November 27, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

‘Charity in Truth’: The pope’s encyclical

John F. Fink(First in a series of columns)

Pope Benedict XVI issued his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”) this past July.

As I was reading it, I thought that I should write about it because it was so good and Catholics should know more about it. I realized that few Catholics would read the whole encyclical, which is too bad.

In July, though, I was in the middle of my series of columns about basic Catholicism and thought that I’d better finish that series before writing about the encyclical. However, what Pope Benedict had to say in July is certainly as true five months later.

Besides, what the pope wrote in the encyclical is not just about social justice—although that is its main focus. He covers numerous basic teachings of the Catholic Church. Therefore, in a sense, this series is a follow-up to my previous series.

The encyclical is about human development—both of the individual and society. The pope writes about it in the context of “charity in truth,” the first words of the letter. Charity in truth, he says, is the driving force behind authentic development of every person and all humanity.

Charity, he says, “is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine.” However, charity is sometimes misconstrued and, therefore, must be linked with truth.

St. Paul linked the two in his letter to the Ephesians when he wrote, “Living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ” (Eph 4:15). Pope Benedict, though, says that the inverse sequence is also true, that charity must be practiced in the light of truth.

Both Pope Benedict and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, have emphasized the importance of truth in our society that relativizes truth, sometimes denying that there is such a thing. But Pope Benedict insists that “only in truth does charity shine forth,” and, in another place, “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality.”

Therefore, charity in truth is the principle around which Church social doctrine turns. The Church’s social doctrine is summed up simply as “the proclamation of the truth of Christ’s love in society.”

Charity must include justice, but it goes beyond justice: “If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them.” We must recognize and respect individuals’ and people’s legitimate rights, which is justice. But charity does more. It manifests God’s love in human relationships, giving “salvific value to our commitment to justice in the world.”

Also important, the pope said, is the common good: “To love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it.” That’s true not only for individuals but for all of society. Therefore, “To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity.”

Every Christian is called to practice this charity, the pope said, in accordance with his influence in society.

The pope said this (and much more) in his extended introduction.

Next week: Chapter One of “Caritas in Veritate.” †

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