Many Dimensions of Humanism
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
Secretary of State

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone addresses the Italian Senate on Caritas Veritate

The following is a translation of the Discourse, given in Italian, which Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, SDB, Secretary of State, addressed to the Italian Senate on Tuesday, 28 July [2009].

Benedict XVI begins his Encyclical with a deep, comprehensive introduction in which he reflects on and analyzes the words of the title which closely link "caritas" and "veritas": love and truth.

This is not only a sort of "explicatio terminorum", an initial explanation which seeks to point out the fundamental principles and perspectives of his entire teaching. Indeed, like the musical theme of a symphony, the theme of truth and charity then recurs throughout the document precisely because, as the Pope writes, in it is "the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity".1

But, we ask ourselves, which truth and which love are meant? There is no doubt that today these very concepts give rise to suspicion especially the term "truth" or are the object of misunderstanding, and this is especially the case with the term "love".

This is why it is important to make clear which truth and which love the Pope is addressing in his new Encyclical. The Holy Father explains that these two fundamental realities are neither extrinsic to man nor even imposed upon him in the name of any kind of ideological vision; rather, they are deeply rooted within the person. Indeed, "love and truth", the Pope says, "are the vocation planted by God in the heart and mind of every human person",2 the person who, according to Sacred Scripture, has been created precisely "as an image of the Creator", in other words of the "God of the Bible", who is both "Agape" and "Logos": Charity and Truth, Love and Word.3

This reality is testified to us not only by biblical Revelation but can be grasped by every person of good will who uses right reason in reflecting on himself.4 In this regard, several passages of an important and meaningful Document that came out just before Caritas in Veritate seem to illustrate this view clearly. The International Theological Commission in recent months has given us a text entitled "The Search for Universal Ethics: A New Look at Natural Law".

It addresses topics of great importance which I wish to point out and to recommend especially in this context of the Senate, that is, an institution whose main function is legislative. Indeed, as the Holy Father said to the United Nations Assembly in New York during his Visit last year to their headquarters, sometimes called the "glass palace", speaking about the foundation of human rights: These rights "are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations. Removing human rights from this context would mean restricting their range and yielding to a relativistic conception, according to which the meaning and interpretation of rights could vary and their universality would be denied in the name of different cultural, political, social and even religious outlooks".5

These reflections do not apply solely to human rights. They apply to every intervention by the legitimate authority called to regulate the life of the community in accordance with true justice by means of legislation that is not the result of a mere conventional agreement but aims at the authentic good of the person and of society and hence refers to this natural law.

Now, expounding on the reality of natural law, the International Theological Commission describes precisely how truth and love are essential requirements of every person and are deeply rooted in his being.

"In his search for moral good, the human person should recognize what he is and be aware of the fundamental inclinations of his nature",6 which orient him toward the goods necessary for his moral fulfilment. As is well known, "a distinction has traditionally been made between three important forms of natural dynamism.... The first, in common with every essential being, is comprised of the fundamental instinct to preserve and develop one's own existence. The second, which is shared by all living beings, includes the inclination to reproduce in order to perpetuate the species. The third, which is proper to man as a rational being, constitutes the inclination to know the truth about God and to live in society".7

Examining in depth this third form of dynamism which is found in every individual, the International Theological Commission declares that it is "specific to the human being as a spiritual being, endowed with reason, capable of knowing the truth, of entering into dialogue with others and of forming social relationships.... His integral wellbeing is thus closely linked to community life, which is organized in a political society by virtue of a natural inclination and not a mere convention. The person's relational character is also expressed in his tendency to live in communion with God or the Absolute.... Of course, it may be denied by those who refuse to admit the existence of a personal God, but it remains implicitly present in the search for truth and for meaning that is present in every human being".8

Man, therefore, through the "breadth of reason",9 is made to know the truth in its full depth by "broadening [his] concept of reason", in other words, not limiting himself to acquiring technical knowledge in order to dominate material reality but rather opening himself to the very encounter with the Transcendent and to living fully the interpersonal dimension of love, "the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones)".10

