December 4, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Charity in Truth: Earlier social encyclicals

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

In his encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), Pope Benedict XVI uses Chapter One to review the social encyclical that Pope Paul VI wrote in 1967, “Populorum Progressio” (“On the Development of Peoples”). He was showing that he intended his encyclical to update the series of papal social encyclicals that began with Pope Leo XIII’s “Rerum Novarum” (“On Capital and Labor”) in 1891.

Other social encyclicals include Pope Pius XI’s “Quadragesimo Anno” (“On Reconstruction of the Social Order”), issued 40 years after “Rerum Novarum,” two by Pope John XXIII, and three by Pope John Paul II. One of Pope John Paul’s, “Sollicitudo Rei Socialis” (“On Social Concerns”), was written to observe the 20th anniversary of Pope Paul’s “Populorum Progressio.”

Pope Benedict also credits the Second Vatican Council for expanding on the Church’s social doctrine.

Pope Benedict makes it clear that the Church’s social doctrine doesn’t change because it “is built on the foundation handed on by the Apostles to the Fathers of the Church, and then received and further explored by the great Christian doctors.” Rather than changing, “The Church’s social doctrine illuminates with an unchanging light the new problems that are constantly emerging.”

One of the interesting things that Pope Benedict points out about Pope Paul’s encyclical is its idea that “integral human development is primarily a vocation.” Everyone, he says, “is called upon to develop and fulfill himself, for every life is a vocation.”

A vocation, of course, is a call that requires an answer—“a free and responsible answer,” Pope Benedict wrote. “Integral human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of peoples.” Only when it is free can development be integrally human, he says.

Pope Paul had written 42 years ago that the vocation to progress drives us to “do more, know more and have more in order to be more.” But what does it mean “to be more,” Pope Benedict asks. Pope Paul answered the question himself when he wrote that authentic development must be “integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every man and of the whole man.”

Therefore, Pope Benedict says, “The truth of development consists in its completeness: If it does not involve the whole man and every man, it is not true development. This is the central message of ‘Populorum Progressio,’ valid for today and for all time.”

The idea of development as a vocation also involves charity, Pope Benedict says. In fact, charity must have a central place. Pope Paul, he says, found the causes of underdevelopment in the human will, “which often neglects the duties of solidarity; secondly in thinking, which does not always give proper direction to the will.”

But underdevelopment has an even more important cause, Pope Paul wrote in 1967. It’s “the lack of brotherhood among individuals and peoples.” Therefore, Pope Benedict writes, “Will it ever be possible to obtain this brotherhood by human effort alone? As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbors but does not make us brothers.”

Next week’s column will start discussing the problems of human development in our time that Pope Benedict tackles. †

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