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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 public
on July 7, 2009, this encyclical is what many will refer to as the pontiffʼs first “social
justice encyclical.” I would challenge this assertion on a couple points. First, we would
do well to remember that the entire second half of Deus Caritas Est (the first encyclical
letter of Benedict XVI) dealt with the practical application of Christian charity. More than
one theologian and commentator has remarked that this portion of the letter can and
should serve as a blueprint for any Catholic charitable organization. Second, this most
recent encyclical letter will undoubtedly serve to challenge the category of “social
encyclical.” While it most certainly undertakes the challenge of bringing to light the
Churchʼs teaching on social issues ranging from economics to the environment, from
the sanctity of human life to the holiness and centrality of the Christian family, and from
the distribution of resources to questions of population growth, this document will
challenge social liberals to examine the philosophical foundations on which their
agendas are built.

In its concrete conclusions, the reader will find nothing novel. The Church will always
oppose abortion and insist that we still respect the dignity of the environment given to us
by our Creator. She will always adopt a preferential option for the poor and maintain
that population is not the source of poverty but instead the distribution of the worldʼs
resources. She will always uphold the family as the fundamental unit of society and
insist on religious freedom as essential to manʼs search for truth. On the other hand,
the Church will never specifically advocate the manner in which society is to be
organized and governed. In the last paragraph of the Introduction the Holy Father
asserts, “The Church does not have any technical solutions to offer and does not claim
to interfere in any way in the politics of States.” However, the Church does have a
mission to the truth and a duty to proclaim it; she has a mission, in other words, to
proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The social doctrine of the Church is “a particular
dimension 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 to
this, the letter of the Holy Father seeks merely to re-present the unchanging teachings
of Holy Mother Church. Instead, the novelty lies in its presentation of the philosophical
underpinnings of the Churchʼs message. This philosopher/theologian that we find in this
pontiff has always been one who seeks “first things first.” Benedict ceaselessly insists
that practical solutions find their ground in solid philosophy. In other words, praxis must
find 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 Sacred
Liturgy, for if one does not understand the nature and purpose of worship, one is ill-
equipped to answer practical questions about orientation, postures, music, and
language. In his first encyclical, he likewise spends the first part discussing the
philosophy 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 his
philosophical investigation by insisting that the social doctrine of the Church be
grounded in charity, and that charity itself be grounded in truth.

Appropriately, the thesis of the document is found in its title, Caritas in veritate. In
paragraph 2, Pope Benedict explains the title, which is a variation on St. Paulʼs “veritas
in caritate” (truth in love) from his letter to the Ephesians. “I am aware of the ways in
which charity has been and continues to be misconstrued and emptied of meaning, with
the consequent risk of being misinterpreted, detached from ethical living and, in any
event, 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 and
complementary sequence of caritas in veritate. Truth needs to be sought, found and
expressed within the ʻeconomyʼ 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 account
today, in a social and cultural context which relativizes truth, often paying little heed to it
and showing increasing reluctance to acknowledge its existence.”

It seems to me that this is the only appropriate response to those who want to advance
certain aspects of the Churchʼs social teachings while either ignoring or downright
denying various doctrines of the Church, ironically doctrines that are often the
foundations of the social teachings. (For instance, the preferential option for the poor is
based on the Churchʼs insistence on the dignity of human life, a principle that
necessarily leads one to also oppose abortion and artificial contraception.) The
Churchʼs teachings cannot be divided and selected in a cafeteria fashion but must be
accepted 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 that
gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of
faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it
grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion” (emphasis original). As a side
note, the triptych of “gift, acceptance, and communion” is reminiscent of Pope John Paul
IIʼs 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 the
face of such charity/love is one of receptivity. Openness to the gift of truth is the only
true path to communion. In the following paragraph, we see this theme developed
further. “Truth, in fact, is logos which creates dia-logos, and hence communication and
communion.... Truth opens and unites our minds in the logos of love.... A Christianity of
charity without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good
sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance.... Without truth, charity is
confined to a narrow field devoid of relations. It is excluded from the plans and
processes of promoting human development of universal range, in dialogue between
knowledge and praxis” (4, emphasis original).
While the Pope is referring to a general world view prevalent in modernity, we can
specifically apply this philosophy in order to construct an objection to President
Obamaʼs message of “fair-minded words” and “dialogue” that he has promoted
throughout his campaign and into his term of office, in particular in his speech at the
University of Notre Dame. The President would like us to put aside our differences and
work together on those thing on which we agree. In this he sees hope for unity and
community. In reality, this is only the illusion unification. The world view represented in
his proposal is precisely the source of the Holy Fatherʼs caution. Specifically, the
President has even gone so far as to claim the the differences in the abortion debate
are “irreconcilable.” Given this perceived stalemate, he calls the nations citizens to
come together and rally around our commonalities so that we can work together to
reduce the number of abortions. Notice how this line of thinking places praxis before
truth. 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 when
both sides of the debate embrace a disposition of receptivity to objective truth that
authentic dia-logos will arise; only then will “charity shine forth.” Thus, while Christians
have always advocated “fair-minded words” (St. Paulʼs veritas in caritate) the Pope is
holding that this charity must be grounded in truth (caritas in veritate) and dialogue must
be 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 is


received and not created (see any of the Holy Fatherʼs writings on the Scared Liturgy),
so too is the Churchʼs social doctrine. “This dynamic of charity received and given is
what gives rise to the Churchʼs social teaching” (5). This is why the doctrine of the
Church cannot be changed at whim to suit the needs of the present world. Until
mankind can have the humility to receive truth instead of the pride to create it, dialogue
is an illusion and progress is futile, though anti-progress is imminent. Contrary to
President Obamaʼs hope that “fair-minded words” and the setting aside of our
“irreconcilable” differences will lead to true unity and progress for our country, “[w]ithout
truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and
responsibility, 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 like
the present.” In the absence of truth, only division is possible; the promise of unification
is null and void without respect and recognition of objective truth. It is thought that
differences themselves that divide; more accurately, it is the refusal to resolve them and
the 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 to
the 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 ʻmineʼ to the other; but it never lacks
justice, which prompts us to give the other what is ʻhisʼ, what is due to hum by reason of
his being or his acting. I cannot ʻgiveʼ what is mine to the other, without first giving him
what pertains to him in justice” (6).
Second, regarding the common good, “Besides the good of the individual, there is a
good that is linked to living in society: the common good. It is the good of ʻall of usʼ,
made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute
society.” (7). Every Christian is called, in a manner proper to his or her state in life, to
work towards the common good of mankind, charity towards humanity. This common
good takes on an eschatological meaning when seen as inseparable from the person of
Christ who is the head of his body. “Manʼs earthly activity, when inspired and sustained
by charity, contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of
the history of the human family” (7).

Paragraph 8 pays a preliminary tribute (with the rest following in Chapter One) to Paul
VIʼs encyclical Populorum Progressio. In this letter, Paul VI teaches that the only factor
in human development is the person of Christ. Development, in its definition, is the
bringing to completion that which is being considered. In Aristotelian terms, it is the
process by which an object attains its telos, or its final cause. Thus, the development of
the human person in nothing other than the process of making the human person more
authentically human. In answer to what it means to be properly human, we need only
consult the Vatican II Constitution Gaudium et Spes, paragraph 22, which states that
Jesus Christ fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear. This
message is echoed in the very first two paragraphs of Caritas in Veritate. “The search
for love and truth is purified and liberated by Jesus Christ from the impoverishment that
our humanity brings to it, and he reveals to us in all its fullness the initiative of love and
the plan for true life that God has prepared for us. In Christ, charity in truth becomes
the Face of his Person, a vocation for us to love out brothers and sisters in the truth of
his plan. Indeed, he himself is the Truth” (1, emphasis original). In paragraph 2: charity
in truth “gives real substance to the personal relationships with God and with neighbor;
it is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or
within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political
ones).”

