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Scott P. Richert

First Thoughts on Caritas in Veritate

By July 7, 2009

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When Rerum novarum was released in 1891, no one expected immediate commentary on Pope Leo XIII's rich (and dense) instruction on the "Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor." The same was true in 1931, when Pope Pius XI released Quadragesimo anno. Even as late as 1967, when Pope Paul VI issued Populorum progressio, in-depth commentary had to wait two weeks or more, depending on Catholic weekly newspapers and magazines production cycles.

Today, in the age of the internet, however, people expect immediate reaction to Pope Benedict's latest encyclical, Caritas in veritate, a 28,000-word document with 159 footnotes that took as much as three years to write. And so, of course, Catholic commentators and news organizations have been scrambling to provide it on the day of the encyclical's release. Indeed, some publications even tried to summarize the encyclical before the text was released (or rather, to spin the expected contents).

Such reaction may be immediate, but by its nature it can be neither in-depth nor considered. So I will not claim to do what others say they have done. Instead, after my first quick skimming of the encyclical this morning, and my more leisurely consideration of a few passages this afternoon, I would like to offer some initial thoughts for your consideration.

Caritas in veritate, it seems to me, is more than just another social encyclical. Chapter One, "The Message of Populorum Progressio," is an extended exercise in the "hermeneutic of reform." In an address to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, Pope Benedict declared that Vatican II had to be interpreted through a "hermeneutic of reform," rather than through a "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture."

In other words, the true "spirit of Vatican II" needed to be understood not as "something new under the sun," but as a continuation of the Church's tradition. The acts and the documents of the council itself, therefore, could only properly be interpreted in the light of tradition.

That same principle guides Pope Benedict's discussion of Populorum progressio in Caritas in veritate. The Holy Father notes that

The publication of Populorum Progressio occurred immediately after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, and in its opening paragraphs it clearly indicates its close connection with the Council. . . . The Council probed more deeply what had always belonged to the truth of the faith, namely that the Church, being at God's service, is at the service of the world in terms of love and truth.

In the very next paragraph, stressing the hermeneutic of reform, Pope Benedict warns that we should not draw an incorrect conclusion from the connection between the encyclical and the council:

The link between Populorum Progressio and the Second Vatican Council does not mean that Paul VI's social magisterium marked a break with that of previous Popes, because the Council constitutes a deeper exploration of this magisterium within the continuity of the Church's life. In this sense, clarity is not served by certain abstract subdivisions of the Church's 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.

That Pope Benedict places this discussion in the first dozen paragraphs of Caritas in veritate is significant. It sets the stage for what is to follow: This encyclical needs to be read as an exercise in the hermeneutic of reform, as an attempt to restore unity to that which has been disrupted by both those who claim to support a "spirit of Vatican II" that departs from the tradition of the Church and those who criticize Vatican II itself as a departure from tradition.

Anyone who does not read the encyclical in this way will not be able fully to understand what Pope Benedict intends to accomplish. Instead, he will end up either dismissing the document or engaging in deconstruction, attempting to determine what is truly "Benedictine" in Caritas in veritate (and therefore necessary to follow) and what may be traceable to others (and therefore, presumably, can be ignored or discarded).

Catholic commentator George Weigel has taken the latter route, in his commentary on the encyclical for National Review Online. But to understand Caritas in veritate, we need to start from this undeniable truth: Pope Benedict XVI put his name on this document. Only then can we make sense of the fact that the material discussing Populorum progressio, far from being the least "Benedictine" portion of the document (as Weigel claims), is in fact classic Benedict.

And that means that Caritas in veritate will not be an easy document to grapple with. Over the coming days, as I have more time to examine it in depth, I will offer further, more considered commentary. And, as always, I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments.

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Comments
July 7, 2009 at 7:29 pm
(1) jlb says:

Let there be no doubt; consolidation and control of money, banking, trade, political influence, food distribution, power and if possible ecumenical unity backed by force is the Catholic desire. The Church of Rome has had it and they would like nothing more than to get it back. People forget that it was not until the 1870’s that free Italian armies, by force of arms, defeated and removed the Papal States from power and forced the Pope into self imposed exile in Vatican City. It was only in 1929 when Mussolini and Pope Pius XI signed the Lateran Treaty that Roman Catholicism was once again, by national law, the sole religion in Italy. Mussolini paid the Pope, 750,000,000 lira in cash and 1,000,000,000 lira in state bonds for the Papal territories seized in 1870. The Vatican bank began with some of these funds. Rome does not forget anything, but she hides almost everything about her history. The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, adjacent to the Vatican, had a former name: The Palace of the Inquisition. The office of the Inquisition is still inside that building. The former Grand Inquisitor of that office was the Archbishop of Munich, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, and he is now Pope. He is a very, very intelligent man, with a purpose and a vision, and a goal for his church. His desire to return every mass to Latin has a purpose. His outreach to unite all denominations under the Church of Rome has a purpose. His outreach to the Muslim world has a purpose. His desire to see all global organizations reformed has a purpose. The Church of Rome is his purpose, and his church has the wealth, numbers, global reach and influence to help bring this new anti-reformation to life. The millions and millions of Christians murdered by the Roman Church in its search for temporal power are dismissed as ancient history and may just as well be forgotten if you read the global press releases. The Pope knows it all and he has an agenda, and his agenda is the Church of Rome.

