During his general audience on July 8, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about his new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). Like Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Populorum Progressio, which was published 40 years ago, it addresses social themes vital to the well-being of mankind and reminds us that authentic renewal of both individuals and society requires living by Christ’s truth in love, which stands at the heart of the Church’s social teaching.
The encyclical, the Holy Father pointed out, does not aim to provide technical solutions to today’s social problems, but focuses instead on the principles indispensable for human development, especially the right to life and the right to religious freedom. It also warns against unbounded hope in technology alone and the need for upright men and women who are attentive to the common good in both politics and in the business world.
Dear brothers and sisters,
My latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, which was officially published July 7, was inspired in its fundamental vision by a passage from St. Paul to the Ephesians where he speaks about living the truth in love: “Living the truth in love,” as we just heard, “we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
Love in Truth
Love in truth, therefore, is the principal force behind the genuine development of every single person and of all mankind. For this reason, the entire social doctrine of the Church revolves around the principle of “charity in truth.” Only through love, illuminated by reason and by faith, is it possible to attain development goals that have humane and humanizing values.
Charity in truth “is the principle around which the Church’s social doctrine turns, a principle that takes on practical form in the criteria that govern moral action” (No. 6).
In the introduction, the encyclical points out early on two basic criteria: justice and the common good. Justice is an integral part of that love “in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18) to which the apostle John exhorts us (see No. 6).
“To love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it. Besides the good of the individual, there is a good that is linked to living in society.” The more effectively we love our neighbor, the more we strive to secure their common good. Therefore, there are two criteria at work, justice and the common good, and love acquires a social dimension through the latter. “Every Christian,” the encyclical says, “is called to practice this charity. … This is the institutional path … of charity” (see No. 7).
Like other documents of the magisterium, this encyclical re-examines and continues to deepen the Church’s analysis and reflection on social themes of vital interest to mankind in our century.
In a special way, it harks back to what Paul VI wrote more than 40 years ago in Populorum Progressio, a milestone of the Church’s social teaching in which this great Pope laid out some important ideas that are relevant even today for the integral development of man and for the modern world.
The situation in the world, as events of recent months have amply shown, continues to present grave problems and the “scandal” of obvious inequalities that persist despite efforts that have been made in the past.
On one hand, there are signs of serious social and economic imbalances; on the other hand, there are increasing calls for reforms that can no longer be postponed in order to bridge the gap in the development of peoples.
In this regard, the phenomenon of globalization can be a real opportunity, but in order for it to be so, it is important that it be guided by a profound moral and cultural renewal and by responsible discernment regarding the decisions that must be taken for the common good. A better future for all people is possible if it is grounded in the rediscovery of some fundamental ethical values.
For this to happen, a new economic plan is needed that will redesign this development in a global manner based on a fundamental ethic of responsibility before God and to the human being as God’s creature.
The Church’s Role
Of course, the encyclical does not seek to offer technical solutions to the vast social problems of the modern world. This is not within the authority of the magisterium of the Church (see No. 9).
However, the Church does recall those great principles that are indispensable for building human development during the coming years. Among these, first of all, are a concern for human life, seen as the center of all true progress; respect for the right to religious freedom, which is always closely connected with the development of mankind; and the rejection of a Promethean vision of man, which sees man as the sole architect of his own destiny.
Unlimited trust in the potential of technology will ultimately be an illusion. Upright men and women are needed, both in politics and in the economy, people with a sincere concern for the common good.
In particular, looking at the emergencies in the world, there is an urgent need to being to the attention of public opinion the tragedy of famine and the need for food security, which involves a considerable part of mankind.
A tragedy of this dimension is a challenge to our conscience: It must be faced decisively by eliminating the structural causes that produce it and by promoting agricultural development in the poorer nations.
I am sure that this path of solidarity towards the development of the poorer nations will help design a plan to solve the current global crisis. Undoubtedly, the role and the political power of nations must be carefully re-evaluated in an era when, in fact, there are limitations to their sovereignty because of the new international economic, commercial and financial context.
At the same time, citizens must participate in a responsible way in national and international politics, including a renewed commitment by workers’ associations that have a call to establish a new synergy at the local and international levels.
Social means of communication will play a frontline role in this regard by developing a dialogue among diverse cultures and traditions.
Therefore, out of a desire to have a development program that is not flawed by the dysfunction and the distortions that are so widespread today, everyone has a responsibility to reflect seriously on the very meaning of the economy and its goals.
The ecological health of our planet requires it; the cultural and moral crisis of mankind that is increasingly evident in every part of the globe demands it.
The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly. It needs to rediscover the important contribution of the principle of gratuitous giving and the “logic of giving” in the market economy, where profit cannot be the only rule.
But this is possible only through the commitment of all people — economists and politicians, producers and consumers — and presupposes a formation of consciences that give a priority to moral criteria when elaborating political and economic plans.
Many people have rightly called attention to the fact that rights presuppose corresponding duties without which rights would be transformed into free will.
As more and more people have noted, a different lifestyle is needed for all mankind, one in which each individual’s duties towards the environment are linked to his or her duties towards other human beings, both in relationship to themselves and in relationship to others.
Mankind is one family, and a fruitful dialogue between faith and reason can only enrich it, making it more effective in carrying out social charity and providing the appropriate framework for encouraging collaboration between believers and non-believers who share the prospect of working for justice and peace in the world.
Solidarity and Subsidiarity
As the guiding criteria for such fraternal interaction, I point out in my encyclical the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, which are closely related to each other.
Finally, as we face the vast and profound problems of today’s world, I indicate the need for a world political authority regulated by law that observes these principles of subsidiarity and solidarity and that is firmly directed towards attaining the common good while respecting the great moral and religious traditions of mankind.
The Gospel reminds us that man does not live by bread alone; it is not merely material goods that can satisfy the profound thirst in our hearts.
Man’s horizon is undoubtedly higher and broader. That is why every development program must consider, besides material growth, the spiritual growth of every human being, who has the gift of both body and soul.
This is the integral development to which the social doctrine of the Church always refers — a development whose governing criterion is the driving power of “love in truth.”
Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray that this encyclical may help mankind to feel as one single family, committed to creating a world of justice and peace.
Let us pray that those believers who work in the economic and political sectors may realize the importance of their consistent witness to the Gospel in their service to society.
In particular, I invite you to pray for the heads of state and government of the G8 who are meeting in L’Aquila. May this important world summit generate decisions and directives that serve the true progress of all peoples, especially those who are the poorest! We entrust these intentions to the maternal intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, and of mankind.