Caritatis in Veritate Post 3 – Justice, Charity, and the Common Good

This is the third post in my series drawn from Pope Benedict XVI’s final encyclical, Caritatis in Veritate. As I mentioned before this is my favorite of Benedict’s encyclicals, and if we are willing to learn I believe that he has much to teach us concerning the demands of social justice. That is a phrase that is none too popular in conservative circles, maybe, but it is a legitimate one. We are not mere individuals having nothing to do with each other; we are found in all sorts of social groups starting with the family and extending as far as national borders or even (as the human race) to the four corners of the globe. God said “It is not good for the man to be alone,” and this is precisely because we are social animals. We need each other. More than that, we have duties toward one another. They may be as fundamental as a mother nursing her baby, or as complex as national defense, but we need each other and we have duties toward others that they have a right to see fulfilled.

I like this pithy little summary of the state of things:

To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity. [CV §7]

Why is desiring the common good a requirement of charity? Because if my selfishness causes the man down the road to suffer, I have failed to love my neighbor. If (for a wild and crazy example that maybe isn’t so crazy) the state of Colorado consumes so much of the Colorado River’s flow that downstream states dependent upon it suffer dire consequences, then Colorado has not loved its neighbors. Every species on this planet has two primordial drives, and human beings are no exception: the drive for self-preservation, and the drive for preservation of the species. Because we are rational beings we have a duty to use our brains for the purpose of preserving human lives.

And that duty gets at the fact that justice hinges upon the common good as well. If people have any natural rights at all—if we have any rights that are ours simply by virtue of the fact that we are human beings created in the image of God—then society has an obligation to respect those rights and to meet them so far as is possible.

Now some folks will undoubtedly (and falsely) conclude that I am advocating a form of social justice in which the State administers the social justice and from there decide (again falsely) that I must be some sort of socialist. No. The Church has condemned socialism from the get-go. But it is (for the third time!) false to suppose that the only alternative to socialism is the kind of individualistic, corporatist-oriented capitalist society of the West. There are alternatives.

But this post is not the place that I will be discussing them. :-)

The main point here is Benedict’s: that desiring the common good is a requirement of justice and charity. In other words: where there is no concern for the common good, justice is lacking or defective; where there is no concern for the common good, charity is lacking. This is not optional for us. The Samaritan was concerned about the common good. God was concerned for the common good when He warned Israel over and over and over and over again that they must care for and not oppress the poor. Jesus was concerned for the common good when He identified Himself with the prisoners, the hungry, the naked, and the sick, and He will execute justice in terms of it.

Lord, create in me a spirit that loves justice and charity so completely as to truly desire the common good.

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Posted in Benedict XVI, Magisterium, Rerum Novarum

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