Caritas in Veritate
On Further Reflection

Brian McCall

(POSTED 09/09/09 Your experience reading the third encyclical of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, may have been similar to my own.  As I read through the text I experienced the sensation of paradox and confusion.  At one point I would rejoice over a clear affirmation of Catholic Truth much in need of proclamation in these troubled times.  But often such a jewel would be followed by an almost incomprehensible phrase (such as “authentic integral human development”) or a troubling practical suggestion (such as the call for a global political authority capable of enforcing its decisions). 

After more time reading the document and reflecting upon it, however, I wish to propose two perspectives which might help to make sense of the paradoxical nature of the encyclical.  I hope that by sharing my thoughts I can in some way help anyone else trying to make sense of it all.

My understanding of the encyclical flows from two major themes.  I am not offering in this article a detailed exposition of the vast number of topics covered in the document.  This work will have to be taken up by other articles and other Remnant authors over the coming months.  What I want to focus on are two themes in reading the encyclical that may assist the bemused Remnant reader.  I will be touching on some of the specific issues raised in the Encyclical to illustrate these general points; yet I do not purport to be complete in my treatment of these various topics.

The first observation about the encyclical is that it is an extended discussion of the Natural Law.  Although the Holy Father discusses aspects of theology (e.g. original sin), the document deals primarily with the natural ends of Man and not his supernatural end.  I am not suggesting that the Holy Father is unconcerned with the supernatural end of Man (Summorum Pontificum directly addressed an aspect of it, Man’s worship of God).  Yet, this document is a discussion of the natural happiness of Man in the temporal sphere. 

This is the realm of Natural Law.  The work of Natural Law is concerned with identifying the natural ends of Man and using these ends to develop principles of action for application to temporal affairs.  The Natural Law is related to the supernatural end of Man in the sense that it leads one to it.  As St. Thomas would say, grace perfects nature.  The encyclical is clearly concerned with applying Natural Law principles to contemporary problems in the temporal sphere, primarily the devastating financial and economic collapse we are experiencing and the pace of globalization brought on by technological innovation.  

The fact that this encyclical addresses primarily the natural rather than supernatural end of Man is highlighted by the fact that this letter is addressed to the entire world and not just the members of the Church (as were the first two encyclicals).

Recognizing that the encyclical is a work of Natural Law necessitates some consideration of the different levels of Natural Law thinking.  Natural Law thinking involves two different intellectual activities, deduction and determination.  Principles of action are deduced from the nature of Man as created by God through the use of right reason.  These deduced principles are applied to various concrete factual situations (what St. Thomas calls contingent matters) to make determinations about what specific acts should be done or avoided.  These two activities, deductions and determinations, involve different considerations. 

Deduction involves primarily the use of logical thinking; determination the virtue of prudence.  A principle of the Natural Law would be that in all buying and selling a just price must be paid.  A determination of this principle would be that in a particular purchase and sale the price paid was in fact a just price. 

As we saw earlier, Natural Law thinking involves identifying the various natural ends of Man and then deducing from those ends principles of right action.  The first precept of the Natural Law according to St. Thomas is that good is to be done and evil avoided.  This most basic principle is the most easily comprehended principle.  It is known per se nota (through itself).  No person can fail to know this primordial Truth.  One may choose to act contrary to it or deny the implications of it but it is universally known to all. 

The next tier of principles involve further specifications of what constitutes this good to be done.  Based on the nature of Man these goods include the preservation of human life, the procreation, rearing and education of children, the fostering of the social and political nature of Man in furtherance of the common good, and the attainment of Truth (including truth about God). 

The Holy Father’s encyclical discusses all of these principles to varying degrees.  Once these goods or ends which ought to be done have been found, Natural Law then deduces more remote principles flowing from these first general principles.  For example, the precept that one should not kill the innocent can be deduced from the precept that life ought to be preserved.   The more remote the principle is from the first precept, the more difficult it is for the human mind to know it.  Due to our fallen nature, Men can be mistaken in their deduction of principles of action.  Thus, as St. Thomas points out, the Germanic tribes encountered by Julius Caesar did not know that theft from other tribes was a violation of the Natural Law. 

The act of determining actions is the act of choosing among a range of possible actions in light of the principles of the Natural Law.  Sometimes, depending on the contingent matters under consideration, the principles of the Natural Law require an action be done or not done but sometimes the principles allow for a range of possible choices. 

St. Thomas gives the example that it is a principle of the Natural Law (deduced from the social nature of Man) that evil doers should be punished.  Yet, the particular form of any evil doer’s punishment may legitimately vary (one year in jail, a fine, other possibilities) all of which can be consistent with the principle. 

