Saturday, July 11, 2009

Caritas in Veritate

Remember when papal encyclicals used to be kind of short and easy to read?

Me neither.

I did finally make it through this new one, though. On the external side of things, I've been disappointed with the Catholic reaction and enthralled by the Protestant response. Catholics are basically uncomfortable with what the Pope is saying and trying to downplay it. Protestants are soiling themselves in large numbers over the approach of the new-one-government-world-order and the rise of the papal AntiChrist. Not to mention that many find the concepts of solidarity and subsidiarity repugnant anyway.

For starters, I'm going to recommend that folks maybe go back and read my prior posts here and here. The latter discusses the Catholic definition of "common good," while the former gives a nutshell account of solidarity and subsidiarity. These terms will all be very important in understanding this encyclical.

For starters, the Pope revisits a lot of stuff from Deus Caritas Est. One would expect some measure of recapitulation here given that love is clearly a focus of this work as well. And yes, I'm going to play fast and loose with the Holy Father's order of things here. Back to love, though. We are reminded early on here that:

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.

This is where the truth part of the encyclical comes in:

Hence the need to link charity with truth not 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 “economy” of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth. In this way, not only do we do a service to charity enlightened by truth, but we also help give credibility to truth, demonstrating its persuasive and authenticating power in the practical setting of social living. 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.

Here's the deal. Truth is an objective and absolute reality. So it is with charity as well, especially if you are going to claim that God is love and that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. You can't just go around doing stuff to and for persons or the community or whoever and claim that it's an act of love just because you happen to think so. This is what we see in modern pro-abortion and euthanasia movements. See, starving people like Terri Schiavo to death is the ultimate act of love. So is killing these unwanted babies or these old people.

There are less extreme examples, though, and this is where the Pope really hits his stride. Lots of folks who proclaim the social justice basically limit it to giving people stuff. That's it. What is lost is that the Church's primary mission is to save souls. Giving people stuff is nice, and we are commanded to do so by God, but if you are tending to the spiritual and moral needs of the people, you aren't really loving them. Yeah, I'm looking at you liberation theology. What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul? How much less if all the guy gets is soup, a sandwich, and maybe some money to get him through the week.

Point being, real charity has this truth to it that is going to keep those kinds of situations from happening.

Truth preserves and expresses charity's power to liberate in the ever-changing events of history. It is at the same time the truth of faith and of reason, both in the distinction and also in the convergence of those two cognitive fields. Development, social well-being, the search for a satisfactory solution to the grave socio-economic problems besetting humanity, all need this truth. What they need even more is that this truth should be loved and demonstrated. Without 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.

For the most part, Pope Benedict takes the rocket of this theme and couples it with the launching pad of Paul VI's earlier work on development, Populorum Progressio, beginning with two main ideas:

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. She has a public role over and above her charitable and educational activities: all the energy she brings to the advancement of humanity and of universal fraternity is manifested when she is able to operate in a climate of freedom. In not a few cases, that freedom is impeded by prohibitions and persecutions, or it is limited when the Church's public presence is reduced to her charitable activities alone.

Notice this. Integral human development. What does that mean? Way more than just the Church's "charitable activities alone."

The second truth is that authentic human development concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension. Without the perspective of eternal life, human progress in this world is denied breathing-space. Enclosed within history, it runs the risk of being reduced to the mere accumulation of wealth; humanity thus loses the courage to be at the service of higher goods, at the service of the great and disinterested initiatives called forth by universal charity. Man does not develop through his own powers, nor can development simply be handed to him.

Interesting that we get an immediate repudiation of the Jenkinsonian "secular common good." Again, integral human development. I can't say it enough. This whole shpiel about development including spiritual development is critical to what the Pope is saying. Also, keep in mind that such development doesn't happen by man's own natural abilities.

In the course of history, it was often maintained that the creation of institutions was sufficient to guarantee the fulfilment of humanity's 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. Moreover, such 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. Only through an encounter with God are we able to see in the other something more than just another creature, to recognize the divine image in the other, thus truly coming to discover him or her and to mature in a love that “becomes concern and care for the other.”

What does man do when he tries to go it alone? He screws it the hell up.

Right about here, we see the Pope do sort of a tribute to Paul VI. How often do you see someone do that? It's good stuff, though, and recounts Pope Paul's contributions to the social justice corpus. In doing so, Pope Benedict decides to throw a fastball right at the head of contemporary liberals:

Two further documents by Paul VI without any direct link to social doctrine — the Encyclical Humanae Vitae (25 July 1968) and the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 December 1975) — are highly important for delineating the fully human meaning of the development that the Church proposes.

Aw, yeah. Considering that the first condemns contraception and the second condemns indifferentism, this is a great tangent to insert here. I wonder if Obama will stop reading at this point.

As to the former:

The Church forcefully maintains this link between life ethics and social ethics, fully aware that “a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized.”

And the latter:

The Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, for its part, is very closely linked with development, given that, in Paul VI's words, “evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man's concrete life, both personal and social.” “Between evangelization and human advancement — development and liberation — there are in fact profound links”: on the basis of this insight, Paul VI clearly presented the relationship between the proclamation of Christ and the advancement of the individual in society. Testimony to Christ's 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.

Again, the Pope is pounding on the fact that you can't just give people stuff and call it charity. Proclaiming the Faith is an inextricable part of the equation.

In promoting development, the Christian faith does not rely on privilege or positions of power, nor even on the merits of Christians (even though these existed and continue to exist alongside their natural limitations), but only on Christ, to whom every authentic vocation to integral human development must be directed. The Gospel is fundamental for development, because in the Gospel, Christ, “in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals humanity to itself”. . . The Christian vocation to this development therefore applies to both the natural plane and the supernatural plane; which is why, “when God is eclipsed, our ability to recognize the natural order, purpose and the ‘good' begins to wane."

This is probably a good place to stop for now. The next several sections of the document are a laundry list of world-wide economic and social badness, along with comments on the accelerated pace of globalization and its relationship to those problems. In other words, I think we're all familiar with it. I'll leave off with this comment to set up the next installation:

Yet it should be stressed that progress of a merely economic and technological kind is insufficient. Development needs above all to be true and integral.

Indeed, Holy Father. Indeed.

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