"Veritas" and "caritas" themselves point out to us the requirements of the natural law which Benedict XVI places as a fundamental criterion for moral reflection on the current socio-economic reality: "'Caritas in veritate' is the principle around which the Church's social doctrine turns, a principle that takes on practical form in the criteria that govern moral action".11 Using a cogent expression, the Holy Father thus affirms that "the Church's social teaching... is 'caritas in veritate in re sociali': the proclamation of the truth of Christ's love in society. This doctrine is a service to charity, but its locus is truth".12

What the Encyclical suggests is neither ideological nor exclusively reserved to those who share belief in the divine Revelation. Rather, it is based on fundamental anthropological realities such as, precisely, truth and charity properly understood or, as the Encyclical itself says, given to the human being and received by him, but neither planned nor willed by him.13

Benedict XVI wants to remind everyone that it is only by being anchored to this double criterion of "veritas" and "caritas", inseparably bound together, that it is possible to build the authentic good of the human being who is made for truth and love. According to the Holy Father, "only in charity, illumined by the light of reason and faith, is it possible to pursue development goals that possess a more humane and humanizing value".14

After this indispensable introduction, of which I have chosen to highlight some of the anthropological and theological aspects of the Papal text that may have attracted fewer comments from journalists, I would now like to explain just a few points, without claiming to cover the vast content of the Encyclical. Moreover, authoritative commentators have already published specific reflections on it in L'Osservatore Romano and elsewhere.

An important message that comes to us from Caritas in Veritate is the invitation to supersede the now obsolete dichotomy between the financial sphere and the social sphere. Modernity has bequeathed to us the idea on the basis of which, if we are to be able to operate in the field of the economy, it is essential to achieve a profit and to be motivated chiefly by self-interest; as if to say that if we do not seek the highest profit we are not proper entrepreneurs. Should this not be the case, we must be content with belonging to the social sphere.

This conceptualization, that confuses the market economy that is the genus with its own particular species which is the capitalist system, has led to identifying the economy with the place where wealth or income is generated, and society with the place of solidarity for its fair distribution.

Caritas in Veritate tells us instead that it is also possible to do business by pursuing aims that serve society and are inspired by pro-social motives. This is a practical way, if not the only one, of bridging the gap between the economic and the social spheres, given that an economic activity which did not incorporate the social dimension would not be ethically acceptable. It is likewise true that a social policy concerned only with redistribution, that failed to reckon with the available resources, would not be sustainable in the long run: in fact, production must precede distribution.

We should be particularly grateful to Benedict XVI for wishing to emphasize the fact that economic action is not separate from or alien to the cornerstones of the Church's social teaching such as: the centrality of the human person, solidarity, subsidariety, the common good. It is necessary to supersede the current concept which expects the Church's social teaching and values to be confined to social activities, while experts in efficiency would be charged with guiding the economy. It is the merit and certainly not a secondary one of this Encyclical to contribute to remedying this gap which is both cultural and political.

Contrary to what people think, efficiency is not the fundamentum divisionis for distinguishing between what is business and what is not, for the simple reason that "efficiency" is a category that belongs to the order of means and not of ends. Indeed, efficiency is indispensable in order to achieve as well as possible the purpose one has freely chosen to give one's action. The entrepreneur who gives priority to efficiency that is an end in itself risks being caught by one of the most frequent causes of the destruction of wealth today, as the current economic and financial crisis sadly confirms.

To expand briefly on this theme, to say "market" means saying "competition", in the sense that the market cannot exist where there is no competition (even if the opposite is not true). And there is no one who can fail to see that the fruitfulness of competition lies in the fact that it implies tension, the dialectic that presupposes the presence of another and the relationship with another. Without tension there is no movement, but the movement this is the point to which tension gives rise can also be fatal; in other words it can generate death.

If the purpose of economic action is not synonymous with striving for a common goal as the Latin etymology "cum-petere" would clearly indicate but rather with Hobbes' theory, "mors tua, vita mea" [your death is my life], then the social bond is reduced to commercial relations and economic activity tends to become inhuman, hence ultimately inefficient.

