An important paragraph in “Caritas in veritate”

I am still absorbing the encyclical, and I don’t want simply to toss snippets around.   But I am being hammered in e-mail to make some comments about the encyclical.

First, perhaps not much new is in the first part.  The Holy Father is offering some hooks to hang ideas on before moving into the next section. 

For immediate reflection look at par. 56 with my emphases and comments:

56. The Christian religion and other religions  [by "other" he surely means Islam] 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. The Church’s social doctrine came into being in order to claim “citizenship status” for the Christian religion.135 Denying the right to profess one’s religion in public and the right to bring the truths of faith to bear upon public life has negative consequences for true development. The exclusion of religion from the public square [he is referring to secularism and materialists] — and, at the other extreme, religious fundamentalism [which imposed one religious voice in the public square – he probably means Islam here] — hinders an encounter between persons and their collaboration for the progress of humanity. 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 or because personal freedom is not acknowledged. Secularism and fundamentalism exclude the possibility of fruitful dialogue and effective cooperation between reason and religious faith. Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith: [This has long been a topic of interest for the theologian Joseph Ratzinger, the relationship of faith and reason.] this also holds true for political reason, which must not consider itself omnipotent. For its part, religion always needs to be purified by reason in order to show its authentically human face. [As he said in the Regensburg Address.] Any breach in this dialogue comes only at an enormous price to human development.  ….  [We make man the center and goal of our discourse and progress at man’s own peril.]

135John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 5: loc. cit., 798-800; Benedict XVI, Address to the Participants in the Fourth National Congress of the Church in Italy, Verona, 19 October 2006.

I can hear it now… "But Father! But Father!", some are already quipping.  "Why this paragraph?  Don’t you want to talk about how God is still love?"

Indeed, there is time for more talk about God and love.

On this blog for a long time now I have been yammering away about our Catholic identity

Without a strong Catholic identity, in keeping with our tradition, an identity well-informed, well-integrated, we will endanger our souls by being confused under the onslaught of secularism and relativism and we will be silenced, shoved from the public square. 

For Holy Church to have an influence in the public square, on the burning questions of our day, we all must have a clear and strong identity. 

I think this is a key to understand the pontificate of Pope Benedict: he is working to revitalize our Catholic identity.  He did so with a huge step (liturgically) in Summorum Pontificum on 7 July 2007.  He is doing the same in this encyclical on 7 July 2009.  Other milestone indicators were the Dec 2005 Address to the Roman Curia and the Sept 2006 Regensburg Address.

It seems to me that par. 56 is an important paragraph in the encyclical.

Also, when reading Pope Benedict on anything think what he is saying ad intra and ad extra.

In the first section, in the midst of his representation of God and love, Pope Benedict also makes a case – to Catholics but also a wider listening world (ad intra and ad extra) – for how the Catholic Church is uniquely positioned in the world to point towards mankind’s proper and best trajectory, even in the realm of economics, etc.

The Catholic Church ought, in fact, to have not just a voice but even a privileged voice in the public square precisely because of her relationship to Christ and who man is, who man’s ultimate goal is. 

Christ is divine Logos (word, mind, reason, etc.) even as he is love, charity, etc.  Man, in God’s image, must be directed to Christ, Logos/Agape, and in his worldly workings directed by Christ, Logos/Agape.  Reason cannot be excluded because the proper view of man as image of God cannot be excluded.

Pope Benedict is presenting ad intra and ad extra a case for the Church’s voice in the public square.  This is a logical consequence of the proper view of Christ and of man.  Even so, other religions also have a role to play, provided they admit of the dimension of the Logos in man’s very nature.   But they must adhere to the proper relationship of faith with reason to do so.  Otherwise, what they give to the public square does more harm than good.  And they still can’t do this as well as the Catholic Church can!

If we exclude this constitutive dimension of man, little will go right in man’s endeavors.  We err in excluding God from man’s endeavors and we err in imposing the wrong notion of God and man and will inevitably make the wrong choice in the face of challenges.

This encyclical is part of Benedict’s plan to rebuild our Catholic identity in the face of secularism, relativism, and a fundamentalist religious view which doesn’t admit of the proper role of reason.  He is trying to get us out into the public square, keep our voice audible.  He is also trying to penetrate the opposition to God in the public square. 

