“Caritas in Veritate”–With Teeth

Pope Benedict XVI has issued a new encyclical, Caritas in veritate. Catholics are divided on whether he is leaning left or right (See the discussion being carried on at Acton, Commonweal, America, NCR, National Review, and GetReligion); the proper perspective is to see that Catholic social teaching incorporates principles of both the left and the right.

He does not see justice and charity as irreconcilable, nor does he suggest that charity is the church’s job and justice the state’s. Rather, he argues, charity requires justice:

Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is “his”, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting. I cannot “give” what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity[1], and intrinsic to it. Justice is the primary way of charity or, in Paul VI’s words, “the minimum measure” of it[2], an integral part of the love “in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18), to which Saint John exhorts us. On the one hand, charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples. It strives to build the earthly city according to law and justice. On the other hand, charity transcends justice and completes it in the logic of giving and forgiving[3]. The earthly city is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion. Charity always manifests God’s love in human relationships as well, it gives theological and salvific value to all commitment for justice in the world.

Thus the Catholic Church, while engaging in acts of charity, will also advocate for justice. This is the consistent affirmation of Catholic social teaching since Vatican 2, building upon a tradition going back to Leo XIII.

True to that tradition, he sees a role for international solutions to global problems, and suggests that the time has come to create a “world political authority” with “teeth” that “conforms to the moral order”:

67. In the face of the unrelenting growth of global interdependence, there is a strongly felt need, even in the midst of a global recession, for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth. One also senses the urgent need to find innovative ways of implementing the principle of the responsibility to protect[146] and of giving poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making. This seems necessary in order to arrive at a political, juridical and economic order which can increase and give direction to international cooperation for the development of all peoples in solidarity. To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago. Such an authority would need to be regulated by law, to observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, to seek to establish the common good[147], and to make a commitment to securing authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth. Furthermore, such an authority would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights[148]. Obviously it would have to have the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties, and also with the coordinated measures adopted in various international forums. Without this, despite the great progress accomplished in various sectors, international law would risk being conditioned by the balance of power among the strongest nations. The integral development of peoples and international cooperation require the establishment of a greater degree of international ordering, marked by subsidiarity, for the management of globalization[149]. They also require the construction of a social order that at last conforms to the moral order, to the interconnection between moral and social spheres, and to the link between politics and the economic and civil spheres, as envisaged by the Charter of the United Nations.

2 thoughts on ““Caritas in Veritate”–With Teeth

  1. I like the point you make that the Catholic Church teaches incorporating principles from the left and the right. The key is to keep these in balance and perspective. It is unfortunate when people predetermine that their own principles must always be either left or right. And of course when persons apply that lens or point of view in criticism of others without consideration of viable options.

  2. You are correct that the Catholic social teaching viewpoint is neither left nor right. However, I think it’s safe to say that it definitely rejects the Ayn Rand-type philosophy that some on the American Right claim to embrace (“going Galt” and all that).

    Oh, and thanks for deciding to keep up your commentary here. Always interesting.

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