The Encyclical "Caritas in Veritate"

Source: FSSPX News

Signed by Benedict XVI’s hand on June 29, 2009, the encyclical Caritas in Veritate was made public on July 7. On a first reading, the Roman document gives the impression expressed by Jean-Marie Guenois in Le Figaro: “While it is remarkable in several of its passages, it is not easily accessible overall. Wishing no doubt to touch upon many subjects, the text goes off on many tangents, and the central theme, ‘charity in truth,’ is not an obvious one to follow throughout. This is the lot, so they say of writings with many editors….The risk is that the form of the text will lessen its impact.” Vatican-watchers have tried to identify the different personalities consulted by the pope for the drafting of this social encyclical of more than 150 pages. Named were economists like Stefan Zamagni or experts in finance like the banker Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, the editorialist of L’Osservatore Romano on economic and financial matters; as well as the expert on social doctrine, Archbishop Reinhard Marx, the second successor of Archbishop Ratzinger to the archdiocese of Munich. In spite of everything, the document still shows the work of Benedict XVI, who offers a practical exercise in “the hermeneutic of continuity” as he defined it at the beginning of his pontificate before the Roman Curia in December 2005.

This is what he himself writes in chapter one of Caritas in Veritate, in which he situates himself clearly in continuity with the message of Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio (1967), while stating that both of their encyclicals are also in line with the Church’s constant teaching:

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….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. Coherence does not mean a closed system: on the contrary, it means dynamic faithfulness to a light received. The Church’s social doctrine illuminates with an unchanging light the new problems that are constantly emerging. This safeguards the permanent and historical character of the doctrinal “patrimony” which, with its specific characteristic, is part and parcel of the Church’s ever-living Tradition. (§12)

Refusal of a break between the pre- and post-conciliar, the guide and goal of a faithfulness that is not closed but dynamic, the affirmation of an ever-living Tradition: such are the themes that have become the hallmark of the current pontificate.

Two questions arise: (1) Did Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio really not introduce any break with the Church’s teaching prior to Vatican II? (2) If there was a break, how can Caritas in Veritate repair it?

Populorum Progressio Analyzed by Romano Amerio

In his work Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the 20th Century (1987; English version tr. by the Rev. John P. Parsons; Sarto House, 1996), Romano Amerio analyzes Paul VI’s encyclical in these terms: “…at Vatican II, [the Church] took on the role of directly advancing man’s temporal welfare and has thus attempted to make secular progress part of the purpose of the Gospel. Populorum Progressio develops this line of thought” (§328, p. 742). The Italian philosopher then denounces “the change in perspective that tends to undermine Catholic doctrine by making technological progress and an increase in wealth a necessary precondition for man’s spiritual perfection, and for any activity by the Church…. It is true that the encyclical presents the goal of development as being ‘an integral growth,’ a humanism destined to be integrated into Christ, thus becoming a transcendent humanism. But all this leaves the connection between man in his humanly developed state and man in his supernaturalized state quite undetermined” (pp. 742-3). In other words, integral human development conceives only vaguely, that is to say in a fuzzy or confused way, the relationship between nature and grace. And this brings up another question: Does the encyclical Caritas in Veritate, which specifically intends to treat of “integral human development,” escape the influence that the work of Jacques Maritain, who had become a personalist, Integral Humanism, had upon Paul VI? A sentence, in §42, gives the answer: “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 worldwide integration that is open to transcendence.”

Let’s get back to Romano Amerio, who calls the anthropocentric tendency displayed at Vatican II, especially in Gaudium et Spes (§§12 and 24), “secondary Christianity.” He explains:

It is indeed true that religion has a civilizing effect, and the whole history of the Church bears witness to the fact; but Christianity does not primarily aim at advancing civilization, that is, at achieving an earthly kind of perfection. Modern society is pervaded by a spirit of independence and self-sufficiency: the world rejects dependence on anything other than itself. Faced with this fact, the Church seems to be afraid of being further rejected, as it already has been by a large part of the human race. Therefore it sets about watering down its own characteristic set of values and playing up the things it has in common with the world: all the world’s causes are thus taken up by the Church. The Church offers its assistance to the world and is attempting to put itself as the head of human progress.

