Cardinal Marx in DC

Cardinal Marx in DC May 31, 2012

Yesterday, I went to a talk at Georgetown by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, one of the leading experts in Catholic social teaching. His talk did not disappoint. 

Echoing the thought of the current pope, Cardinal Marx talked about how Christians are tasked with changing the world and making it better. When we die, he noted, we will be asked to account for how we tried to make the world a better place. This is really unique to Christianity, as most of the other major religions have a more static foundation. Our goal is not to create a paradise on earth, but we need to change the world. We cannot preach the gospel with its social aspect. Jesus meant what he said about riches!

Cardinal Marx called for a new humanistic synthesis. He noted that the new evangelization is only possible when it goes beyond the narrow religious aspect. Christian faith must enlighten the culture across all dimensions – social, cultural, economic, political.

Cardinal Marx strongly defended the social market economy, the need to go beyond both capitalism and socialism – a free market tempered by strong regulation and strong social protections. The basis of the social market economy is freedom with responsibility – the financial crisis was the result of too much freedom and not enough responsibility, especially in the financial sector. We need to think beyond a model of financial capitalism that is concentrated on financial returns, he argued. We need strong regulation here, to fix incentives. We need to include other priorities besides profit – the poor, the environment, the climate. We need to think beyond consumer oriented lifestyles, and think beyond GDP.

Echoing John Paul II, he stressed that not every good should be private and subject to the market. He gave the specific example of health care. We need public goods that are available to all.

Responding to a question, he talked a bit about subsidiarity. He started by noting that it didn’t make sense in isolation from solidarity. Christians cannot regard the state as bad, as we are fundamentally Aristotle’s disciples. Both the state and the family are natural institutions. Without the state, man cannot achieve the fullest possible life. It is simply not possible to achieve the common good through an assembly of families, with no role for the state. Germany has a good experience with subsidiarity, especially with its welfare state. For example, the state will ask the Church to operate a kindergarten, and provides the finances to do so. If this is not possible, then the city will provide the kindergarten.

Unemployment, he noted, is never your own responsibility. Since we cannot have a market economy without unemployment, it is a common risk and the state must provide social insurance. A hundred years ago in Germany, a priest was minister of labor and was instrumental in setting up the social insurance system.

Cardinal Marx was asked about the views of American neocons who claim to be orthodox Catholics (not by me!). Diplomatically, he refused to answer, claiming that he was not familiar enough with their positions. He said that we should answer the question ourselves, by stacking up when he says against what they say. He said that these questions also arose in Germany, although there was not such a tradition of black and white, which excluded all compromise.

He put a lot of emphasis on the international dimension – the search for an international order, a framework for the universal common good. In this, he clearly echoed recent Vatican thinking. Christianity is about universalism, emphasizing the common nature of mankind where every person is created in the image and likeness of God. Again, this is unique to Christianity. In Christianity, the Church is an instrument of the unification of all mankind, not just Christians. This is difficult, yes, but it is possible.

Being German, the future of the European Union was very much on his mind. Recalling the Christian foundations of the European Union, he called for a return to the principles of solidarity and the common vision. In Europe, the economic crisis is everybody’s crisis. We cannot say 40 percent youth unemployment in countries like Spain or Greece is not a German problem. It’s about solidarity. We must find a way of sharing the burden. The Church must stand squarely against what he saw as the “re-nationalization” of Europe.

All in all, Cardinal Marx was excellent. The only disappointment is that his book is still not available in English! Everything he talked about was Catholic Social Teaching 101. So how come Americans never hear this?

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  • Smith

    I would have loved to hear him!

    • Jimmy Mac

      Thank goodness that his first name is not another venerable German name – Karl.

  • Mark Gordon

    So how come Americans never hear this?

    Because it’s drowned out by our noisy self-congratulation. Plus, nothing a European has to say is of any use or interest to an American. Just ask Mitt Romney.

  • I think I agree with pretty much everything.

    “Being German, the future of the European Union was very much on his mind. Recalling the Christian foundations of the European Union, he called for a return to the principles of solidarity and the common vision.”

    The principle of solidarity in Europe was the Christian faith specifically. Hopefully that’s what he means. Solidarity in rejecting Christianity is not likely to do Europe much good.

