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Why is 'Caritas in veritate' so poorly written?

Peter Steinfels wants to know.

That is meant as a serious, honest question, not a snap way of dismissing a remarkable document, brimming with profound ideas and moral passion and issued at a time when it could hardly be more relevant. The matter is all the more confounding since Benedict has often shown himself a graceful writer, and one who has insisted on the importance of beauty in communicating his churchs message.(...)There are three readily available explanations for the encyclicals ungainliness. The first is simply that this is just the way encyclicals are. They are a genre wielding theology and philosophy to address complex issues that a worldwide church may confront in many very different forms. Thus a tendency toward abstract language and vague or hedged generalizations.(...)A second explanation is that Caritas in Veritate is the work of many hands.(...)A third, very down-to-earth explanation for the tough read, however, is offered by the Rev. John A. Coleman, a Jesuit sociologist and theologian who has been studying the trajectory of Catholic social teaching for decades. Father Coleman believes that Pope Benedict simply tried to do too much.

Read the rest right here.


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This is just a speculation on my part. I have heard (have absolutely NO verification as proof),that Pope Benedict has suffered a series of tiny brain hemorages. These cause him to say things that need to be re-stated later. This causes him to need extended rest periods after public travels (of course age by itself can cause that). And this causes him to be able to write brilliantly and clearly at times and at other times, to be as clear as mud and as smooth as a bed of broken glass. If this is true (and I say IF), then, that might explain why the current encyclical is so uneven in style, and difficult to understand.Also, the Pope's fall and resulting broken wrist---a result of hemoraging on the brain, or the result of aging or just an accident? Just speculation---but it does make one wonder.

The Encyclical's talk about Truth is quite amazingly abstract -- its nebulousness was pointed out by his leading German critic Friedhelm Hengsbach, a Jesuit social ethicist.I think the Encyclical has gone down like a lead balloon. Benedict simply does not have the concrete grasp of social issues that Paul VI had, nor his passion for justice. His effort to reprise and correct Paul VI has fallen flat.What is the Truth Benedict wants to stress? It is that without God, and the correct Christian understanding of God, there can be no social progress. Atheistic humanism is an obstacle to social progress. See

In response to Peter Steinfels' concerns, maybe we could consider the following:1. The encyclical was delayed by two years, which undoubtedly led to additions, cuts, etc. In theory, one could imagine this delay leading to a more streamlined document - but also to a more patchwork document. This is especially true in light of the reports that the delay was due to the economic crisis.2. This may very well be Benedict's only social encyclical. I think it is safe to say that Benedict's entire life work evidences an intense concern that the social teaching of the Church is, on the one hand, extremely important, and on the other, open to misconstruals (e.g. liberation theology). Thus, his desire to "get it right" in all its nuances might lead to excess.3. It may also be (and this is my favored explanation) because the document represents a set of remarkable innovations in Catholic Social Thought. The language of "gift" or "gratuitousness," - think "grace" - really seems to indicate a move beyond the natural law basis on which CST has been built. By saying that justice itself requires, if it is to be justice, a prior understanding of gift and of grace, Benedict is denying the complete autonomy of the social realm. Benedict furthers this link by including the first extended defense of environmentalism AND the first extended integration of Catholic sexual teaching in a social encyclical. In all of these areas, the priority of grace - of love - is seen.4. And in order to do all this, Benedict has to get beyond the market-state binary in his policy suggestions. That's a lot of work, as is obvious given the reactions to the encyclical, which continue to try to place the document's significance in terms of his arguments about markets or his argument about state action. Focusing on things like the Focolare connection, or the Italian economist mentioned in Peter Steinfels' article (who is writing a book on cooperatives), would help make sense of the overall document.

The relevant and critical question is not why is the encyclical so poorly written so much as it is why is it that Catholic social thought been so poorly enacted.

Has anything been said about the original language (or languages) in which it was written? Do things read as poorly in them? Translation is a genuine art, requiring knowledge not only of the original language but also of the matter being treated. To translate from German into English is not easy, and the abstract nouns that some Italian prose-writers prefer often need to be translated into concrete English nouns.

