Monday, May 21, 2012

Uncalled-for Charity

More posts about "Caritas in Veritate" (Charity in Truth)
"Caritas in Veritate"

When I was growing up, being a "self-made man" was seen as a good thing, and so was single-minded pursuit of wealth.

Celebrations of rugged individualism gave way to vituperation of materialistic greed - which wasn't an entirely bad idea. (May 14, 2011)

Luxuriating in self-absorbed pursuit of personal whims wasn't, I think, much of an improvement; neither was blaming logical consequences of daft decisions on 'society;' and that's another topic. topics.

Swizzle Sticks, Rainbow Acres, and an Astonishing Experience

I'm an American, so I'm used to seeing advertisements for "FREE" stuff. Sometimes it's "get your FREE swizzle stick: just send $19.95 shipping and handling...." Sometimes it's a "FREE" dinner: during which you hear a sales pitch for some technically-legal pyramid scheme. Maybe someone's still selling lots at 'Rainbow Estates' in the Florida Everglades. And that's yet another topic.

But sometimes "free" really does mean "free." Which gets me into Chapter Three of "Caritas in Veritate:"
"Charity in truth places man before the astonishing experience of gift. Gratuitousness is present in our lives in many different forms, which often go unrecognized because of a purely consumerist and utilitarian view of life. The human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 34)
There's quite a bit in this chapter's introductory section. Here's my take on what Pope Benedict XVI said in "Caritas in Veritate," 34:

"Individual," Yes; Totally Independent, Hardly

I think 'being an individual' is important. I also think 'being an individual' is what every human being is; that it takes effort to be otherwise; and - good grief - that's yet again more topics.

But we're not completely independent individuals. That's what many corporate yes-men, hygienically-challenged navel-gazers, and driven executives of my youth seem to have missed. As a human being, I depend on a great deal: the oxygen-nitrogen mix I breathe; water that cycles through the streams, rivers, oceans, and rain; the myriad living creatures around me; uncounted millennia of human development; and more.
"...Sometimes modern man is wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life and society. This is a presumption that follows from being selfishly closed in upon himself, and it is a consequence - to express it in faith terms - of original sin...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 34)
(Back to the list of headings)

"Original Sin" and Getting a Grip

"Original sin," for a practicing Catholic, is not the notion that human beings are completely icky:
"The doctrine of original sin, closely connected with that of redemption by Christ, provides lucid discernment of man's situation and activity in the world. By our first parents' sin, the devil has acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free. Original sin entails 'captivity under the power of him who thenceforth had the power of death, that is, the devil.'298 Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action,299 and morals."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 407)
If that doesn't sound like what you've been told about Catholic beliefs, I'm not surprised. I've been over this sort of thing before:
(Back to the list of headings)

Original Sin, the Economy, and the Big Picture

Worship, prayer, and contemplation of God, are part of being Catholic. So is acting as if God matters:
"...The Church's wisdom has always pointed to the presence of original sin in social conditions and in the structure of society: 'Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action and morals'[85]. In the list of areas where the pernicious effects of sin are evident, the economy has been included for some time now...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 34)
That phrase, "social actions and morals," may need a bit of explaining. "Morality," in the Catholic sense, includes sexual ethics: but there's a whole lot more to morality than zipper issues. (June 3, 2011)

(Back to the list of headings)

Material Prosperity, Social Action, and Ethics

Like I've said before, "Caritas in Veritate" isn't light reading. Like most documents on the Vatican's website, it's densely-packed text. I think this is a reasonable paraphrase of what comes right after "social actions and morals:" ("Caritas in Veritate," 34)

Believing that man is self-sufficient, able to eliminate the evil present in history by his unaided action, is a bad idea. It leads to confusing happiness and salvation with immanent forms of material prosperity and social action.

Believing that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from ethical "influences," is also a bad idea. It has led to economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom. This loss of personal and social freedom make the promised justice of ethics-free economic systems impossible.

"Immanent?!" Dictionary time:
  • Immanent (adjective)
    • Subjective
    • Qualities that are spread throughout something
    (Princeton's WordNet)
(Back to the list of headings)

Christian Hope: It's Not an Oxymoron

I've explained how the malignant virtue of a particular flavor of religion encouraged me to take a long, hard, look at Christianity: and other major religions. Eventually I converted to Catholicism, and that's still another topic.

