Caritas in Veritate: The Mutual Implication of Charity and Knowledge and the Need for Interdisciplinary Dialogue Animated by Charity

In chapter 2, “Human Development in Our Time,” of his recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI calls for a commitment to interdisciplinary exchange among the various fields of knowledge in order to encourage genuine development of human beings.  This is a call to something beyond mere “joint action.”  The action must be directed to the proper end and must be animated by charity, as charity and knowledge belong together.  As Benedict explains,

In view of the complexity of the issues, it is obvious that the various disciplines have to work together through an orderly interdisciplinary exchange. Charity does not exclude knowledge, but rather requires, promotes, and animates it from within. Knowledge is never purely the work of the intellect. It can certainly be reduced to calculation and experiment, but if it aspires to be wisdom capable of directing man in the light of his first beginnings and his final ends, it must be “seasoned” with the “salt” of charity. Deeds without knowledge are blind, and knowledge without love is sterile (CV, 2.30).

Here the Pope calls for a “thicker” notion of knowledge and speaks against a reductionistic view of Benedict XVIknowledge as mere calculation.  Knowledge as mere calculation-at least one dominate Enlightenment version-promotes both a diminished understanding of reason, reality and human beings because it immanentizes each and rejects any genuine transcendence that might complete, transform or direct it.

Charity, rather than an “appendix to a work already concluded in each of the various disciplines,” must serve as a dialogue partner from the very beginning.  Charity and reason are harmonious and when in proper relation to each other, they neither contradict nor devalue the other.  Yet, reason formed by charity acknowledges its own lack and remains open to possibilities beyond its grasp and control; that is, it remains open to an Other who has made known what true humanity is by becoming one of us and embodying love in the fullest sense because He is love.  This openness to something more than, something beyond human reason does not mean that we abandon the genuine insights of reason.  “Going beyond … never means prescinding from the conclusions of reason, nor contradicting its results. Intelligence and love are not in separate compartments: love is rich in intelligence and intelligence is full of love” (CV, 2.30).

Wisdom then calls for an interdisciplinary dialogue animated by love in the service of humanity.  In this picture, science, theology, and metaphysics actually listen to one another, appreciating the insights each has to contribute and striving to integrate holistically the truths  discovered and made clear in each respective field.  Perhaps such a vision simply isn’t possible in our age; however, something along these lines is needed as a target for which to aim given the fragmented condition of the various fields of knowledge and the refusal to engage in healthy dialogue between differing groups (with guilty parties found on all sides of the debate, including those representing the Church).   Noting the difficulties in our current situation, Benedict writes:

The excessive segmentation of knowledge[1] the rejection of metaphysics by the human sciences,[2] the difficulties encountered by dialogue between science and theology are damaging not only to the development of knowledge, but also to the development of peoples, because these things make it harder to see the integral good of man in its various dimensions. The “broadening [of] our concept of reason and its application”[3] is indispensable if we are to succeed in adequately weighing all the elements involved in the question of development and in the solution of socio-economic problems (CV, 2.31).


[1] Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio (14 September 1998), 85: AAS 91 (1999), 72-73.

[2] Cf. ibid., 83: loc. cit., 70-71.

[3] Benedict XVI, Address at the University of Regensburg, 12 September 2006.