Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Caritas in Veritate



Thanks to Michael S. for posting the Pope’s new encyclical Caritas in Vertate, which was released earlier today in Rome. The first thing worth noting about it is this encyclical is addressed to all the faithful, the People of God, and all men and women of good will. In contrast, Deus Caritas Est, his first encyclical, was addressed only to the members of the Church—clerical, religious, and lay faithful. And his second encyclical, Spe Salvi, was similarly addressed. However the social encyclical addresses a much larger, perhaps even universal, audience.

After a brief introduction, the structure of the encyclical letter is formulated around six primary sections: the first reexamines the significance of Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio; the second considers the issue of human development in “our time”; the third concentrates on the interrelated issues of fraternity, economic development, and civil society; the fourth investigates together several matters dealing with the development of people, their rights and duties, and the environment; the fifth considers cooperation within the human family; and, the sixth studies the development of peoples within the framework of technological developments. As is typical, an integrating conclusion winds up the encyclical. I will offer a brief and, most likely, too broadly painted commentary on each of these components:


The Introduction

Here Benedict emphasizes the nexus between “charity in truth” and the witness given by Christ in his earthly life. The Pope states that the driving force for authentic development of every person and the common good is love—caritas—exemplified by Jesus Christ. And it is this love that Christ taught that is the truth that underpins authentic human progress. Moreover, it is this love and the truth about it that are central to the Church’s social teachings. But if charity and truth are not inextricably linked, each can become a distortion of its authenticity. As the Holy Father states, “Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the ‘economy’ of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth.” [N. 2] He goes on to say, “In the truth, charity reflects the personal yet public dimension of faith in the God of the Bible, who is both Agápe and Lógos: Charity and Truth, Love and Word.” [N. 3] Within this idea is the meeting of the individual and the other wherein the personal and the common goods intertwine. A final important element of this rich introduction is this point which the Holy Father has raised elsewhere in his exhortations about the relation between the Church and civil society, including the State: “The Church does not have technical solutions to offer and does not claim ‘to interfere in any way in the politics of States.’ She does, however, have a mission of truth to accomplish, in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation.” [N. 9] The Pope then turns to his consideration of Paul VI’s encyclical On the Development of Peoples.


The encyclical Populorum Progressio

The first thing that Benedict does in this section is to emphasize the continuity among his encyclical, that of Paul VI, and the social teachings of the Church. Even though new issues may emerge in the human condition with the passage of time, the Church’s teachings are still rooted in the eternal wisdom of God. As Benedict phrases it, the “truth of the faith, namely that the Church, being at God's service, is at the service of the world in terms of love and truth.” [N. 11] This certainty, he continues, is based on two points: (1) the Church is and must be engaged in promoting integral human development, and (2) authentic human development concerns the whole of the person uniting all single human dimensions. In short, it is essential to see human existence as the integration of physical and eternal life. Without this crucial synthesis being appreciated, human development and human existence are at the mercy of the prevailing and dominant influences of human history. While Benedict emphasizes continuity in the Church’s teachings, he characterizes it in this fashion: “Coherence does not mean a closed system: on the contrary, it means dynamic faithfulness to a light received.” [N. 12] While Benedict raises many important issues in this segment, he emphasizes the meaning and value of human life that are essential to true human development. Without recognition of the essence of the human person and human life, any theory of “human development” or “human progress” will be deficient.


Human development in “our time”

This segment of the encyclical again relies on the work and analysis of Paul VI and acknowledges the essential interrelation of the challenges to physical human development (health, economy, and social relations) and the truth of human nature and the essence of human existence. This interrelationship has been increasingly challenged by the physical “progress” of human society which evolves from the fragmentation of human wisdom. As Benedict proposes, “We recognize, therefore, that the Church had good reason to be concerned about the capacity of a purely technological society to set realistic goals and to make good use of the instruments at its disposal.” [N. 21] These challenges are intensified when “profit” rather than “authentic development” define progress. Here he illustrates well his point by examining in some depth the current global economic crisis. For a remedy to this crisis, the Pope exhorts that “progress of a merely economic and technological kind is insufficient. Development needs above all to be true and integral.” [N. 23] As he notes further, combating this challenge is within the competence of the human person, society, and the institutions they develop. The failure to meet and overcome the challenges that face the world today can be traced to the absence of love and truth. As he states, “There is always a need to push further ahead: this is what is required by charity in truth. Going beyond, however, never means prescinding from the conclusions of reason, nor contradicting its results. Intelligence and love are not in separate compartments: love is rich in intelligence and intelligence is full of love.” [N. 30]


