Modern Catholic social teaching is frequently associated with the papal encyclicals that address social questions. Leo XIII’s 1891 Rerum Novarum is considered the first such encyclical. Successive popes have issued encyclicals that address the pressing social concerns of their day.
Most recently, in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI issued Caritas in Veritate. In this encyclical, Benedict XVI considers the contemporary social situation in light of the centuries-long Catholic theological tradition. As the title reveals, Benedict XVI places “charity at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine.” It is the actualization of theory.
The first line of Caritas in Veritate illustrates the scriptural roots of his reflection, which is consistent with the tradition of Catholic social teaching:
Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic human development of every person and of all humanity. (1)
Charity, the pope acknowledges, is frequently misconstrued as devoid of meaning and “detached from ethical living” but in his view it is precisely the opposite.
It gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbour; it is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones) (2).
This concrete manifestation of love-in-relationship, expressed interpersonally at both the local and global levels, can be traced back to the foundational biblical text, Genesis. The social message of Genesis will be the topic of the next entry in this space.
Submitted by: N. Rademacher, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Religious Studies