  • Ronald King

    MM, you ask why Americans cannot hear this. Our core beliefs about self, others and the world become rigid when our basic social-emotional hard-wiring becomes solidified around the age of 24. Leading up to that time the protein which is responsible for new emotional learning greatly diminishes in productiion and new emotional learning takes a great deal longer to achieve even when a person is motivated to change. When a person is not motivated to change then you get what we have presently with our narcissistic/antagonistic, theological, social and political environments.
    A person’s identity is formed to fit within a group of like-minded people and it is reinforced with the neurochemistry associated with reward and secure attachments. To move to another group or to dissociate from the present group would create a change in the balance of that neurochemistry and cause great distress. Unless there is an event which enlightens that person through some existential crisis, some spiritual awakening, or some example of a supreme sacrifice from a person of authority(Pope, president, etc.), that person will not change the emotional learning already in place. Of course, there can be an example of a group whose sacrifice is so extreme that it will influence changes in emotional learning. However, the sacrifice must be something that “will shock the world”. This is just how we are constructed.

    • Jimmy Mac

      “To move to another group or to dissociate from the present group would create a change in the balance of that neurochemistry and cause great distress.”

      But far from impossible nor isolated. Ask anyone who is lesbian, gay, transgendered or bisexual.

  • So how come Americans never hear this?

    Because we are afflicted with the dreaded disease of consumerism. In short, we have substitued our desire for a relationship with God (and by proxy our neighbor) which requires faith and can never be completely satisfied in this life, and traded it for a relationship of having, owning and controling which may be attained (often at the expense of others) but which is lowly and hollow.

    Sounds like a wonderful and inspiring message…but the answer isn’t more regulation…its more conversion. Pax et bonum.

  • Wj

    Marx will be speaking tomorrow at the University of Chicago courtesy of the Lumen Christi Institute. http://Www.lumenchristi.org

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    MM, thanks for the very clear summary. At the risk of kicking off a completely tangential discussion, I did want to quibble about one small thing that you said:

    “Christianity is about universalism, emphasizing the common nature of mankind where every person is created in the image and likeness of God. Again, this is unique to Christianity. In Christianity, the Church is an instrument of the unification of all mankind, not just Christians. This is difficult, yes, but it is possible.”

    I think Islam (at least as I have come to understand it) also has universalizing tendencies. The notion of the “dar al Islam” (the House of Peace) suggests that the ideal is to bring all nations into unity under Islam.

    • I actually had the same thought while listening to him!

    • Julia Smucker

      I’ve heard it said that there are three universal religions: Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. All of these profess a message for the entire world rather than for one particular nation or tribe. So I share your quibble, David, that a universal message is not entirely unique to Christianity.

      A related but even more tangential quibble, which I didn’t want to bring up right away, is that we have a bit of a semantic problem here. MM, I think when you say “universalism” you really mean universality (that is, I don’t think you’re talking about soteriology in this context).

    • Mark Gordon

      Islam does have the notion of the Dar al Islam, but also the Dar al Harb, the House of War, defined as every place and heart that has not already submitted to Allah.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Mark, yes it does. My understanding is that the Dar al Harb is to be subjugated (by some means) and incorporated into the Dar al Islam.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    MM,

    “Christians are tasked with changing the world and making it better. When we die, he noted, we will be asked to account for how we tried to make the world a better place. This is really unique to Christianity, as most of the other major religions have a more static foundation.”

    This is a good point and correct ultimately, but it is worth getting it focussed with precision. It is not that other religions are really “static”, but I do understand the direction you have gone with this. For certainly the foundation of other religions of the Middle East are hardly static, and for one at least, its view of acting in the world, even by the most pleasant and respectful takes on it, is even rather rather vehement in its very doctrine and praxis — to euphemize– by comparison with Christianity. Farther afield, nor is the metaphysical foundation of Buddhism static in any way– the opposite. One could go on….but surely the old apologetical notion that all other religions are in some sense “cyclic” , and thus static, does not make sense with the critical study of those faiths.

    But tienes razon in this sense. That Christianity is unique in conceiving of a form of active humility — first shall be last, last shall be first — as a way of actually altering social relations in the world. This was new. (In this regard it is worth noting that quite a number of Popes did rise from the very lowest classes to occupy a position of great socio-political and not just spiritual power. There is little to compare in other faiths relations of power with this.) This points to a notion of active humility, not just the active results of personal realization, but by changing actual relations in the world, according with that sense. It is what in the end works out to a slight difference in emphasis, which worked out to have very profoundly different results.

