Posts tagged with: Papal encyclicals

Blog author: dpahman
posted by on Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Today at Ethika Politika, I examine the longstanding claim of the Roman Catholic Church that the universal character of the common good in our present era necessitates a world political authority. The problem, I argue, lies in the tradition’s too closely identifying the good of political communities with the common good.

The recently canonized Pope John XXIII, for example, states that “[p]ublic authority” is “the means of promoting the common good in civil society” (Pacem in Terris, 136, emphasis mine). And Pope Benedict XVI continued the call made by John XXIII for a “world political authority” in Caritas in Veritate, specifically recommending that the U.N. be “vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights” (57, emphasis mine). The problem with the U.N., to the popes, is that it is not powerful enough.

In response, I write,

I would worry about a U.N. or any other global political authority endowed with such great power and means. If nation states have failed to ensure the global common good, as the pope admits, why should we expect a global government to be free from error in this regard? The only difference would be that the mistakes of such politicians would necessarily have global consequences. I like my U.N. nearly ineffective and mostly powerless, thank you very much. If anything, to ensure subsidiarity, the larger the political authority, the less power and means it should have. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Photo Credit: youngdoo via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: youngdoo via Compfight cc

In this week’s commentary, “Made to Trade,” I explore the natural dispositions that human beings have to produce, exchange, consume, and distribute material goods.

If you’ve ever noticed that a sandwich made by someone else tastes better than one you make yourself, you’ll know what I’m getting at: “Recognizing the satisfaction that comes from such a gift of service from another person illustrates an other-directed disposition that is a deep and constitutive part of human nature.”

There is a gracious foundation for giving and receiving, whether in the form of gifts and distributions or in exchange. As Benedict XVI writes in Caritas in Veritate, “Gratuitousness is present in our lives in many different forms, which often go unrecognized because of a purely consumerist and utilitarian view of life. The human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension.”

Sometimes I think the ideas of gift and exchange can be too radically distinguished. Benedict describes a gift as something that “by its nature goes beyond merit, its rule is that of superabundance.” The relationship between love and justice, or between charity and merit, is complex and difficult to hold in proper balance. Emphasis of one at the expense of the other leads to errors of antinomianism or legalism.

What is clear, however, is the gracious foundation of all of our economics activities derive from God’s providential ordering. We give, receive, “truck, barter, and exchange,” as a manifestation of the constitutive sociality of our human nature, created in God’s image, male and female.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was not able to complete his encyclical on faith during his pontificate, and Pope Francis chose to complete the work, Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”.) Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg writes about benedict and francisthe connection between these two men, made possible by their faith, at National Review:

[I]f there’s anything demonstrated by Pope Francis’s first encyclical letter Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”), it’s a profound continuity between the two men: i.e., their love for and belief in the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic faith. Right at this encyclical’s beginning, Francis states the text’s first draft was prepared by his predecessor and “as his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own” (LF 7).

The point being made here isn’t just that Joseph Ratzinger is probably the greatest theologian to sit on Peter’s Chair and may one day be declared a Doctor of the Church. A more subliminal message is that Catholicism’s content doesn’t change when one pope succeeds another. As many people don’t (and sometimes don’t want to) understand, Catholicism isn’t just another political movement that distorts or abandons its core beliefs under the guidance of consultants to gain votes from fickle voters.

(more…)

Samuel Gregg, Director of Research at Acton, discusses Blessed John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) in a new article in Crisis Magazine. Entitled, ‘Veritatis Splendor: The Encyclical That Mattered’, Gregg makes the claim that this encyclical may become one of the greatest in history. Why?

For one thing, Veritatis Splendor was the first encyclical to spell out the Catholic Church’s fundamental moral teaching. Catholicism had of course always articulated the moral dimension of Christ’s message. Never before, however, had a pope provided a formal systematic outline of Catholic moral doctrine. That alone makes the encyclical a perennial reference-point for Catholic reflection.

Second, Veritatis Splendor provided what’s now widely recognized as a powerful response to the crisis into which Catholic moral theology fell after Vatican II. In many respects this crisis was precipitated by the debates surrounding Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. But more deeply, Veritatis Splendor was a rejoinder to many Catholic theologians’ attempt to do three things.

