Question: On Devil’s Advocates and Infallible Canonizations

Would you look at this.  

 

A Q/A post!  

 

Renee Lin from Forget the Roads [go check out her blog] asked me several years ago (sorry I’m just now getting to it, Renee):

 

“Perhaps you know the answer to this.  It is my understanding that the position of “devil’s advocate” in the canonization process has been done away with.  Could you tell us why?  I think the process is fascinating – I also think that the idea of a devil’s advocate was a good one, so when, why and by whom was the decision made to eliminate the position?  I was also wondering if the declaration of sainthood is infallible.”

 

Let’s look at the infallibility of canonizations first.  This is a topic which comes up every so often when there is a big name canonization and in particular came up when the canonizations of John Paul II and John XXIII happened.  It would take a while to get into the gritty details of the discussion, so see the For Further Reading below for a plethora of articles discussing this point.

 

The simple answer is yes, canonizations are infallible, in that during the canonization the Pope states, without error, that the saint is in Heaven and that the universal Church can safely turn to him or her to intercede for us.  However, it is not the sort of infallible declaration one finds, say, in Pius XII’s declaration defining the dogma of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven.  It isn’t an infallible statement about dogma, because the fact that an individual is in Heaven is not drawn from Divine Revelation, as are the other declared dogmas on faith and morals.  In other words, we know that Mary was assumed into Heaven because we can draw the conclusion based on Scripture, but Scripture does not tell us that any specific saint is in Heaven, so we cannot declare the saint is in Heaven based on Divine Revelation.

 

The canonization is infallible not because it was directly revealed by God but because the evidence collected (miracles through the saint’s intercession, his life of heroic virtue, etc.) points to the fact that the saint is in Heaven.

 

Here’s the actual prayer the Pope says when canonizing:

 

To the honor of the Holy Trinity, for the exaltation of the Catholic faith, and for the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and Our own, after due deliberation and having implored the Divine Assistance by prayer, and by the counsel of many of our brothers, we declare and define Blessed [insert saint’s name here] to be a saint, and we enroll him/her in the catalog of the saints, commanding that he/she be held among the saints by the universal Church, and to be invoked as such by pious devotion. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

It’s a pretty powerful prayer.  It cuts no corners, leaves no doubt as to what is going on.

 

The way in which a canonization is not infallible is in reference to the specifics of the individual’s holiness.  The pope is not teaching that the person being canonized is perfect, or even great at what he or she did.  What is being declared is that the person is in Heaven.  True, saints tend to be models of sanctity, but they are not always models for living other ways of life.  Pope St. Celestine V, famous for being one of the popes to resign, was a terrible papal administrator.  He was a very holy man, but he was not strong in policy.  We should not look to him for an example of how to lead others; instead we should see in Pope Celestine an example of humility.  He was canonized not because he was a great pope, but because he made it to Heaven.

 

Like I said, check out the “For Further Reading” for more on this.

 

On to the Devil’s Advocate.

 

No, not the movie with Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves.

 

The role of the Devil’s Advocate, officially known as the Promoter of the Faith (the Promotor Fidei), was one of canon law, both the Promoter of the Faith and his “opponent,” the canon lawyer tasked with arguing the sanctity of the proposed saint.  Prior to the 1980s, when Pope St. John Paul II changed some of the regulations for the canonization process, the Devil’s Advocate had the role of raising objections to someone being considered a Servant of God.  Sometimes they were legitimate concerns, such as concerns about the person that had not been brought up by the postulator for the cause, but sometimes they were really nitpicky, focusing in some cases on the use of particular words found in the documents of the case.  These objections would be answered by the side supporting sainthood, and then the Promotor of the Faith would send more objections.  This happened three times before the person was declared a Servant of God, allowing the canonization process to move forward and the reports of miracles to be examined.

 

On the one hand, having the Devil’s Advocate in such a direct, constant position in the canonization process helped make sure that there was no doubt about the sanctity of the people canonized.  It made the process go slowly, to be sure.  However, in some cases the cause of a canonization could be held up for decades because of the debates, all written, back and forth between the two sides.  The canonization process, then, relied heavily on the arguments and arguing skills of these canon lawyers.

 

This brings us to Pope John Paul II and his changes to the canonization process in 1983.  In his apostolic constitution Divinus Prefectionis Magister, the Holy Father laid out the changes to the process, streamlining the whole thing.  He didn’t get rid of the Devil’s Advocate entirely; instead, the position of Protector of the Faith received a more concentrated role.  Instead of running the entire opposing position in the process, the Protector is part of a group of figures who read through the Position (the evidence that a person led a holy life) and submit questions about it.  As one commentator puts it, “Instead of a candidate being on trial and having to face accusations by the Promotor Fidei as the Church’s ‘prosecutor,’ the procedure now takes the form of a committee meeting where experts present reports.”  The emphasis in the canonization process is no longer the legal debates but rather the weight of the biographical study within the Position.  The direction of the canonization process is not directed by canon lawyers but rather by historians.

 

There is still an area for debating the merits of a particular person, but it is no longer the role of one man, one Devil’s Advocate.

 

This, of course, does not mean it is easy for a person to be declared a saint.  It isn’t, and it can still take many years and be stalled in the early investigation process.  There is also the process of going from Servant of God to Blessed (which used to require two verified miracles but now only requires one) and Blessed to Saint (again, only one miracle needed instead of two), which can take a very, very long time.  Think, for example, of Queen Isabel of Spain (died 1504) or Mateo Ricci (died 1610), who have both been declared Servants of God but have not had any miracles reported in their name to move them on to become Blesseds.  The same could be said about Pope Benedict XIII, who was declared a Servant of God in 1755, with no progress to his cause since.

 

Again, see below for some more to read about this.

 

I hope this helps answer your questions, Renee.

 

God bless!