    This points to an interesting paradox in comparative religions, I believe. Namely, that while there is a profound core sense in which they are all similar, what seem like merely matters of emphasis become pretty huge. Contrast please my formulation here with the hoary tropes of many reactionaries who want truncate the spiritual breadth of other faiths to bolster a rather unrealistic notion of their own. By contrast, there is nothing wrong or inaccurate with saying that a mustard-seed size difference made a huge effect on history! Surely Christianity has not been successful all the time with its notion of active humility, and one might more bleakly say that it has mostly not been successful. BUT — and this is a huge “but”– the fact that it is has been successful at all is what is worth dwelling on profoundly. For given human nature that is an amazing fact in itself, and greatly to the faith’s credit. And worth emphasizing for the betterment of our life here and the world to come.

  • Nate Wildermuth

    “Christians cannot regard the state as bad, as we are fundamentally Aristotle’s disciples. Both the state and the family are natural institutions.”

    Well, he’s half right on both counts: we’re disciples, but of Christ, and the family is as natural as it comes.

    But the state? Must I dig up the Prophet Samuel’s admonitions against Kings, a most unnatural pagan innovation, verses the twelve tribes of Israel? Not only theologically, but anthropologically, the tribe is man’s natural social network: as natural to man as a pod is to dolphins or a pride is to lions. The state violates the natural web of relationships that exist among humans by interjecting violent power into our communities. The Church’s teachings on subsidiarity and solidarity can only be achieved by communities bound in friendship, not violence. But the state and violence are inseparable.

    “Our mission is to do away with war, change the social order, abolish capitalism, and overthrow the State (nonviolently)” – Dorothy Day

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Nate,

    I remember Joe Tyson, now bishop in Yakima, telling me that he went to the Dorothy Day House in DC, in a really tough neighborhood. Well, it was actually quite close to the house we ended up buying here in DC more than 20 years ago. How times change!!! Now the New York Times recently had a special article on the coming upscale wonders of 14th street, within a stone’s throw of that old Dorothy Day House, now somebody’s fabulous loft- house showplace , for sure. Indeed, even Obama himself recently visited a local fabulous sandwich purveyor (not just “shop”) to christen the great new vibe everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I am 110% happy about all of this. So much for “Abolish Capitalism” . “Abolish Capitalism” is a match for the foolishness of Fr. Sirico. Virtue and I, and every other sane person, is in the middle. Just protecting to weak would be the ticket, but RC bishops are too busy lauding the Republicans for anti-abortion animadversions. RC social thought lately seems like a circular firing squad.

    • Nate Wildermuth

      Peter Maurin might agree with you that abolishing capitalism is a foolishness, but then he’d take you through the tour of foolishness that is the Gospel.

      The great thing about abolishing capitalism is that we don’t really have to do much. All we have to do is wait.

      The Dorothy Day house is still standing, still doing the works of mercy. You should visit.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs

        Nate,

        I had a thought after reading your response, and put into Google two names that were included into that thought. And wouldn’t you know, what came up first (!) was a November 11, 2007 Vox Nova posting of a Quote of the Day, featuring a poem by Peter Maurin. What is of great interest is the comment section from which I quote, as it expresses the exact insight I had:

        “Kyle R. Cupp PERMALINK*
        November 12, 2007 12:11 am
        Katerina Ivanovna –
        Do you think this utopian vision of Maurin is achievable through secular means or does it require an explicitly Christian ethos at work in our society? In either case, any thoughts on how to achieve such a world within our pluralistic society?

        Daniel H. Conway PERMALINK
        November 12, 2007 2:34 am
        Maurin would suggest an explicitly Catholic means was requried.

        Katerina Ivanovna PERMALINK
        November 12, 2007 2:34 am
        I don’t think this “utopian vision” can be achievable without a metanoia–a radical conversion, but the Christian who would say: “Yes, that is why is ‘utopian’ therefore not realistic” is a Christian that has lost hope and sight of the mission of Christians to save souls and direct their gaze to the Risen One.

