Archive for the ‘magisterium’ Category

Is Caritas in Veritate poorly written? (updated)

July 18, 2009

Peter Steinfels has a piece about Caritas in Veritate in yesterday’s New York Times.  He basically asks the question, Why is the thing so hard to read?  Actually, Steinfels asks why it’s “so poorly written.”

Working busily on a companion guide to the thing, I had asked this question myself already (and commented on the fact here), though I guess I was thinking more that it was hard reading than poor writing (but I can live putting it either way).  My basic answer has been: it’s the subject matter.  Reading about economics and business ethics is just not as much of a grabber (to me anyway) as the Eucharist and the value of human life.  But I suppose that only goes so far.  Let’s face it, Populorum Progressio is not as difficult. Maybe it is more than the fact that it’s a hard topic.

Steinfels suggests three answers: 1. It’s an encyclical.  (Not a good answer, because this one is obviously more difficult than most.)  2. It’s the work of many hands.  (Not a good answer, because so are most encyclicals — as he acknowledges.)  3.) The Pope tries to cover too much ground.  As Steinfels puts it:

“Caritas in Veritate” is a document about human nature and the Trinity and the current economic crisis and inequality and the energy problem. It argues a link between Catholic teaching on sexuality and life issues like abortion and Catholic stances on social issues like poverty and the environment.

It carries on an internal Catholic debate about continuity versus discontinuity in interpreting church teaching. It even offers a tantalizing glimpse at a new variation on markets, profits and the relationships between economics and politics.

This seems to make the most sense of the three, I guess.  But even with this, some good rewriting and editing could have solved a lot.  I know in my own work, once I’ve written something, I need to stop, step away (at least mentally, though literally getting away from it for a few days  is better) and then almost sneak up on it, approach it as a reader who has never seen it before.  Is it clear, understandable, interesting, etc, to someone who’s not in my own head? (And that, of course, is why blogging is generally not a forum for stellar writing.  We write the first draft and publish at the click of a button!)

It seems like this is the step that was missing in the drafting of CiV.  I doesn’t seem like they asked themselves, Are the people — remember, it’s not addressed only to bishops or theologians, but “all people of good will” — going to be able to get this?

Anyway, Jody Bottum, whose work I admire, suggests at the First Things blog that Steinfels’ asking this question is akin to George Wiegel’s earlier criticisms.   But that’s disingenuous.  Weigel, of course, was not “pilloried” (as he puts it) because he said the encyclical is poorly written.  Rather, he used this fact as an excuse to suggest readers could disregard major sections of it as not worth our attention.  There’s a big difference there.

UPDATE: Someone has now put it all far better than I did in the comments to the post — second one down.  Well said, Mr. Martens


Weighty Praise

July 15, 2009

Caritas in Veritate “is without doubt the most articulate, comprehensive and thoughtful response to the financial crisis that has yet appeared.”

Says who?  A Goldman-Sachs exec.

And he says more:

[I]t makes the [British] Government’s White Paper on financial reforms published two days later look embarrassingly one-dimensional and colourless.


Pope Benedict’s words are not just platitudes. They affect every person at work every day.

That last bit contra the suggestion that there are some encyclicals that the regular folks just don’t need to bother with. 

And he does more than speak in broad praise.  He identifies “six major ways to make global capitalism more human,” as suggested by CiV.

Check out the whole article.  Brian Saint-Paul at the Ignatius Insight blog pointed it out.

Digging in

July 7, 2009

You know by now that Pope Benedict’s third encyclical, Caritas in Veritatis, appeared today.  It’s an interesting and sometimes difficult read.  I read through it today and look forward to spending some quality time with the letter in the days and weeks ahead. 

I also got a chance to peruse some of the commentary that’s already floating around the web.  I found these four in particular worth a look.  Of course, there’s probably some other good stuff out there that I’ve missed.

James Martin, SJ

John L. Allen, Jr.

George Weigel

reaction to George Weigel

The piece by Weigel (whose work I usually enjoy) was the very first one I found today.  My first reaction was to feel a bit of resentment at Weigel’s suggestion that he (and a few degreed Vaticanologists) know which sections of the new encyclical (or any encyclical) I should really pay attention to and which parts I can safely ignore because they were included so that the Pope could keep the peace in the offices at the Vatican.  The way Weigel casts doubt on sections of the encyclical that he clearly would prefer not to see in there is worth at least the raising of a dubious eyebrow.  But that fourth link I’ve provided above articulates this with such sharp wit — I laughed out loud in front of my screen several times.  (And one of the comments to the post made me chuckle, too:  “I think this may be the first time the historical-critical method has been used to tease out the “real” meaning of a religious document on the very day it was published.”) 

(UPDATE: Another strong reaction to the Weigel piece here.  The comments to it are also worth looking at.)

