Matthew Bunson: Church Has One Social Doctrine

"Caritas in Veritate" Provides Synthesis of Old and New

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By Matthew Bunson

FORT WAYNE, Indiana, JULY 9, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI's encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" eloquently reiterates the coherence of Catholic social teaching, but it likewise makes manifest the essential links between truth and charity and the real world.

For the Holy Father, charity and truth are not abstract concepts, but must be seen for what they are, "the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity" (No. 1). In this concern, the Holy Father offers a remarkably bold reminder that human life must be at the center of that development.

"Caritas in Veritate" is splendidly faithful to all of the Church's social teachings on the human person's inviolable dignity as well as the transcendent value of natural moral norms. By quoting from every social encyclical since Leo XIII's "Rerum Novarum" in 1891, the Pontiff refutes any misinterpretations of Catholic social teaching that there are two functional typologies, one pre-conciliar and one post-conciliar. Rather, he quotes Pope John Paul II when he states firmly, "there is a single teaching, consistent and at the same time ever new" ("Sollicitudo Rei Socialis," 3). Expressing that sense of newness, "Caritas in Veritate" also offers considerable innovation in its prescription for the present global financial crises by highlighting the right to life in relation to genuine progress.

The Holy Father notes that economic development and humanitarian aid from the West are too often accompanied by the imposition of dehumanizing programs and exploitation of labor and natural resources, but they can also entail an obligation to embrace the same toxic reproductive and technological policies that are creating a demographic catastrophe in the first world.

Benedict XVI argues that not only does the culture of death inherently trample upon the dignity of the human person and responsible human freedom, it is bad economics because of the strains it places on social welfare systems and labor resources, not to mention the wider impoverishment of culture. The Pope writes, "Morally responsible openness to life represents a rich social and economic resource" (No. 28).

The encyclical makes the link "between life ethics and social ethics" (No. 15), especially in its tribute to the late Pope Paul VI's prophetic encyclicals "Populorum Progressio" (1967) and "Humanae Vitae" (1968). In "Populorum Progressio," Paul VI anticipated the problems that have attended globalization, and in "Humanae Vitae," he predicted with searing accuracy the long-term social effects of a contraceptive culture. Reflecting on both of these earlier documents, "Caritas in Veritate" proclaims that true development must encompass the rights of all human persons, including the unborn.

In his elegant synthesis of Catholic social thought and Catholic moral teachings, Benedict XVI has given the world a profound assessment of authentic human development. Part of that is fostering the culture of life. As Benedict XVI teaches, "Openness to life is at the center of true development. When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man's true good" (No. 28). This is a significant moment in Catholic social teaching, and the encyclical will be the source of fruitful reflection for many years to come.

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Matthew Bunson, who has a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Graduate Theological Foundation, is a senior fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. He is the author of more than 35 books, including "We Have a Pope, Benedict XVI," "The Encyclopedia of Catholic History," and "Papal Wisdom, Words of Hope and Inspiration from Pope John Paul II."