Saturday, March 29, 2008

Robert George : Reason and Human Dignity

Professor Robert George's talk at Vatican City on a rational defense of human dignity:

Robert George on Politics and Conscience
"Freedom Is a Two Way Street""

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 21, 2007 ( Here is the text of an address by Robert George on political obligations and moral conscience.
* * *
XIII General Assembly
Program of the Preparatory Meeting of September 29-30, 2006
Casa Bonus Pastor
Vatican City

Political Obligations, Moral Conscience, and Human Life
Robert P. GeorgeMcCormick Professor of JurisprudencePrinceton University

The Catholic Church proclaims the principle that every human being -- without regard to race, sex, or ethnicity, and equally without regard to age, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency -- is entitled to the full protection of the laws. The Church teaches that human beings at every stage of development -- including those at the embryonic and fetal stages -- and those in every condition -- including those who are mentally retarded or physically disabled, and those who are suffering from severe dementias or other memory and mind-impairing afflictions -- possess fundamental human rights. Above all, each of us possesses the right to life. Now this teaching is disputed by some. There are those, including some Catholics, who deny that human embryos are human beings. They assert that and human embryo is merely "potential" human life, not nascent human life. The trouble with this position is not theological but scientific. It flies in the face of the established facts of human embryology and developmental biology. A human embryo is not something distinct in kind from a human being -- like a rock or potato or alligator. A human embryo is a human being at a particular, very early, stage of development. An embryo, even prior to implantation, is a whole, distinct, living member of the species Homo sapiens. The embryonic human being requires only what any human being at any stage of development requires for his or her survival, namely, adequate nutrition and an environment sufficiently hospitable to sustain life. From the beginning, each human being possesses -- actually and not merely potentially -- the genetic constitution and epigenetic primordia for self-directed development from the embryonic into and through the fetal, infant, child, and adolescent stages and into adulthood with his or her unity, determinateness, and identity intact. In this crucial respect, the embryo is quite unlike the gametes -- that is, the sperm and ovum -- whose union brought a new human being into existence. You and I were never sperm or ova; those were genetically and functionally parts of other human beings. But each of us was once an embryo, just as each of us was once an adolescent, and before that a child, an infant, a fetus. Of course, in the embryonic, fetal, and infant stages we were highly vulnerable and dependent creatures, but we were nevertheless complete, distinct human beings. As the leading textbooks in human embryology and developmental biology unanimously attest, we were not mere "clumps of cells," like moles or tumors. So the basic rights people possess simply by virtue of their humanity -- including above all the right to life -- we possessed even then. Another school of thought concedes that human embryos are human beings; however, it denies that all human beings are persons. There are, according to this school of thought, pre-personal and post-personal human beings, as well as severely retarded or damaged human beings who are not, never will be, and never were, persons. Proponents of this view insist that human beings in the embryonic and fetal stages are not yet persons. Indeed, logically consistent and unsentimental proponents say that even human infants are not yet persons, and therefore do not possess a right to life; hence, the willingness of Peter Singer, Michael Tooley, and others to countenance infanticide as well as abortion. Permanently comatose or severely retarded or demented human beings are also denied the status of persons. So euthanasia is said to be justified for human beings in these conditions. Although some who think along these lines will allow that human individuals whom they regard as "not yet persons" deserve a certain limited respect by virtue of the purely biological fact that they are living members of the human species, they nevertheless insist that "pre-personal" humans do not possess a right to life that precludes them from being killed to benefit others or to advance the interests of society at large. Only those human beings who have achieved and retain what are regarded as the defining attributes of personhood -- whether those are considered to be detectable brain function, self-awareness, or immediately exercisable capacities for characteristically human mental functioning -- possess a right to life. The trouble with this position is that it makes nonsense of our political, philosophical, and, for many of us, theological commitment to the principle that all human beings are equal in fundamental worth and dignity. It generates puzzles that simply cannot be resolved, such as the puzzle as to why this or that accidental quality which most human beings eventually acquire in the course of normal development but others do not, and which some retain and others lose, and which some have to a greater degree than others, should count as the criterion of "personhood." The superior position, surely, is that human beings possess equally an intrinsic dignity that is the moral ground of the equal right to life of all. This is a right possessed by every human being simply by virtue of his or her humanity. It does not depend on an individual's age, or size, or stage of development; nor can it be erased by an individual's physical or mental infirmity or condition of dependency. It is what makes the life of even a severely retarded child equal in fundamental worth to the life of a Nobel prize-winning scientist. It explains why we may not licitly extract transplantable organs from such a child even to save the life of a brilliant physicist who is afflicted with a life-threatening heart, liver, or kidney ailment. In any event, the position that all human beings equally possess fundamental human rights, including the right to life, is the definitively settled teaching of the Catholic Church. It is on this basis that the Church proclaims that the taking of human life in abortion, infanticide, embryo-destructive research, euthanasia, and terrorism are always and everywhere gravely wrong. And there is more. For the Church also teaches that it is the solemn obligation of legislators and other public officials, as servants of the common good, to honor and protect the rights of all. The principle of equality demands as a matter of strict justice that protection against lethal violence be extended by every political community to all who are within its jurisdiction. Those to whom the care of the community is entrusted -- above all those who participate in making the community's laws -- have primary responsibility for ensuring that the right to life is embodied in the laws and effectively protected in practice. Notice, by the way, that the obligation of the public official is not to "enforce the teaching of the Catholic Church," it is, rather, to fulfill the demands of justice and the common good in light of the principle of the inherent and equal dignity of every member of the human family.Yet, today many Catholic politicians, including the Democratic leaders of both houses of the United States Congress and the Republican governor of New York and the former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, are staunch supporters of what they describe as a "woman's right to abortion." Most of these politicians also support the creation and government funding of an industry that would produce tens of thousands of human embryos by cloning for use in biomedical research in which these embryonic human beings would be destroyed. Catholic politicians in the United States and in other nations who support abortion and embryo-destructive research typically claim to be "personally opposed" to these practices but respectful of the rights of others who disagree to act on their own judgments of conscience without legal interference. Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo famously articulated and defended this view in a speech at the University of Notre Dame in 1984. Recently, Cuomo revisited the issue, speaking in Washington at a Forum on Politics and Faith in America. He offered an argument which, if successful, not only justifies Catholic politicians in supporting legal abortion and embryo-destructive research, but requires them to respect a right of people to engage in these practices despite their admitted moral wrongfulness. Cuomo asserted that holders of public office -- including Catholic office-holders -- have a responsibility "to create conditions under which all citizens are reasonably free to act according to their own religious beliefs, even when those acts conflict with Roman Catholic dogma regarding divorce, birth control, abortion, stem cell research, and even the existence of God." According to Cuomo, Catholics should support legalized abortion and embryo-destructive research, as he himself does, because in guaranteeing these rights to others, they guarantee their own right "to reject abortions, and to refuse to participate in or contribute to removing stem cells from embryos." But Cuomo's idea that the right "to reject" abortion and embryo-destructive experimentation entails a right of others, as a matter of religious liberty, to engage in these practices is simply, if spectacularly, fallacious. The fallacy comes into focus immediately if one considers whether the right of a Catholic (or Baptist, or Jew, or member of any other faith) to reject infanticide, slavery, and the exploitation of labor entails a right of others who happen not to share these "religious" convictions to kill, enslave, and exploit.By the expedient of classifying pro-life convictions about abortion and embryo-destructive experimentation as "Roman Catholic dogmas," Cuomo smuggles into the premises of his argument the controversial conclusion he is trying to prove. If pro-life principles were indeed merely dogmatic teachings -- such as the teaching that Jesus of Nazareth is the only begotten Son of God -- then according to the Church herself (not to mention American constitutional law and the law of many other republics) they could not legitimately be enforced by the coercive power of the state. The trouble for Cuomo is that pro-life principles are not mere matters of "dogma," nor are they understood as such by the Catholic Church, whose beliefs Cuomo claims to affirm, or by pro-life citizens, whether they happen to be Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics or atheists. Rather, pro-life citizens understand these principles and propose them to their fellow citizens as fundamental norms of justice and human rights that can be understood and affirmed even apart from claims of revelation and religious authority.It will not do to suggest, as Cuomo seems to suggest, that the sheer fact that the Catholic Church (or some other religious body) has a teaching against these practices, and that some or even many people reject this teaching, means that laws prohibiting the killing of human beings in the embryonic and fetal stages violate the right to freedom of religion of those who do not accept the teaching. If that were anything other than a fallacy, then laws against killing infants, owning slaves, exploiting workers, and many other grave forms of injustice really would be violations of religious freedom. Surely Cuomo would not wish to endorse that conclusion. Yet he provides no reason to distinguish those acts and practices putatively falling within the category of religious freedom from those falling outside it. So we must ask: If abortion is immunized against legal restriction on the ground that it is a matter of religious belief, how can it be that slavery is not similarly immunized? If today abortion cannot be prohibited without violating the right to religious freedom of people whose religions do not object to abortion, how can Cuomo say that the prohibition of slavery by the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1866 did not violate the right to religious freedom of those in the 19th century whose religions did not condemn slaveholding? Cuomo says that the Catholic Church "understands that our public morality depends on a consensus view of right and wrong," but it would be scandalous to argue that Catholics should have opposed a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery in the 19th century, or legislation protecting the civil rights of the oppressed descendants of slaves in the mid-20th century, on the ground that "prudence" or "realism" requires respect for "moral pluralism" where there is no "consensus" on questions of right and wrong.At one point at the forum on Politics and Faith, Cuomo suggested that laws against abortion