Unfettered biotechnology produces monstrous human injustices

From Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate (2009):

Paul VI had already recognized and drawn attention to the global dimension of the social question.155 Following his lead, we need to affirm today that the social question has become a radically anthropological question, in the sense that it concerns not just how life is conceived but also how it is manipulated, as bio-technology places it increasingly under man’s control. In vitro fertilization, embryo research, the possibility of manufacturing clones and human hybrids: all this is now emerging and being promoted in today’s highly disillusioned culture, which believes it has mastered every mystery, because the origin of life is now within our grasp. Here we see the clearest expression of technology’s supremacy. In this type of culture, the conscience is simply invited to take note of technological possibilities. Yet we must not underestimate the disturbing scenarios that threaten our future, or the powerful new instruments that the “culture of death” has at its disposal. To the tragic and widespread scourge of abortion we may well have to add in the future — indeed it is already surreptiously present — the systematic eugenic programming of births. At the other end of the spectrum, a pro-euthanasia mindset is making inroads as an equally damaging assertion of control over life that under certain circumstances is deemed no longer worth living. Underlying these scenarios are cultural viewpoints that deny human dignity. These practices in turn foster a materialistic and mechanistic understanding of human life. Who could measure the negative effects of this kind of mentality for development? How can we be surprised by the indifference shown towards situations of human degradation, when such indifference extends even to our attitude towards what is and is not human? What is astonishing is the arbitrary and selective determination of what to put forward today as worthy of respect. Insignificant matters are considered shocking, yet unprecedented injustices seem to be widely tolerated. While the poor of the world continue knocking on the doors of the rich, the world of affluence runs the risk of no longer hearing those knocks, on account of a conscience that can no longer distinguish what is human. God reveals man to himself; reason and faith work hand in hand to demonstrate to us what is good, provided we want to see it; the natural law, in which creative Reason shines forth, reveals our greatness, but also our wretchedness insofar as we fail to recognize the call to moral truth.

155 Cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 41: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 59 (1967), 258.

Caritas in Veritate 75

Integral human development must be directed toward Christ and His Truth

From Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate (2009):

Besides requiring freedom, integral human development as a vocation also demands respect for its truth. The vocation to progress drives us to “do more, know more and have more in order to be more.”41 But herein lies the problem: what does it mean “to be more”? Paul VI answers the question by indicating the essential quality of “authentic” development: it must be “integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every man and of the whole man.”42 Amid the various competing anthropological visions put forward in today’s society, even more so than in Paul VI’s time, the Christian vision has the particular characteristic of asserting and justifying the unconditional value of the human person and the meaning of his growth. The Christian vocation to development helps to promote the advancement of all men and of the whole man. As Paul VI wrote: “What we hold important is man, each man and each group of men, and we even include the whole of humanity.”43 In promoting development, the Christian faith does not rely on privilege or positions of power, nor even on the merits of Christians (even though these existed and continue to exist alongside their natural limitations),44 but only on Christ, to whom every authentic vocation to integral human development must be directed. The Gospel is fundamental for development, because in the Gospel, Christ, “in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals humanity to itself.”45 Taught by her Lord, the Church examines the signs of the times and interprets them, offering the world “what she possesses as her characteristic attribute: a global vision of man and of the human race.”46 Precisely because God gives a resounding “yes” to man,47 man cannot fail to open himself to the divine vocation to pursue his own development. The truth of development consists in its completeness: if it does not involve the whole man and every man, it is not true development. This is the central message of Populorum Progressio, valid for today and for all time. Integral human development on the natural plane, as a response to a vocation from God the Creator,48 demands self-fulfilment in a “transcendent humanism which gives [to man] his greatest possible perfection: this is the highest goal of personal development.”49 The Christian vocation to this development therefore applies to both the natural plane and the supernatural plane; which is why, “when God is eclipsed, our ability to recognize the natural order, purpose and the ‘good’ begins to wane.”50

41 Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 3: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis [AAS] 59 (1967), 258.
42 Ibid., 14: loc. cit., 264.
43 Ibid.; cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 53-62: loc. cit., 859-867; Id., Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (4 March 1979), 13-14: AAS 71 (1979), 282-286.
44 Cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 12: loc. cit., 262-263.
45 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 22.
46 Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 13: loc. cit., 263-264
47 Cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the Participants in the Fourth National Congress of the Church in Italy, Verona, 19 October 2006.
48 Cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 16: loc. cit., 265.
49 Ibid.
50 Benedict XVI, Address to young people at Barangaroo, Sydney, 17 July 2008.

