Third Encyclical Coming, and It Looks Like a Whopper

Third Encyclical Coming, and It Looks Like a Whopper February 28, 2008

Vatican Secratery of State, Cardinal Bertone, confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI’s third encyclical is on the way. The topic? Let’s just say I suspect much of what appears on Vox Nova will be well vindicated. Here are two reports:


The Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, confirmed today that Pope Benedict XVI is about to finish his Encyclical on social issues.

“Yes, the Pope is working on a social encyclical, which will have, I believe, a significant impact on the great social and economic problems in the contemporary world,” said Cardinal Bertone during an interview published today by the Italian daily “La Repubblica.”

Pope Benedict, according to Cardinal Bertone, “will address issues particularly related to the third and the fourth world.”

The concept “fourth world” was coined by Pope John Paul II in his social encyclical “Sollicitudo Rei Socialis”, in reference to the poor and marginalized living in developed countries, especially in inner cities.

The Secretary of State gave no clue as to when the document will be released, but unnamed sources from the Vatican quoted previously by the daily “Il Messaggero,” said the third encyclical of Pope Benedict would be signed on the feast of St. Joseph –March 19th – and released during Easter.

“The encyclical will focus on international social problems, with special attention to developing countries,” Cardinal Bertone told “La Repubblica.”

Ignacio Ingrao of Panorama via Rorate Caeli:

Six months after Spe Salvi, the Pope publishes his third encyclical. The document should bear the date of May 1st, feast of Saint Joseph the Worker. It will be a social encyclical … .

The document is divided in two parts. In the first one, the Pope recalls the encyclicals Populorum progressio, of Paul VI, and Centesimus annus, of John Paul II; in the second part, [he] assesses the great challenges of our time.

Incidentally, both Michael Novak and Richard John Neuhaus have asserted that there is discontinuity between Popularum progressio and Centesimus annus. Hence, the talk of Pope John Paul II’s “liberalism” and “positive reception” of Novak’s ideas in the 1990’s. Early indication seems to suggest, however, that Pope Benedict XVI sees the two encyclicals as harmonious and continuous with one another.

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  • Here’s hopin’ he outright condemns and rejects capitalism!

  • In all seriousness, though, exactly where have “Michael Novak and Richard John Neuhaus have asserted that there is discontinuity between Popularum progressio and Centesimus annus.”?

  • scriblerus

    “Discontinuity” is a little strong, at least to my knowledge, but in “The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” Novak argues that Centessimus Annus represents a “development of doctrine.”

  • Morning’s Minion

    There is nothing in Centessimus Annus that contradicts any of the social encyclicals from Leo XIII to Paul VI.

  • David Raber

    Zach, if the Pope condemned capitalism outright, we would have to find fault with him for being an impractical idealist, perhaps, or maybe for something worse, but you couldn’t say that he had done something particularly anti-Christian, could you?

  • Here’s hoping all readers of the new encyclical will read with an eye to learn a thing or two while avoiding the temptation to read their pet issues and philosophies into the document.

  • JB


  • Mark D.

    Tell that especially to First Things editors and contribuors!

  • If the Pope were to condemn capitalism outright (and I don’t suspect he will), why would we “have” to call him an impractical idealist? Can you not imagine a world without capitalism?

  • I’m looking forward to this encyclical (as I do all of them, I guess)… while we have a decent idea of where His Holiness is coming from on these matters, I’ll be curious to see what one of his papal texts on these issues looks like, as distinct (if at all?) from his pre-papal works.

  • Zach

    Here is a good critical examination of Novak’s writings on the social encyclicals, and a rejection of his thesis that CA goes “new direction” from previous encyclicals:

  • You can find Novak and Neuhaus’ contributions to the National Review publication here.

