I’ve had a nasty habit of promising future posts on this blog and then not writing them. Well, that stops now, at least for this particular case. My previous treatment of the new social encyclical was intentionally rather rushed. However, my CST seminar professor would be ashamed if I did anything less than a close reading of this new text, and I would like to present that close reading on this blog. Encyclicals are notoriously long documents, so I spent a significant chunk of my afternoon doing a first pass through the document. Today I’m going to discuss the introduction and first chapter, and the other sections will follow, likely every other day until I’m done.
The release of Caritas in Veritate is intended to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Populorum Progressio, or, On The Development of Peoples, Pope Paul VI’s one social encyclical. Thus, the introduction and first chapter aim to connect this current encyclical to its predecessor and to demonstrate the relevance of Populorum Progressio
in the present day.
The introduction begins by discussing the title, Charity in Truth.
Through this close link with truth, charity can be recognized as an authentic expression of humanity and as an element of fundamental importance in human relations, including those of a public nature.
Benedict describes charity in truth as the general principle around which Catholic Social Tradition revolves. This principle takes on practical relevance in the form of a number of criteria, and Benedict chooses to focus on two of these, justice and the common good.
On the one hand, charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples…
To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity. To take a stand for the common good is on the one hand to be solicitous for, and on the other hand to avail oneself of, that complex of institutions that give structure to the life of society, juridically, civilly, politically and culturally, making it the pólis, or “city”.
Benedict concludes his introduction by explaining the relationship with this document to Paul VI’s and to society:
At a distance of over forty years from the Encyclical’s publication, I intend to pay tribute and to honour the memory of the great Pope Paul VI, revisiting his teachings on integral human development and taking my place within the path that they marked out, so as to apply them to the present moment…
Open to the truth, from whichever branch of knowledge it comes, the Church’s social doctrine receives it, assembles into a unity the fragments in which it is often found, and mediates it within the constantly changing life-patterns of the society of peoples and nations.
Now, in Chapter One, Benedict summarizes the message of Populorum Progressio.
Paul VI set out from this vision in order to convey two important truths. 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…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.
Transcendentally oriented passages are pretty common through this chapter.
In Populorum Progressio, Paul VI taught that progress, in its origin and essence, is first and foremost a vocation: “in the design of God, every man is called upon to develop and fulfil himself, for every life is a vocation.” This is what gives legitimacy to the Church’s involvement in the whole question of development.
Benedict acknowledges Paul VI’s emphasis on human freedom, which was originally aimed at the communist bloc.
Integral human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of peoples: no structure can guarantee this development over and above human responsibility. The “types of messianism which give promises but create illusions” always build their case on a denial of the transcendent dimension of development, in the conviction that it lies entirely at their disposal. This false security becomes a weakness, because it involves reducing man to subservience, to a mere means for development.
Finally, he reiterates Paul VI’s call for urgency.
Moreover, Populorum Progressio repeatedly underlines the urgent need for reform, and in the face of great problems of injustice in the development of peoples, it calls for courageous action to be taken without delay.
More to come on Thursday from Chapter Two, where the rubber meets the road.