A Commentary on the new Encyclical by Pope Benedict XV
In order to fully comprehend the meaning of Pope Benedict XVI’s Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, one must read it within the framework of a debate which has been ongoing in Catholic Church for over a Century.
The issue was first raised towards the middle of the Nineteenth Century with the so – called “social question” and with it a series of new doctrines, such as Liberalism and Socialism. The Rerum Novarum Encyclical promulgated by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 was considered the Catholic answer to such new challenges, but it was, as a matter of fact, the result of a wide debate which saw two different schools of Christian economists and sociologists challenging each other. The first maintains that the social question should be addressed above all in the light of the primacy of theological virtue of charity, while the second champions the primacy of the moral virtue of justice.
Undeniable consequences derive from both positions. The primacy of justice leads to the consequent emphasizing of the role of the State as regulating body in public life, administering justice to each and everyone. The primacy of charity, on the other hand, underlines the role of the individual, as main actor in every kind of social relation. Therefore we have, on the one hand, the regulating State, by its own nature of a Socialist kind; and on the other, the protection of the free market, of private property and free individual enterprise.
The safest solution, as pointed out in the Rerum Novarum is that of a synthesis between Justice and Charity, which a slight prevalence of the latter, as Giuseppe Toniolo beautifully puts it:
“He who can do more, must do more; he who can do less, must receive more”. Charity is essentially the gift of oneself and of one’s possessions: it has its origin in the spirit of sacrifice and renunciation which is inherent in Christianity.
The Populorum Progressio by Pope Paul VI, in 1967 overturning the tradition which up to that date had been stronger in the Church philosophy, proclaimed the supremacy of Justice over Charity. This encyclical did in fact convey a negative view on liberal capitalism ( no.26), on the concept of “free trade” ( no. 58) and called for Programs and Planning ( no. 33), envisaging even the limitation of private property and the redistribution of income ( no. 23 – 24 ), while emphasising the cult of progress, of work and of “international solidarity” ( no. 58-59).
Benedict XVI, on the other hand, now brings back traditional doctrine albeit formulated in new terms, by further developing paragraphs no. 26 -31 of his previous Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, which were in fact focused precisely on the relation between Charity and Justice.
It is interesting to compare the Incipit of the above – mentioned Encyclical by Benedict XVI and Paul VI. Caritas in Veritate declares that “Charity in truth is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity” ( no. 1) and constitutes “ the heart of the Church’s social doctrine”( no.2). It is in fact “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)” ( no.2).
Populorum progressio, on the other hand, did from the very beginning launch a call for the liberation of all peoples “from the ravages of hunger, poverty, endemic disease and ignorance” (n.1), on the wake of the post – Conciliar utopies which believed it possible to provide peace and well-being to all societies on earth. “Justice and Peace” were the key words which Pope Montini called for in order to achieve “man’s complete development and the development of all mankind” (n.5).
It is important to mention that the Charity which Benedict XVI refers to finds its roots in truth since “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” (no.4). The social doctrine of the Church is therefore “caritas in veritate in re sociali: the proclamation of the truth of Christ’s love in society. This doctrine is a service to charity, but its locus is truth”(n.5). “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite” (n.3).
Also Justice is obviously has its place in the Encyclical. “Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity” ( n.6). Nevertheless “Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is “his”, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting” ( n.6). Therefore, the concept of Charity is linked to that of gift. “Charity is love received and given” ( n.5).
In relation to his predecessor’s Encyclical, Benedict XVI takes on a position which is similar to the one he took with regards to the Second Vatican Council: it should re-interpreted in the light of Tradition. The Pope underlines that the Populorum progressio is still relevant to us today, only if “situated within the great current of Tradition” ( no.12). In order to fully comprehend the meaning and the role of the development which Pope Paul VI spoke about, “the correct viewpoint, then, is that of the Tradition of the apostolic faith, a patrimony both ancient and new, outside of which Populorum Progressio would be a document without roots — and issues concerning development would be reduced to merely sociological data” ( no. 10)
Populorum progressio under the influence of the neo – Malthusian teorie of the 60s, did in fact hint in quite an open manner, to the necessity of responsible limitation of births ( no.37). Benedict XVI, on the other hand, openly refers instead to the Humanae Vitae ( 1968) by Paul VI himself, and claims that “This is not a question of purely individual morality: Humanae Vitae indicates the strong links between life ethics and social ethics” ( no.15).
His Holiness is well aware that demographic growth does not produce poverty, but richness. As a matter of fact, “Morally responsible openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource” (no.44) and it is “at the heart of all real development” (no.28). “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”( no. 44).
Benedict XVI goes on to underline the positive value of the free market and enterprise, which should however always be firmly grounded onto ethical principles. “Admittedly, the market can be a negative force, not because it is so by nature, but because a certain ideology can make it so”. The market is merely an instrument and “it is man’s darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility” ( no. 36). “Striving to meet the deepest moral needs of the person also has important and beneficial repercussions at the level of economics. The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly — not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred ( no.45).
In the opinion of many experts, the defense of economic freedom goes hand in hand with an absolute freedom as far as the moral sphere is concerned. For instance, many “liberals” are in favour of the liberalization of drugs, of abortion and of any kind of bio-ethical experimentation. In order to clarify this point, Benedict XVI affirms that “the social question has become a radically anthropological question, in the sense that it concerns not just how life is conceived but also how it is manipulated, as bio-technology and a pro-euthanasia mindset places it increasingly under man’s control” (no. 75). Therefore “we must not underestimate the disturbing scenarios that threaten our future, or the powerful new instruments that the “culture of death” has at its disposal”( no.75).
And finally, a assertion which brings about profound consequences and meaning: “God has to have a place in the public realm, specifically in regard to its cultural, social, economic, and particularly its political dimensions” ( no. 56). In fact, “without God man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is” ( no.78) : this first line of the Encyclical Conclusion is the core of the document itself, and possibly also the core of the whole Magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI. (by Roberto de Mattei, published by “Il Foglio”)