What does it mean for love to be in truth? And why should it matter whether it is?

By my lights, the central claim of this introductory section is that, just as the loving articulation of truth makes it credible and appealing, so it is the truthful proclamation and practice of the nature of love that gives caritas its substance:

… practising charity in truth helps people to understand that adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development. A Christianity of love without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance. In other words, there would no longer be any real place for God in the world. Without truth, love is confined to a narrow field devoid of relations. It is excluded from the plans and processes of promoting human development of universal range, in dialogue between knowledge and praxis. (sec. 4)

And again:

Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power, resulting in social fragmentation, especially in a globalized society at difficult times like the present. (sec. 5)

For us to put love in truth is, then, for us to reveal love as the same sort of thing that truth is: not an optional affair or something that is reserved for special occasions or the private sphere, but rather something that is in the essence of the human person as such, and is the defining characteristic of rightly ordered human society. Just as thought and speech that do not aim at truth are not really thought or speech at all, so communal life that is not marked by love can never be a genuine coming-together; hence confining love to what we ordinarily think of as the practice of “charity” (this is the reason why I have often changed the translation of the Latin caritas from “charity” to “love”) means treating as secondary that which is the primary ingredient of authentic human development.

It’s important to see how radical a claim this is. Since the Modern period, we’ve tended to think of human beings fundamentally as individuals and as society as a sort of convenience, held together with the bonds of mutual self-interest and ordered to the protection of individual rights. By contrast, what Benedict is proposing here is that it is by and toward love – love! – that public life is ordered, and that it is the neglect of love’s demands that stands at the root of our societal ills. The force of this proposal is brought out quite clearly in sec. 6, where love is distinguished from mere justice, and “relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion” are set in contrast to “rights and duties” – the latter, of course, being the primary concepts of post-Enlightenment political and moral thought. (Cf. also sec. 9, where “technical progress and relationships of utility” are given a similar treatment, in contrast to the “love that overcomes evil with good”.) The terms in which political relationships are commonly understood are incomplete; they pay only lip service to the commandment to love.

Finally, there is the insistence in sec. 7 that such love must manifest itself in a concern for the common good, and not just the good of oneself or those close to one. Obviously the question of what form that concern ought to take is a challenging one (the Church “does not have technical solutions to offer”, Benedict notes in sec. 9), but the crucial points are that love is meant to be a political affair, not merely a private one, and that a commitment to the common good that is animated by Christian love will have “greater worth than a merely secular and political stand would have”. The task of this encyclical is to shed light on what an authentic human development, one guided by divine love and so ordered toward shaping the earthly city in the image of the city of God, ultimately entails.

This initial section was dense enough that I feel like we could be going through the document paragraph by paragraph, rather than a chapter at a time. What did you all think? What is there that’s confusing? Illuminating? Perplexing? Challenging? Otherwise worthy of comment? Over to you, partners in this endeavor.

P.S. Up for next weekend: Chapter One.