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Caritas in Veritate: the Church and the Economic Crisis

A Talk by Dr Deborah Savage

November 17, 2009

Lumen Christi Catholic Community

Good evening. It is a great privilege to be here with you tonight and to share with you some reflections on our Holy Father’s most recent encyclical,
Caritas in Veritate or “Charity in Truth.”  I was grateful for the opportunity to think more deeply about what Pope Benedict is trying to tell us and really the whole world. I arrive here with the assumption that most of you may not have read the whole document, perhaps not even any of it. Would that be right? The truth is that such things, while addressed to everyone, are usually written for theologians and philosophers whose job it is to translate them into language and meaning accessible to the rest of us. I hope to make a small contribution in that regard here tonight.

I want to start by putting the document into context both in relation to the church’s social doctrine as a whole and its more immediate reception. Then we will move on to look at just a couple of themes developed by the Holy Father in this letter. It is a very long and complex document so I have had to narrow our focus here to those themes that might interest us specifically tonight.

Many papal documents have a somewhat more narrow audience and are often addressed to particular groups within the Church community or bishops and priests in certain countries. But encyclicals on the social question - which contain the Church’s own thinking on the broader social issues we face in any era - are really directed to all of us, both those who identify themselves as Catholic and those beyond the virtual boundaries of the Church. In fact, this encyclical is addressed quite explicitly to “the bishops, priests and deacons, men and women religious, the lay faithful, and all people of good will on integral human development in charity and truth.” It is addressed to the whole world, not just to Catholics and most definitely not just to those in the ministerial priesthood.

Since the formal inauguration of the papal social tradition in 1891, when Pope Leo XIII wrote Rerum Novarum “On the Condition of Labor” in response to the excesses of the industrial revolution, almost every Pope has added to the Church’s social teaching.  The Church considers that it is her right and her duty to provide, via the Church’s teaching office, or Magisterium as it often called, both an analysis and a critique of the current social realities of any particular era, as well as suggesting remedies and providing direction to the faithful, the peoples of the world, and their governments. She is speaking really to whoever is willing to listen on what is referred to as “the social question,” that is, how can we live in peace secured by justice?. The recent publication of the Compendium on the Church’s social teaching reveals that historical deliberations on the social question has addressed a full range of moral issues, both public and private, and includes reflection on the meaning of human dignity, integral human development, the universal destination of goods, solidarity, poverty, human rights, the issues of abortion and euthanasia, questions about the relationship of labor and capital, the meaning of work, the feminine genius, and the complementary roles that men and women play in the creation of human history. It is worth noting that John Paul II wrote more during his pontificate on the social question than any previous Pope and is responsible for introducing these latter themes into the conversation.

Over time, the Church’s general proposal has come to be that the proper response to the social question – human flourishing itself - relies on what is referred to in the tradition as integral human development – development grounded in an understanding of the human person as a unity of both body and soul and therefore calling for a grasp of both our material and spiritual needs as well as of the fact, both social and theological, that we are meant to live in community and to move together toward our final end – union with God.

This particular encyclical was widely anticipated and eagerly awaited by many in the scholarly and ecclesial community.  What you may not know – and what I feel obligated to tell you, is that, when it finally did come out in August of this year, it was received with a fair amount of controversy and concern. At least one reason for the controversy is connected to the date it finally arrived.

As has happened frequently throughout the history of the tradition, this encyclical was intended to coincide with the anniversary of an important encyclical from a previous Pope, in this case Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical Popularum Progressio “On the Development of Peoples.”  Now such commemorations usually come out almost precisely on same date and some appropriate number of years later – 10, 20, 40. For example, in 1991, John Paul wrote what may be one of the most important encyclicals of the 20th century on the social question, Centesimus Annus, or “100 years later” to mark the promulgation of Rerum Novarum in 1891.

So one reason Caritas in Veritate was so highly anticipated is because it was actually late; it should have come out in 2007, 40 years after Pope Paul VI wrote PP. But it didn’t – from what I understand – for a couple of reasons. One, these documents are often a joint project and though the Pope can write whatever portions he wishes – or all of it for that matter – he often enlists the aid of some group of scholars who get some direction from him and then float a draft. Those in the know say that the Holy Father rejected not one, not two, but probably three drafts before finally agreeing to publish this one. 

