The start of the new FIRST THINGS symposium on CIV reminded me that I had completely neglected to post here editor Joseph Bottum's 'First Thoughts' about the encyclical, which he ran as a running blog in 11 installments on July 7 and 8.
In hindsight, the idea of doing a running blog on the encyclical while reading it through for the first time was not a good one - it ended up getting mired in real-time rendering of minutiae and out-of-place nitpicking. Indeed, it is almost a deconstruction of the text. I am posting it anyway for the record.
First thoughts on 'Caritas in Veritate'
by Josaph Bottum
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The first thing to ask about Caritas in Veritate
, Charity in Truth, is why the 'in truth'? [One would almost think Bottum chooses to ignore the reference to St. Paul's 'truth in charity'!]
“Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine,” the second paragraph of the new encyclical declares, to no surprise, at all: What else could a Christian account of the social realm possibly take as its theme?
But the in Veritate
part, that’s the kicker. Not that any Catholic Pontiff would deny that Christ’s lesson of love — “love one another as I have loved you” — doesn’t occur in a structure of truth.
Leave it to Benedict, however, to move that theme of truth to the center of his account of Christian love in the social order. In this sense, the new encyclical is in line with all of Benedict’s earlier work on relativism and reason.
The role of reason remains central through the opening of the encyclical:
Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite.
Truth frees charity from the constraints of an emotionalism that deprives it of relational and social content, and of a fideism that deprives it of human and universal breathing-space. . . .
In the present social and cultural context, where there is a widespread tendency to relativize truth, practising charity in truth helps people to understand that adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development.
And yet, Benedict continues,
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. In other words, there would no longer be any real place for God in the world.
Without truth, charity is confined to a narrow field devoid of relations. It is excluded from the plans and processes of promoting human development of universal range, in dialogue between knowledge and praxis.
This is less clear, perhaps, than it should be. The suggestion that charity can live in any form as “helpful for social cohesion” but without “any real place for God in the world” — surely that is exactly what the anti-Christian atheist believes and desires.
And if it is helpful for social cohesion, then how is it “confined to a narrow field devoid of relations”? Social cohesion is a relation, isn’t it?
[So early in his critique, Bottum is already nitpicking and already confused. He is describing precisely the kind of charity without truth that the Pope finds irrelevant. The charity Bottum describes as 'confined' - even if it may be 'useful for social cohesion' - is charity without truth, because 'devoid of relations', which clearly refers to relations with God, which alone enables our right relation with our fellowmen.]
The argument is probably best understood
if we turn the paragraph upside down. [Bottum is proposing to recast the paragraph in question, which he does, but the concept was just as well expressed in the Pope's formulation!]
Begin with the thought that human development appears these days driven entirely by scientific and technological advances (knowledge) as influencing and influenced by economic, political, and social uses of that knowledge (praxis).
Charity doesn’t cease to exist in such a world — but it ceases to have any real place in human development. It becomes simply an indulgence, a sentiment, and a malleable emotion that can be turned to any number of dubious purposes. Love must be the third partner in the dialogue that is human history.
In paragraphs 5 and 6 comes the turn: “Development, social well-being, the search for a satisfactory solution to the grave socio-economic problems besetting humanity, all need this truth. What they need even more is that this truth should be loved and demonstrated.”
We need to see the truth of God’s love in the order of the world, and we need to demonstrate that truth, which is another name for charity. And, with that connection, we’re off to the central concepts necessary to take up the social concerns of the encyclical: justice and the common good.
Charity both demands justice and transcends it. Justice is the first order of truth, and those who fail at upholding truth will fail at justice.
But charity, too, is true: “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.”
Here I wish Benedict had devoted more space to the interaction of justice and charity, for that interaction is central to his theme of love and truth. [The concept was well treated already in part 2 of Deus caritas est.]
Abandoning the idea of justice in the name of charity, imagining that love somehow abolishes truth, leaves charity meaningless and ineffective. It is love in truth to which we are called.
The second concept necessary for the encyclical’s argument is the common good: “To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity.” Benedict continues:
Every Christian is called to practise this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis. This is the institutional path — we might also call it the political path — of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbour directly.
Whew. This is a hard saying
. ['A hard saying'?] “No less excellent”? The politician wheeling and dealing to pass AIDS legislation is enacting charity as excellently as the nun emptying bedpans at an AIDS hospice?
[I understood the Pope to mean 'institutional' here in terms of Catholic institutions performing charity - like Caritas, etc. - and even genuine philanthropies, not politicians' PR ploys!]
The political path is more important, perhaps, in terms of absolute numbers helped, but it surely seems less heroic — which is to say, in the order of virtue, less excellent.