Once in a while I run into a Catholic who seems convinced that gloominess is next to Godliness, but that's personal style: not Church teaching. I've posted about the Desert Fathers, 19th-century 'lives of sick and dying saints,' and perceptions, before.

Bottom line, "Christian hope" in this excerpt from Benedict XVI's encyclical isn't an oxymoron:
"...As I said in my Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi, history is thereby deprived of Christian hope[86], deprived of a powerful social resource at the service of integral human development, sought in freedom and in justice. Hope encourages reason and gives it the strength to direct the will[87]. It is already present in faith, indeed it is called forth by faith. Charity in truth feeds on hope and, at the same time, manifests it. As the absolutely gratuitous gift of God, hope bursts into our lives as something not due to us, something that transcends every law of justice. Gift by its nature goes beyond merit, its rule...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 34)
That reminded me of what Luke wrote about judging, measures, and all that:
"13'Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.

"Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.' "
(Luke 6:37-38)
Looking at that passage, it's not exactly 'gratuitous.' Then there's Matthew 5:44-45, which is more what Benedict XVI meant: I think.

(Back to the list of headings)

Finding, and Receiving, Truth

Back to "Caritas in Veritate:"
"...Gift by its nature goes beyond merit, its rule is that of superabundance. It takes first place in our souls as a sign of God's presence in us, a sign of what he expects from us. Truth - which is itself gift, in the same way as charity - is greater than we are, as Saint Augustine teaches[88]. Likewise the truth of ourselves, of our personal conscience, is first of all given to us. In every cognitive process, truth is not something that we produce, it is always found, or better, received. Truth, like love, 'is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings' [89]...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 34)
That's not the sort of 'I have my truth, you have yours' thing that's been fashionable for much of my life. The notion that 'truth is what you imagine,' that reality is what each of us believes that it is, never made sense to me. My perception was that if I let go of a brick that's over my foot: my foot's going to hurt, whether I believe in bricks and gravity or not.

(Back to the list of headings)

The Principle of Gratuitousness

"...Because it is a gift received by everyone, charity in truth is a force that builds community, it brings all people together without imposing barriers or limits...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 34)
This isn't the sort of negative 'community' of John Lennon's "Imagine" (1971), with "no countries ... And no religion too...."

The sort of community the Catholic Church builds is literally universal, καθολικός: but it's a positive unity, achieved by adding to what each of us already has. I didn't stop being American, or male, or a nerd, when I became a Catholic. I've been over this before. (April 23, 2012, April 18, 2012, August 12, 2011; Apathetic Lemming of the North (April 15, 2011)

There's quite a bit more in this part of "Caritas in Veritate." I think I've got the main points of the last paragraph in section 34 here:
  • Because charity in truth is a gift received by everyone, it
    • Is a force that builds community
    • Brings all people together
      • Without imposing barriers or limits
  • The human community that we build by ourselves can
    • Never be a fully fraternal community
      • purely by its own strength
    • It can not
      • Overcome every division
      • Become a truly universal community
  • God-who-is-Love calls into being
    • The unity of the human race
    • A fraternal communion
  • Economic, social, and political development
    • The logic of gift does not
      • Exclude justice
      • Merely sit alongside justice
        • As a second element
        • Added from without
    • Must make room for the principle of gratuitousness
      • As an expression of fraternity
      • If it is to be authentically human
    (See "Caritas in Veritate," 34)

Humanity: United with Justice and Charity

Unity of the human race, a unity which is greater than any barrier; economic, social, and political development which embraces justice and charity: that's going to take quite a bit of effort. And time.

Quite a great deal of time, I suspect. I don't expect to see anything resembling that unity in my lifetime: but it's a good goal to work for.

Related posts:
  • "Spe Salvi"
    Encyclical Letter of on Christian Hope
    Pope Benedict XVI (November 30, 2007)


Brigid said...

Were the bullet points following this supposed to be links? Because they aren't: "Pope Benedict XVI said in "Caritas in Veritate," 34:"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


That they were: You caught this post before I added the links.

'Linkless' lists like that happen because I write these posts, then schedule them to appear at a later time. Since I haven't figured out how Blogger generates the post-specific part of the URL, I can't make useful internal links until the post is, well, posted.

Thanks, by the way: sometimes I might miss the 'linking' process. ;)

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