Wednesday, August 19, 2009

George Weigel's Critique of "Caritas in Veritate" as Hermeneutic of Rupture."

“On a second, third, and even fourth reading, Caritas in Veritate remains a complex and sometimes obscure document, in which many intellectual influences are clearly at work. As such, it seems likely to generate continued debate, which will have to address at least these questions:

“Throughout his pontificate, and in Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI has been at pains to stress the continuity of Catholic life and thought before and after the Second Vatican Council: what he terms a “hermeneutics of continuity,” as distinguished from a “hermeneutics of rupture.” Or, in lay language, the claim that the Catholic Church reinvented itself at Vatican II is simply wrong. Yet the proponents of Populorum Progressio (the 1967 social encyclical of Paul VI that Caritas in Veritate commemorates) would seem to be promoting a “hermeneutics of rupture” when they claim that the tradition of Catholic social doctrine began anew with Populorum Progressio — a claim that at least some passages in Caritas in Veritate can be interpreted to support. This raises a very important question: Are there two Catholic social-doctrine traditions (one stemming from Leo XIII’s 1891 masterwork, Rerum Novarum, and a post-conciliar one beginning from Populorum Progressio), or is there one? This is not a merely theoretical argument, for the implications of the “two traditions” claim are considerable, especially in light of the fact that the Populorum Progressio “tradition” is the less disciplined of the two in closely identifying specific public policy recommendations with points of theological principle. Thus Benedict XVI’s entire effort to get the Catholic Church thinking of itself as a communion of believers in essential continuity over time is now back on the table of debate, because of the suggestion that something different in kind began, at least in terms of social doctrine, with Populorum Progressio.”[1]

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

What is most interesting in the critique that Weigel is directing at Benedict’s “Caritas in Veritate” is its explosiveness in bringing out what has been long buried in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Karol Wojtyla, a Council Father and Cardinal of Krakow before becoming John Paul II, wrote a catechism of sorts for his diocese, Krakow, pointing out exactly what he understood the “enrichment of faith” that the Council intended to effect.

That “enrichment” consisted in a change of perspective on the content of the Catholic Faith. He remarked: “If we study the conciliar magisterium as a whole, we find that the Pastors of the Church were not so much concerned to answer questions like ‘What should men believe?,’ ‘What is the real meaning of this or that truth of faith?,’ and so on, but rather to answer the more complex question: ‘What does it mean to be a believer, a Catholic and a member of the Church?’”[2] Wojtyla quotes the Conciliar document Dei Verbum[3] to the effect that the Church is constantly developing its experience of the Person of Jesus Christ, and constantly growing in its “consciousness” of Christ. This consciousness, upon reflection (most times in crisis with heresy), becomes conceptual and emerges as a “development of doctrine.”[4]

Perhaps the clearest way to state this is to proclaim that the “Object/Subject” of faith is the Person of Jesus Christ Who is the revelation of the Father.[5] This being so, Josef Ratzinger writes, “then revelation precedes Scripture and becomes deposited in Scripture but is not simply identical with it. This in turn means that revelation is always something greater than what is merely written down.”[6] It also means that one knows revelation (the Person of Christ), not primarily by concepts, but by the experience of becoming the Person of Christ and becoming conscious of this divinization in oneself. Ratzinger prefaced the above with this: “‘revelation is always a concept denoting an act. The word refers to the act in which God shows himself, not to the objectified result of this act [the concept]. And because this is so, the receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of ‘revelation.’ Where there is no one to perceive ‘revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it.”[7] This is why prayer as the act of transcending the self is the sine qua non essential condition of being “like” Him Who is nothing but relation to the Father, and as enfleshed lives out Who He is as prayer.

For there to be continuity in the faith as experiential knowledge of the Person of Jesus Christ as experienced from the beginning - and growing in that experience – the Second Vatican Council proclaimed itself to be a “pastoral council.” Wojtyla wrote: “The question ‘What does it mean to be a believing member of the Church?’ is indeed difficult and complex, because it not only presupposes the truth of faith and pure doctrine, but also calls for that truth to be situated in the human consciousness and calls for a definition of the attitude, or rather the many attitudes, that go to make the individual a believing member of the Church. This would seem to be the main respect in which the Conciliar magisterium has a pastoral character, corresponding to the pastoral purpose for which it was called. A ‘purely’ doctrinal Council would have concentrated on defining the precise meaning of the truths of faith, whereas a pastor Council proclaims, recalls or clarifies truths for the primary purpose of giving Christians a life-style, a way of thinking and acting.”[8] And that “attitude” and “life-style” is the relationality of self-gift. In a word, if the Church continued down the road of offering concepts of truth and not the experience of being the Truth, she would not have been in continuity with the faith of the Fathers of the Church from the beginning.