Now, there is work for everyone in their station, and the politician can do genuine good, manifesting charity in truth, for the social order is real and needs to be shaped by God’s truth. And that, perhaps, is what the encyclical is aiming at
. [What an odd comment to make about a papal text!]
But what we have here is the first example of what strikes me throughout the encyclical: a trust in political institutions and even a naiveté about them.
The cause for this wishful hope in institutions quickly appears: “In an increasingly globalized society, the common good and the effort to obtain it cannot fail to assume the dimensions of the whole human family, that is to say, the community of peoples and nations.” [Does a 'cause' for hope need to be found?]
But this, too, risks being naive. The world’s current situation is unique in the sense that every new situation is unique: 1939 was, too, and 1914, and all the rest, each demanding their particular appreciation. [But the Pope is addresssing the unique situation of 2008-2009. He's not referring to other eras!]
But the great boon of Catholicism to the world is that it can also stand outside the ebbs and flows of history to see that human nature —the truth in which love appears — remains unchanged from age to age.
[Gee thanks! Benedict does not see that, does he? ROLLING MY EYEBALLS IN DISBELIEF.]
The surprise of the encyclical is the praise of Paul VI, whose Populorum Progressio
deserves to be considered ‘the Rerum Novarum
of the present age,’ shedding light upon humanity’s journey towards unity.”
Love in truth, says Benedict, “is a great challenge for the Church in a world that is becoming progressively and pervasively globalized. The risk for our time is that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development.”
Here we find the Pope’s great worry: At precisely the moment for the world’s great evangelization and the great manifestation of love, the devices by which the world has been prepared — economic and technological — are excluding the charity and denying the truth that “judge and direct” human development. [Speaking of clunky language...]
“The Church does not have technical solutions to offer and does not claim ‘to interfere in any way in the politics of States,’” the encyclical notes. “She does, however, have a mission of truth to accomplish, in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation.”
The introduction, these first nine paragraphs, have to be taken as the key to reading the encyclical. George Weigel notes the way the bulk of the encyclical exhibits various fragments of Catholics’ differing views of social virtues, but keeping in mind the introduction to the encyclical — remembering that it is not throat-clearing but the key to understanding what follows — may allow the reader to see the Pope’s over-arching intention. [DUH! There's a reason it's called the Introduction.]
In Chapter 1, paragraphs 10 through 20, Benedict takes up Paul VI’s forty-year-old encyclical letter, Populorum Progressio
. George Weigel notes the long hunger among some more left-leaning Catholics to revive Paul VI’s work and pit it against the economics implied in John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus
If so, they got what the wanted with the unstinting praise of Populorum Progressio
, but that praise is studded with some passages that act as brakes on too expansive a reading of Benedict’s [Paul VI'S!] work.
The Pope insists, as part of his demand for truth, that the Church “has a public role over and above her charitable and educational activities: all the energy she brings to the advancement of humanity and of universal fraternity is manifested when she is able to operate in a climate of freedom. In not a few cases, that freedom is impeded by prohibitions and persecutions, or it is limited when the Church’s public presence is reduced to her charitable activities alone.”
And he warns, in the context of reading Populorum Progressio
In the course of history, it was often maintained that the creation of institutions was sufficient to guarantee the fulfilment of humanity’s right to development.
Unfortunately, too much confidence was placed in those institutions, as if they were able to deliver the desired objective automatically. In reality, institutions by themselves are not enough, because integral human development is primarily a vocation, and therefore it involves a free assumption of responsibility in solidarity on the part of everyone.
Moreover, such development requires a transcendent vision of the person, it needs God: without him, development is either denied, or entrusted exclusively to man, who falls into the trap of thinking he can bring about his own salvation, and ends up promoting a dehumanized form of development.
, the Pope notes, “repeatedly underlines the urgent need for reform, and in the face of great problems of injustice in the development of peoples, it calls for courageous action to be taken without delay.” That’s the segue to Chapter 2 of the encyclical, and it is not as promising as it might be.
Ask yourself this: Was Populorum Progressio
a success or a failure? Was “the urgent need for reform” met or disregarded? The encyclical is forty years old, after all. We should know by now what its results were.
On the one hand, world poverty is massively less than it was forty years ago. With the economic improvement for China’s 1 billion people, it could hardly not be, but many other areas of the world have greatly improved as well.
Then, too, the fall of Eastern European communism has occurred in those forty years, again marking a great (if unstable) improvement in freedom and social conditions. So how much of this success came from our following the vision of Populorum Progressio
On the other hand, in the last forty years, AIDS has devastated Africa. South America and Asia have seen great improvement, but much of that improvement has served only to increase the gap between the rich and the poor — a gap that was already horrifying in Paul VI’s time. And how much of this failure came from our not following the vision of Populorum Progressio
In Benedict’s account — a correct one, I think — Populorum Progressio
was prophetic when it saw that the economic relation need not make a fraternal relation, and that the world needed to recommit itself to the Divine.
