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CLASS NOTES ON CHURCH SOCIAL TEACHING

Theology 141, Sections A, B, C, D and E, Second Semester 2016-2017


Handout 11-B

1. The Nature of Church Social Teaching (CST)

1.1 not an ideology (specific blueprint for particular politico-economic system) nor a social theory (a specific
framework of analysis derived from the social sciences)
1.2 a definition of CST from Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (SRS): “The Church’s social doctrine is ... the accurate
formulation of the results of a reflection on the complex realities of human existence, in society and in the
international order, in the light of the faith and of the Church’s tradition. Its main aim is to interpret these realities,
determining their conformity with or divergence from the lines of the Gospel teaching on the human person and its
vocation, which is at once earthly and transcendent; its aim is thus to guide Christian behaviour....” (SRS 41)
> CST as fruit of the encounter of the Gospel with modern industrial society
> CST makes use of social sciences but its perspective is always moral
1.3 CST provides “‘principles of reflection,’ ‘criteria for judgement’ and ‘directives for action’” (SRS 8): (a)
“principles of reflection”-- fundamental moral values and principles, (b) “criteria for judgement”--
interpretation and evaluation of historical situations, structures and institutions, (c) “directives for action”--
general directives for pastoral action given particular circumstances
> CST as richly developing process, with dimension of continuity/ constancy in fundamental moral values/
principles but open to successive historical applications and constant renewal
1.4 Official sources of CST: (a) universal teaching -- documents of Church Councils and Synods, Papal
social encylicals and apostolic letters, Vatican Instructions; (b) local teaching -- plenary and provincial
Councils of Philippine Church, CBCP pastoral letters
1.5 CST helps committed Christians to take a step back from the society and culture that they are part of and
question it (“re-visioning their moral horizon”); helps them reflect on the means and ends of their social
involvement and action; does not relieve individuals from burden of making personal decisions
1.6 situated in the context of the total life of the Church, “the Church’s social teaching is itself a valid
instrument of evangelization....” (Centesimus Annus or CA 51)
> the end-goal of CST is ultimately a spirituality: “... the social message of the Gospel must not be
considered a theory, but above all else a basis and a motivation for action.... (it) will gain credibility more
from the witness of actions than as a result of its internal logic and consistency....” (CA 57)

2. An Articulation of a Number of Important Principles and Themes of Church Social Teaching

2.1 Dignity of the Human Person

a. The dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God and elevated to a supernatural
destiny transcending earthly life, is the primary principle and the heart and soul of CST. “The Church sees
in men and women, in every person, the living image of God himself… (one which) finds… an ever deeper
and fuller unfolding of itself in the mystery of Christ, the Perfect Image of God, the One who reveals God to
man and man to himself.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church or CSDC 105) All of the
Church’s work for justice and peace is meant to protect and promote human dignity, for each person—
whether rich or poor, young or old, healthy or cripple—is the highest expression of God’s creative work and
the meaning of Christ’s redemptive ministry.
b. Respect for human dignity today demands fulfilling the contemporary aspirations of people everywhere for
freedom, equality and participation. In this regard what is affirmed is the human person as “subject,
foundation and purpose” of all social life. He is “never simply a means to the end of another person or of society,
he/she is always an acting, deciding subject, never simply an object of others’ decisions.” (Carroll, article 1)
> The above statements emphasize that at the core of promoting the dignity of those who are poor and at the margins
of society is not only providing them with the material basis for a dignified human existence but also restoring their
sense of being responsible, deciding and acting human persons, not mere objects of society but subjects and
authors of their own history.
c. Human dignity is the basis of inalienable human rights which safeguard the dignity of the human person.
“Human rights may be defined as those fundamental rights of human beings which are essential to the
exercise of human dignity.” (Intengan)
> “Christian thinking about human rights emphasizes not only the dignity ... of humanity but also the fact that this
dignity... is constantly violated.... Thus in any theological discussion of human rights the doctrine of sin has an
important place beside the doctrine of God. Christian theology sees the need to affirm human rights because of
human sin.” (Intengan)
> Human rights consist not only of civil and political rights (the right to life, to liberty, to freedom of speech and
association, to equality before the law, etc.) but also of economic, social and cultural rights (the right to shelter, to
work, to a just wage, to education, etc.)

