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Drew ChristiansenJuly 07, 2009

For four years now many Catholics have been waiting for a new social encyclical. When would the pope treat globalization? Do a thorough treatment of environmental ethics? Comment on the global economic crisis? Come to the defense of labor? Speculation peaked two years on the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s Populorum progression (On the Progress of Peoples). This morning the Vatican released Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate, On Human Development in Charity and Truth.

Social activists and ethicists who still honor the memory of Paul VI will be glad to learn that Pope Benedict devotes a full chapter to Populorum progressio, one of the most reformist social documents in the last fifty years, and, somewhat late for the 40th anniversary of the encyclical, he calls for commemorating it just as we commemorate the anniversary of Rerum novarum every decade. Neo-cons will wince that he places this encyclical in line not only with Populorum progressio, but also Sollicitudo rei socialis, the most egalitarian encyclical of Pope John Paul II and their least favorite part of the late pope’s corpus.

Pope Benedict sets himself the task of updating Paul’s encyclical, especially in light of the intensification of globalization and its increasing problems. He also provides a fresh look at Paul’s encyclical, putting special emphasis on its underlying theology of the human person. His reading reveals Benedict’s own metaphysical interests, as does his title, Caritas in Veritate, and mines themes like development as "a vocation" for important lessons about the essential role of responsible freedom in human progress. Other idiosyncracies, like an insistence that Catholic social teaching has a seamless development, without any recognizable subdivisions, also appears.

The encyclical certainly bears Benedict’s imprint and reveals his preoccupations. The correlation of charity and truth is the most obvious instance; and this is probably the first social teaching document since Vatican II to insistence explicitly on the relevance of metaphysics to the Church’s social mission. The Council had abandoned the older philosophia perennis model of social teaching for the positive theology of the scriptures and the fathers and a method of reading the Signs of the Times. Caritas in veritate is ralso eplete with correlations of faith and reason, charity and knowledge, rights and duties, subsidiarity and solidarity, constantly reminding us of the Catholic "both-and."

Most intriguing to me is Pope Benedict’s postulation of a new fourth sector of society, profit-making entities committed to the common good, to figure alongside state, the market and civil society. At first it was hard for me to put my mind around the idea, but then I began to think of examples: the Gramin Bank and other micro-finance institutions; "Fair Trade" product marketers, and small investment firms, like GlobalGiving, offering support to entrepreneurs in developing countries. (I hope my examples don’t mislead, but they seem to fit the contours of the model.) They are all part of what the pope calls "the economy of gratuitousness." I am not sure these enterprises yet constitute a sector of economic life. But they are harbingers of a different, conscientious kind of economics that would not repeat the mistakes of the last 30 years.

While Pope Benedict grounds such a sphere in the interior life of the Trinity, opening lots of ground for further elaboration by theologians, he provides perhaps a more experiential basis when he writes of the need of all economic relations to have an element of gratuity to function effectively. There is a parallel in Pope John Paul II (and Bishop Desmond Tutu’s) notion that there is no justice without forgiveness. That is without forgiveness, justice will slide into oppression and offer new occasions for conflict. Thus, in economics, a Gradgrind economy in which every transaction is a matter of strict exchange will ultimately have to come to halt for lack of the oil of trust and good will and a growing sense of injustice.

The Holy Father, however, is also asking for more. While he acknowledges the implicit working of gratuity in the economy, he is looking for explicit inclusion of gratuitousness in all sectors, so that every institution recognizes its role in the service of the common good as the human development "of each and all."

Those who may tremble when Benedict appeals to Truth need not worry. For the most part, the encyclical stays close to Paul VI’s anthropology, so the truth about the human refers to those conditions that are less or more human, keeping close to the dynamism of desire in which humans desire more and more, but go awry unless they recognize the transcendent object of their desire–a formula used a number of times in Populorum progressio. In addition, there is a repeated acknowledgment that faith and reason are mutually related and reciprocally correcting, as are charity and knowledge. Benedict’s humanism, like Paul VI’s, is an integral humanism.

Drew Christiansen, S.J.

