Government Cannot Love

Archbishop Charles Chaput writing in First Things this month:

We need to rededicate ourselves to the work of Christian charity and the Catholic soul of our institutions. Charity is a duty for the whole believing community. But is also an obligation and privilege for every individual member of the Church, flowing from our personal encounter with the mercy of Jesus Christ. Government cannot love. It has no soul and no heart. The greatest danger of the modern secularist state is this: In the name of humanity, under the banner of serving human needs and easing human suffering, it ultimately, ironically – and too often tragically – lacks humanity. As Benedict foresees in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:

The state which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person – every person – needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a state that regulates and controls everything, but a state that, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something that often is even more necessary than material support.

It seems to me that Archbishop Chaput always teaches in true Catholic style: he is always giving principles, not policies. Even in this passage, where he is speaking about the extent of government, he does not specifically iron out government’s limits – just that there ought to be some. These limits are for lay people to decide. The good Archbishop is not justifying my particular political predilections or anyone else’s – he is laying out good authentic teaching, which ought to be listened to and absorbed.

10 Responses to Government Cannot Love

  1. cccf says:

    Would you glance at my blog article/s on which concentrate specifically on Late-Term (post-20-weeks’ LMP gestation) D&E Abortion. I would like to be a contributor to The American Catholic site, and to other Catholic sites like Chronicles From The Front and NRL. It is time for American Catholics to know about the 20,000 viable (survive-able) babies that are terminated each year by this legal method, a method that is even more primitive and barbaric than the now-banned Partial Birth Abortion D&X method.
    Please consider helping me in this effort.
    Juan O’Callahan

  2. Tito Edwards says:

    Thanks for sharing this Zach. Archbishop Chaput is turning into America’s de facto primate with his articulate and charitable teachings on being a Catholic in the public square.

    I wish more ordinary’s were more like him.

  3. jonathanjones02 says:

    Good thoughts. Human love is a reflection of Christ’s love, and it seems to me that, following the Sacremental principle, the physical proximity of personhood is a vital element.

  4. Kyle Cupp says:

    On the other hand, while institutions themselves cannot love, the people in them can, both individually and communally, and institutions can be established out of love, as a way of expressing love, and maintained out of love.

  5. Zach says:

    This is also true Kyle, thank you for hammering it out.

  6. Mike Petrik says:

    Kyle is correct, and certainly individuals can and should use institutions, including the government, as agents to express their love.

    But the use of government can be the functional analog to cheap grace. Arthur Brooks study “Who Really Cares” presents disturbing facts about how many Americans justify their failure to act and give charitably precisely because they believe assistance to those in need should be a predominantly governmental concern. This attitude is ultimately grounded in self-interested rationalization that can manifest itself very subtly in many contexts — for instance the man who chooses a lower paying career because he enjoys it might expect the man who chooses a higher paying career to be disproportionately responsible for assisting the poor even though the latter man eschewed a more satisfying career in favor of building greater financial security for his family. Life and choices are complicated, but the call to assist those in need attaches to all — not just high income earners.

  7. cccf says:

    What is Love?
    Maybe charity, as in ‘Faith, Hope and Charity (aka love)? Or respect, as in ‘love thy neighbor as…’ (aka respect)? Or maybe Peace… or Truth?
    Yes, “Government” could ‘love’, but none now do. Blessed Teresa (of Calcutta) encapsulated the fundamental truth _ at a D.C. prayer breakfast – …”…any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love…” and …”…there can be no peace as long AS WE make war against the unborn child, the most vulnerable…”

  8. Zach says:

    cccf, it seems you have missed the point. Government is an abstraction; it does not love, cannot love. Individual human persons love, and love communally.

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