Devon, PA.  In the near future, I hope to offer a few essays on Catholic Social Doctrine, and, of course, on Caritas in Veritate in particular.  I have not yet had time to study that encyclical, only to skim it, but what I noticed even in the quoted highlights in published responses to it was the ugliness and even jargon-infested circularity of some of its prose.  A long time reader of Benedict’s theology, I found myself looking at tangles of thread that pretended to be sentences.  While I am confident the fabric as a whole will appear in order as soon as I have had time to give it proper attention, I am relieved that this blemished curial style has garnered some attention, as it does here.

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James Matthew Wilson is Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University. An award-winning scholar of philosophical-theology and literature, he has authored dozens of essays, articles, and reviews on subjects ranging from art, ethics, and politics, to meter and poetic form, from the importance of local culture to the nature of truth, goodness, and beauty. Wilson is also a poet and critic of contemporary poetry, whose work appears regularly in such magazines and journals as First Things, Modern Age, The New Criterion, Dappled Things, Measure, The Weekly Standard, Front Porch Republic, The Raintown Review, and The American Conservative. He has published five books, including most recently, a collection of poems, Some Permanent Things and a monograph, The Catholic Imagination in Modern American Poetry (both Wiseblood Books, 2014). Raised in the Great Lakes State, baptised in the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas, seasoned by summers on Lake Wawasee (Indiana), and educated under the Golden Dome, Wilson is scion of a family of Hoosiers dating back to the early nineteenth century, and an offspring of Southside Chicago Poles whose tavern kept the city wet through the Depression (and prohibition) years.  He now lives under the same sentence of reluctant exile as many another native son of the Midwest, but has dug himself in for good on the margins of the Main Line in Pennsylvania with his beautiful wife, dangerous daughter, and saintly sons. For information on Wilson's scholarship and a selection of his published work, click here. See books written and recommended by James Matthew Wilson.


  1. JMW,

    I look forward to your analysis.

    The document is extraordinary in many ways, yet poorly written. How does the non-Catholic cut through the prose. What are the key points? How long can one expect to keep the attention of the reader?

    The document speaks to the “treetops” or “commanding heights” of the global economic community, but we really needed a documents extolling the virtues of the “grassroots,” or should we call it distributism.

    The just society starts with first principles, and builds up from there. That was the great virtue of Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno and other social documents from the period.

    Unfortunately, the encyclical did not focus on the themes of the front porch republic, which are truths that are needed more than ever.

  2. I have read the encyclical, and I just don’t have either the literary or the interpretive problem that some people seem to have. I think the real problem is that his ideas are so “counter-cultural” (whether you have been “cultured” by the right or by the left) that many have difficulty understanding it.

    The interpretive key, in my opinion, is that Benedict is trying to revive the thought of Paul VI from both Populorum Progressio and The first angered the right, the second the left, and in total Paul’s pontificate angered everybody.

    JD, I found his themes very applicable to this blog, and I have written about there application already.

  3. That could be, John. My comments were provoked, as I tried to make clear, by the coincidence of a) my glancing impressions and b) that others more familiar with the encyclical have shared that impression. In any case, I’ll abstain from more hole-poking until I’ve given the document the attention it clearly deserves. I would have done so already, but I’ve been caught up reading Benedict’s “In the Beginning . . .” of which Mark Shiffman wrote some months ago and which has now become one of my favorite works of Benedict’s and, for that matter, favorite books period. Can Caritas in Veritate keep up? I look forward to learning.

  4. As to whether the encyclical sounds FPR themes, I think that it certainly does–especially with relation to the middle term in our tagline: “limits.” And it does so from the heart of the Communio theology that Benedict helped to develop, that has been developed here in America most fully by David Schindler of the John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC, and that has always necessarily sounded odd (to say the least) to typical American ears. A friend e-mailed me recently with the following extremely helpful analysis:

    “So, I finally had a chance this weekend to read the new encyclical. I can see now why the neocons have been so assiduous in talking it down: it is an *almost* complete vindication of David Schindler. This is evident in the recurring theme (which is surely the parts that we can attribute, with gold highlighting, to B-16 himself) of the ‘logic of gift’ and ‘gratuitousness’ as the fundamental stance of human beings: in other words, a Marian stance, as distinct from neocon emphasis on ‘creativity’ which imagines man as exercising God-like sovereignty over the world. Frankly, B-16 has even gone quite some way to fleshing out some of the practical details that NNW have always pressed Schindler for. . . .”

    “And in doing so, he’s been faithful to the social encyclical tradition’s emphasis on the civil-social sphere as the location for such initiatives. It seems what he has in mind are things like the Knights of Columbus insurance program, which competes with for-profit insurance companies for the provision of an important financial service but does not do so for the sake of profit-maximization. (Those of you who are not Knights, take heed.)

    “But the logic of gift is also behind the environmental stuff: nature is gift, and not simply so much stuff for human manipulation. And, beautifully, human beings and human nature are also gift, and so children are to be welcomed and a post-human future are to be shunned. On the other hand, something that is rather…challenging…for me is his stance of human beings are naturally technological because the human being is always ‘something more.’ I’m somewhat more Heideggerian on technology. The attack on novel and even perverted claims of rights in the developed countries while the right to food and water are neglected among the poorest of the poor was a bonus.

    “Overall, a fine document. We’re in the Schindlerian Moment. I’ll be waiting for the First Things article to that effect.”

    Yes. I would say that, theologically, we are in the Marian moment. And if that doesn’t mean that culturally we are in (or ought to be in) a localist, limits-oriented moment, I don’t know what it does mean.

    • Jeremy,
      Forgive my Protestant ignorance, but what is a/the Marian moment? Sounds interesting but I have no clue what you mean.
      I suspect that at least some other readers are equally perplexed.


  5. Mark, think: Let it be done to me according to thy will. A posture of acceptance and gratitude rather than self-assertion.

    In other words, Benedict’s communio theology is attuned to the given, gift-like, utterly unearned quality of human existence (and salvation) than are theological (and quasi-theological) approaches more prone to glorifying the power of human wilfullness, or our godlikeness.

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