I think I'm more in agreement with Dave. I actually liked the encyclical very much. The big conceptual move that Benedict is making, it seems to me is repositioning love and justice. I wish I weren't trapped in a Lay-Z-Boy, because I would dig out my comprehensive exams from grad school, one of which was a question on the relationship of love and justice.There's a lot to think about--how JPII's notion of solidarity fits in with Benedict's notion of fraternity and gratuitousness.From a legal point of view, I was intrigued with his notion of semi-profit corporations --I'd like to see the Business School and Law School at ND or another Catholic institution take a look at it. .I think, also, "relaunching" the CST tradition from Populorum Progressio --giving it the same status as Rerum Novarum--was an enormous move. That, symbolically, takes seriously the fact that we are in an age of globalization, where obligations of love and justice run between countries and spheres of the world, not simply within them.

I share David and Cathleen's sense of excitement at the originality of the Encyclical, and I think its originality merits extended consideration.This does not mean that its "style" serves that originality as well as it might, though Joseph Komonchak's comment is an interesting one. Sometimes Italian seems to go on auto-pilot.Finally, though I have not checked this, my memory is that "Populorum Progressio" already invokes "solidarity."

Reading the opening paragraphs in German I find they have a nice roll to them, in which I seem to detect the authentic voice of Benedict. If Weigel wants to find evidence of other hands he might study the German style of the parts he things are Unbenedictine.3. Wegen dieser engen Verbindung mit der Wahrheit kann die Liebe als authentischer Ausdruck des Menschseins und als ein Element von grundlegender Bedeutung in den menschlichen Beziehungen auch im ffentlichen Bereich erkannt werden. Nur in der Wahrheit erstrahlt die Liebe und kann glaubwrdig gelebt werden. Die Wahrheit ist ein Licht, das der Liebe Sinn und Wert verleiht. Es ist das Licht der Vernunft wie auch des Glaubens, durch das der Verstand zur natrlichen und bernatrlichen Wahrheit der Liebe gelangt: er erfat ihre Bedeutung als Hingabe, Annahme und Gemeinschaft. Ohne Wahrheit gleitet die Liebe in Sentimentalitt ab. Sie wird ein leeres Gehuse, das man nach Belieben fllen kann. Das ist die verhngnisvolle Gefahr fr die Liebe in einer Kultur ohne Wahrheit. Sie wird Opfer der zuflligen Gefhle und Meinungen der einzelnen, ein Wort, das mibraucht und verzerrt wird, bis es schlielich das Gegenteil bedeutet. Die Wahrheit befreit die Liebe von den Verengungen einer Emotionalisierung, die sie rationaler und sozialer Inhalte beraubt, und eines Fideismus, der ihr die menschliche und universelle Weite nimmt. In der Wahrheit spiegelt die Liebe die persnliche und zugleich ffentliche Dimension des Glaubens an den biblischen Gott wider, der zugleich Agape und Logos ist: Caritas und Wahrheit, Liebe und Wort."If one wants to spell out the relations between Love and Truth at a level of high principle, this is about as well as it can be done. But the social relevance of this -- and the implication that society today is a society without truth -- and needs to learn truth before it can learn love and love before it can learn justice -- is what I find problematic.

Universal Solidarity is mentioned in nine paragraphs of Populorum Progressio.

I would be interested in seeing the first sentence In German. The English translation falls flat. There is no excuse for starting off so badly, unless the fault lies in the incompetence of the translator.