Therefore, even in competition, "the Church's social doctrine holds that authentically human social relationships of friendship, solidarity and reciprocity can also be conducted within economic activity, and not only outside it or 'after' it. The economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner".15

Well, the advantage by no means small that Caritas in Veritate offers us is to give special consideration to the concept of market, typical of the tradition of the thought of civil economics, according to which it is possible to live the experience of human sociality within a normal economic life and not outside or beside it. This concept might be defined as an alternative, both regarding the concept that sees the market as a place for the exploitation and abuse of the weak by the strong, and the concept which, in line with anarchic-liberalistic thought, sees it as a place that can provide solutions to all the problems of society.

This way of doing business is differentiated from that of the traditional Smithian economy, which sees the market as the only institution truly necessary for democracy and freedom. The Church's social doctrine, on the other hand, reminds us that a sound society is certainly the product of the market and of freedom, but there are needs that stem from the principle of brotherhood that can neither be avoided nor be referred solely to the private sphere or to philanthropy. Rather, the Church's social doctrine proposes a humanism with various dimensions, in which the market is not combated or "controlled" but is seen as an important institution in the public sphere a sphere which far exceeds State control which, if it is conceived of and lived as a place that is also open to the principles of reciprocity and of giving, can construct a healthy civil coexistence.

I shall now examine one of the themes in the Encyclical which seems to me to have attracted some public interest because of the newness of the principles of brotherhood and free giving in economic activity. "Social and political development, if it is to be authentically human", Pope Benedict XVI says, needs "to make room for the principle of gratuitousness".16 "Internal forms of solidarity" are essential.

The chapter on the cooperation of the human family is significant in this regard. In it the Pope stresses that "the development of peoples depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family", which is why "thinking of this kind requires a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation". And further: "The theme of development can be identified with the inclusion-in-relation of all individuals and peoples within the one community of the human family, built in solidarity on the basis of the fundamental values of justice and peace".17

The key word that today expresses this need better than any other is "brotherhood". It was the Franciscan school of thought that gave this term the meaning it has retained over the course of time and that constitutes the complement and exaltation of the principle of solidarity. In fact, whereas solidarity is the principle of social organization that permits those who are unequal to become equal through their equal dignity and their fundamental rights, the principle of brotherhood is that principle of social organization which permits equals to be different, in the sense that they are able to express their plan of life or their charism in different ways.

Let me explain more clearly. The periods we have left behind us, the 19th century and especially the 20th century, were marked by great battles both cultural and political in the name of solidarity. This was a good thing; only think of the history of the trade union movement and of the fight to obtain civil rights. The point is that a society oriented to the common good cannot stop at solidarity because it needs a solidarity that reflects brotherhood, given that while a fraternal society also shows solidarity, the opposite is not necessarily true.

If one overlooks the unsustainability of a human society in which the sense of brotherhood is lacking and in which everything revolves around improving transactions based on the exchange of equivalents or to increasing transfers actuated by public structures for social assistance it then becomes clear why, in spite of the quality of the intellectual forces at work, we have not yet found a credible solution to the great trade-off between efficiency and equity.

Caritas in Veritate helps us to realize that society can have no future if the principle of brotherhood is lost. In other words, society cannot progress if the logic of "giving in order to have" or of "giving as a duty" is the only one that exists and develops. This is why neither the liberal-individualistic vision of the world, in which (almost) everything is exchange, nor the State-centred vision of society, in which (almost) everything is based on obligation, are reliable guides to lead us out of the shallows in which our societies today have run aground.

Then we ask ourselves the question: why is the perspective of the common good as it has been formulated by the Church's social doctrine, which was banished from the scene for at least two centuries, re-emerging like an underground river? Why is the transition from national markets to the global market that has taken place over the last 25 years rendering the topic of the common good timely once again? I note in passing that what is occurring is part of a broader movement of ideas in economics, a movement whose goal is the link between a religious sense and economic performance.

On the basis of the consideration that religious beliefs are of crucial importance in forging people's cognitive maps and in shaping the social norms of behaviour, this movement of ideas is seeking to investigate how far the prevalence in a specific country (or territory) of a certain religious matrix influences the formation of categories of economic thought, welfare programmes, educational policies and so forth. After a long period, during which the celebrated theses of secularization appeared to have had the last word on the religious question at least insofar as the economic field is concerned what is happening today appears truly paradoxical.