St. Thomas explains “although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects.”[i]  St. Thomas distinguishes among, the most general principles of the Natural Law, secondary principles, and particular determinations of contingent matters.  The level of universality in the statement and the ability of Man to know and understand the principle or determined judgment varies.  As to the most basic principle “good ought to be done”—this is universally true and is most easily known by any Man.  The more detailed precepts deduced from this, however, are not as easily known by Men and are more difficult to formulate in a universal manner. 

Finally, individual determinations (being the most remote from the basic principle) are more difficult to make and Man may more easily err in making them.  St. Thomas summarizes these different levels of Natural Law thinking thus:  “It is therefore evident that, as regards the general principles . . . truth or rectitude is the same for all, and is equally known by all. As to the proper conclusions . . . [from these principles], the truth is the same for all, but is not equally known to all: thus it is true for all that the three angles of a triangle are together equal to two right angles, although it is not known to all. But as to the proper conclusions of the practical reason, neither is the truth or rectitude the same for all, nor, where it is the same, is it equally known by all.”[ii] 

Given this difficulty, which is a consequence of our wounded nature resulting from original sin, God has provided various aids in our deduction of principles. The most important of which for our purposes here is the Divine Positive Law, the moral precepts revealed by God (e.g. the Ten Commandments).  Thus, the use of right reason needs to look to faith to aid in knowing the principles of the Natural Law.  The Church, particularly through the Popes, has throughout the centuries used the moral precepts of the Divine Positive Law to help teach Men the general and more remote principles of the Natural Law.  This is usually done through the Ordinary Magesterium (although on occasion the Extraordinary Magesterium has been used to confirm and reinforce some principles of the Natural Law). 

As to determinations, the Church’s usual means to help people in making them is through the internal forum, the confessional and related spiritual direction.  What is important is that in this realm where determinations of complicated contingent matters are difficult, a minister of the Church can aid determination by explaining the principles and using his grace of office to assist in thinking through the determination in particular circumstances making use of the virtue of prudence.  Although ministers of the Church benefit from a grace of office, there is no divine assurance of infallibility in making specific prudential determinations of action. 

Given the variety of contingent matters observed by St. Thomas in human affairs, the Church and the Popes have hesitated to publicly proclaim particular determinations of various precise issues.  For example, in the bull Vix Prevent on usury, the Holy Father clearly articulated the Natural Law principles regulating financial lending and capital investment transactions but declined to determine what was to be done with respect to a set of particular contracts which were submitted for his consideration.

Occasionally when a particular determination of a principle of the Natural Law is being debated by a large number of Men at the same time, a minister of the Church, and even the Pope himself, has made recommendations as to the matter.  For example, Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum recommended that some form of worker associations should be promoted in light of the Natural Law principles governing the relation of capital and labor. 

In Caritas in Veritate, Benedict XVI, engages in both forms of Natural Law analysis (although when he moves from one to the other is not always clearly indicated in the style of the text).  In some places he reminds the world of general Natural Law principles and proximate conclusions drawn from them and in other places he makes practical recommendations about possible determinations of those principles that need to be made to address the two crises facing the world – economic collapse and globalization. 

As I have said, we do not have time to consider all of them but below are list of some of the significant Natural Law principles that the Holy Father represents to the confused world:

·         - Man is a social and political animal who must act justly and charitably towards his fellow Men

·         - Innocent human life must never be intentionally destroyed and thus abortion and euthanasia are prohibited.

·         - One of the ends of marriage is procreation and thus large families is a good for society to pursue and as a result contraception is prohibited

·         - Given the common possession of all creation Men cannot be reckless and wasteful in the way he makes use of creation

·         - Given Man’s social and political nature truth and love and knowledge of and obedience to God have both a private and public dimension

·         - Profit is not to be pursued as a final end but must be treated as a means to other ends

·         - Laborers must be paid a just wage and contracts must be made on just terms

·         - Since all Men possess an intellect and will, political authority must not be tyrannical and must be dispersed over different spheres of social life

·         - Man does not exist as a result of evolutionary chance but has been created by God

There are many other principles of Natural Law contained in this long document but this list gives a sense of the breadth of principles the Holy Father confirms. 

Beyond these principles of the Natural Law, the Holy Father provides his thoughts on some more specific policies in light of the current economic and global crisis.  These statements constitute determinations of contingent matters in accordance with the principles of the Natural Law.  Now, these determinations can be more or less remotely based on a principle of the Natural Law. They also may be one of several possible determinations in light of the current situation and the prudence of determination made by the Holy Father may or may not be the best. 

For example the Holy Father recommends that laws be revised to enable new forms of corporate enterprise that would neither be a pure for profit organization nor a non-profit organization but would pursue profit as a means to other ends.  Such a suggestion is worth considering in light of various differing legal systems.