In the final paragraph of the Introduction, the Pope restates his insistence on connecting
truth to both charity and progress for humanity. “The risk for our time is that the de facto
interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interactions of
consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development. Only in
charity, illumined by the light of reason and faith, is it possible to pursue development
goals that possess a more humane and humanizing value. The sharing of goods and
resources, from which authentic development proceeds, is not guaranteed by merely
technical progress and relationships of utility, but by the potential of love that overcomes
evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21), opening up the path towards reciprocity of consciences
and liberties.... Fidelity to man required fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee
of freedom (cf. Jn 8:32) and of the possibility of integral human development” (9,
emphasis original).
Chapter One.
The Message of Populorum Progressio
In his 2005 Christmas address to the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict XVI challenged the
Church to think about the way in which we understand Vatican Il. He presented two
hermeneutics with which people approach the teachings of this ecumenical council.
The first is a “hermeneutic of rupture,” one that perceives a “pre-Vatican II” Church and
a “post-Vatican II” Church. The other is a “hermeneutic of continuity,” one that reads
and understands the council teachings in continuity with the 2000-year living Tradition of
the Church. Using this hermeneutic, one is prohibited from seeing the Church as
arbitrarily “new” in the post-Conciliar years, separated from the nearly two centuries that
preceded the council. Instead, there is one Church. The Holy Father did not mince
words in insisting that this “hermeneutic of continuity” is the only proper one with which
to interpret the Second Vatican Council. In fact, throughout his pontificate, he has been
a champion of calling the Church to do two things. First, we must interpret Church
teaching by actually reading Church teaching. We cannot whimsically decide “what the
Church teaches” without actually consulting the sources. This call is in direct contrast to
those who insist on the “spirit of Vatican II” without any reference to conciliar
documents. Second, any document cannot be approached in isolation but must be read
in continuity with (1) other contemporary magisterial documents and (2) the entire
Tradition of the Church.

Given its close proximity to the council, Paul VIʼs encyclical Populorum Progressio is
often mis-used by those in the Church who advance a gospel of social justice that is not
in continuity with the Tradition of the Church but instead resembles the so-called “spirit
of Vatican II.” In the first Chapter of Caritas in Veritate, the Holy Father is presenting
Paul VIʼs encyclical as a model for the social teachings of the Church, but is also
challenging us to re-consider how to properly read the text in light of both Paul VIʼs
other writings and (2) the rich tradition of the entire corpus of the Churchʼs social
teachings. “A fresh reading of Populorum Progressio, more than forty years after its
publication, invites us to remain faithful to its message of charity and truth, viewed within
the overall context of Paul VIʼs specific magisterium and, more generally, within the
tradition of the Churchʼs social doctrine” (10, emphasis mine). Speaking more
specifically in paragraph 12, I quote the Holy Father at length:

“The link between Populorum Progressio and the Second Vatican Council does not
mean that Paul VIʼs social magisterium marked a break with that of previous Popes,
because the Council constituted a deeper exploration of this magisterium within the
continuity of the Churchʼs life. In this sense, clarity is not served by certain abstract
subdivisions of the Churchʼs social doctrine, which apply categories to Papal social
teaching that are extraneous to it. It is not a case of two typologies of social doctrine,
one pre-conciliar and one post-conciliar, differing from one another: on the contrary,
there is a single teaching, consistent and at the same time ever new. It is one thing to
draw attention to the particular characteristics of one Encyclical or another, of the
teaching of one Pope or another, but quite another to lose sight of the coherence of the
overall doctrinal corpus” (emphasis original).
From paragraph 13:

“In addition to its important link with the entirety of the Churchʼs social doctrine,
Populorum Progressio is closely connected to the overall magisterium of Paul VI,
especially his social magisterium” (emphasis original).

In paragraph 11, Pope Benedict is attempting to reframe the terms “development” and
“progress” in light of this tradition. He notes two truths set forth by Paul VI. “The first is
that the whole Church, in all her being and acting - when she proclaims, when she
celebrates, when she performs works of charity - is engaged in promoting integral
human development.... The second truth is that authentic human development concerns
the whole person in every single dimension” (11, emphasis original). Contrary to the
belief that the Church is “anti-progress” the Church sees it as her mission to promote
progress and development. Once the two terms are understood in a Christian context,
it is right to say that the Church promotes progress and development even more so than
the secular world, because Her way of understanding these two inseparable ideas
engages the whole person.

The later part of paragraph 11, together with paragraph 17, offer a caution to those who
would advocate the creation of institutions and institutional policies in order to bring
about proper development and progress in its entirety. “Man does not develop through
his own powers, nor can development simple be handed to him. In the course of
history, it was often maintained that the creation of institutions was sufficient to
guarantee the fulfillment of humanityʼs right to development. Unfortunately, too much
confidence was placed in those institutions, as if they were able to deliver the desired
objective automatically. In reality institutions by themselves are not enough, because
integral human development is primarily a vocation, and therefore it involves a free
assumption of responsibility in solidarity on the part of everyone” (11, emphasis mine).
This vocation requires a specific response by the individual, and hence “[i]ntegral
human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of
peoples: no structure can guarantee this development over and above human
responsibility” (17, emphasis original). This can obviously be read as a critique of
problematic social theories of the past, such as Marxism. However, I think the Holy
Father, writing in 2009, has current culture in mind as well. The idea that governmental
structures alone can cure the social ills of the world is an idea not foreign to the liberal
agenda. In promoting this ideology in a religiously-pluralistic setting, it necessarily
becomes an atheistic agenda, an agenda that seeks to separate God from neighborly
charity. TIn contrast, the Catholic view of development “requires a transcendent vision
of the person, it needs God: without him, development is either denied, or entrusted
exclusively to man, who falls into the trap of thinking he can bring about his own
salvation, and ends up promoting a dehumanized form of development” (11). On the
contrary, it is only in recognizing God as Creator and ourselves as creature who bear
the stamp of imago Dei that we can see our neighbor as a brother and thereby develop
a true charity for him (11).
In order to deepen our understanding of authentic Christian development, Pope
Benedict presents us with two extreme that become a cause for concern. The first
reduce development to mere technological progress. Such a view does not address the
entire person and is therefore not only lacking in its vision, but also becomes “radically
anti-human and merely a source of degradation” (14). This extreme, however, leads to
its opposite: in response to the dangers of technology, many will adopt an “anti-
technology” or even “anti-development” view. However, being a pilgrim people on our
way to Christ, “The idea of a world without development indicates a lack of trust in man
and in God.” Another way of saying this is that man is inherently teleological;
development (becoming more fully human) is an integral part of his vocation. The Pope
glues these two objections together: “Idealizing technological progress, or
contemplating the utopia of a return to humanityʼs original natural state, are two
contrasting ways of detaching progress from its moral evaluation and hence from our
responsibility” (14).

I mentioned above the Popeʼs call to situate the teachings in Populorum Progressio
within the entire corpus of Paul VIʼs writings. In paragraph 15 the Holy Father takes up
his own charge by investigation briefly two other letters of Paul VI. The first is the
controversial Humanae Vitae. Undoubtedly the Holy Father mentioned this not only for
its own merits (for it was truly a prophetic encyclical in predicting the imminent societal
ills that will result from a widespread acceptance of artificial contraception) but also for
the very controversy it ushered in. There are those that will (rightfully) insist that we
listen to what the Church says in documents such as Populorum Progressio but then
casually dismiss Humanae Vitaeʼs condemnation of contraception as “out of touch” and
“behind the times.”

The second letter mentioned is Evangelii Nuntiandi, which establishes a connection


between evangelization and social justice. This section is reminiscent of Benedictʼs call
in Deus Caritas Est that all Catholic charitable activity include in its mission a sense of
evangelization, the spreading of the Gospel. “Testimony to Christʼs charity, through
works of justice, peace and development, is part and parcel of evangelization, because
Jesus Christ, who loves us, is concerned with the whole person” (15, emphasis
original). In other words, charity and evangelization are inseparable. One cannot
engage in charitable works without evangelizing, because doing so would amount to
ignoring the spiritual needs of the recipient of such charity. On the other hand, one
cannot evangelize without at the same time concerning oneself with the physical and
emotional needs to the recipient of the evangelization. Doing so would amount to being
unable to answer Christ when he challenges, “I was hungry, and you did not feed me.”

The remaining paragraphs in Chapter One set up two pillars for human development:
freedom and truth. In paragraph 17, “A vocation is a call that requires a free and
responsible answer.... Only when it is free can development be integrally human; only in
a climate of responsible freedom can it grow in a satisfactory manner.”

In paragraph 18. “Besides requiring freedom, integral human development as a vocation


also demands respect for its truth” (emphasis original). Paul VI, in answer to what it
means to “be more” or to properly “develop” as a human person, states that this
development must “promote the good of every man and of the whole man” (quoted in
18). In this, the Christian philosophy stakes a unique claim in the world. “[T]he
Christian vision has the particular characteristic of asserting and justifying the
unconditional value of the human person and the meaning of his growth” (18). In
insisting on the promotion of the good for the “whole” man, the Church upholds the
dignity of the individual person, and in insisting on the promotion of the good of “every
man” the Church applies this dignity to all of humanity. No other philosophy can stake
such a radical claim. Christianity is able do so because of the Incarnation. In God
becoming man he bestows on man a particular dignity, both in the specific sense, i.e.,
“the whole man” (Christ was fully human), and in the universal sense, i.e., “every
man” (Christ was fully divine). In other words the hypostatic union is the union of the
universal and the particular, the divine and the human, the every-man and the whole
man, This is exactly why, “The Gospel is fundamental for development, because in the
Gospel, Christ, ʻin the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully
reveals humanity to itselfʼ” (19, emphasis original).

