"Caritas in Veritate" Provides Synthesis of Old and New
By Matthew Bunson
FORT WAYNE, Indiana, 9 JULY 2009 (ZENIT)
Benedict XVI's encyclical "Caritas in Veritate"
eloquently reiterates the coherence of Catholic social teaching, but it
likewise makes manifest the essential links between truth and charity
and the real world.
For the Holy Father, charity and truth are not abstract concepts, but
must be seen for what they are, "the principal driving force behind the
authentic development of every person and of all humanity" (No. 1). In
this concern, the Holy Father offers a remarkably bold reminder that
human life must be at the center of that development.
"Caritas in Veritate" is splendidly faithful to all of the Church's
social teachings on the human person's inviolable dignity as well as the
transcendent value of natural moral norms. By quoting from every social
encyclical since Leo XIII's "Rerum Novarum" in 1891, the Pontiff refutes
any misinterpretations of Catholic social teaching that there are two
functional typologies, one pre-conciliar and one post-conciliar. Rather,
he quotes Pope John Paul II when he states firmly, "there is a single
teaching, consistent and at the same time ever new" ("Sollicitudo Rei
Socialis," 3). Expressing that sense of newness, "Caritas in Veritate"
also offers considerable innovation in its prescription for the present
global financial crises by highlighting the right to life in relation to
The Holy Father notes that economic development and humanitarian aid
from the West are too often accompanied by the imposition of
dehumanizing programs and exploitation of labor and natural resources,
but they can also entail an obligation to embrace the same toxic
reproductive and technological policies that are creating a demographic
catastrophe in the first world.
Benedict XVI argues that not only does the culture of death inherently
trample upon the dignity of the human person and responsible human
freedom, it is bad economics because of the strains it places on social
welfare systems and labor resources, not to mention the wider
impoverishment of culture. The Pope writes, "Morally responsible
openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource" (No.
The encyclical makes the link "between life ethics and social ethics"
(No. 15), especially in its tribute to the late Pope Paul VI's prophetic
encyclicals "Populorum Progressio" (1967) and "Humanae Vitae" (1968). In
"Populorum Progressio," Paul VI anticipated the problems that have
attended globalization, and in "Humanae Vitae," he predicted with
searing accuracy the long-term social effects of a contraceptive
culture. Reflecting on both of these earlier documents, "Caritas in
Veritate" proclaims that true development must encompass the rights of
all human persons, including the unborn.
In his elegant synthesis of Catholic social thought and Catholic moral
teachings, Benedict XVI has given the world a profound assessment of
authentic human development. Part of that is fostering the culture of
life. As Benedict XVI teaches, "Openness to life is at the center of
true development. When a society moves toward the denial or suppression
of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and
energy to strive for man's true good" (No. 28). This is a significant
moment in Catholic social teaching, and the encyclical will be the
source of fruitful reflection for many years to come.
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Matthew Bunson, who has a Doctor of Ministry degree from
the Graduate Theological Foundation, is a senior fellow at the St. Paul
Center for Biblical Theology. He is the author of more than 35 books,
including "We Have a Pope, Benedict XVI," "The Encyclopedia of Catholic
History," and "Papal Wisdom, Words of Hope and Inspiration from Pope
John Paul II."