Social Thought, Papal
SOCIAL THOUGHT, PAPAL
The social teaching of the Church as promulgated by the popes. This article indicates the historical background of the remarkable development of this teaching that began in the 19th century and outlines the basic concepts involved.
Direct papal involvement in the systematic, positive development of Catholic teaching on social questions is a relatively recent phenomenon, beginning with the pontificate of leo xiii (1878–1903). It is clear, nevertheless, that the papacy has always had, at least since the patristic period, an important role in the evolution of doctrinal and disciplinary positions bearing in some degree, directly or indirectly, on society and its problems. One example can be found in its well-known role in the investiture struggle and in the determining of the relations of church and State in general. Similarly, although the concern of the early popes with marriage and the family was essentially doctrinal and disciplinary, their decisions had important social ramifications. As early as the 5th century innocent i and leo i issued decisions on divorce and remarriage that had far-reaching effects. Beginning in the 8th century, the papacy was increasingly involved in untangling the confusion surrounding cousin marriages, both for consanguineal and affinal relationships. It is difficult to determine the papacy's exact role in the elimination of slavery in the Roman Empire, in the development of Christian principles pertaining to the morality of war, or in the resolution of problems related to charging interest for financial loans—usury. Yet in these and other matters, to the extent that papal approval was given to the acts of official Church councils, both general and local, it can be concluded that the popes had a significant role in the development of Christian social thought, at least in a broad sense. [see social thought, catholic.]
Papal Conservatism in the 19th Century. The 19th century was a period of radical political, economic, and social change. After the french revolution the Church was confronted with new or changing structures. It faced many problems involving its own status in relation to the new secular governments and, as an aftermath of the industrial revolution, new social and economic problems with complex moral implications. Most serious of all was the fact that the spirit initiating the momentous social upheavals was that of rationalism (and later, liberal ism). The tenets of these new philosophies were often diametrically opposed to traditional Catholic teaching. Throughout the first three-quarters of the century, however, there were many eminent Catholics, both clerical and lay—among them J. B. H. lacordaire, C. F. R. de mon talembert, and Frédéric ozanam in France; Bp. Emmanuel von ketteler in Germany; Cardinal Henry Edward manning in England; and Cardinal Gaspard mermillod in Switzerland—who clearly recognized that the new trends were irreversible and that the Church would have to go beyond its traditional teaching and even in some measure reverse its historic position vis-à-vis other social institutions.
The reactions of the popes to the changes of this period were in general negative. They fought to stem the tide and to restore the old order. Their attitude was most clearly reflected in gregory xvi's Mirari vos (1832), which condemned the teachings of H. F. R. de lammenais and the L'Avenir group in France, and in the quanta cura (1864) and accompanying syllabus of errors of pius ix (1846–78). The latter condemned many propositions of rationalists that had social implications, among them those pertaining to religious freedom and separation of Church and State. The papacy, shorn of its temporal power and in apparently bitter opposition to almost everything equated with enlightened progress, suffered a diminution of prestige. Indeed the prestige of the Church was at a low ebb at the time of the papal election of 1878.
Role of Leo XIII. Leo XIII made it apparent in his first encyclical, Inscrutabili (1878), that although he had no intention of compromising basic philosophical or theological principles to placate progressives, neither would he admit that the Church was an outdated institution in the modern world. On the contrary, he asserted that the Church favored true progress in all areas, as it had in the past, and that, far from impeding it, the Church would promote and support social progress in all possible ways. This became a recurrent theme in his great encyclicals and in those of his successors. They emphasized the need of society for the moral leadership of the Church, just as the Church in turn was seen to be dependent upon other social structures and institutions in every age.
It was not until ten years after his election to the papacy that Leo XIII issued his first fully developed pronouncement on one of the most controversial issues of the day, the nature of human liberty. His libertas (1888) must be considered as one of the most basic social documents of the Holy See in modern times inasmuch as it laid down the fundamental principles for papal teaching regarding marriage and the family, the nature of the state and of relations between Church and State, the rights and duties of management and labor, the right of the Church to freedom in the fulfillment of its mission, and the right of peoples to be free to determine the form of government exercising rule over them. Leo wrote in effect that, far from being opposed to human liberty in all areas, the Church supported the ideal of freedom while opposing license as a perversion of freedom.
Papal Teaching on Marriage and the Family. In some areas there have been only slight changes or developments in papal social thought. Thus, Catholic teaching has always held the family to be the basic unit of society and all modern popes have been solicitous in defense of the marriage bond and the rights of parents in the education of children. pius xi, in casti connubii (1930), included a discussion of the problem of birth control, a subject not even mentioned in Leo XIII's arcanum(1880). Continuing attention to this problem and to the morality of rhythm (periodic abstinence) can be found in the discourses of pius xii. Pius XII also opened new vistas in addresses on the role of women in modern society [see women and papal teaching]. Paul VI's Humanae vitae (1968) not only reaffirms the Church's prohibition of artificial birth control but also treats many aspects of family life, such as the value of spousal fidelity. John Paul II's Familiaris consortio (1981) and Letter to Families (1994) advanced Catholic reflection on the relationship between the genders and underlined the importance of family life by frequently referring to the family as "domestic church."
Defense of Human Dignity. Only shortly before the appearance of Libertas Leo XIII's encyclical In plurimis (1888) had reiterated the position of the Church on the morality of slavery as it developed after the latter part of the 15th century. One of the more useful features of the encyclical was its treatment of the historical application of the Church's official teaching on the capture of African slaves, the slave trade, and the enslavement of natives in the New World. Leo pointed with obvious pride to the denunciations of these practices by pius ii (1458–64), leo x (1513–21), paul iii (1534–49), urban viii (1623–44), benedict xiv (1740–58), and pius vii (1800–23). Leo's immediate successor, St. pius x (1903–14), found it necessary to address himself to the same problem in his Lacrimabile statu (1912).
