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).


Charity - Love

In the title of the encyclical the word “charity” is used and not “love”, also the phrase “charity in truth” and not “charity and truth”. The words “charity” and “love” are synonyms except for one fundamental distinction: charity is love not only given, but also received by the same individual, “received and given” (5) in this order and its source is spiritual and divine (5). Charity is not human love. Charity is love received from God and, transmitted to others and to the whole of society and to the environment. By means of this transmission of the love of God on the part of man, God takes care of his creation. In as far as we are mediators of his love we become co-creators, channels used by God to bring humanity and the environment to authentic integral development, in other words, to salvation. The distinction between “charity” and “love” is important in that one of the fundamental thoughts of the encyclical is the concept of “gift” and man is to “open himself to the divine vocation to pursue his own development” (18). Humanity started as a gift from God in the creation of Adam (Adam, אָדָם, mankind) and not one single person has come into the world by himself: “we all know that we are a gift, not something self-generated” (68). Life is to be lived as it was begun, by being receptive to life and to the Giver of life. The knowledge of being a gift and opening up to the gift of life and to the Giver conditions our vision of life and of all issues associated with it. Not having been self generated man, in his essence, is not self sufficient, not even from a purely human point of view.

Charity in truth is the "driving force" (1) that enables man to attain self fulfilment both as an individual and as a member of society. It enables him to advance on the way towards authentic development and to contribute to the development of society as a whole and to take care of the environment in which his life is to be lived out. (1, 48). This force includes everything and permeates everything. It is the universal force that transcends the limits of time and space, an omnipresent force that gradually transforms the whole of creation, especially man until everything is "recapitulated" in Christ (48). It is a transfiguring force, the uncreated force or energy of God himself operating in man and in the whole of creation.

The source of charity is God himself as "God is love" (1 John 4:8). The man who opens up to God in reality opens up to love, to that likeness of God in which he was created and opens the way to authentic human development, self fulfilment. Man's calling or vocation is to receive this love and transmit it. Man is the mediator of the love of God, in imitation of Jesus Christ who revealed and transmitted perfectly the love of the Father for man. As God is love and as the image of God remains in man, although somewhat diminished, the natural tendency of man is towards love. It is by opening up to God, by opening up to divine love that human love is transfigured and perfected, allowing man to participate in the nature of God himself.

Jesus Christ, being the “the image of the unseen God” (Col. 2:15), is the perfect example of authentic love, of divine love embodied in his own person. It is Christ who reveals to man, his true potential and the way to self fulfilment. Divine love in the person of Christ made possible the salvation of the whole of man: spirit, soul and body, physical, intellectual and emotional. Life has a beginning and an end and both are immersed in love. At the beginning, at the creation of man, God takes the dust of the earth and creates the corporal dimension of man (the material part that unites him with the environment) and breathed into him his own divine life and man became a living being. The beginning of life, the beginning of humanity, is a gift of God and the end of life is the full participation of man in the very nature of God, the “deification” of man, another gift from God. The life of man is not only from dust to dust but also from the life giving force of God to the full participation in the nature of God at the end of time. From dust to dust, yes, but also from God to God. This is the vocation of each man and this is pure gift that cannot be earned nor is it attainable by human effort alone. This is the way of Christ. God / love as origin, God / love as final destiny. Love from beginning to end. The way is clear, the objective is clear: we become full of the fullness of God and as God is love, full of the fullness of love and also the means is clear "I am the way" (Jn 14:6): "and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (Ephes. 3:17-19)

Love is all, "love is all you need". Love is all, on condition that it is enveloped in truth, permeated by truth. This sublime vision of man presupposes the union of love and truth: Charity in Truth.



Without truth love is not sufficient. It is not only charity that is the driving force and not even charity and truth, but charity in truth. (1) Truth prevents individual love and the social action of Christians becoming a sort of sentimental religiosity devoid of substance and spiritual value and prevents love from becoming “an empty shell”: "Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way". (3) Charity in truth enables the Christian to avoid falling into the trap of secular humanism, of inverting the order of the words “God is love” into “love is God”. By eliminating truth it is only a short step to eliminating God from life and asserting the self sufficiency of man with all the distortions and consequential aberrations.

