The Road from Regensburg

FAITH Magazine November-December 2009


In the last edition of this column we highlighted some key faith and reason themes in the Pope's latest encyclical. They are, we think, important to the overall message of the Letter.

1.  Diagnosis: True human development means overcoming the false materialistic reduction of the nature of man (n. 26, 29, 76). This false ideology is in a symbiotic relationship with globalization (variants of the term appear 54 times), science (n. 31, 51) and technology (n. 69, 70, 77). These latter are good in themselves but become dangerous (n. 31, 34, 68, 74) when materialistically interpreted (e.g. "the rejection of metaphysics by the human sciences" n. 31, & cf. 53, 77) and abused (n. 5, 28, 75).

2.  Prescription: This situation calls for "a new trajectory of thinking [...] a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation [... using] metaphysics and theology, [...] a metaphysical interpretation of the 'humanum' in which relationality is an essential element" (n. 53-54, see also n. 9, 19, 31, 33, 43).

3. Towards a New Metaphysics: This "new humanistic synthesis" (n.21) should involve a view of human knowing and truth as an intrinsic, yet ultimately gratuitous, relationship (n.34, 77 and footnote 88). This epistemological relationship is between the spiritual Mind of God, the spiritual mind of man (n.29, 72), and the material object of technology, (n. 26, 68-70). Which is to say it is the heart of a newly developed metaphysics.

Below we give extracts of 18 synthetic commentaries (as opposed to those that are primarily descriptive overviews) from within British, American and Italian Catholic publications. All of these refer at least to some degree to the Pope's call for a new "trajectory" or "synthesis" or "thinking". In many other commentaries this theme is ignored. Numerous simply suggest that the main thrust of the Encyclical is to point out the contradictions of materialism, and/or focus upon its specific reflections on economic and social governance. We would also note:

• Whilst some of the prominent synthetic attempts to capture the encyclical's central themes mention "anthropology" we have discovered only one (see Stratford Caldecott below) that mentions "metaphysics". Perhaps in more popular presentations today that term needs a lot of explaining. Which is perhaps the heart of the modern crisis. Still, the Encyclical uses the term at key points of Chapters Two and Five with significant thematic links to other parts of the encyclical, not least Chapter Six on technology.

• The theme of technology whilst prominent in the encyclical is hardly mentioned at all in the commentaries -the five we have found which go beyond simply mentioning it as something which can be unethically abused are referred to immediately below - but two are by someone involved with the encyclical's genesis, Archbishop Crepaldi.

• Below that are the eight we have found (including another helpful piece by Crepaldi) which refer to the Pope's suggested developments concerning epistemology.


Mgr Giampaolo Crepaldi, Archbishop of Trieste, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace until the publication of the Encyclical, spoke at the press conference kicking presenting the Encyclical. He started by affirming that the "synthetic point of view assumed by the encyclical [... is] receiving precedes doing." (see below sub-section on the 'human subject' for his later important development of this insight).

After drawing out how the encyclical applies this to various social, economic and ecological issues he highlighted, concerning "the problem of technology", that "this is the first time an encyclical deals with the subject in such an organic manner [...] The exclusively technical mentality [and ideology] in fact, reduces all to pure doing .... [True human development] requires a new perspective upon man that only the God who is truth and love can provide."

In a commentary soon after, in the prominent Italian Catholic current affairs review Tempi he argued that ""the overall vision [... affirms that] "the definitive Word [...] is not sort of added on from the outside like an opinion, but professes to be the response to human expectations [...]"

This counters the false "ideology of technology [which] is the new absolutism [... in which] the problems of the human person are reduced to psychological problems [...] Man is the unity of body and soul. Caritas in Veritate restores to the spirit and to life their rightful place in the construction of the earthly city."

The editorial to the summer edition of // Regno, the magazine of the Centra Editoriale Dehoniano of the Sacred Heart Fathers, suggests that the complexity of the text results from its gallant attempt to address the two big questions, globalization and the rise of technology -the latter requires "new eyes and new hearts to overcome materialism". It goes on to highlight "the difficulty of bringing together the perception of challenge with a new thinking (not just socio-economic) that could better describe, in a Christian fashion, the congruence of new facts with the language and syntheses already given by the tradition [...] Decisive is the recognition, whether positive or negative, of technology. This is the 'objective aspect of human action'(n.69), but its pervasiveness and force can transform it into the ideology of globalization."