But Populorum Progressio
was far less prophetic when read as an account of the economic changes the world would undergo over the forty years after its release.
[Not that it was ever intended to do that! It's one thing for a Pope to project a spiritual climate in the foreseeable future, in the light of present conditions, but it is hardly his place to project economic changes that will take place. As we have seen, even economists themselves were unable to forecast the crisis that overwhelmed the world last year!]
And it is precisely to this question of the prophetic power of Populorum Progressio
that Benedict turns in Chapter 2, paragraphs 21 through 33: “After so many years, as we observe with concern the developments and perspectives of the succession of crises that afflict the world today, we ask to what extent Paul VI’s expectations have been fulfilled by the model of development adopted in recent decades.”
The conclusion is, interestingly, that Paul did not get it right as he looked ahead: “All this leads us today to reflect on the measures that would be necessary to provide a solution to problems that are not only new in comparison to those addressed by Pope Paul VI, but also, and above all, of decisive impact upon the present and future good of humanity.”
“assigned a central, albeit not exclusive, role to ‘public authorities,’” Benedict points out, but the nations have declined in importance since then.
This suggests, he notes, that we should move toward further empowering of authorities: “Once the role of public authorities has been more clearly defined, one could foresee an increase in the new forms of political participation, nationally and internationally, that have come about through the activity of organizations operating in civil society.”
The phrasing here is delicate, “one could foresee,” so perhaps we shouldn’t lean on it too much. But how, exactly, does a recognition that national authorities have declined lead us to the conclusion that organizations should increase? [Could, not should! Bottum is not following the logic of the statements made: "Once the role of public authorities is more clearly defined [in the new globalized order], one could foresee an increase in the new forms of political participation..."]
The hint here is world government, a note that is echoed elsewhere in the document.
We start to see here, as well, the back-and-forth nature of the document.
[I am disturbed that commentators like Michael Novak and Joseph Bottom see this 'back-and-forth' as a questionable device. I see it simply as a prudent accounting of pros and cons for both sides of an argument - 'left' and 'right', if you will, as they insist on seeing it.]
Paragraph 25 is something of a laundry list of typically left-leaning social-justice topics: global markets, outsourced production, downsizing social security, budgetary policies, weakening trade unions, and mobility of labor.
But paragraph 26 tacks in a conservative direction, with its talk of the dangers of cultural relativism and electicism, returning to the theme of truth with which the encyclical began.
And then paragraph 27 tacks back toward leftist economics, with its talk of “eliminating the structural causes” and its hints of debt forgiveness and farming that is somehow both “respectful of the environment and attentive to the needs of the most deprived peoples.”
But then paragraph 28 tacks suddenly back to the right with its powerful attack on abortion and on the “non-governmental organizations” that “work actively to spread abortion.”
From paragraph 29 to paragraph 31, Benedict returns to his central theme of love in truth: the necessity of charity to keep human development alive, and the necessity that such charity appear in a context of truth.
The point is philosophically profound and worth the investigation that Benedict gives it — but why does the encyclical follow it with such goo as “The significant new elements in the picture of the development of peoples today in many cases demand new solutions”? (Those are the text’s own italics, which makes it even gooier: not just new solutions but new solutions
[I must admit I am perplexed by the choice of some of the sentences italicized for emphasis in the original text.]
Benedict is willing to condemn the African thugocracies: “grave irresponsibility within the very countries that have achieved independence.” [He already did so in more specific terms during his trip to Africa.]
But he returns at the chapter’s end — as he does again and again throughout the encyclical — to the dangers posed by what he considers the radically new nature of globalization.
The more central question that Chapter 2 leaves us, however, comes from the chapter’s back-and-forth movement. Can a cultural conservatism and an economic leftism actually be joined into a coherent system
? Philosophically, they are miles apart — but that’s nothing compared to the light-years they are apart at the level of political practice.
[But brushing aside any attempt at synthesis is thinking exclusively in terms of ideological bias, when the Pope's obvious direction is supra-ideological, transcending these artificial divisions - admittedly a quixotic aspiration, given what human nature is, but nonetheless legitimate in terms of Christian aspirations.]
And, unfortunately for the document’s likely effect, it is precisely on the level of political practice that Benedict hopes to move us.
[I don't know that Popes think their encyclicals will necessarily 'move' political practices one way or the other! Encyclicals are teaching documents that enunciate general principles, above all - documenting, as it were, a contemporary restatement of a specific aspect of Christian doctrine, setting it down for the record.
