Fr C. John McCloskey, a Church historian and research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, recently reviewed Samuel Gregg’s Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future.
Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich., has written a very timely book, given the concerning state of our economy and, more importantly, our ever-declining moral life.
Becoming Europe opens with an account of the human slaughter and economic disaster of the First World War, which, as they say, “changed everything.” In particular, it opened the way for the Second World War, in part through the economic collapse of a defeated Germany during the Weimar Republic. The desperate situation in which a bankrupt Germany found itself eventually offered an opening for the hate-filled demagoguery of Adolph Hitler, the Third Reich and the Second World War. (more…)
Samuel Gregg, Director of Research at Acton, discusses Blessed John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) in a new article in Crisis Magazine. Entitled, ‘Veritatis Splendor: The Encyclical That Mattered’, Gregg makes the claim that this encyclical may become one of the greatest in history. Why?
For one thing, Veritatis Splendor was the first encyclical to spell out the Catholic Church’s fundamental moral teaching. Catholicism had of course always articulated the moral dimension of Christ’s message. Never before, however, had a pope provided a formal systematic outline of Catholic moral doctrine. That alone makes the encyclical a perennial reference-point for Catholic reflection.
Second, Veritatis Splendor provided what’s now widely recognized as a powerful response to the crisis into which Catholic moral theology fell after Vatican II. In many respects this crisis was precipitated by the debates surrounding Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. But more deeply, Veritatis Splendor was a rejoinder to many Catholic theologians’ attempt to do three things.
Gregg goes on to state that this encyclical reminds the world of the truth that will set us free:
Herein lies VeritatisSplendor’s importance for anyone who wants to preserve and promote civilization. Not only does it insist that particular acts are eternally unworthy of man. It also affirms that human reason can identify what the encyclical calls certain “fundamental goods” that transcend the particularities of the here-and-now.
In that sense the encyclical reminds us that avoiding evil isn’t enough. As Veritatis Splendor’s unfolding of Christ’s encounter with the rich young man illustrates, the prohibitions contained in God’s moral law are supposed to be a spring-board toward human flourishing.
Last night on Real News on The Blaze TV, Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg joined the panel to add his analysis of the current financial crisis in the nation of Cyprus, and the potential impacts that this crisis could have for other European Union nations that are currently trying to deal with financial issues of their own.
National Public Radio did a roundup of views on what to expect from Pope Francis on economic issues. Reporter Jim Zarroli interviewed Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg and several commentators on the Catholic left. NPR host Audie Cornish introduced Zarroli’s report by observing that the new pope “comes from Argentina, where poverty and debt have long posed serious challenges. In the past, when thrust into debates about the country’s economic future, Francis had made strident comments about wealth, inequality and the markets. Now, some Catholics are hoping their new pope will play a similar role, giving voice to the poor and exerting influence on a global scale.” But Cornish cautioned that if “some say the idea that Pope Francis is some kind of economic liberal is to misread him and the church.”
Here’s the exchange between Gregg and Zarroli that wrapped up the report.
ZARROLI: But anyone who expects Francis to take an active role as a critic of capitalism is sure to be disappointed, says Samuel Gregg, research director of the Acton Institute. Gregg says even as the new pope was criticizing the IMF, he was also taking a stand against liberation theology, the leftist movement that swept some parts of the church in the 1970s and ’80s. Gregg says Francis saw the movement as tainted by Marxist ideas that were at odds with church teaching and he didn’t want the church in Argentina to become politicized.
SAMUEL GREGG: Liberation theology, at least certain strands of liberation theology, insisted that the church had to become involved in more or less revolutionary movements for justice. And his response was no, that is not the responsibility of priests. Priests are supposed to be pastors. They’re supposed to be guides. They’re supposed to offer the sacraments. They’re not politicians. They’re not revolutionaries. (more…)
In the Wall Street Journal, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg turns to French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville to show how democratic systems can be used to strike a Faustian bargain. “Citizens use their votes to prop up the political class, in return for which the state uses its power to try and provide the citizens with perpetual economic security,” Gregg explains. This, of course, speaks to the current catastrophe that is the European welfare state. French workers, for example, “clearly expect the government to protect them from the economic consequences of their curious work habits,” he adds.
Some 180 years ago, Tocqueville predicted in his magnum opus “Democracy in America” that something similar would be one of democracy’s long-term challenges. Though Tocqueville never used the expression “welfare state,” he worried about the potentially corrosive effects of democratically elected governments that tried to use their powers to guarantee economic security for as many people as possible.
Democracy, Tocqueville argued, was capable of breeding its own form of despotism, albeit of the “soft” variety. He spoke of “an immense protective power” that took all responsibility for everyone’s happiness—just so long as this power remained “sole agent and judge of it.” This power, Tocqueville projected, would “resemble parental authority” but would try to keep people “in perpetual childhood” by relieving people “from all the trouble of thinking and all the cares of living.”
But here’s the catch. Many people today forget that Tocqueville wasn’t writing for an American audience. His book was for French readers and therefore, by extension, much of Europe’s 19th-century political elite. What would some of those elites today—such as a career-politician and confirmed statist like Arnaud Montebourg—make of his compatriot’s warnings?
Director of the Istituto Acton in Rome, Kishore Jayabalan, and Acton Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, were recently featured on Ave Maria’s Al Kresta in the Afternoon to discuss the selection of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires as Pope Francis.
