The Vision of Man in the Encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth)

The Importance of Man in the eyes of God
What is the Destiny of Man? Where is He Heading?

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The basic principles underlying Caritas in Veritate and Authentic Human Development

"What is man, that you think of him? … you have crowned him with glory and honour". (Psalm 8:4-5).



The encyclical Caritas in Veritate is essentially a theological and pastoral document, the latest of a series of documents that form the ongoing tradition of Church social teaching. It is addressed not only to the Church hierarchy and laity but to also to all men of good will, a universal message, therefore.

As in the whole economy of salvation the two "protagonists" are God and man and the encyclical highlights how God relates to man and the need of man to open up to the relationship that God wishes to establish with him. In other words man, the whole man and all men, have a calling and the way man relates to that calling has conditioned and will condition the kind of society he builds in his role as co-creator.

On a theological level the "antagonists" are the forces of evil, the result of the first step that humanity took towards self-assertion and self-sufficiency shutting itself off from God. This "antagonist" is the enemy of love. These forces of evil in man are the fruit of egoism, which is a destructive force in man that insinuates itself into his social relations and destroys the sense of balance in his pursuit of authentic human development. Egoism and consequent negative forces emerge when man fails to respond to the call from God or when he excludes God from his private and public life.

These two forces, both the positive calling to establish a relationship with God and become custodians and co-creators with him, and the negative force of egoism and consequent evils, are at the same time in man and transcend him.

The relationship between God and man is enveloped and permeated by two personal driving forces: charity and truth. These vital forces are personal in that they cannot be separated from the reality of God who is both "love" and "truth" and who intends to establish a relationship of love in truth with man.

The encyclical is a message of salvation for a global society, solidly based on the deposit of faith as contained in the Scriptures and in the teaching of the Church.


Man, the Whole Man, All Men

"What is man that you should think of him ... you have crowned him with glory and honour" (Psalm 8:4-5).

The encyclical states that "God reveals man to man" (75). We often speak of the greatness and glory of God but we sometimes tend to neglect the corresponding greatness and glory of man, his potential, his sublime calling and his final destiny. Yet they are profoundly united in the incarnation, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Man is the capital of society, its main resource and all social, economic and political systems must contribute to his authentic development; they must all be at the service of man, of each man and all men, as individuals and as social beings. "The primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity: 'Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life' " (25). One might also add that man is God's main investment. God has invested everything in man. Man is at the centre of society and man is at the centre of God's attention. Man is at the centre of Christian Humanism. In the new man, the Christian, God and society are united and the universal Church, the new humanity, is the salt, the leaven and the light of society be it secularised or not. The encyclical puts man, the whole man, in his rightful place and places all political, economic and social means at his service.

In part the encyclical constitutes a reaction to secular society and its ambition to monopolise all forms of humanism. The two divergent positions of Christian and secular humanism are more or less explicitly present in the encyclical. It is the origin of man and his final destiny that determines the true vision of man, of humanity and the essential principles of authentic human development. This truth is forcefully expressed in the words: “If development were concerned with merely technical aspects of human life, and not with the meaning of man's pilgrimage through history in company with his fellow human beings, nor with identifying the goal of that journey, then the Church would not be entitled to speak on it.“ (16) and again: “Man is not a lost atom in a random universe” (29). It is precisely for this reason that Christian Humanism and secular liberal humanism are essentially incompatible despite a certain overlapping of values. For secular humanism man does not have a transcendental dimension but is only a combination of matter, intellect and emotions; there is no element that survives after death. For the secular humanist man is the result of Darwinian evolution and does not owe his existence to the design or plan of a Supreme Being. His final destiny is simply non-existence, death. For the Christian Humanist, on the other hand, forcefully advocated by the encyclical, is the fact that God calls man from non-existence to life, divine life. Man has a vocation to life and has the responsibility of safeguarding and developing that life in all its forms. This naturally excludes abortion and euthanasia and other crimes against life which are not only tolerated but actively promoted under certain conditions by secular humanists.

For the secular humanist progress is reduced to physical, emotional and intellectual wellbeing. For the Christian, as Maximus the Confessor (c. 580 – 662) states, man was created from two elements: the spiritual which binds him to God and the physical which unites him to the whole of creation. Man is journeying towards theosis, the complete restoration of his likeness to God, towards his "deification" (to use a term dear to Patristics and Orthodox theology). This involves the full participation in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4 ), union with God.