Since most national and international authorities who are in a position to do anything practical in the grand scheme of things are not even all Christian, it is a stretch to think that Popes - least of all someone who knows the world as well as Benedict XVI has shown he has - really expect their encyclicals to lead to some immediate practical results!
The strength of an encyclical is in the power of its core ideas - what it will be remembered for. Benedict XVI has been very astute in his choice of titles for his encyclicals so that they state his core message.
Rerum novarum (Of new things), Populorum progressio (On the progress of peoples), Sollicitudo rei socialis (Concern for social issues), Centesimus annus (On the 100th year) - these are all simply descriptive titles that do not spell out the message of the encyclicals named.
Benedict's encyclical titles spell out his message up front - God is love, Hope saves, Love in truth. And if the lasting message from his third encyclical is the inseparable complementarity of love and truth, then that is achievement enough, as encyclicals go.]
If that combination — a more socialist economics and a more traditional culture — is possible, then we need more explanation than Chapter 2 gave us, and, not surprisingly, it is with an explanation that Chapter 3 opens.
The intellectual problem that Benedict has set himself is a thorny one: The encyclical has to discern and present a higher unity of philosophically and practically disparate elements, and it promises to do so not with philosophy and recommendations for practice, but with theology.
Let’s admit, as well, that this is a tough literary problem for the encyclical. John Paul II, the greatest papal writing talent of modern times
[REALLY??? Without meaning any disrespect for JPII, I think this is the first time I've read anyone referring to him in these terms!]
divided the topics when he produced two of the best-constructed modern encyclicals: Centesimus Annus
and Evangelium Vitae
If commentators are stumbling over what seems the inconsistency Caritas in Veritate
, the first cause may be that, regardless of the success or failure of Benedict’s higher-order theological solution, the encyclical’s topics simply cannot be developed side-by-side in sufficient detail to make them feel coherent.
An email from a judicial clerk yesterday complained that Caritas in Veritate
reads “like what you get when a three-judge panel that fundamentally doesn’t agree decides to write an unanimous opinion that rides a few of each judge’s hobbyhorses.”
Reactions like this, heard over and over again from across the ideological spectrum, suggest that, whatever he’s accomplished, Benedict didn’t manage to solve the literary problem of the encyclical.
In paragraphs 34 and 35, opening the chapter, Benedict points to the concept of gift as the key, writing, “sometimes modern man is wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life and society. This is a presumption that follows from being selfishly closed in upon himself, and it is a consequence — to express it in faith terms — of original sin.”
I can’t say I care much for that interjected “to express it in faith terms.” What other terms is a Pope supposed to use, and, for that matter, what other terms are there for the concept? Maybe Kant’s “crooked timber of humanity,” or something, but it all goes back to the idea of original sin, anyway.
[Bottum is quibbling unnecessarily. Modern encyclicals are now addressed to 'all men of good will', not just to Catholics. The qualification is harmless, and even necessary, for the wider audience that the encyclical hopes to reach.]
Still, the point here is that charity is necessary because the world is fallen, and though humanity is open by nature to the gift of grace, the world needs the concept of givenness [givenness???]
and original sin to provide a horizon of hope for human activity.
Amen. Exactly right. Benedict then applies the point: “The conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from ‘influences’ of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way. In the long term, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom, and are therefore unable to deliver the justice that they promise.”
To which one wants to say: Yes, but . . . Yes, but Adam Smith’s ideas and the subsequent American economic system were predicated, to a large degree, on that concept of original sin. [???]
These are perhaps open to the accusation that they did not guarantee a place for grace, and thus, in their long working out, they can dissolve the virtues that made them possible. This is, to use the old phrase, the cultural contradiction of capitalism.
[I think Bottum is complicating a situation that is basically simple and clearcut! Classical economics and everything that came after it have never been proposed in conjunction with a moral code - they have been proposed precisely as systems 'autonomous' of moral influences, as the Pope points out. Any moral/ethical considerations in working out economic systems have been contributed by individuals within the system who live by moral and ethical considerations and apply them to whatever they do. Others simply allow the markets to take their course, and since markets are impersonal, they have no morals.]
The accusation can be turned around, however, to any socialist economic vision — which is exactly what the religious neo-conservatives did, in a line of argument echoed in Centesimus Annus
A mandated, market-making command economy may guarantee a place for grace, but it closes down the idea of fallen human nature. The system might work, if the commanders of that economy were angels, but — to express it in faith terms — they, too, suffer from original sin, and so they operate as humans do: out of self-interest and self-delusion, and in this case, without any chance of correction by the countervailing force of the market choices of free citizens.
[But that is to assume that all men who have anything to do with the economy are necessarily evil and greedy. There are good men and evil men everywhere. Human nature may be inherently flawed by original sin, but it has not been corrupted across the board!]