 

For Further Reading

 

On Canonizations and Infallibility

Donald S. Prudlo,Are Canonizations based on Papal Infallibility?”

Dr. Prudlo also recently published a book examining how the Church’s understanding of papal infallibility grew out of it’s teaching about canonizations.  Something like that.  I haven’t read it yet, just going from the short info you can read online (you can get it here or here)

Edward McNamara,Canonizations and Infallibility

La Stampa with Giuseppe Sciacca, “Are canonizations infallible?”

Camillo Beccari, “Beatification and Canonization,” Catholic Encyclopedia (1907 edition) 

 

On the Devil’s Advocate

Unam Sanctam Catholicam (blog), “History of the Devil’s Advocate”

Matthew Bunson, “Devil’s Advocate Role Eliminated from Canonization Process”

John Paul II, Divinus Perfectionis Magister

Richard Burtsell, “Advocatus Diaboli” The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) 

William Fanning, “Promotor Fidei” The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) 

Jason A Gray, The Evolution of the Promoter of the Faith in the Causes of Beatification and Canonization: A Study of the Law of 1917 and 1983  [Note: I didn’t actually read through any of this one, as I found it towards the end of writing this post.  However, it looks interesting, so check it out.]

Kenneth L. Woodward, Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes A Saint, Who Doesn’t, and Why.

 

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Mid-year recap

Hi everyone,

 

It’s been too long since I posted.  I have good reason (sounding tired every time I say that).

First, the articles.  Those of you who are on Facebook and members of the Quidquid Facebook group know all about my recent articles published throughout the year, including the ones published through Those Catholic Men.  Many of these post continue the mission of this blog, namely that they are works of Catholic apologetics.  Two of the articles look at the Inquisition and one examines the Galileo controversy.  I recently published one that is more centered on recent eruptions of violence in our nation, less on Catholic apologetics, but it should interest readers of this blog.

 

So there’s one reason I’ve been away from the blog.

 

Another exciting one is because my wife and I were planning a trans-Atlantic trip to England.  We both submitted paper proposals to the 2016 Tolkien Seminar in Leeds, UK; both were accepted, and we gave our talks at the beginning of July.  Unfortunately, my wife’s talk was not recorded, but mine was, and you can watch it here.  It was a great trip (albeit a bit stressful, as all traveling is), and it was great to talk to people interested in one of the greatest writers of the last century and (maybe) even evangelize a little.

 

So that’s the other reason. . .

 

Hey, did you know today’s the feast of St. Martha?  That’s right, she has her own feast day.  AND there’s a Quidquid article on her and her sister Mary which you can read to tide you over until the next blog post which will hopefully be sooner than. . . seven months from now.

 

Remember, if you have any questions about the Faith, what the Church teaches on something, or an objection to the Catholic Church, ask away!  See the top of the blog for how to do that.

 

 

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Reflection: Christmas Eve 2015

Dear “Quidquid” readers,

 

I hope that this Advent season has been one of spiritual growth and grace.  Too often we get bogged down in the preparations for Christmas, the shopping and tree hunting, the decorating and the baking, that we forget the most important reason for this season: to prepare for Christmas.  I mean, of course, Christmas within our hearts, preparing our lives for the coming of Christ, which is what we celebrate with this great feast. 

 

How blessed we are, that our Christ has come! 

 

It has been a long, busy while since I posted anything here, and that is gravely unfortunate.  I have been swamped, as always seems to be the case.  Here’s a rundown of what’s been up. 

 

Most excitingly, Jacob Thomas was born on November 10.  He’s quite the cutie, with is big ol’ eyes and squishy face. 

 

See?  So he’s been taking up a lot of time.

 

I have been writing, of course, just. . . not here.  I had articles published on Catholic Exchange (one on Pope St. Nicholas the Great, written in the midst of taking care of the newborn and my wife; the other on some books to read for Advent and Christmas).  More excitedly, I had my first article published on Those Catholic Men.  It is about the Inquisition, answering some objections to it.  That was a big hit, and even appeared for a couple days on the homepage of Newadvent.org.  I’m set up to write an article for them every month, so keep an eye out for that. 

 

Up for a little spiritual reflection?  Ok, here ya go. 

 

Today is the feast of Sts. Adam and Eve.  Yes, that Adam and that Eve, our first parents, who through their sin brought sin to the rest of the human race.  They lost us the preternatural gifts.  They lost us (for a time) the gift of supernatural grace.  They wounded our human nature. 

 

So why are they saints? 

 

Remember the key thing about being a saint.  It isn’t that they were perfect; it’s that they must have, at some point in their 900+ years of life, regretted their actions.  I don’t mean regretted in a mere I-shouldn’t-do-that way.  I mean deep, painful contrition.  What Scripture can I point to as evidence?  There isn’t much about Adam and Eve in the Bible after the Fall, and the world gets pretty terrible soon afterwards.  However, we do have that tragic story of Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve’s first two sons.  Cain killed Abel out of jealousy.  God favored Abel’s sacrifice to his older brother’s because Abel gave from his heart.  We must ask, then, where did Abel learn to respect God so well?  Since the first instruction in the Faith happens in the family, and parents are the primary teachers of children, we can point to Abel’s parents, Adam and Eve, as the source for his faith in God. 

 

Something must have changed in the hearts of Adam and Eve.  They must have felt contrition and repentance.  Imagine knowing you did something wrong, and that you needed forgiveness for your sins.  But there is no confession.  You have no baptism or access to the gift of sanctifying grace.  Sin is a burden for us when we can go to confession whenever we want (to an extent, of course, since priests have schedules, as do we); imagine having to bear a sin for centuries without sacrificial confession.  Not too pleasant, is it. 

 

One of the early Church Fathers (I can’t remember which) made a great allusion to Adam’s repentance.  He wrote that when Christ came to the Limbo of the Just, so Hell, the first soul to meet Him was Adam, who ran to meet his Lord first, he who sinned first, because he remembered the sound of God’s feet walking in the Garden. 