On the broader problem of racism, the teachings of Leo XIII, Pius XI, Pius XII, and john xxiii have been most explicit. In 1938 the famous condemnation by the Congregation of Seminaries and Universities of eight racist propositions, all referring to the teachings of National Socialism, summarized the official Roman attitude toward this heresy. Many of the major pronouncements of Pius XII, his summi pontificatus (1939), for example, and John XXIII's mater et magistra (1961) and pacem in terris (1963) also developed the Church's position on racism in the course of their consistent emphasis on world unity. In Populorum progressio (1967), Paul VI also denounced any structures, whether economic, political or social in nature, that divide the human race by race or class and thereby diminish the recognition and dignity that should be accorded to all. John Paul II has consistently used the term solidarity as a summary of the ethical principles and moral virtues that enhance the achievement of equal dignity for all humans. In Sollicitudo rei socialis (1987), John Paul II denounces "the various forms of exploitation and of economic, social, political and even religious oppression of the individual and his or her rights, discrimination of every type, especially the exceptionally odious form based on differences of race" (no. 15).
Freedom of Religion. Some modifications and clarifications of Leo's ideas on liberty appeared in the pronouncements of later popes. One of the most important was in the area of freedom of religion. Leo XIII took the position that governments could tolerate evil, false religions, for example, in the interests of the common good. Pius XII, in his Ci riesce (1953), held the coexistence of a plurality of religions on an equal basis to be not a matter solely of permissiveness but, where conditions required, a moral imperative. John XXIII in Pacem in terris (1963) removed this question from the realm of mere "tolerance" when he insisted on the right of every human being "to honor God according to the dictates of an upright conscience, and therefore the right to worship God privately and publicly" (14). After the Second Vatican Council's Dignitatis humanae (Declaration on Religious Freedom) definitively expressed the church's support of civil freedom in religious matters, subsequent popes have spoken eloquently of their unwavering support for the principles of religious freedom and respect for individual conscience in every social context.
Democratic Government. There has been in fact a marked progression in papal teaching on the nature and function of the state, particularly with regard to the acceptance of democratic forms of government. In his immortale dei (1885) and in Libertas Leo XIII readily admitted democracy among the many forms of government acceptable to Catholic teaching. Pius XII in his Christmas message Benignitas et humanitas (1944) remarked that people at the time were convinced that only democracy could provide protection against dictatorship and secure world peace. He proceeded to discuss the rights and responsibilities of free citizens, rulers and subjects, under a democratic regime. John XXIII strongly implied in Pacem in terris that democratic political organization should be the ultimate goal even for emerging nations. The Second Vatican Council's Gaudium et spes (no. 31) all but endorsed democracy when it affirmed, "Praise is due to those national procedures which allow the largest possible number of citizens to participate in public affairs with genuine freedom." Subsequently, Popes Paul VI and John Paul II have viewed democracy in a positive light, although have stopped short of providing an uncritical endorsement of all features of modern democratic societies. For example, in nos. 46–49 of his 1991 encyclical Centesimus annus, John Paul II intersperses his appreciation of democratic principles ("The church values the democratic system …") with reminders of potential shortcomings of democratic societies (as when he calls upon citizens of democracies to "overcome today's widespread individualistic mentality").
Approach to the Social Question. Leo XIII pioneered in his rerum novarum (1891) by laying down a set of broad principles pertaining to the rights and obligations of workers, employers, and the state, in the kind of wage economy that had emerged in Europe and America after the industrial revolution. These principles, based essentially on natural law, ran counter to the prevailing principles of economic and political liberalism. Stressing the dignity of the worker as a human being, Leo developed the rights flowing from this fact: the worker's right not to be treated as a mere commodity in the productive process; the right of the state to intervene in private industry when necessary to protect the worker against exploitation and to ensure his or her rights to self-development; the right of the worker to a just wage because individual labor is both personal and necessary in a wage economy; the right of workers to organize for group protection; and the right and necessity of private ownership for all.
Pius XI's quadragesimo anno (1931) took its place with Rerum novarum as one of the great papal social documents. It developed further the principles of Leo XIII, especially through its emphasis on the concept of the common good of society and on the responsibility of the state to promote the temporal well-being of every segment of society. The principle of intervention by public authority is balanced by another principle, that of subsid iarity. Pius XI also introduced two new concepts, those of social justice and social charity, the implementation of which he considered essential to the reconstruction of society. He emphasized, as had Leo XIII, the substitution of the principle of cooperation for that of conflict in the relationship between management and labor. To this end he proposed the establishment of a form of industry council plan calling for the reorganization of all industries and professions along vertical rather than horizontal class lines. He also suggested as feasible the introduction of some form of partnership contract whereby workers might share in ownership or management and also in profits. Finally, he emphasized the role of the laity as indispensable for the restoration of social order. His successors have placed ever-increasing emphasis on the importance of the lay apostolate.
The concept of private property received further clarification in La solennità (1941), a radio message of Pius XII. One of the most basic of human rights is that of every human being to access to whatever material goods he needs for his full development as a human being. This individual right cannot be suppressed, even by other clear and undisputed property rights. The ultimate justification of the institution of private property is to protect and promote this individual right, and it is a weighty duty of public authority to protect and implement the right.
John XXIII's contributions on economic questions were numerous and varied, not the least being his excellent historical summary and interpretation of preceding papal teaching in the first part of Mater et Magistra. He made particular contributions in two areas, namely, in his insistence that the farmer and the farm worker should share in the material and social rewards of progressively industrialized societies and in his demand that all classes in developing areas—workers, especially—should be given assistance and opportunity to share in the benefits of the more highly developed nations in accordance with the demands of the principle of subsidiarity. Pope Paul VI and John Paul II have extended their predecessors'concerns about social order by repeating calls for the equitable sharing of the world's material resources. Paul VI affirmed that the new global nature of human interdependence calls for a recognition of new social duties, such as his hope, expressed in his 1967 encyclical Populorum progressio (no. 49) "that the superfluous wealth of rich countries should be placed at the service of poor nations." John Paul II also frequently notes the increase in global economic interdependence, a fact of modern life which makes all the more relevant his 1987 reminder that "private property, in fact, is under a social mortgage, which means that it has an intrinsically social function" (Sollicitudo rei socialis, no. 42).
Popes and International Order. On the subject of war, Benedict XV bemoaned the horrors of World War I, particularly in his Ad Beatissimi (1914), as did his successor, Pius XI, in his Ubi arcano Dei (1922). Pius XII, who was very much involved in the problems of World War II, stated in 1939 that "nothing is lost by peace. Everything may be lost by war" (Un’ora grave ). Again in Benignitas et humanitas he called on peoples everywhere to make war on war. John XXIII in Pacem in terris summed up his discussion of the need for worldwide disarmament by declaring that "it is hardly possible to imagine that in the atomic era war could be used as an instrument of justice" (127).
