The presence of irritable unwarranted phrases in Weigel’s commentary is symptomatic of something; it may mean something naïve or dumb, but on the face of it, it is impossible to know what exactly Mr. Weigel means. At the very least one can guess that he is not happy about this encyclical. He does not find it helpful. But helpful to what and to whom?
“Benedict XVI, a truly gentle soul, may have thought it necessary to include in his encyclical these multiple off-notes, in order to maintain the peace within his curial household. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear will concentrate their attention, in reading Caritas in Veritate, on those parts of the encyclical that are clearly Benedictine, including the Pope’s trademark defense of the necessary conjunction of faith and reason and his extension of John Paul II’s signature theme — that all social issues, including political and economic questions, are ultimately questions of the nature of the human person.”
A nod towards Benedict’s gifts does not ease the overall effect of Weigel’s critique. It is, in fact, condescending and patronizing. How does he know that the encyclical is a “duck-billed platypus” made to placate in-house tensions at the Vatican? Perhaps he has not considered the possibility that the Pope actually believes what he is writing, and is opening up the paradigms, cracking the templates, expanding the range of vision and dialogue so that something more truly just and humane may develop, may have what he calls “breathing-space” in the current world situation. As it stands, Mr. Weigel has said, in effect, “We love Papa, he is a sweet old soul. He is very good on religion but, alas, muddled on economics.”
It brings to mind the objections that arose after the publication of Centesimus Annus in 1991. From numerous neoconservative commentators we heard, “Oh, yes, John Paul II is a great personalist, a great pope, but, well, he is no economist.” Correct. He was no economist. And Benedict is no economist. Neither was Paul VI nor John XXIII, nor Pius XI nor Leo XIII. But they were men of vast understanding, and they expressed the Mind of Christ on these matters in terms of first principles, the context in which truly human economies can develop. So let’s put our coloured editorial pens back into the inkwells for a bit, and let’s give it time and give it thought—especially let all men of good will engage their rational intellects with the spirit of humility, and see if there is something to be learned from the Vicar of Christ —something new and yet something old because it is something eternal.
Caritas in Veritate is lucid, anointed, prophetic. It is a sign of contradiction, a challenge to every system of government and economics. It is a call to truth and charity for all human beings. Minimizing the real import of this encyclical is symptomatic of perceptual as well as intellectual difficulties.
It behooves us all to take the time to read the whole encyclical with O'Brien's comments in mind. The encyclical was not written to please a secular, political world. It was written to expand all our visions towards God's ultimate vision for us. We need to be open to that expansion of heart, mind and soul if we are truly interested in the welfare of mankind.
As a social and mostly fiscal conservative, who puts a lot of stock in personal freedom and responsibility, I have to read the encyclical first with a complete openness to hear an expanded perspective. I have to read it secondly with the purpose of finding my personal responsibility in the Pope's message of Truth. Thirdly, and perhaps least important, I must read 'Caritas In Veritate' with a practical mind - how do I fit the Truth, my personal responsibility, and an expanded vision of humanity into my day to day life on earth.
Quite a challenge!