This is a great concern of his pontificate.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Andrew, medievalist says:

    “Secularism and fundamentalism exclude the possibility of fruitful dialogue…”

    It seems that this is a hidden gem of a line. It offers true dialogue in the place of the stunted ‘dialogue’ so often offered by secularists. This, and the previous line appealing to human rights, engages secularists on their own ground but, importantly, without surrendering anything of the Truth, from which such rights ultimately derive. It shows the very ability of Christian belief to engage with a secular discourse of rights, which compatability secularists all too often attempt to deny. It rationally argues, from both Truth and man-made discourse (for such discourse must eventually come from Truth) for the role of religion in the public square.

    In other words, the Holy Father, by engaging with modern rights discourse but not surrendering to it, has called the bluff of those who seek to exclude religion from public discourse.

  2. Veritas says:

    What a wonderful contrast with the Syllabus of Errors, what a strong affirmation of religious liberty, what a reiteration of some of the concerns of the Council at which the Holy Father was, through his bishop, a contributor. However some may differ from him in matters of institutional and economic matters on which he admits of no special expertise, on matters of religion it is certainly a bonus that the Pope is a scholar and theologian of impressive stature.

  3. AlwaysCatholic says:

    “This encyclical is part of Benedict’s plan to rebuild our Catholic identity in the face of secularism, relativism, and a fundamentalist religious view which doesn’t admit of the proper role of reason. He is trying to get us out into the public square, keep our voice audible. He is also trying to penetrate the opposition to God in the public square.”

    Father: This is the heart of the matter. Critics will either ignore this or slam it. There will be no in between. As Roman Catholics, we must rise to the occasion & respond with words and actions in support Of PBXVI in the public square.

    No matter how loud the criticism is or how deafening the silence of the opposition,(both being Alinsky-type tactics) we must look forward and ALWAYS appeal to reason.No more silence or saying “I dont discuss politics & religion”. If we do not discus them in the public square, we will lose the right to do so.

  4. Make me a Spark says:

    Because of a significant Catholic friend, you Fr. Z and others, specifically Catholic Friends on Plurk, i am growing every day in my Catholic Identity, which was in a ragged and in an almost non-existent condition for many years. [Thank you.]

    I identified myself for those long years as “A Christian” (not a Catholic) and only revealed my catholicity if pressed for Church membership.

  5. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Meaning no disrespect, it seems to me that the Holy Father in the first sentence of the excerpt could also well be speaking of the Jewish religion. Some of the most ardent secularizers are, after all, Jewish.

  6. joe says:


    How adequate are you finding the English translation this go-around? Invariably I jump ahead to the Spanish translation with the Latin version standing by, and only then do I glance at the English to compare. I’d be very interested in your thoughts on this matter.


  7. joe: How adequate are you finding the English translation this go-around?

    I haven’t looked at other language versions and the Latin is not available yet, it seems.

  8. swiftavila says:

    The Holy Father also seems to be addressing President Obama and his secular/pluralistic approach to politics.
    “Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith: this also holds true for political reason, which must not consider itself omnipotent.”

  9. Regarding the place of the Church in the public square, I believe a sentence from an earlier paragraph well supports what you’ve posted here. From Par. 18:

    Amid the various competing anthropological visions put forward in today’s society, even more so than in Paul VI’s time, the Christian vision has the particular characteristic of asserting and justifying the unconditional value of the human person and the meaning of his growth.

    I’ll be interested in seeing your more substantial comments on the encylical, particularly his early focus on the hermeneutic of continuity.

  10. scott says:

    has anyone seen this one that HE wrote that started it all?


    2. This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

    It simply states that I can believe what ever I want and the Catholic church has no right whatsoever to say different as it states that by Cannon Law I now have the freedom to believe that my tree in my back yard is GOD.

    so it seems to the theme of his writings he is always \”The Christian religion and other religions\” meaning that anyone can believe what ever they want dis-invalidating the great commission

  11. GandhianCatholic says:

    Well, if Catholicism has a privelaged voice in the public square, how is that any different than the position of Islam in Iran or Saudi Arabia? I mean, I’m in favor of it, I just don’t understand why most Catholics seem to flinch at the word, “theocracy”. [This is why people who are not very clear about who the Church is and what she teaches about herself should probably read over the first section of the Pope’s new encyclical twice. It is a good primer and will answer your question about why the Church has a privileged voice.]

  12. Bill in Texas says:

    scott, as Lincoln said, you have your facts right, but you’ve come to the wrong conclusion.

