Catholic Social Teachings
Why do we have Catholic Social Teachings (CST)?
Catholic Social Teachings exist as guiding social and moral principles in order to develop our awareness of the social, economic, and political issues that plague us today. Furthermore, it allows us to acquire an understanding of the complexities that we face in our day-to-day existence and to familiarize ourselves with the proper discernment methods so that we may be able to act accordingly.
Why should the Church have CST?
First and foremost, Catholic Social Teaching is seen as an instrument of evangelization. Preaching the Gospel consists of “action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world.” It is the Church’s mission to work for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation. As an instrument of salvation, "it places the human person and society in relationship with the light of the Gospel."
Secondly, it is the concrete expression of what it means to live out the Faith in our world today. "Men and women are invited above all to discover themselves as transcendent beings, in every dimension of their lives, including those related to social, economic and political contexts. Faith brings to fullness the meaning of the family, which, founded on marriage between one man and one woman, constitutes the first and vital cell of society. It moreover sheds light on the dignity of work, which, as human activity destined to bring human beings to fulfillment, has priority over capital and confirms their rightful claim to share in the fruits that result from work."
Thirdly, it emphasizes that moral values ought to inform both personal and social conscience. "Humanity today seeks greater justice in dealing with the vast phenomenon of globalization; it has a keen concern for ecology and a correct management of public affairs; it senses the need to safeguard national consciences, without losing sight however of the path of law and the awareness of the unity of the human family. The world of work, profoundly changed by the advances of modern technology, reveals extraordinary levels of quality, but unfortunately, it must also acknowledge new forms of instability, exploitation and even slavery within the very societies that are considered affluent. In different areas of the planet, the level of well being continues to grow, but there is also a dangerous increase in the numbers of those who are becoming poor, and, for various reasons, the gap between less developed and rich countries is widening. The free market, an economic process with positive aspects, is nonetheless showing its limitations. On the other hand, the preferential love for the poor represents a fundamental choice for the Church, and she proposes it to all people of good will."
Last but not the least, therefore, as a means of evangelization, concrete expression of the faith, and a moral obligation, CST teaches us how to engage the world in order to re-align it with God's saving plan. The Kingdom is "already here, but not yet." Our temporal human existence should therefore reflect the Kingdom that Jesus Christ preached about. Thus, the mission that the CST forms and informs us about speaks to the critical and vivifying engagement with the world that all people of goodwill are called to, in accordance with God's will. "Contemporary cultural and social issues involve above all the lay faithful, who are called, as the Second Vatican Council reminds us, to deal with temporal affairs and order them according to God's will (cf. Lumen Gentium, 31)."
The primary resources of Catholic Social Teachings (CST)
The primary resources of the Catholic Social Teachings (CST) are the papal, conciliar, and other official documents released since the late nineteenth century that deal with economic, political, and social issues. The following are key encyclicals and conciliar documents that comprise the body of Catholic Social Teaching (CST):
- Rerum Novarum: On the Condition of Labor (Pope Leo XIII, 1891)
- Quadragesimo Anno: On Reconstructing the Social Order (Pope Pius XI, 1931)
- Mater et Magistra: Mother and Teacher (Pope John XXIII, 1961)
- Pacem in Terris: Peace on Earth (Pope John XXIII, 1963)
- Gaudium et Spes: The Church in the Modern World (Vatican Council document, 1965)
- Dignitatis Humanae: The Dignity of the Human Person (Vatican Council II document, 1965
- Populorum Progressio: On the Development of Peoples (Pope Paul VI, 1967)
- Laborem Exercens: On Human Work (Pope John Paul, 1981)
- Solicitudo Rei Socialis: The Social Concerns of the Church (Pope John Paul II, 1987)
- Centessimus Annus: One Hundred Years (Pope John Paul, 1991)
- Deus Caritas Est: God is Love (Pope Benedict XVI, 2005)
- Caritatis in Veritate: In Charity and Truth (Pope Benedict XVI, 2009)
Development of Social Teachings
The publication of Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 marked the beginning of the development of social teachings in the Catholic Church. Forty years later, the second social encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, was released. Beginning 1961, the anniversary of the first social encyclical has become a consistent occasion for the release of another social encyclical. Thus, from then on, it has evolved and developed. Each document drew upon and affirmed what had preceded it but also added to and developed the teachings by adding new dimensions in order to better fit the concerns of the modern times.
The Social Documents
Catholic Social Teaching has been commonly referred to as the Church’s “best kept secret” because they have been rarely written and spoken about in Church circles. There is a wealth of moral and practical wisdom in the social documents that reveal ways of how the Church engages and addresses the concerns of the present modern times. The following are summaries of some key CST documents:
- Quadragesimo Anno: Condemns the effects of greed and concentrated political and economi power and proposes that social organization be based on the principle of subsidiarity.
- Pacem in Terris: Focus on human rights as the basis for peace; Calls for disarmament; stating the need for a worldwide institution to promote and safeguard the universal common good.
- Gaudium et Spes: Clear recognition that the Church is immersed in the modern world; Condemns poverty; Warns about the threat of nuclear war; Christians must work to build structures that uphold justice and peace.
- Populorum Progressio: Focus on human development - 'development is the new name for peace'; Condemns the situation that gives rise to global poverty and inequality; Calls for new international organizations and agreements that promote justice and peace.
- Laborem Exercens: Affirms the dignity of work and the dignity of the worker; Affirms the rights of labor; Calls for workplace justice.
- Sollicitudo Rei Socialis: Includes the "option for the poor" as a central tenet of Church teaching; Also develops the notions of 'solidarity', the 'structures of sin' and 'the social mortgage on property'; Suggests that the resources used for the arms race be dedicated to the alleviation of human misery; Nature must be considered in development.
- Centesimus Annus: Reaffirms the principles of Catholic Social Teaching over one hundred years; Celebrates Rerum Novarum; Identifies the failures of both socialist and market economies.