Human Rights, Social Justice, and Theology

At a meeting of the International Summer School in Venice, held this September Cardinal Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice and well-known to Communio readers, addressed the meeting on the topic “The “New Rights” in the European and American Public Space: Rethinking Rights in a Plural Society,” a topic of particular interest to Canadians, immersed as we are in a rhetoric of multi-cultural concerns.
The Summer School at the Studium Generale Marcianum Venezia is a project of ASSET – Alta Scuola Società Economia Teologia, described by the Cardinal as planned to “foster contemporary interpretative frameworks for the study of today’s socio-cultural reality, viewed in terms of the rise of the `plural society’ ”:… Economic globalisation, the civilisation of the internet, migration on an epochal scale, the spread of an education and schooling that are international in character.”
“Theology,” Cardinal Scola continues, “too is of course not exempt from this commitment. The new cultural and social phenomena challenge it to the core; and it has the choice either of interacting with the other disciplines, or submitting to the consequences of too much self-referentiality. Theological pratice is called on for help in the guidance of study and formation by reflecting on the experience of the faith of the Christian community, the place out of which authentic and critical encounter with cultures is born.”
Cardinal Scola then treats the new importance of legal studies and offers brief and stimulating analyses of the resulting implications – the new rights and the conception of man, the sustainability of rights, the challenge of legal modernity: in particular the case of Islam – and challenging his readers in conclusion to face the present “paradox: a hitherto unprecedented circulation and expansion of rights in tandem with a degree of vagueness about their content.” “Here is the point of entry,” he concludes “for the contribution” of all those considering the matter “– the specific role of the theological dimension and of the social doctrine of the Church. The point at issue is not about putting “new wine into other wineskins”, but about making clearer the true face of these rights. This operation brings into question the whole horizon of the human and theological sciences. Looked at from one side, any catalogue of rights has formidable economic and social implications, but in truth it is itself the product of a certain view of man which is always I-in-relation. To recover the true face of rights it is indispensable to engage with their anthropological and social dimensions: an objective on which the various sciences and disciplines converge, each with its own specificity but in a perspective which increasingly requires a transdisciplinary dimension.”
Readers wishing to study the full document can find it here, and with it several other of his September address of like interest: “Protecting nature or saving creation? Ecological conflicts and religious passions” (with striking cues from Mahler and Dostoevsky), a series of his irenic pieces on Christian-Muslim relations in Europe, and for those who prefer orality to text a long YouTube (!) video of his August presentation  “Desiring God. Church and postmodernity.”

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