    You can find an appraisal of Centesimus Annus by Michael Novak here: Capitalism Rightly Understood: The View of Christian Humanism Faith & Reason Winter 1991 (this essay is included (or formed the basis of) Novak’s thought on Centesimus Annus in The Catholic Ethic & the Spirit of Capitalism, which scriblerus referenced in earlier comments” — by no means does Novak characterize John Paul II’s writing as a wholehearted embrace of “laissez-faire”, howbeit this has not stopped some critics of Novak (like the Houston Catholic Worker) from presenting Novak in this manner:

    In sum, calls for serious reform of the moral and cultural institutions of democratic and capitalist societies—including the institutions of the mass media, cinema, universities, and families—in order to make democracy and capitalism fulfill their best promises. Neither the preservation of free political space achieved by democracy nor the achievement of liberation from oppressive poverty wrought by capitalism are sufficient, alone or together, to meet the human desire for truth and justice. Only a vital cultural life, at its heights infused by God’s grace, can do that. Meanwhile, some two billion poor persons on this planet are not yet included within free polities or free economies, and their condition cannot be forgotten. Practical reforms of the international economic order are very much needed.

    (See especially the section in which Novak draws attention to “The Limits of Capitalism” according to John Paul II).

    Also: Human Dignity, Personal Liberty: Themes from Abraham Kuyper and Leo XIII. Journal of Markets & Morality Volume 5, Number 1. Spring 2002.

    In terms of John Paul II’s endorsement of capitalism, the key passage is section 42, and hinges on the question, what kind of capitalism:

    “Returning now to the initial question: Can it perhaps be said that after the failure of communism capitalism is the victorious social system and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World, which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?

    The answer is obviously complex. If by capitalism is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a business economy, market economy or simply free economy. But if by capitalism is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative. (#42)

    the ‘neocons’ (Weigel, Novak, Neuhaus, etc.) make much of section 48 as well, on the legitimate autonomy of the democratic order and the role of the State in economic order.

    From Fr. Neuhaus:

    The Pope believes that consumerism is a very big problem for us in the economically advanced countries, and I have no doubt that he is right. As he makes emphatically clear, it is not a problem with our system of economics but with the state of our souls. It is to be remedied not economically but culturally and spiritually. Since the appearance of Centesimus Annus, we have heard from the defenders of the status quo in the teaching of Catholic morality that John Paul blames consumerism on capitalism. That, too, is nonsense. They miss, willfully or otherwise, the gravamen of the Pope’s argument. He is telling us that economics is not the most important thing about man. To attribute everything to the economic factor is to perpetuate the terrible he of the Marxists. In addition to the economic is the political and, most important of all, the cultural. At the heart of the cultural is the moral and spiritual.

    The Pope writes, “It would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs” (emphasis in original). Some interpreters seem to think that that statement is the big news in Centesimus Annus. John Paul clearly does not agree. Let it be stipulated once and for all, he is saying, that the free economy is the way to go in meeting man’s material needs. Having stipulated that, let’s then move on to the much more important questions pertinent to being truly human. “There are many human needs which find no place on the market,” he writes. “Thus the first and most important task is accomplished within man’s heart. The way in which he is involved in building his own future depends on the understanding he has of himself and of his own destiny. It is on this level that the Church’s specific and decisive contribution to true culture is to be found.”

    Fr. Neuhaus’ understanding of Centesimus Annus is best found in his book Doing Well & Doing Good: The Challenge to the Christian Capitalist.

  • T. Shaw


    I can do better than imagine a world without capitalism. I can read about it. The Education of a True Believer by Lev Kopelev, Harper & Row, 1980.

    This is from a WSJ 1/19/2008 review. “In the twentieth century, political superstition replaced religious orthodoxy as a source of terror. In the USSR, idealistic young men and women committed immeasurable cruelties such as the bolshevists’ genocidal grain requisitions which caused the deliberate starvation deaths of millions of peasants who opposed collectivization. They exhibited complete fanaticism and callousness to the suffering of others. In his chapter titled, ‘The Last Grain Collections (1933)’, Kopelev reveals how he told a weeping peasant woman on the verge of death, ‘Your children will be left hungry, without a mother.’ They were aware of the mortal costs but ‘persuaded themselves not to give in to debilitating pity.’ They believed they were ‘realizing historical necessity . . . our revolutionary duty.’ In one decade, that ‘duty’ killed about 1,000 times as many innocents as all the inquisitors and witch hunters in 500 years.”