    Human beings have the right to be wrong. It’s called “free will.” The Great Commission is all about helping human beings to come to the Truth. It isn’t about clubbing people into submission.

  13. Bill in Texas says:

    I may frame that paragraph.

    Especially: “Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith: this also holds true for political reason, which must not consider itself omnipotent. For its part, religion always needs to be purified by reason in order to show its authentically human face.”

  14. RC says:

    One hopes that Fr. Neuhaus is gratified at the mention of his motif (“the public square”)!

    This is an important paragraph, and with practical significance: the crassness of political discourse is a sign of intolerance. Where God is expelled, humility, self-control, and respect for others also disappear: to the point that the White House press secretary considers “we won the election” an adequate response to any question about the wisdom of WH policies or strategies.

  15. Mike T says:

    Hello GandhianCatholic,

    I, for one, don’t flinch at the word “theocracy.” Isn’t that what the
    kingdom of heaven and “Thy kingdom come” are all about? Isn’t theocracy
    in fact what we yearn for?

    I’m not sure that an Islamic Republic is, by definition, fundamentalist.
    Why would it necessarily be anti-reason?

    After WWII, we had Christian Democratic parties in Europe that were
    somewhat healthy for a couple of decades. Eventually, they seem to
    have lost a certain cogency. Is that a fair criticism? If it is fair,
    is it also inevitable.

    1979 came around. The Christian Democratic movement in Europe had lost
    its steam. Nasser, Ataturk, Sukarno, and a host of others had ridden to
    power on the back of the promise that the rode to prosperity and
    empowerment for developing countries was the rode of secularism. This
    promise was proving to be threadbare indeed. What model was there
    for Ayatollah Khomeini to follow? Was the Islamic Republic an intrinsically
    flawed idea? Is there no middle road between fanaticism and flaccidity?

    It seems like a bit of an insult to holy men such as Anselm, Thomas
    Aquinas, Albert the Great or Alphonsus Liguori to say that religion
    needs to be tempered by reason, as though religion somehow clamps off
    the flow of oxygen.

    On the other hand, I have been hearing repeated assurances that placing
    civil government in the hands of religious leaders is doomed to failure
    in this valley of tears. Beneath the veneer of Caesar, I guess we had
    rule by the Sanhedrin at the time of Jesus. Not only do you not enter
    the kingdom yourselves, but you prevent others from entering it. Hmmm.

  16. Nick says:

    I’m going to wait for Fr. Z to examine the Latin text against the English translation — there is something odd about the phrasing.

  17. Terth says:

    “Even so, other religions also have a role to play, provided they admit of the dimension of the Logos in man’s very nature.”

    Really? Isn’t the supreme law of the Church the salvation of souls? And isn’t the ordinary means of souls being saved through the sacraments of the Holy Catholic Church? I know we live in an age of religious pluralism and that we should not now (and should have never, if we ever did) club people into submission; but isn’t the presence of other religions in the world a bad thing? Shouldn’t we all desire the conversion of every human being to Holy Mother Church? [All great questions, but not so much for this entry. The fact is, Pope Benedict wrote this for a world with many religions held by a significant percentage of the world’s population.]

  18. @ Scott

    RE: Your comments on DH: What these documents hold can be found in the Summa, where it discusses an invincibly ignorant conscience. If a person truly believes something is a sin if they go against their conscience then to violate their erroneous conscience is to willingly do what they think evil.

    …if a man were to believe the command of the proconsul to be the command of the emperor, in scorning the command of the proconsul he would scorn the command of the emperor. In like manner if a man were to know that human reason was dictating something contrary to God’s commandment, he would not be bound to abide by reason: but then reason would not be entirely erroneous. But when erring reason proposes something as being commanded by God, then to scorn the dictate of reason is to scorn the commandment of God. (Summa Theologica I-II. Q19 A5)


    Now it is evident that whoever neglects to have or do what he ought to have or do, commits a sin of omission. Wherefore through negligence, ignorance of what one is bound to know, is a sin; whereas it is not imputed as a sin to man, if he fails to know what he is unable to know. Consequently ignorance of such like things is called invincible, because it cannot be overcome by study. For this reason such like ignorance, not being voluntary, since it is not in our power to be rid of it, is not a sin: wherefore it is evident that no invincible ignorance is a sin. On the other hand, vincible ignorance is a sin, if it be about matters one is bound to know; but not, if it be about things one is not bound to know. (Summa Theologica I-II, Q76, A2)

  19. Matthew W. I. Dunn says:

    So, God merely has a “place” in the Public Square. And, the Church’s social teaching exists to claim a “citizenship” for Christianity in the modern nation-state.