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15 years ago
  Wow, the first commentary to note the really relevant things about this encyclical. I would note the following as a significant summary: 1.      The insistence on an economics based on the “principle of gratuitousness,” and that such a principle cannot merely come “after” economic activity, but must be intrinsic to it. Hence, note especially the importance of investing for the common good, of consumer cooperatives, etc. This endorsement of “an economy of gift” or “an economy of communion” or (as the title of chapter 5 puts it) “cooperation” is the heart of the document, and its single greatest leap forward. 2.      The necessity of alternative forms of practice that move beyond “the exclusively binary model of market-plus-State” (para. 39), in which openness to and exchange of gifts can be performed. “Gift” does not merely name an “attitude,” but a different shape for practice. It is difficult to for us all to imagine these because we are caught in what Benedict calls the "exclusive binary of market-plus-state." If you want an obvious example, look no further than your local food cooperative, exactly the kind of thing Benedict highlights in paragraph 66. These are enterprises which have principles of gift and solidarity "built into" them in their very structures. So you can eat not only with justice, but with charity. More importantly, these structures are actually models of mutual participation, since consumers are OWNERS and govern the institution, under the guidance of ends policies that are aimed not at maximizing profit, but at sustaining the enterprise long-term, benefiting the local community, and protecting the environment. 3.      The necessity that all these forms of practice be open to God and the transcendent, such that the earthly city can prefigure and anticipate the heavenly one. The earthly city can actually show forth the heavenly one, in its love. This is connected with the “social eschatology” he outlined in Spe Salvi. This encyclical will undoubtedly provoke some reflection on “natural law,” since it so tightly weaves its theological and social teachings. 4.      The intrinsically social character of the church’s teachings on sexuality and on life issues, as well as the connection of these to the importance of attending to the inherent “grammar” of the natural environment. It is not possible to teach people to respect the environment unless they respect themselves, thus explaining a crucial problem with the alignment of modern liberalism with the environmental movement.
15 years ago
David's comments are excellent. Drew Christiansen mentioned "wincing" when the Pope uses the idea of "truth"; I was heartened by the Pope 's selections of Gospel and theological ideas that are part of the "truth" he proposes, the image of "God with a human face" and the predicament of Lazarus at the rich man's door, for example. Reading between the lines for the issues that seem to divide American Catholics - I noticed that "respect for life" includes concern over infant mortality rates (not just abortion); that "openness to life" includes the opennes of wealthy people to the lives of those who are poor. "Family" was used primarily in reference to all humanity. Yes, the Pope favors "continuity" in his hermeneutic of ecclesial affairs; but I can't believe many encyclicals have discussed sex tourism! BTW-I did think the inclusion of tourism as an ethical issue in economic behaviors was interesting, if at first confusing - but the ads for the resorts in Jamaica, carefully isolated from the country's poverty, is an example of that. For the "3rd kind" of business models, I would include the original Ben & Jerry's, which definitely made profits, but also used ingredients related to labor and environmental causes.
15 years ago
While I enjoyed your blog, I found that your "reaching" for examples of the "economy of communion" suggested by Benedict did not reach far-or close-enough.  The term is taken directly from Chiara Lubich and her Focolare Movement that now has what they call economy of communion businesses around the world including right here in the United States.  In fact, my friend, John Mundell, runs one in Indianapolis.  His firm, Mundell and Associates, is one of the top environmental engineering companies in the State of Indiana and practices profit sharing with those in need outside the company.   This link was mentioned by Austen Ivereigh along with some others.  But even he, along with you, missed the influence of Lubich on Benedict's trinitarian theology.  I would suggest a carefull reading of Lubich's Essential Writings, published by New City Press in 2008, the year of Lubich's death.     
15 years ago
In response to the first comment by Mr. Cloutier, from where is your excellent synopsis?  I ask in case I would cite it.
15 years ago
I have been an editor, artist and advocate for human dignity in the workday since 1992 when I found out that the U.S. government sponsored the moving of factories outside the USA starting in 1956. It was set up as a temporary program to help out the Mexican and Central American economies while providing cheaper goods for the American consumers.  It was supposed to test the effects of a process like this for a short time but it never ended. Every U.S. administration since then played a part in growing the  programs.
( Our main site is Tapart News and Art that Talks and we  have a philosophy and relgion blog at The Rationale Com.  Our Clinton Years American Dream Reversed artwork is now part of millions of search results  on Yahoo, Altavista and Google under its title - Clinton Years American Dream Reversed. Our American Dream is Buring artwork was featured in the  Cleveland Plain Dealer Magazine several years ago. )