The final two paragraphs of this Chapter issue a call of urgency to see our neighbors as
more than neighbors, but as brothers. “As society becomes ever more globalized, it
makes us neighbours but does not make us brothers. Reason, by itself, is capable of
grasping the equality between men and of giving stability to their civic coexistence, but it
cannot establish fraternity. This originates in a transcendent vocation from God the
Father, who loved us first, teaching us through the Son what fraternal charity is” (19)
Previously in paragraph 18, “The Christian vocation to this development therefore
applies to both the natural plane and the supernatural plane; which is why, ʻwhen God is
eclipsed, our ability to recognize the natural order, purpose and the ʻgoodʼ begins to
wane.ʼ”

Chapter Two
Human Development in Our Time
The second chapter of this most recent encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI is a synopsis of
the global state of development, comparing it to the state at the time of Paul VIʼs
Populorum Progressio and setting the stage for the unique challenges that face our
increasingly global society. As this is the longest chapter in the Popeʼs letter, I will not
give a detailed account of everything he mentioned, but will try to highlight the important
philosophical points drawn out by the pontiff and how they might be used to deal with
the challenges of our time.

From the very first paragraph of this chapter, we find a warning against limiting
development to simply a question of economics. The Pope issues a caution against
seeing profit as an end in itself. “Profit is useful if it serves as a means towards an end
that provides a sense both of how to produce it and how to make good use of it. Once
profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the
common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty” (21).
While many will see in this an obvious application to large corporations, we would do
well to also apply the same principle in the sense of charitable giving to underdeveloped
nations. If we simply see development as the increasing of profit for these
underdeveloped nations, we are limiting the value of the human person in those
countries as the recipients of our charity (as well as limiting the value of ourselves as
human persons in our act of giving). Instead, the development of nations must be
comprehensive, not simply economic (or technological).

After a brief recognition of the current financial crisis, the Holy Father issues a challenge
to see this as an “opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the
future” (21), after which he paints a picture of development in our time. In doing so, he
calls us to put aside ideologies, “which often oversimplify reality in artificial ways,” so
that we can face these challenges objectively with the “full human dimension of the
problems” in mind (22). I will not step through the laundry list of issues in paragraph 22.
Instead, I will quote the Holy Fatherʼs repeated warning that, when dealing with these
problems, “it should be stressed that progress of a merely economic and technological
kind is insufficient” (23, emphasis original).

While many of the problems outline by Benedict XVI are the same as those set forth by
Paul VI, the world certainly finds itself in a very different state than that surrounding
Populorum Progressio. While Paul VI foresaw to some degree the globalization that is
facing us, he could have never predicted the degree to which it has manifested itself.
One of the many results of such globalization is that “the State finds itself having to
address the limitations to its sovereignty imposed by the new context of international
trade and finance.” No longer can nations seek to “fix” their economies in isolation.
With that in mind, the Pope issue an interesting challenge. “Today, as we take to heart
the lessons of the current economic crisis, which sees the Stateʼs public authorities
directly involved in correcting errors and malfunctions, it seems more realistic to re-
evaluate their role and their powers, which need to be prudently reviewed and
remodeled so as to enable them, perhaps through new forms of engagement, to
address the challenges of todayʼs world” (24). The Church has never spoken directly on
how society is to be organized, though it has condemned certain forms of organization
(such as Socialism). The question surrounding this encyclical in the various
commentaries seems to be, “Is it pro-Capitalism or anti-Capitalism?” My response it
simply that this is the wrong question. In the quote from paragraph 22, I think the Holy
Father is calling us to think outside the box. We have challenges before us that have
never been faced on the scale with which they are currently presenting themselves. We
must now ask, what is it about the present way we (as a nation and as a global people)
have organized ourselves that has either (1) equipped us to deal with these challenges
or (2) contributed to these problem. Where we find the already established means to
deal with the issues, we do so. Where we find contributions to the problems, we must
develop better forms of organization and engagement.

Paragraph 25 continues to list some of the problems facing the nations of the world, but
I will simply highlight one of them. At the end of the paragraph, the Holy Father stresses
the need to promote workerʼs associations that can defend the right of workers, a long-
standing teaching of the Church that must be “honoured today even more than in the
past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of
cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level.” I want to address this
by examining two extremes of dissent that will inevitably arise from commentators. The
first are those that will inevitably be more Republican than Catholic. It is no secret that
support for trade unions is not a friendly part of the Republican agenda. Some will
either criticize the Holy Father for his support of the unions or ignore this paragraph in
their commentaries. To do so is to give in to the cafeteria hermeneutic that the
conservatives often level at the liberals. Trade unions are a part of Church social
teaching and have been since at least the time of Rerum Novarum, issued over a
century ago. Obedience to Church teaching is only obedience properly speaking when
one finds oneself in disagreement. On the other hand, those on the left will see this as
an unconditional support of the unions. To these people, I ask them to re-read the first
chapter where Benedict insists on a hermeneutic of continuity. Later on in this chapter,
we will see the Holy Father insist on the right to life as the foundation of all social
teaching. When unions such as the National Education Association actively support the
right to abortion, they cannot use the Churchʼs support for trade unions as support for
their union. When unions operate out of greed instead of the right to defend their
workers against injustice, they cannot use the Churchʼs support for trade unions as
support for their union. While the Church has always upheld (and always will uphold)
the right to organize in order to protect the God-given right to and dignity of work, there
is no doubt that substantial reform is needed in the many workersʼ associations around
the globe.

At the end of paragraph 25, after discussion many economic challenges facing our
world, the Pope once more insists on keeping the human person (the whole human
person) at the center of such considerations. “I would like to remind everyone,
especially governments engaged in boosting the worldʼs economic and social assets,
that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his
or her integrity: ʻMan is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social
life” (25, emphasis original).

Moving into cultural considerations, Pope Benedict takes up the challenge of living in a
world that experiences an increase in interactions between a vast array of cultures. As
with any challenge, there are two extremes that must be avoided. “First, one may
observe a cultural eclecticism that is often assumed uncritically: cultures are simply
placed alongside one another and viewed as substantially equivalent and
interchangeable. This easily yields to a relativism that does not serve true intercultural
dialogue” (26, emphasis original). I would invite the read to review my challenge (in
commentary on the Introduction) of President Obamaʼs call to dialogue and ask if he
does not fall into this extreme. “Secondly, the opposite danger exists, that of cultural
leveling and indiscriminate acceptance of types of conduct and life-styles. In this way
one loses sight of the profound significance of the culture of different nations, of the
traditions of the various peoples, by which the individual defines himself in relation to
lifeʼs fundamental questions” (25, emphasis original). While their is not room to further
develop this idea, I am wondering if the wisdom in seeing these extremes is yet another
example of the distinctiveness of Christianity. Only in Christianity do we find the notion
of a Triune God (that exemplifies both unity and diversity), and the extremes of cultural
eclecticism and cultural leveling seem to mirror the exclusion of unity and diversity in
contemplating the Blessed Trinity.

Paragraph 27 deals with the constant and universal call to help those nations who do
not have access to the basic needs in life. After strongly advocating for international
cooperation in this venture, the Holy Father situates the paragraph within a larger
context. “The right to food, like to right to water, has an important place within the
pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life. It is therefore
necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as
universal rights of all human beings, without distinction of discrimination” (27, emphasis
original). It is hard to miss the implication present here, a condemnation of euthanasia.
It is critical to understand that the responsibility to feed the poor is grounded in the same
philosophical principle that leads one to reject euthanasia. It is impossible to adopt one
doctrine without the other.

The subtle implication of euthanasia becomes no-so-subtle in the following paragraph.


“One of the most striking aspects of development in the present day is the important
question of respect for life, which cannot in any way be detached from questions
concerning the development of peoples.... Not only does the situation of poverty still
provoke high rates of infant mortality in many regions, but some parts of the world still
experience practices of demographic control, on the part of governments that often
promote contraception and even go so far as to impose abortion” (28, emphasis
original). This concern for life is not regulated merely to underdeveloped countries. “In
economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it
has already shaped moral attitude and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth
mentality” (28). The Pope then highlights the immoral practices of sterilization and
euthanasia. Such concerns are not only applicable to governments but also to non-
governmental organizations that provide development aide.

