Today, by "economy" or "economical", what first comes to mind is low-cost, parsimonious, sparing, small, fuel-efficient, and, often, cheap. But now, with his third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate ("Charity in Truth") Benedict subverts and reverses the common understanding of "economy" as a parsimonious reduction in costs or a miserly (re)distribution of resources. For this counter-cultural Pope, "economy" is principally a question of charity, of love. In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est ("God is Love"), the Pope argued that love is inherently expansive, ecstatic, and effusive. For Benedict, the social doctrine of the Church, that includes a now rapidly developing theology of political economy, is not just about the distribution of wealth. Benedict is at least as interested in fostering wealth creation motivated by love, while exercising responsible stewardship over the environment.
The Catholic Church claims that God challenges all human beings to collaborate with the Creator by, not just conserving his creation, but improving and expanding upon all of creation. Therefore, we enjoy the right and duty to continue God's creative work. A good Christian, in particular, must strive to create wealth and to foster development, especially seeking to promote the integral development of the poorest. The first book of the Bible says that Adam and Eve were created to be fruitful and to multiply, to extend and to propagate the gifts received from God. Man and woman were created in God's image, and so, they are to continue his work. Demographic growth and human fruitfulness, giving birth to offspring and extending human life through the generations, are components of the broader fruitfulness of expanding upon the vast wealth of the marvelous array of nature found on our planet, and beyond.
With his penetrating analysis of economic affairs, within the framework of human freedom and his recommendation that our activity be done out of love, often for free, and always in accord with the truth, Benedict surpasses the stale commonplaces of much current political debate between left and right, progressives and conservatives, communism and capitalism. Like the Gospels themselves, Benedict's message is revolutionary. He applauds neither of the two sides of the debate, typically contested by partisan politics. Within the Church, Benedict challenges both social justice and pro-life activists to seek even more ambitious and more well-rounded goals. In sum, the Pope challenges the world to overcome the current economic crisis by transforming all human transactions in accord with love in truth.
In the 144 pages of Caritas in Veritate, the Pope addresses a wide-range of topics. For instance, he proposes more robust supranational governance for the world economy: "so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth". He analyzes the weakening of state sovereignty while predicting, nonetheless, the continuation of its important role in governing human affairs. He advocates more substantial foreign aid, directed from developed countries to those that are still developing. He addresses the morality of taxation and distinguishes compulsory tax payments from the more meritorious practice of gratuitous giving. Benedict proposes that globalization be managed so as to promote its positive features, while putting a brake on the anti-human impetus of its downside. He criticizes outsourcing, when done without concern for the benefit of employees and their right to stable employment. He defends the need for labor unions in continuing to protect the interest of workers especially within the context of increasing trends towards migration and mobility. He warns against the dangerous effects of climate change and challenges us all to care for the environment.
Moreover, he analyzes the dangers of religious syncretism and cultural relativism and denounces the restriction in some countries of the fundamental right to religious freedom, which is so necessary for advancing integral human development. The Pope also addresses the most controversial moral issues of our day by denouncing abortion, eugenics, and the cannibalization of human beings in embryonic stem cell research. He describes the ongoing demographic suicide of many advanced countries and recommends urgent and generous correction to the trend away from the gift of life to a new generation of creative and caring individuals, the ultimate resource of our planet. "Openness to life is at the centre of true development." Marriage and family form the core of human community required for genuine economic development.
At a time when free market dynamics are often criticized for contributing to the economic crisis, Benedict offers a theological development of the concept of market economy, beyond that proposed by John Paul II in his encyclical Centesimus Annus. For Benedict, the market economy "does not exist in the pure state". The market presupposes a cultural and ethical basis of responsibility, trust, the readiness to give of oneself to others, and a love for the common good above and beyond one's own preferences. In a bold step, Benedict connects the market to Trinitarian theology. The three divine persons are united in their love and this divine love is the source and summit of human life. Most fundamentally, the market is driven by love, ultimately God's love for us and our love for God. Thus, "life in Christ is the first and principal factor of development" which must be sought with "the ardour of charity and the wisdom of truth". And,"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." For the gratuitous gift of love to flourish in society, men and women must learn to love first in family life by experiencing the gratuitous and unconditional bonds of human relation within the spousal union and the bi-directional relationship of love between children and their parents.
Likewise, scientific and technological progress must be sought along with respect for morality. "Human knowledge is insufficient and the conclusions of science cannot indicate by themselves the path towards integral human development. There is always a need to push further ahead: this is what is required by charity in truth…. Intelligence and love are not in separate compartments: love is rich in intelligence and intelligence is full of love." The human being is the measure of progress for science and technology. Abuse or manipulation of humanity is always regressive and never constitutes real progress. Instead, when shaped by love in truth for men and women, scientific knowledge, discovery, and innovation constitutes genuine progress for society.
Even those accustomed to the theological depth of Joseph Ratzinger's analyses of contemporary culture, may be surprised to find that, in Caritas in Veritate, Benedict offers a political and economic theory rooted in and inspired by Trinitarian theology. However, it is worth mentioning that his meaning is unfortunately obscured by some infelicitous translations in the preliminary but official English translation of the encyclical (for instance, "polyarchic" is rendered as "stratified", "polycentric" as "many overlapping layers", and "Monti di Pietà" as "pawnbrokers").
The use of "stratified" rather than "polyarchic" might seem to imply a clumsy addition of bureaucratic layers of statist government agencies. In contrast, Benedict advocates polyarchic authorities of governance so that a higher, or simply complementary, authority may safeguard the pursuit of a globalized common good while also fully respecting the principle of subsidiarity. By proposing polyarchy, the Pope offers an innovative principle while entrusting its detailed policy implementation to technical experts capable of adjusting the principles in accord with our rapidly changing world. Many authorities, perhaps with intersecting and complementary competencies, would serve to protect the individual's free pursuit of the common good in accord with truth. Benedict reaffirms and advances John Paul II's treatment of subsidiarity by affirming that it is a "particular manifestation of charity", "a guiding criterion for fraternal cooperation between believers and non-believers", "an expression of inalienable human freedom", "assistance to the human person", "recognition of the person as capable of giving something to others", and the fostering of "freedom and participation through assumption of responsibility".(57) Moreover, Benedict affirms the principle of subsidiarity as an antidote "against any form of all-encompassing welfare state".
Benedict appeals to the foundational requirements for an economy, for scientific progress, and for advances in the quality of life. What really drives the world is not money, but love. The driving force behind human development is love, not of money, but of the human being. To consume more and more material things would never satisfy the deepest desires and most powerful longings of the human heart. Rather, what we really seek are loving relations with others. Self-gift, therefore, is the fundamental energy source for integral human development and the greatest treasure exchanged within human society.
Rev. Robert A. Gahl, Jr., is Associate Professor of Ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, in Rome.