In Ubi arcano Dei, Pius XI touched on the broader question of the international community more or less in passing when he pointed to excessive nationalism, which overlooks the fact that all peoples are members of the universal human family, as a major cause of world unrest. His successor, Pius XII, was very much concerned with this problem from his first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, in which he considered the denial of the unity and solidarity of the human race as one of the major heresies of modern times. He returned repeatedly to this subject, stressing first of all that there is a natural international community that embraces all peoples, and secondly that there is a very real need for a juridically established international organization as a sine qua non of peace in the modern world (see especially, Benignitas et humanitas and Ci riesce ). The name of John XXIII will be forever identified with the quest for international unity and world peace. It was he who first saw clearly that world unity is unattainable unless there is, if not total religious unity, at least greater tolerance among religious groups of all kinds (Pacem in terris ). To this end he convened Vatican Council II, to which he invited as observers representatives of all major Christian denominations. His successors picked up John's mantle as defenders of peace. Both Paul VI and John Paul II acted frequently and heroically to bring together warring parties, to defuse global conflicts and to use their good offices for the peaceful arbitration of differences. Both issued encyclicals that treated not only the proximate causes of armed conflict, but also more remote causes, such as economic underdevelopment (see Paul's Populorum progressio, nos. 76–7 and John Paul's Centesimus annus, no. 52, both of which note that "another name for peace is development"). In numerous statements released during the Persian Gulf War of 1990–91 and the several Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, John Paul II subjected to rigorous moral scrutiny the repeated appeals to the just war theory on the part of armed parties. The effect of John Paul's rejection of any facile appeal to the principles of just war was an authentic development of doctrine which renewed the early church's overwhelming presumption against the use of force and challenged modern nations to reconsider whether their option for war was genuinely a last resort motivated by the highest principles, as opposed to opportunistic ventures in national aggrandizement.
Bibliography: m. c. carlen, A Guide to the Encyclicals of the Roman Pontiffs from Leo XIII to the Present Day (New York 1939); Dictionary of Papal Pronouncements: Leo XIII to Pius XII, 1878–1957 (New York 1958). t. j. harte, Papal Social Principles: A Guide and Digest (Milwaukee 1956). l. sturzo, Church and State, tr. b. b. carter (New York 1939).
[t. j. harte/
2. Basic Concepts
The magisterium of the Church has not defined its social teaching in systematic form, once and for all. Instead, especially under Leo XIII and his successors, it has gradually enucleated this teaching from its sources in revelation and tradition, elucidating it in relation to new situations and almost always in the solution of problems emerging from social evolution. On this account, real difficulties can arise in attempts to determine which elements of the teaching are essential and which are only relative to the historical situations in which they are formulated. One possible solution is that of holding as essential only those elements that are frequently repeated and reaffirmed in varying historical situations, but an absolute value cannot be attributed to this criterion. It is more to the point to note that there has always been in the magisterium of the Church a consciousness of the need to distinguish clearly, especially in the social field, between the specific and direct object of its teachings and the motives by which it justifies these teachings. It is, for example, an essential element in the social teaching of the Church that private ownership of goods, productive goods included, is a natural right; but the motives that are cited by the pontiffs to justify the natural character of this right are not always the same—they have different values and some are mere expressions of opinion. (see encycli cal; social thought, catholic, 1.)
It is evident that, in its general scope, the social teaching of the magisterium comprises both metaphysical and moral elements, that is, elements that explain what social reality is and elements that indicate how men ought to live in society. When referring precisely to the social doctrine of the Church and its specific content, scholars are not in unanimous agreement, although the opinion that the specific content of this doctrine is metaphysical in nature continues to gain support. In this view, the problems of doctrinal concern are such as the following. What is social reality? What are the elements that form it and the subjects that work in it? What are the fundamental principles on which it is built and that regulate the relationships of which it is composed?
It is true that the magisterium of the Church alternates metaphysical and moral teachings in one and the same document; in fact, frequently the former are developed in the latter. This characteristic approach is explained by the very mission of the Church, which is to guide men and women to the attainment of their last end, an end reached outside time, if during the earthly phase of his or her existence a person has acted justly. Since there is an intrinsic connection between being and acting, once the nature of social reality is defined, it is logical that the magisterium of the Church should deduce from it the norms according to which people, especially the faithful, are obliged to act and that it should encourage the observance of these norms.
In outlining the basic concepts of the social doctrine of the Church presented by modern popes from Leo XIII to Paul VI, this article follows, although not rigidly, the opinion of those who hold that the specific content of the Church's social doctrine is metaphysical.
Dignity of Man. A human being, in all the relationships of society, in all institutions and in all environments, can never be considered as a chattel or a mere instrument; he must instead always be considered and treated as a person [see person (in philosophy)]. In discussing economic relationships, Leo XIII declared in the encyclical rerum novarum: "Workers are not to be treated as slaves; justice demands that the dignity of human personality be respected in them, ennobled as it has been through what we call the Christian character…. It is shameful and inhuman to use men as thingsfor gain and to put no more value on them than what they are worth in muscle and energy" [Acta Sanctae Sedis 23 (1890–91) 649]. Leo's successors have repeated this principle and applied it to all sectors of society. The individual, proclaimed Pius XII in his Christmas message of 1944, "so far from being the object and, as it were, a merely passive element in the social order, is in fact, and must be and continue to be, its subject, its foundation and its end" [Benignitas et humanitas, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 37 (1945) 12]. John XXIII confirmed the same concept in pacem in terris:
Any human society, if it is to be well-ordered and productive, must lay down as a foundation this principle: that every human being is a person; his nature is endowed with intelligence and free will. By virtue of this, he has rights and duties of his own, flowing directly and simultaneously from his very nature, which are therefore universal, inviolable and inalienable.
If we look upon the dignity of the human person in the light of divinely revealed truth, we cannot help but esteem it far more highly; for men are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, they are by grace the children and friends of God and heirs of eternal glory. [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 55 (1963) 259.]