Benedict sees the cultural contradiction of capitalism: “Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function.”
And in paragraph 35 he takes the line that the market is an economic good, but a good that needs the virtue-creating horizon of faith in God: “It must draw its moral energies from other subjects that are capable of generating them.” Richard John Neuhaus would have said the same thing.
Indeed, “economy and finance, as instruments, can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends,” Benedict writes. “But it is man’s darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se. Therefore it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals, their moral conscience and their personal and social responsibility.” Michael Novak would have said the same thing. [Not just Michael Novak, but any Christian with common sense!]
So where, then, does paragraph 40 come from, declaring, “Today’s international economic scene, marked by grave deviations and failures, requires a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise. (As an aside, the italics in the English text of the encyclical are embarrassing. Will they be in the official Latin? As applied in the English, they seem to mark out the most hackneyed and spiritless lines.)
If the market fails because of individuals failing in the conscience and their responsibility, why do we need a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise?
[Bottum ignores the rest of the long 'paragraph' in which the other italicized sentence says "Business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors [including stockholders], but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business" (identified earlier in the paragraph as 'the workers, the suppliers, the consumers, the natural environment and broader society').
The examples the encyclical gives — transfer of capital abroad (a concern of Paul VI’s) and speculative use of financial resources (meaning derivatives?) — seem to be instances of investors behaving immorally rather than business needing to be redefined. [But those are objectionable business practices that do need to be redefined!]
The question raised here remains unanswered in Chapter Three.
Benedict wisely sees the continuing role of the nation states: “Both wisdom and prudence suggest not being too precipitous in declaring the demise of the State. In terms of the resolution of the current crisis, the State’s role seems destined to grow, as it regains many of its competences.”
And the absence of a coherent state makes matters very bad, as Benedict notes in yet another swipe at the African thugocracies: “The focus of international aid, within a solidarity-based plan to resolve today’s economic problems, should rather be on consolidating constitutional, juridical and administrative systems in countries that do not yet fully enjoy these goods. Alongside economic aid, there needs to be aid directed towards reinforcing the guarantees proper to the State of law: a system of public order and effective imprisonment that respects human rights, truly democratic institutions.”
But he returns to globalization at the chapter’s end, quoting John Paul II: “Despite some of its structural elements, which should neither be denied nor exaggerated, ‘globalization, a priori, is neither good nor bad. It will be what people make of it.’”
The conclusion is just: “The transition inherent in the process of globalization presents great difficulties and dangers that can only be overcome if we are able to appropriate the underlying anthropological and ethical spirit that drives globalization towards the humanizing goal of solidarity. Unfortunately this spirit is often overwhelmed or suppressed by ethical and cultural considerations of an individualistic and utilitarian nature.”
Who could disagree? [Just because some things are self-evident does not mean they never have to be re-stated!]
The title of Chapter 4, paragraphs 43 through 52, promises that the text will take up the topic of the environment. But the chapter opens with an attack on the idea of rights as divorced from duties: “An overemphasis on rights leads to a disregard for duties.”
[Excuse me, the title of the chapter is, after all, "The Development of People, Rights and Duties, The Environment".]
Pieces of several arguments seem to be packed together in only a single paragraph, leaving the particular complaint
a little unclear, but the general claim is a familiar one and hard to argue against: “The sharing of reciprocal duties is a more powerful incentive to action than the mere assertion of rights.”
The jump from there to population growth is not what one would expect — for this is a place where, according to opponents of Church teaching, duties to the environment obviously trump the rights of parents.
Benedict’s tack here is to reject claims that population growth causes poverty, which he does ably, while calling for state policies that respect the centrality of marriage.
What’s unclear, however, is what the argument is doing here
— while mentioning nothing about the environmental implications of population or the clash of rights and duties? This is one of the paragraphs that most clearly shows the piecemeal construction of the document.
['What the argument is doing here'? It is central to the chapter! You cannot proceed to speak about rights and duties in the development of people until you lay the premise that since all social activity is for the benefit of persons, individual and in community, then, 'a very important aspect of authentic development concerns the inalienable values of life and the family'.
Defense of life in the Christian sense inevitably raises the question of population growth, 'responsible procreation' (an intriguing expression that seems to have escaped most commentators) and 'morally responsible openness to life'. All of this Bottum seems to ignore in a curious fixation on why Benedict does not follow through with the environmental implications of population growth - which is disturbingly Malthusian!]
As is the turn to ethical business in the next paragraphs, 45 to 47. Benedict praises businesses in the “third sector,” standing between for-profit and non-profit companies: “they steer the system towards a clearer and more complete assumption of duties on the part of economic subjects.”
And he calls for development programs in poorer countries, driven by international aid — while calling on international organizations to practise greater transparency. Note that it is here, in paragraph 47, that the word subsidiarity makes its first appearance.
