Popes have a history of theological exactitude in addressing economic matters. Being more concerned with theology than with business, they have the freedom to do this, directing Christians away from profit as an end unto itself and toward a higher end, namely love of God. This week saw the 20th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Centessimus Annus, which was itself written at the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum. Both encyclicals approach individual and world economic concerns from a strictly theological perspective.
Rerum Novarum is a masterpiece, centering on the holy family and Joseph in particular as its starting point for meditating on economic concerns. Pope Benedict, speaking at the anniversary event on Oct 15th, echoed this theme by reaffirming the family, rather than the return of profit, as the center for Christian thinking about economics.
“Charity in truth, in this case, requires that shape and structure be given to those types of economic initiative which, without rejecting profit, aim at a higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents, of profit as an end in itself,” he said.
Simple justice is not enough to drive the free market to serve this end, Benedict argues. The free market, left to itself, will not lead to the flourishing of actual families. Neither can we delegate the task to the government, asking the state to force the market to do good. What is needed is for Christians who engage in business (which is practically all first-world Christians, as the decision of where to buy your groceries is business) to aim at higher goals than profit.
“It is not the task of the Church to find ways to face the current crisis”, he concluded. “Nonetheless, Christians have the duty to denounce evils, and to foment and bear witness to the values upon which the dignity of the person is founded, promoting forms of solidarity which favor the common good, so that humankind may increasingly become the family of God”.
What do you think? Does Benedict XVI have a realistic grasp of the global market? Is there a “Christian way” to participate in the national or global economy?