Context Pope John Paul II’s 1987 social encyclical Sollicitudo rei Socialis marks the twentieth anniversary of Populorum Progressio. Sollicitudo rei Socialis is also known by the English title On Social Concerns. It was the first major Catholic Social Teaching document to mark the anniversary of a social encyclical other than Rerum Novarum. Major Issues John Paul II analyses the current state of development in terms of conflict between Eastern and Western blocs. He says this conflict is often played out by proxy wars in the global south, and contributes to underdevelopment there. John Paul II critiques both the liberal capitalist ideology of the West and the Marxist collectivist ideology of the East. He proposes instead freedom and solidarity based on respect for the human person and a vision of authentic human development. He identifies sin and structures of sin as barriers to development. John Paul II emphasizes the virtue of solidarity as a moral response to interdependence. Methodology In Sollicitudo Rei Socialis John Paul II follows a pattern similar to that of the pre Vatican II encyclicals. He begins by recalling the teachings of Populorum Progressio, then he notes changes in the situation since Populorum Progressio. Next he develops its teaching in relation to the contemporary situation, and then he concludes with guidelines for action. John Paul II makes a strong claim for the teaching role of the Papacy. He declares that “the Church has something to say today, just as twenty years ago, and also in the future”. By using the term “social doctrine” rather than social teaching, and insisting on the need for “an international outlook” in the teachings, he stresses the importance of the unchanging and global over the local and contingent. By modifying the term ‘option for the poor’ to ‘love of preference for the poor’ he also signaled a more critical stance towards liberation theology. Contribution to Catholic Social Teaching Sollicitudo rei Socialis gives more emphasis than previous teachings to the experience of the global South. Although his stance towards liberation theology is somewhat critical, John Paul II incorporates and affirms the concepts of structural sin and an option for the poor. Solicitude res Socialis signalled a movement away from an approach that hesitated to issue a unified message with universal validity for the whole world. Read Solicitudo rei Socialis Full Text
Context Pope John Paul II issued Laborem Exercens to mark the ninetieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. It is also known by the English title On Human Labour. John Paul II’s own experience as a manual labourer and his personalist philosophical ethics shape this social encyclical. Major Issues Unemployment and the impact of technology on work are major concerns of this encyclical. As well as affirming a right to work, to a just wage, and to form unions, Laborem Exercens introduces the concept of an ‘indirect employer.’ The indirect employer includes those persons and institutions that impact on and shape the relationship of the ‘direct employer’ and the employees themselves. The direct employer is the one who actually enters into a work contract with employees. Laborem Exercens concludes with a spirituality of work. This spirituality focuses on the role of work in the transformation of nature and in personal fulfillment, the provision of the basis of family life, and contributing to the common good. John Paul II values the subjective over the objective dimensions of work. Work is valuable because it is the free act of a human person who is a subject and not an object. Methodology John Paul II does not start from the signs of the times but rather from a philosophical and theological reflection on work that offers universally applicable general principles. He brings a strongly personalist approach to questions of work. Contribution to Catholic Social Teaching Laborem Exercenss is notable for its well-developed spirituality and philosophy of work. It is the first encyclical on work by a Pope with personal experience of being worker. Read Laborem Exercens Full Text
Context Pope Paul VI reflects on the challenges of post-industrial society and the inadequacy of ideologies to address them in this 1971 Apostolic Letter. Octogesima Adveniens is an open letter addressed to the President of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Roy. Although it is not a social encyclical, Octogesima Adveniens is considered to be one of the major Catholic Social Teaching documents. It commemorated the eightieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. Major Issues Octogesima Adveniens was a call to action, urging Catholics to take responsibility for Christian action in all dimensions of their lives. It affirms two aspirations that Paul VI saw growing “stronger as human beings become better informed and better educated: the aspiration to equality and the aspiration to participation” (n 22). Other issues addressed by the letter include: – urbanisation (n 8 – 12) – the role of women (n 13) – discrimination (n 16) – the right to emigrate (n 17) – social communications (n 20) – and the environment (n 21). Methodology Octogesima Adveniens provides the strongest expression of an historically conscious ethical approach in the papal social teachings to date. The action it asks of Christians starts from the local and the particular rather than from universal and unchanging principles. It advocates an inductive approach to taking up responsibility for Christian action in social life. Paul VI does not regard all morality as contingent and changeable. He recognises continuity and universality in Church teaching but grounds his reflections in experience in context (n 42). Contribution to Catholic Social Teaching Octogesima Adveniens affirmed the possibility of a plurality of Catholic options for action. It assigned an unprecedentedly strong role to the local churches in reading the signs of the times and responding in their own places. Because situations varied so much, Paul VI said that it was often difficult to make universal pronouncements. Read Octogesima Adveniens Read the full text of the official English translation here.