    If the Pope condemns capitalism, with what form of economic superstitution would he replace it?

    I think we should stop paying (we wage slaves can only minimize withholdings) federal income taxes, and give the money to the poor (it’s deductible up to 50% of AGI, and the poor will make better use of it than the gov). The IRS can’t imprison 100 million of us. Can it?

  • Matt

    T. Shaw,

    I think we should stop paying (we wage slaves can only minimize withholdings) federal income taxes, and give the money to the poor (it’s deductible up to 50% of AGI, and the poor will make better use of it than the gov). The IRS can’t imprison 100 million of us. Can it?

    I agree in principle. If only we could get the socialist leaning folks around here to recognize that.

    God Bless,


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  • Policraticus

    If only we could get the socialist leaning folks around here to recognize that.

    And if only we could get the capitalist leaning folks to do that.

  • Matt


    we already do. It’s very clear by any measure that conservative “capitalist” leaning folks give far greater portions to charity (even excluding religious donations) than do socialist leaning folks.

    I recall that in Al Gore’s first term he gave something like $400 to charity, whereas Cheney and his wife give millions (almost $7,000,000 in 2005).

    What are all you lefties waiting for?

    God Bless,


  • Matt

    ps. we don’t know how much Hillary and Bill give to charity because they conceal their tax returns, in a recent year George Bush gave $75k or about 15% of his income, Obamas gave $60k or about 6% (4.5% if you exclude the donation to the Congressional Black Caucus which seems a particularly dubious way of “feeding” the poor).

    God Bless,


  • Matt

    ps. I’m not saying “caplitalist” people do ENOUGH. I’m only saying it’s abundantly clear that gven a choice between acting charitably and raising taxes, the “capitalist” recognize the better AND more efficient choice. The lefty socialists apparently prefer to wait and hope for the state to act.

  • Policraticus

    What are all you lefties waiting for?

    It’s fine to extol the virtues of you and your fellow capitalists. But please do not presume to know what I or any those people you label as “lefties” do for the poor. Merely giving money is not praiseworthy. Let Cheney and Gore do that. Doing for the poor is the Catholic way. I expect you to know the difference.

  • Matt


    granted I was generalising, and I’m sure that all the lefties here give as much as they can. My point is about the left in general especially the political leaders that are found worthy of support because of their socialist leanings.

    Merely giving money is not praiseworthy

    This is blatantly untrue. Merely giving money is praiseworthy provided it is done out of charity, however it is not sufficient. As I was clear in my post, personally feeding the poor is very important, something that socialism divorces the people from doing by providing for professional bureaucrats to do the “doling”.

    God Bless,


  • Policraticus

    something that socialism divorces the people from doing by providing for professional bureaucrats to do the “doling”.

    Your issue, then, is not with the government doing the work. You seem to care more about who is doing the work. Meanwhile, many go in need while we quibble over who should do the work.

  • Bureaucratic welfare statism is not Marxism, and in any case is helpless these days before ever more mobile and ever more globalised capital which integrates the world day by day by way of an ever accelerating race to the bottom, shrieking with maniacal laughter as it plays off government against government with the Chinese sweatshop as the benchmark to which everything must be levelled down (the destruction of the “blue-collar middle-class” US auto worker, now in its final stages, being a classic example of that process at work).

    Neither is the doomed-from-the-beginning Stalinist “socialism in one country” project, interested in only perpetuating the status quo at home (the parasitic rule of the Kremlin bureaucratic caste), and abroad (“peaceful co-existence” and “popular fronts”: NOT world revolution, it must be stressed), finally crushed in the vice of globalisation and by the refusal of US based capital to accept being cut off from the potential markets of a great portion of the globe be forever, as “rollback” triumphed over “containment” in Washington, and “capitulation” triumphed over “containment” in Moscow and Beijing.