Caritas in Veritate 18

Development is a freely chosen vocation whose meaning transcends the human

From Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate (2009):

In Populorum Progressio, Paul VI taught that progress, in its origin and essence, is first and foremost a vocation: “in the design of God, every man is called upon to develop and fulfil himself, for every life is a vocation.”34 This is what gives legitimacy to the Church’s involvement in the whole question of development. If development were concerned with merely technical aspects of human life, and not with the meaning of man’s pilgrimage through history in company with his fellow human beings, nor with identifying the goal of that journey, then the Church would not be entitled to speak on it. Paul VI, like Leo XIII before him in Rerum Novarum,35 knew that he was carrying out a duty proper to his office by shedding the light of the Gospel on the social questions of his time.36

To regard development as a vocation is to recognize, on the one hand, that it derives from a transcendent call, and on the other hand that it is incapable, on its own, of supplying its ultimate meaning. Not without reason the word “vocation” is also found in another passage of the Encyclical, where we read: “There is no true humanism but that which is open to the Absolute, and is conscious of a vocation which gives human life its true meaning.”37 This vision of development is at the heart of Populorum Progressio, and it lies behind all Paul VI’s reflections on freedom, on truth and on charity in development. It is also the principal reason why that Encyclical is still timely in our day.

A vocation is a call that requires a free and responsible answer. Integral human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of peoples: no structure can guarantee this development over and above human responsibility. The “types of messianism which give promises but create illusions”38 always build their case on a denial of the transcendent dimension of development, in the conviction that it lies entirely at their disposal. This false security becomes a weakness, because it involves reducing man to subservience, to a mere means for development, while the humility of those who accept a vocation is transformed into true autonomy, because it sets them free. Paul VI was in no doubt that obstacles and forms of conditioning hold up development, but he was also certain that “each one remains, whatever be these influences affecting him, the principal agent of his own success or failure.”39 This freedom concerns the type of development we are considering, but it also affects situations of underdevelopment which are not due to chance or historical necessity, but are attributable to human responsibility. This is why “the peoples in hunger are making a dramatic appeal to the peoples blessed with abundance”.40 This too is a vocation, a call addressed by free subjects to other free subjects in favour of an assumption of shared responsibility. Paul VI had a keen sense of the importance of economic structures and institutions, but he had an equally clear sense of their nature as instruments of human freedom. Only when it is free can development be integrally human; only in a climate of responsible freedom can it grow in a satisfactory manner.

34 No. 15: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis [AAS] 59 (1967), 265.
35 Cf. ibid., 2: loc. cit., 258; Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Rerum Novarum (15 May 1891): Leonis XIII P.M. Acta, XI, Romæ 1892, 97-144; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 8: AAS 80 (1988), 519-520; Id., Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 5: AAS 83 (1991), 799.
36 Cf. Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 2, 13: loc. cit., 258, 263-264.
37 Ibid., 42: loc. cit., 278.
38 Ibid., 11: loc. cit., 262; cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 25: loc. cit., 822-824.
39 Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 15: loc. cit., 265.
40 Ibid., 3: loc. cit., 258.

Caritas in Veritate 16-17

Paul VI’s teaching emphasizes fully human development

From Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate (2009):

Two further documents by Paul VI without any direct link to social doctrine — the Encyclical Humanæ Vitæ (25 July 1968) and the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 December 1975) — are highly important for delineating the fully human meaning of the development that the Church proposes. It is therefore helpful to consider these texts too in relation to Populorum Progressio.

The Encyclical Humanæ Vitæ emphasizes both the unitive and the procreative meaning of sexuality, thereby locating at the foundation of society the married couple, man and woman, who accept one another mutually, in distinction and in complementarity: a couple, therefore, that is open to life.27 This is not a question of purely individual morality: Humanæ Vitæ indicates the strong links between life ethics and social ethics, ushering in a new area of magisterial teaching that has gradually been articulated in a series of documents, most recently John Paul II’s Encyclical Evangelium Vitæ.28 The Church forcefully maintains this link between life ethics and social ethics, fully aware that “a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized.”29

The Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, for its part, is very closely linked with development, given that, in Paul VI’s words, “evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man’s concrete life, both personal and social.”30 “Between evangelization and human advancement — development and liberation — there are in fact profound links”:31 on the basis of this insight, Paul VI clearly presented the relationship between the proclamation of Christ and the advancement of the individual in society. Testimony to Christ’s charity, through works of justice, peace and development, is part and parcel of evangelization, because Jesus Christ, who loves us, is concerned with the whole person. These important teachings form the basis for the missionary aspect32 of the Church’s social doctrine, which is an essential element of evangelization.33 The Church’s social doctrine proclaims and bears witness to faith. It is an instrument and an indispensable setting for formation in faith.