Gregg goes on to state that this encyclical reminds the world of the truth that will set us free:

Herein lies Veritatis Splendor’s importance for anyone who wants to preserve and promote civilization. Not only does it insist that particular acts are eternally unworthy of man. It also affirms that human reason can identify what the encyclical calls certain “fundamental goods” that transcend the particularities of the here-and-now.

In that sense the encyclical reminds us that avoiding evil isn’t enough. As Veritatis Splendor’s unfolding of Christ’s encounter with the rich young man illustrates, the prohibitions contained in God’s moral law are supposed to be a spring-board toward human flourishing. 

Read Veritatis Splendor – The Encyclical That Mattered’ at Crisis Magazine.

Reflecting on the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, Philip Booth, professor at Cass Business School in London, says the pope was clear on his economic ideas.

As he said in Caritas in Veritate: “Economy and finance, as instruments, can be used badly when those at the helm are motivated by purely selfish ends. But it is man’s darkened reason that produces these consequences, not the instrument per se”. In other words, credit derivative swaps are not evil, but those who abuse them might be.

He had a similarly wise understanding of the problems facing the welfare state. As he stated elsewhere: “There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. The state which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy, incapable of guaranteeing the very thing that the suffering person needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a state which regulates and controls everything”. Solidarity as a virtue is far superior to an intrusive welfare state.

Booth goes on to say that Benedict, in this same encyclical, states that the state’s role is to serve, and that family and civil society must take priority over the state.

Read “Pope Benedict saw why the capitalist system is virtuous” at City A.M.

Philip Booth is author of International Aid and Integral Human Development, available in the Acton Book Shop. He is author of the Acton Commentary, “Solidarity, Charity and Government Aid.”

The Michigan legislature passed right-to-work legislation today, a landmark event that promises to accelerate the state’s rebound from the near-collapse it suffered in the deep recession of 2008. The bills are now headed to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk. The right-to-work passage was a stunning reversal for unions in a very blue state — the home of the United Auto Workers. Following setbacks for organized labor in Wisconsin last year, the unions next turned to Michigan in an attempt to enshrine prerogatives for their organizing efforts in the state constitution. A union-backed ballot proposal was handily defeated by voters in the Nov. 6 election.

rightoworkBut according to some on the Christian left, the right-to-work law is the worst thing that could happen to “workers.” Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a retired auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, argued in an opinion piece that right-to-work “devastates economic justice.” He claims to speak not just for Catholics or for Christians but quite simply for faith communities all over the world:

At the core of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and all great religions are the values of dignity and respect, values from which economic justice and the right to organize can never be separated.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s Presbyterian tradition “affirms the rights of labor organization and collective bargaining as minimum demands of justice.” Similar statements have been made by the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to name but a few. (more…)

Here is the comment posted this this morning on the National Catholic Reporter article titled, “Statement on economy denounced by archbishop fails to pass.”

Full statement follows:

An important clarification.

Archbishop Fiorenza’s assertion that the Acton Institute views Rerum Novarum as “no longer applicable today” is incorrect. The archbishop is most likely basing this claim on a June 2012 America Magazine blog post by Vincent Miller titled, “Sirico Completely Wrong on Church’s Social Teaching.”

See link.

In the post, Miller cites an interview Fr Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, did with the New York Times on a story about Duquesne University and the attempt by adjunct professors to organize a union there. Miller claimed that Fr Sirico’s comment to the Times was “astounding in its ignorance or mendacious misrepresentation of the basis for the Church’s support for unions.”

To which Fr Sirico replied on the Acton PowerBlog:

“Anytime I can get a progressive/dissenting Catholic magazine/blog like the Jesuit-run America simultaneously to quote papal documents, defend the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, embrace the Natural Law and even yearn for a theological investigation “by those charged with oversight for the Church’s doctrine” of a writer suspected of heresy, I consider that I have had a good day.”

And further on:

Mr. Miller jumps to the conclusion that by saying that Leo’s observations of the circumstances for workers in 1891 were historically contingent, I am somehow arguing that what Leo said has no bearing today. Now, that is a particularly odd reaction because the entire thrust of Leo’s encyclical, beginning with its title, was precisely aimed at looking around at the “new things” (Rerum Novarum) that were emerging in his day, and reflecting upon them in the light of Scripture, Tradition and the Natural Law. If the situation in Pittsburgh and the graduate students teaching part time courses in 2012 is remotely comparable to the subsistence living conditions under which many workers lived in the latter part of the 19th century, this has somehow escaped my notice.