Of fundamental interest in the encyclical is the concern to address two tendencies that have taken root in modern secularised society and that has, to a certain extent, influenced the thought of some Christians: a) the distortion of the meaning and reality of love, which for some has come to mean even its opposite b) the relativizing of truth (2). These two tendencies together undermine the basis of morality and distorts man's social action, reducing Christianity to simple humanism and thereby confusing the first commandment, the love for God with the second, the love for one's neighbour which are distinct. By doing this development is reduced to material and technological progress.

Charity in truth frees us from subjectivism and arbitrary action; it is also the basis of Christian social action and authentic human development. The union of charity and truth is necessary for building the common good and society (4) and for the full integration of the whole man, spirit, soul and body. It is only by adhering to God's plan as revealed in the Scriptures that man achieves self fulfilment, his material and spiritual wellbeing, in a word his salvation.

What is truth? This was Pilat's question. Christ had already given the answer. Truth is not a thing, neither is it an abstraction, nor is it a system of thought; it is a person: “I am the way the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). Charity and truth interact perfectly in the person of Christ and in his social action. It is only by allowing that spark of divine love in Truth that is Christ that human love can be purified from all that diminishes its value. (1)  It follows that evangelization is the most important act of love, the first and most important service that the entire Church and each single member can render to society. Charity in truth constitutes the basis of the social conscience (5) and of social action. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ who is charity in truth and is therefore ignorance of authentic human development.

Man becomes truly free, in the deepest sense of the word, by letting himself become involved in the dynamic of this intimate union of charity and truth.


Christ - the model for man's social action

Almost all of what has been said may be illustrated by observing how Christ related to the Father in his interaction with society. Being the mediator par excellence between the Father and man he received and transmitted that "driving force" of charity in truth to everyone he encountered during his ministry. Let us observe how he worked, let us examine this model of the social worker. Jesus did not work in place of the Father, he did not substitute himself, his own thoughts and emotions for the will and plan of the Father. They worked in perfect union: "My Father is at work until now, so I am at work." (Jn. 5:17).

That union with the Father constituted his strength. Charity and truth were so united as to be one in the other, one and inseparable "I am in the Father and the Father is in me" (Jn. 14:10) and “The Father and I are one”. (Jn. 10:30). The dynamics of charity in truth is the dynamic of God himself, of that vital relationship between Father and Son, The Father in the Son, Love in Truth. United to the Father, Jesus spiritually prepared himself in such a way that the Father was able to use him as a perfect channel of his love.  We might be tempted to read these words as something detached from us, something outside of us or simply as an example we must try to imitate or emulate. This is not possible. We are directly involved in this great reality, in this great "driving force". The believer cannot simply be a spectator for the simple reason that Christ said: "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (Jn. 14:23) The Father and the Son take up their abode in the Christian and so also does the Holy Spirit: "the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you." (Jn.14:17). This divine dynamic, this divine life, unites itself to us, becomes embodied or incarnated in us. This same force that was an integral part of Christ is also an integral part of each Christian. This same force that Christ transmitted, that same force of love in truth is also in us to be transmitted by us to others and to society as a whole just as Christ did. He said quite clearly: "whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father." (Jn. 14:12) We are no longer spectators but protagonists in Christ in the authentic progress of creation and in authentic human development. Through our social actions in Christ the glory of the Father becomes manifest. Once again, with the psalmist we are bewildered and we ask: "What is man, that you think of him? … you have crowned him with glory and honour". (Psalm 8:4-5)



The believer joins Paul in saying: “There is nothing I cannot do in the One who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13). The secular humanist and secular society in general, however, should take note of the words of Christ: “without me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5) Without Charity in Truth (Christ), without God, man can achieve nothing lasting.

From our union with the Father, through the Son, by means of the Holy Spirit, an extraordinary force is born, a force of love and truth that cannot fail to burst forth in a hymn of praise to the Father, but also in a hymn of joy and hope in man, in his potential, in his authentic integral development that will bear man onward towards the fullness of God. Already in Christ we are saved, resurrected, inhabited by the Holy Spirit of love and truth and this is the work of God that we receive as a gift that does not depend on us, a treasure and a force to be transmitted according to his will, in doing what he has called us to do for the common good and for authentic human development and for the whole of creation awaiting the fullness of what we already possess.

How could we not join with Mary in exclaiming: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour ... for the Almighty has done great things for me." (Luke 1:46-47).

Robert Walsh



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