and embryo-destructive research would force people who do not object to such things to practice the religion of people who do. But this is another fallacy. No one imagines that the constitutional prohibition of slavery forced those who believed in slaveholding to practice the religion of those who did not. Would Cuomo have us suppose that laws protecting workers against what he, in line with the solemn teaching of every Pope from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI, considers to be exploitation and abuse have the effect of forcing non-Catholic factory owners to practice Catholicism? At another point, in denying that there was any inconsistency between his willingness as governor to act on his anti-death penalty views but not on his anti-abortion views, Cuomo denied ever having spoken against the death penalty as "a moral issue." He claimed, in fact, that he "seldom talk[s] in terms of moral issues" and that, when he speaks of the death penalty, he never suggests that he considers it a moral issue. Then, in the very next sentence, he condemned the death penalty in the most explicitly, indeed flamboyantly, moralistic terms: "I am against the death penalty because I think it is bad and unfair. It is debasing. It is degenerate. It kills innocent people." He did not pause to consider that these are precisely the claims made by pro-life citizens against the policy of legal abortion and its public funding -- a policy that Cuomo defends in the name of religious liberty. The fact is that Catholics and others who oppose abortion and embryo-destructive research oppose these practices for the same reason we oppose postnatal homicide. Pro-life citizens of every faith oppose these practices because they involve the deliberate killing of innocent human beings. Our ground for supporting the legal prohibition of abortion and embryo-destructive research is the same ground on which we support the legal prohibition of infanticide, for example, or the principle of noncombatant immunity even in justified wars. We subscribe to the proposition that all human beings are equal in worth and dignity and cannot be denied the right to protection against killing on the basis of age, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency. One cannot with moral integrity be "personally opposed" to abortion or embryo-destructive research yet support the legal permission of these practices and even, their public funding as so many Catholic politicians do, including most Catholic Democrats and some Catholic Republicans in the United States. For by supporting abortion and embryo-destructive research they unavoidably implicate themselves in the grave injustice of these practices. Of course, it is possible for a person wielding public power to use that power to establish or preserve a legal right to abortion, for example, while at the same time hoping that no one will exercise the right. But this does not get such a person off the moral hook. For someone who acts to protect legal abortion necessarily wills that abortion's unborn victims be denied the elementary legal protections against deliberate homicide that one favors for oneself and those whom one considers to be worthy of the law's protection. Thus one violates the most basic precept of normative social and political theory, the Golden Rule. One divides humanity into two classes: those whom one is willing to admit to the community of the commonly protected and those whom one wills to be excluded from it. By exposing members of the disfavored class to lethal violence, one deeply implicates oneself in the injustice of killing them -- even if one sincerely hopes that no woman will act on her right to choose abortion. The goodness of what one hopes for does not redeem the evil -- the grave injustice -- of what one wills. To suppose otherwise is to commit yet another fallacy.If my analysis so far is correct, the question arises: What should the leaders of the Church do about people like Cuomo and his successor as New York's Governor, Republican George Pataki who evidently takes the same position? What should they do about those who claim to be in full communion with the Church yet promote gravely unjust and scandalous policies that expose the unborn to the violence and injustice of abortion? In the run up to the last election, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke offered an answer. He declared that public officials who support abortion and other unjust attacks against innocent human life may not be admitted to Holy Communion, the preeminent sacrament of unity. Pro-life citizens of every religious persuasion applauded the archbishop's stand. Critics, however, were quick to condemn Archbishop Burke. They denounced him for "crossing the line" separating church and state.But this is silly. In acting on his authority as a bishop to discipline members of his flock, who commit what the Church teaches are grave injustices against innocent human beings, Archbishop Burke is exercising his own constitutional right to the free exercise of religion; he is not depriving others of their rights. Freedom is a two way street. No one is compelled by law to accept ecclesiastical authority. But Archbishop Burke -- and anyone else in the United States of America or other freedom-respecting nations -- has every right to exercise spiritual authority over anyone who chooses to accept it. There is a name for people who do accept the authority of Catholic bishops. They are called "Catholics." In many cases, the charge that Archbishop Burke and other bishops who adopt the policy of excluding pro-abortion politicians from Communion "are crossing the line separating church and state" is also hypocritical. A good example of this hypocrisy comes from the Bergen Record, a prominent newspaper in my home state of New Jersey. Bishop John Smith of Trenton did not go as far as Raymond Burke had gone in forbidding pro-abortion Catholic politicians from receiving communion. Bishop Smith did, however, in the words of the Bergen Record, "publicly lash" Governor James McGreevey, a pro-abortion Catholic, for his support of abortion and embryo-destructive research. For criticizing the governor on these grounds, the Record lashed the bishop in an April 25th editorial. The paper accused him of jeopardizing the delicate "balance" of our constitutional structure, contrasting Bishop Smith's position unfavorably with President John F. Kennedy's assurance to a group of Protestant ministers in Houston in 1960 that he, as a Catholic, would not govern the nation by appeal to his Catholic religious beliefs. Since the Record had seen fit to take us back to 1960 for guidance, I thought I would invite its editors to consider a case that had arisen only a few years earlier than that. In a letter to the editor, I proposed a question that would enable readers to determine immediately whether the editors of the Bergen Record were persons of strict principle or mere hypocrites.I reminded readers that in the 1950s, in the midst of the political conflict over segregation, Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans publicly informed Catholics that support for racial segregation was incompatible with Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity and equal rights of all human beings. Archbishop Rummel said that "racial segregation is morally wrong and sinful because it is a denial of the unity and solidarity of the human race as conceived by God in the creation of Adam and Eve." He warned Catholic public officials that support for segregation placed their souls in peril. Indeed, Rummel took the step of publicly excommunicating Leander Perez, one of the most powerful political bosses in Louisiana, and two others who promoted legislation designed to impede desegregation of diocesan schools. So I asked the editors of the Bergen Record: Was Archbishop Rummel wrong? Or do Catholic bishops "cross the line" and jeopardize the delicate constitutional balance, only when their rebukes to politicians contradict the views of the editors of the Record? To their credit, the editors published my letter -- but I am still waiting for them to reply to my question.Now, some good and sincere people have expressed concern that Archbishop Burke and bishops of similar mind are guilty of a double standard when it comes to demanding of politicians fidelity to Catholic teaching on justice and the common good. They point out that the bishops who would deny communion to those who publicly support abortion and embryo-destructive research do not take the same stand against politicians who support the death penalty, which Pope John Paul II condemned in all but the rarest of circumstances, and the U.S. invasions of Iraq, of which the Pope and many other Vatican officials were sharply critical. The Catechism of the Catholic Church indeed teaches that the death penalty should not be used, except in circumstances so rare these days as to be, in words of the late Pope, "practically non-existent." However, two points must be borne in mind in considering the obligations of Catholics and the question whether Catholic politicians who support the death penalty have in fact broken faith and communion with the Church. First, neither the Pope nor the Catechism places the death penalty on a par with abortion and other forms of direct killing of the innocent. (Indeed, the Church will probably never equate the death penalty with these forms of homicide, even if it eventually issues a definitive condemnation of the practice.) Second, the status of the teaching differs from the status of the teaching on abortion. As John Paul II made clear in the great encyclical "Evangelium Vitae," the teaching on abortion (as well as on euthanasia and all forms of direct killing of the innocent) is infallibly proposed by the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church pursuant to the criteria of "Lumen Gentium," No. 25. The same is plainly not true of the developing teaching on the death penalty. Moreover, Cardinal Avery Dulles and others have interpreted the teaching against the death penalty as essentially a prudential judgment about its advisability, not a moral prohibition following from the application of a strict principle. As it happens, I don't agree with their analysis, but no one will be able to say with confidence from a Catholic point of view which side in this debate is right until the magisterium clarifies the teaching. So, it cannot be said that supporters of the death penalty are "obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin," and may or should be denied Holy Communion pursuant to Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law. No one can legitimately claim for opposition to the death penalty the status of a definitively settled moral teaching of the Church. (Nor can one claim that the Church teaches or will ever teach that the death penalty -- except in cases where it is applied unjustly -- involves the grave intrinsic injustice attaching to any act involving the direct killing of the innocent.)Regarding the question of the U.S. invasions of Iraq, it is important to understand the precise terms of Catholic teaching on just and unjust warfare. These terms are set forth with clarity and precision in the Catechism. In line with the Church's historic teaching on the subject, neither Pope John Paul II nor Pope Benedict XVI has asserted that opposition to the war is binding on the consciences of Catholics. John Paul II's statements opposing the use of force in the run up to both invasions plainly questioned the prudential judgments of political leaders who, in the end, had and have the right and responsibility (according to the Catechism and the entire tradition of Catholic teaching on war and peace) to make judgments as to whether force is in fact necessary. That is why the Pope and the bishops have not said, and will not say, that Catholic soldiers may not participate in the war. This contrasts with their clear teaching that Catholics may not participate in abortions or other forms of embryo-killing or support the use of taxpayer monies for activities involving the deliberate killing of innocent human beings. I wish to close with a word to those in politics and the media -- Catholics and non-Catholics alike -- who have expressed anger, even outrage, at the world's Catholic bishops for teaching that the faithful must never implicate themselves in unjust killing by supporting legal abortion and embryo-destructive research.In scolding the bishops, the editors of the New York Times , for example, have insisted that "separation of church and state" means that no religious leader may presume to tell public officials what their positions may and may not be on matters of public policy. But if we shift the focus from abortion to, say, genocide, slavery, the exploitation of labor, or racial segregation we see how implausible such a view is. When Archbishop Rummel excommunicated the segregationist politicians in the 1950s, far from condemning the archbishop, the editors of the New York Times praised him.They were right then; they are wrong now.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Josef Pieper on Faith

