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Abortion and American Civil Society

May 8, 2022

We Americans think in terms of “Rights” not political order. Yet our political “rights” are derived from our Constitutional “order.” Without social order, political “rights” are nullified. The issue of abortion brimgs home that realization.

As I argue in a new book titled “Conscience and Power,” the culture of the West from the time of the invasion of Rome by Goths in 410 AD through our time demands an ordered society. The demand for order is not absolute since there are limits on political power that are based on our uniquely “Western” consciousness of Justice.

I became aware of how much alive that central concept of our lives as Americans is—of all places–in a movie theater in Mall of America.  During the movie “Superman,” the audience erupted in cheers and applause when they heard the words “truth, justice and the American way.”

There are “rights,” but what is right is not a mere human creation; there is “right by nature” and what Cicero called “natural law.”

That consciousness became central to “the West” through the recovery of classical Greek philosophy of Plato and Aristotle in the 13th Century, and their influence was felt in the great universities of that time–so long ago—unlike “higher education” today.

Early “university” education was the outgrowth of “monastic” religious orders and Popes who supported them during the era of “First Europe.”

●There were Monastic Orders: Eremites, Benedictine, Cluniac, Dominican, Franciscan, Cistercian, Carthusian.

●There were Popes: Gregory I, Gregory II, Leo III, Sylvester II, Leo IX, Paschal II, Gregory VII, Urban II, Calixtus VII, Adrian IV.

And there were Church Councils:
Nicea (325 AD), adopted the Nicene Creed
Second Council of Nicea (787), repudiated Iconoclasm
First Lateran Council (1123}, investiture of Bishops
Second Lateran Council (117), addressed clerical discipline
Third Lateran Council (1179}, restricted election of Popes to Cardinals
Fourth Lateran Council (1214), established seven Sacraments

When the order imposed by the Roman Legions was no more, an entirely new order developed. In France the University of Paris was “chartered in 1200 by King Philip II of France and recognised in 1215 by Pope Innocent III.”  Thirty years later, in 1245, Thomas Aquinas was sent to study at the Faculty of the Arts at the University of Paris where he oriented Christian philosophy in “ratio,” reason, as articulated by Aristotle.

In England as early as 1277, a house of study was founded “to provide a place of learning for monks studying Theology in Oxford. St. Benedict’s Oxford – later known as Gloucester College – was founded in 1283.”

Many Americans today will consider the justice of abortion from that tradition. Others will react from their experience living in a secular nation.

Once, when teaching a class in Constitutional Law, a Catholic student was so upset by my dispassionate explanation of Roe v. Wade that she burst into anger and tears. “Abortion is murder,” she shouted.

If you disagree with her, you can appreciate how fragile is American civil society in the 21st Century.

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