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A Gloss and Commentary on Caritas in Veritate

A Gloss and Commentary on Caritas in Veritate

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Published by jaketawney
Caritas in Veritate is the third encyclical letter of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI. Signed on the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and released to the public on July 7, 2009, this encyclical is what many will refer to as the pontiff’s first “social justice encyclical.” What follows is both a gloss and a commentary on the Pope's document.
Caritas in Veritate is the third encyclical letter of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI. Signed on the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and released to the public on July 7, 2009, this encyclical is what many will refer to as the pontiff’s first “social justice encyclical.” What follows is both a gloss and a commentary on the Pope's document.

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Published by: jaketawney on Oct 17, 2009
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03/24/2012

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A Gloss and Commentary on
Caritas in Veritate 
J. Jacob Tawney
Introduction 
Caritas in Veritate 
is the third encyclical letter of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.Signed on the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and released to the publicon July 7, 2009, this encyclical is what many will refer to as the pontiff
ʼ
s first “social justice encyclical.” I would challenge this assertion on a couple points. First, we woulddo well to remember that the entire second half of
Deus Caritas Est 
(the first encyclicalletter of Benedict XVI) dealt with the practical application of Christian charity. More thanone theologian and commentator has remarked that this portion of the letter can andshould serve as a blueprint for any Catholic charitable organization. Second, this mostrecent encyclical letter will undoubtedly serve to challenge the category of “socialencyclical.” While it most certainly undertakes the challenge of bringing to light theChurch
ʼ
s teaching on social issues ranging from economics to the environment, fromthe sanctity of human life to the holiness and centrality of the Christian family, and fromthe distribution of resources to questions of population growth, this document willchallenge social liberals to examine the philosophical foundations on which theiragendas are built.In its concrete conclusions, the reader will find nothing novel. The Church will alwaysoppose abortion and insist that we still respect the dignity of the environment given to usby our Creator. She will always adopt a preferential option for the poor and maintainthat population is not the source of poverty but instead the distribution of the world
ʼ
sresources. She will always uphold the family as the fundamental unit of society andinsist on religious freedom as essential to man
ʼ
s search for truth. On the other hand,the Church will never specifically advocate the manner in which society is to beorganized and governed. In the last paragraph of the Introduction the Holy Fatherasserts, “The Church does not have any technical solutions to offer and does not claimto interfere in any way in the politics of States.” However, the Church does have amission to the truth and a duty to proclaim it; she has a mission, in other words, toproclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The social doctrine of the Church is “a particulardimension of this proclamation: it is a service to the truth which sets us free” (9).The novelty of the encyclical does not lie in any of these observations. In regards tothis, the letter of the Holy Father seeks merely to re-present the unchanging teachingsof Holy Mother Church. Instead, the novelty lies in its presentation of the philosophicalunderpinnings of the Church
ʼ
s message. This philosopher/theologian that we find in thispontiff has always been one who seeks “first things first.” Benedict ceaselessly insiststhat practical solutions find their ground in solid philosophy. In other words,
praxis 
mustfind its ground in
truth 
. It is for this reason that the entire first half of his text
The Spirit of the Liturgy 
(written as Cardinal Ratzinger) is devoted to the
essence 
of the SacredLiturgy, for if one does not understand the nature and purpose of worship, one is ill-equipped to answer practical questions about orientation, postures, music, andlanguage. In his first encyclical, he likewise spends the first part discussing thephilosophy of Christian love before moving on to how this love is manifested in the
 