But another reason it was delayed is said to be because, as an article in Time magazine put it – the Pope thought it wise to publish what is in effect a “post-Lehman Brothers” version. Though, said one Vatican official, had it come out earlier, it would have been prophetic, the timing of the document coincided with a gathering of world leaders – the Group of 8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy – and church officials hoped it would reach them as they discussed ways out of the economic crisis.

There are other controversies, one reflected in the claim made by Italian economist Stefano Zamagni - who advised the Pope on the encyclical – that Benedict believes that capitalism as such is now effectively obsolete and must be replaced by a new form of market economy whose driving force is not the maximization of profits.  This seems a rather extreme interpretation of what the document says and, having met Dr. Zamagni myself, I might speculate that it may reflect his own view more than the Pope’s.

Then there are those who point to what some think is a certain unevenness in the writing and several passages that seem a bit incoherent (I watched for them and they were there) as evidence that the Pope may not have been able to influence the development of the document as he would have liked. In his former life as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, he was known for his immense capacity to communicate clearly and insightfully on a whole host of theological issues. At least in some places, this document does not seem to reflect the gifted writing we have come to expect from him. I would tend to agree with this concern in general. Noted Papal biographer, George Weigel, argues that certain insightful portions can be attributed to Benedict, but others seem to come from some other source, their meaning difficult or impossible to interpret.

Nonetheless, Caritas in Veritate is an important document from an enormously gifted scholar Pope in an era when real wisdom is needed to guide the way.  We are, as Catholics, compelled to consider it and I think are benefitted by doing so as we work toward a more just and humane society on the ground, especially in light of our current economic situation.

So, let’s turn toward the document itself now. It is a 50 page document that covers quite a few topics; I cannot cover them all or we would be here all night. Included are themes clearly offered as developments of John Paul II’s thinking, among them a strong emphasis on the life issues (abortion, euthanasia, embryo-destructive stem-cell research) as social-justice issues.  These issues Benedict cleverly extends to the discussion of environmental questions, suggesting that people who don’t care much about unborn children are unlikely to make serious contributions to a human ecology that takes care of the natural world.

But our topic tonight is the economy. So I am going to offer a couple of interpretive keys that I think provide sort of a through line for the text and then we will take a closer look at what, as I understand it, you all came to discuss: The Holy Father’s comments on the world of finance and his new vision of the role of the market. The other topics are certainly on the table but perhaps we can take time for those during our discussion.

I.                    Some interpretive keys

A.     Charity in Truth

Let’s begin with the title. To start with, Caritas in Veritate is really a play on words which comes from a passage found at Ephesians 4. In this passage, St. Paul is looking forward to the day when we will all reach a certain adulthood or maturity and attain to the unity of the faith – as measured by the stature of the fullness of Christ – the day when “we may no longer be children, tossed to and from and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.” At 4:15 growing up into Christ who is the head of all requires “speaking the truth in love” that is, veritate in caritas (the Greek word actually has the sense of ‘truthing’). Benedict wants to argue that the reverse is also important – that charity itself must be grounded in truth – Caritas in Veritate and - thus our title. Yes, says the Holy Father, “truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the “economy” of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practiced in the light of truth.”

As he argues in paragraph 3, when charity is unmoored from the pursuit of truth, it can degenerate into sentimentality and that “Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. 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.”

It is unquestionable that in this encyclical Benedict wants to affirm, to state with absolute clarity and conviction, that at the heart of the Church’s social teaching is the virtue of charity. Charity, he states explicitly in paragraph 2, is at the heart of the Church's social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity. It is charity that gives real substance to one’s personal relationship with God and with neighbor; it 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).

But the document begins with a slightly nuanced statement: “Charity in truth, that to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection - that is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity.” Several paragraphs later, we read: “Fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom (cf. Jn 8:32) and of the possibility of integral human development. For this reason the Church searches for truth, proclaims it tirelessly and recognizes it wherever it is manifested. This mission of truth is something that the Church can never renounce. Her social doctrine is a particular dimension of this proclamation: it is a service to the truth which sets us free.” (# 9)

Here we see two concerns that run throughout Benedict’s work: a profound grasp of the relationship between faith and reason, here understood in the categories of love and truth. Benedict always has in mind as he says in paragraph #3 - that the God of the Bible is both Agape AND Logos, Charity and Truth, Love and Word. (#3) Secondly, this Pope, both now and in his previous role as Prefect for the CDF, has always and unequivocally expressed the concern that we not fall prey to relativism, that this is the great risk of our age – that we are in danger of losing sight of the reality that truth exists, it can be searched for and known; he is pleading with us to not be taken in by the cunning of the culture, to continue our slow faithful movement toward the full maturity and adulthood in Christ spoken of by St. Paul. 

