Charity in Truth: A Righteous Rhetorical Vision of Economics and Technology

In Rhetorical analysis, Technical communication on September 10, 2009 at 11:03 am

Although I don’t always mention social justice and ethics explicitly, these concepts are at the heart of many topics that I study, including apologies as well as the use of new media to deliver product recall and safety information.

In this post, I focus on a slightly different topic—that is, Pope Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate. However, based on the Pope’s focus on the morality of economics and technology, this topic not only fits my research interests in terms of social justice and ethics, but also in terms of the role technology plays in our society’s growth and development.


On July 7, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI published Caritas in Veritate (meaning: Charity in Truth). In the encyclical, Pope Benedict presents a “vision of a new economic order” and “a rethinking of how economic life is organized” (De Souza, 2009). While the letter focused heavily on the global recession, its broader message addressed the issues of social justice and morality that are reflected in our economic policies and technical aspirations.


Using Fantasy Theme Analysis, we can examine these ideas in more detail and uncover the underlying vision they promote. This method of rhetorical analysis is based on Ernest Bormann’s theory of symbolic convergence and is ideal for examining how common themes reflect rhetorical visions of heroes and villains, values and beliefs, and symbolic reality.


In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict’s call for a new economic order puts forth a rhetorical vision that emphasizes humanness, morality and social justice.

Often these rhetorical visions can be categorized in one of three competing explanations of reality: pragmatic (valuing expediency, utility, and efficiency), social (valuing trust, caring, and relationships) or righteous (differentiating between right and wrong, moral and immoral, just and unjust).

In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict denounces a “pragmatic” vision of economic growth and activity by criticizing the negative aspects of capitalistic competition, commercial logic, and technocratic utility.

Instead, he puts forth a rhetorical vision that at times appears “social”—focusing on love, charity, and “human social relationships of friendship, solidarity and reciprocity” (36). However, such social references mainly function to establish charity as an important element in human relations as well as to position financial markets and technology as human realities with moral consequences.

Ultimately, the rhetoric of Caritas in Veritate reveals a “righteous” rhetorical vision that chronicles immoral market activity and asserts a higher calling for economics.

As the encyclical progresses, charity is transformed from a dramatis personae or character in early social themes (such as charity as love, grace, and humanity) into a sanctioning agent that is used to delineate moral economic policies and uses of technology from those deemed immoral or unjust in Pope Benedict’s righteous rhetorical themes. These themes vilify free markets and purely technological progress as insufficient at best and destructive at worst.

In the end, the righteous themes not only become warrants in Pope Benedict’s argument for a new economic order, but also coalesce to construct a symbolic reality that explains today’s global recession and economic crisis.


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