Jayabalan was in St. Peter’s Square for the announcement and he says that the mood in Rome was quite different than it was in 2005. Despite the thousands of people in the square, it was very quiet; most people were very surprised by the selection. Kresta points out that Bergoglio “understands the importance of identifying with the people” and Jayabalan believes that the new pope will get “back to the basics of Christianity” and “recover the true spirit of Christianity.”
Listen to the full interview here:
Gregg was also in the middle of the action in Rome. He describes Bergoglio as “simple,” “very spiritual,” and a “solid theologian.”
Listen to his comments here:
Please note that the clip does not end prematurely; Gregg did not return to the show after the break.
Acton president and co-founder, Rev. Robert Sirico, and Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, are currently in Rome for the upcoming papal conclave. Here’s a roundup of their observations, including thoughts on the legacy of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI.
Rev. Sirico was recently on the Laura Ingraham show discussing Benedict XVI’s resignation and legacy with guest host, Raymond Arroyo. Rev. Sirico pointed out that in some ways this is an “era of firsts,” once a new pope is elected, there will be photographs of the pope and the pope emeritus together. Sirico and Arroyo talk about Benedict’s plans for retirement and that his legacy has been a noble one. Rev. Sirico argues that some of Benedict’s biggest contributions as “the pope of reason” are his encyclicals, his liturgical reform, and his refusal to compromise the truths of the faith. Finally, they note that Benedict fought to move the ongoing secularization “in the direction of the sunlight.”
Listen to their conversation below:
Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, was invited on Ave Maria’s Al Kresta in the Afternoon to talk about true reform in the Catholic church. They discuss Gregg’s recent article, “Catholicism, True Reform and the Next Pope,” the new era that the church is entering into, and the reforms that must occur. Gregg states that the church is always in need of reform, as humans are sinful and need to continually conform their lives to Christ. The church as a whole needs this reform in order to better equip it for it’s ultimate purpose: evangelizing.
Listen to the full interview:
Samuel Gregg also spoke to Dave Weekley from Metro News Hotline. They first discuss the search for a new pope. Gregg points out that there are about 115 cardinals who will be voting, several of these men are from Italy, but they are from all over the world with about 50 percent being European. Gregg also discusses his personal reaction to Benedict XVI’s resignation.
For all the latest news about Benedict’s resignation and the selection process for the new pope, visit Acton’s Resource Page.
Stroughter asked Gregg about the dichotomy between “cuddle capitalism” (the European social model) and a dynamic market economy. Gregg says that Americans are more and more choosing a ‘Europeanized’ economy favoring security over economic liberty.
Listen to the full audio here:
You can purchase the hardcover or eBook version of Becoming Europe here.
On the website of Crisis Magazine, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at the “tsunami of unsolicited advice from pop atheists, incoherent playwrights, angry ex-priests, and celebrity theologians that has erupted since Benedict XVI’s abdication.” Then there’s Hans Küng’s article in the New York Times:
Much of Küng’s article involves his familiar tactics of citing dubious polls (as if polls somehow determine Christ’s will for His Church) about Catholics’ views of the usual subjects as well as propagating myths about Church history. Then there is his mockery of the evident love for Benedict and his saintly predecessor by young church-going Catholics. According to the good professor, we shouldn’t pay too much attention to “the wild applause of conservative Catholic youth groups.” Plainly it’s been a very, very long time since young Catholics have applauded Father Küng—assuming, that is, they even know who he is. As one such person recently remarked to me: “Hans Küng? I thought he was dead.”
Writing in his Carnets du Concile during the Second Vatican Council, the Jesuit theologian and council peritus Henri de Lubac—who was no reactionary—described Küng as possessing a “juvenile audacity” and habitually speaking in “incendiary, superficial, and polemical” terms. Nothing, it seems, has changed. But amidst his litany of half-truths, Küng is right about one thing. There is something dying in global Catholicism. It’s just not what he thinks it is.
Should Catholics be concerned about the looming budget cuts? The National Catholic Register asked several Catholic leaders and thinkers, including Acton’s Samuel Gregg, for their response to the sequester:
Re-establishing fiscal discipline and welfare reform are necessary components to securing the common good, a key principle in Catholic social teaching, said Samuel Gregg, author of the new book Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture and How America Can Avoid a European Future.
Gregg, director of research for the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, told the Register that there is room for prudential judgment among Catholics when it comes to budget cuts and that cutting welfare programs is not necessarily unthinkable from a Catholic perspective.
“There is no reason to maintain welfare programs that are, for example, inefficient or ineffective,” said Gregg, who added that government-assistance programs should not be permanent features of the economic landscape. Wealth generation, he said, is more effective at lifting people out of poverty and making them self-sufficient.
“Another thing to consider is that, when it comes to thinking about something like a budget, a government budget, the criteria we are looking at are not simply the interests of the poor,” Gregg said. “Those are, of course, accorded a certain priority, but the overall good is the promotion of the common good, and that includes and goes beyond the well-being of the poor.”
Gregg added that, while government has a role to assist those in need, it should not be supplanting the role of organizations in civil society in carrying out those responsibilities.
“Solidarity doesn’t necessarily equate to excessive government spending,” Gregg said.