He says: 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. Without truth, love loses its way and its force. It is truth that gives charity its direction, its meaning and context. (#3)

Pope Benedict points out that by definition, charity is love both received and given and it is this dynamic of charity received and given that gives rise to the Church's social teaching, which is the proclamation of the truth of Christ's love in society. The Church’s doctrine is a service to charity, but its locus is truth.

In other words, the social doctrine of the Church is grounded in truth in order that we may respond to the Christian call to serve - in charity - the genuine needs of the human person and all of creation.

Now while he goes on to say that there is no way to pursue human development, the social well-being of humanity, the search for a satisfactory solution to the grave socio-economic problems besetting humanity, without pursuing the truth - what is needed even more is that this truth should be loved and demonstrated. (#5) Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility; without charity, truth is sterile, inert, perhaps merely information. The search for truth will reveal to us the final end of our efforts; but charity must be their form.

B.     Charity and Justice

So that is one interpretive device. Here is another.  As you know, in social justice circles, this business about charity has a certain edge. Do I give to others out of a sense of charity, of love? Or is it a matter of justice, a more fundamental matter of giving people what is their due? Benedict tackles this problem head on.

Charity, he tells us, goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is “his”, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting. I cannot “give” what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. (#6)

“There is no way to love others with charity without first being just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity and intrinsic to it…Charity is built upon justice. On the one hand, to be charitable demands that we recognize and respect the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples. “It strives to build the earthly city according to law and justice. On the other hand, charity transcends justice and completes it in the logic of giving and forgiving. The earthly city is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion.” (#6)

We will see that these two ideas, charity in truth and the call to transcendence placed on us by the demands of charity itself will provide a way to understand his statements on the market.

But there is one more thing I wish to emphasize by way of general context. It is worth noting now that this third encyclical of his pontificate follows first one on love and then a second one on hope. This encyclical can be seen, I think, as an effort to bring both of those messages to bear on the social question. Most telling is how the hopeful tone of his pontificate shows up quite explicitly in this document. After laying out the context and invoking the work of Paul VI in Populorum Progressio, Benedict, he acknowledges the difficulties we face but argues that the current crisis presents us with an opportunity:

“The complexity and gravity of the present economic situation rightly cause us concern, but we must adopt a realistic attitude as we take up with confidence and hope the new responsibilities to which we are called by the prospect of a world in need of profound cultural renewal, a world that needs to rediscover fundamental values on which to build a better future. The current crisis obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future. In this spirit, with confidence rather than resignation, it is appropriate to address the difficulties of the present time.”

II.                 Development as Vocation

Within the context of the Catholic social tradition, we cannot speak about the market or the world of finance as though it is an autonomous and independent sphere, disconnected from our juridical/political systems or the moral and cultural context within which we live. The tradition acknowledges the freedom of the market and of persons to pursue their own material good, affirms the right to private property and the legitimate place that profits have as an indication of the health of a business and in fueling the economy.  Nonetheless, in their essence, the market and its financial mechanisms are considered to be without an built-in moral compass; their ethical and moral content comes from the fact that they are established and maintained by human persons – who are always moral agents, no matter where they operate – for the benefit of human persons. The markets, financial instruments, work itself in all its forms, are all meant to serve men and women and their families, not the other way around.  Thus, at the end of the encyclical, Benedict affirms that the social question has become and is a radically anthropological question – meaning that, at its origin, it is a question that concerns what it means to be human, its possibilities as well as its limits.

Therefore the entire discussion of the economic life of any community or nation is always in the context of what constitutes authentic human development which, by definition, must be integral and holistic, including both the spiritual and material aspects of our existence as a community of persons. Any discussion of economic life must begin with this recognition. In fact, invoking Popularum Progressio, Benedict says that progress itself is first and foremost a vocation, a call. Quoting Paul VI, he states: “in the design of God, every man is called upon to develop and fulfill himself, for every life is a vocation.” This is what gives legitimacy to the Church's involvement in the whole question of development. Development is a vocation – these are my words now – that issues from the fact that we are obligated by the gift of life to become that most excellent person God had in mind when I was created. This is the basis for Benedict’s insight that this vocation thus derives from a transcendent call from God and so we are incapable of supplying its ultimate meaning on our own. Its meaning is given to us – as are the means by which we are to realize it.  All is gift and the way we engage in our economic lives must reflect a grasp of this reality. This provides the starting place for his vision that the law of the gift should be found at the foundation of the market exchange – just as it is found in any other reciprocal relationship between persons.

