(This is Neil) I am sure that many of my readers have read at least commentaries on, if not part or all of the text of, Pope Benedict’s new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. I lack the erudition necessary to justify a long interpretive post. (One very good thing about blogging is that it forces you to confront – and acknowledge – your limits rather immediately. But, then, you feel that you have to post something.) Here, I will simply make some briefer comments, based on Uzochukwu Jude Njoku’s article, “The Influence of Changes in Socio-Economic thinking on the Development of Post-Vatican II Catholic Social Teaching,” which appeared in Political Theology in 2008. I think that Njoku’s article can help us place Pope Benedict’s encyclical in an interesting context. Hopefully what follows will be somewhat useful.
Njoku begins with Pope Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical, Populorum Progressio [PP] and Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes. Caritas in Veritate [CV] is a “fresh reading” of PP, and Benedict recognizes that encyclical’s “fruitful relationship with the Council.” Benedict appeals to Paul VI’s declaration of two truths, namely that the Church “is engaged in promoting integral human development” and that “authentic human development concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension.”
But Nkoju’s article also lets us see that social and political context of PP. Development then meant modernization theory, which held that the developing world was still in the condition of European countries before the industrial revolution. The developing world, it was thought, lacked a business ethos, but also needed access to available capital. The late Protestant theologian Robert McAfee Brown noted that the intention behind proponents of the so-called “Decade of Development” was that “the rich would provide for the poor, either by outright gifts or long term loans, sufficient capital for them to replicate the process that had brought prosperity to First World Nations.” Gaudium et Spes reflects this, positively recognizing “a clearer awareness of the responsibility of experts to aid and even to protect men, the desire to make the conditions of life more favorable for all, especially for those who are poor in culture or who are deprived of the opportunity to exercise responsibility” (57). Njoku notes that “the actors are the richer nations and the beneficiaries the poorer nations.”
So, PP stresses that the “wealthier nations” must resist racism, nationalism, and selfishness, and recognize their obligations to give aid to developing nations, rectify trade relations, and build a more humane world community (44). The developed world, for its part, is called to reflect on the conflict between “traditional culture” and the “advanced techniques of modern industrialization” (10). Nkoju notes that the developing world is quite clearly meant to look to the rich countries for both financial assistance and “models of what they ought to become.”
As the 1960s progressed, the failure of different programs to alleviate poverty in the developing world began to cast doubt on modernization theory. Increasingly, dependency theory, which held that development was halted by unjust, neo-colonial relations between core and periphery nations, came to the fore. (Dependency theorists, for instance, noted that, between 1950 and 1961, US investments in Brazil totaled a bit less than $3 billion, but, during the same decade, $6.875 billion in remittances and profits were siphoned from Brazil back to the US.) And, so, the liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez told the bishops of Latin America, before their 1968 meeting in Medellín, that they should “speak of liberation rather than development in addressing the problems of Latin America.”
Pope Paul VI released an apostolic letter, Octogesima Adveniens (1971), that reflected these new concerns – it spoke of seeing “in a new perspective the grave problems of our time.” Recognizing that national ambitions could create “structures” that stood in the way of justice, and instead accentuated inequalities and a “climate of distrust and struggle,” Paul VI said “That is why the need is felt to pass from economics to politics.” The relief of poverty, then, was not seen merely as a matter of expertise, but also of correcting politics, so that a renewed political power could aim for the common good, “even going beyond national limits” (46). Likewise, the Synod of Bishops released Justitia in Mundo in 1971 and spoke of “international systems of domination” and
the systematic barriers and vicious circles which opposed the collective advances toward enjoyment of adequate remuneration of the factors of production, and which strengthen the situation of discrimination with regard to access to opportunities and collective services from which a great part of the people are now excluded.
(CV merely mentions Octogesima Adveniens’ critique of the “danger constituted by utopian and ideological visions.”)
But, by the 1980s, critics of dependency theory became prominent, noting, for instance, that “dependence” hardly prevented Chile from increasing its GDP during the 1980s. Scholars began looking at factors in Third World countries themselves (including birth rates), and, as the influential political scientist Samuel Huntington would observe in 2000, “in the 1980s, interest in culture as an explanatory variable began to revive.” Gustavo Gutiérrez himself, in the 1988 edition of A Theology of Liberation, noted that “the theory of dependence … is now an inadequate tool, because it does not take sufficient account of the internal dynamics of each country or of the vast dimensions of the world of the poor.” Globalization also brought attention to the conflict between the circulation of consumer goods and local cultural issues.
