An Encyclical Prediction

Thus far I’ve only had the chance to read the first couple pages of Caritas in Veritate, however seeing the first rounds of blog and media reaction rolling forth from both sides of the Catholic political spectrum I would like to indulge in revisitting a prediction from the beginning of the year:

9. The much discussed social encyclical will finally be issued — and all sides of the Catholic political spectrum will within several days claim that it supports the positions they already held.

Regardless of one’s political position, if the main thing one gets from reading the encyclical is, “I am right, and my opponents are all fools or villains” then you probably aren’t reading very carefully. Hopefully most Catholics taking the time to discuss Caritas in Veritate will take the time to read at a deeper level than that.

41 Responses to An Encyclical Prediction

  • Then you’re probably not. :)

  • Then we will lecture you on the effects of confirmation bias and intellectual pride, Henry. ;-)

    That said, I think Weigel’s proposed hermeneutic is problematic:

    But then there are those passages to be marked in red — the passages that reflect Justice and Peace ideas and approaches that Benedict evidently believed he had to try and accommodate.

    Um, shouldn’t we read the document as an expression of Benedict’s considered opinion, rather than assuming any parts we dislike were reluctant concessions?

  • Amen, Darwin.

    Poking around the libertarian sites I frequent, the anti-Catholic bigots along with the ignorant have already started coming out of the woodwork. No doubt something similar will occur on the left, who will go ga-ga over any phrase that can be interpreted as a tacit endorsement of state intervention.

    I’ve only had a chance to read the opening sections myself, but hope to post my thoughts on this important encyclical from a more libertarian, free market POV…

  • But what if I were?

    In all seriousness, the idea that one cannot have been right beforehand is indicative of an idea which goes against the nature of the encyclical itself: the idea that this is a leap away from tradition, and something entirely new, outside of the bounds of what has existed within the Church until this time. This, however, is not the case.

    That many people are not within the “right” or “left” divide, and have consistently rejected it, should itself place them more comfortably within the position of being one who can already be seen as following the dictates of the encyclical itself. Now, I would say, most Americans are not too familiar with all the theological, economic, and philosophical presuppositions within Benedict’s writings, and so it would make it more difficult for an average person to know what to expect; on the other hand, one who actively engages Benedict and his sources, and has watched him and his work within the social doctrine for decades, will not be surprised here. Really.

  • Weigel’s approach is…um…nope, can’t think of any PG words to describe it. The idea that Benedict is too weak to stand up to the liberal forces inside the Vatican is so preposterous…

  • In all seriousness, the idea that one cannot have been right beforehand…

    Henry, I apologize for not being clearer: I was completely, entirely kidding. I haven’t seen anything that surprising from this encyclical (so far – I’m not finished yet) either.

  • JH

    I will agree — those who predetermine that the encyclical is to be read within a hermeneutic of suspicion, to distance themselves from the challenges within to fit their own bias, that is erroneous. This is true not only for Weigel; Novak certainly has this problem. Now, I don’t think I would expect many on the “left” (using the American idea) would say that Benedict’s position is identical with theirs, but they would admit there is debate between him and them, but I guess, it is possible some from them will come up and say “it is in perfect agreement with us.” Please, if you find such, show me!

  • What a perfect post, both for Weigel and his mirror image on the left (the MMs of the world).

  • Henry,

    I don’t really look at this from a left/right perspective. There are good faith attempts to interpret a document, and even good faith arguments to discredit other interpretations, and then there are outright dismissals of portions of the document (e.g. Weigel). I see little distinction between the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ here, but I’d be relieved and happy to see America trumpeting the pro-life portions of the encyclical.

  • Having read and discussed the encyclical with Katerina, it does not seem that the encyclical can be spun to support neo-liberalism. I think this fact is displayed in Weigel’s piece where he parses out that with which he agrees (the “Benedictine” parts) and those with which he does not (the Justice and Peace parts). Kat and I are also in agreement that the strong sections on respect for human life and the reaffirmation of the singular importance of Humanae Vitae means that the encyclical cannot be hijacked by those who want to emphasize only the strictly economic parts of the encyclical. Pope Benedict XVI brilliantly tied morality and social doctrine together in such a way that the encyclical makes little sense without the respect for life sections. Like Weigel, those who want to argue otherwise are going to have to concoct some narrative about how some sections of the encyclical are more important or more true than others, the latter of which can be disregarded.