That’s a little late, for those who want to read the encyclical as primarily a full-throated defence of subsidiarity (though there is plenty more to come in the next chapter). [But it is the first opportunity in the encylical to bring it up in context!]
In the remaining paragraphs, the environment takes center stage. [As indicated in the chapter title!]
“Nature expresses a design of love and truth,” Benedict insists, returning to the theme that had lain dormant for some while in the text. [And where is it written that the theme of the encyclical must be explicitly re-stated and spelled out at every point of the text????]
The argument switches back and forth between a demand for responsible stewardship and an attack on elevations of nature [????I think he means 'nature worship']
: “It is contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more important than the human person. This position leads to attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism — human salvation cannot come from nature alone.”
And, with all this, paragraph 51 gives us a brilliant and biting statement of Catholic thinking:
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 book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development.
And on we go to Chapter 5, paragraphs 53 through 67. Poverty is caused by isolation, Benedict insists: isolation from other humans, and isolation from the foundation that is God. Is that right? Maybe. Okay, I guess so. In a certain sense. But the text here in the opening of Chapter 5 is very muddy.
Though I can’t quite put my finger on it, there’s something question-begging in the claim that isolation causes poverty: The rich can suffer serious isolation, too — and that’s one of the “the other kinds of poverty,” because well, poverty is isolation, and isolation is poverty. [Is Bottum Jesuit by any chance? This is such Jesuitic hairsplitting!]
[Bottoms's criticism of the opening paragraph of Chapter 5 again ignores the context in which the premise is laid. "One of the deepest forms of poverty a person can experience is isolation" is the first sentence of a chapter that is entitled "The cooperation of the human family'.
Thus, the statement that other kinds of poverty, including material, arise "from isolation, from not being loved or from difficulties in being able to love" leads to "The development of peoples depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family, working together in true communion..."
The paragraph may not be felicitously expressed, but it has its internal logic.]
Benedict quotes the great line from Paul V: “The world is in trouble because of the lack of thinking.” But the conclusion that he draws from it is that we need “a new trajectory of thinking, . . . a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation. This is a task that cannot be undertaken by the social sciences alone, insofar as the contribution of disciplines such as metaphysics and theology is needed if man’s transcendent dignity is to be properly understood.”
The note here about metaphysics and theology — the transcendental reaches of thought — suggests that this is the place where we need the Pope’s deep thought about what the lack of a metaphysical and theological horizon does for the modern world.
And that is, to some degree, what we get, though the metaphor of the Trinity, applied to humans with the awkward nonce (?) phrase “inclusion-in-relation” is not as clear as it could be.
[I suppose I did not find this section elliptical at all because in previous, even recent, texts, Benedict XVI has spoken about the concept of humanity as a relationship - i.e., man cannot be considered in isolation from his fellowmen - just as the Trinitarian God is a relationship of the closest kind because it is an interpenetration of identities. A perspective I would never have thought about on my own!]
This section of the encyclical, paragraphs 54 through 57, is the most serious — and, at the same time, the most compressed. While trying to unpack it, my frustration was this wasn’t the subject of the entire text
— if only so that we could understand Benedict’s thinking more clearly. [Perhaps Bottum should pay closer attention to the Pope's daily Magisterium, and not just the major texts!]
With paragraph 58, we get the reintroduction of the topic of subsidiarity. A hodgepodge of topics appear over the next paragraphs: international aid, agriculture, allocation of taxes, sex tourism, migration, the dignity of work, trade unions, micro-finance, consumerism.
The problem here is literary, in a certain sense: These examples occur at such differing levels of importance, abstraction, and praxis that it’s hard to fold them together into anything coherent.
One point, though, is the even in the midst of the Pope’s call for subsidarity, the assumption is always that the highest levels will be the creators and enforcers of that subsidiarity.
Elsewhere in the encyclical, the family was perceived as pre-existing the high structures of power and pushing up against them to maintain subsidiarity. In these paragraphs in Chapter 5, the plaint is that subsidiarity has declined, and thus the job of the high and mighty is to restore it, forcing subsidiarity down the chain of power.
In that context, the call for a “true world political authority” appears in paragraph 67: “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.”
To understand this, I think, we have to read it in the light of a call for universal empire, which has been in the Catholic lexicon for a long, long time. The counter-theme of individual sovereign states has been in the Catholic lexicon for a while, too, and the encyclical might have entered here into an interesting discussion of that disagreement in modern Catholic thought. But, as things stand, I can’t imagine a worse time simply to demand universal empire without explanation, or a worse body than the United Nations to entrust with it.