July 7, 2009 at 9:30 pm
(2) robert says:

“Centesimus Annus jettisoned the idea of a “Catholic third way” that was somehow “between” or “beyond” or “above” capitalism and socialism — a favorite dream of Catholics ranging from G. K. Chesterton to John A. Ryan and Ivan Illich.”

Mr Wiegel’s comments are rather suspicious given the current economic climate. He seems to be saying that there is 1) the failure of capitalism and 2) the failure of socialism. The third way has always been obscure for him as is only reasonable, because he is a neo-con first, and a cultural commentator second. The Tradition of the Church for him is not something one must consider, but rather something one should work to change. Evidently The Holy Father sees his role as teacher and cultural commentator in a different light (The Light of Christ does come to mind) and not the fading lights of neo-con ideology. Sorry, George.

July 7, 2009 at 10:50 pm
(3) Scott P. Richert says:

jib, I haven’t read such tired, clichéd anti-Catholic arguments in years. Thanks for the memories—and for the laughs.

July 7, 2009 at 10:59 pm
(4) Scott P. Richert says:

Robert, that particular quotation sums up the entire Weigel article. In the post, I mentioned that “some publications even tried to summarize the encyclical before the text was released (or rather, to spin the expected contents).” I had in mind there a similar article by Weigel’s good friend, Michael Novak, which was released last week. Both men have spent years misrepresenting Centesimus annus, and they’ve known for some time that Caritas in veritate posed a threat to their little cottage industry of enlisting Catholic social teaching in favor of a particular economic system. It’s no surprise that they’re trying, therefore, to paint this encyclical as somehow less than authoritative (at least in whole). But I don’t think it’s going to work.

By the way, I missed you tonight. The Rockford Institute’s Summer School isn’t the same without you.

July 8, 2009 at 12:12 pm
(5) Trylon says:

The old forget
the owl explained
and the young don’t know.

The only person in the Vatican who felt a Second Council was adviseable or necessary was Pope John XXIII. He shrugged off his controllers, refused the role of throne caretaker, “opened a Window” in the direction of Commies, and scared the crap out of the CIA, Pentagon, and US State Department – who began hoping the next pope would be Francis Cardinal Spellman. Francis nearly wet his pants, hoping the same thing.

Paul VI was stuck with Vatican II. He was stuck with Catholic anathema Paul Blanshard, whom John XXIII had personally and bravely invited to observe, and who then wrote a book about it for nonreligious humanists.

Benedict’s Forgetter is working harder than his Rememberer when he devotes his thoughts to Vatican II, and so re-defines it. It was a millstone around the neck of Paul VI who had tried to head it off.

In reading this encyclical I hope Christians will remember the comments of William Sloane Coffin 1924-2006: “Had I but one wish for the churches of America, I think it would be that they come to see the difference between charity and justice. Charity is a matter of personal attributes; justice is a matter of public policy. Charity seeks to alleviate the effects of injustice; Justice seeks to eliminate the cause of it.”

[Why does "faith-based inititves" ring a bell?]

Anyway, by this encyclical, which is Benedict trying to do?

July 8, 2009 at 2:38 pm
(6) robert says:

Here is a quote closer to Truth and Charity by Preacher Coffin.
“Many of us are eager to respond to injustice, as long as we can do so without having to confront the causes of it. There’s the great pitfall of charity. Handouts to needy individuals are genuine, necessary responses to injustice, but they do not necessarily face the reason for injustice. And that is why so many business and governmental leaders today are promoting charity; it is desperately needed in an economy whose prosperity is based on growing inequality. First these leaders proclaim themselves experts on matters economic, and prove it by taking the most out of the economy! Then they promote charity as if it were the work of the church, finally telling us troubled clergy to shut up and bless the economy as once we blessed the battleships.”

