I wonder what will be said this morning at the water fountain down the hall from George Weigel’s office at the Ethics & Public Policy Center when they read Sandro Magister’s column today. I will take bets that paramedics will be needed at the American Enterprise Institute, where Michael Novak works, if, as Magister suggests, the writings of a German jurist Ernst-Wolfgang Bockenforde exert sufficient influence on the final version of an encyclical by Bockenforde’s most famous fan, Pope Benedict XVI.
"It is the Church's duty to denounce the fundamental errors that have now been revealed in the collapse of the major American banks. Human greed is a form of idolatry that is against the true God, and is a falsification of the image of God with another god, Mammon." Hey – wait a minute. That is not Bockenforde. Those words were uttered by Benedict himself back in February. Yes, the Pope did say idolatry, not bad management, was at the heart of the economic crisis in the American financial sector.
Bockenforde’s article, published in "Il Regno," a journal from the Sacred Heart fathers, is a full-scale, frontal attack on capitalism. This sentence is precisely the kind of observation that catches the Pope’s attention: "On the basis of [capitalism’s] own dynamic, it constantly seeks to extend itself and to integrate within its functional logic all areas of life to the extent to which they have an economic side, with extensive repercussions also in the area of culture and personal lifestyle. This leads to the extension of economic considerations into all aspects of life."
Readers familiar with the writings of Hans urs von Balthasar or with the charism of Communione e Liberazione and its founder Luigi Giussani will see their influence in the following passage: "So what is capitalism suffering from? It is not suffering only from its excesses and from the greed and egoism of the men operating in it. It suffers from its point of departure, from its functional principle and the power that creates the system. For this reason, it is impossible to heal this illness with marginal remedies; it can be healed only by changing the point of departure." I confess I would be surprised if this finds its way into the encyclical, but it is powerful stuff, and its gets down to the level of theological analysis that few men are capable of. Pope Benedict, however, is one of those few.
The Catholic neo-cons like Weigel and Novak are always reducing Christianity to a prop for Americanism. Liberal Catholics, too, look to the writings of John Courtney Murray, S.J. for sanctioning the parts of the Enlightenment that they approve, such as the First Amendment. But, the Communio school of theologians has always understood that at some deep level, the Enlightenment is a Seraglio.
I read yesterday a note by Winston Churchill written in 1941 when Rommel was still facing Auchinleck not Montgomery. "Renown awaits the Commander who first in this war restores artillery to its prime importance upon the battlefield, from which it has been ousted by heavily armoured tanks." Mutatis Mutandi, we can say that renown awaits the theologian who synthesizes the classic liberalism of the Enlightenment (that is, the liberalism to which both contemporary conservatives and liberals are heirs) with Christian doctrine as St. Thomas Aquinas once synthesized the thought of Aristotle with Christian doctrine and St. Augustine achieved with neo-Platonism. I do not think Bockenforde gets there. But, I do know that the neo-cons are focused on maintaining their heavily armoured tanks not on seeking to go deeply enough into their own presuppositions to discover, as Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez once said, "The problem with capitalism, is that the evil is in its DNA."