Freedom, Responsibility and the Pope

This morning, the pope gave a great address at the White House. His comments on the moral responsibility underlying American freedom and democracy struck me. He is perhaps the only person who could masterfully quote John Paul II and George Washington in the same breath. Here’s the excerpt:

  • Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience — almost every town in this country has its monuments honouring those who sacrificed their lives in defence of freedom, both at home and abroad. The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate. In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good. Few have understood this as clearly as the late Pope John Paul II. In reflecting on the spiritual victory of freedom over totalitarianism in his native Poland and in eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows, time and again, that “in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation,” and a democracy without values can lose its very soul. Those prophetic words in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent “indispensable supports” of political prosperity.

The full text of the Pope’s speech is here at the Globe and Mail and will be here at the Vatican.

And kudos to President Bush for quoting the Pope’s pre-papacy line about the “dictatorship of relativism.” (from this homily) Bush said, “In a world where some no longer believe that we can distinguish between simple right and wrong, we need your message to reject this dictatorship of relativism and embrace a culture of justice and truth.” (full text here)

The George Washington quote comes from this line in his farewell address: “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.” (full text here)

The John Paul II quote comes from Centessimus Annus sec. 46. “But freedom attains its full development only by accepting the truth. In a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation and man is exposed to the violence of passion and to manipulation, both open and hidden. “

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