Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived.” – Caritas in Veritate, no. 3.
Caritas in Veritate, "Charity in Truth," the title of Pope Benedict’s recent social encyclical, is the key the Holy Father presents our times in the turmoil of its societal and personal crises as well as in the aspiration found in its efforts at progress. Caritas in Veritate is the kind of encyclical that opens horizons and builds foundations for a fully-human worldview with which any Catholic may approach the world regardless of his profession or calling in life. Various readers of the encyclical have proposed interpretive keys to drive at the heart of Pope Benedict’s social doctrine. The interpretive key I use is unity, as throughout the encyclical, the Holy Father is calling us to re-integrate the seemingly disparate areas of our lives, societies, and thought patterns by way of charity in truth – charity as a participation in the movement toward God originating in him and truth as the ground of charity that ensures right relation to God and the created order. For example, as I will show in this article, the Holy Father is calling for a zeal for the unitive integrity of each human person in body and soul and the solidarity of all men and women within their communities and the human family in general. He also calls for the unity of the professional life of Catholic professionals with their Catholic faith, the unity within the Church of factions each championing a part of the truth, and an understanding of the unity of the social teaching of recent popes with one another and with the Tradition of the Church.
The Holy Father writes, "Charity in truth… is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every human person and of all humanity… It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth" (no. 1). This being the case, “practicing charity in truth helps people to understand that adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development” (no. 4). Here Pope Benedict shows that the whole order of creation is oriented towards a dynamic receptivity to God’s grace and a living out of the kingdom of God in one’s life and one’s interactions in society. As Pope Benedict taught earlier in Deus Caritas Est, charity is a supernatural gift in which we love God in and through our fellow man (no. 17). There the Holy Father spoke of love as “a single reality, but with different dimensions” ( no. 8), such that eros, a human ascending and self-interested love, can be transformed into agape, or descending ablative love – charity in the fuller sense, as in the theological virtue (no. 7). It seems that in Caritas in Veritate, the Holy Father is also calling for the integration of human loves in agape through cooperation with the grace of God and rooted in the truth without which it fades into mere sentiment (no. 3). Further, he is calling for this both on a personal and a societal level.
Charity in truth leads to human solidarity and to a striving for the common good of both local and global communities so that individuals may flourish. In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict draws at length from Pope Paul VI’s social encyclical Populorum Progressio, which taught that authentic human development is a calling from God for a response of the person in freedom to live out his life in and through authentic human solidarity. Thus the notion of the wholly “self-made man” is an inherent contradiction. A person becomes who God wants him to be by becoming a contributing member of the community in whatever capacity that might be – from the child with autism, whose contribution is largely to remind others of the need just to “be” and to “love,” to the Pope himself, part of whose calling is to write about such things in encyclicals to the Universal Church. The person lives out his calling as a member of the community, and likewise, the community has the responsibility for helping the individual become that contributing member. Human development is always linked to God and to the community, but as Pope Benedict warns, each person has to make the choice in freedom as to whether or not he accepts this call from God.
Today, people in the Church often rally either around either the pro-life cause or the social justice cause seemingly to the exclusion of the other, but Pope Benedict shows that life issues are close to the heart and foundation of the Church’s authentic social doctrine. The Holy Father writes that the pro-choice mentality introduces a new kind of poverty into developed countries and poisons the progress these societies are attempting on social issues. He writes, “Openness to life is at the center of true development. When a society moves towards 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). Thus he points out the social implications of Humanae Vitae and further encourages societies and governments to work holistically to support the needs and well-being of families in their openness to life. He teaches that “overpopulation” is not a problem – rather hearts, societies, and infrastructures must change so as to welcome life as an opportunity and not a burden.
Pope Benedict presents globalization as the salient issue of the present age of Internet and new patterns of international commerce. While some would see globalization as a negative phenomenon – especially for the Church and traditional values – Pope Benedict transcends a reactionary view by clarifying that the problem is not so much globalization itself but people’s responses to the new challenges it brings. His answer for globalization is “charity in truth.” Whereas the convergence of many cultures seems to encourage a kind of cultural relativism, the Holy Father urges us not to confuse cultures as if they were all alike. Cultures express and hand on an experience of values, and what we need to keep in mind in appreciating various cultures we come across is the structure of objective truth these values attempt to convey.
For the business world, globalization brings with it new opportunities for profit matched by new challenges in competition. Companies can now easily outsource jobs abroad when wages at home become comparatively higher, creating a job market in which workers can no longer expect to remain employed their whole life for a single company. Pope Benedict points out that this instability has a number of negative consequences for workers and families. He writes, “I would like to remind everyone… that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his integrity; ‘Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life” (no. 25). Thus the Holy Father encourages business people to explore business models which emphasize responsibility to “stakeholders” such as workers, customers, and the communities where the company does business, rather than only “shareholders” who have a monetary investment in the enterprise. This idea is growing to some extent in the private sector.
People often think that business and theology don’t mix – except that Christian business people are expected to be “honest business people.” But Pope Benedict shows that the connection goes much further than that – Christian business people are called to be agents for transforming society for Christ within the private and semi-private sector. Pope Benedict affirms the goodness of the free market, but also teaches about the need for its being guided both by relationships of solidarity as well as by state regulation because of the tendencies of fallen nature. Pope Benedict writes, “The Church’s social doctrine has always maintained that justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity, because this is always concerned with man and his needs. Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably has moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence” (no. 37).
With regard to public and private assistance, Pope Benedict reminds us of the principle of subsidiarity, which he says is “an expression of an inalienable human freedom” (no. 57). The principle teaches that as much as possible, assistance should come from an authority which is lowest and closest to the individual and local community. In fact, Pope Benedict even teaches that it is best if those receiving assistance can participate contributively and responsibly with that organization or community from which they are receiving. While he teaches that passively receiving assistance can be depressing and humiliating to the recipients, the aims of assistance programs should be to provide a support for recipients to reemerge as contributing participants of the community and in the economy.
In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict also speaks of our responsibility toward the environment, since God entrusted its care to Adam from the beginning and since he is reflected in his creation. But the Holy Father places environmental concern in its proper context in what he calls a “human ecology” (no. 51). Here, the environment is considered as man’s environment – as an integral part of the solidarity that brings about authentic human development. Understood in this way, Pope Benedict shows how environmental concerns – while important – are subordinated to those of man’s common good.
All this concern for man’s social well-being, however, must never lose sight of that fact that human development is a call before God – ultimately a call to Heaven, where human development be will ultimately complete. Thus, Pope Benedict writes, “Testimony to Christ’s charity, through works of justice, peace and development, is part and parcel of evangelization, because Jesus Christ, who loves us, is concerned with the whole person” (no. 15). Thus Mother Teresa was a model evangelizer, first witnessing to Christ’s holistic salvation and liberation by her concern for the poor in justice moved by charity, and also by her readiness to explain by her words the Source of this charity and the need to follow him.