 

Adam and Eve are saints for the same reason anyone is a saint: turning away from the darkness towards eternal light in Christ.

 

In Christ we have a new creation, with Him as our New Adam.  It is supremely fitting that Adam and Eve have their feast day on Christmas Eve.  Their death in sin mars the first Creation; the death of Christ forms the foundation of the new Creation.  The birth of Christ, then, begins the work of our salvation. 

 

May we have the love of God that brought Adam and Eve to repentance this Christmas.  May we always have hearts open to the love flowing from the Sacred Heart of Christ.

 

God bless,

 

Matthew B. Rose

You, Child, are Our Bond

A fantastic little meditation on Fatherhood. With Rosebud #2 on the way (due November 8), this really hits home.

Thank you, Dr. Cuddeback.

John Cuddeback

Daddy and His Girl

“And children seem to be a bond of union.” Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Moved by these words of Aristotle, I write here…
An Open Letter to My Child
Even your father can never tell you, because I cannot fully know, how good it is that you exist. You will ever be a mysterious wonder to me. Here is one thing, however, that I can tell you about yourself. You are a living bond. You bind me to your mother and your mother to me. By who you are; by your very existence.

You have not chosen this, nevertheless it is a truth about you. It is yours. And I cannot tell you how grateful I am.
It’s not because you look like both of us—though you do, and it always makes me smile.
It’s not because you act like both of us—which you do, sometimes in ways that make me blush.
It’s not because you love…

View original post 138 more words

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Where is he?

Hey everyone!

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the Laudato Si series.  In fact, I have the next part almost ready to post!

But I’ve been really busy.

School started, so there’s been all of THAT chaos going on.  Plus there’s Rosebud 2.0 coming in November, so all of that’s been fun.

AND if that wasn’t enough, I’ve also been reading a book to review for Homiletic and Pastoral Review, running a series for young adults at St. Veronica’s in Chantilly, and I had an article published on Catholic Exchange.

I also had the chance to go to Philadelphia with some of my students to see Pope Francis.  We did get to see him Saturday, as he drove into the Festival of Families.  So exciting!  Earlier last week we watched his speech to Congress live.  That was really exciting for me. . . maybe not as much for my students, but definitely for me.  I liked his speeches, at least the one’s I’ve read.  He did clarify some points that he had made in the past and, contrary to what some people say, he hit on some important pro-life points.

Read through his talks, when you get the chance.

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Reflection: September 11

The following reflection is an adaption of one that I composed five years ago on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  I have kept much of what I said five years ago, adjusting some phrases here, adding some thoughts there.  For the most part, however, I have mostly the same thoughts.  It isn’t typical of my reflections, but I feel that readers here will get a lot out of it.

Fourteen years ago.  Fourteen long years ago, an entire lifetime away.  Literally a lifetime.  I teach freshmen in high school, some of whom were not alive fourteen years ago.  I think, often enough, that 2001 was only a short time ago.  Then I think of today’s date, and what happened fourteen years ago, and realize that it was an eternity.

Fourteen years ago.

I was a sophomore in high school, Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, VA, where I currently teach (cool, right?).  Arlington is just outside of Washington DC, and a lot of the students in my school lived close to the city.  I lived in Maryland and would ride a bus every day, cutting through the city to get to school.

I remember where I was when I first heard the news.  I was sitting in Theology class.  I don’t remember much from that Theology class, but I do remember that it was during second period.  During second period, a voice came over the loud speaker and said, in a very serious voice, that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.  That was all they told us.

Oh, I thought, that’s sad for that pilot.  At that point, I thought a personal plane had crashed into the building.  Why are they announcing it?  Maybe it was a relative of a student.  We said a prayer.  I moved on.  I wished I had paid more attention, so that I could remember better what happened that day.  Even though it was only been a short time ago, everything about that day is a blur.  The events that day from second period to the end of school are mixed up and unclear.

Warren H. Carroll said that historians are “the guardians of memory.”  I fancy myself a historian, but when it comes to my own life, I’m a failed one.

All that said, I will try to remember.

By third period, we had confirmation that it was an airliner, not some personal plane, that had crashed, and that there were two reported crashes.  By fourth period, we were watching the news in class, catching a glimpse of endless smoke pouring out of the buildings.  I had never heard of the World Trade Center before that day, and now it was everything.  My little world now seemed to revolve around it.  Every so often, a child was called to go home.  One by one, the classes dwindled.  Schoolwork?  Some of the teachers thought about it, but gave in, and turned on the TVs.  We were slaves to the news reports.  We soon heard about the attack on the Pentagon.  That added a new level of disturbance because we were about eight miles away, not hundreds of miles away in another state.  We sat in class and watched the screen.  Down the first tower fell.  Down it went, as if it were nothing more than a stack of cards.  It fell so quick, so effortlessly.

Through all of this, I had only a vague understanding of what was happening.  I couldn’t shake Pearl Harbor out of my mind.  I knew now how my grandparents had felt, hearing the reports of that attack.  I knew what it was like to witness an America tragedy, to experience the unsure horror of it all.

I remained at school the entire day, then traveled home on the school bus, weaving our way through the chaotic traffic. When I finally got home, I hugged my mom and little sister (it was, after all, her birthday).  We left the news on the rest of the day.  By evening we saw the bombs dropping, we heard President George W. Bush address the nation, and we hoped that everything would be better soon.

And here we are today.  My generation has been defined by that day.  The so-called “Millennium Generation includes all those who were born between the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1990s, old enough to witness the 9/11 attacks first hand.  That is our legacy.  I am defined by that day of horror.  And it is true.  Look at the world around us; look at popular culture, at politics, at religion, at international relations.  The events of 9/11 have scared these realms.  Nowhere is safe.  Men have made careers based on the events which unfolded that day.  I’m not referring to our soldiers, though anyone in the military since 9/11 in some way owes their career to the attacks.  I am referring to more vocal men.