What is faith?
On issues like this, I turn to Josef Pieper to get a contemporary and yet perennial perspective. In his book Faith, Hope, Love, he goes through a worth-reading discussion of each of the theological virtues. Here is my understanding of his main points.

With regard to faith (which the translator renders “belief” for in German Glaube may mean “belief” or “faith”), Pieper strongly backs up his points but here are the highlights: “To believe always means: to believe someone and to believe something. […] The believer—in the strict sense of the word—accepts a given matter as real and true on the testimony of someone else. That is, in essence, the concept of belief.” (29)

Then, “For to believe means: to regard something as true and real on the testimony of someone else. Therefore, the reason for believing ‘something’ is that one believes ‘someone.’ Where this is not the case, something other than proper belief is involved.” (30)

“[B]elief can never be halfhearted. […] There may be plenty of compelling arguments for a man’s credibility; but no argument can force us to believe him.” (35)

“Newman is forever stressing […] the one idea that belief is something other than the result of a logical process; it is precisely not ‘a conclusion from premises’. ‘For directly you have a conviction that you ought to believe, reason has done its part, and what is wanted for faith is, not proof, but will.’” (35-36)

“It is not the truth, then that compels him to accept the subject matter. Rather, he is motivated by the insight that it is good to regard the subject matter as true and real on the strength of someone else’s testimony. But it is the will, not cognition, that acknowledges the good. Thus, wherever belief in the strict sense is involved, the will is operative in a special fashion, the will of the believer himself. […] We believe, not because we see, perceive, deduce something true, but because we desire something good.” (36-37) Pieper then clears up many misunderstandings from this last statement.