As noted previously, the philosophy of the Obama administration is to come together on


those projects on which we can agree. Such a mentality would, even in the face of
differences on contraception and abortion as measures of development, have us work
together to provide food and water for underdeveloped nations. The problem with this
philosophy is, while it seems like a laudable idea to provide aid to people in need, that it
will eventually collapse into moral destitution, and even the basic notion of providing
food will collapse with it. Quoting paragraph 28 at length:

“Openness to life is at the centre of true development. When a society moves towards
the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation
and energy to strive for manʼs true good. If personal and social sensitivity towards the
acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for
society also wither away. The acceptance of life strengthens moral fibre and makes
people capable of mutual help. By cultivating openness to life, wealthy people can
better understand the needs of poor ones, they can avoid employing huge economic
and intellectual resources to satisfy the selfish desires of their own citizens, and instead,
they can promote virtuous action within the perspective of production that is morally
sound and marked by solidarity, respecting the fundamental right to life of every people
and every individual” (emphasis original).

After the right to life, the second aspect integral to human development is the right to
religious freedom. While many will join the Holy Father in his condemnation of
“terrorism motivated by fundamentalism” and the explicit denial of peopleʼs right to
pursue religious truth, the more subtle (and perhaps more dangerous) threat to religious
freedom is “the deliberate promotion of religious indifference or practical atheism on the
part of many countries” (29). In the mis-reading of the non-establishment clause on the
part of those in our country who would whole-scale exclude the Church from the public
square, it would be wise to inquire whether or not we have already arrived at a “practical
atheism” in the United States. “When the State promotes, teaches, or actually imposes
forms of practical atheism, it deprives its citizens of the moral and spiritual strength that
is indispensable for attaining integral human development and it impedes them from
moving forward with renewed dynamism as they strive to offer a more generous human
response to divine love” (29).

In paragraph 30, Pope Benedict begins his call to integrate the various forms of human
knowledge in order to solve the social problems of modernity. This call is based on his
persistent charge to expand out notion of reason beyond the scientific sphere, a call that
has permeated his entire academics career, but one that was made more public and
specific in his 2006 address at Regensburg. Because development must include the
entire person, we have a need to a complete picture of the human person, which in turn
required the collaboration of the various fields of knowledge. “Human knowledge is
insufficient and the conclusions of science cannot indicate by themselves the path
towards integral human development” (30). “This means that moral and scientific
research must go hand in hand, and that charity must animate them in a harmonious
interdisciplinary whole, marked by unity and distinction.... [The Churchʼs social doctrine]
allows faith, theology, metaphysics and science to come together in a collaborative
effort in the service of humanity” (31).

In the last part of paragraph 30, we find one of the main theses of this pontificate, and it
is worth noting that one of the references given (reference 82) is from the
aforementioned Regensburg address.

“The excessive segmentation of knowledge, the rejection of metaphysics by the human


sciences, the difficulties encountered by dialogue between science and theology are
damaging not only to the development of knowledge, but also to the development of
peoples, because these things make it harder to see the integral good of man in its
various dimensions. The ʻbroadening [of] our concept of reason and its applicationʼ is
indispensable if we are to succeed in adequately weighing all the elements involved in
the question of development and in the solution of socio-economic problems.”

All of this is at the service of developing an “integral vision of man” (32), which is
reminiscent of Pope Paul VIʼs call in Humanae Vitae to develop an “adequate
anthropology, a task that Pope John Paul II took up in detail in his series of Wednesday
audiences known as the Theology of the Body.

In paragraph 32, the Holy Father makes an interesting observation that the
consideration of moral principles is not only at the service of morality, but also has
positive economic implications. In the absence of a firm moral ground, there is an
erosion of “trust, dependability and respect for rules.” This in turn results in increased
insecurity, and “[e]conomics tells us that structural insecurity generates anti-productive
attitudes wasteful of human resources, inasmuch as workers tend to adapt passively to
automatic mechanisms, rather than to release creativity.... Human costs always include
economic costs, and economic dysfunction always involve human costs” (32, emphasis
original).

The theme of an expansion of out concept of reason is so integral to the Holy Fatherʼs
message that he returns to it in the very last sentence of this chapter. “Hence charity
and truth confront us with an altogether new and creative challenge, one that is certainly
vast and complex. It is about broadening the scope of reason and making it capable of
knowing and directing these powerful new forces, animating them within the perspective
of that ʻcivilization of loveʼ whose seed God has planted in every people, in every
culture” (33, emphasis original).

Chapter Three
Fraternity, Economic Development and Civil Society
Once the philosophical and historical background, along with an assessment of the
state of development in the modern world, have been given, the Holy Father begins his
teaching on what “should be done.” I should state from the outset that if one is looking
for answers to “Bigger government or smaller government?” or “More regulation or less
regulation?” or “High taxes or lower taxes?” there is bound to be some disappointment.
The Pope is outlining how Christians should act in the economic and political spheres.
His advice is to be taken by parents who are running a household, the entrepreneur
who is managing his small business, the CEO who is running a large corporation,
government officials who are leading their nations and developing policies, and heads
and members of charitable organizations. All are called to ensure proper development
for all men; no one is exempt from this call, for it is indeed the Christian vocation to
holiness. I should also point out that, as advised by the Holy Father in Chapter One, all
recommendations and observations are to be read in continuity with the rest of the
encyclical letter as well as the entire corpus of social teaching the Church has to offer.

In the beginning of this chapter, to Pope situates the problem of development in a theme
that rings more of John Paul II than it does of Benedict XVI. “Charity in truth places
man before the astonishing experience of gift.... The human being is made for gift,
which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension. Sometimes modern
man is wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life and society. This
is a presumption that follows from being selfishly closed in upon himself, and it is a
consequence - to express it in faith terms - of original sin” (34, emphasis original). The
concept of person as gift is a monumental piece of John Paul IIʼs Christian personalism.

The rest of this rather lengthy paragraph makes two related points. On one hand, the
Pope insists that the economic ills facing the world today are a result of sin. This is a
point that is consonant with the Holy Fatherʼs previous observation that no institution on
its own can solve the economic and political crisis. This is because the crisis is the
result of sinful actions (in most cases the sins of avarice and pride) committed by
individual men and women. Because no institution can eradicate sin, it follows that no
institution can solve the problem of development. Instead, the solution must be sought
at the level of the person. In response to the root cause of the problems (sin), the Pope
offers the JPII personalism of person as gift as the only proper response. “[E]conomic,
social and political development, if it is to be authentically human, needs to make room
for the principle of gratuitousness as an expression of fraternity” (34, emphasis original).
In asserting the connection between gift and development, the Pope is echoing
paragraph 24 in Gaudium et Spes (the Vatican II constitution). “[M]an, who is the only
creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a
sincere gift of himself” (GS 24). Recall that development, by definition, is the making
more human of the human person. Gaudium et Spes thus established an integral link
between being human and being gift. The practical conclusion to all of this is, because
by its very nature gift cannot be institutionalized, neither can the development of nations
and their peoples.

The theme of paragraph 35 is to situate the market in this setting of gift. Because the
market operates in its nature as a system of commutative justice (the trading of goods),
there will always be the temptation to let the market remain at this level. However,
equal goods for equal goods is not an example of a gift-centered mentality. The Pope
insists that our mentality change, that out participation in the market include not only
commutative justice, but also distributive justice. “In fact, if the market is governed
solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot
produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well.” The reason for
this is simple: if the market operates only at the level of commutative justice, any one
individual will always exit the market at the same economic level as when they entered,
hence with no development. When this happens, participant become concerned only
with obtaining “what is due” to them rather than with the personal interactions involved
in the market, interactions that serve to build up fraternity and charity.

There is a long standing argument in the Church about whether to approach economic
imbalance through wealth creation or through wealth distribution. In other words, is the
best way to help underdeveloped countries by allowing them to create wealth or by
giving of the wealth of already developed nations? The Pope sees the only solution as
one that encompasses both concepts. “Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave
imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for
wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing
justice through redistribution” (36).
The second point in paragraph 36 is that the market itself is neutral. In its neutrality it is
always accompanied by the moral agents who act within the market, or as Benedict
states, “the market does not exist in the pure state” (36) The implication of the neutrality
is twofold. First, it means that the current economic crisis cannot be blamed on the
market, but must find its proper blame in those persons who used the market as a
negative force, a force for power or profit. Second, it means that the market is not self-
regulating, that the market will not, on its own, “set everything right in the end.” The
“setting” right of the current crisis involves solution that address the moral content of the
actions performed by those agents involved in the market. “The great challenge before
us, accentuated by the problems of development in this global era and made even more
urgent by the economic and financial crisis, it to demonstrate, in thinking and behavior,
not only that traditional principles of social ethics like transparency, honesty and
responsibility cannot be ignored or attenuated, but also that in commercial relationships
the principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity can and
must find their place within normal economic activity” (36, emphasis original).

