Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s encyclical is aimed at addressing the confusion and falsehood that results when charity is conflated with a kind of tolerance that permits the denial of the rightful place of God and his moral imperatives in the life of man.  Benedict’s encyclical points out that acting charitably does not require that we dilute the truth of the Catholic faith and that, to the contrary, upholding that truth is the charitable path.       

The Basic Premise

          There is no tension between acting charitably and acting according to reason (¶30).  Charity and reason are mutually reinforcing concepts.  When seeking and expressing the truth we should confine our activities to those that are charitable but, at the same time, an act that leads others away from the truth cannot be viewed as charitable (¶2).  To the contrary, a person acts charitably when he bears witness to the truth (¶1).  Therefore the Church can never renounce the truth, including its social teachings (¶9). 

      There are certain truths concerning human nature and the political and economic spheres that are today oft neglected. Man is not the result of mere chance or necessity, but rather possesses a soul, a nature that will transcend itself in supernatural life (¶29).  In part because men have souls, they are made for gift giving and gratuitousness (for charity), a fact that is overlooked when society takes a purely consumerist or utilitarian world view (¶34).

      In the political arena, Christians are therefore obliged to seek an earthly City of God (¶7).  We are obliged, because of charity, to recognize that there is a common good, which comprises the good of all individuals in society, and to strive for it.  The more influence that a person has, the more that person is responsible for striving for the common good (¶7).  Recognizing that we have shared reciprocal duties to one another is more likely to lead to desirable activities in the political arena than is a mere recognition that we all have “rights.”  Rights will not be respected unless corresponding duties are also recognized (¶43).        

      The Church’s social teaching, and the requirements of charity, extend to the areas of economic activity and finance, which must not be viewed as somehow compartmentalized and immune from moral requirements (¶45).  Financiers must be upright individuals, since Investment has moral and ethical dimensions, not merely technical ones (¶40).  Consumers likewise have moral obligations that must be considered when making purchases (¶40).  A purchase is always a moral, and not merely an economic, act.  A consumer has a specific social responsibility that exists alongside the social responsibility of the enterprise selling the product (¶66).   

Problems Resulting from the Failure to Recognize the Truth of God’s Rightful Place in the Life of Man

             Without God, man neither knows which way to go nor even who he is (¶78).  Man is isolated when too much trust is placed in merely human projects, ideologies and false utopias divorced from God (¶53).  Proper human development therefore goes awry when people believe that they can ignore God and recreate themselves through the “wonders” of technology alone instead (¶68).

         Technology is not a substitute for God or his moral imperatives, including charity.  For instance, the lack of food and water is not generally caused by the lack of material resources, which technology might use more efficiently, but rather by a lack of charitable institutions designed to ensure that these necessities are adequately provided for (¶27).  In fact, technology, divorced from moral boundaries, is facilitating a moral degradation of man.  The “culture of death” now has powerful new instruments at its disposal.  In vitro fertilization, embryonic research and the possibility of manufacturing clones and human hybrids show that man, distracted by the belief that the origin of life is now within his grasp, is ignoring his own moral degradation (¶75).

          Psychology is also not a substitute for recognizing the rightful place of God in the life of man.  One problem with the contemporary worldview is that the interior and emotional life is viewed from a purely psychological perspective, without taking into account the soul.  Proper human development must include not only material growth, but also spiritual growth, since the human person is a unity of body and soul, born of God’s love and destined for eternal life (¶76).

Some Solutions Inspired by Charity In Truth

         The encyclical sets out certain solutions to global problems in the political, economic and technological arenas inspired by Charity in Truth, including the truth of God’s rightful place in the life of man.  Charity, gratuitousness and gift giving is necessary for fraternity among men (¶34).  Likewise, truth unites souls that are seeking after it and therefore the seeking of truth promotes the needed solidarity amongst men (¶54). 

        Christians are called upon to put the principle of Charity in Truth in action.  Christians should not be the victims of globalization but rather help to shape it guided by Charity in Truth.  Globalization should be steered towards communion and the sharing of goods (¶42).  A world political authority is needed that is committed to human development inspired by Charity in Truth.   The United Nations organization should be reformed. Poorer nations should be given more of a say in international economic structures in order to promote international cooperation and solidarity (¶67).   

        Charity should be expressed within the market place and the economy should not be compartmentalized as a separate area where morality is viewed as irrelevant (¶36).  Charity in Truth also requires that institutions be formed within the economy wherein the motive is not profit and exchange of equivalent value alone (¶38).  New structures also need to be created so that finance is once again used to improve wealth creation and human development rather than cause havoc to the real economy. 

        In terms of some of the specific moral imperatives that need to be followed for an economy that is based upon the principle of Charity in Truth: migrant workers should not be treated as commodities, since every migrant worker is a human being with inalienable rights (¶62).  Likewise, the weaker members of society should be protected from the risk of usury (¶65).  Moreover, the stewardship of nature should take into account the impact on future generations and “intergenerational justice” (¶48).  The risk of excessive long term damage to nature should not be undertaken for the sake of short term gain.  

        In the process of developing technologies, society should ask not only the question of “how” a challenge should be overcome, but also the question of “why” a technology should be developed.  People are free only when they couple the process of technological development with moral responsibility (¶70). Christians using social communication should be inspired by charity and use this technology in the service of the good, truth and fraternity (¶73).

        The encyclical concludes by noting that proper human development requires prayerful Christians that understand that Charity in Truth is not produced by us, but is given to us by God. Quoting St. Paul, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI calls upon Christians to “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; [and] outdo one another in showing honour” (Rom. 12:9-10) (¶79).                  

This brief summary is taken from the English version of “Charity in Truth” at: 


The Works of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Charity in Truth