Saturday, August 8, 2009

An Economist Asks: "What Then Is a Catholic To Do?"

Pope Benedict XVI is out with a new encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

I have already directed readers to the incisive comments made by Mario Rizzo on Benedict XVI's stroll into the world of economics.

Now, Tom Woods adds further commentary on the Pope's quite uninformed economic views and asks the question, "What then is a Catholic to do?", since it is clear God is not providing the Pope with divine insight about economics:

I like this Pope. He is smart and serious, not frivolous or vain. He is in many ways a substantial improvement over his predecessor. (I cite as evidence the very fact that the media believes the opposite.) And having been viciously denounced and ridiculed by some pretty despicable people, he certainly has all the right enemies.

I have reluctantly yielded to the urging of quite a few correspondents and typed up a few thoughts. So here goes: Caritas in Veritate strikes me as at best a relatively unremarkable restatement of some familiar themes from previous social encyclicals. At worst, it is bewilderingly naïve, and its policy recommendations, while attracting no one to the Church, are certain to repel.The response to the encyclical throughout the right-of-center Catholic world was drearily predictable: with few exceptions, it was a performance worthy of the Soviet Politburo, with unrestrained huzzahs everywhere.

It is one thing to receive a statement from the Pope with the respect that is due to the man and his office. It is quite another to treat his every missive as ipso facto brilliant, as if the Catholic faith depended on it. If his supporters are trying to live down to the Left’s portrayal of Catholicism as a billion-person cult, they could hardly do a better job....economic policy may possess a moral dimension, but not a single proposition of economic theory involves a moral claim...

Nothing in the Deposit of Faith even comes close to deciding... important economic questions one way or the other. Not even the most uncomprehending or exaggerated rendering of papal infallibility would have the Pope adjudicating such disputes as these. Yet misunderstandings or ignorance regarding such seemingly abstruse points are so often at the heart of the policy recommendations that bishops’ conferences propose and papal encyclicals can seem to imply.

It is obviously not “dissent” merely to observe that the cause-and-effect relationships that constitute the theoretical edifice of economics are not a matter of faith and morals. They simply do not fall within the range of subjects on which a Catholic prelate is endowed with special insight or authority. Catholic laity cannot head up petition drives against them. They are facts of life. Facts cannot be protested, defied, or lectured to; they can only be learned and acted upon. There is no use in shaking our fists at the fact that price controls lead to shortages. All we can do is understand the phenomenon, and be sure to bear it and other economic truths in mind if we want to make statements about the economy that are rational and useful....

...only the most uncomprehending or superstitious Catholic would think the Pope’s authority over faith and morals granted him some kind of magical insight into the best model to pursue for Third World development. Were that true, then economics in general and development economics in particular should be abandoned immediately, since simple inquiries with the Pope would yield all the answers we might need.

This is why Pope Leo XIII once declared,

If I were to pronounce on any single matter of a prevailing economic problem, I should be interfering with the freedom of men to work out their own affairs. Certain cases must be solved in the domain of facts, case by case as they occur…. [M]en must realize in deeds those things, the principles of which have been placed beyond dispute…. [T]hese things one must leave to the solution of time and experience.

...What, then, is a Catholic to do? There is no need to provide chapter and verse to the effect that the Pope is not (and was never thought of as) an absolute monarch whose every utterance is to be greeted with obsequious flattery. Any educated Catholic knows this. Throughout the vast bulk of Church history, the cult of personality—let’s call it what it was—that surrounded Pope John Paul II would have struck Catholics as downright bizarre.

St. Thomas Aquinas contended that a layman may rebuke his prelate, even publicly, if the latter is giving scandal. Under the heading “Whether a man is bound to correct his prelate,” St. Thomas writes: “It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith.”

Now again, I like Benedict XVI, and I believe he has made important changes for the better in the life of the Church. But certain key passages of Caritas in Veritate, in addition to being unhelpful or ill considered, erect gratuitous obstacles to conversion on the part of countless Protestants and other non-Catholics. If St. Thomas’ counsel does not apply in this case, where would it apply?

Woods complete commentary can be read at Taki Magazine.

1 comment:

  1. Suetonius, _12 Caesars_, "Claudius":

    "In one case he [[Claudius]] is credited with having rendered the following decision, which he had actually written out beforehand: "I decide in favour of those who have told the truth." By such acts as these he so discredited himself that he was held in general and open contempt."

    Take what you can stomach and leave the rest. After all didn't Pilate say, "What is truth?" Didn't he know?