Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Reading 'Caritas in Veritate' (Love in Truth), a Few Paragraphs at a Time

I started reading "Caritas in Veritate" (Love in Truth) last night, a little after 9:00. Like most letters from the Holy See, it's not exactly fluffy reading. It's also a very Catholic document.

By now you may have read that Love in Truth shows that the Catholic Church is solidly behind the American liberal worldview. And, that the Church is obviously backing the American conservative worldview.

Wrong on both counts - although there's a grain or two of truth in both statements, too.

What, it's Conservative and Liberal?!

Love in Truth is a document that applies the teachings of the Catholic Church to events and conditions that we're experiencing now. It is neither conservative nor liberal: it's Catholic.

Liberal and conservative views have at least one thing in common: They are both efforts to make sense of the world.

It would be odd, if two major approaches to politics in America (and elsewhere) failed to connect with reality of all counts: which is why diehard conservatives will see bits and pieces of this encyclical that support their ideas, and whacked out liberals will see fragments that support their views.

"Caritas in Veritate" - It's Not Moderate; It's Catholic

One thing that "Caritas in Veritate" certainly is not, is 'moderate:' a nice, bland puree of conservative and liberal ideas, served lukewarm. There's a very definite point of view here. "Caritas in Veritate" (Love in Truth) expresses part of the teachings that the Catholic Church has been sharing for about two thousand years now.

I intend to read the English-language translation of "Caritas in Veritate" that's online at the Holy See's website. Along the way, I'll quote excerpts - and discuss what's in the latest letter from headquarters.

Remember: I'm a layman, with some academic training but no theological credentials, Catholic or otherwise. My observations should not be taken as 'official' in any way, regarding Catholic teaching.

Charity: Sounds Nice, Doesn't it?

Last night, I quoted Love in Truth's Introduction. Part of that paragraph reads, "Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth...."

Quite a few people these days don't particularly like the idea of 'absolute truth.' I never could see what point there was in claiming that 'A' equals 'not-A' - apart from playing mind games with freshman psychology classes.

Back to love, charity and truth.

People want to love authentically, the introduction says, because God put love and truth in the heart of every human person. What we do with that basic desire depends on what we're taught and what we decide to do.

Charity, true charity, "'rejoices in the truth' (1 Cor 13:6)." And, it's important. Very important.
"...2. Charity is at the heart of the Church's social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law (cf. Mt 22:36- 40). It gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbour; it is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones). For the Church, instructed by the Gospel, charity is everything because, as Saint John teaches (cf. 1 Jn 4:8, 16) and as I recalled in my first Encyclical Letter, 'God is love' (Deus Caritas Est): everything has its origin in God's love, everything is shaped by it, everything is directed towards it. Love is God's greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope...

"...Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the 'economy' of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth. In this way, not only do we do a service to charity enlightened by truth, but we also help give credibility to truth, demonstrating its persuasive and authenticating power in the practical setting of social living. This is a matter of no small account today, in a social and cultural context which relativizes truth, often paying little heed to it and showing increasing reluctance to acknowledge its existence...."
(Caritas in Veritate)
As you see, I left some of section 2. out. Those ellipses (...) show where I've omitted parts of the quote. I also put ellipses at the beginning and end of quotes, if they are not at the beginning or end of the source - except where I'm quoting a very short passage. As I wrote earlier, I strongly recommend reading Caritas in Veritate yourself.

The English translation of Love in Truth uses two phrases that I hadn't run into before:
  • micro-relationships
  • macro-relationships
I think these are useful ways of referring to two sorts of relationships, both of which are quite real and important:
" [charity] is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones)...."
(Caritas in Veritate)

Well, That May be True for You, But - - -

My stubborn refusal to be 'intelligent' and say that 'A' equals 'not-A' might brand me as a hide-bound reactionary. I can live with that.

Long before I became a Catholic, I saw facts as being like big, hard, sharp-edged things. If you acknowledged that they exist you can walk between them. You can even use them as foundations or anchor-points for ideas.

On the other hand, people are free to decide that they don't like facts, and walk around with their mental eyes shut. It's possible to do that. But if you do, sooner or later you'll walk into a fact: and odds are that it will hurt.

The Catholic Church appealed to me in part because of its attitude toward truth.

It's not that the Church is rigid. The Catechism discusses briefly how the liturgy has parts that can't be changed: and parts that can, because " '...the Church has the power and on occasion also the duty to adapt to the cultures of recently evangelized peoples.' " (1205) Which is Euro-Americans like me have holly and garlands of evergreen around at Christmas time. But that's another topic.

Many of the criticisms of the Church today come, I think, at least in part because Catholicism does not go along with today's intellectual fashion of pretending that facts - objective truth - doesn't exist.

Section 3 of Love in Truth has a brief discussion of the interaction between charity and truth that ends with this observation:
"...This is a matter of no small account today, in a social and cultural context which relativizes truth, often paying little heed to it and showing increasing reluctance to acknowledge its existence...."
(Caritas in Veritate)
In a way, I can understand the preference for pretending that facts don't exist: as I said, I see them as big, heavy sharp-edged things that can hurt a person.

But closing your eyes and pretending they're not there just isn't smart.

Why I'm writing this post

I want to understand this letter from the Holy See: and from the looks of things, it'll be a whole lot safer to read the document itself, instead of looking at what someone else thinks it should say.

I figure that, if I read a section or two a day, and write a sort of report on what I've read, I'll keep more of what 'Caritas in Veritate' says in my head. So, this post and others like it are in large part my effort to read and understand the encyclical. But, you're welcome to come along for the ride.

I see there are 79 sections. This could take a while.

Related posts: Background:
  • "Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI
    Benedict XVI, The Vatican (June 29, 2009)
    • Don't worry: this link is to the English-language translation.

Links to other posts about my study of Caritas in Veritate:


smdavid said...

There's a good ebook that's free to help pastors and their wives with discouragement and burnout. You can find it at It's quite helpful.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


Ooh-kay. Off-topic, possibly commercial, and with a URL. That's teetering at the edge on spam. But, what the hey: it might do some good.

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.