Reflections on Caritas in Veritate

This new encyclical contains 79 substantial paragraphs, all numbered. It is 44 pages in manuscript format plus footnotes. It is quite readable, but it is also very carefully and intelligently written. It is a “social” encyclical, that is, one that deliberately follows in the tradition of Catholic social thinking beginning with Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum of 1891 through all subsequent popes.
Christian social doctrine professes to state how the understanding of man in the Christian view exists in the public order for the good of that order. 

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 (#56).

This is not an argument that the Church should become a political entity. The encyclical recognizes the state as a natural and necessary human phenomenon. But to exclude in principle the duty to state and to live the faith in the public order means to reduce religion to a merely private and insignificant affair as if the proper understanding of what man is had nothing to do with how he is to live.
The document is addressed to “bishops, priests, men and women religious, the lay faithful, and all people of good will.” I presume it is also directed to those of “bad” will, just so they won’t feel discriminated against. Its subject matter is the “integral human development in charity and truth.” The word “development” goes back at least to Newman in theology. 
But the word “development” is immediately taken from Paul VI’s 1969 encyclical, Populorum Progressio, which was famously devoted to the notion that the new word for social thought is “development.” This word implies, no doubt, that there are both undeveloped and mis-developed things. We have babies who are fine but not yet developed. We have “monsters” who are improperly developed but who are fully grown. Here the word means every aspect of what it is to be human, including his soul, is what it should be.
Benedict XVI is, happily, incapable of dealing with something unless he deals with everything. Journalists will rapidly read this documents looking for items that are “news-worthy,” that is, ones that criticize business, the government, the media, or the Church. They will not concentrate on the overall scope of what Benedict is about here. 
The encyclical is wide-ranging and seeks to say something about everything. It is known to be a document initially prepared by others from various disciplines and sectors of the Church and curia, but finally organized by the Pope, no mean feat. Benedict’s first two encyclicals were composed mostly by himself. The difference is telling in reading this document. The document has a kind of “touch on everything” feeling about it. However, what it does consider at some depth, things such as business, profit, life, and the relation of politics to metaphysics and revelation, are very good.
Benedict sets this encyclical within a broader framework so that we can see the limited but important status that public life has. The whole document is concerned with our relation to each other, especially to the poor and weak. It is stronger on what the rich owe to the poor than in what the poor must themselves do if they are to be not poor. The discussion of the other religions in their relation to issues of development is quite frank. The Pope understands that many of their basic beliefs and attitudes are incompatible with a more developed human life. But this criticism is not taken to mean that allowing freedom of religion is not the basic human duty of the state.
This encyclical, moreover, does something that I have been concerned about for many years. It is very careful how it uses the term “rights.” The Pope clearly spells how “rights” and “democracy” in their modern meanings can lead to a violation of human dignity if they are grounded in no standard or understanding of human nature, including fallen human nature.
But the great insight is that all reality is gift-oriented. The very title of the encyclical has to do with the fact that we cannot call “charity” something that is not rooted in the truth of what man is. The terms “mercy” or “compassion” have often lent themselves to a process whereby they overturned what was objectively true in the man.
The encyclical is finally cast in the context of the Trinity, of the relationships in which we are created. The person is not “rights”-oriented but duty- and gift-oriented. The encyclical is a great document that puts things together, metaphysical things, natural law things, revelational things, political things, economic things; all things are seen in relation to each man’s relation to God, to his transcendent destiny which, as is stated in Spe Salvi, is already social. Caritas in Veritate is thus a continuation of Deus Caritas Est, and Spe Salvi. Deus Caritas est. Deus Logos est. Deus Trinitas est.

About James V. Schall, S.J. 164 Articles
James V. Schall, S.J. taught political philosophy at Georgetown University for many years until recently retiring. He is the author of numerous books and countless essays on philosophy, theology, education, morality, and other topics. His most recent book is Reasonable Pleasures: The Strange Coherences of Catholicism (Ignatius Press). Visit his site, "Another Sort of Learning", for more about his writings and work.