“Populorum Progressio [henceforth PP],” published a scant two years after the end of the Council, carried this change in perspective from “object” to “subject” that was at the root of the Council. To understand this, it is imperative to read #10-20 again and again. Weigel’s complaint about PP is meaningless in even a casual read of those numbers. For example, his claim that there was a “hermeneutic of rupture” by “proponents of Populorum Progressio” who claimed that “Catholic social doctrine began anew” with the encyclical, flies directly against the expressed text of Benedict XVI: “The link between Populorum Progressio and the Second Vatican Council does not mean that Paul VI’s social magisterium marked a break with that of previous Popes, because the Council constitutes a deeper exploration of this magisterium within the continuity of the Church’s life. In this sense, clarity is not served by certain abstract subdivisions of the Church’s social doctrine, which apply categories to Papal social teaching that are extraneous to it.”[9] And then Weigel launches a direct broadside against “Caritas in Veritate” by insinuating with a cunning: “Are there two Catholic social-doctrine traditions (one stemming from Leo XIII’s 1891 masterwork, Rerum Novarum, and a post-conciliar one beginning from Populorum Progressio), or is there one?”

That there be two would undermine the one Christ as Singular Subject of Revelation. That there be one, then the PP as close progeny of Vatican II would have to be dismissed since Weigel stated at the outset that “the claim that the Catholic Church reinvented itself at Vatican II is simply wrong.” And besides, Weigel views the crafting of PP as the work of parliamentary procedure which he characterized as “gold” and “red” in his “Caritas in Veritate in Gold and Red.” The “gold” are words of Benedict XVI; the “red” are the words of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. This style of thought belongs to the so-called Bologna School founded by Fr. Giuseppe Dossetti in the 1960’s and headed by the late Giuseppe Alberigo. The central thesis…is that the documents produced by Vatican Council II are not its primary elements. The main thing is the event itself. The real council is the ‘spirit’ of the council. It cannot be reduced to the ‘letter’ of its documents, and is incomparably superior to these.”[10]

Benedict’s Pre-emptive Rejection of Weigel’s Critique

“The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.

“These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council's deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague.

“In a word: it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit. In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim.

“The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood. In this way, it is considered as a sort of constituent that eliminates an old constitution and creates a new one. However, the Constituent Assembly needs a mandator and then confirmation by the mandator, in other words, the people the constitution must serve. The Fathers had no such mandate and no one had ever given them one; nor could anyone have given them one because the essential constitution of the Church comes from the Lord and was given to us so that we might attain eternal life and, starting from this perspective, be able to illuminate life in time and time itself.[11]


There is an enhanced continuity of the experience of the revealing Person of Jesus Christ precisely because of the shift in the Second Vatican Council from first order abstraction (objectified “truths) to a second order where there is the experience and consciousness of the Subject as self-transcending. The continuity is the Person-Subject, not the concepts, and this precisely because the experience of the self in transcendence is beyond conceptual categories. This was basically the conclusion of the thesis of John Paul II on the meaning of faith in St. John of the Cross. The self-loving is the proportionate medium of likeness, not the concepts. Hence, the dark night of the soul! This is also the basic mind of Benedict concerning the experiential knowledge of God. Consequently, the “newness” of Vatican II in its reach to ontological subjectivity is the guarantor of continuity with the Church of always.

Rev. Robert A. Connor

330 Riverside Dr.

New York, N.Y. 10025

Tel. (212) 222 3285

[1] Weigel, National Review, July 13, 2009

[2] K. Wojtyla, “Sources of Renewal,” Harper and Row (1979) 17,

[3] “Thus, as the centuries go by, the Church is always advancing towards the plenitude of divine truth, until eventually the words of God are fulfilled in her,” Dei Verbum 8.

[4] John Henry Newman, “An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine,” Image Books (1960).

[5] Jn. 1, 18. “No one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him.”

[6] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones, Memoirs 1927-1977,” Ignatius (1997) 108.

[7] Ibid 107,

[8] K. Wojtyla, “Sources of Renewal,” op. cit 17-18.

[9] “Caritas in Veritate #12.

[10] Sandro Magister, Blog: “Chiesa” June 22, 2005.

[11] Address to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005:

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