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"Caritas in Veritate" and the Economic Crisis: Message and Messenger
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2009-08-14 07:48:09
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A few days ago I returned from a five week Summer Study-Travel tour of Italy at the University of Urbino where I accompanied eighteen students from Broward College, Florida. To relieve the tedium of a ten-hour flight I spent that time reading the first social encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI Caritas in Veritate. It came out recently as the G8 meeting was underway in Aquila. I happened to pick it up in Loreto, Italy in book form, on the way to attending, with the above mentioned students, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly in Macerata.

Reading Italian newspapers for a whole month and immersing oneself in an alien culture, albeit still a Western one, surely colors one’s perspective on world events and makes one more aware of how important it is to physically cross the Atlantic pond to Europe to understand, if not necessarily agree with, its weltanschauung. I will be commenting on that intriguing intellectual phenomenon in the near future, but I would like to begin with a summary and commentary of the above mentioned encyclical. It occurred to me while reading the encyclical that such a commentary would aptly complement two other articles of mine published recently in Ovi; namely “Christianity: a Private Affair or part of the European Identity?”, basically a review-essay on Professor JHH Weiler’s book A Christian Europe? Europe and Christianity: Rules of Commitment (22 May 2009); and “Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Bias?” (6 June, 2009).

In that first article it was pointed out that Weiler, a practicing Jew, puts most Christians to shame on his vast knowledge of the social encyclicals of the modern Popes. In fact, he decries the fact that they are not better known among Europeans and Christians in general. He implies that were they actually read and pondered, we might have avoided some of the pitfalls we have socially stumbled upon in recent Western history.

In the second article it was pointed out, that anti-Catholicism is alive and well, almost as a knee jerk reaction, among some of the intelligentia of Western Civilization, and in fact it may be the last acceptable bias parading as “enlightenment.” True to form, at its appearance Caritas in Veritate was promptly charged in some extreme left-leaning Western press, if mentioned at all, as an interference in the purely secular affairs of the EU and the US going on at the G8 meeting in Aquila; never mind the message, it was the messenger that is unacceptable and consequently the message too is worthless. Never mind that the subsequent visit of President Obama to the Vatican revealed several areas of total agreement on international issues of peace, distributive justice, immigration, poverty, ecological crisis, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and so on. And so it goes. For the “enlightened” modern progressivist the Church can speak and promulgate its “regressive” message, but only to the few thousand people in the Vatican and perhaps, nobles oblige, to the faithful for half hour on Sunday in Catholic churches, not in the public square. So much for free speech and the free and respectful exchange of ideas in the public agora as envisioned by a truly modern democracy.

But before exploring the encyclical, it may be worthwhile to also explain what a Papal encyclical is all about and which are the most famous social encyclical of recent Popes. Basically an encyclical is a letter or a circular sent to the whole world: to Christians and non-Christians, and to all men of good will. The etymology of the word encyclical is from the Greek “enkyklosis,” an open letter sent to the whole world. That name was conferred by Pope Benedict XIV in 1740 when, on the third of December of that same year he issued the very first document of his pontificate which he called Epistola Encyclica. Some Church historians contend, however, that more generally speaking, the very first circular of the Christian Church is the Decree of the Apostles written in the year 50 AD.

Be that as it may, many other encyclicals followed the one by Benedict XIV, most of them dealing with doctrinal and theological issues. Some of them, however, were purely concerned with social issues. The very first social encyclical was Leo XIII’s titled Rerum Novarum which came out in 1891. It was followed by Quadragesimo Anno (1931) and Mit Brennender Sorge and Divini Redemptoris (1937) by Pius XI, Mater et Magistra (1961), Pacem in Terris (1963) by John XXIII, Populorum Progressio (1967) and Octuagesima Adveniens (1971) by Paul VI, Laborem Exercens (1981), Solicitudo Rei Socialis (1987), Centesimus Annus (1991) by John Paul II, and finally Caritas in Veritate (2009) by Benedict XVI. This represents a total of 12 social encyclicals spanning 118 years; an average of one every ten years. One suspects that those journalists who jumped on their horse sword, or pen as the case may be, in hand to attack the latest of those papal social encyclicals have read precious few, if any, of them even though it would merely take a couple of hours of their time every ten years or so.