(UPDATE 2: Whoa. There is no shortage of people voicing their disappointment with George Weigel’s NRO piece.)

Of course, there’s no substitute for reading the encyclical itself.  Like so much of Benedict’s work, though, it’s not always easy reading.  (With this in mind, Pauline Books will soon be publishing my Your Guide to Caritas in Veritate: Charity in the Truth.  Keep an eye out.)

CiV Backgrounder

July 1, 2009

Today the Vatican officially set a publication date for Caritas in Veritate: Tuesday, July 7, at 11:30 am. 

CNS’s Carol Glatz has a good backgrounder today.  It includes a good explanation of Catholic Social Teaching and the encyclicals that have expressed it:

Instead of focusing on theological beliefs, the social encyclicals written by most modern-day popes have tried to shape the way Christians and all people of good will can better serve the common good. Each social encyclical was unique in that it sought to respond to the most pressing social realities at the time.

Also a good summary of the social encyclicals of the past 100+ years.   It’s important, because it’s the context within which this encyclical falls.

(Sidenote: I’m happy to see Evangelium Vitae included in the list of social encyclicals.  It’s often not, but I always do when I teach on the topic of CST.  It highlights that the abortion issue is a human rights issue, not simply a religious one.)

He Signed It

June 29, 2009

Sts-Peter-and-PaulThe Pope announced today (during his brief address following the praying of the Angelus, which followed the tradition pallium Mass for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul) that he has signed Caritas in Veritate.  The encyclical, Pope Benedict’s third, will be released to the public on July 6 or 7 (an Italian paper, Corriere della Serra, reports). 

The long-awaited document will be the latest installment in the Church’s rich tradition of applying moral principles to various social issues.  Collectively, this is known as Catholic Social Teaching

The report in Corriere della Serra includes a peek at few paragraphs of the new encyclical.  A clip from the CNA report, taking off from the CdS report:

According to the Pope, the current crisis has been sparked by “a deficit of ethics in the economic structures.” A reform of the current system, therefore, will require “a common code” based on “the truth from both faith and reason,” capable of providing “the light through which the human intelligence arrives at natural and supernatural truth of charity.”

Vecchi claims that the Pope will recall the “social responsibility of private companies,” but also underscore that “true development is impossible without honest men, without financial operators and politicians who strongly feel in their own consciences the call to [serve] the common good.”

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ll be preparing a study companion to the document, to be published by Pauline Books and Media, along the lines of my Your Guide to Spe Salvi: Saved in Hope.  To make the companion to the new encyclical as timely as possible, we’ve already done the preparatory paperwork on the project (truth be told, it’s been done for over a year — that offers an illustration of how long the publication of this encyclical has been on the horizon!) and I’ve agreed to turn in a completed manuscipt in about a month.  (Thank heavens I’m on summer vacation from work.)

Can’t wait to dive in!

(Thanks to Whispers for pointing out the news.)

Caritas in Veritate – coming next week?

June 24, 2009

Magister also reports that it looks like the Pope’s next encyclical will be signed by him next week.

A preview of the encyclical to come

March 8, 2009

Just how long the next papal encyclical has been anticipated as “coming soon” is illustrated by the fact that I reached an agreement a year ago with Pauline Books and Media regarding a study companion for the thing, along the lines of what we’ve done with Your Guide to Spe Salvi: Saved in Hope and two other companions to two other papal documents.  At the time, I expected that project to be the major one I’d be working on during summer ’08.  But summer ’08 came and went, and so did fall, and ….

Pope Benedict recently mentioned the long-awaited encyclical, which will be on some facet of Catholic Social Teaching, in a question and answer session with the priest of the diocese of Rome.   (The transcript of the entire session is here.)  His response to the question offers a dramatic look into what will likely be ideas more fully developed in the encyclical itself.  And frankly, it looks to me like it will be a blockbuster.  Take a look at the entire question as it was presented to the Pope, and the Pope’s full answer.  The bold is my own emphasis on especially interesting parts.


Holy Father, I am Fr. Giampiero Ialongo, one of the many pastors who performs his role on the periphery of Rome, physically at Torre Angela, on the border with Torbellamonaca, Borghesina, Borgata Finocchio, Colle Prenestino. These are peripheries which are often forgotten and ignored by other institutions. I’m happy that this afternoon we have been joined by the president of the municipality: we’ll see what might come from this meeting. Perhaps more than other zones of our city, our peripheries feel the pain of the international economic crisis, which is beginning to weigh on the concrete conditions of life for many families. In the form of the parish-level Caritas, but also the diocesan Caritas, we carry on many initiatives that are first of all, sometimes, a matter of listening, but also of material help, concrete help, for those who – without distinction of race, culture or religion – come to us. Despite all that, we are ever more aware that we’re facing a real and true emergency. It seems to me that many people, too many people – not only the retired, but also those who have a regular job with an indefinite contract – are facing enormous difficulties in making ends meet for their families. ‘Living packets,’ like we offer, which offer a little bit of support for paying the bills or the rent, can be of help, but I don’t believe they’re a solution. I’m convinced that as a Church, we must ask ourselves what more we can do. Even more, we must ask about the causes that have led to this generalized situation of crisis. We must have the courage to denounce an economic and financial system that’s unjust at its roots. I don’t believe that, in light of the inequalities introduced by this system, a little bit of optimism is enough. What’s needed is an authoritative word, a free word, that can help Christians – as you, Holy Father, in a certain sense already have said – use the goods which God has given us with evangelical wisdom and responsibility, goods given not just for a few but for all. I’m hoping to hear such a word from you now, just as we’ve heard from you before. Thank you, Holiness!