These two ideas – that progress and development, rightly understood, are integral to man’s sacred vocation and – that gift and gratuitousness should govern the market in some way – constitutes one of the richest parts of the encyclical and certainly seems to build on the legacy of John Paul II. This is really the starting place for our discussion of Benedict’s new vision of the market – that, in its foundations, the economic life of any community simply must be seen as serving the call to self-transcendence and our movement toward God. Without this vision, the markets become simply alternately well-oiled or clunky mechanisms for amassing wealth - or losing it - sterile machinery without an organic connection to the human persons they are intended to serve.

The Pope is quite clear. Here is what he says: “Today’s international economic scene, marked by grave deviations and failures, requires a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise.” Old models are disappearing, he says, though promising new ones are appearing on the horizon. The central problem as articulated in the encyclical is that businesses are almost exclusively answerable to their investors, something that limits their social value and leads to a short term orientation that precludes authentic development of any kind, whether economic or human.

It is rare, says the Holy Father, that a large business – the kind primarily under discussion – is run by someone who feels responsible for the long term results of the organization and the effects its operations will have on the company itself and its community. Outsourcing weakens the company’s commitment to its workers and other local stakeholders while the shareholders, who can and do live anywhere, are not concerned with the health and welfare of actual people on the ground.  The document argues that business managers cannot concern themselves only with the interests of the owners but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business. Profit is useful only if it is seen as serving as a means towards an end and if the vision of those in charge includes attention to the proper means of producing it as well as a concern for both the genuine good of the enterprise and its relationship to the common good. But once profit becomes the exclusive goal, or if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it actually risks destroying wealth and, in the long run, actually creating poverty.

As John Paul II also said in Centesimus Annus, investment always has moral as well as economic significance. In Caritas in Veritate, we are reminded that capital can do enormous good wherever it is invested, whether at home or abroad. But the requirements of justice cannot be ignored; the needs of those where wealth is actually produced must be acknowledged and respected. It is a concern for short-term profits that undercuts the success of a business and destroys the communities in which it operates. What is needed is attention to the long term sustainability of an enterprise which in the end manifests as a commitment to investing in the community – the unwillingness or inability to make these sorts of commitments is at the heart of the financial crisis – and only genuine long term thinking (plus the idea of reciprocal exchange, which we will come to in a moment) will provide the antidote to it. (40). 

The document has much to say about this situation but in the final analysis I would say that this factor is its central and most concrete insight into the realities of the economic crisis. It has implications for the ethical context of globalization as well as criteria for grasping the moral content of local investments. The Holy Father is clear – if genuine human development always includes both the material and spiritual aspects, if it is our vocation to continually develop as persons – both materially and spiritually - in the movement back toward God, wherever we find ourselves on the globe, if our economic life is integrally related to that development, then the markets cannot exist apart from that reality. Its governors are also human persons and must recognize the call to solidarity with the rest of the human family.

But the state is also identified as a key player – and so we need to include that aspect in order to round out the picture. There are few among us – even business people – who would disagree with the above analysis. But perhaps the most controversial aspect of the document is found in its affirmation that the role of the state “seems destined to grow.” The argument seems to be that a transnational body of some kind is needed to insure that the ethics of the market are brought to the fore, especially in the apparently relentless movement of globalization. The Pope points out in that regard that this phenomenon is not being driven by some blind, anonymous force without a name or face. (42) We can provide some governance of it, but it will take some work to establish such an entity.

Critics of the document have pointed out that “the creation of a “world political authority” to ensure integral human development is revisited, with no more insight into how such an authority would operate. George Weigel comments that “it is one of the enduring mysteries of the Catholic Church why the Roman Curia places such faith in this fantasy of a “world public authority,” given the Holy See’s experience in battling for life, religious freedom, and elementary decency at the United Nations.”