27 Cf. nos. 8-9: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis [AAS] 60 (1968), 485-487; Benedict XVI, Address to the participants at the International Congress promoted by the Pontifical Lateran University on the fortieth anniversary of Paul VI’s Encyclical “Humanæ Vitæ”, 10 May 2008.
28 Cf. Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae (25 March 1995), 93: AAS 87 (1995), 507-508.
29 Ibid., 101: loc. cit., 516-518.
30 No. 29: AAS 68 (1976), 25.
31 Ibid., 31: loc. cit., 26.
32 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 41: AAS 80 (1988), 570-572.

Caritas in Veritate 15

Our Blessed Mother exemplifies genuine freedom gained through assent to Truth

The conclusion of Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio (1984):

I ask everyone to look more deeply at man, whom Christ has saved in the mystery of his love, and at the human being’s unceasing search for truth and meaning. Different philosophical systems have lured people into believing that they are their own absolute master, able to decide their own destiny and future in complete autonomy, trusting only in themselves and their own powers. But this can never be the grandeur of the human being, who can find fulfilment only in choosing to enter the truth, to make a home under the shade of Wisdom and dwell there. Only within this horizon of truth will people understand their freedom in its fullness and their call to know and love God as the supreme realization of their true self.

I turn in the end to the woman whom the prayer of the Church invokes as Seat of Wisdom, and whose life itself is a true parable illuminating the reflection contained in these pages. For between the vocation of the Blessed Virgin and the vocation of true philosophy there is a deep harmony. Just as the Virgin was called to offer herself entirely as human being and as woman that God’s Word might take flesh and come among us, so too philosophy is called to offer its rational and critical resources that theology, as the understanding of faith, may be fruitful and creative. And just as in giving her assent to Gabriel’s word, Mary lost nothing of her true humanity and freedom, so too when philosophy heeds the summons of the Gospel’s truth its autonomy is in no way impaired. Indeed, it is then that philosophy sees all its enquiries rise to their highest expression. This was a truth which the holy monks of Christian antiquity understood well when they called Mary “the table at which faith sits in thought”.132 In her they saw a lucid image of true philosophy and they were convinced of the need to philosophari in Maria.

May Mary, Seat of Wisdom, be a sure haven for all who devote their lives to the search for wisdom. May their journey into wisdom, sure and final goal of all true knowing, be freed of every hindrance by the intercession of the one who, in giving birth to the Truth and treasuring it in her heart, has shared it forever with all the world.

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 14 September, the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, in the year 1998, the twentieth of my Pontificate.


132He noera tes pisteos trapeza”: Pseudo-Epiphanius, Homily in Praise of Holy Mary Mother of God: Patrologiæ Cursus completus, Series Græca 43, 493.

Fides et Ratio 107-108

Philosophy and science need to be open to transcendent goodness and wisdom

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio (1984):

I appeal also to philosophers, and to all teachers of philosophy, asking them to have the courage to recover, in the flow of an enduringly valid philosophical tradition, the range of authentic wisdom and truth—metaphysical truth included—which is proper to philosophical enquiry. They should be open to the impelling questions which arise from the word of God and they should be strong enough to shape their thought and discussion in response to that challenge. Let them always strive for truth, alert to the good which truth contains. Then they will be able to formulate the genuine ethics which humanity needs so urgently at this particular time. The Church follows the work of philosophers with interest and appreciation; and they should rest assured of her respect for the rightful autonomy of their discipline. I would want especially to encourage believers working in the philosophical field to illumine the range of human activity by the exercise of a reason which grows more penetrating and assured because of the support it receives from faith.

Finally, I cannot fail to address a word to scientists, whose research offers an ever greater knowledge of the universe as a whole and of the incredibly rich array of its component parts, animate and inanimate, with their complex atomic and molecular structures. So far has science come, especially in this century, that its achievements never cease to amaze us. In expressing my admiration and in offering encouragement to these brave pioneers of scientific research, to whom humanity owes so much of its current development, I would urge them to continue their efforts without ever abandoning the sapiential horizon within which scientific and technological achievements are wedded to the philosophical and ethical values which are the distinctive and indelible mark of the human person. Scientists are well aware that “the search for truth, even when it concerns a finite reality of the world or of man, is never-ending, but always points beyond to something higher than the immediate object of study, to the questions which give access to Mystery”.131

131 John Paul II, Address to the University of Krakow for the 600th Anniversary of the Jagiellonian University (8 June 1997), 4: L’Osservatore Romano, 9-10 June 1997, 12.