I would distinguish two levels. The first is the level of the macro-economy, which realizes itself and extends to the last citizen, who feels the consequences of a mistaken foundation. Naturally, it’s the duty of the Church to denounce this. As you know, I’ve been preparing an encyclical on these points for a long time. Along the way, I’ve come to see how difficult it is to speak with competence, because if a given economic reality isn’t confronted competently, [the treatment] won’t be credible. On the other hand, it’s also important to speak with deep ethical awareness – let’s say, a conscience created by, and awakened in, the Gospel. Hence, it’s essential to denounce the fundamental errors now revealed in the collapse of the great American banks, the errors which lie at the bottom. In the end, it’s a question of human avarice in the form of sin, or, as the Letter to the Colossians says, avarice as idolatry. We must denounce this idolatry which stands against the true God, and the falsification of the image of God with another God, which is ‘mammon.’ We must do so with courage, but also with concreteness. Great moralisms don’t help if they’re not given substance through awareness of the reality, an awareness which helps indicate what can slowly be done to change the situation. Naturally, to do that requires the understanding of this truth and the good will of all.

Here we come to the hard part: Does original sin really exist? If it doesn’t exist, we can simply appeal to the light of reason, with arguments that are accessible and incontestable to everyone, and appeal to the good will that exists in everyone. If there’s no original sin, we can simply go forward and reform humanity. But that’s not how it is: reason, including our reason, is obscured, and we see that every day. Egotism, the root of avarice, stands in the desire to have me for myself, and the world for myself. It exists in all of us. This is the obscuring of reason: our reasoning can be quite subtle, with beautiful scientific arguments, but it’s still obscured by false premises. Thus, we move with great intelligence and great steps forward down a mistaken path. Also our will is, let’s say, ‘bent,’ as the Fathers say: it’s not simply inclined to do the good, but it seeks above all its own good or that of its group. Thus to really find the path of reason, true reason, is no easy thing, and it’s developed only with difficulty in dialogue. Without the light of faith, which enters into the darkness of original sin, reason cannot move forward. Faith, however, runs into the resistance of our will. Our will doesn’t want to see the path, which would also represent a path of self-denial and a correction of our own desires in favor of others.

For this reason, I would say, what’s needed is a reasonable and reasoned denunciation of errors, not with sweeping moralisms, but with concrete arguments that are comprehensible in the world of today’s economy. The denunciation of these errors is important, it’s always been part of the Church’s mandate. We know that in the new situation created with the industrial world, the social doctrine of the Church, beginning with Leo XIII, tried to offer these denunciations – and not just denunciations, which are never sufficient, but also to indicate the hard paths upon which, step by step, the assent of both reason and will can be obtained, along with the correction of my conscience, in order to deny myself in a certain sense and to be able to collaborate with that which is the true scope of human life, of humanity.

That said, the Church always has the duty to be vigilant, to seek with its best efforts to understand the logic of the economic world, to enter into this reasoning and to illuminate it with the faith that liberates us from the egoism of original sin. It’s the duty of the Church to enter into this discernment, into this reasoning, to make itself heard, including at the different national and international levels, in order to help and to correct. This is not an easy task, because so many personal interests and national groups are opposed to a radical correction. Maybe it’s pessimism, but to me it seems like realism: as long as there’s original sin, we will never arrive at a radical and total solution. However, we have to do everything we can on behalf of at least provisional solutions, solutions sufficient to allow humanity to live and to prevent the domination of the egoism which presents itself under the pretext of science and the national and international economy.

This is the first level. The other is to be realists, to see that these great aims of macro-science are never realized in micro-science – the macro-economy in the micro-economy – without the conversion of hearts. Where there aren’t just people, there is no justice. We have to accept this. For that reason, education in justice is a priority, perhaps we could say ‘the’ priority. St. Paul says that justification is the effect of the work of Christ. It’s not an abstract concept, regarding sins that no longer concern us today, but it refers precisely to integral justice. God alone can give it to us, but he offers it only with our cooperation on diverse levels, on all the levels possible.