Nonetheless, I am delighted to see Mr. Miller is vigilant about the Church teaching and his citations from magisterial texts; not a single line of any of those cited do I disagree with.

Read the whole thing here.

John Couretas
Communications Director
Acton Institute

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Friday, October 19, 2012

George Weigel on why Americans respond positively to presidential aspirants who lift up “a vision of American possibility—prosperity linked to creativity, responsibility, and generosity”:

A robust economy is not only an economic imperative; it is a moral and cultural imperative. A robust economy makes honorable work possible for all who wish to be responsible for their own lives and the lives of their loved ones. And work, according to Blessed John Paul II in the 1983 encyclical Laborem Exercens, is an expression of our participation in God’s sustaining “creation” of the world.

A robust economy makes possible the empowerment of the underprivileged—the true “preferential option for the poor” in Catholic social doctrine, according to John Paul’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus—even as it helps conserve public resources by making the resort to welfare less necessary.

A robust economy is essential in supporting one telling sign of America’s enduring generosity and idealism: the remarkable philanthropy of the American people. Americans, these days, give some $300 billion a year to charitable organizations, including religious institutions that fund vast networks of education, health care, and social service serving people in real need. There is simply nothing like this anywhere else in the Western world; if you doubt that, go to Europe or Canada, where the tradition of the benign, caretaker state (the contemporary version of the benign, caretaker monarch) has severely eroded charitable instincts—meaning giving.

Read more . . .

As I leafed through this week’s Wall Street Journal Europe political commentary, I finally felt a little redemption. Hats off to WSJ writers Peter Nicholas and Mark Peter whose brief, but poignant August 20 article “Ryan’s Catholic Roots Reach Deep” shed light on vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s value system. This was done by elucidating how Paul Ryan views the relationship of the individual with the state and how the local, small-town forces in America can produce great change for a nation gravely concerned about its weak and vulnerable.

The article references a standard Catholic but still-very-unknown-teaching on “subsidiarity.” Go figure, not even my word processing program recognizes the term in its standard U.S. English lexicon. Alas, subsidiarity is not a word you read about in the secular Wall Street Journal, either, whose op-eds debate many critical intuitions of the free market and democratic society yet seldom examine the intersection of theology and economics, like the Acton Institute does so well.

Indeed the WSJ Europe article was not that erudite (for other more elaborated pieces on subsidiarity go here and here and be sure to watch Fr. Robert Sirico’s  enlightening video (below). Neither do the WSJ writers spell out the details of Ryan’s various economic and welfare reform proposals inspired by the principle of subsidiarity, which include a repeal of nationalized medicine and drastically reducing spending on various excessive national welfare and other expansive public agencies.  Nonetheless, last Monday this secular media outlet gave its readers a very Catholic glimpse into  Ryan’s political world view which is  a product of a hardworking, Irish  Catholic family from  “small-town” America  (Janesville, Wis.)  trying to solve its own problems by the teachings of the Catholic Church. (more…)


Pope Benedict XVI delivered inspiring remarks at the European Year of Volunteering (EYV) summit held in Rome this past Nov. 10-11. He explained why gratuitous giving of personal talent and resources is so important in restoring a healthy vocational perspective to everyday business.

As Benedict knows all too well, a culture of Christian charitable giving is not at its height in Ol’ Europe, where the modern Welfare State and Keynesian economics have played such a dominant role the past 70 years (see why in Michael Miller’s 2008 Acton lecture The Victory of Socialism and the strong opinion of other Roman pontiffs in my blog Popes Say No to Socialism). European government dominance of charitable enterprise has reduced much of the Continent’s generosity in terms of private giving and volunteer activities.

A pervasive “every man for himself” mentality is now infecting the hearts of European workers and households struggling to stay afloat. From their perspective, who can really blame them? Many wonder: Who has the money or the time to care for others when you and your family are just barely surviving?

During the EYV summit, the Holy Father commended leaders from European charitable non-profits and volunteer organizations for keeping a culture of generosity and self-giving alive. Benedict underscored the absolutely essential role their work plays in building up a society of free giving and virtue (altruism, generosity and selflessness) and restoring confidence in man’s innately good heart, now withered and tested by the intense pressures of today’s down market. These latter socially destructive tendencies are the ones the Acton Insitute attempts to thwart in its program for effective charity, The Samaritan Award and Guide.

