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The Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Christian Tradition and the Modern World

Part of the Ethical Economy book series (SEEP,volume 41)

Abstract

In his most cited sentence, Adam Smith writes that we do not expect our meal from the benevolence of the butcher or the brewer but from their self-interest. Would it not be more correct to say that we expect it from their justice and virtuousness? What does the commandment of universal love mean for a Christian working in economy? Pope Benedict XVI gives answers to these questions in his social encyclical. He uses expressions which seem to be of little practical relevance to business people: gratuitousness, spirit of gift, reciprocity, relationality, etc. These expressions stem from a line of economic thought known as “civil economy” which tries to make fruitful the treasure of scholastic economics, especially the Franciscan School, and other schools of Christian social teaching. The essay strives to explain the meaning of the expressions used in the encyclical and to show their relevance.

Keywords

  • Human Dignity
  • Common Good
  • Social Ethic
  • Christian Tradition
  • Economic Liberalism

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Notes

  1. 1.

     I have used the 2006 edition of Georg Jellinek’s Die Erklärung der Menschen- und Bürgerrechte: Ein Betrag zur Modernen Verfassungsgeschichte, third posthumous edition, revised and completed by Walter Jellinek, 1919. VDM Dr. Müller, publisher, Saarbrücken.

  2. 2.

     Trutz Rendtorff discusses the work of Jellinek in light of this question in Rendtorff (1987). The following reflections on Max Weber and Jellinek are indebted to Rendtorff.

  3. 3.

     Published for the first time under the title: “Die protestantische Ethik und der ‘Geist’ des Kapitalismus,” in Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, vol. XX and XXI (1905).

  4. 4.

     For an introduction and a first approximation, see Roos (2009); Beretta et al. (2009); Campanini (2009); Brambilla et al. (2009); Melé and Castellà (2010).

  5. 5.

     Perhaps to highlight this aspect, rather than the publication date of Rerum Novarum, Benedict XVI chose the anniversary of Populorum Progressio for his social encyclical.

  6. 6.

     Italics in the original text.

  7. 7.

     John Paul ii (1991 , 34): “It would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs.”

  8. 8.

     Cf. for a general survey: Bruni and Zamagni (2004, 2009).

  9. 9.

     Preface of the Christmas Mass which goes back to the fifth century using words of Leo I.

  10. 10.

     The Bible passage Leo I echoes is: “A merchant can hardly remain upright, nor a shopkeeper free from sin; For the sake of profit many sin, and the struggle for wealth blinds the eyes. Like a peg driven between fitted stones, between buying and selling sin is wedged in.” For the negative attitude of Leo I to usury see his Sermon 17, 3, in Leo (1996, 63ff).

  11. 11.

     For more details, see Wood (2002, 112); Langholm (1992, 102ff). The Decretum Gratiani, C. XXIV, q. 3, c. 23, however, also protects merchants from “unusual” taxes and road fares. “Si quis (…) mercatores novis teloneorum et pedaticorum exactionibus molestare temptaverit, donec satisfecerit, conmunione careat Christiana.”

  12. 12.

     Quoted e.gr. by Aquinas (1999), q. 77, a. 4 sed contra.

  13. 13.

     For a complete analysis, see Noonan (1957); a synthetic explanation in Wood (2002, 160ff).

  14. 14.

     See Aristotle, Politics, I (A), 1258 b, 2–8: “The most detestable sort (of wealth getting) and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself and not from the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used in exchange but not to increase at interest….Wherefore of all modes of getting wealth, this is the most unnatural.” On this topic, see Schefold (2008, 39); for a detailed analysis of Aristotle’s attitude toward economy and money, see Wittreck (2002, 173ff).

  15. 15.

     The principal texts of the Old Testament are Ex 22:24; Lev 25:35–37; Deut 23:20–21; cf. also Ps 15:5; Prov 28:8; Ezek 18:8; 13:17; 22:12. In the New Testament, there is Lk 6:35. For an exegetical commentary, see Tosato (2002). For the history of usury in Catholic teaching, see Noonan (1957) and Le Bras (1950).

  16. 16.

     Cf. for example lactantius, Institutiones divinae 6, 18; Ambrose (1845, 759ff); Leo I (1996, 63ff).

  17. 17.

     Cf. also Melé (1999); De Roover (1974); Todeschini (2004, 7f); Bazzichi (2008).

  18. 18.

     For the history of the term, see Hilger (2004).

  19. 19.

     The Bull “Inter Multiplices” (May 4, 1515) promulgated by Leo X recognized the Montes Pietatis as charitable institutions, with an interest rate that had to be reasonable (i.e., covering the running costs). The prohibition of requiring interest remained in force even after the publication of this Bull, unless the interest of the loan was to be used for the salaries of the employees and to cover the other costs of the Montes Pietatis and not simply to pay for the loan as such. Cf. Denzinger and Hünermann (2003, 1442–1444).

  20. 20.

     Cf. Pierpaolo Donati, under the heading of “Dono” [“Gift”], in Bruni and Zamagni (2009, 279–291).

  21. 21.

     Cf. Luigino Bruni under the headings Fraternità and Gratuità in: Bruni and Zamagni (2009, 439–444 and 484–488); also from a juridical point of view: galasso and mazzarese (2008).

  22. 22.

     Luigino Bruni, under the heading Communitas in bruni and Zamagni (2009, 202–208).

  23. 23.

     Luigino Bruni, under the heading Fraternità in Bruni and Zamagni (2009, 442).

  24. 24.

     See, for example, Benedict XVI (2009, 2): “Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law (cf. Mt. 22:36–40). It gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbor; 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).”

  25. 25.

     Cf. Luigino Bruni, under the heading “Reciprocità”, in Bruni and Zamagni (2009, 652–660).

  26. 26.

     For a preliminary look at the different concepts of “market” from a historical perspective, see Röttgers (1980).

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Schlag, M. (2012). The Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Christian Tradition and the Modern World. In: Schlag, M., Mercado, J. (eds) Free Markets and the Culture of Common Good. Ethical Economy, vol 41. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-2990-2_6

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