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Catholicism portal. Catholic social teaching is the Catholic doctrines on matters of human dignity and common good in society. The ideas address oppression , the role of the state , subsidiarity , social organization , concern for social justice , and issues of wealth distribution. Its foundations are widely considered to have been laid by Pope Leo XIII 's encyclical letter Rerum novarum , which advocated economic distributism. Its roots can be traced to the writings of Catholic thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo , and is also derived from concepts present in the Bible and the cultures of the ancient Near East.
According to Pope Benedict XVI , its purpose "is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just. Catholic social teaching is distinctive in its consistent critiques of modern social and political ideologies both of the left and of the right: liberalism , communism , feminism ,   atheism ,  socialism ,  fascism , capitalism ,  and Nazism  have all been condemned, at least in their pure forms, by several popes since the late nineteenth century.
Catholic social doctrine has always tried to find an equilibrium between respect for human liberty , including the right to private property and subsidiarity , and concern for the whole society, including the weakest and poorest. The principles of Catholic social teaching, though rooted in the Old Testament custom of the Jubilee ,   first began to be combined together into a system in the late nineteenth century. Since then, successive popes have added to and developed the church's body of social teaching, principally through the medium of encyclical letters.
The publication of Leo XIII 's encyclical Rerum novarum in marked the beginning of the development of a recognizable body of social teaching in the Catholic Church. It dealt with persons, systems and structures, the three co-ordinates of the modern promotion of justice and peace, now established as integral to the church's mission.
In the years which followed there have been numerous encyclicals and messages on social issues; various forms of Catholic action developed in different parts of the world; and social ethics taught in schools and seminaries.
To mark the 40th anniversary of Rerum novarum , Pope Pius XI issued Quadragesimo anno , which expanded on some of its themes. Further development came in the post— Second World War period when attention turned to the problems of social and economic development and international relations.
This encyclical expanded the church's social doctrine to cover the relations between rich and poor nations, examining the obligation of rich countries to assist poor countries while respecting their particular cultures.
It includes an examination of the threat of global economic imbalances to world peace. In it, the Pope linked the establishment of world peace to the laying of a foundation consisting of proper rights and responsibilities between individuals, social groups, and states from the local to the international level. He exhorted Catholics to understand and apply the social teachings:.
Once again we exhort our people to take an active part in public life, and to contribute towards the attainment of the common good of the entire human family as well as to that of their own country. They should endeavor, therefore, in the light of the Faith and with the strength of love, to ensure that the various institutions—whether economic, social, cultural or political in purpose — should be such as not to create obstacles, but rather to facilitate or render less arduous people's perfectioning of themselves both in the natural order as well as in the supernatural.
This document, issued at the height of the Cold War , also included a denunciation of the nuclear arms race and a call for strengthening the United Nations. The primary document from the Second Vatican Council concerning social teachings is Gaudium et spes , the "Pastoral Constitution on the Church and the Modern World", which is considered one of the chief accomplishments of the Council. Unlike earlier documents, this is an expression of all the bishops, and covers a wide range of issues of the relationship of social concerns and Christian action.
At its core, the document asserts the fundamental dignity of each human being, and declares the church's solidarity with both those who suffer, and those who would comfort the suffering:. The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Other conciliar documents such as Dignitatis humanae , drafted largely by John Courtney Murray , an American Jesuit, have important applications to the social teachings of the church on freedom today.
Like his predecessor, Pope Paul VI gave attention to the disparities in wealth and development between the industrialized West and the Third World in his encyclical Populorum progressio Latin : The Development of Peoples.
It asserts that free international trade alone is not adequate to correct these disparities and supports the role of international organizations in addressing this need. Paul called on rich nations to meet their moral obligation to poor nations, pointing out the relationship between development and peace.
The intention of the church is not to take sides, but to be an advocate for basic human dignity:. There can be no progress towards the complete development of individuals without the simultaneous development of all humanity in the spirit of solidarity. But, since the Church lives in history, she ought to "scrutinize the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the Gospel. The May apostolic letter Octogesima adveniens addressed the challenge of urbanization and urban poverty and stressed the personal responsibility of Christians to respond to injustice.
In it he asserts that combating injustice is an essential part of evangelizing modern peoples. John Paul II continued his predecessors' work of developing the body of Catholic social doctrine. Of particular importance were his encyclical Laborem exercens and Centesimus annus in On one hand there is a growing moral sensitivity alert to the value of every individual as a human being without any distinction of race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or social class.
On the other hand these proclamations are contradicted in practice. How can these solemn affirmations be reconciled with the widespread attacks on human life and the refusal to accept those who are weak, needy, elderly, or just conceived? These attacks go directly against respect for life; they threaten the very meaning of democratic coexistence, and our cities risk becoming societies of people who are rejected, marginalized, uprooted, and oppressed, instead of communities of "people living together.