Fides et Ratio 106

It is essential that dialogue be founded in the genuine truths of the Faith

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio (1984):

Philosophical thought is often the only ground for understanding and dialogue with those who do not share our faith. The current ferment in philosophy demands of believing philosophers an attentive and competent commitment, able to discern the expectations, the points of openness and the key issues of this historical moment. Reflecting in the light of reason and in keeping with its rules, and guided always by the deeper understanding given them by the word of God, Christian philosophers can develop a reflection which will be both comprehensible and appealing to those who do not yet grasp the full truth which divine Revelation declares. Such a ground for understanding and dialogue is all the more vital nowadays, since the most pressing issues facing humanity—ecology, peace and the co-existence of different races and cultures, for instance—may possibly find a solution if there is a clear and honest collaboration between Christians and the followers of other religions and all those who, while not sharing a religious belief, have at heart the renewal of humanity. The Second Vatican Council said as much: “For our part, the desire for such dialogue, undertaken solely out of love for the truth and with all due prudence, excludes no one, neither those who cultivate the values of the human spirit while not yet acknowledging their Source, nor those who are hostile to the Church and persecute her in various ways”.126 A philosophy in which there shines even a glimmer of the truth of Christ, the one definitive answer to humanity’s problems,127 will provide a potent underpinning for the true and planetary ethics which the world now needs.

In concluding this Encyclical Letter, my thoughts turn particularly to theologians, encouraging them to pay special attention to the philosophical implications of the word of God and to be sure to reflect in their work all the speculative and practical breadth of the science of theology. I wish to thank them for their service to the Church. The intimate bond between theological and philosophical wisdom is one of the Christian tradition’s most distinctive treasures in the exploration of revealed truth. This is why I urge them to recover and express to the full the metaphysical dimension of truth in order to enter into a demanding critical dialogue with both contemporary philosophical thought and with the philosophical tradition in all its aspects, whether consonant with the word of God or not. Let theologians always remember the words of that great master of thought and spirituality, Saint Bonaventure, who in introducing his Itinerarium Mentis in Deum invites the reader to recognize the inadequacy of “reading without repentance, knowledge without devotion, research without the impulse of wonder, prudence without the ability to surrender to joy, action divorced from religion, learning sundered from love, intelligence without humility, study unsustained by divine grace, thought without the wisdom inspired by God”.128

I am thinking too of those responsible for priestly formation, whether academic or pastoral. I encourage them to pay special attention to the philosophical preparation of those who will proclaim the Gospel to the men and women of today and, even more, of those who will devote themselves to theological research and teaching. They must make every effort to carry out their work in the light of the directives laid down by the Second Vatican Council129 and subsequent legislation, which speak clearly of the urgent and binding obligation, incumbent on all, to contribute to a genuine and profound communication of the truths of the faith. The grave responsibility to provide for the appropriate training of those charged with teaching philosophy both in seminaries and ecclesiastical faculties must not be neglected.130 Teaching in this field necessarily entails a suitable scholarly preparation, a systematic presentation of the great heritage of the Christian tradition and due discernment in the light of the current needs of the Church and the world.

126 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 92.
127 Cf. ibid., 10.
128 Prologus, 4: Opera Omnia, Florence, 1891, vol. V, 296.
129 Cf. Decree on Priestly Formation Optatam Totius, 15.
130 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (15 April 1979), Arts. 67-68: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 71 (1979), 491-492.

Fides et Ratio 104-105

The Gospel equips us to discover meaning in today’s challenges

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio (1984):

Insisting on the importance and true range of philosophical thought, the Church promotes both the defence of human dignity and the proclamation of the Gospel message. There is today no more urgent preparation for the performance of these tasks than this: to lead people to discover both their capacity to know the truth124 and their yearning for the ultimate and definitive meaning of life. In the light of these profound needs, inscribed by God in human nature, the human and humanizing meaning of God’s word also emerges more clearly. Through the mediation of a philosophy which is also true wisdom, people today will come to realize that their humanity is all the more affirmed the more they entrust themselves to the Gospel and open themselves to Christ.

