Beyond Social Doctrine

Author: Brian Griffiths of Fforestfach

Beyond Social Doctrine

Brian Griffiths of Fforestfach
Vice-President of Goldman Sachs International

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.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
16 December 2009, page 12

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