Realism and hope, despite the global economic crisis: this is Benedict XVI's third Encyclical in the briefest possible synthesis, or rather, in a summary approximation of a text as important and rich as the time of its writing was long.
It continues a tradition of papal documents that began in 1891 with Leo XIII's famous Rerum Novarum and then developed vigorously in 1931 with the two Encyclicals of Pius XI following the great economic and financial depression that had occurred two years earlier Quadragesimo Anno and the virtually unknown Nova Impendet on the gravity of the crisis and the folly of the weapons race, which already showed an acute perception of a problem that is still present to arrive at the social teaching of John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II.
Caritas in Veritate fits into this series, emphasizing the continuity present also in this context between the pre- and post-Second Vatican Council traditions. In it the Pope refers in particular to the Encyclicals of his Predecessor and especially to the last two Encyclicals of Paul VI. Indeed Pope Montini recalled these as a special expression of his Pontificate just 40 days before he died: Populorum Progressio a continuous point of reference and practically a subtext of this "Benedictine" document and Humanae Vitae, from which the social interpretation is explicitly taken. An interpretation following in the tradition of the Encyclical that, 40 years ago, focused mainly on the Third World, and which suffered an overwhelming storm of criticism from the affluent Western societies, as also from within the Church.
The relationship between the two words of the title supports the whole structure of Caritas in veritate, addressed unusually to Catholics and "to all people of good will". The two terms are so powerfully connected that from them derives the possibility of an integral development of the person and of humanity, guaranteed by "charity in truth" alone, that is, by the love of Christ, as the introduction clearly illustrates.
Within this theological framework the Encyclical designates a summa socialis, alert and timely, that denies were this still necessary the image of an exclusively theological Pope secluded in his quarters. It confirms instead how attentive as theologian and pastor Benedict XVI is to all the aspects of the contemporary situation.
Therefore, at first sight, what stands out in the text is the attention to the phenomena of globalization and of technocracy, in themselves neutral but subject to degeneration as a consequence "in faith terms", the Pope specifies, of original sin.
Yet, a less perfunctory glance sees trust in the possibility of a truly human development, such as Paul VI already saw contained in the plan of divine Providence, as well as a sort of sign of the progressive journey from the city of man to the city of God. Benedict XVI's attitude cannot, therefore, be described as pessimistic a priori, as some would like to think, but nor can it be likened to ingenuous and irresponsible forms of optimism because it is founded instead on the characteristically Catholic trust in reason that is open to the presence of the divine.
Thus the economic and technical spheres belong to human activity and should not be demonized. Nor should they be left to themselves, however, for they must be bound to the common good and thus governed by the ethical viewpoint. To limit ourselves to a single example, the mere phenomenon of globalization does not in itself make men and women brothers and sisters, so it is evident that rules and logical approaches to direct it are essential.
Then if the economic dimension can and indeed must be human, if the historical moment is favourable for abandoning ideologies that, in the past century above all, left only ruins in their wake, then the time really has come to make the most of the opportunity offered by the world crisis to emerge from it together, believers together with men and women of good will. Indeed, the Pope writes to all that it is necessary to live like a family under the Creator's watchful eye.
St. Peter’s Square
Nov. 19, 2019
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