Fraternity, economic development, and civil society

This element of the encyclical recalls the interrelation between giving and receiving. God has given us much, but through the influence of original sin—of turning from God and into one’s self—it seems to be the case that it is important only to receive; to give is something rarely if ever considered. As he says,

The conviction that man is self-sufficient and can successfully eliminate the evil present in history by his own action alone has led him to confuse happiness and salvation with immanent forms of material prosperity and social action. Then, the conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from “influences” of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way. In the long term, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom, and are therefore unable to deliver the justice that they promise. [N. 34]

Hope must not be restricted to the present moment; it must be viewed as something that ties one and all to the future and our common human destiny that is easily forgotten and sometimes denied. Here the Pontiff emphasizes a crucial element of Catholic social thought, i.e., solidarity and the common good. Failure to recognize this critical nexus cannot rest upon the limitations of our social, economic, and political institutions; it must rest with the human person and the community of human persons, for it is they who confect these institutions that can and do fail; but they can also succeed if that is the will and hope of man and his brothers and sisters. As Benedict properly asserts, “it is man’s darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility.” [N. 36]


The development of people, their rights and duties, and the environment

This fourth element of the encyclical identifies the problems that emerge from the exaggerated autonomy that is characteristic of many aspects of the contemporary world. When the issue of “the development of people” is replaced with the notion of “the development of the isolated and autonomous individual,” the critical nexus of rights and responsibilities is abandoned. In this regard, we may recall the teaching of Jesus that in order to save one’s self, it is necessary to lose one’s self. This does not mean that caring for the self is the problem; it is the problem when self-care takes place without consideration of the other and the world in which the individual person finds himself or herself. As Benedict concludes, “it is important to call for a renewed reflection on how rights presuppose duties, if they are not to become mere license.” [N. 43] A proper understanding to the rights of the individual must exist in the context of the anthropological and ethical framework that necessitates the consideration of not just the one or the group but the every and the all. At this point the Pope addresses population issues, and here he states that human sexuality “cannot be reduced merely to pleasure or entertainment, nor can sex education be reduced to technical instruction aimed solely at protecting the interested parties from possible disease or the ‘risk’ of procreation.” [N. 44] As he further states:

Morally responsible openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource. Populous nations have been able to emerge from poverty thanks not least to the size of their population and the talents of their people. On the other hand, formerly prosperous nations are presently passing through a phase of uncertainty and in some cases decline, precisely because of their falling birth rates; this has become a crucial problem for highly affluent societies. The decline in births, falling at times beneath the so-called “replacement level”, also puts a strain on social welfare systems, increases their cost, eats into savings and hence the financial resources needed for investment, reduces the availability of qualified laborers, and narrows the “brain pool” upon which nations can draw for their needs. [N. 44]

In tying the various points of this section together, the Holy Father emphasizes that much depends on the underlying principles of morality and whether they are subjectively or objectively determined and defined. The truth about the objective and transcendent moral order is crucial to all issues, be they those that concern population growth or the economy or anything else including the environment that surrounds the human family. As the Pontiff insightfully argues, “The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa.” [N. 50]


Cooperation within the human family

Throughout the encyclical, Benedict portrays a variety of dimensions of human poverty. In this segment he identifies an underlying element that tends to affect or produce these various manifestations of poverty: human isolation. In short, he advances the idea that material and spiritual poverties “are born from isolation.” [N. 53] When man is by himself, even though he may be surrounded by plentiful material goods, he is poor; when he is isolated from the care, concern, and love of others, he is indigent; when he cuts himself off from all others including God, he is destitute. As the Pope states, “All of humanity is alienated when too much trust is placed in merely human projects, ideologies and false utopias... The development of peoples depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side.” [N. 53] What provides vital assistance to the Christian in this context is a realization and acceptance of the vital need for relation: as God is related in the Trinity, so man must be related to his fellow brothers and sisters. The role of unity is crucial to the success of the human person and the human family. Here the Pope reintroduces the significance of the theme of religious liberty, which is discussed in various parts of the encyclical:

