Reflection on Caritas in Veritate
Economic liberals have given Caritas in Veritate
a muted response. They recognize its positive endorsement of profit, the
market economy, globalization, technology and international trade.
However because it calls for greater foreign aid, strengthened powers
for trade unions and the management of globalization by international
institutions some see it as a mixed bag. Others believe it is a step
back from Centesimus
Annus in that it fails to
celebrate entrepreneurs and the enterprise culture. Some argue that
because economic and social issues have become so complex the day of
Papal Encyclicals selling out the Church's Social Teaching is over.
I disagree strongly. The Encyclical is an
extraordinarily impressive document. It has put the Christian faith as a
worldview firmly on the global agenda. It addresses all the key issues
of our time — the financial crisis, global poverty, the environment,
globalization, technology — and shows how the Christian faith provides a
unique perspective on each of them. I can think of no other publication
by an individual Christian or a report by another Church which could
have anything like its impact.
The great strength of the Encyclical is its theology. It
draws on Pope Benedict's profound reflections on Christian teaching over
more than six decades and demonstrates the relevance of the Christian
faith today. It recognizes for example that the environment is God's
gift to humanity and we are its trustees, but at the same time it
rejects pantheism and the view that nature is an untouchable taboo. It
argues that work has an innate dignity which results from our being
created in the image of God, but which is violated by rising
unemployment produced by the crisis. The market economy creates
prosperity but when trust ceases to exist, as it has because of the
crisis, social cohesion is undermined.
Its theology is above all
else Christocentric. The supreme example of "truth filled love" is the
life of Jesus Christ. Echoing Pope Paul VI Benedict states that "life in
Christ is the first and principal factor of development" and that "in
promoting development the Christian faith does not rely on privilege or
positions of power nor even on the merits of Christians but only on
Christ... the Gospel is fundamental for development". As I read the
Encyclical for the third time I began to realise that its theological
insights are so profound that it needs to be read not just
intellectually, as a statement of Social Doctrine, but also meditatively
as it provides such a deep insight into the human person.
Caritas in Veritate
presents its greatest challenge to a
prevailing world view inspired by economic liberalism and philosophical
libertarianism in which personal freedom has been elevated to an
absolute. The Encyclical categorically rejects the view that economic
life is autonomous and can be independent of morality. The present
financial crisis is partly the breakdown of the financial system viewed
mechanically but it is also the on going drama of a morality play.
Economic life is made up of individuals with moral consciences and
personal responsibilities who need a moral compass to guide them.
As a result economic life
cannot be conceived of as something impersonal and amoral, a spontaneous
order which left to itself will result in the common good. Because of
this, the defense of free markets by secular economists such as
Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman is flawed because of their defective
view of the human person and limited understanding of the moral
foundation of markets.
The Encyclical is an
argument for Christian humanism. The human person possessing dignity,
deserving of justice and bearing the divine image must always be at the
centre of economic life. The test of any economic reform therefore is
its impact on persons, on their relationships and on their communities.
Because of this the Encyclical does not suggest an alternative economic
system to market capitalism. It argues for something infinitely more
radical: a global market economy infused with charity and justice, which
respects the truth of the world created by God and of people who bear
his image. "Development is impossible without upright men and women,
without financiers and politicians whose consciences are finely attuned
to the requirements of the common good".
The Encyclical sees this as
a realistic project not as an unattainable ideal. The financial crisis
has provided a fork in the road for all of us, as well as for the
financial institutions in which we work and the societies in which we
live. Caritas in Veritate is a call for Christians to renew their
vision of what is possible and then with God's help to live it and by so
doing serve the world in love.