Let us now proceed to the commentary and analysis of Caritas in Veritate, the first social encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI as published by the Vatican City press on July 7th. As a preface we can say that the encyclical affirms the public role of Christian faith, deals systematically with the role of globalization, respect for the environment, the issue of bio-ethics, places the responsibility for development in the third world on everybody’s shoulders, not excluding the elites of those underdeveloped countries and the very institutions which claim to be part of the solution and whose bureaucracy often becomes part of the problem. It condemns the ideology of technologism wherein man is reduced to a producing and consuming cog in an economic systems that serve the idol and demiurge called “market.”

The encyclical begins with a short introduction (paragraphs 1-9) wherein the Pope reiterates that charity is the central road of the Church social doctrine but it has to be understood under the light of truth. The encyclical places itself in the tradition of Populorum Progressio (The Development of People) of Paul VI (1967), which is defined as the Rerum Novarum (1891) of our times. The introduction also makes clear that even though the Church has no technical solutions to the current economic crisis, it remains her duty to emphasize that genuine progress is never mere technical progress, but something joined to charity which aims at defeating evil with goodness. Six chapters follow and then a conclusion. Let us briefly enumerate them.

Chapter 1 is titled “The Message of Populorum Progressio” and consists of ten enumerated paragraphs (10-20). It emphasizes the fact that in his encyclical of 1967 Paul VI had already spoken of development as a human vocation springing from a transcendental call, and based on individual and the collective freedom of whole people and nations. Underdevelopment springs from a lack of real brotherhood. Globalization may bring us closer but not necessarily render us brothers to each other. An insight this worth pondering considering the failures of so many movements based on an empty “brotherhood” devoid of Fatherhood.

Chapter 2 (21-33) is titled “Human Development in our Times” follows up on the first chapter reminding us that Paul VI was not speaking in general terms but had a well articulated vision of what development of people really means. By development he meant the defeat of poverty, illiteracy, hunger, endemic diseases. So many years later we witness the same problems that far from being resolved have been exacerbated by globalization understood as financial activity badly used and based on mere speculation and profits, the badly regulated exploitation of the earth’s resources, and the consequent migratory waves of millions of destitute peoples. While the world’s wealth increases in absolute terms, economic disparities are still increasing. International aid often has bad motives and goals. There is a reluctance to share generously, a too rigid concept of intellectual property especially in the field of medicine and health. The results are vast pockets of poverty and disrespect toward human rights.

Chapter 3 (34-42) is titled “Brotherhood, economic development and civil society.” It basically underlies the fact that a true social doctrine is always underpinned by  distributive justice and social justice as regulating criteria of a market economy. What is needed are fair laws, redistribution laws which are guided by political wisdom carrying the spirit of gifting. To invest and produce has a moral dimension but today we see a managerial class that fixes for itself its own compensations and pays attention only to stock owners and market forces, the so called “bottom line.” The Pope then invites those managers to change the economic system to one that is culturally more personalistic, humane and communitarian, and aiming at the common good.

Chapter 4 (43-52) is titled “Peoples’ Development: rights and obligations, the environment.” It points out that one cannot divorce individual rights from a collective view of rights and duties. To do so is to ensure that the claiming of rights becomes the privilege of the few and the powerful. For example, in the demographic field the Church continues to hold that it is not the growth in population that is the primary cause of a country’s underdevelopment and that in fact openness to life is a social good. Then the Pope speaks of ethical financing, of respect and stewardship of the environment, or responsible use of energy resources, of respect for the right to natural life and natural death. What ought to be promoted, in his view, is the concept of a “human ecology.”

Chapter 5 (53-67) is titled “Collaboration within the human family.” It reiterates that the development of peoples is based on the idea that we are one family. Religious freedom, of the dialogue between believers and non believers, based on international cooperation for development. The development of people is a human enterprise and calls everybody. There is even a reflection on international tourism as a mode of growth, conceived however not in a hedonistic mode, of workers’ unions which must embrace and promote the rights of all workers, of guarantees in international finance, of a needed reform in the United Nations which aims at the development of all people and a genuine globalization.

Chapter 6 (68-77) is titled “Peoples’ Development and Technology.” It points out that technology can take over any other human consideration when mere efficiency and utility become the only criteria for truth. On the contrary, human freedom expresses itself by opposing the fruits of moral responsibility to mere technology. The development of peoples is not dependent on mere technical solutions but on the existence of just men who live in their conscience the appeal to the common good. And here the Pope speaks of the anthropological issues of life’s manipulation, eugenic planning of births, euthanasia, abortion, all practices which to his mind only increase a merely material and mechanistic  view of human life.