If there is one theme of the chapter, indeed of the entire encyclical, it is found explicitly
states in paragraph 37. “Thus every economic decision has a moral
consequence” (emphasis original). In other words (as stated previously), we cannot
simply let the economy run on its own, viewing it as a neutral force devoid of moral
content. “Hence the canons of justice must be respected from the outset, as the
economic process unfolds, and not just afterwards or incidentally. Space also needs to
be created within the market for economic activity carried out by subjects who freely
choose to act according to principles other than those of pure profit” (37). Over and
over, the Pope is calling all participating parties into a “logic of unconditional gift” (37).
The key here is that the Pope is calling all parties. “Solidarity is first and foremost a
sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone, and it cannot
therefore be merely delegated to the State” (38).

It has been common place to think that the logic of the market and the logic of the State,
while interacting with one another, as each have a specific and predefined role. The
role of the market as a self-regulating entity is seen as an entity of wealth-creation,
while the role of the State is seen as an entity of wealth-distribution. The Pope sees this
well-defined division as harmful to the process of development. “When both the logic of
the market and the logic of the State come to an agreement that each will continue to
exercise a monopoly over its respective area of influence, in the long term much is
lost.... In order to defeat underdevelopment, action is required not only on improving
exchange-based transactions and implanting public welfare structures, but above all on
gradually increasing openness, in a world context, to forms of economic activity marked
by quotas of gratuitousness and communion” (39, emphasis original).

Paragraph 40 is a lengthy description of how the model of business has rapidly changed
in recent years. “Owing to their growth in scale and the need for more and more capital,
it is becoming increasingly rare for business enterprises to be in the hand of a stable
director who feels responsible in the long term, not just in the short term, for the life and
the results of his company” (40). The whole description is one of how business is
becoming rapidly depersonalized so that profit is made into the sole end and measure
of success. In addition to warning against short-term profit strategies, the Holy Father is
issuing a call for business managers to take pride in their businesses, in their products,
in their influence on society, and in their workers, in other words to re-personalize the
business enterprise. “Business activity has a human significance, prior to its
professional one. It is present in all work, understood as a personal action, an ʻactus
personaeʼ” (41).

The final paragraph of this chapter calls the reader to reflect seriously on the process of
globalization. The Pope insists that we see globalization not only as a economic
phenomenon but also as a philosophical one. “Underneath the more visible process,
humanity itself is becoming increasingly interconnected; it is made up of individuals and
peoples to whom this process should offer benefits and development, as they assume
their respective responsibilities, singly and collectively.... The truth of globalization as a
process and its fundamental ethical criterion are given by the unity of the human family
and its development towards what is good. Hence a sustained commitment is needed
so as to promote a person-based and community-oriented cultural process of world-
wide integration that is open to transcendence” (42, emphasis original). This process of
globalization is neither good nor bad. Like the market, it does not exist in pure form and
its ethical value is found in those actions that individuals make in the process of the
globalization in which they are a part. If the process is well-understood and ethically
directed, it can lead to collaboration at a level never before seen, collaboration that can
bring the widespread eradication of poverty. On the other hand, if it is not understood
and mismanaged, it could lead to the opposite and could even “trigger a global
crisis” (42).

Chapter Four
The Development of People, Rights and Duties, The Environment
At times, this encyclical has been accused of having a “dual-authorship” so to speak.
That is, there are passages that are evidently of a Benedictine nature (authored by the
Holy Father himself), and passage that seem to be of a different form and style
(perhaps authored by other Curial members). (See George Weigelʼs comments for a
more in depth analysis of this.) Not that this is anything new; people who have followed
Vatican documents closely know that it is not unusual at all for a document to have
someone other than the Holy Father as an author, in some cases even the primary
author. There have always been rumors about the authorship of, for instance,
Humanae Vitae (some have indicated that Wojtyla, later known as John Paul II, had a
large part to play in crafting the encyclical), or the later writings of John Paul II (thought
to have been authored in part by Cardinal Ratzinger). There were even some
unconfirmed rumors that the later part of Deus Caritas Est contained elements of John
Paul IIʼs writings. All of this merely goes to show that the structure of the Church is not
simply Pope-as-dictator, but that the protection and promotion of Truth in Tradition is the
responsibility of the entire Magisterium. Whatever the case may be, Chapter Four of
Caritas in Veritate contains elements that are clearly Benedictine and truly revolutionary,
not in their conclusions but rather in the way in which they approach the age-old
teachings of the Church.

The first example of the Benedictine philosophy is the opening conversation about rights
and duties. Since the beginning of his pontificate, the Holy Father has strived to
“redeem” certain words, vocabulary that he sees as having lost its meaning in the chaos
of modernityʼs deconstructionism. In Deus Caritas Est he sought to redeem the word
love. Beginning with his address at Regensburg he has been repeatedly redeeming the
word reason. In this chapter of the latest encyclical letter, the Pope begins by
attempting to redeem the word right by situating it in its proper context of duty.
Beginning with an assessment of the absence of duty in our culture, the Holy Father
says, “Many people today would claim that they owe nothing to anyone, except to
themselves. They are concerned only with their rights, and they often have great
difficulty in taking responsibility for their own and other peopleʼs integral development.
Hence, its is important to call for a renewed reflection on how rights presuppose duties,
if they are not to become mere license” (43, emphasis original and mine). It is precisely
because humanity views itself as “self-created” that is comes to see itself as owing
“nothing to anyone.” The Holy Fatherʼs theme in this paragraph is that, when detached
from a sense of duty, rights not only “run wild” but also become arbitrarily “created” and
“owned.” “Nowadays we are witnessing a grave inconsistency. On the one hand,
appeals are made to alleged rights, arbitrary and non-essential in nature [think here of
the “right” to abortion], accompanied by the demand that they be recognized and
promoted by public structures, while on the other hand, elementary and basic rights [the
right to life] remain unacknowledged and are violated in much of the world” (43). When
duty it detached from right, rights become seen as changeable, constructed and
deconstructed at the whims of legislators and courts. “[I]ndividual rights, when
detached from a framework of duties which grants them their full meaning, can run wild,
leading to an escalation of demands which is effectively unlimited and indiscriminate....
Duties set a limit on rights because they point to the anthropological and ethical
framework of which rights are a part, in this way ensuring that they do not become
license.... [I]f the only basis of human rights is to be found in the deliberations of an
assembly of citizens, those rights can be changed at any time, and so the duty to
respect and pursue them fades from the common consciousness” (44). In fact, the Holy
Father asserts that the concept of duty (especially towards fellow man) is a more
powerful force for promoting development than the asserting of rights. Duty compels
one to action, it causes one to look outwards towards others, whereas rights (in the
absence of the sense of duty) compels one to look in towards the self. “The sharing of
reciprocal duties is a more powerful incentive to action than the mere assertion of
rights” (44, emphasis original).

From the general discussion of rights and duties, Pope Benedict moves into the specific
problem of population growth. “This is a very important aspect of authentic
development, since it concerns the inalienable values of life and the family” (44). It is
not uncommon to hear that the world is becoming overpopulated and that this
overpopulation is the cause of poverty and economic discrepancy. The Holy Father not
only sees this as gravely mistaken, but instead sees this mentality itself as the source of
many economic problems. “To consider population increase as the primary cause of
underdevelopment is mistaken, even from an economic point of view. Suffice it to
consider, on the one hand, the significant reduction in infant mortality and the rise in
average life expectancy found in economically developed countries, and on the other
hand, the signs of crisis observable in societies that are registering an alarming decline
in their birth rate” (44). The problem is this: there is a growing risk that the number of
children being brought into the world is not large enough to support the aging
population. From a purely economic point of view, if birth rate continue to fall, there will
not be enough workers to support those who are past the age enabling them to
contribute to the work force. In many countries (Germany, Italy, and others), the anti-
birth mentality is resulting in replacement rates falling well below that which can
maintain the current population. “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” (44). The ills of an anti-birth mentality do not rest at the economic level.
“Furthermore, smaller and at time miniscule families run the risk of impoverishing social
relations, and failing to ensure effective forms of solidarity” (44). Larger families result in
a greater sense of community and selflessness. Smaller families can more easily give
in to the pressures of “having it all.” It is interesting that the Holy Father uses two
adjectives in his concern for declining family size: smaller and miniscule. If miniscule is
taken to be a minimum of children (say one or two), that leaves the Popeʼs concept of
“smaller” somewhere around three or four children. Parents and prospective parents
would be wise to reflect on the use of these adjective.

In addition to maintaining a pro-birth attitude, the encyclical also calls for States to
specifically support marriage and the family instead of supporting anti-birth policies. “It
is irresponsible to view sexuality merely as a source of pleasure, and likewise to
regulate it through strategies of mandatory birth control.... It is becoming a social and
even economic necessity once more to hold up to future generations the beauty of
marriage and the family, and the fact that these institutions correspond to the deepest
needs and dignity of the person. In view of this, States are called to enact policies
promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family founded on marriage between a
man and a woman, the primary vital cell of society, and to assume responsibility for its
economic and fiscal needs, while respecting its essentially relational character” (44,
emphasis original).