“To believe means: to participate in the knowledge of a knower. […] Belief cannot establish its own legitimacy; it can only derive legitimacy from someone who knows the subject matter of his own accord. By virtue of contact with this someone, belief is transmitted to the believer.” (42)

“There are several statements implicit in this proposition. To begin with: Belief is by its nature something secondary. Wherever belief is meaningfully held, there is someone else who supports the believer; and this someone else cannot be a believer. Before belief, therefore, come seeing and knowing.” (42)

“[B]elief has the extraordinary property of endowing the believer with knowledge that would not be available to him by the exercise of his own powers.” (44-45)

“[T]his act does not take place in a vacuum and without reason—without, for example, some conviction of the credibility of the witness on whom we rely. But this conviction in turn cannot possible be belief; the credibility of the witness whom we believe cannot also be the subject of belief; this is where real knowledge is required. The matter is, to be sure, somewhat complicated.” (45)

“No one who believes must believe; belief is by its nature a free act.” (49)

“[T]he certainty of the believer must possess a special quality.” (49)
“There are quite a few definitions of ‘certainty’. […] The first conceives of certainty as a ‘firm assent, that is, assent excluding all doubt and regarded as ultimate’. It is immediately apparent that part of the nature of belief, not only of religious faith, is to be entirely certain in that sense. The concept itself excludes the possibility that belief and uncertainty can coexist side by side.” (49)

“The second, equally common definition holds that certainty is a ‘firm assent founded on the evidentness of the matter’. [With evidentness meaning nothing more nor less than obviousness. ...] According to this definition, no believer, of course, can possess certainty—for belief means: to accept as true and real a matter that is not in itself obvious.” (49-50)

“To be sure, the certainty of the believer cannot possibly stretch farther than the insight and reliability of the witness on whom he depends. If, therefore, we read again and again in the old theory of belief that the certainty of belief transcends the certainty of knowledge and insight by an infinite amount, we must consider what grounds there are for this statement. The reason for that transcendent certainty does not lie in the fact that certainty of belief is involved but rather that the believer has to do with a witness whose insight and truthfulness infinitely exceed all human measures. Belief is more certain than any imaginable human insight—not insofar as it is belief, but insofar as it properly rests upon divine speech.” (54)

“Belief still means: to accept something unconditionally as real and true on the testimony of someone else who understands the matter out of his own knowledge.” (55)

“[T]he crucial factor of belief never consists in the matters that are believed. The believer, of whatever sort, is not primarily concerned with a given matter but with a given someone. This someone, the witness, the authority, is ‘the principal thing’, since without his testimony the matter would not be believed at all. Herein lies the decisive difference between religious belief and every other kind of belief: the Someone on whose testimony the religious believer accepts a matter as true and real—that Someone is God himself.” (56)

“’I love you.’ That statement, too, is not primarily supposed to inform another person of an objective fact separable from the speaker. Rather, it is a kind of self-witnessing; and the witnessed subject matter is given reality solely by having been spoken in such a manner. In keeping with this condition, the only way the partner can become aware of the love that is offered is by taking what is said into himself, by listening. Of course, the state of being loved can simply happen to him, as to an immature child; but he can truly ‘know’ it only by hearing the verbal avowal and ‘believing’ it; only then will the other’s love become truly present to him; only then will he truly partake of it.” (84)

“On a higher plane, the very same rule applies to divine revelation. In speaking to men, God does not cause them to know objective facts, but he does throw open to them his own Being. The subject matter that forms the essential content of revelation—that man has been elected to participate in the divine life; that that divine life has been offered to him, in fact, already given—this subject matter owes its reality to nothing but the fact that it is pronounced by God. It is real in that God reveals it.” (85)

“Only now can we answer the question of whether it is ‘good’ for man to believe. And the answer will have to run somewhat as follows: If God has really spoken, then it is not only good to believe him; rather, the act of believing generates those things that in fact are goodness and perfection for man. Receptively and trustfully hearing the truth, man gains a share not only in the ‘knowledge’ of the divine Witness, but in his life itself.” (85)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Faith is ... . What Aquinas has to say about Hebrews

This is from Commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews by St. Thomas Aquinas. Don't have time to add all the emphases (bold and such) throughout, but here is the text:

Heb. 11:1

1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

551. – Above, the Apostle showed Christ’s superiority in many ways by preferring Him to the angels, to Moses and to Aaron, and advised the faithful to be united to Christ. Since this union consists principally in faith and begins with faith: ‘That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts’ (Eph. 3:17), the Apostle proceeds to recommend this faith and does three things: first he describes faith; secondly, he gives various examples of it (v. 2); thirdly, he exhorts them to the things which pertain to faith (chap. 12).

552. – He gives a definition of faith which is complete but obscure. Hence, it should be noted that in attempting to define any virtue perfectly, one must mention its proper matter with which it deals, and its end; because habits are recognized by their acts, and acts by their objects. Therefore, it is necessary to mention the act and its order to its object and end. Thus, the definition of courage must mention its proper matter with which it deals, namely, fears and aggressions, and its end, which is the good of the republic. Now, since faith is a theological virtue, its object and end are the same, namely, God. First, he mentions its order to the end; secondly, its proper matter (v. 1b).

553. – But it should be noted that the act of faith is to believe, because it is an act of the intellect narrowed to one thing by the command of the will. Hence, to believe is to cogitate with assent, as Augustine says in The Predestination of the Saints. Therefore, the object of faith and of the will must coincide. But the object of faith is the first truth, in which the end of the will consists, namely, happiness, But it is present one way on earth, and another way in heaven, because on earth the first truth is not possessed and, consequently, not seen: for in regard to things that are above the soul, to possess and to see are the same, as Augustine says in Book of 83 Questions. Hence, they are only hoped for: ‘But hope that is sees in not hope. For what a man sees, why does he hope for?’ (Rom. 8:24). Therefore, the first truth, not seen but hoped for, is the end of the will on earth and, consequently, is the object of faith, because its end and object are the same. But the ultimate end of faith in heaven, which we tend toward by faith, is happiness, which consists in the clear vision of God: ‘This is eternal life: to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (Jn. 17:3). But such is the hope of believers: ‘He has regenerated us unto a lively hope’ (1 Pt. 1:3). The end, therefore, of faith on earth is the attainment of the thing hoped for, namely, of eternal happiness; hence, he says, of things hoped for.

554. – But a question arises: since faith is prior to hope, why is it defined in terms of hope? For it is customary to define the later by the previous, and not vice versa. I answer that the answer should be obvious from what has been said, namely, that the object and end of faith are the same. Therefore, since the attainment of the things hoped for is its end, it must also be its object. For it has been stated above that a habit must be defined by the order of its act to its object. But the true and the good, even though when considered in themselves are convertible as far as their supposits are concerned, differ in conception. Hence, they are diversely related to each other, because the true is a good and a good is true. In like manner, the intellect and will, which are distinguished on the basis of the distinction between the true and the good, have a diverse relationship to each other. For inasmuch as the intellect apprehends truth and anything contained in it, the true is a good; hence, the good is under the true: but inasmuch as the will moves, the true is under the good. Therefore, in the order of knowing, the intellect is prior; but in the order of moving, the will is prior. Therefore, because the intellect is moved to the act of faith by the command of the will, in the order of moving, the will is prior. Therefore, the prior is not being defined in terms of the later, because, as has been stated, in the definition of faith, the order of the act to its object, which is the same as the end, must be mentioned. But the end and the good are the same, as it says in Phys. II. But in the order to the good, the will, which is the subject of hope, is prior.

555. – But why not say, ‘of things to be loved,’ rather than of things to be hoped for? The reason is because charity is concerned with things that are present or absent. Therefore, because the unpossessed end is the object of faith, he says, of things to be hoped for. Nor does it make any difference that the thing to be hoped for is also the object of hope, because it is necessary that faith be ordained to an end, which coincides with the object of those virtues by which the will is made perfect; since faith pertains to the will as moved by the intellect.

556. – But since faith is one virtue, because it is called one habit (for its object is one), why not say ‘of the thing to be hoped for,’ instead of things to be hoped for? I answer that happiness, which is essentially one thing in itself, because it consists in the vision of God, is the principle and root from which the many good things contained under it are derived: for example, the characteristics of the body, companionship with the saints, and many other good things. Therefore, in order to show that all these pertain to faith, he speaks in the plural.

