Skip to comments.WHAT THE CHURCH'S SOCIAL DOCTRINE IS BUILT ON
Posted on 12/10/2005 8:41:00 PM PST by markomalley
According to Father Thomas Williams, Theology Dean at Regina Apostolorum
ROME, 25 OCT. 2003 (ZENIT).
Below is an adapted translation of an address given by Legionary of Christ Father Thomas D. Williams, dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, on the Church's social doctrine. He gave the Italian-language address Sept. 19 at an international theological forum organized by the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy.
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The Foundations of the Church's Social Doctrine
Father Thomas Williams, LC
The objective of the Church's social doctrine is not only intellectual or cognitive, but also eminently practical and personal. It should change our lives and help us assume our own responsibilities vis-à-vis the common good, especially as far as those most in need are concerned.
I intend to develop this brief presentation on the Church's social doctrine in four parts: its definition; its nature; its foundations; and several practical suggestions.
1. What is it?
Though we may have a general idea of what Catholic social doctrine is, it is often simpler to eliminate false notions but starting with what it is not.
The Church makes clear that her social teaching is not a "third way," some middle road between capitalism and socialism. It is not an economic or political agenda at all, and nor is it a "system." Although it does, for example, offer a critique of socialism and capitalism, it does not propose an alternative system. It is not a technical proposal for solving practical problems, but rather a moral doctrine, arising from the Christian concept of man and his vocation to love and to eternal life. It is in a category of its own.
Catholic social doctrine is not a utopia, in the sense of a social project impossible to achieve. It does not intend to describe an earthly paradise in which mankind can attain perfection.
In spite of all this, Catholic social teaching seriously confronts existing realities and structures, and challenges humankind to look for solutions to social, political and economic situations worthy of human dignity, thereby creating a healthy degree of tension between temporal realities as they stand and the Gospel's ideal.
Catholic social teaching is not a static, fixed doctrine, but a dynamic application of Christ's teaching to the changing realities and circumstances of human societies and cultures. Of course, the fundamental principles do not change, because they are deeply rooted in human nature. But its applications and contingent judgments adapt to new historical circumstances according to times and places.
The Church's social doctrine belongs within the framework of theology and especially moral theology.
According to the magisterial wording, it is the accurate formulation of the results of careful meditation on the complex realities of humankind's existence, in society and in an international context, in the light of the faith and of the Church's living tradition.
It is an ensemble of the principles, criteria and guidelines for action, with the aim of interpreting social, cultural, economic and political realities, assessing their conformity with or diversity from the Gospel's teachings on the human person and his earthly and transcendent vocation.
2. The content of Catholic Social Teaching
The content of social doctrine is expressed on three levels:
The first foundation of Catholic social teaching is Jesus' commandment to love: Love God above all things and love your neighbor as you love yourself. This is the foundation for all Christian morals, and therefore of the Church's social doctrine that is part of morals. Jesus said that the dual commandment of love is not only the first and most important of all commandments, but also a summary or compendium of all God's laws and the message of the prophets.
The Church's social doctrine therefore provides an answer to the question: How should I love God and my neighbor within my political, economic and social context? Our love for God and neighbor does not simply consist in a weekly obligation to attend Mass and throwing a few coins in the basket at offertory time. It must permeate our entire life and conform our actions and our environment to the Gospel.
This is a very important principle for overcoming the tendency to see the economy or politics as something totally separate from morals, when in fact it is precisely there that a Christian makes his faith influence temporal matters.
The commandment to love therefore should represent the general foundation of the Church's social doctrine. There are, however, also specific foundations that can be summarized in four basic principles of the Church's entire social doctrine, four columns on which the whole building is supported. These principles are: the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity.
— The dignity of the human person. The first classical principle is that of the dignity of the human person, which provides the foundation for human rights. To think correctly about society, politics, economy and culture one must first understand properly who a human being is and what his real good is. Each person, created in the image and likeness of God, has an inalienable dignity and must therefore always be treated as an end and not only as a means.
When Jesus, using the image of the Good Shepherd, spoke of the lost sheep, he taught us what God thinks about the value of the individual human person. The shepherd leaves the 99 in the wilderness to seek out the lost one. God does not think of human beings en masse, or in percentages, but as individuals. Each one is precious to him, irreplaceable.
In his encyclical letter Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II underscored the centrality of this principle: "It is necessary to keep in mind that the main thread, and in a certain sense the guiding principle ... of the Church's social doctrine, is a correct view of the human person and of his unique value, inasmuch as "man ... is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself." God has imprinted his own image and likeness on man (see Genesis 1:26), conferring upon him an incomparable dignity (see "Centesimus Annus," No. 11).
Hence the Church does not think first in terms of nations, political parties, tribes or ethnic groups, but rather of the individual person. The Church, like Christ, defends the dignity of each individual. She understands the importance of the state and of society in terms of service to people and to families, rather than the other way around. The state in particular has the duty to protect the rights of persons, rights that are not bestowed by the state but by the Creator.
— The common good. The second classical principle of the Church's social doctrine is the principle of the common good. The Second Vatican Council defines it as "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily." ("Gaudium et Spes," 26; see GS, 74; and Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1906).