While not endorsing any particular political agenda, the church holds that this teaching applies in the public political realm, not only the private. Laborem exercens qualifies the teaching of private ownership in relation to the common use of goods that all men, as children of God, are entitled to.
The church "has always understood this right within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone. Pope Benedict XVI 's encyclical Caritas in veritate added many additional perspectives to the Social Teaching tradition, including in particular relationships with the concepts of Charity and Truth, and introduced the idea of the need for a strong "World Political Authority" to deal with humanity's most pressing challenges and problems.
This idea has proven to be controversial and difficult to accept, particularly by right-of-center U. Catholic thinkers who are generally suspicious, or even disdainful, of supranational and international organizations, such as the United Nations. In Caritas in veritate , Benedict also lifted up Paul VI's social encyclical Populorum Progressio , setting it as a new point of reference for Catholic social thought in the 21st century.
Noted scholar Thomas D. Williams wrote that "by honoring Populorum progressio with the title of 'the Rerum novarum of the present age,' Benedict meant to elevate Populorum Progressio , conferring on it a paradigmatic status not dissimilar to that enjoyed by Rerum novarum throughout the twentieth century. Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium , explicitly affirmed "the right of states" to intervene in the economy to promote "the common good".
While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.
A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Pope Francis has warned about the "idolatry of money"  and wrote:. In his second encyclical , Laudato si' , the pope lays forth a "biting critique of consumerism and irresponsible development with a plea for swift and unified global action" to combat environmental degradation and climate change. With respect to climate change, some critics have argued that Pope Francis is departing from the positions of his predecessors.
Pope Benedict XVI had written:. The order of creation demands that a priority be given to those human activities that do not cause irreversible damage to nature, but which instead are woven into the social, cultural, and religious fabric of the different communities.
In this way, a sober balance is achieved between consumption and the sustainability of resources. Every commentator has his or her own list of key principles and documents, and there is no official 'canon' of principles or documents.
Human dignity is one principle of Catholic social thought. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons.
And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give. The origins of subsidiarity as a concept of Catholic social thought lie with Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler , who served as Bishop of Mainz in the mid- to late 19th Century. This encyclical's formulation of subsidiarity is the touchstone from which further interpretations tend to depart: "Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.
For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them. Promulgated in , Quadragesimo anno is a response to German National Socialism and Soviet communism, on the one hand, and to Western European and American capitalist individualism on the other.
It broke the surface of Catholic social teaching in this context, and it is helpful to keep this in mind. The main author of the encyclical's "subsidiarity" part was the German Jesuit and economist Oswald von Nell-Breuning. Gregory Beabout suggests that subsidiarity draws upon a far older concept as well: the Roman military term subsidium. Another etymological interpretation states that subsidiarity literally means "to 'seat' 'sid' a service down 'sub' as close to the need for that service as is feasible".
Francis McHugh states that in addition to the "vertical" dimension of subsidiarity, there is also a "horizontal" dimension which "calls for a diversity of semi-autonomous social, economic, and cultural spheres". This is to the great harm of the State itself; for, with a structure of social governance lost, and with the taking over of all the burdens which the wrecked associations once bore. Subsidiarity charts a course between the Scylla of individualism and Charybdis of collectivism by locating the responsibilities and privileges of social life in the smallest unit of organization at which they will function.
Larger social bodies, be they the state or otherwise, are permitted and required to intervene only when smaller ones cannot carry out the tasks themselves. Even in this case, the intervention must be temporary and for the purpose of empowering the smaller social body to be able to carry out such functions on its own.
Solidarity is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good , not merely "vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of others" Joseph Donders, John Paul II: The Encyclicals in Everyday Language. Solidarity, which flows from faith, is fundamental to the Christian view of social and political organization. Each person is connected to and dependent on all humanity, collectively and individually.
Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law Matthew — It gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbour; it is the principle not only of micro-relationships but with friends, family members or within small groups.
The church has chosen the concept of "charity in truth" to avoid a degeneration into sentimentality in which love becomes empty. In a culture without truth, there is a fatal risk of losing love.
It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word love is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. Truth frees charity from the constraints of an emotionalism that deprives it of relational and social content, and of a fideism that deprives it of human and universal breathing-space. In the truth, charity reflects the personal yet public dimension of faith in God and the Bible.
Distributism is a school of economic and social thought developed by Catholic thinkers G. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. It holds that social and economic structures should promote social justice , and that social justice is best served through a wide distribution of ownership.
For support, distributists cite Rerum novarum , which states:. We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.
This principle is then used as a basis for progressive tax rates, anti-trust laws and economic cooperatives including credit unions. As with the principles above, there is no official list of key themes. Other sources identify more or fewer key themes based on their reading of the key documents of the social magisterium. The foundational principle of all Catholic social teachings is the sanctity of human life. Catholics believe in an inherent dignity of the human person starting from conception through to natural death.