    In any case, I think that the Church’s traditional critique of Marxism is now met with a solid critique of neo-liberalism. The emphasis distributive justice, solidarity among diverse populations, and transnational juridical frameworks for global markets sounds very much like social democracy to me (which would make sense given Bavaria’s politics). But I do not say any of this with certainty, so don’t hold it against me!

  • M.J. (it’s going to take me a while to get used to the new handle) was too polite to link to it, but here’s his full length post on the encyclical:

    http://evangelicalcatholicism.wordpress.com/2009/07/07/the-authority-of-catholic-social-teaching-why-should-catholics-take-the-new-encylical-seriously/

    I haven’t finished it, but it’s worthwhile reading.

  • Henry,

    In all seriousness, the idea that one cannot have been right beforehand is indicative of an idea which goes against the nature of the encyclical itself: the idea that this is a leap away from tradition, and something entirely new, outside of the bounds of what has existed within the Church until this time. This, however, is not the case.

    Well, I think it depends very much what one means by “right beforehand” — and I’ll be the first to admit that being excessively pithy results in being far less precise.

    I’ll admit that I’m saying this while only 10% done reading the encyclical, so perhaps this one will abandon the mold followed by all previous CST, but I would very strongly suspect that if anyone believes that CiV clearly and definitely endorses a particular political/economic program and structure is probably reading his assumptions into it. There are, in the many times and places where Catholicism has found itself, many ways of pursuing a just society, and there is not one form which we as Catholics must endorse in all times and places. This is what makes CST very different from all the utopian -isms which are floating around the modern political consciousness.

    This is the sense in which I would predict that if someone with a particular political agenda reads the encyclical and immediately thinks, “This proves I’m right and everyone else is wrong,” he’s misreading it.

    Also you ask:

    Now, I don’t think I would expect many on the “left” (using the American idea) would say that Benedict’s position is identical with theirs, but they would admit there is debate between him and them, but I guess, it is possible some from them will come up and say “it is in perfect agreement with us.” Please, if you find such, show me!

    I don’t know about “in perfect agreement with us”, but there seems to be a certain amount of “the pope used some words we like, so he must be endorsing our political agenda” thinking in comments such as this one:

    This is so clear, there’s no way to spin this one.

    Distributive justice? Redistribution of wealth? Isn’t that what Obama was attacked for? Same words that Benedict uses.

    Similar comments in the creation that appears on the Commonweal blog thus far.

  • The Encyclical rather strikes me like a variant of the song from the play A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: “Something for everyone, an encyclical tonight!” I found parts that I liked, parts that I didn’t like, parts I found confusing and parts I found literally incomprehensible. Other parts I found nice, like reforming the UN, but as likely of accomplishment as Ahmadinejad announcing his conversion to the True Faith. Ah well, something new to battle about for awhile on Saint Blogs.

    Here is Weigel’s take since his name was mentioned above:
    http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=NTdkYjU3MDE2YTdhZTE4NWIyN2FkY2U5YTFkM2ZiMmE=&w=MA==

  • Weigel again?

    Just how many neocons infest TAC?

  • Charming, e.

  • e., you really don’t want to be the first person to be placed in moderation by both Joe and me in the history of The American Catholic do you?

  • Charming, e.

    As is Weigel’s notoriously biased account of the Good Pope’s encyclical; claiming that the good parts must have assuredly been from His Holiness himself (imagine that?) while the rest the he found disagreeable (and even, to some extent, tried to discredit and even demonized) were merely products inserted by some clueless, cryptic cosa nostrain the Vatican that Benedict had to somehow accomodate.

    That whole dismissive attitude of his towards such sections seems only to corroborate all the more his wont to color Pope Benedict’s encylical into little more than his lil’ ass upon which he seeks to sit upon and ride all the way to Jerusalem — making the pontiff’s profound work into nothing more than a pawn to advance his end game.