    Hmm . . . sounds pretty thin.

    How does this square with Vatican II’s teaching that the Church’s traditional teaching regarding the obligation of human societies towards “the true religion and . . . the one Church of Christ” remained unchanged (DH, no. 1)?

  20. Jason Keener says:

    I also appreciated the couple of times early in the encyclical where Pope Benedict mentioned the hermeneutic of continuity and how it applies to the Church’s social doctrine.

    The Roman Pontiff is offering a most valuable service for the Church at this critical point in history by demonstrating the continuity in all aspects of the Church’s life. “Summorum Pontificum” highlighted the continuity in the Church’s Sacred Liturgy. Now, “Caritas in Veritate” illustrates the continuity present also in the Church’s social doctrine.

  21. Robert says:

    For those who wish to pray more fervently for the Catholic identity and for Christendom –

  22. observer says:

    AP, Reuters Go Full Tilt in Spinning Latest Writing of Pope

    ….Both Philip Pullella, who regularly writes about the Pope and the Vatican for Reuters, and the AP’s Nicole Winfield zeroed in on paragraph 67 of the encyclical, which is titled “Caritas in Veritate,” or “Charity in Truth,” which was released was signed by the Bishop of Rome on June 29, and released on Tuesday. In this paragraph, to use Pullella’s lede, “Pope Benedict…called for a ‘world political authority’ to manage the global economy.” Winfield put it this way near the beginning of her article: “In the third encyclical of his pontificate, Benedict pressed for reform of the United Nations and international economic and financial institutions to give poorer countries more of a say in international policy.”


  23. Jason Keener says:

    Matthew W.I. Dunn,

    I also do not recall Pope Benedict having made specific mention of #1 from “Dignitatis Humane” about society’s moral duty towards the true religion and the One Church of Christ. That should not trouble us, however. Just because the Pope did not mention DH #1, does not mean the traditional teaching has been revoked or forgotten. When teaching, Pope Benedict has to meet the world where it is at this point in history. Given the dire circumstances of today, just giving God any sort of place in the public square would be a huge step for most cultures and societies. Before any society can recognize the true faith and One Church of Christ as described in DH #1, that society has to first be able to recognize the basic existence of the natural moral law, the basic existence of God, etc.

    It is also evident from other parts of the encyclical that societies are still being called by the Church to recognize the true religion and the One Church of Christ. The entire encyclical is an exhortation that every person help to transform our culture, government, society, and economies according to the Catholic Church’s teachings on truth, charity, solidarity, subsidiarity, the dignity of the human person, man’s eternal destiny, etc.

  24. Jayna says:

    I just had a weird instance of déjà vu. I am reading The Dialectics of Secularization at the moment and I just came across this passage:

    “Religion must continually allow itself to be purified and structured by reason … However, we have also seen in the course of our reflections that there are also pathologies of reason, although mankind is not as conscious of this fact today. There is a hubris in reason that is no less dangerous … This is why reason, too, must be warned to keep within its proper limits, and it must learn a willingness to listen to the great religious traditions of mankind. If it cuts itself completely adrift and rejects this willingness to learn, this relatedness, reason becomes destructive.” – pp. 77-78

    It is interesting that he uses the same purification motif. I completely agree with Fr. Z about highlighting this paragraph in particular. To me, in my limited reading of him, it seems to encapsulate the Holy Father’s entire theological approach.

  25. Maureen says:

    Re: tempering

    Metaphors mean things. The Holy Father isn’t saying that religion has its oxygen cut off by reason; he’s saying that the heat of reason toughens religion’s metal.

    Re: obligation

    Do you see anything in this encyclical saying that societies aren’t obliged to seek Truth and Love as well as they know how and dare? What else is this thing about, besides the universal human calling to follow God always and everywhere?

  26. Mr. H says:

    Fr. Z

    Thanks for your insights.

    Looking forward to more as you make your way through the encyclical!

    Mr. H

  27. Veritas says:

    Traditions in social and political teaching change as a glance at that of Pius IX makes obvious. Just as the latter was reflecting the confessional state which was the common form of government until the late 18th century, so Benedict is giving teaching appropriate to the 21st. He reflects the pluralist democratic society in which religion should have as much place as any other system of belief including secularism. Secularism maintains that it is the default position, Pope Benedict claims that it is Catholicism.