Fair enough. But he does argue and I think correctly that in some nations, the construction or reconstruction of the State remains a key factor in their development. Such reconstruction must include not only economic aid but aid directed towards reinforcing the guarantees proper to the state of law – a system of public order and truly democratic institutions (41). Here we see a strong and legitimate criticism of the thug-governments in the so-called 3rd world whose well-documented corruption and self-serving practices have done more to insure the poverty and hunger of their citizens than any lack of foreign aid has (just think about the Sudan for a moment). Benedict’s argument regarding the state vis a vis the market is essentially that the basic paradigm – that the both exercise a separate and independent monopoly over their respective areas of influence – that this view is counter productive. The market is governed by the logic of exchange, i.e., giving in order to acquire; the state is governed by the logic of giving through duty, i.e., the logic of public obligation, imposed by State law). What is needed in both spheres is a new basis for solidarity between and within them – transactions and public welfare structures characterized by gratuitousness and communion. (39)

Now, this notion that somehow the markets should be organized around the idea of gratuitousness and gift is somewhat more difficult to picture but a central aspect of the document. The document acknowledges in the same paragraph (#39) that the market of gratuitousness does not exist, and attitudes of gratuitousness cannot be established by law. Yet it states that both the market and politics need individuals who are open to reciprocal gift.  This is the second element of the antidote suggested by the Holy Father. What he calls “a profoundly new way of understanding the business enterprise” is grounded in both the need for long term thinking and commitments – and this somewhat vaguer notion of market transactions governed by the notion of the gift.

Now here I believe I can make my own contribution to the debate – which I will do by way of drawing these reflections to a close. This discussion of gift and gratuitousness does seem to be an attempt to apply to economic activity certain facets of John Paul II’s Christian personalism and the teaching of Vatican II, in Gaudium et Spes 24, on the moral imperative of making our lives the gift to others that life itself is to us.  Though we might want to acknowledge that the critics may have a point that the passages that point to this insight are admittedly a bit murky. No where does the document offer any insight into how it would actually work. But I believe I know what Benedict is reaching for – and to grasp it, we must return, just for a moment, to the work of John Paul II.

There are two moments in his body of work where John Paul II refers to something as a fundamental dimension of existence. The first is perhaps the organizing principle of his entire body of work and one we have been referring to without making it explicit. That is the conviction that man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself. Throughout his work, perhaps more than any other text, John Paul quotes this passage from #24 of Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral…from the Second Vatican Council: that Jesus Christ revealed not only the love of the Father, but also reveals us to ourselves. Man is made in the image of a God who is in his very nature a relationship of three persons eternally engaged in a perpetual act of self-gift to each other - a Trinity of Persons who perfectly give and perfectly receive throughout eternity – and that therefore man cannot fully find himself except through the sincere gift of self. In Crossing the Threshold of Hope he points out that human relationships are characterized by the encounter of the “I and the thou.” And, he tells us, it is this I-thou relationship that is a fundamental dimension of human existence: genuine human existence is always coexistence.  We will call this the Law of the Gift. 

The second place he refers to something as a fundamental dimension of human existence is in his first encyclical on the social question, Laborem Exercens, “On Human Work. Here it is a reference to the reality of human work. Work is so essential to who we are as persons, says John Paul II that, just as only human beings can be persons, only human persons work; it is a mark of our humanity and through it we become more of a human being.

Here we find ourselves in the first chapters of Genesis. At Genesis 1:28, Adam and Eve hear these words: Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.” This passage is understood in the tradition as the call to work – the call to get busy…Here is a sort of trick question for you. Do these passages come before or after the fall?

That is right, they come before. So what? Well, here John Paul points out in his Encyclical that this means that work cannot be seen then as a punishment for sin but is a natural part of our human condition. In fact, John Paul tells us that the only conclusion we can draw from this account is that – and here is the familiar phrase - work is in fact a fundamental dimension of human existence; it is an integral part of the mystery of creation itself.  I like to tell my students that if they were thinking that heaven is a place where we sit around in lawn chairs drinking our favorite adult beverage, to think again. It looks like there is work to be done in paradise.

John Paul argues that through our work we reflect the creative activity of God and that this creativity is directed not only toward the external results of our work, but also in the process of working, we create ourselves, we become more of a human being. Through our work, we achieve fulfillment  - we become who we are meant to be through the work that we do. Now for JPII work means not just what we do for pay, but anything we consider work: serving a meal, diapering a baby, mowing a lawn, as well as going to the office or factory or farm. It includes the labor of mothers, of fathers in the home – of volunteers serving soup to the homeless – of laborers in a factory – of restaurant workers – of students – of teachers.