Nate Wildermuth of catholicpeace making.comargues that the most important theme in Pope Benedict's new encyclical has been almost entirely ignored:

"At the official press conference that unveiled Caritas in Veritate, Cardinal Mgr Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council of Peace and Justice [...] said that Cold War ideologies 'have been replaced by the new ideology of technology,' and that the 'arbitrary nature of technology is one of the greatest problems of today's world.' Archbishop Crepaldi [secretary of the Council] explained that Caritas in Veritate is 'the first time an Encyclical deals with this theme [of technology] so fully'

"[... In] the last chapter [...] 'The Development of Peoples and Technology'!, summarising the previous five chapters, Pope Benedict writes that the 'supremacy of technology tends to prevent people from recognising anything that cannot be explained in terms of matter alone,' (77) [... This] chapter has been given the silent treatment by not only the mass-media, but by professors, theologians, and generally by those who ought to know better. When those who introduce the encyclical [make the above statements ...] one would expect to see a lot of thinking, writing, and reading done on that topic. But nothing of that sort has occurred, at least publicly. Why?

"[...] because the technical worldview is 'now so dominant' that we have taken its truth for granted. The Pope, when he speaks about technology, must not be questioning anything but its proper use. But Caritas in Veritate is not saying that technology must be used ethically. [...] He's opening up technology to a deeper discernment."

In New City, the magazine of the Focolare movement, Frank Johnson argues that "The divide between the sacred and the secular, the mystical and the material seems to be growing ever wider, at least in Western society. Belief is acceptable as long as it keeps itself to itself and doesn't try to 'interfere' with important 'worldly' issues such as economics, politics, science and technology. [...] For the majority of people in this country organised religion is a thing of the past, adhered to by a rapidly decreasing mount of elderly people. [... The Pope] offers an explanation and a vision of Christianity that strongly challenges the distorted image described above. [...] God has a plan of love for every human being, for the whole of humanity and thewhole of creation."


(But no explicit comment upon the cultural significance of technology).

To us, the most potent synthesis is that by Mgr Giampaolo Crepaldi, published on 19th September on the website of the Card. Van Thuan International Observatory. He brings out the subjective reception of objective, ontological, truth and love in all our knowing (see n. 34), directly denied by materialistic philosophy of science.

"What renders each person a person, as Caritas in Veritate (CV) argues, is not what he/she produces, but what he/she receives. [...] There is a word upon us that precedes us; [...] the fullness of [man's] identity is to be found in his response to this word. The word 'vocation' occurs 17 times in this encyclical. By virtue of this vocation man understands that he is always more than what he can do, and that society as such is always more than what can be accomplished by either the market or politics. [...] The human community lives on the basis of assumptions it knows not how to produce [...]- whether we call it trust, fraternity, solidarity or friendship!... this] is the ultimate reason for our conduct and behaviour. It is in this sense that CV speaks to us about truth andcharity, both of which are received and cannot be produced. They cannot be bought on the market, are not supplied as a sort of public service [...] Truth is revealed to us and charity is given to us. [...]

"The Christian claim is to respond to an expectation of truth and charity already implicit in things, in each thing, in each reality with its respective autonomy. Christianity does not replace them, but from the very outset sheds upon everything a light that makes it possible to enhance all the tiny or huge pieces of truth and charity present at each and every level of existence. [...] The faith is not added on to reason, charity is not added on to justice, ethics is not added on to economics or politics, the Church is not added on to the world, nor is culture added on to nature.... from the very outset they are in mutual dialogue, with neither confusion nor separation. [...]

"In CV, however, you will never find a statement of religious origin without an accompanying human and rational justification, upon the condition, quite naturally, that reason complies in full with its duty and that the sciences do not let themselves be guided by ideologies. In fact, the religion 'with a human face' does allow itself to be judged by reason, but by reason guided by its own truth and not just any old reason."

Stratford Caldecott, on argues, in a piece entitled "Metaphysics has returned: And more overlooked themes of new encyclical", that "the encyclical takes Catholic social teaching to a new level by basing it explicitly on the theology of the Trinity and calling for 'a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation.' Metaphysics is back.

"Next, it introduces a new principle -that of 'gratuitousness' and 'reciprocal gift,' which enables us to break the 'hegemony of the binary model of market-plus-State' (38, 39, 41). In other words, economics as a human activity is not ethically neutral and must be structured and governed in an ethical manner; that is, in accordance with the highest ends of man."

Tracey Rowland, in Catholic World Report's "round table" discussion (not reported in its print edition) argues that the Pope is affirming that "When cultures no longer serve the deepest needs of human nature and actually narrow the spiritual horizons of people, people don't know who they are and feel depressed.

"The remedy for this pandemic in contemporary Western culture is to grasp the fact that truth is something which is given to us as a gift [...] (cf. n.34). "Caritas in Veritate is a masterful synthesis of the Trinitarian anthropology of Gaudium et Spes and the subsequent insights of Paul VI and John Paul II, applied to the contemporary context."