Man, created in the image of God who is Trinitarian communion of persons, achieves his perfection not in isolation from others, but within communities and through the gift of self which makes communion possible. The selfishness that urges us to search for our own good to the detriment of others is overcome by a commitment to the common good.
The "common good" is not exclusively mine or yours, and nor is it the sum of the good of individuals, but rather creates a new subject—we—in which each discovers his own good in communion with others. Therefore the common good does not belong to an abstract entity like the state, but to persons as individuals called to communion.
Man is fundamentally (and not only circumstantially) social, relational and interpersonal. Our common good is also necessary for my own fulfillment, meaning for my own personal good. Each person grows and reaches fulfillment within society and through society. Hence, the common good is distinct from but not in opposition to each individual's particular good. Very often, your good and my good meet in our common good.
The common good does instead oppose utilitarianism, the idea of the greatest possible happiness (pleasure) for the highest possible number of people, which inevitably leads to the minority being subordinated to the majority. Therefore the excellence and inviolability of the individual human person excludes the possibility of subordinating the good of one to that of others, thereby converting the first into a means for the happiness of others.
— Subsidiarity. The third classical principle of social doctrine is the principle of subsidiarity. It was first expressed under that name by Pope Pius XI in his 1931 encyclical letter "Quadragesimo Anno." This principle teaches us that society's decisions must be left at the lowest possible level, therefore at the level closest to those affected by the decision. This principle was formulated when the world was threatened by totalitarian systems with their doctrines based on the individual's subordination to the collectivity. It invites us to search for solutions to social problems in the private sector before asking the state to interfere.
Even prior to Pius' encyclical, Pope Leo XIII himself insisted "on necessary limits to the state's intervention and on its instrumental character, inasmuch as the individual, the family and society are prior to the state, and inasmuch as the state exists in order to protect their rights and not stifle them" ("Centesimus Annus," 11).
— Solidarity. The fourth founding principle of the Church's social doctrine was only recently formulated by John Paul II in his encyclical letter "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis" (1987). This principle is called the principle of solidarity. Faced with globalization, the growing interdependence of people and populations, we must bear in mind that the human family is one. Solidarity invites us to increase our sensitivity for others, especially those who suffer.
But the Holy Father adds that solidarity is not simply a feeling, but a real "virtue" which enables us to assume our responsibilities for one another. The Holy Father wrote that solidarity "is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all" (SRS, 38).
4. Practical advice
I would lastly like to sketch five practical suggestions regarding the application of Catholic social teaching, especially for us priests:
This is a frequent error with a lot of people in the Church, not just laypeople or "liberal" Catholics, but quite Orthodox people, as well. In many cases, I really don't think they quite understand the full dimensions of the Church's authentic teaching on the subject. If they did, they would realize that the Church's teaching on the subject lines up fairly well with what we call basic conservatism.
So what to do about it?
Well, we need to be well versed in the fundamental principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church. These folks can argue with you, believing that you are just a hard-hearted Republican...until such time as you can actually teach them using the correct verbiage from the Church and referencing the correct fundamental documents from the Church. If you can do that and express it, not in terms of judgement, but in terms of doing authentic help for people, you might be able to get through. Since I have learned what I have, I've had about a 40% success rate (I define that as being able to get a person to consider authentic respect for human dignity and the importance of the principle of subsidiarity). But that's some...so I consider it to be worthwhile.
Anyway, if you're interested, you should consider buying the Compendium Of The Social Doctrine Of The Church for your reference shelf. It is a tremendous read and will provide you the ammo...authoritative Church teaching...to illustrate that conservatism is the authentic Christian and authentically compassionate way to live and relate to others.
Catholic ping for your consideration...
This is a good, though not particularly analytical, summary. The phrasing of the various encyclicals, unfortunately, is open to interpretations that are nonsense, especially when philosophical reflections are divorced from the real world.
The KY Bishops are an example. "So and so has a 'right' to Material Good X ... and therefore, everybody else will be forced to provide it for him, at gunpoint if necessary. Merry Christmas!" I'd like to have them all (the whole U.S. hierarchy, in fact) locked in a room with Thomas Sowell until the lights come on in their mush-filled skulls!
Is analysis truly necessary for simple defense? Maybe if your sparring partner is a lawyer or someone particularly well versed in leftist ideology, but for the ordinary person, facts should be enough.
The bigger question is whether or not they will understand what you are trying to tell them.
Not necessarily, no. I was just pointing out what the text did, and didn't, cover.
Well, I for one think the Ky. Bishops accurately identified the problem. Their solution went against the basic tenants of the Social Doctrine of the Church...that's frequently the issue in these cases. (When was the last time you had to pay for a doctor's appointment out of your own pocket...it's expensive!) The solution they propose needs to be such that it respects the principles of the common good AND subsidiarity.
Shooting all malpractice lawyers would be a start (kidding, just imprison them).
But a lack of understanding of social doctrine leads to a person's heart pouring out to the needy...but recommending a solution that would enslave them worse.
As I said in my comments: get a copy of the Compendium of Social Doctrine. It is a tremendous work!
Yes, that's the key point, in my opinion.
More evil from John Rawls.
Replacing charity with the use of force is anathema.