Nobility of Work as Expression of Personality. The work of human beings can never be placed on the same level as the forces of nature and therefore can never be assigned a monetary value as can merchandise. It is a free and conscious human activity, an expression of the personality of the worker. Therefore, it is always noble, even when expressed in modest forms and in economic activity. In the words of Leo XIII, "If we hearken to natural reason and to Christian philosophy, gainful occupations are not a mark of shame to man, but rather of respect, as they provide him with an honorable means of supporting life" (op. cit. ).
Certainly work is a human activity, carried out according to the laws of the immediate and specific ends that it is meant to attain. If one wishes to produce economic wealth, one must know and respect the laws that govern economic activities and one must also know and respect the laws that govern the specific activity in which one intends to engage. It is true that economic laws are always the same, but each of the innumerable activities of the economic world has also laws of its own; e.g., the laws that one must respect in building houses are different from those that apply to making clothes or preparing food. But any work, whatever the nature of its specific and immediate end, is also and always an expression of the personality of the worker. In his activities he must obey the laws governing his work, but he is also obliged to obey the moral law, which is founded on God and leads to God. Pius XI developed this thought in quadragesimo anno:
Even though economics and moral science employs each its own principles in its own sphere, it is, nevertheless, an error to say that the economic and moral orders are so distinct from and alien to each other that the former depends in no way on the latter. Certainly the laws of economics, as they are termed, being based on the very nature of material things and on the capacities of the human body and mind, determine the limits of what productive human effort cannot, and of what it can attain in the economic field and by what means. Yet it is reason itself that clearly shows, on the basis of the individual and social nature of things and of men, the purpose which God ordained for all economic life.
But it is only the moral law which, just as it commands us to seek our supreme and last end in the whole scheme of our activity, so likewise commands us to seek directly in each kind of activity those purposes which we know that nature, or rather God the Author of nature, established for that kind of action, and in orderly relationship to subordinate such immediate purposes to our supreme and last end. If we faithfully observe this law, then it will follow that the particular purposes, both individual and social, that are sought in the economic field will fall in their proper place in the universal order of purposes, and we, in ascending through them, as it were by steps, shall attain the final end of all things, that is God, to Himself and to us, the supreme and inexhaustible Good. [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 23 (1931) 190–191.]
What is stated in this passage with respect to economic science and the moral law can be affirmed for all human activity. When there is a question of human activity in the field of art, it is carried out according to the laws of art but also governed by the moral law. The same can be said of human activity in the fields of law, politics, culture, health, or any other field.
Multiplicity of Values in Work. A multiplicity of values is implicit in every form of work. First of all there is the value of the objects sought. An economic work tends to realize an economic value, an artistic work an artistic value, a political work a political value, a scientific work a scientific value, and so on; considering work in relation to its objects the possible values to be realized are limitless. But work is carried out in harmony with the moral law, which is the law governing the worker. Since it is or should be the fulfillment of duty, work possesses a moral value.
Further, the moral law has its foundation in the relationship that exists between man and God and imposes obligations upon man in this most profound of all relationships. Therefore, work is the recognition and respect of the order established by God, an act of homage to Him, a contribution toward the fulfillment of His providential plan in history. Through work a religious value can be realized. This is worth so much more when men, united to Christ as branches to the vine (Jn 15.5), live their work as a continuation of the work of Christ Himself. As Pius XII reminded a group of Italian civil servants, "Work done with God and for God is human work transformed into the Divine. It is prayer" [Abbiamo avuto recentemente, L'Osservatore Romano 161 (May 19–20, 1952) 1]. Or, more amply,
Labor is a service of God, a gift of God, the vigor and fullness of human life, the gauge of eternal rest. Lift up your heads, and hold them up, workers. Look at the Son of God, Who, with His eternal Father, created and ordered the universe; becoming man like us, sin alone excepted, and having grown in age, He enters the great community of workers; in His work of salvation He labors, wearing out his earthly life.
It is He, the Redeemer of the world, Who by His grace, which runs through our being and our activity, elevates and ennobles every honest work, be it high or low, great or little, pleasant or tiresome, material or intellectual, giving it a meritorious and supernatural value in the sight of God, and thus gathering every form of multifarious human activity into one constant act of glorifying His Father Who is in heaven. [Ancora una quinta volta, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 36 (1944) 16]
Every human being in each instant of his work life is confronted with two alternatives that can be formulated in the question of whether personality should be sacrificed to work or be enriched by work. Many theories have been elaborated that accept the first alternative. Man's being is identified with his work, bounded as it is by time and space. Many forces in modern civilization, which is characterized by the prevalence of scientific and technical elements, impel men toward such an identification. On the other hand, the magisterium of the Church speaks with clarity and insistence for the second alternative. Man's work is only a moment of his existence, it is carried out for the efficacious attainment of the immediate ends that correspond to his specific nature, but at the same time it can assure his perfection and lead him to the attainment of his celestial and eternal destiny [John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 53 (1961) 460–463].
Just Remuneration of Work. Work is an obligation, not only because the members of the human race can perfect themselves through their work, but also because it enables them to enjoy a decent standard of living, meet their family responsibilities, and fulfill their social obligations. But if work is an obligation, it is also a right, because every duty imposed by one's conscience and by God presupposes a corresponding right in human society (Pacem in terris, loc. cit. 264). There is, therefore, an objective and intrinsic relationship between work and the means of livelihood, that is to say, the moral law assigns a specific end to work that cannot be arbitrarily misunderstood or violated; it is that of being the natural source from which a man draws his livelihood.
It follows that the remuneration of work cannot be left to the changing laws of the market, nor can wages be fixed by an arbitrary decision of those occupying high places in the economic order or by those invested with civil authority. Wages must be determined according to criteria of justice. This is a doctrinal line constantly affirmed and progressively clarified by the teachings of the Church. Leo XIII affirmed that justice demands that the remuneration of work must be sufficient to enable the worker to live with dignity:
Let it be granted then that worker and employer may enter freely into agreements and, in particular, concerning the amount of the wage; yet there is always underlying such agreements an element of natural justice, and one greater and more ancient then the free consent of contracting parties, namely, that the wage shall not be less than enough to support a worker who is thrifty and upright. If, compelled by necessity or moved by fear of a worse evil, a worker accepts a harder condition, which although against his will he must accept because the employer or contractor imposes it, he certainly submits to force, against which justice cries out in protest. [Op. cit. 662]
Pius XI taught that in determining wages it is necessary to consider, as a criterion of justice, what is sufficient for the support of the worker and his or her family, the conditions of any particular business, and the exigencies of the common good (op. cit. 200–202). Pius XII reiterated frequently the same directives, while John XXIII in Mater et Magistra included also the personal contribution of the worker to production and the exigencies of the universal common good, that is, the common good of the entire human family.
