Pope Francis’s encyclical Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”), published in June, could be seen as a conclusion to Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”). Indeed, it answers the final question in the latter encyclical: “What should we do?”
Lumen Fidei outlines what we must do in order to solve the problems caused by the economic crisis – that is, regain faith. The economic crisis arose out of the dominant nihilism that rejects truth. So we need to regain faith, not just for our own personal salvation but also as a way of creating value for society as a whole, allowing a true pursuit of the common good.
World economic history, I believe, reflects the history of faith in God. The true well-being of human beings is not just material but also spiritual and intellectual. Economic history teaches us that when people have ignored, or become confused about, the spiritual and the intellectual, pursuing only the material, they create a selfish and unstable form of well-being. Just think about the deformed economic doctrines of mercantilism in the 17th century, the Enlightenment’s “physiocratic” creed in the 18th century and the technocratic ones of the 19th century. These were followed by Marxist materialism and the liberal-Keynesian theory of the 20th century, which gave way to the relativist-globalist vision that caused the current crisis.
World economic history is the story of the gradual separation of morality and economics, and the progressive moral autonomy of economics. In Caritas in Veritate Benedict XVI taught us that every economic choice has a moral impact. What’s more, every moral vision leads inexorably to certain economic choices. The Pope Emeritus also showed us that an instrument, as economics is, can’t have moral autonomy.
If today, as you experience the economic crisis, you consider, for example, youth unemployment, you discover that it is caused by a consumer system that has, for the past 30 years, been based on immoral and unsustainable debt, which has unbalanced the global economic system.
Accepting the idea that economics has moral autonomy has led people to believe that “economics and morality” is an oxymoron. They have become accustomed to thinking that economic systems flourish best where there is no religious faith. But Lumen Fidei clearly states that faith without truth is an illusion – just a feeling. What can economics do without the truth, which enlightens us to use it as a tool?
Through economics men can change the world, sanctifying it and sanctifying economics itself. Therefore, faith has to be recovered for the good of everyone. Faith helps us to find the true meaning of life. Faith stimulates the search for truth in all things, including in economics. But in order to giving a meaning to life we need to try to understand the Truth. The Truth explains what economics is and the proper use of economics in God’s plan.
Truth is, therefore, an indispensable reference point as we seek to make sense of various economic tools. The Church, through its teaching, sacraments and prayers, has the great task of illuminating the meaning of life and of human actions. Thus we will be able to create a civil society in which economics will once again have its own place and due importance.
Thanks to faith, we can develop systems able to hold together real relationships, including economic ones. Thanks to faith, we can create economic conditions that truly serve the common good. Through faith, we create the conditions in which to form and strengthen the family. That is at the core of economics: families create wealth in countless ways, especially by having children (which means development) and educating them (which means a high quality of development).
With faith, finally, we create economic value in society because we share true fraternal relations, based on the unique dignity of the person and on a shared respect for Creation. Economics is practically sustainable for human beings because it is based on life, on the true meaning of life and of our actions. All of this is possible only with faith’s help.
Ettore Gotti Tedeschi is an economist
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Catholic Herald, dated 8/11/13