“Catholic social teaching is a vision of reality—an understanding of being, man, and God—that unfolds an entire way of life, at the heart of which is a moral-social practice.”
“The truth of development consists in its completeness: if it does not involve the whole man and every man, it is not true development” (n. 18). This, says Pope Benedict XVI in his recent encyclical, Caritas in veritate (CV), is “the central message of Paul VI’s Populorum progressio, valid for today and for all time” (n. 18).
Integral human development on the natural plane, as a response to a vocation from God the Creator, demands self-fulfillment in a “transcendent humanism which gives [to man] his greatest possible perfection: this is the highest goal of personal development.” The Christian vocation to this development therefore applies to both the natural plane and the supernatural plane . . . . (n. 18, citing PP)
According to Benedict, God-centered charity in truth is the key to this “integral human development.” “Everything has its origin in God’s love, everything is shaped by it, everything is directed towards it” (n. 1). Love is “the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members, or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic, and political ones)” (n. 1).
The call to love is thus not imposed on man from the outside, as an extrinsic addition to his being, nor is it something in which only some are meant to participate. On the contrary, “the interior impulse to love” is “the vocation planted by God in the heart and mind of every human person,” even as this love is “purified and liberated by Jesus Christ,” who reveals to us its fullness (n. 1). “In Christ, charity in truth becomes the Face of his Person” (n. 1). The Church’s social teaching thus, in a word, is “caritas in veritate in re sociali: the proclamation of the truth of Christ’s love in society” (n. 5).
This, in sum, is the root proposal of the encyclical. My purpose is to discuss the anthropological vision informing the Church’s social teaching as summarized in this statement and articulated in the encyclical, in its meaning for economic and cultural life.1
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1. This paper was delivered at the conference, “Family, Common Good and the Economic Order: A Symposium on Caritas in veritate,” held at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C. (4 December 2010). Earlier versions were presented at the conference, “Tradition and Liberation: Charity in Truth and the New Face of Social Progress,” sponsored by the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois (20–23 April 2010) and the Vatican II International Symposium of University Professors, “Caritas in Veritate, Towards an Economy Supporting the Human Family: Person, Society, Institutions,” organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Rome, Italy (24–27 June 2010).