This is a tendency that arose in the 19th century, and I have elsewhere given it the name of secondary Christianity. (p. 503)

Amerio provides the theological critique of this “secondary Christianity”:

The specific flaw in secondary Christianity, which it shares in common with the civitas hominis, is its setting aside of the transcendent. This is the sin which St. Augustine calls inadvertentia and St. Thomas calls inconsideratio, and which they both say was the sin of the angels who fell. This ignoring of our heavenly goal turns religion upside down by reversing its perspectives: habemus hic manentem civitatem nec futuram inquirimus—“Here we have an abiding city, nor do we look for any future one” (the opposite of Hebrews 13:14). Therefore: ultimate vision merely earthly, reduction of Christianity to a mere means to an end, apotheosis of civilization. This is to deny the “either or” the Gospel presents, and to replace it with a sort of “both and” that combines heaven and earth in a compound, in which the world is the predominant element that gives the character to the whole.

Caritas in Veritate aims to oppose this “ignoring of our heavenly goal,” especially in its introduction: “In the present social and cultural context, where there is a widespread tendency to relativize truth, practicing charity in truth helps people to understand that adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development” (§4). Likewise [we read] in the conclusion: “…ideological rejection of God and an atheism of indifference, oblivious to the Creator and at risk of becoming equally oblivious to human values, constitute some of the chief obstacles to development today” (§78). But one cannot help seeing that this denunciation of contemporary atheism, indifferentism, and relativism is frustrated and weakened by the insistence upon continuity with the conciliar doctrine of which Amerio neatly pinpointed the fundamental spirit underlying is equivocal formulation.

Caritas in Veritate on the Question of Religious Liberty

In Caritas in Veritate, does Benedict XVI succeed in “resorbing” the opposition between the pre- and post-conciliar? We shall give just one particularly significant example, which will be among the themes to be studied during the upcoming doctrinal discussions between the Vatican and the SSPX: religious freedom.

Concerning religious freedom, Benedict XVI writes:

For this reason, while it may be true that development needs the religions and cultures of different peoples, it is equally true that adequate discernment is needed. Religious freedom does not mean religious indifferentism, nor does it imply that all religions are equal. Discernment is needed regarding the contribution of cultures and religions, especially on the part of those who wield political power, if the social community is to be built up in a spirit of respect for the common good. Such discernment has to be based on the criterion of charity and truth. Since the development of persons and peoples is at stake, this discernment will have to take account of the need for emancipation and inclusivity, in the context of a truly universal human community. “The whole man and all men” is also the criterion for evaluating cultures and religions. Christianity, the religion of the “God who has a human face,” contains this very criterion within itself. (§55)

But just before this passage, the pope does not exclude the other religions that also fulfill, according to him, these criteria: “Other cultures and religions teach brotherhood and peace and are therefore of enormous importance to integral human development” (ibid.). Consequently, if the Church, the sole Ark of Salvation, is set on the level of other religions, how should the encyclical’s introduction be understood where it says, “adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development”? Christianity is essential, but not exclusive? In other religions (which ones the encyclical does not say) can contribute to integral human development, that is, development open to the transcendent, but is this transcendence identical with eternal salvation? Does it not confuse, as Amerio pointed out, the natural and the supernatural orders?

In the next paragraph, the pope states:

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 Church’s social doctrine came into being in order to claim “citizenship status” for the Christian religion. Denying the right to profess one’s religion in public and the right to bring the truths of faith to bear upon public life has negative consequences for true development. 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. Public life is sapped of its motivation and politics takes on a domineering and aggressive character. Human rights risk being ignored either because they are robbed of their transcendent foundation or because personal freedom is not acknowledged. (§56)

Despite this claim to “citizenship status,” the social reign of Jesus Christ and Christian institutions are missing from the encyclical. The pope indeed denounces the practical atheism of the State, but he does not see the secular State at the root of this practical atheism: “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 so stating, Benedict XVI is consistent with what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger declared to Peter Seewald in Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium (1996; Ignatius Press, 1997):

I think that in this sense the development of modernity brings with it the negative aspect of subjectivization, but the positive side of this is the opportunity for a free Church in a free state, if one may put it like that. Here are opportunities for a more vital, because more deeply and more freely grounded, faith, which, however, must fight against being subjectivized and which must continue to try to speak its message publicly (p. 240).