        Daniel H. Conway PERMALINK
        November 12, 2007 2:40 am
        Mauring saw an active role of the Church in the life of the community, modelled on an idealistic version of the French peasant countryside, with an intellectual life an a re-affirmation of man’s attachment to work and the land. Christ in all His Forms, as Eucharist, as present in the priest, as present in the Mystical Body of Christ, and as present in the poor, would all be required.

        SMB PERMALINK
        November 12, 2007 2:45 pm
        “Do you think this utopian vision of Maurin is achievable through secular means or does it require an explicitly Christian ethos at work in our society?”
        Good question. A secular version of Maurin’s distributism would look a lot like Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia. Conversely, it seems at least possible to imagine a personalist economy without the neo-medieval agrarianism favored by Maurin.

        Policraticus PERMALINK*
        November 12, 2007 5:13 pm
        A secular version of Maurin’s distributism would look a lot like Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia.
        Hmmm…not the angle I took.

        Daniel H. Conway PERMALINK
        November 13, 2007 4:39 am
        Politicratus:
        Well not exactly like Pol Pot. But an agrarian “tilt” is present.”

        The extremes always meet. That is why virtue is always in the middle. By contrast, Pol Pot surely would have approved of Maurin’s famous saying: “There is no unemployment on the [collective] farm.”

  • Greg

    I suppose this means your a “Marxist” now?
    Who would have guessed?

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Nate,
    I remember Joe Tyson, now bishop in Yakima, telling me that he went to the Dorothy Day House in DC, in a really tough neighborhood. Well, it was actually quite close to the house we ended up buying here in DC more than 20 years ago. How times change!!! Now the New York Times recently had a special article on the coming upscale wonders of 14th street, within a stone’s throw of that old Dorothy Day House, now somebody’s fabulous loft- house showplace , for sure. Indeed, even Obama himself recently visited a local fabulous sandwich purveyor (not just “shop”) to christen the great new vibe everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I am 110% happy about all of this. So much for “Abolish Capitalism” . “Abolish Capitalism” is a match for the foolishness of Fr. Sirico. Virtue and I, and every other sane person, is in the middle. Just protecting to weak would be the ticket, but RC bishops are too busy lauding the Republicans for anti-abortion animadversions

  • Great post, Kim. I think I will use these ideas to generate some conversation on Face book as well. Blessings!

  • Ironically, the current high levels of unemployment in Spain and elsewhere are chiefly the result of international European institutions, specifically the Euro. A little “re-nationalization” may be precisely what the continent needs to recover.

    • They are the result of a single monetary policy with incompletye integration. The situation on the European periphery today is the same as the American South or Wales/ Northern Ireland in the UK – economically-backward low productivity regions that run permanent deficits that are implicitly financed by membership in a full political union. So Cardinal Marx is right – Europe needs more integration, more solidarity across borders, more sense of a common vision.

      • SB

        That worked well for various iterations of the Roman Empire, didn’t it?

      • john fuller

        As I understand it, there is a difference between the european project and those two examples. the individual nations in the EU have their own bonds which, in effect, is the same as letting them print their own money.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Indeed, the consequences of monetary union without full fiscal union were not thought out completely when the Euro was introduced. However, remember that both the states and local governments in the U.S. issue bonds and no one has ever accused the states of “printing their own money.”

  • Blackadder

    So Cardinal Marx is right – Europe needs more integration, more solidarity across borders, more sense of a common vision.

    The original notion was that creating monetary union would force political and social integration. It was akin to injecting yourself with a deadly virus to provide the proper motivation for finding the antidote. It didn’t work, and the resulting carnage may end up inflaming national tensions far beyond what a straight euro-break up would do. Folks like Martin Wolf, Paul Krugman, Nouriel Roubini, etc. were right to oppose the idea, and it’s unfortunate they weren’t listened to.

  • Tom

    Very good summary Robert….And I agree with you re: the neo-cons and especially the Catholic neo-con’s misrepresentation of subsidiarity. Among other things they provide no evidence that local communities can fund all of the needs currently provided by the federal government. . They also conveniently overlook local factors like racism, xenophobia, sheer lack of familiarity with the poor and marginalized, etc. which might well restrict funding from local sources should it be available for “those” people something cannot easily be overlooked or dismissed out of hand.