The first relates the very idea of the economy which, as is repeated by many in this time of crisis, demands to be thought about anew. In what direction? Certainly in the direction of the ethics that the economy needs for its correct working. Benedict XVI, however, goes beyond this: ethics is a necessary but not sufficient condition for suitable economic logic. He even says that ‘the adjective “ethical” can be abused’ (CV, n. 45) and is often employed in such a general sense that it acts to cover up choices that are contrary to justice and to the common good founded on an adequate anthropology. The dignity of the person, the need for good relationships with other people and with God, thereby become constitutive elements of the economic sphere.
We are distant from a totalising vision of the economy, corrected at the most by the political power which is not, however, able to bear upon its structural dynamisms.
Evidently, categories such as ‘market, ‘company’, or ‘political authority’ are redesigned. They can be applied to the process of globalisation that is underway, a phenomenon that in itself is neither good not bad, as long as that process is guided by good life practice. There re-emerges the original value, which is connatural to man, of the economy itself: the government – according to its etymological roots – of the common home of the human family.
The second cardinal feature of the newness contained in this encyclical contains a creative force worthy of the radical changes that are required in this third millennium. Indeed, to speak about the ‘principle of gratuitousness’, dedicating an entire chapter to describing overall economic development in terms of fraternity, means not only to formulate a critique of how the relationship between ethics and the economy is usually understood but also to impede an overly general reference to anthropology. ‘Economic logic’ cannot be effected in a full way – and we will not exit from the crisis – if it does not know how to give space to the logic of gift. What does this consist of? This shines forth in the very title of this encyclical: charity in truth.
A gift, as an elementary experience specific to man, realises the demand for happiness that every person and every society brings with him or it. Charity, the self-giving that the Son of God made flesh accomplished on the cross for us, reaches every man. In the same way socio-economic autonomy is not called into question by this explicit reference to Jesus Christ. There is no desire for interference by the Church in the specific sphere of the economic and the social. If anything, the magisterium of the Pope, with the weight of a long tradition – one may think here of St. Benedict and St. Francis – but with the vigour required by the present time, invites the actors of this necessary thinking anew about the economic and the social to verify the validity of this proposal.
This encyclical does not fail to show some of its decisive features. First of all, the extending of the specific range of an economy of gratuitousness and fraternity from civil society to the market and the state: ‘Today we can say that economic life must be understood as a multi-layered phenomenon: in every one of these layers, to varying degrees and in ways specifically suited to each, the aspect of fraternal reciprocity must be present’ (CV, n. 38).
The three cornerstones of the social doctrine of the Church – the dignity of the person, the principle of solidarity, and the principle of subsidiarity – are thus revisited beginning with a concrete form of economic democracy. Gratuitousness should not be understood as the pure beauty culture of justice and the common good, without which, however, one can speak of nether charity nor truth. Benedict XVI leaves no room for doubt: ‘today it is clear that without gratuitousness, there can be no justice in the first place’(CV, n. 38).
The consequences of such a vision are held up with a great deal of realism in this encyclical. Here reference can be made to two: a suitable conception of the market and the need to organise company theory and practice in a better way.
The market, and thus the market economy, are not in fact made by nature – they are made by culture. From this point of view, Caritas in Veritate reduces the weight of capitalism.
As regards companies, it postulates a market in which operate, with equal opportunities, not only the actors of private and public enterprise but also productive organisations with social goals and goals based upon mutual help.
Forty years after Populorum progressio, Benedict XVI locates the question of overall human development, which, as ever, cannot be postponed, within the context of the civilising of the economy. This also allows him to address in an effective way the subjects of rights and duties, life, the environment, hunger, the development of peoples, human cooperation, and technology.
Caritas in veritate represents a good investment for the hope of men and peoples.
Card. Angelo Scola
Patriarch of Venice
* An article published by Il Sole 24 Ore on 9 July 2009