Friday, July 10, 2009

Loving Truth in "Caritas in Veritate"

Pope Benedict's newest encyclical is Caritas in Veritate and is meant to inform "all people of good will on integral human development in charity and truth" (caption). At the beginning of the letter he writes of the importance of holding truth and charity/love together. For while charity "is the synthesis of the entire Law ..." (par. 2), "[w]ithout truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. ... Truth, in fact, is the logos which creates dia-logos, and hence communication and communion. Truth, by enabling men and women to let go of their subjective opinions and impressions, allows them to move beyond cultural and historical limitations and to come together in the assessment of the value and substance of things" (pars. 3,4).

That's gorgeous, isn't it? Charity, unhampered by truth, easily degenerates into subjectivism and sentimentality. [God is love] does not equate with [Love is god]. Love must have content, form, telos. Absent concern for that, which the Holy Father claims must be grounded in the dynamic of truth in the Gospel, we can't agree on whether something is loving or not. The current lack of consensus on what constitutes love results from "a social and cultural context which relativizes truth, often paying little heed to it and showing increasing reluctance to acknowledge its existence" (par. 2).

Yesterday, I was reading Miroslav Volf where he reflected on receiving his first adopted son from the hands of the boy's birth mother. That experience changed the way he looked at love (and specifically his views of birth mothers who give up their children for adoption, whom he didn't consider very loving), for the mother whispered to her newborn, just before giving him into the hands of the Volfs, that she was doing it for him, since she couldn't care for him. (I wish I had the book here, because the passage is just beautiful.) He says that he changed his view of mothers who give up their children for adoption, realizing now that those mothers' motives might be more loving, given the good things it makes possible for the child that otherwise might not be possible, than holding on to the child in satisfaction of some motherly instinct or whatever. In this case, it was not that the mother didn't love the child or didn't want to be encumbered or didn't want to have to change; it was that the mother didn't have the resources to care for the child and, consequently, arranged for the child to be placed in a loving home where he would have the kind of care that would allow him to flourish. Note: This is not just a consideration of who has more money or similar resources; it is about the ability to provide holistic --holy -- care for the child. Who could buy the neatest toys for the kid was not a consideration.

I think the two readings are related -- and I'm not sure I can articulate it. But there is a deep truth at work in the intersection of these two thoughts. My thinking looks something like this: Without "truth's" informing our views and actions of "love," it is easy to overlook that love is not just an emotion (e.g., all mothers must naturally love their children), but something of a policy (that the welfare of the other is the primary concern I have).The truth is in that parenthetical policy statement. And how do we know? By checking motives, feelings, actions against the witness of the Bible -- a kind of "what did [not: would] Jesus do" analysis -- and allowing our instincts, predispositions, ethics and ethos, principles, et. al. to flow from there.

Now I have to go back to reading the encyclical. Because the language to say all of this must be in there -- and I have a lot of pages to go. And I will read the Volf book (Free of Charge: Living and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace), too, in tandem with the Pontiff's encyclical. This is good stuff.

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