The Christian religion and other religions can offer their contribution to development only if God has a place in the public realm, specifically in regard to its cultural, social, economic, and particularly its political dimensions. The Church’s social doctrine came into being in order to claim “citizenship status” for the Christian religion. Denying the right to profess one’s religion in public and the right to bring the truths of faith to bear upon public life has negative consequences for true development. The exclusion of religion from the public square — and, at the other extreme, religious fundamentalism — hinders an encounter between persons and their collaboration for the progress of humanity. Public life is sapped of its motivation and politics takes on a domineering and aggressive character. [N. 56]

The Holy Father goes on to explain that human progress needs to take stock of the fruitful relationship between faith and reason which is kin to charity and truth. Recognition of this relationship brings us closer to realizing God’s plan for all His most beloved creation, the human family and all its members. Moreover, the way to achieve this objective is by putting aside parochial interests and pursuing instead an encompassing cooperation that fosters development for all in matters economic, social, cultural, political, and spiritual. In short, I think Benedict is assisting the faithful and all people of good will to see that the progress of the ego must necessarily be tied to progress for the other as well because each of us reflects not only the image of the self but also the image of the other and God. Another way of putting it is this: as I am, so you are; as you are, so am I.


The development of peoples within the framework of technological developments

Finally, the Pope looks at the relation between human development and the extraordinary progress in technology over the last several decades. He suggests that a lesson is to be learned from the tragedy of Prometheus: the reliance on technological development must ultimately lead each and every person to the realization that it is a part of God’s command “to till and keep the land.” [N. 69] Technology is a tool rather than an end. If it is pursued as an objective by itself rather than as a means to something more noble, human existence and the truth upon which it depends may lie forfeit. Advances in technology that do not take account of moral responsibility will inevitably lead the human family away from rather than to authentic human development. Here the Pontiff’s prescient words are particularly revealing:

Development is impossible without upright men and women, without financiers and politicians whose consciences are finely attuned to the requirements of the common good. Both professional competence and moral consistency are necessary. When technology is allowed to take over, the result is confusion between ends and means, such that the sole criterion for action in business is thought to be the maximization of profit, in politics the consolidation of power, and in science the findings of research. [N. 71]

The Pope’s critical eye aids us in seeing the truth that authentic human development is ultimately tied to the entirety of human existence that includes the welfare not simply of the body but also of the soul; not only of the present moment but also of eternity. [N. 76]



At this point in the encyclical, the Pope advances a fundamental theme in his presentation: the human person cannot truly advance or develop without God and without his fellow human beings. As he states, “Only if we are aware of our calling, as individuals and as a community, to be part of God’s family as his sons and daughters, will we be able to generate a new vision and muster new energy in the service of a truly integral humanism. The greatest service to development, then, is a Christian humanism that enkindles charity and takes its lead from truth, accepting both as a lasting gift from God.” [N. 78] With Him, we can become more; without Him, we will surely degenerate into less. As Benedict XVI likes to conclude his public exhortations, he ends this encyclical with a prayer: “ ‘Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honour’. May the Virgin Mary — proclaimed Mater Ecclesiae by Paul VI and honoured by Christians as Speculum Iustitiae and Regina Pacis — protect us and obtain for us, through her heavenly intercession, the strength, hope and joy necessary to continue to dedicate ourselves with generosity to the task of bringing about the ‘development of the whole man and of all men’.” [N. 79]


I encourage members and readers of the Mirror of Justice to read, savor, and discuss this exceptional text issued this morning. I hope that the broad strokes with which I have portrayed Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate will not be viewed as a substitute for reading and pondering his words but, rather, as a catalyst to tolle lege, to borrow from the words of St. Augustine.


RJA sj



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