557. – The word, substance, which appears in the definition, can be explained in a number of ways: in one way, causally, and then it has two senses: one which is substance, i.e., making the things hoped for be present in us. This it does in two ways: in one way, by meriting, as it were; for from the fact that a person makes his intellect captive and submissive to the things of faith, he deserves some day to see the things he hopes for: for vision is the reward of faith. In another way, as though by its property, bringing it about that what is believed really to lie in the future, be somehow already possessed, provided one believe in God. In another way, we can explain the word, substance, essentially, as if faith is the substance, i.e., the essence of things to be hoped for. Hence, in Greek it is defined as ‘the hypostasis of things to be hoped for.’ For the essence of happiness is no less than the vision of God: ‘This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (Jn. 17:3). Hence, in the book, On the Trinity.

Augustine says: ‘This contemplation is promised to us; the end of all actions.’ Therefore, the full vision of God is the essence of happiness. We also see this in the liberal sciences, which, if a person wishes to learn them, he must first accept its principles, which he must believe when they are delivered to him by the teacher. For a learner must believe, as it is stated in 1 Posterior Analytics. And in those principles the entire science is somehow contained, as conclusions are contained in their principles, and an effect in its cause. Therefore, one who has the principles of a science, say geometry, has its substance. And if geometry were the substance of happiness, a person who possessed the principles of geometry would, in a sense, have the substance of happiness. But our faith consists in believing that the blessed will see and enjoy God. Therefore, if we will to reach that state, it is necessary that we believe the principles of that knowledge. And these principles are the articles of faith, which contain the summary of this knowledge, because the vision of the triune God makes us happy. And this is one article; hence we believe this. Consequently, he says, the assurance [substance] of things to be hoped for: ‘We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to fact’ (1 Cor. 13:12). As if to say: we shall be happy when we see face to face that which we now see in a glass and in a dark manner. In these words is shown the relationship of the act of faith to its end, because faith is ordained to things to be hoped for, being, as it were, a beginning in which the whole is, as it were, virtually contained, as conclusions in principles.

558. – Then when he says, the conviction [evidence] of things that appear not, he touches the act of faith in regard to its proper matter. But the act proper to faith, even though it is in relation to the will, as has been said, is nevertheless in the intellect, as in a subject, because its object is the true, which properly pertains to the intellect. But there is a difference among the acts of the intellect: for some are habits of the intellect which imply complete certitude and perfect understanding of that which is understood, as is clear in the habit of understanding, which is the habit of first principles, because one who understands that every whole is great than its part sees this and is certain. But the habit of science also does this: thus the habits of understanding and of science will produce certitude and vision. But there are others which beget neither, namely, doubt and opinion. But faith is midway between these: because, as has been stated, faith produces assent in the intellect which can be caused in two ways: in one way, because the intellect is moved to assent because of the evidence of the object which is per se knowable, as in the habit of principles, or known through something else, which is per se knowable, as in the science of astronomy. In another way, it assents to something not because of the evidence of the object, by which it is not sufficiently moved (hence it is not certain), but it either doubts, namely, when there is no more evidence for one side than for the other; or it opines, if it does have reason for one side, but without satisfying the intellect, so that there is fear in regard to the opposite side. But faith does not suggest either of these absolutely: because there is no evidence, as there is in understanding and science, nor is there doubt, as in doubt and opinion; but it fixes on one side with certainty and firm adherence by a voluntary choice. But this choice rests on God’s authority, and by it the intellect is fixed, so that it clings firmly to the things of faith and assents to them with the greatest of certainty. Therefore, to believe is to know with assent. Therefore, the proper matter of the habit of faith are things that appear not. For appearance has knowledge, but not faith, as Gregory says. But the act of faith is certain adherence, which the Apostle calls evidence, taking the cause for the effect, because evidence produces faith about a doubtful matter. For evidence is the reason for believing a doubted thing. Or if we follow the etymology of the word, evidence (argument), which means arguing the mind, then he is taking the effect for the cause, because the mind is compelled to assent because of the thing’s certainty. Hence, it is called the evidence of things that appear not, i.e., a sure and certain apprehension of things it does not see.

Now, if someone were to reduce those words to their correct form, he could say that faith is a habit of the mind by which eternal life is begun in us and makes the intellect assent to things that it does not see. Therefore, it is obvious that the Apostle has defined faith completely, but not clearly. [Where we have evidence another version has conviction, because on God’s authority the intellect is convinced about things it does not see].

559. – By that definition, faith is distinguished from all the other habits of the intellect. For the fact that it is called evidence, faith is distinguished from opinion, doubt and suspicion, because these three doe not cause the intellect to adhere to something firmly. By the words, of things to be hoped for, it is distinguished from ordinary faith which is not ordained to happiness. For by proper definition a thing is made known and distinguished from all else, as in this case; hence, all the others are reduced to it.

560. – But it seems incorrect to say, of things that appear not, as it says in Jn (20:26): ‘Thomas saw and believed.’ Furthermore, we believe that there is one God, a fact which is demonstrated by philosophers.

I answer that faith is taken in two senses: in the proper sense, it is concerned with things not seen and not known, as is clear from the above. But inasmuch as there cannot be greater certainty of a conclusion than of the principle from which it is drawn, because principles are always more certain than the conclusions, it follows that since the principles of faith are not evident, neither are its conclusions. Hence, the intellect does not assent to the conclusions as to things known or seen. But taken in a general sense, it excludes all knowledge that is certain; that is the sense in which it is taken by Augustine in the Gospel Questions, when he says that faith is concerned with things that are seen. But the Apostle is speaking in the first sense. Furthermore, it must be said of Thomas that, as Gregory says, he saw one thing and believed something else: for he saw the humanity and believed the divinity. To the objection based on demonstration, the answer is that nothing prohibits one thing being seen by one person and believed by another, as is obvious in diverse states. For what is not seen on earth is seen by the angels. Therefore, what I believe, an angel sees. Similarly, what is seen by the prophets, for example, that God is one and incorporeal, must be believed by the illiterate; just as an illiterate person believes in an eclipse which an astronomer sees. However, in such matters faith is taken in a different sense. But there are some things which absolutely transcend the state of the present life; and in regard to these there is faith in the strict sense.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Alexander Solzhenitsyn : Spiegel Interview July 07

DER SPIEGEL 30/2007 - July 23, 2007 URL:,1518,496211,00.html


'I Am Not Afraid of Death'

In an interview with SPIEGEL, prominent Russian writer and Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn discusses Russia's turbulent history, Putin's version of democracy and his attitude to life and death.

Jurij Filistow

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

SPIEGEL: Alexander Isayevich, when we came in we found you at work. It seems that even at the age of 88 you still feel this need to work, even though your health doesn't allow you to walk around your home. What do you derive your strength from?

Solzhenitsyn: I have always had that inner drive, since my birth. And I have always devoted myself gladly to work -- to work and to the struggle.

SPIEGEL: There are four tables in this space alone. In your new book "My American Years," which will be published in Germany this fall, you recollect that you used to write even while walking in the forest.

Solzhenitsyn: When I was in the gulag I would sometimes even write on stone walls. I used to write on scraps of paper, then I memorized the contents and destroyed the scraps.