One of the most controversial practical determinations made by the Holy Father in the Encyclical is a call for a “world political authority” to manage the economy and other international issues.  Given the context where this statement is made it is unclear if the Holy Father is calling for a new form of authority or merely a reform of the United Nations (which he states in this same Encyclical must indeed be reformed).  The Holy Father seems to determine that such a recommendation should be considered due to the dominance of “international financial institutions” which are engaged in immoral “speculation.”  The Holy Father sees this international financial and commercial cabal as controlling governmental decisions such as “budgetary policy” and amid “corruption and illegality” running the risk of “enslavement and manipulation.” 

The Holy Father seems to think these powerful forces have been evading just governance by nation states.  He seems to suggest that such international economic cabals have been eroding the ability of nations to morally legislate for the operation of a just economy.  Now the Holy Father’s recommendation is clearly derived from Natural Law principles.  Such an authority must be subject to law, must “observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity” and must “seek to establish the common good” with “regard for justice.”  The Holy Father notes that such a political authority presupposes “a social order that at last conforms to the moral order, to the interconnection between moral and social spheres.” 

Now these are the same principles which underpinned Christendom.  In the Age of Faith this “family of nations” had a universal authority which governed practically the entire known world (the Empire) but this higher authority was limited in its scope with due respect paid to national, princely, ducal and town governing authorities.  The Holy Roman Emperor coordinated efforts but most decisions were made on local levels.  Christendom was based upon a Christian social order that acknowledged the universal reign of Christ the King and the roles of the temporal and spiritual spheres (represented by Dante’s image of the two suns).  As to these principles the Holy Father is merely repeating the general principles of Catholic Natural Law political philosophy.

Yet, even though the principles (the same ones underlying Christendom) be sound, this recommendation may still be an imprudent determination.  The Holy Father is conscious that such an authority must not become “totalitarian.”  He seems to think its role is to break up the corrupt concentrated “balance of powers” that has caused the current global crisis.  Yet, given the modern secularist State’s obsessions with amassing more monopolies of power and making use of violent means of sustaining it (particularly in the last century), such a global political authority could easily cast aside the safeguards of sound Natural Law principles and become exactly what the Holy Father intends to prevent – “tyrannical.”  The Holy Father, himself, acknowledges obliquely and in at least one place directly, the moral failure of the United Nations and other non-governmental entities which need “reform.”  His Holiness’ practical determination although in theory consistent with Natural Law principles is subject to prudential analysis and even rejection due to the potential dangers for harm. 

It is perfectly consistent with the Catholic Faith and loyalty to the Holy Father to accept the principles of the Natural Law taught by him (and his predecessors), with the assurance of protection ascribed to the Magesterium, but seriously question the practical conclusion about the current world situation he suggests.  A call for a global political authority by the Supreme Pontiff may be used to support the building of the Masonic inspired New World (Godless) Order, as some news commentators have already observed.  Such a result is not consistent with Catholic Natural Law principles.  It is in this sense that the Holy Father’s recommendation may be greatly imprudent.

The second major theme to consider in the Encyclical is that it seems to demonstrate the Holy Father’s continued commitment to what I will call the only major change brought about by the Second Vatican Council.  The Holy Father makes clear that the teaching of the Church can never change or differ.  “It is not a case of two typologies of social doctrine, one pre-Conciliar, one post-Conciliar, differing from one another; on the contrary there is a single teaching” which the Holy Father calls “the Tradition of the Apostolic Faith.”  All of this is correct as no Council and no Pope can alter what the Church has always believed.  Catholics today must believe what they have always had to believe.

The change of the Council, according to the Holy Father, was a change of policy.  It chose in many cases to express the unchanging truths in novel language.  The new language is at times ambiguous (one may even suggest intentionally so) and often sounds like the jargon and slogans of the non-Christian secular world.  It was thought prudent by the forces directing the Council to address the unchanging truths in new and novel vocabulary believed to be more accessible to a fictitious invention, so called “modern man.”  Thus, what Catholics believe must remain the same as before the Council, but the Council and the Popes following it have been speaking about this doctrine with unfamiliar and difficult to understand vocabulary. 

Unfortunately, despite clarifying that the teaching of the Church does not represent a “break with the previous popes,” the Holy Father has issued an Encyclical laden with this novel language to express the perennial truths.  As it has done for the last fifty years, such language has the great potential to confuse people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to think that the Church has done what she cannot—change the principles of the Natural Law which as St. Thomas confirms cannot be changed by subtraction.  

