Giving Caritatis in Veritate a first look

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How is Caritatis in Veritate (CV; Truth in Charity) binding on the consciences of Catholics or anyone else? CV is a teaching document that is addressed to clergy and all people of good will. If you want to talk about it binding a person's faith and reason it comes only in the willingness to accept the pope's vision of life expressed in this teaching. Its ability to influence the reader lies in how receptive the reader is to that which is presented in love.

CV is a document of the Church's ordinary magisterium and therefore not in the realm of being an infallible teaching. It is not an infallible teaching for one reason: encyclicals by nature do not define dogma, that is faith and morals, but it may explain in contemporary terms what the Church believes and teaches about a piece of dogma. Encyclicals like this one which deals with the social teaching of the Church and therefore integrates faith and morals developing new data. New information requires a contemporary application. That which is taught in CV does not bear directly on salvation. Furthermore for a teaching to be infallible a pope has to include in the teaching the threefold formula of "we pronounce, declare and define." Ultimately, we see that CV is signed by the pope himself therefore it is an official papal document and official teaching but not on the level of dogma.

Some readers will find this work a bit difficult, that is dense. There are few things to remember at CV: it's a committee document, it's lengthy (about 30K words), and it has theological depth. Further and most important, CV has what some will call a theological tour de force because it's a "classic Ratzinger theology" because you see his insistence on the integration of faith and reason.

We can never get away from truth known as a Person ( Jesus Christ). In this current work of Benedict there is an insistence on our seeking truth which is found and expressed, according to the pope, in the economy of charity.

For ages now we should know that the Church has no expertise secular mechanisms but in humanity particularly moral and doctrinal; its mission to man's dignity and vocation. In Benedict's own words we hear the echo of what has always been believed, that "The Church does not have technical solutions to present but, as an expert in humanity, she offers to everyone the teaching of the sacred Scripture on the truth about man and proclaims the Gospel of Love and justice." In another place the pope also said that "The solutions to the current problems of humanity cannot be merely technical, but must take account of all the needs of the person, who is endowed with soul and body, and must thus take the Creator, God, into consideration."

CV clearly celebrates and applies in contemporary terms Pope Paul VI's 1967 encyclical Populorum progressio and the Pope recognizes today's situation is different and therefore adapts the church's approach to social matters.  This encyclical a work of continuity in Church teaching. That is to say, Pope Benedict is taking his lead from the continuous teaching of the Church and therefore awakens our attention to a clearer sense of responsibility for shaping the 21st century according to the virtue of peace born of truth and justice. Consistently through the years the Church demands from us a heightened consciousness of our own freedom particularly a freedom wrought by Jesus Christ by indicating the scandals of injustice that exist when man and woman are blinded by sin.

The Pope Benedict links man's religious and human freedom with life issues. If you have to think about a subtext, CV is a synthesis of the whole of theology. In this encyclical we see the notion that human dignity is anchored in truth; man and woman has to be at the center of every decision. As Pope John Paul II said in Centesimus annus, man is mankind's greatest asset. Speaking of the Church's interest in humanity, John Paul said: 

Her sole purpose has been care and responsibility for man, who has been entrusted to her by Christ himself: for this man, whom, as the Second Vatican Council recalls, is the only creature on earth which God willed for its own sake, and for which God has his plan, that is, a share in eternal salvation. We are not dealing here with man in the "abstract", but with the real, "concrete", "historical" man. We are dealing with each individual, since each one is included in the mystery of Redemption, and through this mystery Christ has united himself with each one for ever. It follows that the Church cannot abandon man, and that "this man is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission ... the way traced out by Christ himself, the way that leads invariably through the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption."

Catholics, indeed all men and women of good will, have to make the connection with reality that humanity is radically connected with the divine. But also, Catholics will come to see in CV that Pope Benedict believes in a companionship that is essential if we are to really thrive as a people with a common destiny; our job is to be mindful that there is truth in genuine friendship (cf. the other encyclicals of the pope). I think as we progress in this millennium we have to regularly consider with faith and reason who man is according to method of faith and reason viz. what those who are constructing a globalized sense of society say man is or is not. In other words, whose understanding of humanity is more reasonable, more loving and more life-giving? The Church's or Citigroup's? Increasingly we hear how bad the world has been or is becoming and little on how a true Christian responds to such anxieties. Sadly, many homilies we hear the priest or deacon speak more of a reduction of man's faith and the radical nihilism man faces than salvation history wrought by Jesus Christ. CV opens the doors for us to live as God wants us to live by reminding us that the truth in freedom lies in the adherence to God's discoverable plan.

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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]



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This page contains a single entry by Paul Zalonski published on July 14, 2009 10:30 AM.

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