July 9, 2009 at 2:47 pm
(7) Nietzschean says:

I am touched by the encyclical, and sincerely hope the Pope’s message is adequately understood by Catholics in the United States so that it may affect true change in the actions of of Catholic business owners. Christians, including Catholics, seem far too reluctant to recognize the incompatibility of their belief systems with business-as-usual practices. I have witnessed the most deplorable business activities practiced by Laguidas members, who apparently feel as if their civic and religious acts of philanthrophy erase the daily injustices they commit against their loyal workers, while at the same time (of course) representing a personal profit in the form of tax writeoffs.

July 9, 2009 at 5:02 pm
(8) Brad C says:

While it is easy to bash Weigel’s ideological criticisms of the encyclical, I would like to see a paleoconservative’s “non-ideological” interpretation. The encyclical appears to be contrary to many things advocated by paleos.

Pope Benedict XVI states that Populorum Progressio is the Rerum Novarum of our times, and he endorses PP’s themes of a progression of all people into a universal society:

“Paul VI clearly understood that the social question had become worldwide [25] and he grasped the interconnection between the impetus towards the unification of humanity and the Christian ideal of a single family of peoples in solidarity and fraternity (Section 13).”

It is in this context that he says the U.N. needs to play a more important role:

“67. 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 (Section 67).”

I would also read Section 26 of the encyclical as a qualified acceptance of the idea of all cultures merging into one. Benedict appears to be endorsing a “universalist” conception of human societies in opposition to a “particularist” vision advocated by Dr. Fleming in The Morality of Everyday Life.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not criticizing the Pope. Yes, I am aware that he says human progress must be understood in reference to man’s transcendent end, I am aware that he says the U.N. must respect subsidiarity, and I am aware that he rejects the view of charity without truth as mere sentimentalism. I am not accusing the Pope of endorsing specifically Enlightenment views of universal human rights.

What I AM saying is that the encyclical is clearly (moderately) progressive and contrary to a localist or particularist political mindset.

Bashing a neocon’s interpretation is easy. I would like to see what you can say to the Catholic paleocon who feels that there is little sympathy for his views in the Church’s current social Magisterium.

July 10, 2009 at 6:50 am
(9) Kirt Higdon says:

Brad has a point although the localism of paleos tends to be offset in actual practice by their cosmopolitanism and love of history and tradition, not just local history and traditions. I haven’t read the encyclical yet, but is there anything in it which would forbid (for example) a movement for political secession?

August 28, 2009 at 2:20 am
(10) Clifford Stevens says:

George Weigel’s commentary on “Caritas in Veritate” proceeded from more than an impaatient with the Justice and Peace Commission of the Holy See. It proceeded from a long irritation with papal and Vatican policies, not only on economics, but in Just War Theory and a host of other issues.

That irritation is indicated by a statement in his “Witness to Hope” which, in his mind, vindicated his support of the Gulf War, a support which he held in opposition to the Vatican position on that war, and which, no doubt, vindicated his later support of the Iraqui War, also in opposition to the Holy Sees position.

The statement appears on page 623 of =his biography of Pope John Paul II in a section entitled “The Assessment”, his assessment of the Holy See’s and Pope John Paul’s opposition to the Gulf War. “Just War reasoning involves rigorous empirical analysis, which was sometimes lacking in the Holy See’s approach to the Gulf crisis.”

A remarkable statement from one for whom loyalty to the Pope and the Holy See seemed to be the very breath of life, and for which he had become a most eloquent spokesman. This whole section is an attack on Vatican international policies in matters of war and peace, and preceeds his attack on the economic teaching of “Caritas in Veritate:.

If the Holy See is wrong in its teaching on War and Peace, Justice and Right, and no on economic justice, how can it possibly be believed in matters of morality and belief? This is the dilemma in which George Weigel has placed himself. It is now not a matter of war policy and economics, but of the very role of theology in human affairs. In this, George Weigel has placed himself outside the Catholic ecclesial sense and draws his convictions in such matters from some other source.

Father Clifford Stevens
Boys Town, Nebraska

September 8, 2009 at 6:57 pm
(11) Reformation1 says:

I agree with you jlb there has nothing changed about that institution from History. I also like that quote that Trylon used “The old forget
the owl explained
and the young don’t know.” That is a perfect example of today’s young people because they dont know history and they just accept today as face value. I just pray that God will open the eyes of the people and give their life to Christ

February 18, 2010 at 2:39 am
(12) frances says:

Fran
To me, living as a missionary in the sub-continent for twenty six years, Caritas in Veritate comes to birth.
Where injustice thrives, there has always been the Church to apply the “oil” on the wounds of a society broken to pieces by violence.
Instead of bla bla, why don’t we roll up our sleves and dip our hands in the “dirt” of our times and be a leaven instead of a criticizer?

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