Elsewhere, the pope observes the fact of globalization, but he does not seem to want to recognize in this fact the effect of an ideology—globalism, an ideology that is foreign and even hostile to Catholicism:

In our own day, the State finds itself having to address the limitations to its sovereignty imposed by the new context of international trade and finance, which is characterized by increasing mobility both of financial capital and means of production, material and immaterial. This new context has altered the political power of States.

Today, as we take to heart the lessons of the current economic crisis, which sees the State’s 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 today’s world. (§24)

Should the States only be “correcting errors and malfunctions,” the fruit of globalization, without also attempting to combat the globalist ideology producing them? In Caritas in Veritate, no ideology is designated by name—not liberalism, nor socialism, nor globalism. The effects are denounced but the causes are not named. Could it not be clearly said here what Romano Amerio stated: “Modern society is pervaded by a spirit of independence and self-sufficiency: the world rejects dependence on anything other than itself”? Then the remedies to be prescribed would not treat the symptoms only, but would target the cause of the disorder.

The difficulty becomes clear in the section on world government. In chapter five, entitled “The Cooperation of the Human Family,” Benedict XVI is very critical of the real effectiveness of international organizations. He renews the appeal made by his predecessor John XXIII in the encyclical Pacem in Terris (1963) for the creation of a “true world political authority”: “There is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago” (§67). In that encyclical, the pope who convoked the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council thought that “Today the universal common good presents us with problems which are world-wide in their dimensions; problems, therefore, which cannot be solved except by a public authority with power, organization and means co-extensive with these problems, and with a world-wide sphere of activity” (Pacem in Terris, §137).

Benedict XVI does not hesitate to outline the structure of this new global entity:

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. Obviously, it would have to have the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties, and also with the coordinated measures adopted in various international forums [emphasis added]. (§67)

Is the pope here recommending concrete and effective means of “integral human development”? Will this global authority consider Christianity as “essential for building a good society and for true integral human development”? Will it not remain fundamentally independent of all religion, taking its inspiration from “the values of love and truth” understood in a secular sense?

The commentaries of the Roman prelates who presented the encyclical to the press on July 7 are particularly revealing. Questioned about the “urgency of reforming the United Nations” called for by Benedict XVI, Archbishop Giampolo Crepaldi, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, stated that since John XXIII’s Pacem in Terristhe configuration of problems has changed,” and noted the “inadequacy acknowledged by the United Nations itself.” He underlined the need for international institutions better adapted to deal with complex problems as they arise. However, from Archbishop Crepaldi’s standpoint, “It is unreasonable to expect the Holy See to offer a comprehensive, technical plan, that is… a political and juridical proposal for reforming the United Nations.”

Caritas in Veritate is not calling for a “super-government, a world government,” stated Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, president of the Council for Justice and Peace. But for all that, the present organizations should have this worldwide political authority: “That is why the pope is calling for a reform of the United Nations.”

The Holy See, like the pope, is asking for this reform of the United Nations but does not suggest what needs to be done or how to proceed,” he insisted.

When Caritas in Veritate speaks of an authority for governing globalization, it is asking for a new form of “governance” and not for a new “global government,” said Stefano Zamagni, a member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Would then “authentic integral human development” really be promoted by a new world governance? In spite of the ideal portrait of it sketched by the pope, some clarification on the real influence of this governance would be welcome.

The encyclical asks for “dynamic faithfulness,” a “new humanist synthesis,” a “person-based and community-oriented cultural process of worldwide integration that is open to transcendence.” This constant quest for a new, forthcoming equilibrium shows that the “conciliation” of the pre-conciliar Magisterium and the post-conciliar Magisterium is hardly in evidence. “The Church's social doctrine illuminates with an unchanging light the new problems that are constantly emerging,” the encyclical declares. The illumination is very feeble; the light of Tradition cannot be filtered.

Read the integral text of the encyclical