It is not difficult to explain the return to the contemporary cultural debate in the perspective of the common good, a true and proper symbol of Catholic ethics in the social and economic field. As John Paul II explained on many occasions, the Church's social teaching should not be considered as yet another ethical theory as regards the numerous theories already available in literature. Instead it should be seen as their "common grammar", since it is based on a specific viewpoint, the preservation of the human good.

In truth, while the various ethical theories are rooted either in the search for rules (as happens in the positivist doctrine of natural law), or in action (as in Rawls' neo-contractualism or neo-utilitarianism), the social doctrine of the Church embraces "being with" as its Archimedean point. The ethical sense of the common good explains that in order to understand human action we must see it from the perspective of the acting person18 and not from the viewpoint of the third person (as does natural law) or of the impartial spectator (as Adam Smith had suggested). In fact since the moral good is a practical reality, it is known first and foremost by those who practise it rather than by those who theorize about it. They can identify it and hence choose it unhesitatingly every time it is questioned.

Next, let us speak of the principle of free giving in the economy. What would be the practical consequence of applying the principle of free giving in economic activity? Pope Benedict XVI replies that the market and politics need "individuals who are open to reciprocal gift".19 The consequence of acknowledging that the principle of gratuitousness has a priority place in economic life has to do with the dissemination of culture and of the practice of reciprocity. Together with democracy, reciprocity defined by Benedict as "the heart of what it is to be a human being"20 is a founding value of a society. Indeed, it could also be maintained that democratic rule draws its ultimate meaning from reciprocity.

In what "places" is reciprocity at home? In other words, where is it practised and nourished? The family is the first of these places: only think of the relationships between parents and children and between siblings. It is in the context of one's family that the relationship characteristic of brotherhood and based on giving develops. Then there are the cooperative, the social enterprise and associations in their various forms. Is it not true that the relationship between family members or the members of a cooperative are relations of reciprocity? Today we know that a country's civil and economic progress depends fundamentally on the extent to which reciprocity is practised by its citizens. Today there is an immense need for cooperation: this is why we need to extend the forms of free giving and to reinforce those that already exist. Societies that uproot the tree of reciprocity from their land are destined to decline, as history has been teaching us for years.

What is the proper role of the gift? It is to make people understand that beside the goods of justice are the goods of gratuitousness and, consequently, that the society whose members are content with the goods of justice alone is not authentically human. The Pope speaks of "the astonishing experience of gift".21

What is the difference? The goods of justice are those that derive from a duty. The goods of giving freely are those that are born from an obbligatio. That is, they are goods born from the recognition that I am bound to another and that, in a certain sense he is a constitutive part of me. This is why the logic of gratuitousness cannot be simplistically reduced to a purely ethical dimension. Indeed, gratuitousness is not an ethical virtue.

Justice, as Plato formerly taught, is an ethical virtue, and we are all in agreement as to the importance of justice; but gratuitousness concerns rather the supra-ethical dimension of human action because its logic is superabundance, whereas the logic of justice is the logic of equivalence.

Well, Caritas in Veritate tells us that to function well and to progress, a society needs to have in its economic praxis people who understand what the goods of gratuitousness entail, in other words, who understand that we must let the principle of gratuitousness circulate anew in the channels of our society.

Benedict asks us to restore the principle of gift to the public sphere. The authentic gift affirming the primacy of relationship over its reciprocation, of the inter-subjective bond over the good that is given, of personal identity over assets must find room for expression everywhere, in every context of human action, including the economy. The message that Caritas in Veritate offers us is to think of gratuitousness hence brotherhood as a symbol of the human condition and thus to see the practice of giving as the indispensable prerequisite for the State and the market to function, with the common good as their goal. Without the widespread practice of giving, it would still be possible to have an efficient market and an authoritative (and even just) State, but people would certainly not be helped to achieve joie de vivre. Because, even if efficiency and justice are combined, they are not enough to guarantee people's happiness.

