Over the last century-plus, Catholic social thought has gradually reduced the ontological density of the state, to the point that the state now appears to have only a tentative grasp on the natural law basis of its legitimacy. During the first part of the twentieth century, Catholic social doctrine tended to view the legitimate state as a participant in the divine rule; although draped in a sacred mantle, the state was subject to the limits imposed by the divine and natural law. In response to the totalitarian states’ transgressing of those limits at mid-century, Catholic thinkers reduced the scope and stature of the state’s place in man’s life in society, while insisting that the state remain tethered to the natural law. Today, however, Catholics and others face a laicized state that utterly denies its obligations under the natural law. While Pope John Paul II eventually responded to this denial by emphasizing the natural law limits on the state, Pope Benedict has instead summoned leaders and citizens to acknowledge and develop a state that is committed to “reason,” even if this means inviting unbelievers to act “as if God exists.” As understood by Pope Benedict XVI, the state, a servant of individuals and diverse societies, is to receive its content and direction from, among other sources, the Church; it is to receive reason purified by faith.
Jurisprudence | Legal History, Theory and Process
Date of this Version
Patrick McKinley Brennan, "The Decreasing Ontological Density of the State in Catholic Social Doctrine" (November 2006). Villanova University School of Law Working Paper Series. Working Paper 66.