Look at the world of Pop Culture.  In movies, we see the career of Michael Moore, director of quite possibly the most influential documentary in recent years, 2002’s Bowling for Columbine.  More has revitalized his career because of the 9/11 attacks. Bowling for Columbine briefly connects the violence that day with the violence in this country’s recent history.  Moore’s follow up film, Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), focuses on the attacks and the subsequent invasion of Iraq, particularly by connecting President Bush’s family and Osama bin Laden’s family. It became the highest grossing documentary ever, and has cemented Moore as the documentary filmmaker for the liberal world.  He is loved by some, hated by many, but unless he completely bombs at the box office (his most recently released film, Capitalism: A Love Story (2009), grossed over $14 million domestically), he will continue his rather successful career.

Likewise, the music world has become saturated with anti-President Bush songs, as well as pro-America soldier songs (the latter mostly found on country music stations).  The human struggle in Iraq and Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks bled into the natural disaster which was Hurricane Katrina.  Both were blamed on President Bush and his policies.  One need only listen to the American Idiot album by Green Day or Minutes to Midnight by Linkin Park, to give two examples, to see such anger against the former president.  Would such hatred have arisen without the attacks on the Towers?

Many books and countless news articles have appeared, all because of the attacks and the history afterwards.  It has become the standard, it seems, to hold Bush’s policies following the attacks as wrong, and indeed one should not praise everything he did.  But the anger, the outrage which has persisted these last fourteen years paints America as a country against herself.  Having traveled to Europe, I know that, like us, Europeans get the vast majority of their view of America from popular culture.  Who are Americans?  We are the violent, pill popping, sex crazed monsters which infect movie and television screens.  We are closer to Hell than anyone in Heaven.  This is our national portrait.

But that is not us.  As the true history of our country these last fourteen years shows us, in the soldiers who have fought and died in the Middle East, in the men who have seriously taken charge when the road became rough, in those who remained faithful despite having seen their faith despised, we are not those monsters who inhabit our movies and TVs.  We are better than that.  We are the country that stood against our attackers and fought back.  We are the country that said NO to another force of evil.  We are the country that turned the tragedy of 9/11 into a glimmer of hope.  While we may not have done it as gracefully as one could, we did it.

So it does seem appropriate, then, that such an important event, my generation’s Vietnam, would define us as a nation.  We are strong, we are brave, and we are charitable.  As much as men deny Christ, He informs us, making us the nation we are today.

We run the risk, as any devout Christian can see, of ruining our country.  Many hold it is already ruined, and maybe they are right.  I’m more optimistic.  I think we can have a cultural revolution, a transformation away from the cancer of sin which plagues our country.  It will not happen in a day, nor even in a year.  It will not happen without prayer and fasting, without rejecting that which has become a hallmark of American in the media.  We must seek to fix the broken, rather than setting the broken up as the new normal.  When we are forced to profess our Faith in the shadows, we must produce more spiritual light.  When we are shouted down by hatred, we must sing of Christ love that much louder.  A war wages for America, but it isn’t one of bullets and soldiers, but one of hearts and minds, one of the soul rather than the body.  This blog, in all humility, is my attempt to join that fight for souls.

I am of the Millennium Generation.  I proclaim Christ crucified to a world shaped from the ashes of New York City and Washington D.C.  I use the tools of this world, of my generation, and turn to my brothers and sisters, stretch out my hands and beg for their help.  No man fights alone.  To quote the Christian song “In Christ Alone,”

In Christ alone my hope is found,

He is my light, my strength, my song;

This Cornerstone, this solid Ground,

Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

What heights of love, what depths of peace,

When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!

My Comforter, my All in All,

Here in the love of Christ I stand.

May those who died fourteen years ago today rest in peace.  Amen.

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Reflection on Laudato Si by Pope Francis (Part V)

Pope Francis and Israel's President Shimon Peres plant an olive tree as a symbol for peace after their meeting at the president's residence May 26. (CNS photo/ Amir Cohen, EPA)

If you missed parts I through IV, check them out here

PART V

Chapter Four of Laudato Si is entitled “Integral Ecology.”  Here, Pope Francis again focuses on the interrelatedness of all of creation.  Everything in creation, every animal and rock, person and plant, is essentially good, since it has being, which comes from God (even mosquitoes!).  We are part of nature, not just living in it.  What we do to nature affects us, and what we do to ourselves affects nature.  The problems in today’s society are not divorced from the problems in the natural world.  As Pope Francis says, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental” (139).  As such, we need to study and develop ways to live with nature and with each other, respecting others and the creation God gave us.  We depend on nature for our physical existence, for food, water and shelter.  “We need only recall how ecosystems interact in dispersing carbon dioxide, purifying water, controlling illnesses and epidemics, forming soil, breaking down waste, and in many other ways which we overlook or simply do not know about” (140).  This, the Holy Father notes, is why “sustainable use” natural resources are so important, so that we can utilize our world while allowing it the chance to grow back.  One of the best examples of this is planting trees where forests were harvested, or having fish farms to protect wild fish populations. 

Two social issues expand on the pope’s discussion of sustainable use.  The economic systems of our nations should reflect our effort to protect the world, and our society should enforce laws which deal with environmental and human factors.  Economies are only helpful in so far as they help the people of a nation, and they should take into account environmental factors as well as human ones.  A nation which has laws protecting the environment or defending the innocent, but does not enforce such law, does more harm than good.  What good are laws if they are not enforced?  This leads to a culture of disrespect. 