Paragraph 45 repeats the persistent call of the encyclical that economic and business
actions are never morally neutral, and hence they need to be equipped with an ethics
consistent with the dignity of the human person. “The economy needs ethics in order to
function correctly - not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-
centred” (45, emphasis original). While the Pope lauds the current dialogue about
“business ethics” and “investment ethics,” he cautions against the abuse of the adjective
“ethical.” “When the word is used generically, it can lend itself to any number of
interpretations, even to the point where it includes decisions and choices contrary to
justice and authentic human welfare” (45). It is in this area (supplying an underlying
system of ethics) that the Church can make specific contributions to the economic and
political sphere, since “it is based on manʼs creation ʻin the image of Godʼ (Gen 1:27).”
The social teaching of the Church provides us with an ethical system built on two pillars:
the “inviolable dignity of the human person” and the “transcendent value of natural
moral norms.” Where business “ethics” depart from these two pillars, it ceases to be
true “ethics.”

In paragraph 47, the Pope moves into how to help underdeveloped nations strive
towards full human development. In doing so, he insists that the principle of subsidiarity
is upheld, that is, that the development process is fed by the input of the recipient nation
and that this nation takes an active role in its own development. “In development
programmes, the principle of the centrality of the human person, as the subject primarily
responsible for development, must be preserved. The principle concern must be the
improvement of the actual living conditions of the people in a given region, thus
enabling them to carry out those duties which their poverty does not presently allow
them to fulfill.... [T]he people who benefit from [social programmes] ought to be directly
involved in their planning and implementation.... [They] have the primary responsibility
to work for their own development” (47). In developing such social outreach programs,
the encyclical warns against getting caught up it the “bureaucratic and administrative
machinery, which is often excessively costly.” Related to this is the need for charitable
organizations to make available to their donors a report on the financial operations of
the company.

Beginning is paragraph 48, we find what I believe is a major contribution to the Churchʼs
teaching on our relationship to the environment. As with the rest of the encyclical, the
conclusion is nothing new. The Church has always upheld that the world in which we
find ourselves is a gift from God and that we are to be responsible stewards of this gift.
The Holy Father situates the correct attitude towards nature between two extremes,
both of which result from failing to see nature as a gift of Godʼs creative activity. The
first is to see nature as an “untouchable taboo” or as “more important than the human
person” (48). Such a notion results in “attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism.”
The other extreme is to abuse the natural world, to adopt a position which “aims at total
technical dominion over nature” (48).

After addressing the energy problem in, emphasizing the need for “a worldwide
redistribution of energy resources, so that countries lacking in those resources can have
access to them” (49), the Pope clarifies once again that the problem is not one of
overpopulation. “On this earth there is room for everyone: here the entire human family
must find the resources to live with dignity, through the help of nature itself - Godʼs gift
to his children - and through hard work and creativity” (50).

The novelty of this encyclical is found in situating the problem of environmental ethics in
the greater context of the dignity of the human person. It is worth quoting the Holy
Father at length:
“There is a need for what might be called a human ecology, correctly understood. The
deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the culture that shapes human
coexistence: when ʻhuman ecologyʼ is respected within society, environmental ecology
also benefits. Just as human virtues are interrelated, such that the weakening of one
places others at risk, so the ecological system is based on respect for a plan that affects
both the health of society and its good relationship with nature. In order to protect
nature, it is not enough to intervene with economic incentives or deterrents; not even an
apposite education is sufficient. These are important steps, but the decisive issue is the
overall moral tenor of society. If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a
natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human
embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the
concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is
contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when out
educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of
nature is one and indivisible: it takes on not only the environment but also life, sexuality,
marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development. Our
duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person,
considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of
duties while trampling on the other” (51, emphasis original).

President Obama would have the Catholic Church put aside their differences with his
administration on life issues and come together work on issues such as the environment
and universal health care (issues on which we can “agree”). The problem, as I see it, is
that the Catholic Church and President Obama do not in fact agree on issues of the
environment and universal health care. We may agree on certain limited conclusions,
but to work towards those without first working through their philosophical ground would
be placing praxis before truth. It is clear that we do not see eye-to-eye on the
philosophical underpinnings of these so-called “areas of agreement.” The Church
grounds her teachings on the environment and poverty in the dignity of the human
person and the inviolable right to life. It is unclear in what the President grounds his
positions. Without recognizing the right to life (which automatically carries with it the
Churchʼs teachings on abortion, contraception, marriage, stem cell research, sexuality,
the family, in vitro fertilization, and indeed the entire continuous corpus of social
teachings on life), there can be not agreement. Rather, the practical results will be quite
the opposite of what the President intends. If he continues to advocate an anti-life
mentality among the citizens of this country, he will never be able to solve the problems
of the environment, health care, or the distribution of wealth. The issues are indeed part
of the “seamless garment” the President is so found of referencing.

Chapter FIve
The Cooperation of the Human Family
If the Benedictine style of thought and writing permeated Chapter 4, the style that
comes through in Chapter 5 is quite the opposite. Quite honestly, I did not get near the
enjoyment out of this chapter as I did out of the others. It reads at times like a grocery
list of issues that lacks organization and even repeats themes that have already been
covered. Most of this chapter is a restatement of Church teaching framed in a
traditional way. Nonetheless, there are nuggets of wisdom that can be found here, and I
will try to pull out the few interesting pieces.

The first paragraphs of this chapter are the best; they attempt to draw out the
connection that material poverty has with spiritual poverty and to relate human solidarity
to the Trinity. “One of the deepest forms of poverty that a person can experience is
isolation” (53). While this is a certainly a call to solidarity among the human race, I think
there is something deeper worth pondering. When one ventures into social thought,
eventually we need to ask the question why? Why should we give food to those who
need it? The Church will ground this teaching in the dignity of the human person.
Going a step further, what is it about material poverty (not simply the lack of goods, but
a lack that causes true suffering) that violates the dignity of the human person? I think
that the answer is found in this observation that isolation is the deepest form of poverty
one can experience. Lack of food, to the point of extreme hunger, can weaken oneʼs
physical state and leave the person with the impression that they have been abandoned
by their fellow man (and perhaps by their God). In this state of abjection one often finds
it difficult to develop the spiritual faculties. In other words, one finds it difficult to strive
for sanctification. Sanctification, seen as the end of the process of development, is
always a social process, which should come as no surprise given the doctrine of a
relational (Trinitarian) God. The development of the human person has at its end goal
the sanctification of the soul. A person weaken by hunger, which brings with it a sense
of isolation, will find sanctification a difficult process. (We must separate this from the
spiritual practice of denying oneself food, or fasting, which can be an aide to
sanctification.) This is why we feed the hungry, to show solidarity and to prepare the
person to feed their soul.

The Trinitarian motif is developed in paragraphs 53 and 54. “The theme of development
can be identified with the inclusion-in-relation of all individuals and people within one
community of the human family, built in solidarity on the basis of fundamental values of
justice and peace. This perspective is illuminated in a striking way by the relationship
between the Person of the Trinity within the one divine Substance.... God desires to
incorporate us into this reality of communion as well” (54). This theology is reminiscent
of John Paul IIʼs repeated observation that being made in the image and likeness of
God is not something merely at the level of the individual, but also in our call towards
relationship. The encyclical points out that when men come together in true solidarity,
the individual is never swallowed up in the communion, annihilated for the sake of
solidarity. Instead, paradoxically, the person find his true fullness as individual only in
communion (see Gaudium et Spes 24). (As a side note, this is an area that can be
deeply enriched by the phenomenological tradition of Edmund Husserl, specifically the
philosophy that came from his pupil Edith Stein.) This unity-in-individuality and
individuality-in-communion finds it model, of course, in the Blessed Trinity. The practical
side of this is found in the converse. If a particular association of persons seeks either
in theory or in practice to destroy the individual identity of the participants for the sake of
the association, this is not a true solidarity and certainly not a true communion.
Paragraph 55 asks us to evaluate world religions and cultures on a moral level by
examining how they uphold simultaneously the dignity of the individual and the call to
communion. “ʻThe whole man and all menʼ is also the criterion for truly universal human
community. Christianity, the religion of the ʻGod who has a human faceʼ contains this
very criterion within itself” (55).