charitable actions of the Church and Her members. This insistence on “first things first”finds no exception in the present work. In the Introduction, the Holy Father begins hisphilosophical investigation by insisting that the social doctrine of the Church begrounded in charity, and that charity itself be grounded in truth.Appropriately, the thesis of the document is found in its title,
Caritas in veritate 
. Inparagraph 2, Pope Benedict explains the title, which is a variation on St. Paul
ʼ
s “
veritas in caritate 
” (truth in love) from his letter to the Ephesians. “I am aware of the ways inwhich charity has been and continues to be misconstrued and emptied of meaning, withthe consequent risk of being misinterpreted, detached from ethical living and, in anyevent, undervalued. Hence the need to link charity with truth no only in the sequence,pointed out by Saint Paul, of
veritas in caritate 
(Eph 4:15), but also in the inverse andcomplementary sequence of
caritas in veritate 
. Truth needs to be sought, found andexpressed within the
ʻ
economy
ʼ
of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood,confirmed and practised in the light of truth.... This is a matter of no small accounttoday, in a social and cultural context which relativizes truth, often paying little heed to itand showing increasing reluctance to acknowledge its existence.”It seems to me that this is the only appropriate response to those who want to advancecertain aspects of the Church
ʼ
s social teachings while either ignoring or downrightdenying various doctrines of the Church, ironically doctrines that are often thefoundations of the social teachings. (For instance, the preferential option for the poor isbased on the Church
ʼ
s insistence on the dignity of human life, a principle thatnecessarily leads one to also oppose abortion and artificial contraception.) TheChurch
ʼ
s teachings cannot be divided and selected in a cafeteria fashion but must beaccepted and humbly assented to in its entirety.Paragraph 3 continues this theme of grounding charity in truth.
Only in truth does charity shine forth 
, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light thatgives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light offaith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: itgrasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion” (emphasis original). As a sidenote, the triptych of “gift, acceptance, and communion” is reminiscent of Pope John PaulII
ʼ
s often quoted “person, gift, communion.” In both sets, the message is clear: charity/ love is primarily a gift, which means the only proper posture that one can adopt in theface of such charity/love is one of receptivity. Openness to the gift of truth is the onlytrue path to communion. In the following paragraph, we see this theme developedfurther. “
Truth 
, in fact, is
logos 
which creates
dia-logos 
, and hence communication andcommunion.... Truth opens and unites our minds in the
logos 
of love.... A Christianity ofcharity without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of goodsentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance.... Without truth, charity isconfined to a narrow field devoid of relations. It is excluded from the plans andprocesses of promoting human development of universal range, in dialogue betweenknowledge and praxis” (4, emphasis original).
 
While the Pope is referring to a general world view prevalent in modernity, we canspecifically apply this philosophy in order to construct an objection to PresidentObama
ʼ
s message of “fair-minded words” and “dialogue” that he has promotedthroughout his campaign and into his term of office, in particular in his speech at theUniversity of Notre Dame. The President would like us to put aside our differences andwork together on those thing on which we agree. In this he sees hope for unity andcommunity. In reality, this is only the illusion unification. The world view represented inhis proposal is precisely the source of the Holy Father
ʼ
s caution. Specifically, thePresident has even gone so far as to claim the the differences in the abortion debateare “irreconcilable.” Given this perceived stalemate, he calls the nations citizens tocome together and rally around our commonalities so that we can work together toreduce the number of abortions. Notice how this line of thinking places praxis beforetruth. The very “putting aside of differences” guarantees that the differences will remain,and where there is unresolved difference, there is division, not unity. It is only whenboth sides of the debate embrace a disposition of receptivity to objective truth thatauthentic
dia-logos 
will arise; only then will “charity shine forth.” Thus, while Christianshave always advocated “fair-minded words” (St. Paul
ʼ
s
veritas in caritate 
) the Pope isholding that this charity must be grounded in truth (
caritas in veritate 
)
 
and dialogue mustbe open to truth in order for the full development of humanity to have any meaning.This disposition of receptivity is emphasized in paragraph 5. Much like the Liturgy isreceived and not created (see any of the Holy Father
ʼ
s writings on the Scared Liturgy),so too is the Church
ʼ
s social doctrine. “This dynamic of charity received and given iswhat gives rise to the Church
ʼ
s social teaching” (5). This is why the doctrine of theChurch cannot be changed at whim to suit the needs of the present world. Untilmankind can have the humility to receive truth instead of the pride to create it, dialogueis an illusion and progress is futile, though anti-progress is imminent. Contrary toPresident Obama
ʼ
s hope that “fair-minded words” and the setting aside of our“irreconcilable”
 
differences will lead to true unity and progress for our country, “[w]ithouttruth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience andresponsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power,resulting in social fragmentation, especially in a globalized society at difficult times likethe present.” In the absence of truth, only division is possible; the promise of unificationis null and void without respect and recognition of objective truth. It is thought thatdifferences themselves that divide; more accurately, it is the refusal to resolve them andthe resignation to “agree to disagree” that allows the division to persist indefinitely.Paragraphs 6 and 7 outline two criteria in which the Pope sees a “special relevance tothe commitment to development in an increasingly globalized society:
 justice and the common good 
” (6, emphasis original).First, regarding the relationship between justice and charity, “
Charity goes beyond  justice 
, because to love is to give, to offer what is
ʻ
mine
ʼ
to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is
ʻ
his
ʼ
, what is due to hum by reason ofhis being or his acting. I cannot
ʻ
give
ʼ
what is mine to the other, without first giving himwhat pertains to him in justice” (6).

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