  • Donald:

    Surely, you don’t regard Weigel as some sort of gold standard that all most pay homage to?

    Did you even read his review with some modest degree of impartiality?

    The man surreptitiously attempted to turn the encyclical to something less, making those elements within it that he agreed with as coming from the Pope himself, while those he found distasteful the product of some phantom menace in the Vatican.

    Please tell me that you are ‘Catholic’ and not given to this rather coarse hermeneutic that’s notoriously based on left/right polity rather than ‘Christian’ ideal, which latter this encyclical quite rightly attempted to address.

  • I can tell this debate is going to be fun.. :)

    And I had such high hopes for my post on advertising this morning. Ha! Who am I to compete with a new encyclical!

  • Its like Farah Fawcett competing with Michael Jackson.

  • e, I would agree that it is far too easy to assume that what one likes in an encyclical is the pure papal teaching and what one dislikes is caused by bureaucrats in the Vatican. However, in modern times most encyclicals have had heavy involvement from the various departments of the Vatican.

    I truly hope the tourism section is the product of a Vatican bureaucrat:

    “An illustration of the significance of this problem is offered by the phenomenon of international tourism[141], which can be a major factor in economic development and cultural growth, but can also become an occasion for exploitation and moral degradation. The current situation offers unique opportunities for the economic aspects of development — that is to say the flow of money and the emergence of a significant amount of local enterprise — to be combined with the cultural aspects, chief among which is education. In many cases this is what happens, but in other cases international tourism has a negative educational impact both for the tourist and the local populace. The latter are often exposed to immoral or even perverted forms of conduct, as in the case of so-called sex tourism, to which many human beings are sacrificed even at a tender age. It is sad to note that this activity often takes place with the support of local governments, with silence from those in the tourists’ countries of origin, and with the complicity of many of the tour operators. Even in less extreme cases, international tourism often follows a consumerist and hedonistic pattern, as a form of escapism planned in a manner typical of the countries of origin, and therefore not conducive to authentic encounter between persons and cultures. We need, therefore, to develop a different type of tourism that has the ability to promote genuine mutual understanding, without taking away from the element of rest and healthy recreation. Tourism of this type needs to increase, partly through closer coordination with the experience gained from international cooperation and enterprise for development.”

    That struck me as just plain odd to be in a papal encyclical. Of course all it comes out in the name of the Pope, but parts of the encyclical have a committee feel to me.

  • e., I didn’t say I agreed with everything that Weigel said. He was being treated above in this thread as if he were a leper, and frankly nothing he wrote I haven’t seen written by many commentators whenever an ecyclical comes out. As I noted in my last comment, most modern encyclicals are very much a group effort, and I don’t think it is particularly scandalous to conjecture which department in the Vatican influenced the Pope to add a section in an encyclical.

  • By the way Anthony I did like your post and I hope we will see further posts from you for AC.

  • Thanks, Don. I’m coming to really enjoy the site.

  • Donald:

    Out of profound respect for you, rather than press the issue further and engage in more depth examination of the various particulars concerning the matter (as doing thus would ultimately and most assuredly earn me certain excommunication beyond the already seething vitriol against me by Joe et al.), I shall pass up the polemics.

  • Hey, come on e, I haven’t seethed anything at you lately.

    I don’t hold grudges. Water under the bridge.

  • Yeah, sorry, Anthony. I’d thought it would take people couple days to digest the encyclical and we could get the advertising piece in before the storm. Silly me. :-)

    Hopefully we’ll get back to it — or perhaps I’ll repost in a week or two if it gets totally lost in the shuffle.

  • I want to get back to it, Darwin and Anthony. So with three of us interested, it will happen :)

  • Thank you e. All comments about the encyclical right now should, I think, be taken as very preliminary observations. There is a lot in it, and one read through as I have done, only allows me to have some very general impressions. I look forward to analyses from all sides in the days to come, especially in regard to passages I find confusing.

