belongs to the profound exchange of being that constitutes the analogy of nature, which thus reveals the whole cosmos to be suffused with the meaning of gift.”

Edith Stein is best known as a martyr and a saint. In “Why Do We Need the Philosophy of Edith Stein?” Mette Lebech highlights an aspect of Stein’s life that has been neglected—her original and enduring contribution to philosophy. Lebech traces the itinerary of Stein’s life and writings from her days as a student of Husserl through her embrace of the Carmelite vocation. Faithful to philosophy’s ancient vocation to seek the things themselves, Stein “allows us to see that philosophy is not just a competition of worldviews issuing in a war of words.” Rather, “it is possible to discern what is true in different worldviews (those of classical and modern thought in particular) by criticizing them by means of one another. . . . Stein’s attempt at mediating between traditions thus contributes toward safeguarding the meaningfulness of philosophy and toward enabling us to trust in the meaningfulness of life.”

Finally, Joseph Ratzinger’s essay, “Difficulties Confronting the Faith in Europe Today,” first presented in 1989, returns to the theme of “human ecology.” After rehearsing some common objections to the Catholic faith based on the Church’s sexual morality and sacramental order, Ratzinger notes how these various objections are linked together: “They spring from one and the same vision of humanity within which there operates a particular notion of human freedom.”

Faced with this cultural situation, in order to express “the logic of the Faith in its integrity, the good sense and reasonableness of its view of reality and life,” Ratzinger emphasizes the importance of renewed theological reflection regarding i.) the doctrine of creation; ii.) the metaphysical dimension of Christology; and iii.) the eschatological meaning of the Kingdom of God.