Cardinal Cordes at the Press Conference presenting the encyclical distinguished the tradition of Church social teaching into three stages:

"In a first phase, the attention of this discipline was oriented, rather, to problematic situations within society [...] With the theological emphasis, John XXIII treats more decisively the question of all this in terms of the human person [...] John Paul II then reinforced this [...] In the logic of this Encyclical, we find then a further stage, perhaps a third phase in the reflection on social doctrine. [...] charity is placed as a key link: divine charity works through human action, as a theological virtue [...] Man is not considered only as the object of a process, but as the subject of this process. The man who has known Christ becomes the agent of change, such that social doctrine does not remain a dead letter."

Giorgio Vittadini, President of the Communion and Liberation (CL) "Subsidiarity Foundation" affirms in the CL summer magazine Traces that the central emphasis is that "it is Christ who fulfils man's destiny". In "defining charity as truth [t]he Pope [...] links it precisely to knowledge. [...] the true theme of the encyclical is the human subject as it stands behind economic activity and determines it."

Jennifer Roback Morse of the Acton Institute points out on their website that, in the very first paragraph of the encyclical we discover that "Benedict's perspective on Truth has its own view of human freedom as well as of the human good: 'Each person finds his good by adherence to God's plan for him, [...] in this plan, he finds his truth, and through adherence to this truth he becomes free.'"

Douglas Farrow, professor of Christian Thought at McGill University in Montreal, in the October edition of First Things states:

"At work in all of Benedict's writings is a profound theological vision of the human vocation and destiny. [...] Caritas in Veritate has real literary and practical flaws [...] yet, viewed in the light of Benedict's earlier encyclicals, Caritas in Veritate can be seen as one long call to conversion [... requiring] 'new eyes and a new heart, capable of rising above a materialistic vision of human events.' It requires a spirit of receptiveness, an openness to 'the idea of gift' as a fundamental principle of human existence"

In L'Osservatore Romano France's Minister of Labour, Xavier Darcos, said that the encyclical proposes "a 'comprehensive development' that assures a shared humanistic emancipation." The Pope is asking the world to explore "the path of gift, gratuity and sharing. He condemns the emptiness of blind relativism which deprives men of the sense of their collectivity." The Pope "calls for a new alliance between faith and reason, between divine light and human intelligence. The crisis should force us to reconsider our ways because while the world's riches are growing, the disparities continue."

In a piece challenging the conventional economics of "scarcity" Eugene McCarraher argues in Commonweal

that "The truth, Benedict asserts, is that love leavens the very architecture of creation; that creation is a realm of abundance, and humanity the image and likeness of a triune and infinitely loving God."

(But no specific comment upon the encyclical's themes of subjective relationality and objective technology).

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, on, argues that: "Pope Benedict XVI insists on a close relationship between morality and the economy in order to promote a 'holistic understanding and a new humanistic synthesis' [... and] urges that the [financial] crisis become 'an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future' (no. 21)."

John Allen in the American National Catholic Reporter argued that the encyclical presented a '"Christian humanism' for the globalized age", arguing that its main novelty was simply that the Pope "insists that Catholic social teaching must be seen as a package deal, holding economic justice together with its opposition to abortion, birth control, gay marriage, and other hot-button issues of sexual morality. The pope expresses irritation with [it seems, ..., the] tensions between the church's pro-life contingent and its peace-and-justice activists."

George Weigel in a second National Review article on the subject states that the Letter is "a complex and sometimes obscure document, in which many intellectual influences are clearly at work. [...] the proponents of Populorum Progressio [...] would seem to be promoting a 'hermeneutics of rupture' when they claim that the tradition of Catholic social doctrine began anew with Populorum Progressio — a claim that at least some passages in Caritas in Veritate can be interpreted to support. [...]

"It is certainly true that Catholic social doctrine challenges all parties in the ongoing debate over political economy in the United States. Yet if the most important development in that doctrine in Caritas in Veritate is a strong linkage of the life issues to Catholic social-justice concerns, then it is also true that the challenge of this particular encyclical falls more sharply on those who believe that Roe v. Wade was rightly decided, and remedied an injustice in prior American law."

Clifford Longley in The Tablet argues that "the encyclical's theological keynote" is that it "emphatically unites the Church's roles of spreading the Gospel with working for social justice [...] under the banner of integral human development"

Numerous commentators have criticised Pope Benedict's support for a tier of global governance "with teeth" - even though he also made very clear that this would be very dangerous if linked with the currently fashionable reductionist vision of man. In Fr Holloway's words from 1950 earlier in this issue, 60 years ago he prophesied:

"We are ending rather the first great era of universal civilisation, and entering upon a second world civilisation that will be greater and more all-embracing than the first. [...] mankind must rapidly integrate a truly universal civilisation, and become one people in the brotherhood of a world-wide commonwealth."

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