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Christianity Today just published my take on Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate . Here is an excerpt.

Although mainstream media outlets have already spun this encyclical as one that focuses on the global economic crisis—and it most certainly does address that—that is clearly not the pope’s point of departure. For those who have eyes to see, the animating principle of this encyclical is virtually on every page of it: theological anthropology is the only proper starting pointing from which we can come to know the common good . . . .

The categories that dominate our public discourse in the United States—left, right, liberal, conservative, etc.—play no role in illuminating the Church’s social doctrines or the message of Caritas in Veritate . This is why it is a fool’s errand to attempt to artificially divide Catholic social teachings into its left and right wings . . . .

Benedict does argue in this encyclical that free markets and the ownership of property are the best way people can produce the wealth that is necessary for a just regime. But free markets will not result in integral human development if they are bereft of sound ethical constraints and not directed toward the common good. This is why in Catholic social teaching the state has an obligation to protect, nurture, and help sustain the natural development and proper ends of certain governmental and private institutions. These include the family, civic and political associations (such as labor unions), organizations of social welfare (administered privately and/or by the state), and schools. According to Benedict, such institutions make morally sound markets possible because they provide the social infrastructure for the achieving of integral human development. So the Sermon on the Mount cannot be separated from “Honor thy Father and Mother,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and “Thou shalt not steal.” Thus, the “justice” in social justice refers to a rightly ordered community, not to the ideologies of a Ludwig Von Mises or a Karl Marx. In Christian theology, you can gain the whole world and lose your own soul (Luke 9:25). To paraphrase St. Paul, that’s a stumbling block to the Austrians and foolishness to the Marxists.

You can read the whole thing here .

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