2.2 Social Nature of Human Beings and Solidarity

a. “While having his individual dignity and destiny, the human person is by nature social ... Society and
community are real and supportive entities, not simply arenas in which each seeks his or her private goals
in competition with others.” (Carroll, article 1) Thus, the dignity and rights of the individual are always
safeguarded in the context of the promotion of the common good.
> The common good is “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 or GS 26) These include peace and order,
personal freedom, the rule of law, economic, educational and cultural opportunities, an efficient economy, a healthy
environment. “Society owes these to its members; but the members must contribute to creating and maintaining
them for the good of all; the individual has duties as well as rights with regard to society.” (Carroll, article 1)
b. Proceeding from the social nature of human beings, the key social virtue is solidarity.
> Solidarity 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 responsible for all.” (SRS 38)
> “(E)ver new movements of solidarity of the workers and with the workers (are necessary) ... wherever it is called for
by the social degrading of the subject of work, by exploitation of the workers and by the growing areas of poverty
and even hunger.” (Laborem Exercens or LE 8)
c. For the Church, solidarity with the poor is “her mission, her service, a proof of her fidelity to Christ.” (LE 11)
Centesimus Annus speaks of the “preferential option for the poor” of the Church “which is never exclusive
or discriminatory toward other groups… (nor) limited to material poverty, since it is well known that there
are many other forms of poverty.” (CA 57) This option has deep roots in both Scripture and the whole
Tradition of the Church. Its ultimate basis is Christ himself. Concern for and identification with the poor is
the way of Jesus: his ministry was marked by a close association with the outcasts of Jewish society and in
the parable of the Last Judgment he specifically identifies himself with the hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless,
sick and imprisoned (Matthew 25).

2.3 Dignity of Human Work (Refer to notes on the dignity of human work in handout 8)

2.4 Universal Destination of Goods and Private Property

a. “God destined the earth and all it contains for the use of every individual and all peoples.” (GS 69) As co-
creators with God, human beings are called to develop the earth’s resources as stewards and partners for
the human well-being and fulfillment of all. In this context, the right to private property, although valid and
necessary to safeguard the dignity of the individual human person, is never absolute and is conditioned by
the more primary right of all people to share in the goods of the earth. (LE 14) “(T)he goods of the earth ...
are in the first place the patrimony of the community; individual ownership and private property are
secondary, and they can and should be limited by the State for the good of all.” (Carroll, article 3) “Private
property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditional right. No one is justified in keeping
for his or her exclusive use what he or she does not need, when others lack necessities… (T)he right to
private property must never be exercised to the detriment of the common good.” (Pacem in Terris or PT
23)
c. “Private property, infact, is under a ‘social mortgage,’ which means it has an intrinsically social function
based upon and justified precisely by the principle of the universal destination of goods.” (SRS 42) (If one
does not “pay his mortgage”--fulfill the social obligations attendant to ownership--society may “foreclose” or
expropriate his property). “Political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to
ownership for the sake of the common good.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church or CCC 2406)
d. “Ownership of the means of production ... is just and legitimate if it serves useful work. It becomes illegitimate, however,
when it is not utilized or when it serves to impede the work of others, in an effort to gain a profit which is not the result of
the overall expansion of work and the wealth of society, but rather is the result of curbing them or of illicit exploitation,
speculation or the breaking of solidarity among working people.” (CA 43)
e. “In our time, in particular, there exists another form of ownership which is becoming no less important than land: the
possession of know-how, technology and skill. The wealth of the industrialized nations is based much more on this kind
of ownership than on natural resources.” (CA 32) It is in this context that Centesimus Annus then emphasizes
the right of workers to participate in production—the right to productive work and the skills which make this
possible.
f. Property is misused objectively when it becomes a means of exercising oppressive domination over others,
and subjectively when craving for possessions becomes the goal of life destroying the dignity of both the
rich and poor. (Catechism for Filipino Catholics or CFC 1175)

