Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State and effectively the second most important official in the Catholic Church, has written a new book titled, “L’etica del Bene Comune nella Dottrina Sociale della Chiesa” (The Ethics of the Common Good in the Social Doctrine of the Church), with a preface from the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. The edition contains the Italian and Russian texts side-by-side, but it has not yet appeared in English though the Zenit News Agency has reported on the book’s presentation in Moscow.
The book is notable for its ecumenical character; it’s not often that the Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches have collaborated at such a high level. Such an effort could lead to closer relations and more dialogue in the future.
Overall, there is a large degree of agreement between Kirill and Bertone, but there are also some strikingly different perspectives on economic globalization and the role of the nation-state.
Kirill writes that money is only a means for an entrepreneurial activity: “Genuine, totally exciting work, is the businessman’s real wealth. The absence of the worship of money emancipates man, makes him free interiorly and similar to his Creator.” But he also asserts that globalization has increased the gap between rich and poor in the last twenty years and calls an international economic system always on the verge of crisis anything but ethical.
On the other hand, Bertone does not despair about the new challenges brought on by rapid growth and stresses the potential common good of economic globalization. His positive appraisal is rooted in the history of economic development in the Christian West. He extensively illustrates the various institutions founded thanks to a Christian spirit and an entrepreneurial vocation: schools, hospitals, banks and charitable organizations.
Not surprisingly, both Kirill and Bertone agree that a morally-orientated economy is a fundamental aspect for the development of a harmonious society, and both affirm that such a society should tend naturally to the common good when human activity is inspired by the principle of “fraternity.”
For Kirill, however, the notion of fraternity is primarily based on national identity and national growth, whereas Bertone stresses a more “universal,” trans-national aspect of this principle.
Furthermore, Bertone also speaks eloquently of philanthropy, solidarity, reciprocity, and above all gratitude. Man must recognize “the logic of the gift he has received and its gratuitousness,” and in doing so it will be easier for him to “express solidarity”.
In general, Kirill’s assessement of globalization is largely negative; Bertone’s is more hopeful. But neither of them, unfortunately, seem to take economics as a science very seriously. Many of their arguments, both positive and negative, on globalization would have benefited from an analysis of how markets work, or should work, in conjunction with the moral and ethical beliefs of individuals and society.
This volume proves that Christian social doctrine, whether it be Orthodox or Catholic, cannot exist simply as a pious wish or a moral theory; at some point, it has to deal with reality and the everyday world of human activities and relations. Without a grasp of this reality, social doctrine will most probably remain the Church’s “best-kept secret.”