Skip to content

Pope Benedict's Deus Caritas Est - Social Encyclical

Interview With Director of Cardinal Van Thuân Observatory

ROME, FEB. 1, 2006 (Zenit) - Benedict XVI's encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" is a social encyclical, says the director of the Cardinal Van Thuân International Observatory on the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Stefano Fontana, in this interview with us, discusses the main social tenets of the Pope's text.

Q: What does charity have to do with social teaching?

Fontana: In 1891 Leo XIII's "Rerum Novarum" ended with a hymn to charity: "mistress and queen of all virtues." The Pope, with some degree of courage at the time, stated that "the happy results we all hope for must be chiefly brought about by the plenteous outpouring of charity."

In 2006, Benedict XVI reiterates the same belief, points toward the same duty, expresses the same wish. His first encyclical -- "Deus Caritas Est" -- should also be considered a social encyclical, since it addresses contemporary social problems from the standpoint of the perennial Church: charity that, as a theological virtue, emanates directly from the life of the Trinity itself, and as a human virtue, is the first condition by which men keep staying together.

At the end of the 19th century, when Leo XIII stated as much, the key words used to be "reform" and "revolution"; and institutions -- not individuals -- were entrusted with the implementation of justice. In order to have decent lives, people relied on the masses rather than personal virtues.

Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, after the demise of messianisms by which justice was supposed to be ensured by impersonal mechanisms, but without having overcome other forms of trust in blind mechanisms -- such as, first and foremost, technology -- Leo XIII's appeal is echoed by Benedict XVI's admonishment: Justice also requires charity.

Q: The Pope denies the Church's political participation in society and advocates, instead, the rediscovery of the relationship between justice and charity. What is this relationship?

Fontana: The new encyclical does not elude the issue of justice which cannot be replaced by charity, since grace does not eliminate nature and faith does not eliminate reason. Justice, according to the Pope, is the result of "practical reason," requiring the needs of human nature to be respected, as well as the rights and duties of man.

Just political systems, which are entrusted with the establishment of justice, are based on it: Without justice, the state is but a "gang of thieves," as St. Augustine put it.

But reason, despite its independence, easily falls prey to the ideologies and distortions of justice which stem from human selfishness. Therefore both justice, which is founded and illuminated by reason, and politics, which is concretely fulfilled by justice, intrinsically need to be "cleansed" by faith.

Usually people think of charity as something which is "subsequent" and "residual" to justice. First comes justice and then comes charity. If justice worked as it should, there would be no need for charity. If the government and the market -- the institutions! -- worked well, we would not need social amity. In this way, we go back to the notion that justice is essentially a matter of organization and planning.

We go back to the messianisms that the Pope considers materialistic, since they exclude man from the economy of his social and political salvation.

Instead, in actuality, according to Benedict XVI's first encyclical, charity makes justice itself possible. Not only because the poor are always going to be with us, as the Gospel says -- and therefore "there is no just state system which might make love's service superfluous" -- but especially because charity "cleanses" justice, just like faith cleanses reason.

This is a pivotal concept in those paragraphs of "Deus Caritas Est" that are more strictly focused on the relationship between justice and charity. The social doctrine of the Church is actually based on this task of "purification," therefore the social doctrine is central to the Church's global mission of "diakonia."

[The encyclical] "Fides et Ratio" already stated that faith opens new doors to reason, prompting reason to never stand still. It emancipates and purifies reason. It opens reason to a transcendent vocation and, in so doing, frees reason from half-truths which deceitfully present themselves as being whole, i.e. ideologies.

Faith allows reason to breathe and reason, thus emancipated, is better able to look at justice without any false pretense and to find the heart to fight for justice, defeating the resistances of selfishness.

Charity does not step in only when justice has run its course, but helps justice to fulfill itself, at the same time as it exceeds justice. Faith too is not juxtaposed to reason when the latter has run its course, but helps reason to better fulfill itself.

Q: The accusation is common that the Church meddles in politics. What do you think?

Fontana: First of all, there is an initial level: There are works of charity and care -- Benedict XVI tells us -- which belong specifically to the Church. They are the testimony of its loyalty to God who is love.

The Church is not engaged in politics, in the sense that it does not contribute directly to the organization of justice. First and foremost, the Church bears witness to charity also through the care it provides to the needy.

Then there is a second level: Lay Christians take part in and take responsibility for the political construction of justice which they see as a lay form of testimony to the Church's charity.

Lastly, there is a third level: The whole Church, with its own life-action, with the announcement, celebration and testimony, carrying out its religious mission because it is indeed religious, is also a beneficial force for society, because it brings the spirit of charity to it, which makes human beings more human and opens their eyes and hearts so that they can see more clearly and fulfill justice itself.

Q: What, then, does the Church ask of the state?

Fontana: The Church does not need to become a political party or trade union to provide its contribution to the liberation of society, it only needs to follow its own religious mission.

The state, in the words of the Holy Father, must grant the Church and other spiritual forces in society this kind of freedom. Respect for religious freedom becomes a political duty and interest, and the reclamation of religious freedom becomes a responsibility that must be taken for the common good.


Catholic Online CA, US
Catholic Online - Publisher, 661 869-1000



Pope, Benedict, Encyclical, Deus, Caritas, Doctrine, Thun

More Catholic PRWire

Showing 1 - 50 of 4,718

A Recession Antidote
Randy Hain

Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

The Why of Jesus' Death: A Pauline Perspective
Jerom Paul

A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell

My Dad
JoMarie Grinkiewicz

Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell

Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Catholic Online

Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Catholic Online

Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
Catholic Online

State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Catholic Online

Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
Catholic Online

2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Catholic Online

Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Catholic Online

Franchising to Evangelize
Catholic Online

Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Catholic Online

Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Catholic Online

Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Catholic Online

Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Catholic Online

Full Circle
Robert Gieb

Three words to a deeper faith
Paul Sposite

Relections for Lent 2009
chris anthony

Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell

World Food Program Director on Lent
Catholic Online

Moral Clarity

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Catholic Online

A Prayer for Monaco: Remembering the Faith Legacy of Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace and Contemplating the Moral Challenges of Prince Albert II
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe

Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Sally Connolly

Glimpse of Me
Sarah Reinhard

The 3 stages of life
Michele Szekely

Sex and the Married Woman
Cheryl Dickow

A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Cheryl Dickow

Modernity & Morality
Dan Shea

Just a Minute
Sarah Reinhard

Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Hugh McNichol

Edging God Out
Paul Sposite

Burying a St. Joseph Statue
Cheryl Dickow

George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Catholic Online

Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell

Action Changes Things: Teaching our Kids about Community Service
Lisa Hendey

Easter... A Way of Life
Paul Spoisite

Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Hugh McNichol

Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Hugh McNichol

Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Catholic Online

Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Catholic Online

Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Catholic Online

Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Catholic Online

Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Catholic Online

Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
Catholic Online

Holy Saturday...anticipation!
Hugh McNichol

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.