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Bishop Crepaldi on “Deus Caritas Est”

Social Doctrine Lies at Heart of Encyclical

ROME, SEPT. 2, 2006 ( Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, says that Benedict XVI’s first encyclical reflects the entire social teaching of the Church. We publish an adapted translation of his commentary which first appeared in the May 13 issue of L’Osservatore Romano.

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Charity cleanses justice

The Social Doctrine of the Church lies at the very heart of the “Deus caritas est” encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI — notably in paragraphs 26 through 29 — and its historical evolution from “Rerum novarum” to “Centesimus annus” is specifically mentioned in paragraph 27.

The same paragraph, in addition, refers to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published in 2004 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, as a “comprehensive presentation” of the entire social teaching of the Church.

We can therefore say that the encyclical does not just embrace a few aspects of the Social Doctrine but the entire modern social teaching of the Church.

That is exactly the reason why it is useful to examine in greater depth the relationship between the Social Doctrine of the Church and the whole message of the encyclical written by Benedict XVI.

I wish to recall that also the first three encyclicals by John Paul II included important elements of Social Doctrine in the reflections on Christ the Redeemer of mankind, on God the Father rich in mercy and on the vivifying Spirit.

Central position

In that way, the Social Doctrine, following the program outlined in “Gaudium et spes,” came to occupy a central, not a marginal, position in the announcement of the Christian message. In the same way, now, Social Doctrine is assigned a central place in the Christian announcement that “God is love” and not a marginal role.

Social Doctrine is thus organically linked to charity that, as theologal virtue, is the divine life itself that nourishes the Church at the service of the world, and as human virtue is that social friendship without which the community links between men weaken and waver.

The encyclical announces charity as the essence itself of God and therefore does not overlook the human and social aspects of love, which by that light are enlightened and purified. The Social Doctrine of the Church is positioned inside this dialogue between the Divine and the human, which must constantly appeal to the love of divine life and at the same time lovingly look upon the needs of humanity.

The relationship between the Social Doctrine of the Church and charity is thus very intimate. She is “aimed at serving the individual person who is acknowledged and loved in the fullness of his or her vocation” (“Centesimus annus” 59) and “her sole purpose has been care and responsibility for man, who has been entrusted to her by Christ himself” (ibid. 53).

Furthermore, the original bond between the Social Doctrine of the Church and God’s love — or with God who is love — resides in the crucial and essential fact that she “proclaims the truth about Christ, about herself and about man” (“Sollicitiduo rei socialis” 41) and the truth of this announcement is that God is love.

It is not by chance that the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church starts precisely from “God’s plan of love for humanity.”

Queen of virtues

It is extremely relevant, in this sense, that the first social teaching document of the modern era, “Rerum novarum,” ends with an hymn to charity, “queen of all virtues” (45): “For, the happy results we all long for must be chiefly brought about by the plenteous outpouring of charity; of that true Christian charity which is the fulfilling of the whole Gospel law, which is always ready to sacrifice itself for others’ sake, and is man’s surest antidote against worldly pride and immoderate love of self.”

The whole Social Doctrine of the Church may and should be seen as the expression of Christian love, as it was well expressed by “Mater et magistra” according to which the light of Social Doctrine is Truth, Justice its objective, and Love its driving force (226).

The essential relationship between the Social Doctrine of the Church and charity can also be considered from a different point of view. I am referring to its belonging to the formal disciplinary field of “moral theology,” as explained by “Sollicitudo rei socialis” in paragraph 41.

Well, then, what is at the center of Christian morality if not charity?

Thus, if the Social Doctrine of the Church belongs to the discipline of moral theology, it means that it is because it refers to an action that is animated by charity. Therefore the theology of charity should not be seen as separated from the Social Doctrine of the Church.

The latter is “theology” and, therefore, it relates to all the areas of this knowledge, including the theology of charity. And then it is “moral theology” and, in this more specific context, it inevitably forms part of a theology of charity, from which is distinguished but not separated.

The encyclical by Benedict XVI “Deus caritas est” invites us to explore the close ties between the theology of charity and the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Charity permeates Christian life and it is not an addition to human life that comes into play a posteriori. Also creation, says “Deus caritas est,” is love. In the same way, charity does not supplement justice, but it animates it by “cleansing it,” that is helping it to be its own self, to be adequately perceived and pursued.

There is no separation between the two levels, nor can we speak of any succession or contiguity between them. Love is not juxtaposed to justice, but it makes it breathe better and, by doing so, it fully allows justice to be itself without incurring the risk of replacing it.

Justice and politics

The sphere of justice, says the Pope, belongs to politics, but politics need the “cleansing” of charity. And it is in politics’ best interest to acknowledge, in accordance to the principle of subsidiarity, the existence of “living forces” within society, among which is the Church, that are capable of activating spiritual energies that can cleanse social ethics, the commitment for justice and the political pursuit of common good.

In a truly secular relationship, this is precisely what politics ask from the Church and the Church, in turn, does not become reduced to a mere ethical agency because Christian charity is not limited to practical reason.

“Deus caritas est,” thus, does not make a distinction between a sphere of charity, in which a “theology of charity” would be interested, and a sphere of politics in which the Social Doctrine of the Church would be interested.

It does, certainly, distinguish between charity that is practiced directly and autonomously by the Church and the mission of the lay faithful, who, in the light of the Social Doctrine of the Church, have the responsibility of building the city of men.

Nevertheless, the Social Doctrine of the Church itself is charity, it does not deal just with the structural mechanisms but it focuses on man, it does not only inspire social projects, but also ways of “bearing witness to Christ the Savior” (“Centesimus annus” 5), that is of incarnated love.

Politics, after all, as Paul VI said, are not just about the functioning of the structures, but are “a demanding manner of living the Christian commitment to the service of others” (“Octogesima adveniens” 46), therefore they are charity.

Charity animates, in different ways, both the direct ecclesial works of charity and the actions taken in the world in the light of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

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