|"The Heart of Social Doctrine Remains the Human Person"
VATICAN CITY, 17 JULY 2009 (ZENIT)
Here is a Vatican translation of
the address Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, the president of the Pontifical
Council Cor Unam, gave July 7 at the press conference that marked the
release of Benedict XVI's encyclical "Caritas in Veritate."
* * *
I have been asked to situate the Encyclical "Caritas in Veritate"
within the context of the thought and magisterium of Benedict XVI. His
first Encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," on the theology of charity,
contained indications on social doctrine (nn. 26-29). Now we have a text
dedicated entirely to this subject.
What strikes me from the outset is that the central concept remains
caritas understood as divine love manifested in Christ. This is the
source that inspires the thinking and behavior of the Christian in the
world. In its light, truth becomes "gift …, not produced by us, but
rather always found or, better, received" (n. 34). It cannot be reduced
merely to human goodwill or philanthropy. In my intervention, I wish to
comment first on social doctrine within the mission of the Church, and
then treat one of its principles: the centrality of the human person.
1. Social Doctrine in the Mission of the Church
1.1. The Church's task is not to create a just society
The Church was constituted by Christ to be a sacrament of salvation for
all men and women (LG 1). This specific mission subjects her to a
constant misunderstanding: secularization to the point of making her a
political agent. The Church inspires, but does not do politics. Drawing
on "Populorum Progressio," the new Encyclical states clearly: "The
Church does not have technical solutions to offer and does not claim to
meddle in the politics of the State" (n. 9). The Church is neither a
political party, nor a politicizing actor. Woe to those who reduce the
Church's mission to a worldly pressure movement to obtain political
results. Cardinal Ratzinger himself opposed this possible
misunderstanding in the 80's as Prefect of the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith in the face of certain theologies of liberation. (Instructio
This implies in turn that the social doctrine of the Church is not a
"third way," that is a political program to be implemented in order to
attain a perfect society. Whoever thinks in this way risks
creating a theocracy, in which the valid principles concerning faith
become tout court principles to be applied for social life, both for
believers and unbelievers, embracing even violence. In the face of such
errors, the Church safeguards, together with religious freedom, the
rightful autonomy of the created order, as assured by the Second Vatican
1.2. Social Doctrine as an element of evangelization
Of course, the Encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" expresses the import of
the Church social doctrine in various places, for example number 15,
which treats the relationship between evangelization and human
promotion, from the starting point of "Populorum Progressio." Whereas,
up until now, social doctrine emphasized action to promote justice, now
the pastoral side is broached: social doctrine is affirmed as an element
of evangelization. That is to say: the Church's perennial announcement
of Christ dead and risen has a consequence also for social living. This
affirmation contains two aspects.
We cannot read social doctrine outside the context of the Gospel and its
proclamation. Social doctrine, as this Encyclical demonstrates, is born
from and is interpreted in the light of Revelation.
On the other hand, social doctrine cannot be identified with
evangelization, but is one element. The Gospel deals with human acting
also in social relations and institutions born from them, but cannot
limit man to his social life. John Paul II vigorously defended this
concept in "Redemptoris Missio" (n.11). Hence, the Church's social
doctrine cannot take over the announcement of the Gospel in the
1.3. Social Doctrine: not without revelation
A brief historical overview: as a result of the industrial revolution
(19th century) and its negative consequences, the Church's leaders
urgently pressed the State for a response in order to reestablish social
justice and the dignity of the human person in philosophical terms.
Later, with "Pacem in Terris," John XXIII focused largely on the horizon
of faith and spoke of sin and victory over it through the divine work of
salvation. John Paul II then introduced the concept of "structures of
sin" and applied salvation also to the fight against human misery. His "Sollicitudo
Rei Socialis" integrated social doctrine within moral theology: "This
belongs, therefore, not to the field of ideology, but theology, and
especially moral theology" (n. 41). With this step, social doctrine
enters clearly into the theological domain. The principles of social
doctrine have not remained merely philosophical, therefore, but have
their origin in Christ and His word. In "Deus Caritas Est," Benedict XVI
writes that faith purifies reason and thus helps it to create a just
order in society; this is where social doctrine is inserted (cfr. 28a).
This proceeds, then, upon the foundation of a discussion accessible to
all reason, and hence on the basis of natural law. But it recognizes its
dependence on faith.
The new Encyclical treats more explicitly and more decisively all of
this, with charity as the foundation. It teaches, "charity is the
supreme path of the Church's social doctrine" (n. 2). Charity understood
here as "received and given" by God (n. 5).
