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Sirico: ‘Christianity safeguards balance of anthropology between social, individual’

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Rev. Robert A. Sirico takes time to chat with participants at the April 20 Rome conference "Freedom with Justice: Rerum Novarum and the New Things of Our Time"
Rev. Robert A. Sirico, second from left, takes time to chat with participants at the April 20 Rome conference “Freedom with Justice: Rerum Novarum and the New Things of Our Time”

French journalist Solène Tadié published an exclusive interview today with Rev. Robert A. Sirico: “Entretien avec le père Robert Sirico pour le 125e anniversaire de l’encyclique Rerum Novarum“. Rev. Sirico was in Rome as the final speaker at Acton’s April 20 Rome conference “Freedom with Justice: Rerum Novarum and the New things of Our Time” when he made many original comments that spurred journalists to follow up with him afterward.

Toward the middle of her interview, Tadié asked what he thought about European socialists claiming that they had created the term “liberalism”.

Sirico responded with pastoral and intellectual depth about the social and individual dimensions of the human person. In the end, he says Christianity  provides the best “anthropological balance”, between classical liberal individualism and  liberal socialists over-emphasizing the social dimension of man. His answer, published for Institut Coppet, is transcribed below (listen in audio file from 7:52-10:58). It is well worth reading in full:

This is a very French question, and it’s a very good question…. because it goes [back] to the question of the Renaissance and the Iluminismo — the Enlightenment– and a number of these issues that cluster around…And even in the contrast between the French Revolution and the American Revolution.

Without going into a long historical discourse, here is what I what I would say: I think that Christianity, over the centuries, came to a higher and higher view of the dignity of the human person. Certainly, it was a very radical notion right at the beginning, because it is said that people were redeemed not by basis of their ethnicity, but by basis of their personal relationship with Christ. For example in the baptismal rite, I can’t baptize a number of people at once. I have to baptize them one at a time. And so this speaks to the dignity of the human person.

That notion began to be developed over centuries. It comes to fruition artistically in the Renaissance…and philosophically in parts of the Enlightenment. But I think the Enlightenment becomes a distortion and rather than seeing man as being the apex of the creation, he becomes the center of the universe.

And if in that sense liberalism is born in that period, and if socialism takes from that an understanding of the human person, I think it does so in a way that distorts the balance that’s in Christianity. In Christianity, there is always this tension between the material and the transcendent. In the Incarnation, Jesus is God and man.

I think that what happens to the extent that socialism is derived from liberalism it is because it over-emphasizes the social dimension of the human person. And that’s true that the individual is simultaneously individual and social. From the moment of our conception, we exist within our mother’s womb. We are physiologically [and] genetically distinct from our mother. It is not correct to say that a fetus is part of a woman’s body. It is not biologically part, but it does exist within a woman. And so simultaneously were individual and in relationship, and the whole rest of our lives is that.

What I think Christianity safeguards is this ‘balance of anthropology’ between the social and the individual. And what socialism does is separate out from that idea the social dimension. And, by the way, what erroneous liberalism does is separate out the individual from the social dimension.

And that’s why I think that neither is sufficient. We need to have both of these acknowledgments, that human beings are social and are individual…and then build a society based on that — which is why a society built on solidarity and subsidiarity is so important.

For the full article in French, go here. Follow the conversation from the Rome conference on social media via the hash tag #125onFreedom.

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Michael Severance

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