    And even if the old bureaucratic welfare statism could still somehow be revived (a truly utopian, i.e. unrealisable since lacking any concrete material, socio-economic basis for its realisation) on a global scale, as a veritable collection of Roosevelts rose to power simultaneously in every major power on earth, and self-sacrificially came together at a new Bretton Woods to organise not merely “the Western bloc” as before, but this time the whole world, with a new architecture of global finance, and reformed and strengthened global institutions, etc etc, it would still not be Marxism, and not socialism as understood by Marxism, which is nothing more and nothing less than the taking of political, social, and economic power, throughout the world by the global proletariat (now, as capital’s four hundred year odd war to the death against the peasantry enters its final phases, for the first time the majority of the world’s population), organised in the revolutionary international as the world party of social revolution, and carrying all other remaining classes oppressed by capital, not least the peasantry and the petit-bourgeoisie, in its wake. Anything less is neither Marxism nor socialism as understood by Marxism.

    As metaphysics, as ultimate interpretation of reality, Catholicism beats Marxism hands down. But as politics, Catholicism all to frequently falls short, not least because when it thinks it is grappling with Marxism (whether from a “left” or a “right” perspective) it is often grappling with nothing of the sort, and frequently feels it has come out on top when it has rarely appreciated the sheer power and depth of Marxism at full blast, settling in stead with grappling with a host of pale imitations: lumbering grey Stalinist bureaucracies; hysterically voluntarist Maoists spouting sub-Taoist Little Red Book platitudes; apostate Pabloites incessantly trying to polish the image of both of the latter; smug social democrats deluding themselves forever that their little bureaucratic welfare state volksheimat has seen of the writhing dragon of capital forever, and that they, the petit-bourgeois radical avant-garde elite, always knowing better than the masses (who, drugged by “consumerism” are of course, incapable of ever taking action themselves), will run things forever; self-righteous ex-New Deal liberals, forever in fear of “white-trash” and anything south of Mason-Dixon, yet hiding on the coasts, cut off forever from the Mid West/rust belt base which gave them their power, now abandoned to industrial collapse and the tender mercies of survivalist ideologues like the Michigan militia; cheerleaders of always doomed but ever colourful Third World national liberation movements, safe in the knowledge that support for such brings radical chic while mostly poor and mostly dark skinned people do the actual fighting and dying a long way away, augmented by gun-fetishising Castroist-Guevarist guerillolators, gyrating in jungle focos before whose heroic bandito spontaneity the citadels of power are supposed to crumble over night while the helpless working class look on in rapt admiration; utterly venal union bureaucracies hollowed out into little more than dues-collecting shells, preaching “labour-management co-operation” & “protect US/Canadian/Mexican/Greman/Japanese etc etc jobs” right up until the death squads come to knock on the door and take them away; and last but not least the snakeoil purveyors of the perpetual childishness of identity politics who believe that language makes reality, and that to change words is to change the world: all these are eager targets, but they are not Marxism.

    After many decades of supposed Catholic-Marxist “dialogue” or Catholic-Marxist “polemic”, I would wager that neither has ever really taken place. The towering spectres of Trotsky and permanent revolution remain shockingly absent from the discourse, and until the most consistently internationalist and democratically-centralist form of Christianity, and the most consistently internationalist and democratically-centralist form of Marxism are brought into a true and fruitful confrontation, then capital will go on its merry way, its inexorable dynamic and laws of motion driving humanity ever further to socio-economic impoverishment, moral debasement, cultural degradation, spiritual decay, militarist carnage and ecological collapse. A true Marxism can provide the tools for the analysis and understanding of capitalism, and the myriad ways in which it seeks to perpetuate itself, and the ways it can be overthrown, a true science of politics which the Church can put to use, the latter having never forgotten to its credit that capitalism is not simply the way things are, but is a particular thing, that has come into being, and can pass away, and that the sway of redeemed reason can extend to the socio-economic, as much as the natural-scientific, spheres. And a true Catholicism can guard a true Marxism against itself, and show that the choice to fight, to choose life and not death, to choose blessings and not curses, to choose socialism and revolution against barbarism and revolution, is put within us One beyond the world, and that we can only project God and Utopia into the sky because that One who is below as well as above has first projected us forth from the dust.

  • If only we could get the socialist leaning folks around here to recognize that.

    There are many forms of “socialism.”

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