This is the reality of the Christian, this is his vocation, his sublime calling: “you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy" (I Cor 1:1). Holiness is not some sort of pietistic attitude but is a person's self fulfilment in accordance with God's plan for him. This is the vocation or calling of each man: a calling to life, not only physical, emotional and intellectual, but also and above all, divine, not only personal but also social. Who man is and what he is destined to become is revealed in Scripture: it is God who reveals man to himself. “Jesus Christ ... reveals to us in all its fullness the initiative of love and the plan for true life that God has prepared for us.” (1). In every man there is the likeness of God and man is called to open up to this so that it can become a vital flame nourishing his aspirations to authentic human development. This is essential for authentic personal development and for the authentic development of society as a whole.

This is very different from fulfilling one's own personality, which ends up in non existence as the secular humanist would have it. The secular humanist sees man as absolute, the only author of life, and the only criteria of morality without any reference to the transcendent: “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created” (A Humanist Manifesto I American Humanist Association, Ist affirmation), and again “Religious Humanism considers the complete realization of human personality to be the end of man's life and seeks its development and fulfilment in the here and now. This is the explanation of the humanist's social passion." (8th affirmation). Such a limited view is adamantly rejected in the encyclical, where we read: "Sometimes modern man is wrongly convinced that he is the sole author of himself, his life and society." (34).

In opposition to the secular humanist's limited vision of man the encyclical stresses the fundamental idea that life is a gift: “The human being is made for gift, which expresses and makes present his transcendent dimension.” (34), and finally: “we all know that we are a gift, not something self-generated.” (68) The secular humanist finds himself imprisoned in the untenable logic of self sufficiency, unlike the Christian who embraces the logic of gratuity, reciprocity, and love in truth. These are two opposing visions of man with divergent sets of values that purport to focus on man. Herein lies one of the lessons of the creation account in Genesis: humanity is divided into those who are in communion and are receptive of God's plan for them and enter into a relationship of love in truth for their own happiness a position corresponding to that of Adam before the fall and those who proudly shut themselves off, sometimes unwittingly, from the source of true love and happiness to the detriment of their authentic human development. The Christian enters into the logic of divine love and redemption that enriches, uplifts and frees him from the spiritual prison created by being completely dependent on material circumstances and situations. In a word this logic saves him and prepares him for the fulfilment of his vocation: his integral human development and his complete transfiguration leading to the perfect participation in the divine nature for which he was created in the first place. "Only a humanism open to the Absolute can guide us in the promotion and building of forms of social and civic life — structures, institutions, culture and ethos — without exposing us to the risk of becoming ensnared by the fashions of the moment." (78)

The encyclical refers to "man", the "whole man", the "whole of the person", "human person in his or her integrity" (25), the "development of the whole man and of all men" (8), "the advancement of all men and of the whole man" (18). What or who is this being, unknown to himself? The encyclical states “God reveals man to himself” (75). True humanism, therefore, has to be discovered in the Scriptures. The Scriptures tell us that man is spirit, soul and body: “May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.” (I Thess. 5:23). Any development or authentic progress on both a personal and social level must involve the whole of man, man in all his dimensions. Each man, as a person, whether he believes in God or not is three dimensional or trinitarian, created in the image and likeness of God and man's development must involve each of these dimensions as one single and indivisible entity. The Italian text has the word "unitariamente" (11), which has not been translated into English but which is, nevertheless clearly implied: "authentic human development concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension" and the Italian: "l'autentico sviluppo dell'uomo riguarda unitariamente la totalità della persona in ogni sua dimensione". These separate dimensions of man are distinct yet inseparable. What is true of the individual is also true of society.

Man is also a social being, part of the human family, and can only be complete and fulfil himself in interacting with others (despite the atheist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre who wrote "L'enfer, c'est les autres" ("hell is other people"). Besides being an individual, each man is also a social being: "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18). Each man, together with all men, is journeying towards union with God in Christ in whom the whole of creation will eventually converge at the end of time: "destined to be “recapitulated” in Christ at the end of time".

Each of these dimensions of man spirit, soul, body are distinct but inseparable. The personal and the social are also intertwined and interact and the material, the intellectual and the emotional interact within this dynamic. The human and the divine are intertwined in each individual both as a person and as a social subject. Human life is lived on a myriad of different levels that interact among themselves and man's calling to authentic human development consists in creating a symphony, a harmony and balance of every dimension of being in its social context. Man's self fulfilment and consequently happiness in this world and his salvation in the next depends on this. This symphony is not the work of man but of God. Man's role is to be favourable disposed to the plan of God and embrace this dynamic process. By doing so he will enjoy life, love and freedom. This dynamic is not imposed on man but is born, takes root and develops with each man as he opens up to the action and plan of God in his life. This symphony is the fruit of the Spirit of God working from within. We can now understand what this "driving force" (1) is that fosters our transfiguration and the transfiguration of the whole universe and that enables us to advance from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18). That "driving force" is love and truth, love in truth - Charity in Truth.

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The numbers inserted in the text and in brackets refer to the sections of the encyclical.

Robert Walsh


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