In Caritas in Veritate Pope Benedict reflects on the profound (and not on the immediate) causes of the current crisis. It is not my intention to review them and I shall limit myself to summing up the three principal factors of the crisis, identified and examined.

The first concerns the radical change in the relationship between finance and the production of goods and services which has gradually been consolidated in the past 30 years. From the mid-1970s various Western countries have based their promises of pension funds on investments that depended on the sustainable profitability of the new financial instruments, thereby exposing the real economy to the caprices of finance and generating the growing need to earmark value-added quotas to the remuneration of savings invested in these.

The pressure on businesses deriving from stock exchanges and private equity funds have had repercussions in various directions: on directors, obliged to continuously improve the performance of their management in order to receive a growing number of stock options; on consumers, to convince them to buy more and more, even in the absence of purchasing power; on businesses of the real economy to convince them to increase the value for the shareholder. And so it was that the persistent demand for increasingly brilliant financial results had repercussions on the entire economic system, to the point that it became a true and proper cultural model.

The second factor that contributed to causing the crisis was the dissemination in popular culture of the ethos of efficiency as the ultimate criterion of judgement and the justification of the financial reality. On the one hand, this ended by legitimizing greed which is the best known and most widespread form of avarice as a sort of civic virtue: the greed market that replaces the free market. "Greed is good, greed is right", preached Gordon Gekko, who starred in Wall Street, the famous 1987 film.

Lastly, in Caritas in Veritate the Pope does not omit to reflect on the cause of the causes of the crisis: the specificity of the cultural matrix that was consolidated in recent decades on the wave of the globalization process on the one hand, and on the other, with the advent of the third industrial revolution, the revolution of information technology.

One specific aspect of this matrix concerns the ever more widespread dissatisfaction with the way of interpreting the principle of freedom. As is well known, there are three constitutive dimensions of freedom: autonomy, immunity, and empowerment. Autonomy means freedom of choice: one is not free unless one is in a position to choose. Immunity, on the other hand, means the absence of coercion by some external agent. It is substantially negative freedom (in other words it is "freedom from"). Lastly, empowerment (literally: the capacity for action) means the capacity to choose, that is, for achieving the objectives, at least in part or to some extent, that the person has set himself. One is not free even if one succeeds (even only partially) in realizing one's plan of life.

As can be understood, the challenge is to bring together all three dimensions of freedom: this is the reason why the paradigm of the common good appears as a particularly interesting perspective to explore.

In the light of what has been said above, we can understand why the financial crisis cannot claim to be an unexpected or inexplicable event. This is why, without taking anything from the indispensable interventions in a regulatory key or from the necessary new forms of control, we shall not succeed in preventing similar episodes from arising in the future unless the evil is attacked at the root, or in other words, unless we intervene by dealing with the cultural matrix that supports the economic system.

This crisis sends a double message to the Government authorities. In the first place, that the sacrosanct criticism of the "intervening State" can in no way ignore the central role of the "regulatory State". Secondly, that the public authorities at different levels of government, must allow, indeed enhance, the emergence and reinforcement of a pluralist financial market. A market, in other words, should allow different people to work in conditions of objective parity to achieve the specific aim they have set themselves.

I am thinking of the regional banks, of cooperative credit banks, ethical banks, of various ethical foundations. These are bodies that not only propose creative finance to their branches but above all play a complementary, hence balancing, role with regard to the agents of speculative finance. If in recent decades the financial authorities had removed the many restrictions that burden agents in alternative finance, today's crisis would not have had the devastating power that we are experiencing.

Before concluding, I would like to thank Hon. Mr Renato Schifani, President of the Senate of the Italian Republic, for permitting me to explain to this qualified audience several features of Benedict XVI's latest Encyclical.

In a certain way it is as if today the Holy Father were returning to the Headquarters of the Senate of the Republic, where, in the Library of the Senate on 13 May 2004, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger gave an unforgettable "lectio magistralis" on the theme: "Europe. Its spiritual foundations yesterday, today and tomorrow".