The first naiveté, in Benedict’s version, is the notion that the UN could somehow be “regulated by law” when it itself would be the law, once it had eliminated the individual states (against which the encyclical sets itself when it complains of the UN weakened by “the balance of power among the strongest nations”). [!]
[Ach! More wrong-headed quibbling. The encyclical implicitly protests the undue weight of the strongest nations in the UN but does not set itself against individual states as states!
I have never been a fan of the United Nations but it is the only available mechanism right now for any international regulation, unsatisfactory and seriously flawed as it is.
And because the Church cannot isolate itself from the secular world, I can understand that the diplomacy of the Holy See postulates a degree of trust in the United Nations for its potential to promote good things - though this is often thwarted - and icnreasingly so - by a bureaucracy that can skew regulations and enforcement ideologically (and most ironically, usually to promote policies that do great violence to the most sacrosanct of Catholic doctrines).
The Pope does not, by any means advocate 'eliminating individual states' nor is that, as Bottum implies, the necessary outcome of a world super-authority, which would, like the UN [or as a more appropriate version of the UN], be constituted by and of existing sovereign states. However, it's as quixotic a suggestion as when John XXIII first made it.
Insofar as the financial-economic crisis, such super-regulation may be effected through existing sector-responsible UN agencies, like the IMF, the World Bank and the various UN development programs with appropriate reforms (such as a new Bretton Woods convention) and a coordinating mechanism among these agencies that now operate in complete autonomy of each other.]
The second naiveté is about the Church, which, in medieval and Renaissance calls for empire, stood as the extra-governmental institution that balanced the state.
Now and for the foreseeable future, the Church is detested by the bureaucrats of the UN empire [and the European Union]
. It’s crazy of Benedict to think that international organization won’t move, with its power, to abolish as much of the Church as it can.
[On this point, I agree with Bottum. It does appear uncharacteristically, inexplicably naive on the part of Benedict XVI not to indicate awareness of this very real risk - which is simply the rampant secularization he sees so critically, ratcheted up almost by a quantum factor!]
Let’s see, how about a universal right to abortion? [And gay marriage and euthanasia!]
How about hate laws that count against Catholics but somehow few others? [These have been attempted in some form or other in recent years.]
Here’s a simple and, in fact, quite likely one: How about the great cathedrals all declared “Artistic Property of Mankind,” with ownership and “use oversight” given to UNESCO? [It hasn't happened yet and is unlikely to. UNESCO has declared a number of world heritage sites - including dozens of Church monuments, starting with the Vatican itself - but the juridical rights remain with the juridical owners.]
Does Benedict really think that world government would give us “the construction of a social order that at last conforms to the moral order”? Perhaps so. [Most likely, Benedict the practical man does not, but Benedict the Pope feels called upon to express the hope!]
Chapter 7 begins with a complex analogy: As no one builds himself without the initial gift from God and influence from other persons, so no people or culture builds itself. The sheer assertion would probably have been better here.
(A general rule of thumb for editors: If the metaphor is more complicated than the metaphorand — if the explanatory device is more intricate than the thing you’re trying to explain with it — then eliminate the metaphor.)
[Oh, please, spare us the superfluous lecture! No metaphor was used, to begin with. And the analogy is by no means complex, as there is a one-on-one correspondence between the analogs (the individual and the community). Though I must admit the Pope has expressed this concept in more elegant language in his homilies.]
All of this is aimed at setting up the chapter’s discussion of technology — particularly biotechnology, though the references are scattered throughout the chapter.
Benedict writes, “technology is never merely technology. It reveals man and his aspirations towards development, it expresses the inner tension that impels him gradually to overcome material limitations. Technology, in this sense, is a response to God’s command to till and to keep the land.”
A nice point, but I’m not sure what he means, or who he is answering, when he adds, “Even peace can run the risk of being considered a technical product, merely the outcome of agreements between governments or of initiatives aimed at ensuring effective economic aid.”
[First of all, the section about peace as a technical product comes three paragraphs after his general considerations on technology. Second, he is using technology not in its limited sense as concrete applications of new scientific knowledge to day-to-day experience, but in a more general sense, as the practice or employment of any technique or method.
In that context, he sees peace being treated as a 'technical product' - technical, not technological - of negotiated formulas that are necessarily a compromise and may not always appropriately reflect 'the voice of the peoples affected'.]
Apart from a rather tattered political-theory thesis that democracies don’t go to war, I can’t think of anything even close to the proposition that Benedict is rejecting. [The Pope is rejecting reliance on the merely technical to arrive at solutions that impact on the lives of peoples. One has to have a built-in negativity to the encyclical to fuss as much as Bottum does about ideas that seem pretty straightforward!]