I would be interested in seeing the first sentence In German. Caritas in veritate die Liebe in der Wahrheit, die Jesus Christus mit seinem irdischen Leben und vor allem mit seinem Tod und seiner Auferstehung bezeugt hat, ist der hauptschliche Antrieb fr die wirkliche Entwicklung eines jeden Menschen und der gesamten Menschheit. Die Liebe caritas ist eine auerordentliche Kraft, welche die Menschen drngt, sich mutig und groherzig auf dem Gebiet der Gerechtigkeit und des Friedens einzusetzen. Es ist eine Kraft, die ihren Ursprung in Gott hat, der die ewige Liebe und die absolute Wahrheit ist. Jeder findet sein Glck, indem er in den Plan einwilligt, den Gott fr ihn hat, um ihn vollkommen zu verwirklichen: In diesem Plan findet er nmlich seine Wahrheit, und indem er dieser Wahrheit zustimmt, wird er frei (vgl. Joh 8, 22). Die Wahrheit zu verteidigen, sie demtig und berzeugt vorzubringen und sie im Leben zu bezeugen, sind daher anspruchsvolle und unersetzliche Formen der Liebe. Denn diese freut sich an der Wahrheit (1 Kor 13, 6). Alle Menschen spren den inneren Impuls, wahrhaft zu lieben: Liebe und Wahrheit weichen niemals gnzlich von ihnen, denn sie sind die Berufung, die Gott ins Herz und in den Geist eines jeden Menschen gelegt hat. Jesus Christus reinigt und befreit die Suche nach der Liebe und der Wahrheit von unseren menschlichen Armseligkeiten und offenbart uns vollends die Initiative der Liebe und den Plan eines wahren Lebens, das Gott fr uns vorbereitet hat. Die Liebe in der Wahrheit wird zum Gesicht Christi; und in Christus wird sie zur Berufung fr uns, unsere Mitmenschen in der Wahrheit seines Planes zu lieben. Er selbst ist ja die Wahrheit (vgl. Joh 14, 6).Google translation from German to English:1. Caritas in veritate - love in the truth that Jesus Christ and his earthly life and especially with his death and witnessed his resurrection, is the main Drive for the real development of every human person and the all mankind. Love - "caritas" - is a extraordinary force which urges people to courageously and magnanimous in the field of justice and peace use. It is a force that originates in God has of the eternal love and the absolute truth. Everyone finds his happiness, he agrees to the plan that God has for him, to fully implement it: In this plan, he finds namely, its truth, and truth by giving this consent, he is free (cf. Jn 8, 22). The truth to defend it humble and confident to make it in life and to witness,are therefore demanding and irreplaceable forms of love. Because these "looking forward to the truth" (1 Cor 13, 6). All people feel the inner pulse, truly to love: Love and Truth never deviate from them entirely, because they are calling, God into the heart and the spirit of each person placedhas. Jesus Christ cleanses and frees the search for love and the truth of our human and paltriness fully reveals to us the initiative of the love and the plan of true life, which God has prepared for us. The love in the Truth becomes the face of Christ, and Christ is to Appeal for us, our fellow human beings in the truth of his plan to love. He himself is the truth (cf. Jn 14, 6).

Thanks!This is what I find off putting in the first sentence. The phrase "Caritas in veritate die Liebe in der Wahrheit" is awkward in both languages here and also in English. In English "Love in truth" suggests "true love" but is an awkward way of putting it. Then the relative clause "die Jesus Christus mit seinem irdischen Leben und vor allem mit seinem Tod und seiner Auferstehung bezeugt hat' one would naturally connect with"Wahrheit" since Jesus certainly did bear witness to the truth and the feminine relative "die" could go with either Liebe or Wahrheit. Then the reader comes to the predicate "der hauptschliche Antrieb fr die wirkliche Entwicklung eines jeden Menschen und der gesamten Menschheit." and realizes that the antecdent of "die" is "Liebe". A better construction would be achieved by omitting "in der Wahrheit" here and returning to the thought in a second sentence which I shall not be so presumptuous as to write. Bill Buckley once said that anyone can benefit from a good editor. We too easily become attached to what we have written. The encyclical is a case in point.

I've been looking for Hans Kung's reaction to Caritas in Veritate but diligent search reveals nothing so far. I believe Kung reluctantly gave his imprimatur to Benedict's first encyclical.

I'll repeat an observation I recently made in another thread: compared with papal encyclicals, statements of the American bishops, even on social justice issues, are models of clarity and accessibility. This encyclical cries out for an American interpretation.

" Die Wahrheit zu verteidigen, sie demtig und berzeugt vorzubringen und sie im Leben zu bezeugen, sind daher anspruchsvolle und unersetzliche Formen der Liebe."This connects Card. Ratzinger's work as a defender of Truth at the CDF with social justice -- for love is grounded in Truth, and the defense of Truth, carried out with humility and conviction and a commitment of one's life, is a work of love. Truth and love are the basis of any engagement for justice.On the other hand those who work for justice, with humility and conviction and giving their life, are not necessarily doing a work of love, for charity transcends justice.

Because this encyclical goes far beyond USCCB, and because of the complexities it deals with:I think it's a difficult but worthwhile document( no matter how constructed) and that one's perception of difficulty is probably colored by how one views content as much as real concern in trying to grasp what's fully there.I'd hope we'd do better than not only the Weigel critique approach, but also focusing on complexities of the work, which, while granted having real fdifficulties, should receive lots of discussion in its particular parts, but within the stated framework of approaching the common good.