News is out that Papa Benny’s next encyclical is on the way, and it is about (wait for it) social and economic justice. According to Timesonline:
It will focus on humanity’s social and economic problems in an era of globalisation… The encyclical, drafted during his recent holiday in the mountains of northern Italy, takes its cue from Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples), issued 40 years ago. In it the pontiff focused on “those peoples who are striving to escape from hunger, misery, endemic diseases and ignorance and are looking for a wider share in the benefits of civilisation”. He called on the West to promote an equitable world economic system based on social justice rather than profit.
When is he going to get around to writing that hard-hitting, reform-of-the-reform, Rottweiler dogmatic treatise we’ve all been waiting for? Has the Holy Father gone all leftie on us?
Of course there was a lot of surprise when the first encyclical came out. But anyone who had read anything written by Joseph Ratzinger (other than the edicts of the CDF) was not surprised that his first encyclical was on love. The same goes for this new encyclical (if the reports are correct). There are clues all over the place.
Last night I was reading through Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth”, and just came across this line in the Sermon on the Mount chapter:
Of course, this brings up the whole question of the relationship between faith and social order, between faith in politics. (p112)
Yesterday I was also reading the Holy Father’s August 1 general audience on the topic of St Basil. After treating (briefly) Basil’s theology of the Trinity, the Holy Father went on to treat at some length Basil’s theology of Justice. In fact, he said
We see that St Basil is truly one of the fathers of the church’s social doctrine.
basically the audience is one quote after another from St Basil regarding our duty of charity towards our fellow human beings. He concludes:
Dear brothers and sisters, I think one can say that this Father from long ago also speaks to us and tells us important things.
In the first place, attentive, critical and creative participation in today’s culture.
Then, social responsibility: this is an age in which, in a globalized world, even people who are physically distant are really our neighbours; therefore, friendship with Christ, the God with the human face.
And, lastly, knowledge and recognition of God the Creator, the Father of us all: only if we are open to this God, the common Father, can we build a more just and fraternal world.
I would be very disappointed the next encyclical was simply a restatement of the social doctrine of the church are ready to be found in the Church’s compendium of social doctrine. But I would be surprised if this was all it was.
I believe that we have some clues in this general audience on St Basil and the chapter on the Sermon on the Mount in Benedict’s book on Jesus. The chapter of the Sermon on the Mount shows that the confession of the divinity of Christ is at the centre of Jesus moral teaching. The Pope’s citations from St Basil show that social doctrine is firmly based on the Church’s doctrine of the holy Trinity. Both methods would seem to suggest that as with the last encyclical we will receive something in two parts: the first part being a dogmatic reflection and the second part the practical conclusions that we must draw from this theology.