Speaking of culture, Francis next turns his attention to a “cultural ecology,” which is not as much a culture of ecologists, but rather approaching human culture with the same care as one approaches the environment.  This is an important discussion because we face not just the extinction of plants and animals in our world, but also the extinction of entire ways of life.  Too often man-made environmental changes, either exploiting or protecting the ecosystem in question, ignore the needs of indigenous groups, who have coexisted with their natural neighbors for centuries, in some cases for millennia. 

Many intensive forms of environmental exploitation and degradation not only exhaust the resources which provide local communities with their livelihood, but also undo the social structures which, for a long time, shaped cultural identity and their sense of the meaning of life and community. The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems. (145)

Because of their important role in understanding an ecosystem, indigenous cultures should be brought into environmental discussions.  “When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best” (146).  Working with these people, rather than against them, shows respect for the whole ecology of a region. 

Pope Francis next examines how we can incorporate this ecology into our daily lives.  It is, in a sense, about taking care of our own environment, specifically where we live and work.  The pope’s reflection calls to mind Christ’s teaching “Love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:39 and Mark 12:31), for if we do not properly love ourselves, we cannot properly love our neighbors.  We cannot care for the world-wide environment if we cannot care for our local, personal environments.  In this context, Pope Francis addresses again the issue of extreme poverty, which plagues so much of the world.  In these situations of disease, filth, and violence, it may seem that all is hopeless. 

However, as human history shows, “love always proves more powerful” than the evils of a corrupt city (149).  We need to remember that charity isn’t just giving money; it is acting in love, namely the highest form of love.  Charity is that sacrificial love of another, caritas in Latin, agape in Greek.  It is the love which St. John the Evangelists, the “beloved disciple,” uses to describe God (1 John 4:8).  So in charity, we help out neighbors, whether it be giving money to help them, or helping build them proper homes (in paragraph 152, Pope Francis notes that “lack of housing is a grave problem in many parts of the world”). 

This section on ecology in our lives has a lengthy paragraph on “human life and the moral law” (155).  In this paragraph, Pope Francis looks at how we view our bodies, for how we view our body correlates to how we view our environment.  This is one of those paragraphs that I’m pretty sure socially liberal fans of the encyclical did not read (along with the ones discussed earlier about abortion and overpopulation).  I say this because here Pope Francis speaks out about gender identity.  The discussion in the encyclical is brief (it is only part, after all, of a larger tapestry about our common home), and there is a lot more that could be said about the issue in light of the Church’s teaching.  However, Francis felt addressing the issue of gender identity was important, particularly in light of charity.  Here are the Holy Father’s words:

Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an “ecology of man,” based on the fact that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will” [here he is quoting Pope Benedict’s address to the German Parliament, the Bundersrat, in 2011].  It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings.  The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.  Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology.  Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.  In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment.  It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it” [here he is quoting one of his own Wednesday Audience addresses from April 15, 2015]. 

Pope Francis is clearly rejecting the popular manipulation of the body.  He isn’t talking about staying healthy or trying to loose weight.  He is talking about gender identity.  He is talking about masculinity and femininity and the role those two aspects of human nature play in our lives.  There are certain traits, gifts from God, associated with being a man and being a woman.  We must embrace who we are and not seek to change our gender to fit our wants.  If I am a man, then that is part of who I am.  The same goes for women.  Otherwise I cannot “recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different,” which is literally every other human being in existence besides me.  If people in society cannot recognize themselves for who they are, then we have a society which cannot communicate, which cannot relate to its own members.  There is an important difference between men and women (and it is more than their reproductive organs).  Differences aren’t bad, of course; they are essential.  A woman isn’t less than a man because she is not a man, nor is a man less than a woman because he is not a woman. 

It is an important discussion, one which I should discuss in a later post.  For now, I would like to move to the end of the encyclical. 

Pope Francis concludes the chapter with a brief discussion of two points: the common good of society and justice between human generations.  Remember a point made during our last reflection: the Church’s teaching concerning care for the environment falls under God’s prohibition against stealing.  We cannot steal the gifts of God from later generations, in particular the gifts of our world.  We cannot rob our children of their planet, nor should we simply solve the immediate problems and leave the larger ones for someone else.  That is not the way a family solves its problems; our human family should not turn to that solution either.  In other words, when we plan how to protect our common home, we must think of long standing solutions, cures rather than bandages.  Take a polluted river, for example.  A short term solution to the pollution would be to remove the garbage that collects along the river’s banks.  A lasting solution, in light of what Pope Francis teaches, would be to educate future generations to respect the not pollute, to conserve water, etc. 

Nor should we sit back and say there is nothing wrong with our world from where we sit, so there is nothing we should do.  The pope’s major issue here is individualism, which is when we make ourselves the measure of the rest of the world.  It stems from one of the great moral evils of our modern world: utilitarianism.  The Holy Father is writing against such selfish evil, the “what’s in it for me” mentality that infects pseudo-philanthropy.  But we are not the center of the world.  Our world is more than an extension of our personal yard.  It is a home shared with all of humanity, our extended human family.  We must first recognize the other man, the stranger whom we dread to meet.  Again, the refrain of the encyclical appears: the environmental problems in today’s world stem from an even greater problem in our society. 

We need a proper human ecology. 

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Question: Why did God become a man?

I’ll get back to the reflections on Laudato Si next week.  This week, I want to answer a reader’s question.  It’s been a while since we looked at a Q&A. 

Ironic, since that’s the original purpose of the blog. . . . 

Anyway, so Marcy asks, “Why would God decide to come to us as one particular gender? It seems like such limiting form for an omnipotent and infinite being. And why male? Assuming heavenly omnipotence, why would he/she/it do something that would make many of his human creations feel so left out, disconnected, disenfranchised, and second-class, especially if said being could know all things and see how such a choice would be used against women? (Or anyone who wasn’t a white male.) (And don’t tell me about virgins and mothers. It doesn’t help.)”

Above: The Sinless One helps the Sinner.