This doctrine concerning the remuneration of work finds confirmation in the actual development of the economy. A better way of life for the working classes has accompanied the progressive growth of production. The modern economy, founded on science and technical knowledge and characterized by the assembly line, tends naturally to produce goods and services in increasing quantities; that is, it gives rise to mass production. Mass production demands mass consumption, without which the whole system is disrupted, and collapse and disintegration follow. Mountains of unsold goods would destroy their producers. In turn, therefore, mass consumption depends on the purchasing power of the working classes that alone can consume the vast amount of commodities produced. The three elements mass production, mass consumption, and mass purchasing power are interdependent.
Economic development, therefore, demands social progress, and social progress promotes economic development. When the modern economy is studied objectively, the demands of justice are seen to be suggested and obtained by the inherent logic of its interior growth, rather than by any imposition from without. On this point, history has refuted the Marxist thesis of the progressively increasing distress of the working classes.
The immanent tendency of economic development, however, understood in terms of experience since the early 19th century, is realized only after a long period of fluctuation and periodic crises that have immediate and acutely negative effects on the social classes that are economically weak. In order to limit these fluctuations and their repercussions, the more politically mature communities with market economies have made more and more effort to regulate management-labor relations, above all in the medium and larger businesses, through collective bargaining and the introduction of social insurance and social security systems. After World War II, these states developed economic and social policies expressed in many forms of intervention but directed toward the same fundamental objective of insuring comparable development in the social and the economic order. This implies that the division of wealth with respect to the remuneration of labor should be carried out according to the criteria of justice mentioned above.
John Paul II and Human Labor. The most extensive papal statement on work to date is John Paul II's 1981 encyclical Laborem exercens. In marking the 90th anniversary of the first modern social encyclical Rerum novarum, John Paul offers a detailed treatise which addresses not only the conditions under which human labor proceeds, but also the overarching issue of the meaning of human work, in its subjective as well as objective dimensions.
John Paul repeats many of the concerns voiced by his predecessors: that just wages prevail, that laborers' rights to collective bargaining be respected, that workers in all sectors (agricultural as well as industrial and service workers) face favorable working conditions, and that public authorities fight the scourge of unemployment. New concerns are added to previous lists, such as the impact of work on family life in general and women in particular (no. 19), provision for the physically and mentally disabled to work according to their capacity (no. 22), and an insistence that legislators in all nations respect the rights of those who emigrate in search of work (no. 23). John Paul introduces (in nos. 16–17) a novel term, the "indirect employer," to express the new awareness of the complex interdependence of our new economic system, where many systemic factors influence the terms of employment and turn the seemingly private contract between workers and management into truly public matters which impact all members of society and reflect a wide range of social conditions. In this new environment, regional and national economic planning is not only a viable option, but truly a necessity to protect the rights of workers. Although it should not lead to excessive centralization, a carefully planned labor policy may prevent unemployment and poverty and promote the security of all families.
The most original aspect of Laborem exercens lies in the way it evokes the themes of personalism to portray the subjective dimensions of labor as supremely important, indeed as "the essential key to the whole social question" (no. 3). In order to prevent the alienation of workers from their work and to advance the achievement of social justice, we must insure against impersonal centralization "which makes the worker feel that he is just a cog in a huge machine moved from above, that he is for more reasons than one a mere production instrument rather than a true subject of work with initiative of his own" (no. 15). The right ordering of labor arrangements will recognize the priority of labor over capital and place people above the production process, so that an ethic of "being" over "having" may prevail in society. Work holds the promise to be far more than just a source of income to support the worker and his or her family; work at its best is an expression of the worker's personality, the performance of a service to others and the locus of one's contribution to the good of society.
The encyclical concludes with a section entitled "Elements for a Spirituality of Work" that seeks to link the foregoing philosophical considerations to the life of the church and its tradition. Rich connections are drawn to scriptural materials to portray Christ as the "man of work" who preached a "gospel of work" (no. 26) to encourage all humankind to become co-creators with God, participants in God's plan for the universe (no. 27). In subsequent encyclicals, John Paul II continues to emphasize the relation of work to human dignity, underlining his observation in Laborem exercens that "in the first place work is for man, and not man for work" (no. 6).
Private Property. Private ownership, even of productive goods, is a natural right, a right that belongs to man by virtue of his dignity as a person and not because of any concession by public authority. This right is man's because he is spiritual, intelligent, and free and responsible for his own livelihood and destiny; each man is responsible for the support and government of the family he decides to form and bound to contribute personally to the common good.
This doctrinal position has been constantly reaffirmed by the magisterium of the Church. Leo XIII stated, "To own goods privately … is a right natural to man, and to exercise this right, especially in life in society, is not only lawful, but clearly necessary" (op. cit. 651). Adverting to unjust claims of both capital and labor with respect to the distribution of goods and income, Pius XI reaffirmed "that the division of goods which results from private ownership was established by nature itself in order that created things may serve the needs of human-kind in fixed and stable order" (op. cit. 196). Pius XII noted that "the right of the individual and of the family to the private ownership of property is a direct consequence of their human personality, a right due to their dignity as persons, a right to which social obligations are attached but which is not only a social function" [Mit Freuden kommen Acta Apostolicae Sedis 44 (1952) 792]. And John XXIII reiterated in Mater et Magistra that "the right of private property, including that pertaining to goods devoted to enterprises, is permanently valid. Indeed, it is rooted in the very nature of things, whereby we learn that individual men are prior to civil society, and hence, that civil society is to be directed toward man as its end" (loc. cit. 427).