The Holy Father’s argument begins with a fundamental distinction he makes between two dimensions of human work.  The first, the objective dimension, is that which results from work in the external or material sense, either a product or a service, whether in the public or the private sphere.  This is the dimension we most associate with working. It is what the customer buys, it is what we may or may not get paid to produce; it is the pizza or the lecture we deliver, the meal our family eats, the (reasonably) clean house.


The second, the subjective dimension, and the primary concern of the encyclical, refers to the person performing the work, that is, the “subject” of work, who, by virtue of his or her very humanity, is called to be a person in the fullest sense of that word.  The human person, made in the image of God, reflects God’s creative activity in the act of working and is “a person, that is to say, a subjective being capable of acting in a planned and rational way, capable of deciding about himself and with a tendency to self-realization.”[i] 

The subjective dimension of human work is constituted by the fact that in working, the person not only creates some object – a meal, a widget, a paper – but also creates himself in the process.  He states: work “is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to man’s dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it. If one wishes to define more clearly the ethical meaning of work, it is this truth that one must particularly keep in mind. Work is a good thing for man – a good thing for his humanity – because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed in a sense becomes ‘more a human being.’”

Only when the goal of work is man himself, only when he is reflecting his personhood as a conscious and free subject in making decisions about his work, can he be said to be master of it. It is only in this context that the biblical meaning of work is fulfilled, when throughout the process man manifests himself and confirms himself as the one who “dominates.”  This is what constitutes the ethical dimension of work – that the one who does it is a person, a conscious and free subject. The ethical value of work is linked to the fact that it is carried out by a person, that is to say, “a subject that decides about himself.”[ii]  We become who we are through the work that we do and the actions we take in that regard (here paraphrasing) “must serve to realize [our] humanity, to fulfill the calling to be a person that is [ours] by reason of [our] very humanity. The value and dignity of work is not a function of the kind of work being done but is to be attributed to the fact that the one who is doing it is a person, whether that person is male – or female.

What is the relationship between these two fundamental dimensions of human existence?  As the Council Fathers stated in GS, Christ reveals that our supreme calling is to reflect the dynamics of the interrelational, intersbujective reality of the Holy Trinity – to find ourselves through a sincere gift of ourselves. John Paul II argues persuasively that we become ourselves, find ourselves through our work.  Both of these are – in his words – fundamental dimensions of human existence. What is the relationship between these two dimensions? It is simple really.  Our work, like our interpersonal relationships, is also a locus of the Law of the Gift – he even says in LE that our work – “through an inner effort on the part of the human spirit, guided by faith, hope and charity - enters into the salvation process on a par with the other ordinary yet particularly important components of its texture.” But the Law of the Gift only has meaning when the exchange is between persons.  We cannot really make a gift of ourselves to a bottom line, a meal, a report – because there is no reciprocity.  The Law of the Gift points to a reciprocal relationship – a mutual self-giving.  And so our work can only have this meaning when it is embedded within the host of interpersonal relationships that govern our coexistence within the eternal relationship to the eternal Thou. We can and must work to earn money but we cannot make a gift of ourselves to that enterprise. For it only has human meaning when at the other end of the process is a person or persons to whom we make that gift – it could be our employees, our customers; it most certainly includes our current or future family, our friends the poor.  The Law of the Gift only works within the framework of authentic coexistence – and we find ourselves when we raise our heads up long enough to ask: who is it that I am serving? Am I serving someone – in genuine love – or something?

Thus I would offer that at the center of Pope Benedict’s encyclical and his new vision of the business enterprise is really John Paul II’s vision of the meaning of human work; after all, the business enterprise, especially in the many permutations described in Caritas in Veritate is an essential and pervasive locus of work.

But here is sort of the punch line. In case you did not realize it, it is John Paul’s claim – and it seems, now Benedicts – that human work is really the key, maybe even the essential key to the social question. How this is so and how it offers an insight into Benedict’s aims in
Caritas in Veritate,  will have to be the subject for a future talk.

I thank you for your kind attention.

[i] Laborem Exercens, 2.6.

[ii] Laborem Exercens, 2.6.

Copyright ©; Dr Deborah Savage 2009

Version: 17th April 2010

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