Again, a powerful comment: “One aspect of the contemporary technological mindset is the tendency to consider the problems and emotions of the interior life from a purely psychological point of view, even to the point of neurological reductionism. In this way man’s interiority is emptied of its meaning and gradually our awareness of the human soul’s ontological depths, as probed by the saints, is lost. The question of development is closely bound up with our understanding of the human soul.” [This is out of place here - it comes in Section 76, and the subsequent comments refer to earlier paragraphs.}
I don’t quite grasp, on a first reading, what Benedict is after with his discussion of the technology of the means of social communications. [Again, Bottoms's problem is that he may not have been reading Benedict's recent discourses and messages on social communications, including an entire message for World Social Communications Day - about which he has had a lot to say that do not bear repetition in the encyclical, where he can only devote a paragraph to each of the areas of technology that he covers.]
It’s too short for a meaningful critique of, say Twitter and YouTube [Can we have a sense of proportion, please? This is an encyclical!]
, but the general ethical claims made are strong and unobjectionable.
And the chapter’s material on biotechnology — on technology, in general — seems a solid and helpful statement of Catholic principles
. [As I commented from the start, an encyclical cannot be more than a re-statement in contemporary terms of those principles. Mons. Crepaldi had the right answer to a newsman who was quibbling about the lack of discussion on a particular subject: "It's an encyclical, not an encyclopedia!"]
At last we reach the Conclusion, paragraphs 78 and 79: “Without God, man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is.”
The move here is the important one of promoting rationality and true rationality’s recognition of something beyond itself: “The greatest service to development, then, is a Christian humanism.” And for that, we need charity properly grounded in truth.
[Oh dear. Mr Bottum's exhaustion shows. That has to be the lamest account I have seen so far of Paragraph 78, and the most abrupt cut-off to what has been till now a leisurely ramble!]
All right, I’ve finished, at last, a serious read through the new encyclical Caritas in Veritate
, recording — for my own edification, though probably no one else’s — the first thoughts that occurred to me along the way.
Time now for me to try some second thoughts. What does the encyclical move me to consider that I had failed to consider before? What does respect for Joseph Ratzinger’s great theological mind force me to rethink? What does respect for Pope Benedict XVI’s papal authority demand that I rephrase and reform? What is new in Caritas in Veritate
? And how must I, as a result of its promulgation, change my life?
This, by the way, is how I think encyclicals should be read. If you don’t engage the text, determining exactly where it strains you as a reader and believer and thinker, then assent is meaningless. [But how condescending. As if no one else has the sense to know how to read any text appropriately!]
Much of the commentary — sliding, alas, down the greasy and typical old lines of liberals vs. conservatives and quick to shout at its opponents — has failed, I think, to read the text seriously.
But there it is: The division between left and right is real, and it won’t be overcome merely by saying that it shouldn’t exist. At a quick glance, I’d say that the tendency to politicize the text has been much worse on the left than the right: Among the many who’ve decided this is an occasion to swipe at economic and social conservatives, where is any admission that part of the material in the text forces them to rethink some of their own commitments?
Maybe I’m wrong — I’d welcome correction on the point — but it looks as though, in the innumerable comments that say there’s something in the encyclical to displease both conservatives and liberals, the turn is always then to say that therefore conservatives were wrong and must change. I’ve seen nothing saying that therefore liberals must also change.
Ah, well, the claim that we should rise above politics occurs in a political context, and, whatever the beyondists say, there’s no easy way out of that. Witness my own inability to avoid snarling back here against those who’ve snarled at me about this encyclical.
Anyway, coming soon: Second Thoughts on Caritas in Veritate
OK. As someone who has indulged myself, though on a far more minor scale, in first thoughts upon reading Benedict's encyclicals and JESUS OF NAZARETH, I can understand the temptation - even compulsion - to record one's first impressions.
But when the impressions are expressed as summary judgments, I think it is incumbent on anyone who publishes such impressions to review those judgments first and see whether they were fairly made rather than just the result of rash, fleeting impression (and indicate any resulting change of mind).
I agree the language of the encyclical's middle sections leaves much to be desired, but the general thrust of the encyclical was always clear and consistent even in those sections. Knowing beforehand that many cooks had thrown their bits into the stew, I was also prepared for its literary 'incoherence' and built that consideration into my reading, so that any annoyance occasioned by awkward language and apparent non sequiturs did not get in the way of my getting the message intended.
Perhaps Bottum himself realizes now it was a foolish and pointless enterprise to do a running - and consequently lengthy - blog on his first reading of a significant text, thinking perhaps that he would thereby outdo all first commentaries in his detailed approach.
I think he might have been attempting a line-by-line annotation but found that impossible with this kind of text, and could not even manage to do it paragraph by paragraph, nonetheless still mostly missing the forest for the trees.
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 8/20/2009 4:49 PM]