The love of God the Creator Father and His Redeemer Son, poured out in
us through the Holy Spirit, empowers the social life of man on the basis
of certain principles. It affirms for development the "centrality … of
charity" (n. 19). Wisdom
it also says
capable of orienting man "must be 'mixed' with the 'salt' of charity"
(n. 30). These simple
affirmations conceal some important implications. When it is loosed from
Christian experience, social doctrine becomes that ideology which John
Paul taught it should not be. A political manifesto without a soul.
Social doctrine rather, in the first place, commits the Christian to
"incarnating" his faith. As the Encyclical claims: "Charity manifests
always, even in human relations, the love of God, it gives theologal and
salvific value to every worldly task" (n. 6). To the oft-formulated
question: "What contribution does the Christian make to the edification
of the world?" social doctrine provides the answer.
2. An anthropocentric approach
The heart of social doctrine remains the human person. I already said
that, in a first phase, the attention of this discipline was oriented,
rather, to problematic situations within society: regulation of work,
right to a just wage, worker representation. Later, these problems were
dealt with at an international level: the disparity between rich and
poor, development, international relations. With the theological
emphasis, John XXIII treats more decisively the question of all this in
terms of the human person
we are in a second phase in the evolution of this discipline. John Paul
II then reinforced this understanding centering social reflection on the
anthropological. This aspect is present in a striking way in the
document: "The first capital to be defended and valued is man, the human
person, in his entirety" (n. 25); "The social question has become
radically the anthropological question" (n. 75). Progress, to be truly
so, must, therefore, enable man to grow in his entirety: in the text, we
find references to the environment, market, globalization, the ethical
question, culture, that is, the various places where man carries out his
activity. This end remains a precious heritage in social doctrine from
its beginnings. But, more deeply, the anthropological question implies
answering a central question: which man do we wish to promote? Can we
consider true development a development that imprisons man in an earthly
horizon, formed only by material well-being, ignoring the question of
values, meaning, the infinite to which he is called? Can a society
survive without foundational reference points, without looking at
eternity, denying man and woman an answer to their deepest questions?
Can there be true development without God?
In the logic of this Encyclical, we find then a further stage, perhaps a
third phase in the reflection on social doctrine. It is not by chance
that charity is placed as a key link: divine charity responds, as a
human act, through a theological virtue, as I said at the beginning. Man
is not considered only as the object of a process, but as the subject of
this process. The man, who has known Christ, makes himself the agent of
change in order that social doctrine does not remain a dead letter. Pope
Benedict writes: "Development is impossible without upright men and
women, without economical actors and politicians who do not live
strongly in their consciences the call to the common good" (n. 71).
Here, we are in perfect continuity with the Encyclical "Deus Caritas Est,"
which, in its second part, treats the characteristics of those who work
in charitable organizations. And the horizon widens to the public world,
where often, in the north and south, we experience phenomena that are
all too well-known, preventing the growth of people: corruption and
illegality (cfr. n. 22), the lust for power (cfr. DCE 28). The "original
sin," as the text recalls in n. 34, prevents the construction of society
in many places. Also in those who guide society. We cannot confront the
social question without the ethical. The Encyclical refers to the "new
man" in the biblical sense (n. 12). There can be no new society without
new men and women. Social doctrine will not remain a treatise or an
ideology only if there are Christians prepared to live it in charity,
with the help of God. Authenticity on the part of all the actors is
needed. Formulated without any twist of words: "Far from God, man is
troubled and sick" (n. 76). It is very significant that the last
paragraph of t he Encyclical (n. 79) is dedicated to prayer and the call
to conversion: God renews the heart of man so that he may dedicate
himself to living in charity and justice. Christians, therefore, do not
simply stand at the window to watch or protest, infected by the modern
culture of denouncing others, but they allow themselves to be converted
to build, in God, a new culture. This is true also for the Church's
members, both as individuals and groups.
I wish to end with a reflection on the concept of progress. Paul VI
this Encyclical also recalls
spoke about it in a succinct way ("Populorum Progressio," n. 21).
Unfortunately, human growth has often been conceived as independent from
the question of faith, as if human promotion is one thing, and the
proclamation of the faith another. In addition to unifying the two
dimensions, this document introduces a further element in the concept of
progress: hope (n. 34).
As Pope Benedict XVI stressed in "Spe Salvi," hope cannot be that of
progress constructed for well-being in this world (n. 30), since this
does not coincide with human freedom (nn. 23-24); the foundation of
Christian hope is the gift of God (n. 31). Hence, hope helps us not to
enclose progress in the edification of an earthly kingdom, but it opens
us to the gift: in God, we find the crowning of the desire for man's
good. It is always within this optic that the Church formulates social
doctrine and Christians find in it inspiration for their engagement in
Ladies and Gentlemen: There is great interest in this Encyclical. When
read well, Benedict XVI's text is a light for society and, last but not
least, for us Christians.