It is interesting to note how, in that discourse, among other things the future Pontiff touched on certain topics that we rediscover today in his most recent Encyclical. Let us think, for example, of the affirmation of the profound reason for the dignity of the person and of his rights: "they are not created by the legislator", the then-Cardinal Ratzinger said, "nor are they conferred upon citizens, 'but rather they exist through their own law, they are always to be respected by the legisator, they are given to him in advance as values of a superior order'. This validity of human dignity prior to any political action and any political decision refers ultimately to the Creator; he alone can establish values that are based on the essence of the human being and are intangible. That there are values that cannot be manipulated by anyone is the true and proper guarantee of our freedom and of human greatness; the Christian faith sees in this the mystery of the Creator and of the condition of the image of God who has conferred them on man".

In Caritas in Veritate Benedict repeats that "human rights risk being ignored" when "they are robbed of their transcendent foundation",22 that is, when people forget that "God is the guarantor of man's true development, inasmuch as, having created him in his image, he also established the transcendent dignity of men and women".23

Further, in the "lectio magistralis" given five years ago, the current Pontiff recalled that "a second point in which the European identity appears is marriage and the family. Monogamic marriage, as a fundamental structure of the relationship between a man and a woman and at the same time as a cell in the formation of the State community, was forged on the basis of biblical faith. It has given its special features and its special humanity to Western and Eastern Europe, also and precisely because the form of fidelity and renunciation outlined here must always be acquired anew, with great effort and much suffering. Europe would no longer be Europe if this fundamental cell of its social edifice were to disappear or to be essentially altered".

In Caritas in Veritate this warning is extended until it becomes universal, we might say global, and reaches all who are responsible for public life; we read in it, in fact: "It is thus becoming a social and even economic necessity once more to hold up to future generations the beauty of marriage and the family, and the fact that these institutions correspond to the deepest needs and dignity of the person. In view of this, States are called to enact policies promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman, the primary vital cell of society, and to assume responsibility for its economic and fiscal needs, while respecting its essentially relational character".24

Of course, Caritas in Veritate is addressed, as it says in its official title, to all the members of the Catholic Church and to "all people of good will". Yet, because of the principles it illumines, the problems it tackles and the guidelines it offers, it seems to me that this Papal Document which gave rise to so many expectations beforehand and then to so much attention and appreciation, especially in the social, political and economic contexts can find a special echo in this institutional Headquarters of the Senate of the Republic. I am convinced that, over and above differences in training and in personal conviction, those who have the delicate and honourable responsibility of representing the Italian people and of exercising legislative power during their mandate, may find in the Pope's words a lofty and profound inspiration for carrying out their mission so as to respond adequately to the ethical, cultural and social challenges which call us into question today and which, with great lucidity and completeness, the Encyclical Caritatis in Veritate sets before us.

My hope is that this document of the ecclesial Magisterium which I have endeavoured to describe to you today, at least in part, may find here the attention it deserves and thus bear positive and' abundant fruit for the good of every person and of the entire human family, starting with the beloved Italian Nation.


1 Caritas in Veritate, n. 1.

2 Ibid.

3 lbid., n. 3.

4 "Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity" (ibid.).

5 Discourse to the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, 18 April 2008.

6 The Search for Universal Ethics: A New Look at Natural Law, n. 45.

7 Ibid., n. 46.

8 lbid., n. 50.

9 Discourse to the University of Regensburg, 12 September 2006.

10 Caritas in Veritate, n. 2

11 Ibid., n. 6.

12 Ibid., n. 5.

13 "Truth which is itself a gift, in the same way as charity is greater than we are, as St Augustine teaches. Likewise the truth of ourselves, of our personal conscience, is first of all given to us. In every cognitive process, truth is not something that we produce, it is always found, or better, received. Truth, like love, 'is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings' (Caritas in Veritate, n. 34).

14 Ibid., n. g.

15 Ibid., n. 36.

16 Ibid., n. 34.

17 Ibid., nn. 53-54.

18 Cf. Veritatis Splendor, n. 78.

19 Cf. ibid., nn. 35-39.

20 Ibid., n. 57.

21 Ibid., n. 34.

22 Ibid., n. 56.

23 Ibid., n. 29.

24 Ibid., n. 44.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
5 August 2009, page 3

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