Saturday, July 18, 2009

Caritas In Veritate

It would be delinquent to continue blogging without mentioning the venerable and very wise Pope Benedict XVI. It's not only his visit with Obama but also the publication two weeks ago of his first social encyclical, Caritas In Veritate or Charity in Truth.

I do not claim to understand Pope Benedict's writings and I've only read at and about the encyclical. Two passages cited as central to the Pope's message in this encyclical are numbers 15 and 28. In No. 15, he cites the 'strong links between life ethics and social ethics. . . .' Pope Benedict goes on to quote from Pope John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae and writes that,

“a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized.”
In No. 28, the Pope discusses respect for life. He writes:

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.
Benedict was elected pope just three weeks after I was confirmed in the Catholic faith and just a few days after he, still Cardinal Ratzinger at that time, delivered a homily in which he minced no words in speaking of,

'a dictatorship of relativism . . that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the "I" and its whims as the ultimate measure.'
He went on to point out the flaw in modern relativist thought which labels faithfulness to the Church as fundamentalism but sees its own relativistic caroming about from one idea to the next as 'fashionable.'
Having received instruction in the faith in a liberal Catholic church, I despaired as a new Catholic about whether or not the Catholicism of the 21st century had any spine left to it. I was, then, joyfully reassured of the Church's truth and vitality when the same Cardinal Ratzinger who had named relativism for the fakery that it is, was elected pope only a day or so after that homily.

There are a few passages from my own first reading of Caritas in Veritate that I would like to cite. Here in number 52, Pope Benedict explains that truth doesn't come from men but only from God.

Truth, and the love which it reveals, cannot be produced: they can only be received as a gift. Their ultimate source is not, and cannot be, mankind, but only God, who is himself Truth and Love. . . . That which is prior to us and constitutes us — subsistent Love and Truth — shows us what goodness is, and in what our true happiness consists. It shows us the road to true development.
And in number 75, the Pope writes about the hypocrisy of present-day society towards issues of life and human dignity.

To the tragic and widespread scourge of abortion we may well have to add . . .the systematic eugenic programming of births. At the other end of the spectrum, a pro-euthanasia mindset is making inroads as an equally damaging assertion of control over life that under certain circumstances is deemed no longer worth living. . . . .How can we be surprised by the indifference shown towards situations of human degradation, when such indifference extends even to our attitude towards what is and is not human?

And again, the Pope leaves no stone unturned when he writes in number 51 about our current obsession with the environment while we simultaneously wave away concern for human life.

If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves.
The Pope presented Obama with a copy of Caritas In Veritate along with a copy of Dignitas Personae, a Vatican publication on bioethics. Obama commented that he'd have plenty of reading to do on his way to Ghana, but one has to wonder whether the prosaic and earth-bound Obama will take much away from his meeting with the learned and holy Pope, other than to extract all the political capital he can from the visit.

It's hard to believe that just a little over a year ago, President Bush (a great friend of the Pope according to our own Father Rutler, himself a frequent White House visitor during the Bush years) was greeting Benedict on the tarmac in Washington, D.C., hosting him in the nation's capital and genuinely endorsing the Pope's message to American Catholics. Obama is not much of a friend to faith of any kind let alone Catholicism, but despite his tenure in the White House there is hope. Not the sentimental, flaccid hope of Obama's sloganeering, but real hope, Christ Our Hope, the theme of Pope Benedict's visit to the United States, as you will most certainly recall.

The text of Caritas In Veritate:

The text of Cardinal Ratzinger's homily of April, 2005:


  1. Have you read the encyclical yet? It is a very interesting commentary on the social situation in the world,and comments on much more than just abortion. In fact,there are many parts where the pope's statements sound like they are pretty much in agreement with President Obamas,but "Caritas In Veritate" or Love in Truth, but this is a social encyclical. I've read most of what you've posted, and have read most of the source material you provide, so I assume that you are a pro-life activist. I am pro-life myself, but I don't read everything from a purely pro-life position - as this encyclical is not all about the sanctity of humn life, but more about socialjustice in the world. I agree with the pope that abortion os a social justice issue, but I also see that all social justice isn't about abortion, or the pro-life agenda.

    I'd like to know what you think after you read the encyclical. I think your opinion could be interesting, and I'd like to continue finding out more about what you think.

  2. Thanks for your comment and thanks for reading! I'm sorry I didn't see your comment sooner. You make a good point that the encyclical is about social issues and not about abortion. I was aware of that, but I guess the first analyses I read of the encyclical were from pro-life organizations and so I went with that perspective.

    I'm impressed that you've read the encyclical. I'll try it again, but I find the Pope's writings very abstruse. (I've just started reading Jesus of Nazareth for the third time and I'm finally going to attend a lecture series on it so I can finally finish the book.) Right now I'm reading an article in the October 2009 issue of First Things called 'What the pope's new encyclical means' by Douglas Farrow. Maybe it will give me a broader understanding of the encyclical and I'll be able to comment more intelligently.

    Finally, the term 'social justice' gets me a bit nervous. Maybe you're not using it in the way I think, but to me it conjures up the 60s and protests for fair housing, affirmative action, free education and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. And, in general, I think the Catholic Church in the U.S. takes a very shallow and left-leaning approach to social issues. Your take?