  • For those with vocations and current states in life which allow more study: I would like to state that I had pictured a quiet evening of having dinner, reading to the kids, and then reading the encyclical. However, there has been a minor change in plans, which involves several hours scrubbing marker off the wood floors with a series of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, and scrupulously avoiding beating my children.

    St. Paul was right when he said that a man who has a wife and children and mortgage and floors finds himself distracted from the work of the lord at times. Consider this consolation all ye single people.

    Any commentary from me will be at a later date. :-(

  • Your predicament Darwin reminds me of the time I went out to our front room and found my then 3 year old sons had decided that the rocking horse needed a ring around it drawn in shrimp sauce. Shrimp sauce on green carpet makes for a striking contrast. My first words to my wife were to ask her to please take the lads up to their room before I cleaned the mess up as I didn’t trust myself with them at that particular moment.

  • Tsk tsk, Darwin. At times like these it’s important to ask, “what would Jesus do?” Thing is, the answer is in the new encyclical, so why not just beat the kids and make them clean it up? After all, you’re just going to find the necessary justification for doing that in the encyclical. ;)

  • The emphasis distributive justice, solidarity among diverse populations, and transnational juridical frameworks for global markets sounds very much like social democracy to me (which would make sense given Bavaria’s politics).

    This bothers me. Shouldn’t it bother you? It makes the encyclical sound less like a timeless set of principles, and much more like a product of a particular set of prejudices and assumptions common to people who lived in a particular time and place (i.e., old Western European men who grew up in the 20th century).

  • It makes the encyclical sound less like a timeless set of principles, and much more like a product of a particular set of prejudices and assumptions common to people who lived in a particular time and place (i.e., old Western European men who grew up in the 20th century).

    Of course, a social encyclical is going to contain BOTH timeless principles AND inductively established principles that are more relate to specific, historical circumstances. Also, a social encyclical will contain the application of both kinds of principles to historical events. I don’t see any problem with any of that. As for how this particular encyclical sounds, I don’t know about the whole old men from Western Europe thing, but it does seem to me that Benedict XVI accord primacy to some general political and economic solutions that are inspired by current European political thought (particularly social democracy). However, the encyclical avoids specific, technical policy proposals, which is why I don’t think it can be described as similar to old European policy options.

    Apropos of the discussion further up this thread, I wrote a response to the Weigel piece.

    [ed. updated the name for you Pol...er, I mean MJ - JH]

  • Sorry, old combox habits brought back Policraticus!

  • MJAndew/MJ Andrew/Policratius/Michael Joseph:

    You are confusing me in what is obviously a malicious plot by you to take revenge on me and others for your anger against JPII & Centesimus Annus. I am blocking out all your nicknames in red ink and will gold only Policratius, which I have arbitrarily determined to be the only name that you really intend and that is not the product of Katerina and your other friends, who you clearly are only catering to because you are a gentle young man.

  • Denton–

    That was pretty funny.

    I apologize for the collage of blogging names. I used “Policraticus” because I was often mistaken at Vox Nova for “Michael I.” (since I was “Michael J.”). At EC, I went back to Michael Joseph, but tacked on my confirmation name. I think I am now stable.

  • MJ Andrew:

    Glad you enjoyed it. I do recall several times being confused, wondering when you became an anarchist.

  • ut it does seem to me that Benedict XVI accord primacy to some general political and economic solutions that are inspired by current European political thought (particularly social democracy).

    Well, imagine a 19th century encyclical pronouncing French colonialism the best form of political/economic system; or a Renaissance encyclical saying that small city-states were the way to go; or an earlier encyclical saying that serfdom and monarchy were best situated to implement Catholic principles; or a 4th century homage to Constantine and the Roman Empire. If such encyclicals existed, we’d all look back and wince at the Church’s unthinking assumption that a very time-bound and place-bound system of government was “the” Catholic system.

    Is it really plausible that just now, 20 centuries after Christ, a bunch of mostly secular Europeans came up with the one golden system of government and economics that just happens to be what the Catholic Church was searching for all of these years? Church leaders who grew up under that European system of government just happened, by sheer coincidence, to come to the belief that the system in which they are most comfortable is the one that God has ordained?

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