Wordeling Charity in Truth (and some other musings on Caritas in Veritate)

Very recently Pope Benedict released his 3rd encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” which translates as Charity in Truth. I usually recommend that everyone takes the time to read papal encyclicals. I very much enjoyed the Pope’s first two encyclicals God is Love and On Christan Hope. I found them almost like spiritual devotionals Reading these encyclicals were prayer experiences for me. Imagine my mounting excitement for his 3rd! Well, if you have read Charity and Truth, I think you’ll agree that reading it is anything but a prayerful experience. I think I have had deeper spiritual experiences reading a car manual.

As I struggled through this encyclical, though, I couldn’t help thinking that what the Pope was trying to communicate was very, very important. Even if I couldn’t quite figure out what is was! As with many church documents, it may take years for us to truly flesh out the content of this encyclical and to witness its implications for the Church and for society. The message was obviously important enough for the Pope to take a very high-minded approach to this subject. I think the Pope was avoiding any label of superficiality or theological vagueness. The result, though, is a dense and sprawling document that’s hard to cram into your head.

Have your ever heard of Wordle? According to the website

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently.

What I great way to get my head around all of these words! Here is a great Wordle word cloud from Catholic News Services


This helped me grasp some important points in this document:

1. By far the most used words are “Human” and ‘Development.” In a post-Enlightenment Age the modernized world has seen itself as constantly developing toward perfection. The Enlightenment philosophy was that through human reason and intellect we could solve all of our problems. This encyclical does not disagree with the progress and development of society. All development, though, should consider one thing above all else – the human person. As any society develops – its political policies, its economy, its culture – it must take the life and dignity of the human person into account before all else.

2. In the word cloud you notice a lot of secular words such as social, economic, and cultural floating around some very religious words such as truth, charity, love, and justice. Can the secular and the religious really work together in developing a society which respects human life and dignity. The message of this encyclical is, I think: They can and they must.

3. Try googeling this document and read the many commentaries floating around the internet. It seems that a great debate is ensuing. Is this a liberal encyclical? (The Pope speaks of a world governing system with more teeth for instance). Is it a conservative encyclical? (The Pope reaffirms the Church teaching that life at all stages must be protected before all else).

I read one blogger comment that trying to label a papal encyclical as liberal or conservative in the American sense is about as senseless as having the French or British try to label it as as one of their political viewpoints. One of the things I love about the Church is that it is universal. This encyclical is a universal (i.e. Catholic) encyclical. It comes from a distinctly Catholic worldview. It will not fit within our (or anyone else’s) political worldview. For me this is very refreshing. It is also very challenging. It forces me to step out of the world-view I am comfortable with and see things from a new perspective. While this is a hard exercises for me to do, I force myself to do it for one reason – I trust the Church and the Holy Spirit I believe guides her.

Whenever I read something that comes from the Church that rubs me the wrong way, I stop and ask myself “What is God trying to tell me here that I am resisting so much.” Charity in Truth is definitely a challenging encyclical, both to read and understand, but also to allow it to change the way we see the world. I hope you will join me in allowing the words of this document to continue to challenge my worldview. Your comments are welcome!


2 Responses

  1. I heartily agree that the subject matter and the theologically terse phrasing of “Caritas in Veritate” are quite challenging but well worth the difficult read!

    In what ultimately amounts to just a side note in reference to the encyclical, it is your third point, that brings to mind something that has troubled me for quite a while now since my reversion to the one true Church. It reminds me of the culture war that rages even within the Church and of just how difficult it can be to avoid the temptation to either extreme of “Cafeteria Catholicism,” taking only what tickles our ears and shutting out all the rest to the detriment of our own souls. This encyclical by the Holy Father does well to draw out our most inner loyalties and fears, whether it is fear of “Global Government” or rejection of truth of the Church’s teaching on contraception and abortion so clearly defined in Humane Vitae. Some websites I have seen even go so far as to question whether the Pope himself is conservative or liberal. What nonsense!

    When you come to think of it, this encyclical does help to indirectly answer the question so often begged (implicitly if not explicitly): What makes a Catholic a Catholic? It seems so many individuals within the Church tout their Catholicism particularly when it suits them politically. The most glaring example I can think of are those “Liberal” Pro-abortion politicians who happen to be Catholic. But there are those “Conservative” individuals as well who may embrace the notion of “Separation of Church & State.” In addressing the latter, I am apt to quickly point out to them that Pope Pius IX in his “Syllabus of Errors” #55 (although this has been stated in other encyclicals) indicates that the notion that “The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church” is, indeed, an error! (In this context, you can see why the Holy Father echos Bl. John XXIII in calling for a “true” world political authority.)

    So what does make a Catholic a Catholic? You said it well to state that you “trust the Church and the Holy Spirit that guides her.” The degree to which we follow or neglect the Church’s teachings (through the Magisterium) and participate in or ignore them, is the degree to which we are Catholic. And when we fully align ourselves with the Church, its teachings and implement of those teachings in our lives, it is then that we are most fully and truly Catholic! I have an example to illustrate this, but I would take up much more room in the comments than I already have.

    Good article Sean. And thanks for the opportunity to
    comment… some more…

  2. I think I have found a kindred spirit! I think you have hit the nail right on the head Steve. Thank you for your wise words.

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