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the world.

Now, how a city state a few miles

Caritas in Veritate: The across, defended by a handful of guys with
medieval weapons is going to impose its will on
Truth about Humanity anyone is beyond my imagining, but put that to
one side. Truth has taken such a beating in our
by Jennifer Roback Morse time that our contemporaries routinely flinch at
Many commentators read Pope Benedict XVI’s its mere mention.
Caritas in Veritate as if it were a think tank But Benedict is not now, nor has he ever been,
white paper, and ask whether he endorses their afraid of the concept of truth. He is not
particular policy preferences. It is a mistake to intimidated by postmodern doubts. He knows
read the encyclical in this way. A close look at where the truth is to be found. The Truth is a
the document’s introduction makes plain that person: Jesus Christ.
Benedict is not a man of the Left or of the Right:
He is a non-ideological man of God. Truth and Freedom

The opening sentence soars above any political His theory about Truth is not his own, but the
platform: “Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ traditional teaching of the Church, as it comes to
bore witness by his earthly life and especially by us from the Apostles and as it has been
his death and resurrection, is the principal force safeguarded and interpreted over the centuries.
behind authentic development of every person His theory is quite simply that every person
and of all humanity.” This is our first clue that longs for both truth and love. This longing can
we are not dealing with a technocrat or never be suppressed, in spite of modern
ideologue. “Authentic development” points pretensions to being ever-so-above-it-all. “All
away from the deliberations of politicians and people feel the interior impulse to love
policy wonks. Benedict does not define his authentically: love and truth never abandon them
objectives in material terms, such as maximizing completely because these are the vocation
GDP. Neither does he conduct focus groups or planted by God in the heart and mind of every
consult experts to figure out what people want. human person” (no. 1). Therefore, we will never
Rather in this encyclical, Benedict reflects on be able to completely suppress the human desire
what it means to be authentically human and to know the truth and to live in accordance with
what the human good actually entails. That is to it.
say, he seeks the truth about man in society.
Benedict’s perspective on Truth has its own
Some readers will no doubt assume that it is view of human freedom as well as of the human
hubris to believe that one can know Truth with a good. “Each person find his good by adherence
capital “T.” Others may fear that Benedict will to God's plan for him,… in this plan, he finds his
somehow impose his “ideology” on the rest of truth, and through adherence to this truth he
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse • 663 S. Rancho Santa Fe Road Suite 222 San Marcos CA 92078 • email: • 760/295-9278
©2007 No part of this document may be reproduced or disseminated in any way without the expressed written consent of the
Ruth Institute.
becomes free.” Two possible objections come to of hostility toward humanity. But I believe it is
mind, from opposite intellectual poles. From the evidence of a realism that is far superior to the
relativist side, we can practically hear the modern alternatives.
sophisticated eye-rolling over the idea that
freedom means anything other than “doing as I We are not gods, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-
please.” But consider these reasons why it is loving. Instead, we are limited human creatures.
reasonable to follow God’s plan for our lives: We easily confuse temporary goods with
(1) God knows more than we do; (2) He has the permanent goods, partial goods with complete
good of more people in mind, whereas honestly, goods and particular localized goods with
most of us are mostly thinking of ourselves most universal general goods. Benedict knows well
of the time; and (3) He has a longer time that we have a tendency to take one really good
horizon. and important idea, make an idol out of it, and in
so doing, “impoverish” it.
From the objective side, people may fear that
Benedict is descending into postmodern The modern ideologies fit this pattern. Consider
relativism when he refers to an individual truth Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality. The varieties
for each person. Benedict’s recognition of this of liberalism, including some free market
unique path for each person takes nothing away versions, treat Liberty uncoupled from truth as
from his affirmation of the existence of eternal the ultimate good. The fascists took the very
and universal truths. Compared with the natural desires for belonging and identity,
dehumanization of modern culture, Benedict’s Fraternity, and created a political system that
vision of each person living in accordance with worshiped the State and the Volk. And the
God’s distinctive plan for them is positively various communist and socialist ideologies take
refreshing. Our emphasis on Equality smashes the one noble idea of Equality and apply it
individuality. The combination of mass media where it is truly inapplicable.
and consumer culture, while it indulges choice These modern ideas were supposed to take the
in trivial matters, nonetheless creates a tendency place of religious superstition, but instead, have
to conformity in the most significant aspects of unleashed rivers of blood on humanity. And for
life. all the power they usurped, these ideologies still
Benedict’s Realism do not have the capacity to satisfy the deepest
longings of the human heart. Only a relationship
“The search for love and truth is purified and with Jesus Christ can do this. This was one of
liberated by Jesus Christ from the the key points of Benedict’s earlier encyclical
impoverishment our humanity brings to it.” Spe Salvi, which translates In Hope we were
Pause for a moment on this phrase, “the Saved. Placing our hope in political platforms or
impoverishment our humanity brings.” Some of leaders is certain to disappoint us. Only God
our contemporaries may interpret it as evidence Himself is worthy of this kind of ultimate hope.
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse • 663 S. Rancho Santa Fe Road Suite 222 San Marcos CA 92078 • email: • 760/295-9278
©2007 No part of this document may be reproduced or disseminated in any way without the expressed written consent of the
Ruth Institute.