Justice cannot be created in the world solely through good economic models, however necessary those are. Justice is created only where there are just people. There cannot be just people without a humble, daily work of conversion of hearts, or creating justice in hearts. Only thus does corrective justice spread itself. In this sense, the work of the pastor is fundamental, not only for the parish, but for humanity. As I’ve said, without just people, the concept of justice remains an abstraction. Good structures can’t be developed if they’re opposed by egoism, including that of competent people.

This work of ours, humble, daily, is fundamental in order to reach the great aims of humanity. We have to work together on all levels. The universal Church must denounce, but it also has to suggest what can be done and how to do it. The episcopal conferences and the bishops must act. But all of us together must educate about justice. The dialogue of Abraham with God (Genesis 18:22-33) seems to me still true and realistic, when Abraham says: Are you truly going to destroy the city? Maybe there are fifty just people, maybe there are ten, and ten just people are enough the city to survive. On the other hand, if the ten just people are missing, even with all the economic doctrine, society cannot survive. Hence we have to do what it takes to educate, to ensure that there are at least ten just people … but if possible, many more. With our proclamation, let’s act so that there are many just people, and therefore that there may be justice in the world.

In effect, these two levels are inseparable. If, on the one hand, we don’t proclaim macro-justice, then micro-justice won’t grow. But on the other hand, if we don’t do our very humble work of micro-justice, then macro-justice won’t grow either. And always, as I said in my first encyclical, despite all the systems that can grow in the world, and beyond the justice that we seek, charity always remains necessary. To open hearts to justice and to charity is to educate in the faith, it’s to guide people to God.

This immediately reminded me, by the way, of a recent and very insightful post over at the First Things blog.  Check out Hunter Baker’s “Evangelicals and Economics: Reflections of a Conservative Protestant.”

Apostolic Letter on John Duns Scotus

December 20, 2008

Today, the Vatican released a brief apostolic letter by Pope Benedict XVI (though it is date October 18, 2008), marking the 700th anniversary of the death of Blessed John Duns Scotus.  Scotus, a Franciscan friar, was one of the most important philosophers of the Middle Ages. 

The Pope’s letter is not addressed to the whole Church, but rather to Cardinal Joachim Meisner and the participants in an international congress that took place last month in Cologne, Germany (Meisner’s see city), marking the occasion.

The Vatican news service page does not specify an official title, but I suppose it’s Laetare, Colonia urbs, which is “Rejoice, city of Cologne.”  (The titles are generally the first two or three words of the Latin version.) 

In the letter, Pope Benedict praises Scotus for emphasizing the harmony between faith and reason, for his fidelity to the Church’s magisterium, and for anticipating the Church’s teaching on the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  It is, however, available only in Latin and Italian at this point. (It seems odd that’s it’s not in German, too, given the group it’s addressed to.) 

John Duns Scotus was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1993. 

Interestingly, though, there are some reliable voices who point to Scotus as the source of contemporary Western society’s cultural and philosophical woes.  Pope Benedict himself makes an attempt to get to the root of these woes in his encyclical Spe Salvi (see the section that begins with article 16).  He starts with Francis Bacon, the British 16th/17th century scientist-philosopher.  Robert Barron, in his extraordinary book The Priority of Christ, is an example of one who traces things back a bit farther, to John Duns Scotus’ revision of Thomas Aquinas’ conception of what being is all about.

Blessed John Duns Scotus, pray for us.

UPDATE: An article on the letter from the Congregation Propaganda Fides is here, and one from Zenit here.

“The Dignity of the Person”

December 13, 2008

Dignitas Personae, a new document on bioethics was released yesterday from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  (Its title, which comes from the document’s opening phase, “the dignity of the person,” is not to be confused with Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s landmark 1965 Declaration on Religious Freedom — the opening phrase of which is “the dignity of the human person.”)

The full text is here (in .pdf form), and a helpful Q & A (also in .pdf form) released with it is here.  Beyond that, I’d refer you to Thomas Peters at American Papist for some interesting links on the document and the initial coverage it has received in the press.

It is a highly technical document that touches on topics that include cloning, embryo adoption, and “Altered Nuclear Transfer.”  Yikes.  Certainly much of it is directed to specialists in moral theology and Catholics (as well as, as the document puts it, “all who seek the truth”) who become interested in such questions because of specific circumstances of their own lives.

But I think the conclusion is especially well-written and worth some reflection by just about anyone.  That’s the section I’ll take a look at with my own eleventh grade Religion students (the topic of the year is, after all, morality) this coming week.

Fr. Twomey on Spe Salvi

December 6, 2008

There’s an interesting clip from a Vatican Radio interview with Fr. Vincent Twomey, talking about Spe Salvi on the first anniversary of its release, here.  Only about 2 minutes long;  I wish they included the full-length interview.