SPIEGEL: And your strength did not leave you even in moments of enormous desperation?

Solzhenitsyn: Yes. I would often think: Whatever the outcome is going to be, let it be. And then things would turn out all right. It looks like some good came out of it.

SPIEGEL: I am not sure you were of the same opinion when in February 1945 the military secret service arrested Captain Solzhenitsyn in Eastern Prussia. Because, in his letters from the front, Solzhenitsyn was unflattering about Josef Stalin, and the sentence for that was eight years in the prison camps.

Solzhenitsyn: It was south of Wormditt. We had just broken out of a German encirclement and were marching to Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) when I was arrested. I was always optimistic. And I held to and was guided by my views.

SPIEGEL: What views?

Solzhenitsyn: Of course, my views developed in the course of time. But I have always believed in what I did and never acted against my conscience.

SPIEGEL: Thirteen years ago when you returned from exile, you were disappointed to see the new Russia. You turned down a prize proposed by Gorbachev, and you also refused to accept an award Yeltsin wanted to give you. Yet now you have accepted the State Prize which was awarded to you by Putin, the former head of the FSB intelligence agency, whose predecessor the KGB persecuted and denounced you so cruelly. How does this all fit together?

Solzhenitsyn: The prize in 1990 was proposed not by Gorbachev, but by the Council of Ministers of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, then a part of the USSR. The prize was to be for "The Gulag Archipelago." I declined the proposal, since I could not accept an award for a book written in the blood of millions.

In 1998, it was the county's low point, with people in misery; this was the year when I published the book "Russia in Collapse." Yeltsin decreed I be honored the highest state order. I replied that I was unable to receive an award from a government that had led Russia into such dire straits.

The current State Prize is awarded not by the president personally, but by a community of top experts. The Council on Science that nominated me for the award and the Council on Culture that supported the idea include some of the most highly respected people of the country, all of them authorities in their respective disciplines. The president, as head of state, awards the laureates on the national holiday. In accepting the award I expressed the hope that the bitter Russian experience, which I have been studying and describing all my life, will be for us a lesson that keeps us from new disastrous breakdowns.

Vladimir Putin -- yes, he was an officer of the intelligence services, but he was not a KGB investigator, nor was he the head of a camp in the gulag. As for service in foreign intelligence, that is not a negative in any country -- sometimes it even draws praise. George Bush Sr. was not much criticized for being the ex-head of the CIA, for example.

SPIEGEL: All your life you have called on the authorities to repent for the millions of victims of the gulag and communist terror. Was this call really heard?

Solzhenitsyn: I have grown used to the fact that, throughout the world, public repentance is the most unacceptable option for the modern politician.

SPIEGEL: The current Russian president says the collapse of the Soviet Union was the largest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century. He says it is high time to stop this masochistic brooding over the past, especially since there are attempts "from outside," as he puts it, to provoke an unjustified remorse among Russians. Does this not just help those who want people to forget everything that took place during the county's Soviet past?

Solzhenitsyn: Well, there is growing concern all over the world as to how the United States will handle its new role as the world's only superpower, which it became as a result of geopolitical changes. As for "brooding over the past," alas, that conflation of "Soviet" and "Russian," against which I spoke so often in the 1970s, has not passed away either in the West, or in the ex-socialist countries, or in the former Soviet republics. The elder political generation in communist countries was not ready for repentance, while the new generation is only too happy to voice grievances and level accusations, with present-day Moscow a convenient target. They behave as if they heroically liberated themselves and lead a new life now, while Moscow has remained communist. Nevertheless, I dare hope that this unhealthy phase will soon be over, that all the peoples who have lived through communism will understand that communism is to blame for the bitter pages of their history.

SPIEGEL: Including the Russians.

Solzhenitsyn: If we could all take a sober look at our history, then we would no longer see this nostalgic attitude to the Soviet past that predominates now among the less affected part of our society. Nor would the Eastern European countries and former USSR republics feel the need to see in historical Russia the source of their misfortunes. One should not ascribe the evil deeds of individual leaders or political regimes to an innate fault of the Russian people and their country. One should not attribute this to the "sick psychology" of the Russians, as is often done in the West. All these regimes in Russia could only survive by imposing a bloody terror. We should clearly understand that only the voluntary and conscientious acceptance by a people of its guilt can ensure the healing of a nation. Unremitting reproaches from outside, on the other hand, are counterproductive.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn chats with Mikhail Gorbachev during a reception in honour of Solzhenitsyn at the Swedish embassy in Moscow.

SPIEGEL: To accept one's guilt presupposes that one has enough information about one's own past. However, historians are complaining that Moscow's archives are not as accessible now as they were in the 1990's.

Solzhenitsyn: It's a complicated issue. There is no doubt, however, that a revolution in archives took place in Russia over the last 20 years. Thousands of files have been opened; the researchers now have access to hundreds and thousands of previously classified documents. Hundreds of monographs that make these documents public have already been published or are in preparation. Alongside the declassified documents of the 1990's, there were many others published which never went through the declassification process. Dmitri Volkogonov, the military historian, and Alexander Yakovlev, the ex-member of the Politburo -- these people had enough influence and authority to get access to any files, and society is grateful to them for their valuable publications.

As for the last few years, no one has been able to bypass the declassification procedure. Unfortunately, this procedure takes longer than one would like. Nevertheless the files of the country's most important archives, the National Archives of the Russian Federation (GARF), are as accessible now as in the 1990's. The FSB sent 100,000 criminal- investigation materials to GARF in the late 1990s. These documents remain available for both citizens and researchers. In 2004-2005 GARF published the seven-volume "History of Stalin's Gulag." I cooperated with this publication and I can assure you that these volumes are as comprehensive and reliable as they can be. Researchers all over the world rely on this edition.

SPIEGEL: About 90 years ago, Russia was shaken first by the February Revolution and then by the October Revolution. These events run like a leitmotif through your works. A few months ago in a long article you reiterated your thesis once again: Communism was not the result of the previous Russian political regime; the Bolshevik Revolution was made possible only by Kerensky's poor governance in 1917. If one follows this line of thinking, then Lenin was only an accidental person, who was only able to come to Russia and seize power here with German support. Have we understood you correctly?

Solzhenitsyn: No, you have not. Only an extraordinary person can turn opportunity into reality. Lenin and Trotsky were exceptionally nimble and vigorous politicians who managed in a short period of time to use the weakness of Kerensky's government. But allow me to correct you: the "October Revolution" is a myth generated by the winners, the Bolsheviks, and swallowed whole by progressive circles in the West. On Oct. 25, 1917, a violent 24-hour coup d'etat took place in Petrograd. It was brilliantly and thoroughly planned by Leon Trotsky -- Lenin was still in hiding then to avoid being brought to justice for treason. What we call "the Russian Revolution of 1917" was actually the February Revolution.

The reasons driving this revolution do indeed have their source in Russia's pre-revolutionary condition, and I have never stated otherwise. The February Revolution had deep roots -- I have shown that in "The Red Wheel." First among these was the long-term mutual distrust between those in power and the educated society, a bitter distrust that rendered impossible any compromise, any constructive solutions for the state. And the greatest responsibility, then, of course falls on the authorities: Who if not the captain is to blame for a shipwreck? So you may indeed say that the February Revolution in its causes was "the results of the previous Russian political regime."

