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Deep Thoughts

Pope Benedict XVI is primarily a philosopher: not a “Thomist,” an “Augustinian,” a “Platonist,” or an “Aristotelian.”  He may side, from time to time, with St. Augustine over St. Thomas on some matters of philosophical dispute.  That is beside the point: namely, that His Holiness does not have a metaphysics, or a political philosophy, or an epistemological theory; he does not have “a philosophy.”  What His Holiness has is a philosophical disposition that matches his theological outlook, a coherent doctrinal corpus; which “does not mean a closed system: on the contrary, it means dynamic faithfulness to a light received.”1 Labels can often be misleading or deceptive.  Calling Pope Benedict XVI an Augustinian is accurate, to a degree: but just because he follows St. Augustine does not mean he ignores or rejects St. Thomas; no more than he rejects Aristotle or Plato – or even for that matter, Kant and Heidegger.

Thus, Caritas in Veritate deserves far more examination that can be delivered here; it is very deep and very well thought-out, demanding much analysis.  Nonetheless… as a document which urges social reform, it does so in a manner which is very rare: it actually urges reform.  There is a significant difference between an earnest reform – something that happens once in a century, maybe – and a revolution.  The latter’s connotation of total change, built up over time and solidified around the beginning of the 19th century, stems from the Latin root revolvere, meaning to roll back; but what is rolled back in social revolutions is all too often everything, good as well as bad.  The French Revolution was a total repudiation of monarchical authority; the Sexual Revolution of family-oriented sexual morality.  In a revolution, a thing’s essence is destroyed.  A reformation, contrariwise, preserves a thing’s essence: it retains the form, the eidos, and rearranges, restores, and replaces the accidents, the inessentials that nonetheless allow for the essence to achieve its function.

Many people are very eager to reform the world: sadly, the would-be reformers of today are much like the revolutionaries of the past, who “were never contented or even concerned to reform.  They were not satisfied to alter the abnormal in favour of the normal; they were much more eager to alter the normal in favour of the novel.”2 This, His Holiness points out, is true of those who would today put all their hopes in technology, who would turn the world over to the designs of a purely scientific perspective.  But man must not throw out and get rid of technology, either, His Holiness says; to do so would be thoughtless.

Indeed, if there is a central theme for the social reform urged by Caritas in Veritate, it is that society must begin to think clearly.  “Pope Paul VI noted that ‘the world is in trouble because of the lack of thinking’[128]. He was making an observation, but also expressing a wish: a new trajectory of thinking is needed in order to arrive at a better understanding of the implications of our being one family; interaction among the peoples of the world calls us to embark upon this new trajectory, so that integration can signify solidarity[129] rather than marginalization. Thinking of this kind requires a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation. This is a task that cannot be undertaken by the social sciences alone, insofar as the contribution of disciplines such as metaphysics and theology is needed if man’s transcendent dignity is to be properly understood.”3 In other words, (roughly 28,000 of them if one wanted a fuller explanation – read the encyclical!), men and man as a whole must both start to think more deeply about the relationships that exist through politics and economics: a system of thought which must not end merely with such social sciences, but which needs to look to deeper, more profound considerations.

Some highlights:

“I am aware of the ways in which charity has been and continues to be misconstrued and emptied of meaning, with the consequent risk of being misinterpreted, detached from ethical living and, in any event, undervalued. In the social, juridical, cultural, political and economic fields — the contexts, in other words, that are most exposed to this danger — it is easily dismissed as irrelevant for interpreting and giving direction to moral responsibility. Hence the need to link charity with truth not only in the sequence, pointed out by Saint Paul, of veritas in caritate (Eph 4:15), but also in the inverse and complementary sequence of caritas in veritate.”

“Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality.”

“It is one thing to draw attention to the particular characteristics of one Encyclical or another, of the teaching of one Pope or another, but quite another to lose sight of the coherence of the overall doctrinal corpus[21]. Coherence does not mean a closed system: on the contrary, it means dynamic faithfulness to a light received.”

“In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other States as if it were a form of cultural progress.”

Caritas in Veritate, Paragraph 12
2 Chesterton, G.K. The Illustrated London News, 10/28/1922
Caritas in Veritate,Paragraph 53

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