Paragraph 56 is an interesting in that is gives a specific demand for the inclusion of the
Church in public life. This call is two-fold. First, as Catholics, we are called to become
involved in public life, first and foremost through the voting process. Second, the State
is to give the Church a voice in the public square. “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 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” (56). This harkens back to the previous
warning against practical atheism in Chapter 2. One must ask again whether or not our
country is currently guilty of deliberately excluding faith from the public square by
misusing the non-establishment clause of the Constitution.

Paragraph 57 and 58 re-present the Churchʼs teaching on the principle of subsidiarity.


There is nothing new here. The principle itself states that power ought to reside at the
lowest feasible level. In other words, problems and projects should be dealt with at the
smallest level (of society, government, etc.) that is equipped to handle them. Instead of
summarizing, allow me to sporadically quote these two paragraphs. “A particular
manifestation of charity and a guiding criterion for fraternal cooperation ...is undoubtedly
the principle of subsidiarity, and expression of inalienable human freedom. Subsidiarity
is first and foremost a form of assistance to the human person via the autonomy of
intermediate bodies. Such assistance is offered when individuals or groups are unable
to accomplish something on their own, and it is always designed to achieve their
emancipation, because it fosters freedom and participation through assumption of
responsibility.... [T]he principle of subsidiarity is particularly well-suited to managing
globalization and directing it towards authentic human development.... The principle of
subsidiarity remains closely linked to the principle of solidarity” (57-58, emphasis
original). Such a principle insists that any aide given to countries in need must be given
“with the involvement not only of the governments of receiving countries, but also
economic agents and the bearers of culture within civil society, including local
Churches” (58). The two paragraphs that summarize this teaching are quite lengthy,
and I have to think that the main point in re-presenting a well-known teaching at such
great length is to make sure that some of the conclusions that follow in this chapter are
always read in continuity with the principle of subsidiarity. (I will come back to this at the
end of this chapter.)

Paragraph 59, for all its words, seems to simply once again to call us to recognize the
presence of a moral value in economic and political actions. “This universal moral law
provides a sound basis for all cultural, religious and political dialogue, and it ensures
that the multi-faceted pluralism of cultural diversity does not detach itself form the
common quest for truth, goodness and God” (59).

Paragraph 60 would be a run of the mill call for both wealth creation and wealth
redistribution in poor countries were it not for the interesting recommendation at the end
of the paragraph. “One possible approach to development aid would be to apply
effectively what is known as fiscal subsidiarity, allowing citizens to decide how to
allocate a portion of the taxes they pay to the State. Provided it does not degenerate
into the promotion of special interests, this can help to stimulate forms of welfare
solidarity from below, with obvious benefits in the area of solidarity for development as
well” (60). Quite honestly, I am not sure what to make of this. It seems like either a
really good idea or a really bad idea, but mostly a really incoherent idea. Perhaps other
writers will want to take a crack at what the encyclical is calling for in this paragraph and
develop this idea further.

In paragraph 61, dealing with education, I found particular relevance as an educator. It


is promising to see the call to view education as “the complete formation of the
person” (61). In order to educate the complete person, “it is necessary to know the
nature of the human person” (61). Dare I say it, but this is precisely the problem in our
current educational system (and one of the reasons why we have chosen to
homeschool our children). If every teacher were grounded in sound Thomistic
metaphysics (particularly on the human person), letʼs just say education would look very
different than it does now. The end of this paragraph deal with tourism, in which I failed
to see the connection with education.

Paragraph 62 takes up the topic of migration of peoples. There is nothing here that is
new either, merely repeating the necessity of seeing that “every migrant is a human
person who, as such, possesses fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected
by everyone and in every circumstance” (62). Paragraph 63 discusses the dignity of
human work (read John Paul IIʼs Laborem Exercens for a more thorough discussion),
while paragraph 64 discusses labor unions again. Paragraph 65 deals with some
issues in the financial sector including acting ethically, not exercising usury, and not
participating in “scandalous speculation” and “experimentation with new forms of
finance.” It is not that the issues in these paragraphs are not important, but the text
treats them in a disorganized and very limited way, leaving the reader with a “well, duh”
reaction. Overall, these paragraphs read more like the product of a committee (in which
every member added an item of interest) than a cohesive argument.

The final paragraph of the chapter may be the paragraph that is quoted most often in
the secular press. Taken out of context, it will certainly be the most controversial. Even
taken in context, it will not be without its controversy. I will quote the encyclical at great
length before adding my own comments.

“In the face of the unrelenting growth of global interdependence, there is a strongly felt
need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations
Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the
concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth. One also senses the urgent need
to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of the responsibility to protect and
of giving poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making. This seems
necessary in order to arrive at a political, juridical and economic order which can
increase and give direction to international cooperation for the development of all
peoples in solidarity. To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the
crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that
would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace;
to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this,
there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John
XXIII indicated some years ago. Such an authority would need to be regulated by law, to
observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, to seek to establish the
common good, and to make a commitment to securing authentic integral human
development inspired by the values of charity in truth. Furthermore, such an authority
would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to
ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights” (67, emphasis original).

The call for this global organization will be seen by many a a bit apocalyptic. (I am sure
that those who already think the Pope is the antichrist will find misused support here.)
Nonetheless, we will do well to remember that this is not new to Catholic teaching, for
Benedict points out that John XXIII called for this back in Pacem in Terris (1963). We
would also do well to remember that this is the way in which the world is headed. The
Holy Father has repeatedly observed that the world is getting smaller and people are
interacting on scales never before experienced. In light of the state of our global
society, the need for a central organization is not unreasonable and perhaps may even
be necessary. However, the Pope is not shy in his call for reform. Such an
organization, were it to exist, if it is to be at all effective in bringing about the
development of the human race, would need to act in continuity with the rest of this
encyclical. The Holy Father would most certainly not “settle” for an organization, merely
for the sake of having one, at the cost of the dignity of the human person. Finally, I
believe that there presence of this paragraph is one reason why the chapter spent a
great deal of time re-presenting the Churchʼs teaching on subsidiarity. Such an
organization, in order to function as it should, must respect this principle. Anything else
is unacceptable and could lead to global crisis on multiple planes: moral, economic,
political, and others.

Chapter Six
The Development of Peoples and Technology
If Chapter Four contained a plethora of Benedictine insights, and Chapter Five seemed
to be authored by that which resembles more of a panel than a Pope, then the flip-flop
continues, as Chapter Six is much more theological in nature and bears much more of a
stamp of the Holy Fatherʼs thought. The opening paragraph presents a very profound
tension between viewing the human person as self-formed and as given a priori. For
instance, in one place, the Holy Father says, “The human person is by nature actively
involved in his own development,” while in another he counters, “No one shapes his
own conscience arbitrarily, but we all build our own ʻIʼ on the basis of a ʻselfʼ which is
given to us.... each one of us is outside his or her own control” (68). Far from being
contradictory, each pillar of this personalism is necessary for understanding the
Churchʼs teaching on freedom and conscience. The mere mentioning of the two
aspects indicates that the Holy Father sees two conflicting errors in modern thought.
The first is that the human person is simply a finite automaton, the product of a
deterministic interaction of chemicals and energy, a conclusion that, despite the
common experience of the human person, says that there is no such thing as freedom.
Under this view, the individual plays no part in his or her development, to which the
Pope responds with his first assertion, that we are actively involved in our own
development. The second view is that freedom is the ability to choose between
contraries (what Dominican theologian Servais Pinkares calls “freedom of indifference”).
Under the lens of this world-view, conscience becomes a matter of person preference,
and the individual is seen as self-created. To this, the Holy Father reminds us that “we
are a gift, not something self-generated” (68). Both extremes, in fact, find their error in
failing to see the human person as a gift from God; both fail to understand
gratuitousness. In the same opening paragraph, the Holy Father describes the
authentic freedom, a “freedom for excellence” (Pinkares), that counters both of these
errors. ʻ[W]e must fortify out love for a freedom that is not merely arbitrary, but is
rendered truly human by acknowledgement of the good that underlies it” (68).

Paragraph 69 begins the conversation about technology, emphasizing the “good” that is
inherent to technology. Technology itself is a sign of manʼs co-creation with God, a sign
that man is capable of participating in his own development. In fact, the Holy Father
claims that technology is a response to the call in Genesis, “a response to Godʼs
command to till and keep the land (cf. Gen 2:15) that he has entrusted to humanity, and
it must serves to reinforce the covenant between human beings and the environment, a
covenant that should mirror Godʼs creative love” (69).