Context Pope Paul VI issued the social encyclical Populorum Progressio in 1967. It is also known by the English title On the Progress of Peoples. As the 1960s progressed the hopes of former colonies for freedom and economic development met many obstacles. Conflicts, poverty and inequality seemed to be growing. Major Issues In Populorum Progressio, Paul VI expresses concern at continuing disparities in wealth between countries despite the process of decolonisation. Like John XXIII, he treats social justice as an international question. Thus he calls on wealthy nations to show solidarity and help others (n 45 – 55). Because poverty and economic inequality cause so many conflicts, he declares that development is the ‘new name for peace’ (n 76 – 80). Paul VI criticises unrestrained liberal economics (n 26, 56 – 65), calling for an equitable distribution of the world’s resources (n 22 – 24). However his understanding of development goes beyond the material or economic. Development has a spiritual dimension too and includes openness to the transcendent. He proposes an integral vision of development (n 14 – 21) introducing the term integral human development into Catholic Social Teaching. Integral human development means development of the whole person for every person and for all peoples. Methodology Scholars say that the transcendental humanism of Jacques Maritain influenced Populorum Progressio’s methodology more than the methodology of Gaudium et Spes did. Nonetheless, Populorum Progressio was more inductive than pre Vatican II teachings. For example, it starts from ‘the data of the problem’. It was also more open to an historically conscious ethical methodology than pre Vatican II teachings. Contribution to Catholic Social Teaching As we noted, Populorum Progressio introduced the language of integral human development into Catholic Social Teaching. It was also the first social encyclical devoted entirely to international development. In his social encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Benedict XVI compares the importance of Populorum Progressio within the body of Catholic Social Teaching to that of Rerum Novarum. He sees Populorum Progressio as a landmark document because in it Paul VI makes an important shift, placing development, rather than work, at the centre of efforts for justice and peace. From Rerum Novarum until Populorum Progressio, Catholic Social Teaching saw work as the key to addressing ‘the social question’. In other words, it saw fairness in work relationships and a just wage as central to creating a just society. Placing integral human development at the centre was a major paradigm shift. This helps us to understand why, apart from Rerum Novarum, it is the only social encyclical to be commemorated by anniversary encyclicals. Sollicitudo res Socialis celebrates its twentieth anniversary and Caritas in Veritate was meant to celebrate its fortieth. Benedict XVI delayed publication of Cartias in Veritate so that he could respond to the the Global Financial Crisis that was developing during its drafting. Read Populorum Progressio The official English translation of the full text is available here.
Context Pope John XXIII issued Mater et Magistra in 1961. It is also known by the English title On Christianity and Social Progress. It celebrates the seventieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. In the post World War II period international relationships were growing, technology was advancing rapidly, and the world was becoming more interdependent. John XXIII saw poverty and inequality as international questions requiring the solidarity of the whole human family. Major Issues John XXIII responded to rapid social change and growing inequality by advocating a stronger role for the State, which he stressed should always act according to the principle of subsidiarity (n 53). He was particularly concerned about rural workers(n 144 – 156), and relationships between richer and poorer countries (n 157 – 177). In both cases he advocated assistance and solidarity. He believed that the State needed to intervene to ensure fairness and address inequality. John XXIII expanded Catholic Social Teaching’s understanding of the principle of the common good from the national to the global level (n 80). Methodology The method of Mater et Magistra is deductive, starting from general principles and applying them to concrete cases. John XXIII says that Catholics need not only to know, but also to apply the church’s social teaching: “… social norms of whatever kind are not only to be explained but also applied. This is especially true of the Church’s teaching on social matters …” (n 226). On the other hand, John XXIII also advocates the see, judge, act method. He saw it as a practical suggestion, suitable particularly for young people (n 236 – 7). This method appears to be more inductive because it begins with the consideration of specific cases. However, in this context, John XXIII clearly expects that the judgment or reasoning of the second stage would be received by the laity from papal teaching rather than proceeding from consideration of specific cases to make general conclusions. Contribution to Catholic Social Teaching Mater et Magistra marks the beginning of a transition in the ethical methodology of Catholic Social Teaching towards a more inductive approach. It also marks the beginning of the internationalisation of the teachings. Its definition of the global common good remains influential today. Read Mater et Magistra Full Text
