Acton Institute Powerblog

Quick Conservative Protestant Take on Caritas in Veritate

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I remember once reading an author who began by saying that he wasn’t a big fan of Paul. I was offended by that because I thought, “Who are you to pronounce yourself a non-fan of Paul? Furthermore, who cares whether you’re a fan of Paul?”

I say this because I have been reading Caritas in Veritate by Pope Benedict. As I read, I find I agree and disagree with different portions of it. I can imagine a Catholic saying, “Who are you to disagree with the Pope? And who cares, Protestant boy?” I am very sensitive to that sentiment.

The quick version is this. The pope is very impressive as he writes about the nature of knowledge. He has very clearly grasped that the way we view knowledge is unnecessarily stunted and frankly, unworkable.

The part that brings me up a little short is the way he writes about economics. There are some very substantial insights there about how capitalism has a tendency to undermine its own foundations. At the same time, however, he seems to be hinting at the kind of social programs and employment guarantees that have often proved harmful to the development of productive lives by whole groups of human beings.

I’ve noted Dr. Gregg’s remarks in this regard and will keep reading for greater clarity. He is certainly a greater authority than I on these matters.

Hunter Baker Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is an associate professor of political science at Union University and an Affiliate Scholar in Religion & Politics at the Acton Institute. He is the author of The End of Secularism and Political Thought: A Student's Guide.


  • I haven’t finished the encyclical either, so take this with a grain of salt, but from what I’ve read whenever Benedict XVI talks about truth he’s fairly clear, but on economics he’s much more vague. I suspect that’s on purpose.

    Also, is not part of the problem that it’s nearly impossible for a modern Westerner, Pope included, to think/read/talk about social responsibility without mucking about in Libby terminology?

    Whenever I try to explain what I mean when I say I have a social responsibility, a moral/personal responsibility to society in general, no one quite gets it or considers such things in accordance with subsidiarity (which I’d assume is an essential component for the encyclical to be properly understood). Same thing with environmental responsibility.

    Acton seems to do a decent job of attempting to take these issues back, but it is still extremely difficult to separate what a Christian means by social responsibility from secular ideas of social responsibility. It’s in our blood to think “independently.”

    Rod Dreher struggled with this too. And while I don’t think he found the answer, he certainly saw the problem.

  • Karen

    Our challenge is to reeducate people into thinking about subsidiarity – a concept once innately understood and now incomprehensible to a generation that looks to someone else, i.e. government, to take care of our neighbor. I don’t think you have to be Catholic to agree with Pope Benedict’s analysis of what is missing in today’s world – respect for the dignity of each and every human person, personal responsiblity, and a Christian moral foundation.

  • jh

    “At the same time, however, he seems to be hinting at the kind of social programs and employment guarantees that have often proved harmful to the development of productive lives by whole groups of human beings.”

    I guess I am not really seeing that. He talks about the goal of steady employment but goodness that is a goal of every poltical system

  • Still reading the encyclical but we’ve seen this problem show up before, collective vs. communal. If the 20th century taught us anything it should teach us that there is no good example of communal without authoritarianism. Even if it is the iron hand in velvet glove sort. The Church has very much been there done that and can speak to issues in the politics if not the economics of these relationships.

  • Adam D

    I look forward to your full conservative, Protestant take when it comes out.