The hidden hand in 'Caritas' of Focolare

Who wrote Caritas in veritate? The Pope, of course; and in so far as it bears Benedict XVI’s signature, the whole carries his authority. But it is obvious that some passages are more Benedictine than others. The often sharp shift in style and language is one of the least impressive characteristics of this – in so many other ways brilliant -- document. It needed an editor to give it the clear authorial voice of the great social encyclicals. It needed cutting down and simplifying in order to become a contemporary classic, spotted on every commuter train – which is really what it should be. It’s what the world was crying out for. The message is wonderful, and often reaches for poetry; but the medium could have made more concessions to the market.

George Weigel has spotted the lurches. He divides the encyclical into passages authored directly by the Pope (=good) and those by the Council for Justice and Peace (=naive, wrongheaded). That suits his purpose, which is to allow conservatives to ignore the encyclical’s key messages while remaining faithful to papal teaching.

But he’s wrong to detect only those two influences. There is at least one other major source.

The distinctive language and ideas of the Focolare movement – much admired by Pope Benedict -- are evident in at least three places. It is particularly strong at the beginning of chapter Three, which is entitled “Fraternity, economic development and civil society”. Fraternity, said Focolare’s founder Chiara Lubich, was the key element missing from the modern world; and she linked the building of it to the idea of gift and gratuitousness which is very strong in chapter 34 of the encyclical.

In Chapter 4, the term “economy of communion” is used -- precisely the one Focolare created to describe its businesses founded on “communion” principles. It is the example of those businesses, I suggest, which lie behind the new type of capitalism praised in the encylical – profit-making but for the common good – which catches the attention of Fr Drew.

Para 53 in Chapter 5  -- the link between poverty and isolation: one of Chiara’s central thoughts -- is also pure Focolare, and the idea that “the development of peoples depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion" could have come straight from one of the movements' documents. 

One of the great virtues of a landmark encyclical is that it captures the influential church currents of the moment. It is now easy to spot, in Rerum Novarum (1891), the influence of Cardinal Manning’s writings on the just wage as well as Conde Le Mun’s Cercles Catholiques d’Ouvriers. Just as Pope Leo XIII looked to these luminaries, so Pope Benedict XVI has harnessed the followers of Chiara Lubich.

7 years 11 months ago
What an inspiring and most comprehensive view of today's global culture ! Not so suprising that the Focolare movement - representing close to five million Catholics throughout the world and almost a thousand companies engaged in practicing the ''Economy of Communion'' - would inspire parts of Benedict's encyclical: it is indeed one of the most influential church currents of our time. We may only regret that such a landmark encyclical would not have a more ''global'' title than ''Caritas in Veritate''. If ''Charity in Truth'' is indeed ''the driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity'', we could certainly welcome a title that would better reflect the profound beauty and complexity of this new encyclical: we live in a modern world unfortunately driven by media and mass communication. My appreciation to Austen Ivereigh for his clear analysis of such a brilliant vision of our global culture.
7 years 11 months ago
Mr. Ivereigh: I was upset that Mr. Weigel did that, but it also shows he does not have a terribly strong understanding of Ratzinger's theology. Even Benedict's understanding of globalization, the market, and business all fit very well within his theology. I'm writing a blog entry on the main themes of Ratzinger theology and how they're found within this document, and I will send it your way when finished. You are right about the Lubich influence. I, frankly, was delighted to see so much of the spirituality and economic practices of the Focolare within the document. But once again, one of the reasons Benedict so loves the Focolare is that Chiara had a very similar theological understanding as he does, based on the I-Thou-We model. I will try to include this in my post, too. I think the whole thing, through-and-through, is very much in line with Ratzinger's thought. I also find it offensive that Mr. Weigel would suggest that Benedict XVI of all people would compose an encyclical to make his Curia happy. If there's one idea that permeates Benedict's thinking regarding the Magisterium, it is that it exists as a servant of the truth- it does not "create" truth or use it to promote our own ideas. To say that this encyclical was composed only to please the "liberals" in his Curia is a little too close to a character attack. More later. Thanks for your analysis Mr. Ivereigh! You are right that it is such a brilliant encyclical.
7 years 10 months ago
I have a masters degree in English, have worked as a reporter and editor for more than 20 years and I have read the new encyclical twice. The second time very carefully and prayerfully. I put all that first because I do not see all these stops and starts and stylistic lurches that the above writer and George Weigel see.
There is some repetitiveness, but when dealing with issues of such complexity in a comprehensive fashion it is somewhat unavoidable.
Secondly, there is no doubt that Mr. Weigel's writing about the encyclical has indeed been a character attack on Pope Benedict and cafeteria Catholicism of the highest (or lowest) order. If a prominent Catholic liberal so challenged a papal statement on, say, birth control, Weigel would be outraged.
In fact, after this I think Mr. Weigel's column, which more often than not is an apology for Republican politics, should not be run in Catholic diocesan newspapers. He is clearly not ''orthodox.'' No, better, maybe some of these conservative dioceses should keep Weigel and return Fr. McBrien of Notre Dame to their newspaper's pages. At least he's intellectually honest and not in the pocket of a major political party.
Twenty years from now, Caritas in Veritate will be seen as Benedict's greatest contribution to the Catholic tradition. As Catholics we ignore it, or make light of it, at our peril and to our shame.

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