Thus, John Paul II’s 1987 encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis [SRS] claimed that modern underdevelopment is not only economic but also cultural, political and simply human.” SRS, which Njoku notes is more pessimistic than PP, also says that “development demands above all a spirit of initiative on the part of the countries which need it” (41). While the rich do need to help the poor, “those who are weaker … should not adopt a purely passive attitude or one that is destructive of the social fabric” (39).
What about CV? While the Pope notes that the world is becoming more interdependent – “progressively and pervasively globalized” (9) – it seems that the real background to the encyclical is the theological crisis posed by secularism. (This is not only the Pope’s concern – R. Scott Appleby’s 2004 “job description” for the future pope listed first the “challenge of secularism,” namely, “the notion that the human experience can be understood through purely empirical and social-scientific analyses, without reference to humankind’s transcendent origins and orientation,” which could lead to the “commodification of social relations.”) This means that the theological argumentation in this encyclical is deeper and more sustained than that in PP, which, perhaps, only dimly foreshadows it. (The theologian Terrence W. Tilley has said about CV, “It’s unusual as a theological reflection on social justice.”)
But what does secularism have to do with development?
The Pope claims that St Paul’s phrase veritas in caritate (Eph 4:15) is complementary with caritas in veritate because both truth and charity are found in response to God, who is “Eternal Love and Absolute Truth.” Charity and truth form a “vocation.” Rather than writing about social justice in isolation, the Pope claims that justice is not only “inseparable” from this charity, but actually finds “completion” in charity’s logic of giving what is “mine” and forgiving (6) – a logic that witnesses to God’s love. The commitment to the common good “has a place within the testimony of divine charity that paves the way for eternity through temporal action” (7). Thus development is itself a “vocation” that “derives from a transcendent call” and is “incapable, on its own, of supplying its ultimate meaning” (16). And, if this theological character of development is not recognized, humanity curves back into itself, “denied breathing space” (11). Any form of “intoxication with pure autonomy” (70) becomes destructive. The one description of Original Sin in the encyclical is as selfish self-enclosure (34).
This means that development must occur within an ethos of gratuity, “before the astonishing experience of gift” (34). But what does an economy that recognizes the “principle of gratuitousness” look like? This brings us to the most unusual part of the encyclical. Pope Benedict says, “Alongside profit-oriented private enterprise and the various types of public enterprise, there must be room for commercial entities based on mutualist principles and pursuing social ends to take root and express themselves.” Benedict, who has worried about economic forms that themselves seem self-sufficient, deterministic, curved into themselves (see his article here [PDF], where he asserts that “Any scientific approach that believes itself capable of managing without an ethos misunderstands the reality of man,” after questioning both Marxism and certain forms of liberalism), notes that these “mutualist” enterprises “aim at a higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents, of profit as an end in itself” (38). Peter Schniller, SJ, has spoken of these sorts of enterprises as replacing the closed circle of the logic of exchange with the logic of gift, witnessing to the priority of divine logic: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more” (Rom 5:20). Later in the encyclical, Benedict will note “a broad new composite reality” in the economy of business that makes profit, “but considers it a means for achieving human and social ends” (26). Once more, the idea of enterprises clearly “marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion” seems to be the most fascinating and telling one in the encyclical.
When discussing solidarity, Benedict first speaks of a “metaphysical understanding of the relations between persons.” Human beings are not isolated individuals, closed in on themselves, but always already in relationship. Just as the human being is always in relationship with God – always called to respond in gratitude, “the same holds true for [our relation with] peoples as well” (53). Benedict finds a model for human relationality in the Holy Trinity: “The Trinity is absolute unity insofar as the three divine Persons are pure relationality.” Thus, “in the light of the revealed mystery of the Trinity, we understand that true openness does not mean loss of individual identity but profound interpenetration” (54). The Church has a place in public life in manifesting true relationality by witnessing to the “revealed mystery of the Trinity” (my emphasis), because, without the gift of this witness, human beings are left as isolated individuals who only see one another as competitors, or as mere building blocks, stripped of individuality, within larger groups.
So, perhaps this encyclical is somewhat unique in the sense of being less shaped by immediate socio-economic thinking on development, and more shaped by the perceived need to respond to contemporary secularism and connect Catholic social teaching to such a defense. Benedict plainly asserts, “Without God man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is.” Thus, he says, development must occur within a theological horizon – one made possible by divine action. He ends by writing not merely that “Development needs Christians” but that “Development needs Christians with their arms raised towards God in prayer” (79).
What do you think? (I would like to see aspects of this often very moving encyclical further developed – not only in terms of what the “economy of communion” would look like, but also in terms of interreligious dialogue. Also, I might have missed this, but it is really odd, given some of the themes, that Benedict doesn’t seem to have mentioned the preferential option for the poor. Maybe it will all be in the next hundred page encyclical.)