Monday 31 August 2009

Subsidiarity- a Catholic concept

(Also appeared at : Journey in a Broken World 26 / 08 | August / 2009)

Article by Marc Aupiais

In Europe, much is made of subsidiarity- it is a concept which keeps the Union together, just as federalism glues America into a powerful union of connected states. Subsidiarity is why so many in Africa oppose many of the intercontinental adoptions occurring. This concept is also vital in Canon law, and Catholic doctrine.

Understanding subsidiarity is understanding half the choices the Vatican makes. Subsidiarity, appears in a way in the bible, further, it is a basis on which the Vatican interacts with the faithful world.

According to this concept, the lowest, most local solution to a problem should be sought first, the lowest adequate solution should be sought, the lowest competent measure. It is why most miracles are social, and why the safest normal salvation is in sacraments.

It is as much logical as when some seek first the least direct solution, and only use a direct one if needed. In subsidiarity, the least powerful body, or tribunal first hears a problem- but more than this, the first solution should be looked into from the ground- where we look for the most local- though not always most simple solution first.

A foreign national should not adopt a child from a country- unless there is a valid reason why this child should not go to local parents. A person of one religion should not be allowed to adopt a child of another religion, unless a local solution within the child's own community is not viable.

On a larger level- the Vatican leaves much of the governance of the hierarchy to bishops, and then parish priests. Catholic doctrine looks for a local solution first: unless something is better sorted at a higher level.

This is why local bishops are those who first oppose evil politicians, and why dissident bishops are often left for the local conference to request back into order. The pope does not speak until the local authority has been given an opportunity to, or the situation warrants this.

In accordance with this- the Vatican oft respects the formal relations between politicians and its representatives in important local bishops- still it has a direct route- separate from their authority- a nuncio which represents it. One need only read the speeches of the papacy to politicians, and the letters from the Vatican- and compare them with important local authorities- to catch the catch phrases.

In the ancient Israeli Sanhedrin, the council which judged criminals and similar matters- the youngest and least experienced of the men spoke first. The most experienced spoke last. This made the least experienced consider what they said, and prevented undue influence over these by the more powerful men.

Subsidiarity is oft applied by the church in advising on politics, and many matters. This same concept is why the church advocates nationalised armies, but not nationalised healthcare nor nation run economies.

If a matter can be sorted out in civil society- it need not be legislated on, unless civil society is found- sufficiently to be lacking.

Subsidiarity is a vital concept in understanding the church. Its primary function is in making local authority useful and using power to do what its proportion can best achieve. It is why Moses in the desert, appointed judges to hear the lesser cases, while the greater came to him. Remember most- if not all: who were appointed- would surely later perish with Moses for his disobedience- and theirs, and yet were permitted to judge Israel... Were they not en masse destroyed, yet would be used to judge?

Subsidiarity serves to protect conscience- the lowest jurisdiction is the first and is protected from interference on a higher level- until there is reason to demand otherwise. This is why Romans chapter 10 in the bible is important- we must evangelise and change and save the world- it is broken deeply in its own lack and in the lack of the church- the salt which is designed for the world- to salt it into a better territory, even as the world is designed for the saints of the church.

Subsidiarity is also why we must pray first to the saints when they can help us. In it, we respect the gifts given... As God also does by Romans 10, and as He does in His use of Gabriel, Raphael, the prophets and apostles. Subsidiarity is vital to Catholic doctrine!

This is also why Saint Paul commands the early Christians, I think it was the Corinthians- as recorded in the bible- that the wives were first to discuss their problems in the household, and ask about the scriptures there. We should first speak with our own family, asking for answers before we approach a priest or theologian. Even before this- we should look ourselves: for an answer- it is us who are condemned to hades or saved from it. By subsidiarity- we have a definite responsibility- even God notes our personal responsibility by allowing choice! The God of order did not create our minds to ignore them!

This said- with the breakdown in many places- of the family church- and in many a local authority- it is often best to discover the truth for yourself from the magisterium- the source, and also by your own resources at seeking truth in grace. You are the most local authority in your own design... This means that even if the family were not oft broken, you should still seek answers in yourself. First one must ask their own intuitive conscience, and then work up within themself, the Christian must become reliably creative to survive, subsidiarity helps here. Where one is competent- one should attempt first to solve an issue, an equation- before one subjects to another's authority- this also helps make their help easier to apply, or reject.

It is wise to learn from the wise, and we should, yet we must not underestimate ourselves. Some things we cannot handle- it is why there are apologists. Some things are near impossible to cure, and require sacraments and the like administered- because we are not (except in some extreme exceptions) competent to save ourselves without assistance of another from this matter.

This is why we must educate ourselves constantly- from observing the world around, by reading what wise people say, and by creatively viewing the entire world. What we can solve, and are adequate to solve- we should first try to solve, but we should certainly make ourselves more competent, and add to our resources to do so!

This is why most of what I write on theology is to apply to your internal being- your personal responsibility. First focus on your own salvation... It will better prepare you to save others. First focus on your own means, they are oft adequate. First pray, prayer and intuition save a lot of thought and work.

It is not unwise to attempt tasks in a wise, even minimalist manner- what effort is saved is used elsewhere- as long as the effort was adequate!

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