There’s a lot in this question, much of which neither I nor any other human being can answer, since it requires knowing the mind of God.  But I have a feeling that Marcy doesn’t want me to just write “I have no idea” and leave it at that.  So I’ll do my best. 

Let’s first look at the gender of God.  God is pure spirit, meaning He does not have a physical body.  As such, He does not, properly speaking, have a gender, since one’s gender is linked to one’s physical body.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, “God transcends the human distinction between the sexes.  He is neither man nor woman: He is God.  He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although He is their origin and standard” (CCC 239).  So God is beyond male and female.   

So why did he reveal Himself as male?  Why not female? 

Remember something very crucial, something too many people who read the Bible forget: God did not give His Revelation to the modern world.  I don’t mean, of course, that He does not speak to us, for He speaks to all ages through His inspired Word.  What I mean is this: the Bible itself was written in a specific historical time by specific historical people.  God spoke to/through these people, and He used images that they would understand.  That does not make what they wrote wrong or anything like that, any more than a parent’s attempt to explain something complicated to a child makes the parent’s explanation wrong.  We all do that, using metaphors to explain what we know, but others don’t understand. 

We see this in the creation story.  It wouldn’t have helped the Israelites understand God’s role in creating if the creation story began, “In the beginning, God formed hydrogen atoms and compressed them into a tiny bundle of atomic energy.  Don’t worry about what atoms are; you won’t be able to detect them for another three thousand years.  And thus the atomic cloud expanded, and the atoms mixed and crashed into each other to form other atoms” and so on and so forth.  It’s hard to understand even today, and we HAVE the technology and science to understand.  In fact, I’m pretty sure my explanation here is lacking in some crucial detail, but hopefully you, kind readers, will move past my poor understanding of astrophysics and see this crucial theological point: God teaches to our level of understanding.  This includes when He teaches about Himself. 

In the ancient world, it was understood that the male of an animal (people included) gave life through sexual intercourse.  To use sort-of philosophical lingo, the woman was a passive receptor to the man’s active fertilization.  Remember that mammalian eggs were not discovered until 1827, and human eggs were not discovered until a century afterwards.  For the majority of human existence, people thought that the seed of the man gave life to the woman’s dormant womb.  Hence the strange phrase “sprung from your loins,” referring to a child of a man.  You see this ancient sexual image in the creation account.  God injects life into the passive world through His Word.  John Paul II draws out this point in one of his reflections which makes up his Theology of the Body (specifically the one on September 12, 1979), noting that Genesis 1 uses terms like “separated” or “placed” when speaking of inanimate objects, but uses the terms “created” and “blessed” when discussing the creation of animals and man.  When God creates living things, He gives them life in a unique way, different from the rest of creation. 

In the ancient world, that makes Him the Father, the source of all life.  In fact, the ancient Israelites called God Father for that exact reason, since He was the source of all that is.  It wasn’t until Christ came that we learned that God is Father in a completely different way: His divine paternity did not begin with His creating time, but rather is from all eternity as the Father of the Divine Son (see CCC 238-242 for a detailed discussion of this point). 

So God revealed Himself as the source of all creation, as Father.  However, He did not limit Himself to only masculine terminology.  We see God compared to a mother several times in the Old Testament.  In Deuteronomy 32:18 we read how Moses reprimanded the Israelites for rejecting God: “You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you / You forgot the God who gave you birth.”  This quote shows the creative paternity of God (begetting is typically a paternal term in the Old Testament) and an interesting maternal aspect of God, one where God gives birth to the Israelites too; in a sense, it is a double reference to the Israelite’s dependence on God as a son would be dependent on his parents.  The Old Testament prophets likewise draw out the image of God as a mother, usually in reference to animals (Hosea 13:8, in reference to those who embraced pagan worship, reads “I will attack them like a bear robbed of its young, and tear their hearts from their breast; I will devour them on the spot like a lion, as though a wild beast were to rend them”) or to mothers of newborns (Isaiah 49:15 has the important comparison between a neglectful mother and God, that even if mothers forget their babies, or the child in their wombs, God will not forget us, and Isaiah 66:13 sees God comparing Himself to a comforting mother). 

Keep in mind, just as with the references to God’s paternity, we don’t have God saying, “I’m a woman” just as we don’t have Him saying, “I’m a man.”  Also keep in mind that God isn’t saying to the Israelites, “I am a mother,” but is rather saying, “I’m like a mother.”  These are metaphors and analogies.  Analogies are not the same thing as equivocations.  God isn’t equating Himself with a mother goddess, but He is comparing His love to a love which any human can understand, that of a loving mother. 

The best example of Christ comparing Himself to a mother is in the famous passage in Luke 13:34 (the equivalent is found in Matthew 23:37):

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling!

Above: Don’t mess with Mama Hen!

Again, we see the image of God as a caring mother who would do great things for the Israelites if they would only follow Him.  But since they won’t, “Behold, your house will be abandoned” (Luke 13:34). 

So God revealed Himself using primarily masculine terms and images, but He also used feminine metaphors to explain other aspects of His divine love. 

So why did God choose to be incarnated as a man instead of a woman, or in a particular gender at all?  The phrasing of Marcy’s question has two alternatives to Christ being incarnated as a man.  On the one hand, Christ could have instead been incarnated as a woman, and such an incarnation could have allayed some of the sexism that has reappeared throughout human history, scandalously among Christians; on the other hand, Christ could have been incarnated as a hermaphrodite, a man-woman, and would theoretically have been “free” from gender roles, more indicative of God’s genderlessness, as discussed above.  Wouldn’t either of those have been better ideas, in the long term? 

Here’s where I stir the controversial gender pot.  From what I can tell, Christ’s Incarnation as a male was not a divine coin flip (“Ok, heads I come as a man, tails as a woman; flip the coin, Gabriel”).  God became a man, not just any human, as an essential aspect of the Incarnation.  I will give three reasons. 