Individual Functions. The motives that the magisterium of the Church usually cites to justify the natural character of the right of private ownership of goods, productive goods included, apply to individuals, to the family, and to society. From the point of view of the individual, the right of private ownership is based on the fact that the individual is prior to society. This priority is derived from the individual's existence, his work, and the hierarchical relationship between his final end and the end of society. Private ownership of property is a necessity of the spiritual nature of man "under the eternal law, and under the power of God most wisely ruling all things" (Leo XIII, op. cit. 643). The same right finds its principal source and constant support in the fruitfulness of labor; it is also a stimulus to the exercise of responsibility in all fields of society, and it is a defense and guarantee of the fundamental expression of human liberty. In Mater et Magistra John XXIII observed that "experience and history testify that where political regimes do not allow to private individuals the possession also of productive goods, the exercise of human liberty is violated or completely destroyed in matters of primary importance. Thus it becomes clear that in the right of property, the exercise of liberty finds both a safeguard and a stimulus" (loc. cit. 427).
Familial Functions. In the familial order, private ownership is considered an element of stability, serenity, and efficiency in the pursuit of the ends proper to the family unit. Possessing a patrimony, even a modest one, the individual can face with fewer preoccupations the responsibility inherent in the creation of a new family; disastrous and painful separations of husband and wife, parents and children are less frequent; children are better nourished, better educated, and more fittingly prepared to face life. The argument is found in Rerum novarum that the "right of ownership … bestowed on individual persons by nature, must be assigned to man in his capacity as head of a family. Nay, rather, this right is all the stronger, since the human person in family life embraces much more" (loc. cit. 645–646.) Pius XII, in a happy expression, called private ownership the "vital space" of the family: "If today the concept and the creation of vital spaces is at the center of social and political aims, should not one, before all else, think of the vital space of the family and free it of the fetters of conditions which do not permit even to formulate the idea of a homestead of one's own?" (La solennita, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 33 (1941) 224).
Societal Functions. In the society in general, the social function of private ownership has a double aspect, constitutive and operative. The first follows from the fact that the resources of nature and the economic world are preordained by Providence to provide for the dignified support of the human family. However, this end can be reached only if there is a lasting and fruitful order in social relationships, an order that includes as one element the institution of private ownership of goods, productive goods included. This is recalled in Quadragesimo anno as the traditional teaching on the twofold aspect of ownership: "Nature, rather the Creator Himself, has given man the right of private ownership, not only that individuals may be able to provide for themselves and their families but also that the goods which the Creator destined for the entire family of mankind may through this institution truly serve this purpose. All this can be achieved in no wise except through the maintenance of a certain and definite order" (loc cit. 191–192; see also St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 66.2 ad 7).
The second aspect flows necessarily from the first. It is found in the truth that while one pursues his own interests in the exercise of this right he contributes also to the common good; the goods he owns can also be used for the needy and for the accomplishment of noble works without compromising the owner's way of life and his economic and social position (Mater et Magistra, loc. cit. 430–431). In consideration of the relationship between private ownership and concrete possibilities for the integral development of human beings; between private ownership and stability, serenity, and family preferences; between property and an orderly and fruitful progress in society; the magisterium of the Church constantly engages in various efforts to ensure the proper division of goods. As John XXIII maintained, "It is not enough, then, to assert that man has from nature the right of privately possessing goods as his own, including those of productive character, unless at the same time, a continuing effort is made to spread the use of this right through all ranks of the citizenry" (ibid. 428).
Not only individuals and their respective families but other organized groups, intermediate associations, and public agencies, whether administrative or political, can also lawfully own private property, even productive property; and they can be owners insofar as it is necessary for the effective attainment of their specific goals and the common good. Mater et Magistra, in a passage noting that the doctrine of private property obviously "does not preclude ownership of goods pertaining to production of wealth by states and public agencies" (ibid. 429), cites Quadragesimo anno to the effect that this is true especially "if these carry with them power too great to be left in private hands, without injury to the community at large" (loc. cit. 214).
Without ever disputing the validity of the basic principle of private property, recent popes have insisted upon the advisability in certain circumstances of exceptions to a regime of what is sometimes termed "possessive individualism." The right to private ownership of property is not an absolute and unconditional right that may disregard the urgent needs of others and numerous concerns for the common good. The popes of the late 20th century staked out several carefully nuanced positions regarding the competing values of the common good and the legitimate private ownership of productive and personal property. In nos. 51–67 of Mater et Magistra, Pope John XXIII noted how improvements in technology, transportation and communication were creating a more interdependent world. He referred to these trends as "the multiplication of social relationships," a circumlocution which has since been generally referred to as the phenomenon of "socialization." Because we are increasingly interdependent in our economic and social lives, the intervention of public authorities is more often necessary in order to coordinate social relations. From time to time, it becomes necessary to restrict the free exercise of property rights, such as when a government invokes the principle of eminent domain to secure land for road construction or expansion of public utilities such as energy production or distribution. At other times, vital industries that impact the welfare of all people (such as oil, electricity, and communications) are subject to regulation or even nationalization in order to provide for the common good. John XXIII and subsequent popes understand these departures from a regime of private property not as excuses for crass collectivization, but as the employment of prudent measures to insure accountability to universal well-being.
Pope Paul VI addressed a more dire instance of the need for societal restriction of property rights. During his pontificate, several nations in Latin America witnessed heated disputes over the issue of land reform. Desperately poor and landless workers were demanding the expropriation of large estates (latifundia ), many of which not only contained disproportionate shares of the most fertile land, but often lay fallow while nearby campesinos faced starvation. In his 1967 encyclical Populorum progressio, Paul VI first notes the principle that "private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditional right" (no. 23) and then proceeds to apply this timeless church teaching to his contemporary situation: "If certain landed estates impede the general prosperity because they are extensive, unused or poorly used, or because they bring hardship to peoples or are detrimental to the interests of the country, the common good sometimes demands their expropriation" (no. 24). This teaching neither refutes the principle that private holdings are legitimate nor justifies a totalitarian state, but it does update the church's understanding of the role and functions of public authorities in securing the common good. Paul VI thus reiterated the church's recognition of the social nature and purpose of property, an aspect of Catholic social philosophy since many of the figures of the patristic era emphasized the universal destination of all material goods. John Paul II contributed a new way to express this insight when he used the phrase "social mortgage" in no. 42 of his 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis : "The good of this earth are equally meant for all. The right to private property is valid and necessary, but it does not nullify the value of this principle. Private property, in fact, is under a social mortgage."
