Once again, Mary Veeneman, professor in theology at North Park
University, steps up to guide us into understanding Pope Benedict XVI’s
most recent statement. This is the second of a two-part post.
Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate is the latest document in the corpus of
Catholic Social Teaching, as we have been discussing. One of the more frustrating aspects of working on CST,
though, is that different groups will choose to emphasize different elements of
There are some that want to
point to encyclicals like Humane Vitae and
Evangelium Vitae, which condemn
contraception, abortion and euthanasia and discuss the problems of the culture
of death as the highest priorities of CST. There are others, who may be even more numerous, who want to
consider CST’s positions on economics and care for the poor as the most
important priorities. This is frequent
enough that some of the most commonly used compilations of CST documents omit Humane Vitae and Evangelium Vitae even though they certainly contain some of the
Church’s social teachings.
What does this new statement by the Pope say to evangelicals? How might we receive and appropriate some of the teachings in this encyclical? If we sought to apply Caritas in Veritate‘s statements about
evangelization how might our own evangelism look different? Are we consistently pro life?
The problem with both of these tendencies is that they are
born from a picking and choosing of the CST documents themselves as well as
elements of the CST documents.
(Evangelicals, for example, will sometimes claim solidarity with
Catholics on beginning of life issues, but then sanction the use of
contraception and various assisted reproduction technologies forbidden by the
Benedict, in Caritas
in Veritate makes very clear that this kind of approach is not in keeping
with the Catholic tradition. He
writes, “Two further documents by Paul VI without any direct link to social
doctrine [Humanae Vitae and Evangelii Nuntiandi] are highly
important for delineating the fully human
meaning of the development that the Church proposes. It is therefore helpful to consider
these texts too in relation to Populorum Progressio.” (Caritas
in Veritate, paragraph 15).
The implications of what Benedict has done here are substantial. While the Catholic Church has always
held to the need for a consistent ethic of life (the late Cardinal Joseph
Bernadin’s A Consistent Ethic of Life
is an excellent resource on this), Benedict seems to want to make absolutely
clear that when we talk about issues of social justice and development, we
cannot do that to the exclusion of the vital issues surrounding the sanctity of
life. This is because in the end,
all of the issues discussed in Catholic Social Teaching from poverty to stem
cell research to the living wage to euthanasia are ultimately life issues
because they all tie into the Church’s call to seek flourishing for all people
from womb to tomb (as Firer Hinze put it).
Why are all of these issues worth significant
attention? Benedict cites Paul VI
in Evangelii Nuntiandi in making a
direct connection between evangelization and development. Paul VI wrote, “evangelization would
not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the
Gospel and of man’s concrete life, both personal and social” (Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi). In this way, then, development is part
and parcel of the spread of the Gospel, insofar as we are called to be
concerned not just with an individual’s spiritual condition but also with his
or her concrete, on-the-ground situation.
I have set these reflections in the Catholic context, since
that is their origin, but Benedict addresses his encyclical to “Bishops,
priests and deacons, men and women religious, the lay faithful and all people of goodwill” (emphasis mine)
which makes clear that his audience goes beyond simply members of the Catholic
Church. As evangelicals, how might
we receive and appropriate some of the teachings in this encyclical? If we sought to apply Caritas in Veritate‘s statements about
evangelization how might our own evangelism look different?