Genuine Collaboration Benedict’s vision of Truth does not degenerate
into warfare and hostility. Instead, the common
With this prologue in place, we can turn to the commitment to the Truth allows genuine
core ideas of the encyclical: that charity and collaboration. “Truth, by enabling men and
truth are not in tension with each other, but in women to let go of their subjective opinions and
fact complement one another. “Charity is at the impressions, allows them to move beyond
heart of the Church's social doctrine... cultural and historical limitations and to come
Everything has its origin in God's love, together in the assessment of the value and
everything is shaped by it, everything is directed substance of things” (no. 4). The commitment to
toward it” (no. 2). God’s love is the great source truth provides us with a standard of goodness
of all legitimate and reasonable optimism. And that exists outside our subjective desires. Thus,
this is necessarily grounded in the truth. truth liberates us from the power struggles that
“Without truth, charity degenerates into inevitably accompany competing preferences.
sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to “Without truth, without trust and love for what is
be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without true, there is no social conscience and
truth, this is the fatal risk facing love” (no. 3). responsibility, and social action ends up serving
This close intertwining of charity and truth private interests and the logic of power” (no. 5).
allows Benedict to avoid the problem of True Common Good
subjectivism that has plagued so much of
modern political philosophy. We tie ourselves in Benedict is also freed from one of the vexing
knots trying to create a political system that is conundrums of modern political philosophy,
procedurally neutral toward all points of view. namely, what is the goal of the polis? Some
We try to hold the self-contradictory position political philosophers emphasize things like
that we must never say that some views are “social justice,” which has come to mean little
superior to others, while still maintaining that more than the redistribution of income. An even
moral autonomy is itself a value that trumps all more revolting concept is Rousseau’s “general
the others. will,” which has come to mean that the people in
power get to do whatever they want and claim it
Benedict need not become embroiled in these represents the will of the people. Both these
debates over how to manage competing visions terms smuggle in a thick conception of the good,
of the good life. He is proposing a “thick” even while being unwilling to defend the
conception of the good for the human person: existence of “goodness” as such. Benedict, by
“In Christ, charity in truth becomes the Face of contrast, is quite willing to defend a robust view
his Person, a vocation for us to love our brothers of human nature, and the human good. This
and sisters in the truth of his plan. Indeed, he allows him to use the older, medieval term,
himself is the Truth.” Though our modern “common good,” without irony. The “common
colleagues may be surprised to learn this,
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse • 663 S. Rancho Santa Fe Road Suite 222 San Marcos CA 92078 • email: • 760/295-9278
©2007 No part of this document may be reproduced or disseminated in any way without the expressed written consent of the
Ruth Institute.
good” denotes something more than an of policy preferences. If you read it this way,
aggregation of individual preferences, or the you will miss the larger point.
management of competing preferences.
Benedict takes us to a world that once was, and
“The common good is the good of "all of us," could yet be: a world with noble aspirations for
made up of individuals, families and love and truth. It is a realistic world, not a
intermediate groups who together constitute utopian fantasy. This is the world we abandoned,
society. It is a good that is sought not for its own these are the possibilities we forsook, when we
sake, but for the people who belong to the social exchanged truth for consensus and charity for
community and who can only really and self-interest. “Fidelity to man requires fidelity to
effectively pursue their good within it” (no. 7). the truth, which alone is the guarantee of
In this way of looking at things, the role of the freedom and of the possibility of integral human
state or polis is not to give everyone every good development. For this reason the Church
thing. The role of the polis is to create a set of searches for truth, proclaims it tirelessly and
institutional arrangements that allow people to recognizes it wherever it is manifested” (no. 9).
pursue their own good. But unlike modern
subjectivism and relativism, we do not shrink In an age when many have lost even the idea of
from asking the really important question of truth, not to mention the will to search for it, the
what is actually good for us. Church is poised to illuminate corners of our
experience that few others will even notice. And
Of course, this requires us to have a reasonable in an age of indescribable loneliness, the idea of
understanding of how a social order actually a social order built on love is surely more
works. Benedict offers the same disclaimer as appealing than any list of policy proposals.
his predecessor when he says, “the Church does
not have technical solutions to offer” (no. 9). This article originally appeared at
This leaves wide latitude for the laity in each
Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. is an
country to figure out how to implement the
economist and the Founder and President of
general principles of Catholic social teaching to the Ruth Institute, a nonprofit educational
their own situation. This should put to rest the organization devoted to bringing hope and
fears that the Church has some “agenda” to encouragement for lifelong married love.
impose on the world. She is also the author of Love and
Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a
Reality, Not Fantasy Village and Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long
So don’t read Caritas in Veritate with a checklist Love in a Hook-Up World.
of policy prescriptions. I can almost promise you
that the Pope will not conform to your whole list

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse • 663 S. Rancho Santa Fe Road Suite 222 San Marcos CA 92078 • email: • 760/295-9278
©2007 No part of this document may be reproduced or disseminated in any way without the expressed written consent of the
Ruth Institute.