For about the first twenty years, only few hundred factories were moved. However starting in the late   1980s, the number grew at a fast pace. By 1992, more than two  thousand U.S. factories were moved to Mexico alone.
The elder President Bush formulated the policies of free trade but left office before he could get his programs passed in Congress. He was the first in the modern era to  announce the ''new world order''.  Conspiracy theories defined the phrase in various ways with many convinced that an elite powerful group were setting up a new control over the world. However, we do not need any conspiracy theories to know that so called free trade and globalization have been directed by powerful forces outside the will of the people. It is obvious that free trade and globalization have not evolved in any natural economic fashion.
President Clinton followed and passed President Bush's programs as if he under Bush's directions.  President Clinton forced the passage of  both the NAFTA and GATT trade agreements with a Democrat controlled Congress. He called Congress back from a Thanksgiving holiday for a lameduck session of Congress to pass GATT even though the new '' Contract with America'' Republicans due to take over Congress the following January.  After NAFTA was  passed, the number of factories moved to  Mexico, quickly doubled to more than 4,000 former U.S. factories being moved to Mexico. Soon after that, President Clinton had to  rush billions of dollars to Mexico to save the peso and the Mexican economy. The moving of production to  Mexico for  years did not save them.  Mexican workers flooded the U.S. still seeking economic survival and the first ''stimulus package'' went to a foreign nation.
President Bush, the 2nd, followed in Clinton's footsteps and pushed forward with the passage of more so called free trade. ( Free trade is not really trade as historically practiced and defined. It is mainly dedicated to moving production from place to place for the sake of cheaper labor. Workers are put on a world trading block to compete with one another for the same jobs down to the levels of wage slave and even child labor. They are the commodities being traded and not the products.)
President Obama now follows with the economy based on making money on money instead of making things burning out.  He ends up merging big government with big money as one. He jumps over the multitude who lost everything  to back up the stock  market . The stock market values were based on  firing workers rather than  hiring them. 
We wrote about the - Latent Response of Philosophy and Religion in the global economic arena for years listing workers as the ''stepchildren'' of philosophy and religion at our site The Rationale Com.  A list of our sites, articles, blogs and our art that talks the issues is under one url address at linkbun.ch/9axtb
We hope Pope Benedict new encyclical has arrived to save the day. We waited for the calvary to come as thousands of businesses including my own closed down due to free trade and globalization with millions losing their jobs in the computer industry alone, but the calvary never came until now.
Ray Tapajna , Editor and Artist at Tapart News and Art that talks, Chronicles of events that forecasted our economic storms - based also on several experts in the field including Manuel Castells - The Bewildered New World - and Sir James Goldsmith.
Lech Walesa, The Solidarity leader says it all. He said - I know very little about business and economics but I do know that something is very wrong when 10 percent of the people controlled 100 percent of the money.
14 years 10 months ago
Human society is changing, evolving, maturing. Today there is substantial evidence that those companies that give priority to ''the common good'' and second priority to profits not only are more profitable than their competitors, all other things being equal, but all the stakeholders enjoy being participants all day long, and enjoy the additional joy of knowing they are particpating in making the world a better place. This is becoming called ''common good corporations'' and ''common good investing.''
It is a delight to witness the Catholic Church via this encyclical joining in this emergence. It can be called a ''fourth sector'' but that puts it in conflict with the other three sectors. Better to just do it as a form of the third sector, business sector, so that the rest of the sector can easily merge into it. I think this is a better political strategy. I am one of the pioneers of the socially responsible investment movement and we just did it when nearly all thought we were nuts. Now it is a major investment territory and is evolving into ''common good investing.'' The later does not stand in judgment of companies but with forgiveness joins them in a partnership that is inevitably moving into common good capitalism or life on the planet will not survive. I think just doing it in the existing sector, therefore, is a more asstute policial approach to accomplish the same end more easily.
The next step in the evolution beyond capitalism as we know it or communism is when we freely choose to give priority to the common good. Building on freedom is the essential part. Giving priority to the common good is the behavior of a fully mature human being.
Some day we will all live in common good communities, work in common good corporations, and invest in common good investment funds or we will not be here.

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