Authority Essential to Moral Order. Human society is consistent with the dignity of human beings when the moral law is recognized, respected, and lived, that is, when the rights of the individual are recognized, obligations are fulfilled and, in countless forms of collaboration with others, each man acts on his own responsibility. Under such conditions, a society is based on truth, realized in justice, vivified and integrated by love, and accomplished in liberty (Pacem in terris, loc. cit. 265–266). It is indispensable that there be in this society an authority and a power to command according to right reason (ibid. 269). This authority is invested in the civil powers according to the needs of the historical situation. The right to command is required by the moral law to ensure the observance of that law in a sufficient degree so that social living can be human, dignified, and fruitful. As stated by Pius XII, "the absolute order itself of beings and purposes, which shows that man is an independent person, namely the subject of inviolable duties and rights, who is the source and end of his own social life, comprises the state also as a necessary society endowed with authority, without which it could neither exist nor live" (Benignitas, loc. cit. 15). The right to command is required by the moral law, and it follows that those who hold authority may not exercise it in violation of the moral law; should they attempt to do so, their decrees would carry no obligation and if their orders were intrinsically immoral there would be an obligation to resist rather than to obey. (see authority, civil.)
God the Foundation of the Moral Law. The moral law is a universal law, immutable and absolute; it can therefore find its basic goal and its final explanation only in the relationship between man and God—the true God, transcendent and personal, existing Truth, highest Good, supreme Justice. For this reason human authority can and must be held as a participation of the divine authority. Pius XII continues: "And since that absolute order, in the light of right reason, and in particular of the Christian faith, cannot have any other origin than in a personal God, our Creator, it follows that … the dignity of political authority is the dignity deriving from its sharing in the authority of God" (ibid. ).
The derivation of human authority from God through the moral law, while it explains the power of the authority to oblige man in conscience, constitutes also a safeguard for the dignity of his person. In fact, obedience to public authority is not obedience to men but an act of homage to God, the provident Creator, who has decreed that men's dealings with one another should be regulated by an order that He Himself established. Obeying God, man does not debase himself but rather is ennobled, for to serve God is to rule (Pacem in terris, loc. cit. 271).
Common Good. The common good of the political community is not identical to the sum of the individual goods of its respective citizens (Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 58.7). It is characterized by its specific content, which, however, cannot be conceived in its essential aspects and still less determined in its historical elements unless man as a person is considered in relation to the totality of his material needs and spiritual necessities. The common good "embraces the sum total of those conditions of social living whereby men are enabled more fully and more readily to achieve their own perfection" (Mater et Magistra, loc. cit. 417).
Individuals as well as intermediate groups and social enterprises are obliged to contribute to the interests of the common good, and they do contribute when they pursue their own special interests in true harmony and without damage to the common good. However, the public authority is especially obliged to guarantee the common good; in fact, the realization of the common good is the reason for the existence of this authority, and the goal toward which it must work. In modern times the public authority pursues its proper end above all when it acknowledges, respects, coordinates, and effectively and harmoniously defends the rights of the individual and when it promotes these rights contributing positively to create an atmosphere where each one may more easily carry out his duties (Pacem in terris, loc. cit. 273–274).
During recent decades the pontiffs have been identifying a new doctrinal principle regarding the attainment of the common good. They have begun to affirm more clearly the existence of an intrinsic relationship between the historical content of the common good, on one hand, and the juridical structure and operation of the public authority, on the other. Since authority is required to effect the common good, the moral law demands that this authority should be efficient for the attainment of this goal. In this matter Pius XII observed that according to reason political communities must be built democratically: "If then, we consider the extent and nature of the sacrifices demanded of all the citizens, especially in our day when the activity of the state is so vast and decisive, the democratic form of government appears to many as a postulate of nature imposed by reason itself" (Benignitas, op. cit. 13). John XXIII, in his turn, stressed the fact that the juridical political organization of the human community, founded in a convenient division of powers corresponding to the three principal functions of the public authority, "affords protection to the citizens both in the enjoyment of rights and in the fulfillment of duties" (Pacem in terris, loc. cit. 277). As for that which concerns the universal common good, he declared that it presents problems so vast, complex, and urgent that they can be solved only by a public authority capable of operating efficiently on a world basis. From this he concluded that the moral order itself "demands that such a form of public authority be established" (ibid. 293). Both Paul VI and John Paul II continued this pattern of reflection regarding the legitimate role of government as the privileged agent of the common good, treating a range of new economic and cultural conditions which threaten to abridge the full attainment of the common good and calling upon public authorities, in cooperation with the institutions of civil society, to address these concerns and injustices.
Intermediate Associations. Human society is, by its nature, pluralistic. In the natural order there are three centers possessing universal and inviolable rights: individuals, the family, and the political community. The Church, not founded by men but established by God through Jesus Christ, is also a center of universal and inviolable rights, but as a supernatural society, founded for a supernatural end that must be reached by supernatural means. In addition, according to a doctrinal line consistently advanced by the magisterium of the Church, social life cannot develop in an orderly and fruitful manner if between individuals and their respective families, on the one hand, and the political community, on the other, there is not found a scale of organized groups or intermediate associations. The number of these groups or associations will be in proportion to the needs of a community. Whether in the economic, professional, recreational, hygienic, political, cultural, religious or other fields, they find their source in the natural law, which impels individuals and their respective families to associate themselves in order to attain ends that they could not otherwise attain. On the other hand, in relation to these ends, the action of public authority is not indispensable or even advantageous; on the contrary, its action for such ends would only be burdensome and therefore unproductive. Consequently, the autonomy of intermediate associations, which corresponds to the true ends for which they were organized, must be recognized. This implies that in the field of their specific activity they move by their own initiative and responsibility and employ suitable methods to render their actions effective. (see association.)