Finally in its conclusion (78-79) the Pope reiterates that being open to God means also being open to one’s brothers. The kind of humanism that excludes God, as is in vogue nowadays, ends up dehumanizing man. He also says that a true development needs believers who with their arms lifted toward God as in prayer are aware of the fact that authentic development always proceeds from love based on truth, and that such an awareness is not self-generated but is ultimately a gift.

If I may be permitted one final comment of my own: to return to the chiding of professor Weiler in my previous article, that many Catholics let the letters sent by their spiritual leader go unread and thus deprive themselves of some wise and needed advice, one cannot but wonder as to how many Catholics have indeed read and reflected on this first social encyclical of the present Pope, or any other of previous Popes for that matter. For one may even end up disagreeing with certain aspects of those encyclicals, in fact encyclicals are not items of faith or orthodoxy, but one cannot say that they do not contain some ethical truths based on a long ethical heritage and tradition of which, especially the Catholics ought not to deprive themselves, especially by those who are at the helm of economic development in their countries. I suppose it all depends on whether or not one considers those truths inconvenient, or whether or not one is able to distinguish the message from the messenger and thus read the message with an unbiased mind.   

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R Griffin, Ph.D.2009-08-14 18:24:58
St.Paul. I Corinthians 13. If I know all truth and have not love, I am as a noisy gong or a clangy cymbal. . . and now abide faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
The current pope, bless him, remains a theologian as he was trained; the "truth" of FAITH for him is more fundamental than caritas. Sorry, I cannot view this encyclical as a Pauline divine revelation.

Emanuel Paparella, Ph.D.2009-08-14 19:17:39
Indeed, as mentioned above, encyclicals since 1740 are not meant to be revealed truth (Pauline or otherwise)nor are they the official orthodox teaching of the Church. A Catholic can disagree with them and still remain a member of Christ's body. As mentioned above, the present Pope builds on the previous traditions of social encyclicals and that tradition is impressive indeed, if one takes the trouble to read those encyclicals as Dr. Weiler, a practicing Jew, inedeed has done. I still think his chiding of Catholics who dismiss the letters sent by their leader remains relevant.

Indeed, the present Pope is a theologian but his pronouncement on the present economic crisis have nothing to do with theology and more with sociology. As far as love or caritas is concerned he too will be judged and that judgment will be based on the truth I am afraid. Let us not forget that Dante places three Popes in hell because they failed in caritas as well as in veritas.

Rebecca2009-08-16 09:22:37
[Most interesting. BTW, I just ran into the web bit that follows]
Anti-Catholic "Rapture" Doctrine

While recently looking at the "Opinionated Catholic" blog I was drawn to its lead story entitled "Tim LaHaye Does Most Silly Anti Catholic Charge Ever." Then my eye caught the first "Comments" which listed several web articles which expose the popular Evangelical and Fundamentalist belief in an "any-moment pre-tribulational rapture." You can't believe the huge amount of deliberate dishonesty and cover-up in the same "fly-away rapture" view since its strange birth in Scotland in 1830! To see what I mean, Google "Pretrib Rapture Diehards," "X-Raying Margaret," "Deceiving and Being Deceived," "Pretrib Hypocrisy," and especially "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" - all written by author and historian Dave MacPherson who has spent 40 years locating long forgotten (and covered up) early "rapture" documents in libraries in Britain etc. The same "Comments" urged Catholics to read MacPherson's highly endorsed and massively documented book "The Rapture Plot" (see online stores including Armageddon Books), and I got the impression that his findings could finally silence all anti-Catholic "rapture" traffickers such as Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye. Don't forget that these two have been THE bestselling authors worldwide since the 1970s simply because they have discovered how to thoroughly brainwash tens of millions of deceived Protestant Evangelicals and Fundamentalists with the unscriptural "rapture escape" - no little achievement! Catholic leaders and writers apparently now have the ammunition and documentation to finally demolish the same anti-Catholic publishing craze! ----J. Edwards

Emanuel Paparella2009-08-17 17:21:05
Most interesting indeed. As I said in my previous article on anti-Catholic bias, anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable bias. Bad habits die hard!

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