It’s called Spe Salvi, or “In hope we were saved”, and was released this morning, the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. The title is taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans 8:24; the theme is, of course, Christian hope. This second encyclical follows Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI’s reflections on Christian charity, which was released in January 2006. You can find the English version of Spe Salvi here.
I’ve only had time for one read, not nearly enough for a full summary, but here are some of the highlights.
There are two sections, “Is Christian hope individualistic?” and “The transformation of Christian faith-hope in the modern age”, that should be of particular interest to PowerBlog readers. In the latter section, the pope refers to Francis Bacon’s project, “the triumph of art over nature” and faith in progress. This is followed by reflections on reason and freedom, the French Revolution and Immanuel Kant’s reaction to it, and Karl Marx. In his analysis of Marx, the pope writes, “His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favourable economic environment.” (n. 21)
This is followed by a section on the importance of freedom in human affairs:
The right state of human affairs, the moral well-being of the world can never be guaranteed through structures alone, however good they are. Such structures are not only important, but necessary; yet they cannot and must not marginalize human freedom. Even the best structures function only when the community is animated by convictions capable of motivating people to assent freely to the social order. Freedom requires conviction; conviction does not exist on its own, but must always be gained anew by the community.
Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last forever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom. Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good. Free assent to the good never exists simply by itself. If there were structures which could irrevocably guarantee a determined—good—state of the world, man’s freedom would be denied, and hence they would not be good structures at all. (n. 24a,b)
(Later, the pope brings up Cardinal Francois-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, the Vietnamese priest who served as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace until his death in September 2002 and a friend of the Acton Institute. The cardinal spent 13 years as a prisoner in Vietnam, 9 of those in solitary confinement, just after he was named bishop of Saigon. The pope refers to the cardinal’s writings on his experience and even his difficulty in praying. I had the great privilege to work with Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan at Justice and Peace and these references are a real testament to his holiness. His cause for beatification has recently been opened.)
As was the case with Deus Caritas Est, Spe Salvi does not treat social questions as such and is not a treatise on Church-State relations, so it is not considered a social encyclical, like Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus. Rather, and perhaps more importantly, by examining theological virtues such as hope and charity, Pope Benedict is showing us how Christianity has changed the way we live in a fundamental sense. Both encyclicals contrast the Christian understanding with pre-Christian and modern secular understandings, and in doing so, form the basis for how we ought to view economics and other human sciences in a more comprehensive light.
In his defense of human freedom, Pope Benedict warns of utopian schemes that attempt to place our hopes in planners rather than God; quite clearly, the pope is no optimist wearing rose-colored glasses when it comes to human progress but neither is he blind to it. He notes that Bacon even predicted advancements such as the airplane and the submarine, but the pope reminds us that freedom can be used for good or evil at any time. There is something irreducible about moral freedom, despite all our wonderful advances in science and technology, that is the basis of human drama. All great artists are able to portray this drama vividly and in many ways, the pope has shown himself to be a theological artist of sorts with his first two encyclicals. Just as one gains new insights from re-reading a great book or looking at a beautiful painting again, I’m looking forward to re-visiting Spe Salvi with greater attention.
I’ll close by adding that one of my favorite sections has to do with the neglected practice of “offering up” our troubles to God:
I would like to add here another brief comment with some relevance for everyday living. There used to be a form of devotion—perhaps less practised today but quite widespread not long ago—that included the idea of “offering up” the minor daily hardships that continually strike at us like irritating “jabs”, thereby giving them a meaning. Of course, there were some exaggerations and perhaps unhealthy applications of this devotion, but we need to ask ourselves whether there may not after all have been something essential and helpful contained within it. What does it mean to offer something up? Those who did so were convinced that they could insert these little annoyances into Christ’s great “com-passion” so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race. In this way, even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning and contribute to the economy of good and of human love. Maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice ourselves. (n. 40)
Again, you can read the encyclical on the Vatican website by clicking here.