The first reason involves creation.  Remember the point we made about fatherhood in the ancient world seen as the cause of life, planting the seed in the fertile woman.  Now, we know that you need a woman as much as a man to have a baby, but as pointed above, as far as the creation of the world is concerned, only one source was needed: God.  God made everything out of nothing (hence the earlier biblical language of God as father and mother, even though God has no passiveness in Him), so He is the only source of creation. 

We need to keep this in mind when discussing Christ.  Christ’s coming is a new creation.  He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (John 1:3).  These phrases are reminiscent of the creating Father from Genesis.  In coming Christ does not create a new physical world.  Rather, He gives us new spiritual life.  He is the source of that life, just as God is the source of life in the original creation.  To emphasize this connection, it was more appropriate for God to be incarnated as a man.

The second reason is the historical context of the Incarnation, “the fullness of time” in St. Paul’s words to the Galatians (Gal. 4:4).  Christians reflecting on the historical context of the Incarnation, from earlier writers like St. Paul and St. Augustine, to modern writers like Warren H. Carroll and Brennan Pursell, note that the time of Christ’s Incarnation was really a great moment for God to become man.  The known world was “at peace” in the Pax Romana of Caesar Augustus; Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle had fertilized the intellectual world with discussions of existence, truth, and the immaterial world, ideas that had been spread through the conquests of Alexander the Great; Hebrew priests prayed and sought purification in preparation for the coming Messiah, understanding that soon the prophecies of Daniel and Malachi were coming true.  These three cultures, the Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews, paved the way for the coming of Christ, and provided the historical context for the Incarnation. 

This historical context provides a key to why God became incarnate as a man.  Few would argue against the fact that the early Roman Empire was a man’s world.  In fact, one of the reasons some Romans avoided Christianity was because Christians taught that men and women were to be treated with equal respect.  For the Hebrews, the testimony of women was often dismissed in court.  These two points are crucial for understanding why God came as a man.  If He had come as a woman, both the Romans and the Hebrews would have rejected His (Her) preaching out of hand, simply based on gender.  By coming as a man, Christ gives weight to his teaching, touching the hearts of those who otherwise would not listen.  Crowds of thousands gather to listen to Him speak; they wouldn’t gather if He had been a She.  In a similar way, Christ as a hermaphrodite might have done more harm than good, as such a figure would not command respect, perhaps less than a female Christ would.

Why did He come as a man?  To get His Gospel spread throughout the world so that everyone could be saved, especially the marginalized women of antiquity.  The love of Christ extends to all men and women.   

The third reason involves the coming of the Messiah, as far as the Israelites were concerned.  The Messiah was to come as a fulfillment of the prophecies regarding the Davidic kings of old.  God promised David that his kingdom would last forever (see 2 Samuel 7); the Messiah would be the heir of David’s throne, a son of David.  Likewise, the Messiah was expected, somehow, to right the wrongs of Israel.  Christ did this in an extraordinary way, by taking on the role of the New Adam (see Romans 5), atoning for Original Sin just as Adam was responsible for causing Original Sin (if you ever come across someone who blames Eve for the Eden issue, tell them to read the WHOLE Bible.  Even though Eve was partly to blame for disobeying God, Adam ALWAYS carries the most weight for the sin). 

The masculine aspect of Christ’s Incarnation did not stop Christ from using women as his evangelists.  One needs to look no further than Christ’s encounter with the woman at the well (John 4) and how she evangelized her entire village.  We can see among Christ’s early followers a lot of women, albeit not among the Twelve Apostles, but certainly among those who helped with the early Church and who listened to Jesus (remember the story of Martha and Mary?  I wrote more about that earlierOf course, there is Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who holds a place in the Church higher than any other saint. 

The most basic answer to all of this, to why God came as a man, and why we refer to God in masculine pronouns and titles, is that God wanted it that way.  Remember something so crucial, so neglected in our day: we are not God.  While we can theorize what could have happened, or why something happened one way versus another way, we have to keep in mind that things happen for a reason.  God came as a man for a reason.  Perhaps His reasons were none of the ones listed above, and my entire post has been a poor attempt on the part of a finite man to rationalize the actions of the infinite God. 

One final point.  This whole question centers on the issue of God limiting Himself in the Incarnation to one gender.  In a sense, this issue falls into a classic idiom, missing the forest for the trees.  Yes, by coming as one gender or another, God limited the physical body of the Incarnate Word.  However, we must remember that the Incarnation itself was God, in a sense, limiting Himself.  As that early Christian hymn recorded in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians states, Jesus Christ,

though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. 

Rather, he emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

coming in human likeness;

and found human in appearance,

he humbled himself,

becoming obedient to death,

even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him

and bestowed on him the name

that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that

Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:6-11)

The Incarnation shows the deep humility of God, for in emptying Himself of His divine splendor, by coming as one of us, He allows us to come to Him in a way we could not before.  Adam sinned by trying to make himself a god.  God rectifies what he did by making Himself man, with all his physical limits. 

I hope this long answer actually answers your question, Marcy.  If not, feel free to refine your question in the comment box below.  Actually, everyone else, be sure to comment on the post with questions and thoughts, to further the discussion. 

For Further Reading:

Brumley, Mark “Does the Bible Support the Feminist God/Dess?”  https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/jp2tb2.htm

John Paul II, “Biblical Account of Creation Analyzed” Delivered 12 September 1979.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/jp2tb2.htm

I also go more into the nature of God in my second Reflection on the first part of the Creed.  

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Enter Strawpope Frank

Yes. Very Yes. Both Secular AND Catholic people should give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt BEFORE posting/critiquing.

The Catholic Geeks

Note: If you listen to The Catholic Geek Radio Show, the following may seem familiar.

Pope Francis - Commie Crucifix strawpope

You may have noticed a new segment on the blog under “The Church.” It’s called Strawpope Frank. Because, let’s face it, every time the Pope says something, the media headlines it as something completely different — much like a Monty Python sketch, only not as funny.