Philosophy moreover is the mirror which reflects the culture of a people. A philosophy which responds to the challenge of theology’s demands and evolves in harmony with faith is part of that “evangelization of culture” which Paul VI proposed as one of the fundamental goals of evangelization.125 I have unstintingly recalled the pressing need for a new evangelization; and I appeal now to philosophers to explore more comprehensively the dimensions of the true, the good and the beautiful to which the word of God gives access. This task becomes all the more urgent if we consider the challenges which the new millennium seems to entail, and which affect in a particular way regions and cultures which have a long-standing Christian tradition. This attention to philosophy too should be seen as a fundamental and original contribution in service of the new evangelization.

124 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 1-3.
125 Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 December 1975), 20: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 68 (1976), 18-19.

Fides et Ratio 102-103

Healthy philosophical thought requires the contributions of theology

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio (1984):

More than a hundred years after the appearance of Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical Æterni Patris, to which I have often referred in these pages, I have sensed the need to revisit in a more systematic way the issue of the relationship between faith and philosophy. The importance of philosophical thought in the development of culture and its influence on patterns of personal and social behaviour is there for all to see. In addition, philosophy exercises a powerful, though not always obvious, influence on theology and its disciplines. For these reasons, I have judged it appropriate and necessary to emphasize the value of philosophy for the understanding of the faith, as well as the limits which philosophy faces when it neglects or rejects the truths of Revelation. The Church remains profoundly convinced that faith and reason “mutually support each other”;122 each influences the other, as they offer to each other a purifying critique and a stimulus to pursue the search for deeper understanding.

A survey of the history of thought, especially in the West, shows clearly that the encounter between philosophy and theology and the exchange of their respective insights have contributed richly to the progress of humanity. Endowed as it is with an openness and originality which allow it to stand as the science of faith, theology has certainly challenged reason to remain open to the radical newness found in God’s Revelation; and this has been an undoubted boon for philosophy which has thus glimpsed new vistas of further meanings which reason is summoned to penetrate.

Precisely in the light of this consideration, and just as I have reaffirmed theology’s duty to recover its true relationship with philosophy, I feel equally bound to stress how right it is that, for the benefit and development of human thought, philosophy too should recover its relationship with theology. In theology, philosophy will find not the thinking of a single person which, however rich and profound, still entails the limited perspective of an individual, but the wealth of a communal reflection. For by its very nature, theology is sustained in the search for truth by its ecclesial context123 and by the tradition of the People of God, with its harmony of many different fields of learning and culture within the unity of faith.

122 First Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, IV: Denzinger, Heinrich, and Adolf Schönmetzer, Enchiridion symbolorum definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum 3019.
123 “Nobody can make of theology as it were a simple collection of his own personal ideas, but everybody must be aware of being in close union with the mission of teaching truth for which the Church is responsible”: John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (4 March 1979), 19: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis 71 (1979), 308.

Fides et Ratio 100-101

Catechesis has both philosophical and theological aspects

From Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio (1984):

Theological work in the Church is first of all at the service of the proclamation of the faith and of catechesis.117 Proclamation or kerygma is a call to conversion, announcing the truth of Christ, which reaches its summit in his Paschal Mystery: for only in Christ is it possible to know the fullness of the truth which saves (cf. Acts 4:12; 1 Tm 2:4-6).

In this respect, it is easy to see why, in addition to theology, reference to catechesis is also important, since catechesis has philosophical implications which must be explored more deeply in the light of faith. The teaching imparted in catechesis helps to form the person. As a mode of linguistic communication, catechesis must present the Church’s doctrine in its integrity,118 demonstrating its link with the life of the faithful.119 The result is a unique bond between teaching and living which is otherwise unattainable, since what is communicated in catechesis is not a body of conceptual truths, but the mystery of the living God.120

Philosophical enquiry can help greatly to clarify the relationship between truth and life, between event and doctrinal truth, and above all between transcendent truth and humanly comprehensible language.121 This involves a reciprocity between the theological disciplines and the insights drawn from the various strands of philosophy; and such a reciprocity can prove genuinely fruitful for the communication and deeper understanding of the faith.

117 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendæ (16 October 1979), 30: Acta Apostolicæ Sedis [AAS] 71 (1979), 1302-1303; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian Donum Veritatis (24 May 1990), 7: AAS 82 (1990), 1552-1553.
118 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendæ (16 October 1979), 30: AAS 71 (1979), 1302-1303.
119 Cf. ibid., 22, loc. cit., 1295-1296.
120 Cf. ibid., 7, loc. cit., 1282.
121 Cf. ibid., 59, loc. cit., 1325.

Fides et Ratio 99