B 4.3.9 Response to Exercise


(i)  According to CST, how should government be constituted?

Historically, the main element in Church teaching about different forms of government has been as follows: so far as the main purposes of government are concerned, namely justice and the common good, it does not matter fundamentally whether governments are monarchical, aristocratic or democratic.  In other words, the Church’s teaching has been relatively indifferent among constitutional forms.

However, over a period of 20 years from the 1940s to the 1960s, inspired in part by the writings of Jacques Maritain, the Catholic Church came to give support for democracy that must be seen as qualifying that answer.  Even if monarchies and aristocracies can be legitimate, democracies enable people to participate in politics, and it is this that makes democracy preferable to other forms of government.  You might recall the phrase used by one scholar to describe the position the Church came to hold by the end of Vatican II: it has a “preferential option for constitutional democracy” (Grasso, quoted on 4.3.4).


(ii)  What are the main points that we find in CST about democracy?

Granted that CST has come to manifest this preference for constitutional democracy, what does it actually say about it?

The answer to this may be given by distinguishing two distinct periods, each of about 20 years. The first is that just mentioned, 1944 to 1965, and the second is 1991 to 2013:


These dates are given by Pope Pius XII’s 1944 Christmas Message and Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes (as studied respectively on 4.3.2 and 4.3.4).  Over this period we see a sharpening focus on the importance of people participating in political life and, correspondingly, increasingly clear endorsement of democracy as the form of government that enables participation.  For Pius XII, this came in the context of a devastating World War caused first and foremost by the rise of a regime in Germany that had manipulated people into supporting it fervently, including in elections.  He saw active democratic participation as a vitally important antidote to this, implying a refusal to be passive in the face of abuse of power.   By the time of Gaudium et Spes, the assessment of democracy is not only in terms of its pragmatic benefits. Rather, it is “in full conformity with human nature” that all citizens should have “the practical possibility of freely and actively taking part in… the direction of public affairs” (#75, quoted in 4.3.4).


This is the period from the publication of Centesimus Annus (CA) to the end of the papacy of Benedict XVI.  While CA basically reiterated earlier teaching about democracy, it added a new element, one which then became more prominent both in the second half of John Paul II’s papacy and especially under Benedict XVI.  Identifying freedoms worth safeguarding can be done only on the basis of what is true about the human person. Therefore ethical relativism cannot be an adequate foundation for democracy, Rather, there needs to be clear recognition of the inseparability of freedom and truth.

As it seems to me, these two emphases, on participation and on the connection of freedom and truth, form the main elements in what modern CST has to say about democracy.

To what extent did your way of answering to those two questions correspond with this?  Did you come up with any further points that I have not mentioned but that emerged clearly from your study of this part of the unit?


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