Grace Reloaded: Caritas in Veritate's Theological Anthropology

By Renczes, Philipp Gabriel | Theological Studies, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Grace Reloaded: Caritas in Veritate's Theological Anthropology


Renczes, Philipp Gabriel, Theological Studies


POPE BENEDICT'S XVI's LATEST ENCYCLICAL, Caritas in Veritate, is his first to address "all people of good will." (1) This may seem surprising, considering that the two preceding encyclicals, Deus caritas est and In spe salvi, were also aimed at a readership beyond the Catholic Church, at least as their message and language suggest. In fact, Caritas in veritate's whole introduction (nos. 1-9) can be seen as an attempt to sound out the suitability of that all-encompassing, yet "classified," "mailing address" used at certain times in papal encyclicals.

From an anthropological perspective, the encyclical seems to carry out Joseph Ratzinger's previously announced project to engage the Christian faith and secular rationality in a "polyphonic" correlation: "This would permit," affirms Ratzinger, "the growth of a universal process of purification in which those essential values and norms that are known or at least guessed at by all men could acquire a new radiance. In this way, that which keeps the world together would once again become an effective force in mankind." (2) In the light of both the dramatic events connected to the 2008-2009 world-wide economic crisis and the long-term challenges posed by globalization and climate change, much can be said in favor of this desire to go "back to the basics" concerning the conditions of human coexistence, a concern that clearly reflects Ratzinger's priority agenda for Christian theology and life in the modern world. (3)

From a more specifically theological point of view, the pope's address "to all people of good will" documents his readiness to make known to the world his conception concerning the identity of a "Catholic social doctrine" as distinct from a "social doctrine" as such. In 1964, at the beginning of his professorial activities and toward the final year of the Second Vatican Council, Ratzinger had bluntly remarked: "A proper theological social doctrine does not exist, though the attempt at the ever new 'evangelization' ... in man's concrete social history does exist." (4) Thus, one might read in the period of the encyclical's redaction a manifestation of not only the careful attention that the abruptly changing global market situation required but also, on a deeper level, the complexity that Ratzinger discerned in the subject itself.

My claim here is that the foundational reflections, particularly in its introductory chapter, that the encyclical dedicates to the provision of "building stones" for a theological social doctrine constitute in themselves a revisit of Ratzinger's own efforts to encourage the development of a theological anthropology. The emerging perspective itself then discloses the theo-anthropological principles that, in Ratzinger's well-known style, find close-knit application in the encyclical's reflections in regard to those cultural values traditionally addressed by social encyclicals. In what follows I will highlight some of the encyclical's structural components that reveal a widespread influence of patristic (and not only Augustinian!) theology.

THE MOST VALUABLE RESOURCE: HUMAN BEING

The opening words of Caritas in veritate exude a resolute confidence:

Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness ... is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love--caritas--is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth. (No. 1)

In phrases such as these one cannot detect any effort to employ distinctions that might help differentiate within these oftentimes inflated concepts of love and peace that are all too easily compromised by self-illusion and various distortions. Finally, there is not the slightest reference to the contemporary world's diminishing willingness to accept the purported self-evidence of such a vision. …

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