Solidarity and Collaboration. Every human being is a person and therefore by nature social. This is proved by the fact that human beings live normal lives when they mutually assist each other; it is also true that each one succeeds in perfecting himself when with the same activity he contributes to the perfection of others. It follows that force cannot be accepted as the supreme criterion in the government of human relations, as in the liberal doctrine of free competition, the Marxist doctrine of class warfare, or the doctrine of group pressure or economic or political superiority. Social relations must be governed instead according to the principles of solidarity and mutual collaboration in truth, justice, love and freedom. Pius XI wrote:
Just as the unity of human society cannot be founded on an opposition of classes, so also the right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces…. But free competition, while justified and certainly useful provided it is kept within certain limits, clearly cannot direct economic life—a truth which the outcome of the application in practice of the tenets of this evil individualistic spirit has more than sufficiently demonstrated. Therefore, it is most necessary that economic life be again subjected to and governed by a true and effective directing principle. This function is one that the economic dictatorship which has recently displaced free competition can still less perform, since it is a headstrong power and a violent energy that, to benefit people, needs to be strongly curbed and wisely ruled. But it cannot curb and rule itself. Loftier and nobler principles—social justice and social charity—must, therefore, be sought whereby this dictatorship may be governed firmly and fully. [Op. cit. 206]
What Pius XI indicated as the criterion according to which human relationships in the economic order should be governed, John XXIII reaffirmed in application to all the relationships of human society, whatever their content, extent, or nature: "The society of men must not only be organized but must also provide them with abundant resources. This certainly requires that they recognize and fulfill their mutual rights and duties; it also requires that they collaborate together in the many enterprises that modern civilization either allows or encourages or demands" (Pacem in terris, loc. cit. 265).
Principle of Subsidiarity. Individuals, families, intermediate groups, and public authority are the units present and working in society. The problem arises: what is the principle or the criterion used to decide the sphere of action proper to each group? The magisterium of the Church usually calls this the principle of subsidiarity, according to which intermediate associations and public authority do not claim to do those things that individuals and families are able to accomplish unaided and public authority does not claim to do those things that intermediate associations can and in fact do accomplish.
This principle was first proposed in explicit form by Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno, as a principle according to which the spheres of action of individuals, organized groups or intermediate associations, and public authority in the socioeconomic field, should be decided (loc. cit. 203). While John XXIII in Mater et Magistra affirmed its validity in the same field, in the encyclical Pacem in terris he maintained that this principle must be considered valid even in delineating the spheres of action proper to the political authority of the individual political communities and those of the political authority of the world community:
Just as within each political community the relations between individuals, families, intermediate associations and public authority are governed by the principle of subsidiarity, so, too, the relations between the public authority of each political community and the public authority of the world community must be regulated by the same principle. This means that the public authority of the world community must tackle and solve problems of an economic, social, political or cultural character which are posed by the universal common good. For because of the vastness, complexity, and urgency of those problems, the public authority of the individual states are not in a position to tackle them with any hope of a positive solution. [Loc. cit. 294]
The principle of subsidiarity is proposed as a principle of action or as a criterion for the effective resolution of concrete problems; it is rooted in the nature of the relations between human beings and the society of which they are members. Human beings create or maintain a society not for the purpose of being absorbed by it, but in order to reach goals that otherwise they would not be able to reach, goals that they foster and pursue as means of affirming their own personality. This is what Pius XI held in the first formulation of the principle: "For every social activity ought of its own very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them" (op. cit. 203). The same idea is advanced by John XXIII in Pacem in terris in applying the principle to the relations between individual political communities and the world community: "The public authority of the world community is not intended to limit the sphere of action of the public authority of the individual political community, much less to take its place. On the contrary, its purpose is to create, on a world basis, an environment in which the public authorities of each political community, its citizens and intermediate associations, can carry out their tasks, fulfill their duties and exercise their rights with greater security" (loc. cit. 294–295). Pope John Paul II, particularly in the 1991 encyclical Centesimus annus, has called attention to the prudent limits to centralized activities of the state, which should act in such a way as to empower private, local and voluntary associations, never to impinge on their legitimate operations or threaten their rightful autonomy and initiative (see nos. 39–51).
Unity, Growth, and Purpose of Papal Social Teaching. Like any tradition, modern papal social teaching has grown and developed over time in ways that could not have been predicted at the time of its origin. Succeeding popes have responded to new political and economic conditions and new social and cultural challenges. Although some might prefer to emphasize either the elements of change or those of continuity, an honest observer of papal social encyclicals over the past century detects both elements at work. It would be as false to claim that each pope is idiosyncratic in his social concerns as it would be to claim that a stable complex of ideas passed unchanged from papal mind to papal mind over the decades. Rather, it is perhaps best to interpret this tradition as a response to the call all Christians receive, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, to take seriously "the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the gospel" (Gaudium et spes, 4).
The distinctive aspect of papal social thought is that it is promulgated as an authentic teaching of the Catholic Church. These reflections on the ethical meaning and implications of human life in society are proposed as genuine sources of moral guidance for all members of the church. Because they draw from deep sources of the Christian tradition such as scripture and Doctors of the Church, papal social encyclicals enjoy the presumption of authentic truth that adheres to similar magisterial statements. Yet because they so often deal with changing temporal phenomena, in those instances where prudential judgments are offered on political and economic realities, there is room for disagreement even on the part of faithful Catholics of good will. To accord to papal social teaching a different type or level of authority than any given statement on "the social question" intends would be to misconstrue its nature as some sort of blueprint for society, to be followed slavishly and without appropriate adaptation in every corner of the world.
In his 1971 apostolic letter Octogesima adveniens, Pope Paul VI offers these suggestions for the local application of papal social teachings: "In the face of such widely varying situations it is difficult for us to utter a unified message and to put forward a solution which has universal validity. Such is not our ambition, nor is it our mission. It is up to the Christian communities to analyze with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country, to shed on it the light of the Gospel's unalterable words and to draw principles of reflection, norms of judgment and directives for action from the social teachings of the Church" (no. 4). Similarly, Pope John Paul II in no. 41 of his 1987 social encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis explained how the notion of the "hierarchy of truths" applies to papal social teaching. He begins by insisting that "the church does not have technical solutions to offer" regarding complex economic problems; its expertise is of the moral variety. The aspiration of popes when they address complex social issues is to see that "the church fulfills her mission to evangelize" by "proclaiming the truth about Christ, about herself and about man, applying this truth to a concrete situation." In taking seriously the messages of papal social teaching, faithful Catholics (and indeed all people of good will) answer their call and fulfill their moral duty to discern the meaning of social justice and to act to advance the common good in our complex contemporary world.
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