|(Photo courtesy of Zenit.org)|
Pope Francis addressed the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life yesterday in preparation for the "Virtues in the Ethics of LifeWorkshop" which begins today in the Vatican. According to the Pontifical Academy for Life, the requisite nature such a workshop stems from “...a central need, for those who work each day in health care and research, to have certain criteria, not only regarding fundamental principles, but also the core of the act, which is the process of deliberation.” In other words, in order to make ethical decisions on life issues, one must properly inform their conscience and have a heart and mind in sync with God's will.
The pope expounds on this notion of “fundamental principles” in light of a proper “process of deliberation”. He begins his statements will a bold assertion about the limitations of science and technology. Pope Francis unequivocally stresses that the Academy's work will be dedicated to a work much needed in the current culture:
These days will be dedicated to the study of the virtues in the ethics of life, a subject of academic interest, which addresses an important message to contemporary culture: the good that man does is not the result of calculations or strategies, nor is it the product of the genetic order or of social conditionings, but it is the fruit of a well disposed heart, of the free choice that tends to true good. Science and technology are not enough: to do good, wisdom of the heart is necessary.
Good stems not from conditioning, genetic make up or calculating; rather, virtue is at the heart of how one tends naturally toward good as an end, in keeping with the basic teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the matter:
The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions (CCC 1803).
Pope Francis employs the phrase “free choice” as opposed to “free will”, perhaps recognizing it as more welcome and understood to the modern ear. This idea of reaching out and teaching to the culture using its terms and idioms seems ever present in his remarks – on occasion leading to misunderstanding and confusion.
In presenting the mission for the workshop, the Pontifical Academy speaks of ethics as “the perfect assistant, both on the level of conscience and on the level of act” to moral virtue. It is interesting, however that a workshop is necessary to bring this point forward. Obviously, this points to a culture that has moved so far away from virtue ethics that it requires remediation. Pope Francis made the point by saying:
In our time, some cultural orientations do not recognize the mark of divine wisdom in the created realities and not even in man. Thus human nature remains reduced only to matter, to be shaped according to any design.
It is this return to recognizing the “mark of divine wisdom” that calls the Pontifical Academy to its current task. An approach to life from a virtue ethics perspective recognizes that man has both dignity and worth based on a greater good to which he naturally tends – and because of he is made in both image and likeness to God, he is able to cultivate and improve his intellect and will to be better conformed to his spiritual and natural tendencies. This is the benefit and the beauty of virtue ethics: it encompasses the whole of man.
In his remarks, the pope clearly urges forward this effort toward implementation of virtue ethics when dealing matters concerning respect for life, especially in higher education and healthcare. His words remind those institutions of their duty to help nurture the student in this regard:
I encourage the Universities to consider all this in their programs of formation, so that the students can mature those dispositions of the heart and mind, which are indispensable to receive and take care of human life, according to the dignity that belongs to it in any circumstance. I also invite the directors of health structures and of research to have their dependents consider human treatment also as an integral part of their qualified service.
In the end, the workshop will help to reassert the Catholic teachings on life and value of moral virtue in its “being the habitus for mankind to choose the concrete good”. It will also help to perfect the one who acts and help to develop the ability to wisely discern with prudence the consequences of an action before it is undertaken “bringing to term the natural law on a practical level”.
The Pontifical Academy for Life has a formidable task at hand – attempting to turn the eyes of a misguided culture from darkness of isolating situational ethics to bright light of virtue ethics regarding life issues. It may take some time for their sight to adjust – to bring the eyes of the heart and the mind together and into focus on God's will – but if done with compassion and patience, all will be able to see the light soon enough.