European charitable enterprise leaders, so to speak, help create a “market of gratuitousness”, as mentioned in Benedict’s social encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). This same abundance philosophy is argued so convincingly in Arthur C. Brooks’s Gross National Happiness (see book with Brooks’s research on wealth and charitable giving). The president of the American Enterprise Institute writes that charitable giving of time and resources makes us psychologically happier and more humanly fulfilled, which in turn increases our chances of being more happy and productive in the workplace, which consequently influence growth trends in corporations and entire commercial sectors.

This is the positive circle of growth and happiness that charity helps inspire. It is the exact reason why volunteer activity ends up paying real dividends in commercial enterprise, as business people flourish morally and spiritually. To understand further, watch Arthur Brooks’s Fox News interview regarding economic growth factors linked to generosity and happiness in the United States and with some heavy criticism of giant Welfare States like France, a country ranked a miserable 91 out of 153 nations surveyed for the latest Index (download 2010 PDF report and index). According to the Index, some of the most enterprising European countries (like Great Britain, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany and Holland), while battling the same destructive welfare culture and economic crises, all made the top 20 with the traditionally high-ranking United States (no. 5). By contrast, the same welfare dependent, economically troubled but far less enterprising Greece was ranked dead last in the Eurozone and in the bottom five of all 153 countries represented.

The opposite destructive vicious circle goes something like this: stinginess of heart leads to a lack of deep vocational interest in work and therefore a miserly contribution of one’s talent and resources, which directly lowers overall production and profits for enterprise, as worker pessimism and selfishness help undermine commercial potential. This is one good reason why markets stagnate, retract and eventually die when such negativity and selfishness swirl violently into a cultural vortex, sucking down an entire nation’s true economic potential.

We are not surprised to hear Pope telling EYV participants that volunteer work and charity “is not merely an expression of good will.” As he articulated this great teaching:

At the present time, marked as it is by crisis and uncertainty, your commitment is a reason for confidence, since it shows that goodness exists and that it is growing in our midst. The faith of all Catholics is surely strengthened when they see the good that is being done in the name of Christ… His grace perfects, strengthens and elevates that vocation and enables us to serve others without reward, satisfaction or any recompense. Here we see something of the grandeur of our human calling: to serve others with the same freedom and generosity which characterizes God himself.

A day later, during his Nov. 13 Sunday Angelus, the Pope reflected on giving and investment of human talent and resources in the context of Sunday’s gospel (Parable of the Talents: Matthew 25:14-30). As Acton’s President Rev. Robert Sirico argues in his monograph The Entrepreneurial Vocation, Benedict XVI invited faithful to respond thankfully and generously to their individual gifts for the advancement of God’s abundance on Earth:

In today’s Gospel…Jesus invites us to reflect with gratitude on the gifts we have received and to use them wisely for the growth of God’s Kingdom. May his words summon us to an ever deeper conversion of mind and heart, and a more effective solidarity n the service of all our brothers and sisters.

Finally, the Holy Father’s press secretary, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ explained what Benedict XVI meant in a interview released after the Pope’s EYV remarks:

We are in the midst of an economic crisis afflicting the whole of Europe, and raising tensions, worries and anxieties throughout the world. It is a crisis that challenges the intellects and abilities of politicians and economists. In the midst of this crisis, the Pope’s speech to the young people gathered in Rome for the European Year of [Volunteering] may provide a modest contribution to help rediscover a common hope. The Pope asks us to keep in mind the idea of ‘gratuitousness’, of giving freely —that is, not living solely for one’s own interests, but living in such a way that we are a gift to others.

“In short, man does not live on bread alone, but also on the relationships between men and women who are truly free, who respect one another and take care of one another and love one another, beyond selfish calculations. It is from these relationships that mutual trust is rebuilt between people and populations. It is the fulcrum that is needed to lift the world anew.

The generous and routine volunteering of one’s talent and resources instills everyday habits that market-based economies need and rely on for individual entrepreneurs and businesses to grow and succeed. It’s what makes or breaks businesses teetering on the edge of failure, when employees and professional collaborators give a little more of themselves to help enterprise lunge forward.

Apart from emboldening private initiatives to diminish the role of  European Welfare States and increasing our Gross National Happiness, the real output of charity is measured in the increased hearts and souls of generous, selfless business people. It is these same business people who take the gratuitousness they learned in habitual acts of charity and apply this virtue to generous forms of service with “other-directed” collaboration, products and services.