The Vatican and Economy: Part 3 of 3

Things have picked up for me a bit, so I am going to just comment on a couple of things more from the document and make room in my time for other posts.

The first two posts are found here (part 1) and here (part 2).

The following is one of my favourite passages of the document

In his social encyclical, Benedict XVI precisely identified the roots of a crisis that is not only economic and financial but above all moral in nature. In fact, as the Pontiff notes, to function correctly the economy needs ethics; and not just of any kind but one that is people-centred. He goes on to denounce the role played by utilitarianism and individualism and the responsibilities of those who have adopted and promoted them as the parameters for the optimal behaviour of all economic and political agents who operate and interact in the social context. But Benedict XVI also identifies and denounces a new ideology, that of “technocracy”.

The issue is, in fact, not an economic one.  The economic judgments of the magisterium are not magisterial, economics does not fall under the realm of faith and morals in so far as it is pure economics.  However, it is impossible to separate economics from culture.  The inseparability of economics and culture points to a certain sacramentality of life: what is made visible points to and is a sign of an invisible, hidden reality.  How is the cultural-economic situation sacramental?  The external manifestations of a culture – of which economics is but one means of that expression – is a sign of the inner life of the culture, of its moral rectitude and framework.  Thus when an economic crisis happens, it points to a cultural crisis, which is ultimately a moral and human crisis.  The situation that is happening in the West with the economic crisis is not the result of bad economic policies – though it is that! – but rather, it is the result of a culture that has lost its roots in what it means to be human: humanity and God are no longer the ends of the cultural and economic life.  Thus utilitarianism and individualism poke their ugly heads.  Utilitarianism, for those who don’t know, is the philosophical idea that anything can be used, including people, in so far as the end being brought about is greater than the pain suffered.  This also leads naturally to individualism, where “I AM” is no longer adored, but simply “I”.

And the reference to Caritas in Veritate is important, because it demonstrates that an economic system must be personalistic: man, others, the neighbour, must be the ends of economic action.  It is not me who is the end, but others.  Capitalism is not contrary to that principle at all, and can be a beautiful expression of charity in the world if individuals, in the concreteness of their economic action, allow “the other”, “the neighbour” to be the goal of their economic activity and not themselves.  Capitalism does allow for greed to become rampant if left unchecked, but that is not the fault of the system itself.  Communism, too, leads to greed, though of a different order (and, besides, communism is not a purely economic system, it an anthropology: a theory of the human person which separates man from God).  And it is here that I think I will end my reflections on the document, though there is much more that could be said.  If we wish to see an economic renewal in our culture, we must first and foremost have a moral renewal.  We must make love the basis of our lives, and others the basis of our actions.  Until we do so, things will continue to fall down the long path of moral, economic, human, and cultural decay.  Benedict’s point about a technocracy is also worthy of comment.  For that, though, I point you to a book by Neil Postman called “Technopoly”, it is well worth the read:


I also will point you to a few articles I found helpful.  I must admit that calling the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to be a “rather small bureau in the vast Vatican bureaucracy” to be, well, childish and unfair.  Size does not matter.  That being said, the document really holds very little magisterial authority.  Furthermore, it came from that office, and not from the Pope’s office, nor was it attempting to side with Occupy Wall Street in any way whatsoever.  Unfortunately, many news outlets jumped on it rather quickly.

The first link I will post is by John Allen Jr and he offers an interesting observation about how this document is the result of a bishop from the Southern Hemisphere and reflects greatly the suspicion of the south to capitalism.  The document, though, in the end, has some interesting things to say, but we are allowed to object to certain elements of it and still be Catholics in good standing because they are economic judgments, not moral.  I find the document to be quite good when it comes to the oral element, but quite ill-informed when it comes to the economic elements.  The economic crisis is not simply a problem of laissez-faire economics, though that is part of the issue.  The issue is governments borrowing more than they can spend, of people spending more than they have, and banks playing roulette with the money they are paid to hold in trust.

Here are the links:

in Christ



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One response to “The Vatican and Economy: Part 3 of 3

  1. Pingback: Daily Round-Up, November 10th, 2011 | The Christian State of Life

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