    No doubt this papal document will cause some difficulty to those still living in the age of Pius IX who reject the teaching of Vatican II on religious liberty.

  28. joe says:

    Fr. Z.,

    I also haven’t found any Latin yet — I suspect you’re right there’s none available so far — so my default will be to go to the Spanish and then use THAT as the yardstick against which to measure the English. In the first few items from the current Holy Father, the English version was severely lacking, and thus my concern.


  29. James the Less says:

    Paragraph 1:

    “Indeed, he [Christ] himself is the Truth (cf. Jn 14:6).”

    Paragraph 3:

    “Through this close link with truth, charity can be recognized as an authentic expression of humanity and as an element of fundamental importance in human relations, including those of a public nature. Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. Truth frees charity from the constraints of an emotionalism that deprives it of relational and social content, and of a fideism that deprives it of human and universal breathing-space. In the truth, charity reflects the personal yet public dimension of faith in the God of the Bible, who is both Agápe and Lógos: Charity and Truth,
    Love and Word.”

    In paragraph 3, Truth means Christ. That seems to me the clear import from
    paragraph 1. Therefore, I don’t see cause for concern, as reflected
    in some of the comments, about the abandonment of the Church’s mission for the
    conversion of souls.

    In terms of Catholic identity, I think what the Holy Father is saying about
    the unity of faith and works, the unity of Truth and Charity, and by implication
    the unity of the Eucharist and Charity is very important. In terms of Catholic
    identity, works can never be divorced from Christ. They are inseparable.
    The effort to divorce faith from works is a denial of the transcendent, a denial
    of the supernatural. Without belaboring this point, we saw this played out in
    the last election – where some Catholics critiqued the Church for its absence
    of works with regard to abortion (a false charge nonetheless) and arguing that
    a particular candidate would produce more works – a purported justification for
    abandoning the truths of the Faith.

  30. Arnobius of Sicca,

    You wrote that

    “If a person truly believes something is a sin if they go against their conscience then to violate their erroneous conscience is to willingly do what they think evil.”

    But we must take care to avoid drawing an illegitimate symmetry between being forced to disobey one’s conscience and being prevented from obeying one’s conscience. The State can prevent heretics from disseminating their errors without violating the heretics’ respective consciences.

  31. Mike T says:


    Thank you for addressing my rambling about “clamping off the flow of
    oxygen.” This was the product of a sort of “informational detox.”

    When I was young, I was continually bombarded with the message that
    church doctors — and the scholastics in particular — were “stuffy.”
    Thank heavens that the “enlightenment” came as an antidote.

    Now that I am on the downhill side of middle age, I am puzzled when
    others don’t seem to notice how suffocating secularism is, and I
    look for fresh air in what I was formerly told was stuffiness. A certain
    wariness is awakened when I read that “religion always needs to be
    purified by reason.”

    I should remember that what the Holy Father describes is exactly what
    Anselm and Thomas Aquinas did. Certainly, they employed reason. And
    they “purified” religion. This “purification” was not the iconoclasm
    of our times — i.e., not “get rid of all the statues, get rid of the
    devotions and kneelers, clap your hands in a room with blank walls”
    — but rather a purification through which faith, hope and love are

  32. laminustacitus says:

    “The State can prevent heretics from disseminating their errors without violating the heretics’ respective consciences.”
    Because The State can certainly arbitrarily suppress an individual’s speech legally, and lawfully…

  33. Arbitrarily, laminustacitus? Not at all. The State certainly can suppress an individual’s speech legally and lawfully, and in doing so it need not act arbitrarily, but rather, justly and prudently, applying the principles expounded by Pius XII in his allocution Ci riesce, principles such as:

    “that which does not correspond to truth or to the norm of morality objectively has no right to exist, to be spread or to be activated.”


    “religious and moral error must always be impeded, when it is possible, because toleration of them is in itself immoral, is not valid absolutely and unconditionally.”
    [both quotations from
    In the second quotation I had to delete one circumflex each before and after the words “absolutely and unconditionally.” because if included, then the words “absolutely and unconditionally” would not show up in the published comment (they didn’t show up when I previewed the comment). I just mention that in case someone follows the link and thinks that I’ve falsified the quotation.]

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