1. I plan to devote my presentation to reflection on the core nature of the theme of the defense of human life from conception to its natural end for the Social Doctrine of the Church, and also for the Catholic religion to continue having a public role, as it must necessarily have[1]. I consider it important to situate reflection on the defense of life within the Social Doctrine of the Church, which means within the Church’s relationship with the world. This is where coming into play is the public role of the Catholic faith which speaks not just to the interiority of persons, is not ‘viaticum’ for the faithful alone, and is not a sort of Catholic positivism. The Catholic faith expresses the Truth, and in so doing speaks to all persons with the language they use. Without this public dimension, the Catholic faith becomes an individual gnosis, a cult not of the God One and True, but of the gods, a sect that pursues aims of psychological reassurance with respect to the fear of being “thrown into” existence.
  2. First of all, the defense of life conveys the message of nature. It tells us there is a nature, and a human nature in particular. There are no other valid reasons for calling for respect of the right to life, and, conversely, those who do not respect this right do so because they deny the existence of a human nature, or reduce it to a series of phenomena governed by need or characterized by chance. Life, however, leads us to nature oriented to a purpose, a finality, like language, code[2], vocation. Our culture has lost the idea of end purpose[3]., and that loss began when Descartes interpreted the world as a machine and God as He who gave the world a kick, or perhaps even before that. As amply demonstrated by the rampant spread of the gender ideology, [4] we are now living in a post-natural culture which can be looked upon as a post-finalistic culture. The principle of causality, connected in classical philosophy to the principle of finality, has set off all on its own. Reality no longer expresses a plan, but only a sequence of material causes. Reviving a culture of the defense of life therefore also means a recovery of the culture of nature and the culture of end purposes.
  3. The concept of nature brings the dimension of non-disposable into the picture. If nature is “discourse” and “word”, it expresses a sense that precedes us. We are not just producers of words; we are also listeners of the word that comes from things, from reality, from the symphony of being. Admitting life as priceless gift means acknowledging the fact that in nature there is a ‘word’ being addressed to us and which also precedes us. Our every act must take into account something that comes before it: receiving precedes doing[5]. There is something stable before each becoming. Denying nature opens the cultural door to the manipulation of life insofar as lacking is the dimension of receptivity and gratitude. We are neither receptive nor grateful with respect to what we produce ourselves, but only with respect to what reaches out to us and becomes manifest as a gift of sense. If this dimension fades away as far as nascent life is concerned, it will also become dimmer or weaker in all the other situations of life, and society will relentlessly lose the dimension of mutual responsibility as stated in Caritas in veritate, paragraph 28[6].
  4. If nature is a discourse that addresses us, it isn’t the ultimate foundation thereof. Nature never speaks about itself alone. Nascent life never speaks about itself alone. It is discourse that evokes an Author. In the human person as well, no one level speaks about itself, and there is nothing exclusively material in man. No level of reality is completely understandable by remaining at its own level. When we claim to consider something at its level alone, we end up not considering even that level. “When things seem to us to be only what them seem, they will soon seem to us to be even less”[7]. Nature reveals the Creator and projects itself not only as discourse, but as “discourse pronounced”, as Word. Efforts to detach nature from the Creator ended up with the loss of nature as well. Efforts to detach natural law from divine law end up with the loss of natural law as well. When the physical dimension of the person is separated from his spiritual and transcendent dimension, not even the physical dimension is safeguarded any longer. If we think nature only speaks about itself, the outcome is that nature no longer says anything to us. Nowadays, nascent life runs the risk of no longer saying anything, in the sense that it ends up being understood no longer as nascent life, but as a mere biological process. More and more do we behave as producers of it, and not listeners to it. But it’s not nature that is no longer saying anything to us, but our culture that has lost the ‘code’ for understanding it. And this code is not just a human alphabet.
  5. The theme of the defense of life evokes nature, evokes what precedes us, and evokes the Creator. Yes, to defend life is to defend life, but it is also a cultural endeavor to present an alternative to today’s culture: start talking again about an order and not just about self-determination. Willed by an Orderer, there is an order that precedes us. Creation is an order and not just a pile of things thrown there by chance. This order is ordered and ordering; in other words, it expresses an ought to be and an ought to do. In brief, it is a moral order. If the ontological order is an order, it necessarily has to become a moral order[8]. Once ontological good has been eliminated, there is no longer any space for moral good. Society, human togetherness, belong to the moral order rooted in ontological order. This is why the theme of the defense of life occupies a core position for the construction of human togetherness worthy of the natural and supernatural dignity of the human person. Moreover, I think I can say this is why the principle of respect for life always has to be in first place and never omitted from the “non negotiable principles”.
  6. Only if there is a nature, and only if this nature is a discourse in its own right, is the use of reason possible. I’m not referring to reason that measures or gauges phenomena, but reason which discovers horizons of sense . Public reason is possible only if the social order is based on such a nature. Conversely, we would have nothing but operational or procedural reason[9]. We therefore understand why the defense of life is of such fundamental importance for restoring the selfsame possibility of the use of public reason. In fact, as we see, the negation of the public duty to protect nascent life issues forth from reason’s defection from public reason and its reduction to private reason. The truth unites, opinions divide. Quite meaningful is the fact that philosophers such as Habermas recently acknowledged the fundamental importance of the concept of nature[10], still not considered in a full sense, but nevertheless such as to acknowledge the limits of procedural reason alone.
  7. The public use of reason is of fundamental importance for the public role of the Catholic faith which, in fact, does not immediately transfer revealed law into civil law, but entrusts itself to natural law, and hence the concept of nature and public reason[11]. Pertaining to the latter is the task of recognizing the social order as discourse about human togetherness with an ordained end. The faith does not replace reason, but is does not abandon reason to its own devices. If there is no natural order, there is no public reason, and if there is no public reason, there is no public dialogue between reason and faith. If there is no public dialogue between reason and faith, there is no public dimension of the Catholic faith. If there is no public dimension of the Catholic faith, there is no Catholic faith. This is what we see in fact: as reason gradually becomes a private affair, the faith also becomes private. If when entering the public sphere a believer has to forego the reasons of his own faith, he will end up thinking there are no reasons for his faith. Without reasons, however, disappearing is not only the public facet of the faith, but also the personal and intimate one. This is why the defense of life from the moment of conception is fundamental in order to maintain and develop dialogue between reason and faith. And, as we know, this is the essence of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
  8. In many parts of the Catholic world today, people think Christian communities, and especially laypersons, should limit themselves to sowing values rather than becoming engaged in the arena of pro-life legislation and government policies. It is felt that public and “visible” pro-life engagement may constitute a display of strength transforming the Christian faith into a political ideology. Moreover, people think the time has come to expand the theme of life beyond the two moments of birth and death (abortion and euthanasia) in order to come to grips with the theme of life in all its aspects. Bioethics and bio-politics should expand their own horizons. In this regard, I would venture to make two brief comments. The idea that affirming the truth in public, including politics and judicial affairs, may be a display of strength transforming the faith into an ideology reflects the influence of weak modern thought which holds that the affirmation of the truth is a substantial act of arrogance. We, however, think it is a moral duty and an act of charity. Regarding the expansion of the theme of life beyond the so-called classical issues in order to encompass immigrants, unemployed persons or the defense of the environment to ward of global warming, I would just point out the danger that   more expansion means less comprehension, and lost from sight is the special and tragic seriousness of abortion, euthanasia or the sacrifice of human embryos with artificial fecundation, placing everything on the same level. The outcome would be an unacceptable change of the pro-life agenda.
  9. Faith in life is a boon for the life of faith. In order to reach this sort of result it is necessary to situate the theme of the defense of life within the Social Doctrine of the Church, just as the Magisterium has done, beginning with Evangelium vitae. In this case the theme of life is not fenced in. In so doing, in fact, the theme of life is situated right where the Church interfaces with the world, and where public reason and public faith dialogue with one another within the unity of the Truth.


