Charity in Truth

Schall writes at Zenit ("Encyclical Reconnects Rights and Duties") and at The Catholic Thing:

After reading Caritas in Veritate, I said to myself that the general Catholic and world population has no idea of the brilliance of this pope. Of course, I said that when I finished Spe Salvi, Deus Caritas Est, Jesus of Nazareth, and about a zillion other writings by Pope Ratzinger. God must be amused that the brightest man of our time is the Pope of Rome.

Though I have always admired him, I have considered Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio to be the most nearly ideological of all papal social encyclicals. Caritas in Veritate, which commemorates Paul VI’s document forty years later, I must confess, regards it as one of the best. Aside from not touching on labor union corruption or the potential totalitarian nature of the ecology movement, this latest encyclical is simply great. While noting obvious problems, it is amazingly positive about business, its potential, varieties, and openness to ethics.

The proposal about a better world international institution goes back to Robert Maynard Hutchins and Jacques Maritain, to the Hague Conventions, to the League of Nations, and even the Holy Roman Empire. The pope defines the need for authority at a higher level, but with sufficient restrictions to prevent it from being either a world government or a tyranny. The American Founding Fathers probably were more concerned with the dangers of tyranny, as was Augustine. Our experience with how easy it is for international institutions to become ideological instruments needs great structural attention, especially if this international authority is armed to enforce itself.

But the heart of this encyclical is something else. It is a concise re-presentation of what a human person is in his relation to God, the earth, to another person, to the family, to what it is we are meant for, both in this world and in our eternal destiny. Everything belongs together, but in a coherent order. Catholicism remains quietly committed to doing what can be morally and ethically done at every level, even in the worst situations.

Benedict is eloquent on the defects of modernity, but also on its potential. Like Spe Salvi, which I think is a greater document, it places man within this world in such a way that he is not imprisoned within it. I particularly loved Benedict’s initial reminder that everything about us is gift-oriented. As he already indicated in Deus Caritas Est, every political and economic institution needs to be both just and open to what is more than justice.

The Trinitarian and relational understanding of being in this encyclical shows the relation between our head and our deeds. Thinking properly is a precondition to acting properly. Of course, Aquinas said this long ago, but it is nice to see it here. And this pope is a God-oriented person. He knows that what lies behind all our aberrations is what we think of God.

The genius of this document appears in its very title. No “charity” exists without “truth,” All truth leads to putting love in our being and in our world, but in the right order. “A Christianity of charity without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance” (#4). It needed to be said.

James V. Schall, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent book is The Mind That is Catholic.