The expected warning comes a paragraph later. The opening sentence is reminiscent
of the Popeʼs second encyclical Spe Salvi. “Technological development can give rise to
the idea that technology is self-sufficient when too much attention is given to the ʻhowʼ
questions, and not enough to the many ʻwhyʼ questions underlying human activity” (70).
The warning becomes more important when understood in light of how Benedict
describes the current state of technology. “The ʻtechnicalʼ worldview that follows from
this vision is now so dominant that truth has come to be seen as coinciding with the
possible. But when the sole criterion of truth is efficiency and utility, development is
automatically denied” (70, emphasis added). The Holy Fatherʼs point is that we must
never places praxis above truth. “True development does not consist primarily in
ʻdoingʼ. The key to development is a mind capable of thinking in technological terms
and grasping the fully human meaning of human activities” (70). At the end of this
paragraph, Benedict issues a call to for ethical formation in the area of technology. We
would be wise to remember, however, the earlier call (in the discussion of business
ethics) to avoid illusory and vague definitions of ethics. I am reminded of the portion of
the Advanced Placement Computer Science curriculum that insists that teachers
instruct students on the ethical implications of computers and computing. As laudatory
as it seems at first, the “ethics” implied by the curriculum is simply that of basic
principles such as “donʼt write programs that steal money” or “donʼt plagiarize the work
of another”, etc. At the same time, the field of computer scientists (particularly those
involved in artificial intelligence research) is stacked with individuals that actively
advocate for the human mind as a finite automaton.

Paragraph 72 presents a compelling link between ill-formed views of technology and the
process of bringing peace to the world. “Even peace can run the risk of being
considered a technical product, merely the outcome of agreements between
governments or of initiatives aimed at ensuring effective economic aid” (72). While such
diplomacy is an important piece for bringing peace, the Holy Father reminds us that we
are men and woman that are living in a world still cursed by original sin, and hence no
diplomatic process or international treaty alone can solve the problems of war and
violence. Solutions must always be found at the level of the person in a process of
conversion. “[I]f such efforts are to have lasting effects, they must be based on values
rooted in the truth of human life” (72).

Paragraph 73 is a call for ethical social communications, with its sole emphasis being
on the media. “For better or worse, [means of social communication] are so integral a
part of life today that it seems quite absurd to maintain that they are neutral” (73). The
pontiff then issues a caution against allowing the media and the way it functions to be
motivated by profit, market forces, ideologies, or political agendas. His call, parallel to
his calls for business activity and political activity, is for “the meaning and purpose of the
media [to] be sought within an anthropological perspective” (73, emphasis original).
While all of this is very good and very timely, it seems that there was a missed
opportunity to discuss the implications of the vast array of social networking tools
available (Facebook, email, Twitter, etc.) I am anxiously awaiting a thinker more
thorough and insightful than myself to present a critical analysis of the dangers that
these social networking tools present to our concept of the human person and of
relationships among persons. It seems that, despite the claim of increased
“connectivity” and the ability to “keep in touch,” that these tools are having quite the
opposite effect on society. Human beings are communicating with other human beings
primarily through written words on a screen, words that give the illusion of relationship.
There is not the space to develop this further, but the personalism (or lack thereof)
underlying these social networking tools has yet to be exposed to a proper analysis in
light of an authentic Christian personalism.

Moving into bioethics in the next two paragraphs, the Pope sees this as an area “where
the very possibility of integral human development is radically called into question” (74).
“In this most delicate and critical area, the fundamental question asserts itself force-
fully: is man the product of his own labours or does he depend on God?” The abuse of
technology in the area of bioethics (examples of which are drawn out in paragraph 75:
in vitro fertilization, embryo research, human cloning, abortion, euthanasia, and
eugenics) is an example of an impoverished view of reason. In a clearly Benedictine
passage we read, “Scientific discoveries in this field and the possibility of technological
intervention seem so advanced as to force a choice between two types of reasoning:
reason open to transcendence or reason closed within immanence. We are presented
with a clear either/or.... It is not coincidence that closing the door to transcendence
brings one up short against a difficulty: how could being emerge from nothing, how
could intelligence be born from chance? Faced with these dramatic questions, reason
and faith can come to each otherʼs assistance. Only together will they save man.
Entranced by an exclusive reliance on technology, reason without faith is doomed to
flounder in an illusion of its own omnipotence. Faith without reason risks being cut off
from everyday life” (74, emphasis original). (Only time will tell, but I predict that the
italicized portion of this sentence will be one of the most quoted of this encyclical.)

I thoroughly enjoyed paragraph 76 as it highlighted many of my concerns about modern


psychology. Whereas the term psychology (as far back as Aristotle) has always implied
that dealing with the soul, a profoundly metaphysical venture, it seems that modern
psychology, in its quest to become a “science” (as if the mystery of the human person
could ever be the object of scientific inquiry, for by its very nature the human person is a
subject not an object) has abandoned metaphysics altogether. I suppose it is unfair to
blame psychology entirely for its own omission, since much of current philosophy itself
has also abandoned metaphysics. The Holy Father states, “One aspect of the interior
life from a purely technological mindset is the tendency to consider the problems and
emotions of the interior life from a purely psychological point of view, even to the point of
neurological reductionism. In this way manʼs interiority is emptied of its meaning and
gradually our awareness of the human soulʼs ontological depths, as probed by the
saints, is lost. The question of development is closely bound up with our understanding
of the human soul, insofar as we often reduce the self to the psyche and confuse the
soulʼs health with emotional well-being” (76, emphasis original). This is a very detailed
way of saying that the human person is a mystery to be reveled in, not a puzzle to be
solved. The pseudo-science of psychology is based on the claim that the human
person resides primarily in the psyche, whereas Christian philosophy has always taught
that it is the soul that is the form of the human person. The observation that the soulʼs
health is often confused with emotional well-being is both timely and accurate. “These
over-simplifications stem from a profound failure to understand the spiritual life, and
they obscure the fact that the development of individuals and peoples depends partly on
the resolution of problems of a spiritual nature.... The human being develops when he
grows in spirit, when his soul comes into dialogue with himself and his Creator. When
he is far away from God, man is unsettled and ill at ease. Social and psychological
alienation and the many neurosis that afflict affluent societies are attributable in part to
spiritual factors... The emptiness in which the soul feels abandoned, despite the
availability of countless therapies for body and psyche, leads to suffering. There cannot
be holistic development and universal common good unless peopleʼs spiritual and moral
welfare is taken into account, considered in their totality as body and soul” (76,
emphasis original). The essential problem with psychology is two-fold: (1) that it often
sees the human person as deterministic, and hence a possible object for scientific
inquiry, and (2) that is attempts to be “neutral” towards the “God-question”.
The closing paragraph provides a gem of a quote. The Pope ends this chapter by
considering knowledge qua knowledge. In response to the tendency of man to see
knowledge as a human venture alone (and at its extreme as simply the product of
neuro-chemical interactions), the Holy Father says, “Knowing is not simply a material
act, since the object that is known always conceals something beyond the empirical
datum. All our knowledge, even the most simple, is always a minor miracle, since it can
never be fully explained by the material instruments that we apply to it. In every truth
there is something more than we would have expected, in the love we receive there is
always an element that surprises us. We should never cease to marvel at these things.
In all knowledge and in every act of love the human soul experiences something ʻover
and aboveʼ, which seems very much like a gift that we receive, or a height to which we
are raised” (77, emphasis added).

Conclusion
After writing extensively on this encyclical, the comments I have to offer on the
Conclusion will be brief, as the Conclusion itself is brief. The Holy Father does two
things in the closing paragraphs of this document. First, he summarizes what has been
said in the 77 paragraphs that precede, offering a both a critique of secular humanism
and a call for an authentically Christian humanism. Second, he calls all Christians to
pray under the protection of our Blessed Mother.

“Without God man neither knows which way to go, not even understands who he is....
man cannot bring about his own progress unaided, because by himself he cannot
establish an authentic humanism” (78). I would simply offer the fruits (or lack thereof) of
secular humanism as evidence of this: abortion on demand and doctor-assisted suicide
to name but two. While the reality of “Apart from me you can do nothing (Jn 15:5)”
seems discouraging, the Holy Father calls us to take solace in Christʼs promise, “I am
with you always, to the close of the age (Mt 28:20)” (quoted in 78).

As a warning, “[I]deological rejection of God and an atheism of indifference, oblivious to


the Creator and at risk of becoming equally oblivious to human values, constitue some
of the chief obstacles to development today” (78).

As a model for out prayer, the Pope brings us back to the way in which Christ gave us.
“In union with the only-begotten Son, may all people learn to pray to the Father and to
ask him, in the words that Jesus himself taught us, for the grace to glorify him by living
according to his will, to receive the daily bread that we need, to be understanding ad
generous towards our debtors, not to be tempted beyond out limits, and to be delivered
from evil (cf. Mt 6:9-13)” (79). Finally, the Pope entrusts us to the care of the Virgin
Mary, Mater Ecclesiae (Mother of the Church), Speculum Iustitiae (Mirror of Justice),
and Regina Pacis (Queen of Peace).