But this does not mean that Lenin was "an accidental person" by any means; or that the financial participation of Emperor Wilhelm was inconsequential. There was nothing natural for Russia in the October Revolution. Rather, the revolution broke Russia's back. The Red Terror unleashed by its leaders, their willingness to drown Russia in blood, is the first and foremost proof of it.

SPIEGEL: Your recent two-volume work "200 Years Together" was an attempt to overcome a taboo against discussing the common history of Russians and Jews. These two volumes have provoked mainly perplexity in the West. You say the Jews are the leading force of global capital and they are among the foremost destroyers of the bourgeoisie. Are we to conclude from your rich array of sources that the Jews carry more responsibility than others for the failed Soviet experiment?

Solzhenitsyn: I avoid exactly that which your question implies: I do not call for any sort of scorekeeping or comparisons between the moral responsibility of one people or another; moreover, I completely exclude the notion of responsibility of one nation towards another. All I am calling for is self-reflection.

You can get the answer to your question from the book itself: "Every people must answer morally for all of its past -- including that past which is shameful. Answer by what means? By attempting to comprehend: How could such a thing have been allowed? Where in all this is our error? And could it happen again? It is in that spirit, specifically, that it would behoove the Jewish people to answer, both for the revolutionary cutthroats and the ranks willing to serve them. Not to answer before other peoples, but to oneself, to one's consciousness, and before God. Just as we Russians must answer -- for the pogroms, for those merciless arsonist peasants, for those crazed revolutionary soldiers, for those savage sailors."

SPIEGEL: In our opinion, out of all your works, "The Gulag Archipelago" provoked the greatest public resonance. In this book you showed the misanthropic nature of the Soviet dictatorship. Looking back today, can you say to what extent it has contributed to the defeat of communism in the world?

Solzhenitsyn: You should not address this question to me -- an author cannot give such evaluations.

SPIEGEL: To paraphrase something you once said, the dark history of the 20th century had to be endured by Russia for the sake of mankind. Have the Russians learned the lessons of the two revolutions and their consequences?

Solzhenitsyn: It seems they are starting to. A great number of publications and movies on the history of the 20th century -- albeit of uneven quality -- are evidence of a growing demand. Quite recently, the state-owned TV channel "Russia" aired a series based on Varlam Shalamov's works, showing the terrible, cruel truth about Stalin's camps. It was not watered down.
And, for instance, since last February I have been surprised and impressed by the large-scale, heated and long-lasting discussions that my previously written and now republished article on the February Revolution has provoked. I was pleased to see the wide range of opinions, including those opposed to mine, since they demonstrate the eagerness to understand the past, without which there can be no meaningful future.

Solzhenitsyn (left) together with the German writer Heinrich Böll in 1974 after Solzhenitsyn had been expelled from the Soviet Union.

SPIEGEL: How do you assess the period of Putin's governance in comparison with his predecessors Yeltsin and Gorbachev?

Solzhenitsyn: Gorbachev's administration was amazingly politically naïve, inexperienced and irresponsible towards the country. It was not governance but a thoughtless renunciation of power. The admiration of the West in return only strengthened his conviction that his approach was right. But let us be clear that it was Gorbachev, and not Yeltsin, as is now widely being claimed, who first gave freedom of speech and movement to the citizens of our country.

Yeltsin's period was characterized by a no less irresponsible attitude to people's lives, but in other ways. In his haste to have private rather than state ownership as quickly as possible, Yeltsin started a mass, multi-billion-dollar fire sale of the national patrimony. Wanting to gain the support of regional leaders, Yeltsin called directly for separatism and passed laws that encouraged and empowered the collapse of the Russian state. This, of course, deprived Russia of its historical role for which it had worked so hard, and lowered its standing in the international community. All this met with even more hearty Western applause.

Putin inherited a ransacked and bewildered country, with a poor and demoralized people. And he started to do what was possible -- a slow and gradual restoration. These efforts were not noticed, nor appreciated, immediately. In any case, one is hard pressed to find examples in history when steps by one country to restore its strength were met favorably by other governments.

SPIEGEL: It has gradually become clear to everyone that the stability of Russia is of benefit to the West. But there is one thing that surprises us in particular: When speaking about the right form of statehood for Russia, you were always in favor of civil self- government, and you contrasted this model with Western democracy. After seven years of Putin's governance we can observe totally the opposite phenomenon: Power is concentrated in the hands of the president, everything is oriented toward him.

Solzhenitsyn: Yes, I have always insisted on the need for local self-government for Russia, but I never opposed this model to Western democracy. On the contrary, I have tried to convince my fellow citizens by citing the examples of highly effective local self-government systems in Switzerland and New England, both of which I saw first-hand.

In your question you confuse local self-government, which is possible on the most grassroots level only, when people know their elected officials personally, with the dominance of a few dozen regional governors, who during Yeltsin's period were only too happy to join the federal government in suppressing any local self-government initiatives.

Today I continue to be extremely worried by the slow and inefficient development of local self-government. But it has finally started to take place. In Yeltsin's time, local self-government was actually barred on the regulatory level, whereas the state's "vertical of power" (i.e. Putin's centralized and top-down administration) is delegating more and more decisions to the local population. Unfortunately, this process is still not systematic in character.

SPIEGEL: But there is hardy any opposition.

Solzhenitsyn: Of course, an opposition is necessary and desirable for the healthy development of any country. You can scarcely find anyone in opposition, except for the communists, just like in Yeltsin's times. However, when you say "there is nearly no opposition," you probably mean the democratic parties of the 1990s. But if you take an unbiased look at the situation: there was a rapid decline of living standards in the 1990s, which affected three quarters of Russian families, and all under the "democratic banner." Small wonder, then, that the population does not rally to this banner anymore. And now the leaders of these parties cannot even agree on how to share portfolios in an illusory shadow government. It is regrettable that there is still no constructive, clear and large-scale opposition in Russia. The growth and development of an opposition, as well as the maturing of other democratic institutions, will take more time and experience.

SPIEGEL: During our last interview you criticized the election rules for State Duma deputies, because only half of them were directly elected in their constituencies, whereas the other half, representatives of the political parties, were dominant. After the election reform made by president Putin, there is no direct constituency at all. Is this not a step back?

Solzhenitsyn: Yes, I think it is a mistake. I am a convinced and consistent critic of "party-parliamentarism." I am for non-partisan elections of true people's representatives who are accountable to their regions and districts; and who in case of unsatisfactory work can be recalled. I do understand and respect the formation of groups on economical, cooperative, territorial, educational, professional and industrial principles, but I see nothing organic in political parties. Politically motivated ties can be unstable and quite often they have selfish ulterior motives. Leon Trotsky said it accurately during the October Revolution: "A party that does not strive for the seizure of power is worth nothing." We are talking about seeking benefit for the party itself at the expense of the rest of the people. This can happen whether the takeover is peaceful or not. Voting for impersonal parties and their programs is a false substitute for the only true way to elect people's representatives: voting by an actual person for an actual candidate. This is the whole point behind popular representation.

SPIEGEL: In spite of high revenues from oil and gas exports, in spite of the development of a middle class, there is a vast contrast between rich and poor in Russia. What can be done to improve the situation?

