Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Charity in Truth

The text of the new social encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI on globalization and 'integral human development' is called Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). The text can be read in English by following the link from the title. My own first comments follow, and a more detailed summary will be added in the next few days. (These comments were solicited by the Zenit news agency, which has also posted the official Vatican summary here. There is also an interesting new blog on social teaching by Andrew Abela of the Catholic University of America here.)

Without claiming that these are the most important features, there are four particular elements of this encyclical on “integral human development” that are worth mentioning because they have so far not been widely noticed.

1. It is closely interlocked with the Pope’s two previous encyclicals, on Love and on Hope, and forms with them a triptych on the Christian faith, in both its theoretical and its practical dimensions – Love and Hope grounded in Truth.

2. It takes Catholic social teaching to a new level by basing it explicitly on the theology of the Trinity and calling for “a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation”. Metaphysics is back.

3. It introduces a new principle – that of “gratuitousness” and “reciprocal gift” – which enables us to break the “hegemony of the binary model of market-plus-State” (38, 39, 41). Economics as a human activity is not ethically neutral and must be structured and governed in an ethical manner; that is, in accordance with the highest ends of man. Economics and politics are not to be separated, because justice must enter into the economy from the outset, and justice is made perfect only in “giving and forgiving”. The radical implications of this principle for the market economy will need time to unfold.

4. Those in the Distributist, Green, and “alternative economics” movements will be encouraged that the encyclical opens the door to the development of alternative “economic entities” that act on principles other than pure profit, or which treat profit merely as a means to a social end, including cooperatives, credit unions, micro-finance, and the “economy of communion” (46). In fact it hopes that new “hybrid” forms of commercial behaviour will emerge in the marketplace in the future (38). It insists that the “weakest members of society should be helped to defend themselves against usury” (65), and insists that use of technology be subordinated to the “holistic meaning” of the human (70). It consolidates the strong environmentalist emphasis of John Paul II within Pope Benedict’s vision of integral human development, linking human to environmental ecology and the natural law (51). Man is called to be the wise steward of creation. The Church must defend earth, water and air as “gifts of creation that belong to everyone”, and help to prevent mankind from destroying itself (51).

In fact the Pope writes that it is “incumbent upon the competent authorities to make every effort to ensure that the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations: the protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate obliges all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet” (50). But all this is set against a spiritual horizon, for we cannot achieve true solidarity with others without transcending our own selfish and material concerns in the “experience of gift” (34).


  1. Excellent! Thank you. I think it would also be beneficial if some explanation of another unnoticed element were at hand - that "true" solidarity (integral human development in charity and truth)necessitates proper liturgy. I think proper Catholic Liturgy is at the root of BXVI's integral human development, even though he is not explicit about it. I could see BXVI thinking of this in his "deeper evaluation of categories of relation" comment; and of course, his constant insistance of the need for openness to grace and sublte ways of communicating the need for participation in the Divine Economy.

  2. Thanks so much, I'll be using this in my presentations in the Archdiocese.


    Nicholas C. Lund-Molfese, M.A., J.D.
    Director, Office for Peace and Justice
    Department of Evangelization, Catechesis, and Worship
    Archdiocese of Chicago
    3525 South Lake Park Avenue
    Chicago, Illinois 60653-1402
    Phone: 312.534.5383
    Fax: 312.528.9380

    Defending Human Life and Dignity since 1979