Context The world was in the grip of the Great Depression when Pope Pius XI issued Quadragesimo Anno. Published in 1931, it celebrated the fortieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. The encyclical is also known by the English title On the Reconstruction of the Social Order. After World War I class struggle was becoming more bitter and totalitarian regimes were on the rise in Europe. Pius XI updates Leo XIII’s teachings, builds on them, and applies them to his contemporary situation. Major Issues Pius XI wanted to restore harmony in society. He was critical of both socialism and capitalism. His vision centred on functional or vocational groups which he believed could bind people together “not according to the position they occupy in the labour market, but according to the diverse functions they exercise in society” (n 83). In this way he asserted the importance of society above the economy. According to Pius XI’s vision, the common interest should prevail within each group and their activities should be directed to the common good (n 85). Pius XI commented approvingly on corporatist structures in place in Italy at that time. He saw in them an effort to find a ‘third way’ between socialism and capitalism. He believed that they had the advantages of “peaceful collaboration of the classes, repression of socialist organizations and efforts, the moderating authority of a special ministry” (n 95). Pius XI argued that it was necessary to direct social policy “towards the reestablishment of functional groups” (n 82). This vision suggests nostalgia for the medieval guild system. Methodology The methodology of Quadragesimo Anno followed Rerum Novarum”s approach. It is deductive, applying natural law principles to the social reality. It relies almost entirely on reason and does not draw on Scripture to a great extent. Contribution to Catholic Social Teaching Although later papal teachings did not take up Pius XI’s corporatist ‘third way’ approach, Quadragesimo Anno remains a major document of Catholic Social Teaching. It introduced the term ‘social justice’ into the social teachings, using it to describe the just relationships between groups in society required by recognition of the demands of the common good (n 57). Another lasting contribution is its formal articulation of the principle of subsidiarity (n 79 – 80). Read Quadragesimo Anno Full text
What are the Sources of Catholic Social Teaching? In one sense we can say that Catholic Social Teaching comes from popes and bishops – they are the source of the formal teaching documents. Catholic Social Teaching sources may be papal, conciliar or episcopal. For example, Pope Leo XIII wrote Rerum Novarum, Gaudium et Spes is a document of the Second Vatican Council, and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference wrote Common Wealth for the Common Good. The deeper question about Catholic Social Teaching sources is ‘what do the popes and bishops draw on when they teach about social justice?’ Four Catholic Social Teaching Sources Catholic ethics commonly draws on four major sources. They are Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. When popes and bishops teach on social justice issues they will typically draw on some, or all of these sources. Scripture and Catholic tradition are faith sources while reason and experience are sources that others also use in their ethics. They are all important in the development of the Catholic Social Teaching tradition. Scripture Scripture plays an important role in any Christian effort to discern what is right and good, and how to live justly together in society. Catholics draw on Scripture in a more literary than literal way. We don’t look to the Bible for a detailed set of rules to guide just behaviour in contemporary societies. There are however, lots of parts of the Bible that teach us about living justly. The presentation below provides some stimulus material on social justice in the Bible. It is not a comprehensive treatment of the call to justice in Scripture. Scripture has played a stronger role in Catholic Social Teaching since the Second Vatican Council. Tradition Tradition doesn’t mean simply doing what was done in the past. It is about drawing on the previous reflection and teaching of the Church. Tradition is often passed on through formal teaching documents. Sometimes people mistake the documents for the tradition that they communicate! Catholic Social Teaching is not just a series of Papal documents. Tradition also includes the lived witness and writings of the saints, doctors of the Church and the leaders of the early church. The wisdom that comes from the experience of ordinary Christian communities trying to live the Gospel in different times and places is part of tradition too. Reason Natural law has played a strong role in Catholic social ethics. It argues that we can understand God’s will by using our reason to examine the world. The use of human reason and rational analysis helps Catholic Social Teaching to enter ethical conversation with people of different beliefs. The formal philosophical language linked with natural law is less common in post Vatican II teachings. Experience Catholic Social Teaching draws on experience because we believe that God continues to communicate with us through the people, places and events of human history. The social sciences and other sources of human wisdom can help us to understand and make use of experience to guide action. For a general introduction to Catholic Social Teaching visit this page.