Most Rev. Giampaolo Crepaldi

Istituto Nicolò Rezzara – Vicenza


[1] I illustrated the theological reasons for the public role of the faith in the first chapter of my book, Il Cattolico in politica. Manuale per la ripresa, Cantagalli, Siena 20122.

[2] Benedict XVI spoke about human nature as ‘language’ in an address delivered to a group of bishops from the USA during their ‘ad limina’ visit: 19 January 2012..

[3] Cf R. Spaemann-Reinhard Löw, Fini naturali. Storia e riscoperta del pensiero teleologico, Ares, Milan 2013.

[4] Cf G. Crepaldi e S. Fontana, Quarto Rapporto sulla Dottrina sociale della Chiesa nel mondo – La colonizzazione della natura umana, Cantagalli, Siena 2012.

[5]J. Ratzinger, Introduzione al cristianesimo. Lezioni sul Simbolo apostolico, twelth edition of a new introductory essay, Queriniana, Brescia 2003, pp. 41. I felt I had to interpret Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in veritate in this sense:: G. Crepaldi, Introduzione a Benedetto XVI, Caritas in veritate, Cantagalli, Siena 2009, pp. 7-42.

[6] “If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away” (Benedict XVI,  Caritas in veritate  n. 28).

[7] In margine a un testo implicito, Adelphi, Milan 1996.

[8] J. Pieper explains this very well in  Morcelliana, Brescia 2011.

[9] G. Crepaldi, Ragione pubblica e verità del Cristianesimo negli insegnamenti di Benedetto XVI, in G. Crepaldi, Dio o gli dèi. Dottrina sociale della Chiesa, percorsi, Cantagalli, Siena 2008, pp. 81-94.

[10] M. Borghesi, I presupposti naturali del poter-essere-se-stessi. La polarità natura-libertà di Jürgen Habermas, in F. Russo (a cura di), Natura cultura libertà, Armando, Roma 2010.

[11] Benedict XVI: Speech to the Reichstag, Berlin, 22 September 2011.


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Mons. Giampaolo Crepaldi

Vescovo Emerito di Trieste