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At the crossroads with gratuitousness

· In Caritas in veritate, between solidarity and subsidiarity, there is a “third way” for social doctrine ·

On November 17 & 18 th at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, the annual conference of the Social Doctrine of the Church was organized by the International Area of Research, “Caritas in veritate.” We publish excerpts from the introductory remarks of the Bishop Rector.

Caritas in veritate has increasingly become a starting point for elaborating “the third way” for more human relationships between citizens and institutions. With the international crisis, the very conditions of economic and social development are dramatically changing.

The outlook, however, is not without hope and strength. The call for subsidiarity and solidarity are certainly not new practices. A “permanent element,” of the entire social doctrine of the Church ( Centesimus annus ), they have become the indispensible link between all of the social encyclicals. But it is particularly Caritas in veritate which has highlighted the anthropological question, strictly connected to the social question. In fact, Benedict XVI underscores that the crisis and difficulties are due in the first instance to the lack of an adequate sense of solidarity, oriented towards the common good. “To take a stand for the common good is on the one hand to be solicitous for, and on the other hand to avail oneself of, that complex of institutions that give structure to the life of society, juridically, civilly, politically and culturally, making it the polis , or “city.””

It addresses, therefore, the problem of the meaning of authentic development and how to achieve it. “The principle of subsidiarity,” continues the encyclical, “must remain closely linked to the principle of solidarity and vice versa, since the former without the latter gives way to social privatism, while the latter without the former gives way to paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need.”

Due attention must also be given to another suggestion of Benedict XVI, when he advocates the creation of “a world political authority,” which “must be regulated by law,” observing the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity.

In essence, one must go beyond a paternalistic approach.

One of the most original and most debated passages of the encyclical Caritas in veritate is that in which the Pope goes beyond a generic concept of solidarity and indicates fraternity and gratuitousness as a guiding approach to promoting and directing the authentic development of peoples.

In Benedict XVI’s view, the concept of solidarity is still too narrow, and does not fully engage the human community and the Church in taking care of each other. Fraternity, understood as practicing charity in truth, means loving humanity through the expression of gratuitous love, which commits every individual to giving before receiving. In this context, we understand the “first service,” which the Christian community must offer to society. It does not consist primarily in furnishing moral doctrine or a civic ethic. The first service is that which introduces true communion amongst people: to allow true brotherhood to enter into our civic lives.




St. Peter’s Square

Dec. 14, 2019