My opinion is that this rupture of language has been intentional on the part of some in the Church so as to create this untrue impression that truths have changed.  Often the novel language echoes the ambiguous phraseology of modern anthropology, sociology, psychology and liberal political rhetoric.  The choice to continue use of this modern language undermines, in my opinion, the Holy Father’s praiseworthy reaffirmation of perennial truths contained in the Encyclical, truths which badly need not only re-affirmation but clarity in our time.  The clear statement that current teaching is not a rupture with the past is undermined by expressing these truths at least in part in novel, post-conciliar language. 

The consequence of this continued linguistic policy is that one needs to approach the Encyclical like a decoder.  The Holy Father has told us that he is teaching the same “Apostolic tradition,” the same doctrine as “pre-conciliar” teaching.  We must therefore read the confusing language in light of Tradition and translate the new ambiguous language into the traditional language of the Church.

There is insufficient time to provide a complete code book of language for the Encyclical but here is my attempt at translating some of the major phrases used by the Holy Father.   The most prevalent term in the Encyclical is “authentic integral human development.”  This is none other than the first principle of the Natural Law: the “good” is to be done, or, put another way, Men are to live in a way to habituate themselves to virtue.  This is the constant moral teaching of the Church.  Man and society are obligated to foster the development of virtuous habits consistent with Man’s God given nature.  Yet, “authentic integral human development” is a vague term which can be read to imply subjective psychological evolution.

Another significant term which needs translation is “responsible procreation.”  This is a condemnation of fornication and adultery.  The context in which the term is used (which contains condemnation of the dramatically declining birth rates and ridicules the use of contraception which has produced “miniscule families”) must mean that procreation is only responsible if within the confines of marriage.  This is the only responsible way to make use of the faculty of procreation.  Yet, the term “responsible procreation” ripped from its context can be easily manipulated to mean birth control or population control. 

The most oblique vocabulary arises in discussing the doctrine of the obligations to Christ the King as taught in Quas Primas.  “The Christian religion and other religions can offer their contribution to development only if God has a place in the public realm, specifically in regard to its cultural, social, economic, and particularly its political dimensions. . . .  Public life is sapped of its motivation and politics takes on a domineering and aggressive character. Human rights risk being ignored either because they are robbed of their transcendent foundation [i.e., Christ the King] . . . .  Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith: this also holds true for political reason, which must not consider itself omnipotent.” 

In obfuscated language, this is the duty to purify public life by submitting it to the Transcendent One, or, as Popes used to say—to Christ the King.  Buried in this language is the call to re-establish public and private submission to Christ the King.  Yet, to one unfamiliar with Quas Primas, the new language may sound like the muddled calls of Deists for conformity to the “transcendent,” whatever one may think that to be. 

The examples could be multiplied but the point should be clear.  Fortunately, the Holy Father has declared much more clearly than his predecessor that there is no pre and post conciliar Church.  The Church has not broken with the Apostolic tradition.  Unfortunately, he has in this encyclical continued the policy of discussing this Tradition in novel, ambiguous and often secular language (phrases that can be interpreted by the world as a concession to its false ideas).  The current global crisis could have been an opportunity for the Holy Father to finally repudiate this policy decision and jettison this Gnostic language of confusion.  Let us pray that he will do so soon.  

The only real solution to the current global crisis is a global return to Natural Law principles as confirmed by Divine Revelation and the constant teaching of the Church.  As an antidote to the post-Conciliar linguistic novelty, let us ponder the original language to help clear our minds of confusion.  Here is Pope Pius XI addressing an equally dire world crisis.  He presents the same Natural Law principles as Benedict XVI but in unambiguous language. 

We have already seen and come to the conclusion that the principal cause of the confusion, restlessness, and dangers which are so prominent a characteristic of false peace is the weakening of the binding force of law and lack of respect for authority, effects which logically follow upon denial of the truth that authority comes from God, the Creator and Universal Law-giver. . . .

If we stop to reflect for a moment that these ideals and doctrines of Jesus Christ, for example, his teachings on the necessity and value of the spiritual life, on the dignity and sanctity of human life, on the duty of obedience, on the divine basis of human government, on the sacramental character of matrimony and by consequence the sanctity of family life - if we stop to reflect, let Us repeat, that these ideals and doctrines of Christ (which are in fact but a portion of the treasury of truth which He left to mankind) were confided by Him to His Church and to her alone for safekeeping, and that He has promised that His aid will never fail her at any time for she is the infallible teacher of His doctrines in every century and before all nations, there is no one who cannot clearly see what a singularly important role the Catholic Church is able to play, and is even called upon to assume, in providing a remedy for the ills which afflict the world today and in leading mankind toward a universal peace.[iii]



[i] Summa Theologica I-II Q. 94. Art. 4.

[ii] Summa Theologica I-II, Q. 94, Art. 4.

[iii] Pius XI, Ubi Arcano