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REFLECTION ON LAUDATO SI BY POPE FRANCIS (PART IV)

For those of you just joining us, this is Part IV of a VII part series on Laudato Si.  Click on the links to see Part I, Part II, and Part III.  Feel free to comment and get the conversation going.  

PART IV

Chapter Three of Laudato Si looks at the human causes of the environmental problems today.  The Pope’s focus, however, isn’t on destructive acts of pollution or carbon emissions; rather, Francis looks at the more cultural causes of the crisis.  He first takes up the threat of an over-technological world.  While there are obvious advantages to technological advances (such as faster transportation and simplified means of communication), one must be naïve to ignore the fact that new technology has brought with it new evils.  “We need but think of the nuclear bombs dropped in the middle of the twentieth century, or the array of technology which Nazism, Communism and other totalitarian regimes have employed to kill millions of people, to say nothing of the increasingly deadly arsenal of weapons available for modern warfare” (104).  The Holy Father points to the problem of using useful technology as “an epistemological paradigm” to govern and guide our lives (107).  The risk, of course, is one of priorities.  We can use technology to better our lives, but we should not make our lives or our society revolve around the technology we use.  This is particularly problematic in today’s economically and politically charged world (for conservative Catholics who scoff at Francis’ economic views, he quotes Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate to support his economic teaching in par. 109).  

Pope Francis connects these economic and technological issues with the ecological focus of the encyclical through teleology.  If we immerse ourselves in a technological life or economy, we will find ourselves thinking in the moment, and not looking towards the future.  We forget future generations, the ones who will suffer as a result of our recklessness.  We have to think bigger than ourselves.  In ecological terms, that means we have to think beyond solving immediate environmental issues and instead look at solving the bigger problems:

Ecological culture cannot be reduced to a series of urgent and partial responses to the immediate problems of pollution, environmental decay and the depletion of natural resources. There needs to be a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm. Otherwise, even the best ecological initiatives can find themselves caught up in the same globalized logic. To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system. (111)

We must have a cultural revolution, where we change how we live to help save the world.  We must turn from our “modern anthropocentrism” before we lose everything. 

But such a change cannot come at the cost of innocent human lives.  “When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected” (117).  Repeatedly, Pope Francis returns to the connectedness of our world, of human life and life on earth.  Our relationship with our home can only be fixed if we fix our broken relationships within our human family.  “Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence” (119).  This means, Pope Francis again reminds us, that we cannot say that we must protect the environment if we support or justify abortion.  In par. 120, the Holy Father cries out, “How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” 

Peter Singer should take note. 

I remember, almost two decades ago, going with my family to a prayer vigil the evening before the March for Life in Washington D.C.  There was a short skit at one point, followed by a song.  In both the skit and song, endangered animals (whales, pandas, etc) came together and sang that we must “save the baby humans / don’t let them disappear.”  While some might have thought the whole thing tacky, it struck a chord in my animal fanatic heart.  I knew at that young age that abortion was wrong, but I hadn’t thought of abortion and conservation as connected.  Both abortion and a reckless treatment of the environment stem from a moral relativism that infects our culture.  So Pope Francis writes,

In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species? Is it not the same relativistic logic which justifies buying the organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation, or eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted? This same “use and throw away” logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary.  (123)

Life’s connectedness is the theme of the Holy Father’s encyclical, and he will develop it a lot more in a later chapter.   

The rest of chapter three focuses on two seemingly different moral points: the rights of workers and experimenting on plants and animals.  Both points are essentially linked, for the Church’s teaching on them stems from the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal.”  The connection between workers’ right and stealing is obvious.  By depriving workers of their wages, an employer steals what is due to the worker.  We have a “vocation to work,” as is seen in God’s command to Adam to take care of the garden in Genesis 2 (128).  It is no accident that one of the sins that cry to Heaven for vengeance is “depriving workers of their wages.”  A just wage is essential to allow people to live comfortably.  That much is straight forward. 

How, then, does biological research on plants and animals fit into this discussion?  Simply put, if we needlessly destroy plant and animal life for our own selfish ends, we are stealing from our human neighbors, including future generations, and abusing a gift given to us by God.  It is wasting life.  Pope Francis is very clear that it is fine to experiment with plants and animals to help humanity, but you must not, as the Catechism says, “Cause animals to suffer or die needlessly” (CCC 2418; see Laudato Si, 130).  As far as genetically modified food is concerned, Francis does not reject growing and consuming such food.  However, he does condemn large corporate farms driving out and bullying small, private farm, destroying the smaller farmer’s way of life.  Again, Pope Francis focuses on subsidiary as the guiding principle when dealing with social issues (134-135). 

Wrapping up this discussion of human-environment interaction, Pope Francis once again brings up the issue of those who defend the environment without defending human dignity, particularly with experimenting on human embryos: 

There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development. In the same way, when technology disregards the great ethical principles, it ends up considering any practice whatsoever as licit. As we have seen in this chapter, a technology severed from ethics will not easily be able to limit its own power. (136)

This is a clear condemnation of research into things like embryonic stem cells or using genetic material obtained from aborted fetuses; by extension, the paragraph condemns the trafficking of aborted baby body parts, a barbaric practice which has recently come to light (if such a phrase is appropriate for such behavior) in the United States.  We cannot justify experimenting on human embryos, especially when the embryo is killed for such experimentation.  We cannot seek to put the rights of plants and animals above our own human brothers and sisters, especially above those who, in their innocence, have not yet breathed our planet’s air, or had the chance to feel the sun touch their skin, or enjoy the coolness of a breeze (see CCC 2418).  We must be wary of using technology to oppress a section of our human family, whether that portion of humanity is born or unborn. 

To use others in such way is, frankly, inhuman.  

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