Solzhenitsyn: I think the gap between the rich and the poor is an extremely dangerous phenomenon in Russia and it needs the immediate attention of the state. Although many fortunes were amassed in Yeltsin's times by ransacking, the only reasonable way to correct the situation today is not to go after big businesses -- the present owners are trying to run them as effectively as they can -- but to give breathing room to medium and small businesses. That means protecting citizens and small entrepreneurs from arbitrary rule and from corruption. It means investing the revenues from the national natural resources into the national infrastructure, education and health care. And we must learn to do so without shameful theft and embezzlement.

SPIEGEL: Does Russia need a national idea, and what might it look like?

Solzhenitsyn: The term "national idea" is an unclear one. One might think of it as a widely shared understanding among a people as to the desired way of life in their country, an idea that holds sway over the population. A unifying concept like that can be useful, but should never be created artificially or imposed top-down by the powers-that-be.

Over the latest historical periods these concepts have been developed in France, for example after the eighteenth century, in the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Poland etc. When the whole discussion of "developing a national idea" hastily began in post-Soviet Russia, I tried to pour cold water on it with the objection that, after all the devastating losses we had experienced, it would be quite sufficient to have just one task: the preservation of a dying people.

SPIEGEL: But Russia often finds itself alone. Recently relations between Russia and the West have gotten somewhat colder, and this includes Russian-European relations. What is the reason? What are the West's difficulties in understanding modern Russia?

Solzhenitsyn: I can name many reasons, but the most interesting ones are psychological, i.e. the clash of illusory hopes against reality. This happened both in Russia and in West. When I returned to Russia in 1994, the Western world and its states were practically being worshipped. Admittedly, this was caused not so much by real knowledge or a conscious choice, but by the natural disgust with the Bolshevik regime and its anti-Western propaganda.

This mood started changing with the cruel NATO bombings of Serbia. It's fair to say that all layers of Russian society were deeply and indelibly shocked by those bombings. The situation then became worse when NATO started to spread its influence and draw the ex-Soviet republics into its structure. This was especially painful in the case of Ukraine, a country whose closeness to Russia is defined by literally millions of family ties among our peoples, relatives living on different sides of the national border. At one fell stroke, these families could be torn apart by a new dividing line, the border of a military bloc.

So, the perception of the West as mostly a "knight of democracy" has been replaced with the disappointed belief that pragmatism, often cynical and selfish, lies at the core of Western policies. For many Russians it was a grave disillusion, a crushing of ideals.

At the same time the West was enjoying its victory after the exhausting Cold War, and observing the 15-year-long anarchy under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. In this context it was easy to get accustomed to the idea that Russia had become almost a Third World country and would remain so forever. When Russia started to regain some of its strength as an economy and as a state, the West's reaction -- perhaps a subconscious one, based on erstwhile fears -- was panic.

SPIEGEL: The West associated it with the ex-superpower, the Soviet Union.

Solzhenitsyn: Which is too bad. But even before that, the West deluded itself -- or maybe conveniently ignored the reality -- by regarding Russia as a young democracy, whereas in fact there was no democracy at all. Of course Russia is not a democratic country yet; it is just starting to build democracy. It is all too easy to take Russia to task with a long list of omissions, violations and mistakes.

But did not Russia clearly and unambiguously stretch its helping hand to the West after 9/11? Only a psychological shortcoming, or else a disastrous shortsightedness, can explain the West's irrational refusal of this hand. No sooner did the USA accept Russia's critically important aid in Afghanistan than it immediately started making newer and newer demands. As for Europe, its claims towards Russia are fairly transparently based on fears about energy, unjustified fears at that.

Isn't it a luxury for the West to be pushing Russia aside now, especially in the face of new threats? In my last Western interview before I returned to Russia (for Forbes magazine in April 1994) I said: "If we look far into the future, one can see a time in the 21st century when both Europe and the USA will be in dire need of Russia as an ally."

SPIEGEL: You have read Goethe, Schiller and Heine in the original German, and you have always hoped that Germany would be something of a bridge between Russia and the rest of the world. Do you believe Germans can still play this role?

Solzhenitsyn: I do. There is something predetermined in the mutual attraction between Germany and Russia. Otherwise, this attraction would not have survived two ghastly World Wars.

SPIEGEL: Which German poets, writers and philosophers have influenced you the most?
Solzhenitsyn: Schiller and Goethe were very much present in my childhood and adolescence. Later I was drawn by Schelling. I highly appreciate the great German musical tradition. I can't imagine my life without Bach, Beethoven and Schubert.

SPIEGEL: The West knows nearly nothing about modern Russian literature. What is, in your opinion, the situation in Russian literature today?

Solzhenitsyn: Periods of rapid and fundamental change were never favorable for literature. Significant works, not to mention great works, have nearly always and everywhere been created in periods of stability, be it a good or a bad stability. Modern Russian literature is no exception.

The educated reader today is much more interested in non-fiction -- memoirs, biographies, and documentary prose. However, I do believe that justice and conscience will not be cast to the four winds, but will remain in the foundations of Russian literature, so that it may be of service in brightening our spirit and enhancing our comprehension.

SPIEGEL: The idea of the influence of Orthodox Christianity on the Russian world can be traced throughout your works. What is the moral qualification of the Russian church? We think it is turning into a state church today, just like it was centuries ago -- an institution that in practice legitimizes the head of Kremlin as the representative of God.

Solzhenitsyn: On the contrary, we should be surprised that our church has gained a somewhat independent position during the very few years since it was freed from total subjugation to the communist government. Do not forget what a horrible human toll the Russian Orthodox Church suffered throughout almost the entire 20th century. The Church is just rising from its knees.

Our young post-Soviet state is just learning to respect the Church as an independent institution. The "Social Doctrine" of the Russian Orthodox Church, for example, goes much further than do government programs. Recently Metropolitan Kirill, a prominent expounder of the Church's position, has made repeated calls for reforming the taxation system. His views are quite different from those of government, yet he airs them in public, on national television. As for "legitimizing the head of Kremlin," do you mean the funeral service for Yeltsin in the main cathedral and the decision not to hold a civil funeral ceremony?

SPIEGEL: That too.

Solzhenitsyn: Well, it was probably the only way to keep in check public anger, which has not fully subsided, and avoid possible manifestations of anger during the burial. But I see no reason to treat the ceremony as the new protocol for the funerals of all Russian presidents in the future. As far as the past is concerned, our Church holds round-the-clock prayers for the repose of the victims of communist massacres in Butovo near Moscow, on the Solovetsky Islands and other places of mass burials.

SPIEGEL: In 1987 in your interview with SPIEGEL founder Rudolf Augstein you said it was really hard for you to speak about religion in public. What does faith mean for you?

Solzhenitsyn: For me faith is the foundation and support of one's life.

SPIEGEL: Are you afraid of death?

Solzhenitsyn: No, I am not afraid of death any more. When I was young the early death of my father cast a shadow over me -- he died at the age of 27 -- and I was afraid to die before all my literary plans came true. But between 30 and 40 years of age my attitude to death became quite calm and balanced. I feel it is a natural, but no means the final, milestone of one's existence.

SPIEGEL: Anyhow, we wish you many years of creative life.

Solzhenitsyn: No, no. Don't. It's enough.

SPIEGEL: Alexander Isayevich, we thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Christian Neef and Matthias Schepp.