2.5 Integral Human Development

a. “Development cannot be limited to mere economic growth. In order to be authentic, it must be complete:
integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every person and of the whole person.” (Populorum
Progressio or PP 14) It must fulfill the human aspiration “to do more, know more and have more in order
to be more.” (PP 6) This involves not only material progress and an increase in material possessions
(“having”) but more so our moral and spiritual growth (towards growth in “being” or the fulfillment of our
human vocation to grow in image and likeness of God).
b. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis describes the tragedy of contemporary development that results in the
“superdevelopment” of the few (“the excessive availability of every kind of material goods for the benefit of
certain social groups”) who are trapped in the “cult of having” and the underdevelopment of the many who
suffer material deprivation. In both cases, there is a failure of “being.” It is thus argued that “development
cannot consist only in the use, dominion over and indiscriminate possession of created things and the
products of human industry, but rather in subordinating the possession, dominion and use to man’s divine
likeness and to his vocation to immortality.” (SRS 28-29)

CST on the problem of contemporary economic development

“superdevelopment” “cult of having”


of the few
“Structures of sin” failure of “being”
underdevelopment material
of the many deprivation

“Cult of having”
> culture of materialism/ consumerism involving “the substitution of material goods for psycho-
spiritual fulfillment” and the inordinate drive for material success (in which material wealth/
economic well-being is “symbol and proof of personal and social success, worthiness, identity
and meaning”)
> context of economic competition and accumulation among elites and the market culture of
competitive individualism

Given the resulting dynamic of narrow and inequitable economic growth, there is need for ever-
increasing economic growth with all the problems of environmental degradation that this
engenders
> Inequitable economic growth and environmental degradation nexus; the ecological crisis as
further emphasizing the “moral character of development;” necessary link between luxurious
lifestyles associated with the “cult of having” and poverty and environmental degradation

2.6 Integrity of Creation

a. “The dominion granted to man by the Creator is not an absolute power, nor can one speak of a freedom to
‘use or misuse,’ or to dispose of things as one pleases. The limitation imposed from the beginning by the
Creator himself and expressed symbolically by the prohibition not to ‘eat of the fruit of the tree’ (cf. Gen.
2:16-17) shows clearly enough that, when it comes to the natural world, we are subject not only to
biological laws but also to moral ones, which cannot be violated with impunity.” (SRS 34)
b. “It is manifestly unjust that a privileged few should continue to accumulate excess goods, squandering
available resources, while masses of people are living in conditions of misery at the very lowest level of
subsistence. Today, the dramatic threat of ecological breakdown is teaching us the extent to which greed
and selfishness—both individual and collective—are contrary to the order of creation, an order which is
characterized by mutual interdependence…Respect for life, and above all for the dignity of the human
person, is the ultimate guiding norm for any sound economic, industrial or scientific progress…The
ecological crisis reveals the urgent moral need for a new solidarity….” (1990 World Day of Peace message
of Pope John Paul II)
c. (U)nrestrained economic development is not the answer to improving the lives of the poor… authentic
development supports moderation and even austerity in the use of material resources.” (Pastoral Letter of
U.S. Bishops)

*** Laudato Si (2015) of Pope Francis


I. What is happening to our common home
II. The Gospel of creation
III. The human roots of the ecological crisis
IV. Integral ecology
V. Lines of approach and action
VI. Ecological education and spirituality
“The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately
combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social
degradation… (W)e have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social
approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both
the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (LS 48, 49)
“(W)e need to reject a magical conception of the market… that problems can be solved simply by
an increase in the profits of companies… Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with
maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they… leave behind...?
Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of
decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human
intervention.” (LS 190)
“We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and being given
dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to
be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to ‘till and
keep’ the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility
between human beings and nature.” (LS 67)
“This is the basis of our conviction that, as part of the universe, called into being by one Father, all
of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion
which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect. Here I would reiterate that “God has
joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as
a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement.” (LS 67)
“The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures are moving
forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that
transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things.” (LS 83)

2.7 The Market Economy and the State

a. Nuanced Appraisal of the Market Economy


1. In Centesimus Annus, the market economy is commended for its potential to promote organization,
efficiency, profitability and initiative and creativity. It is faulted for its potential to engender
marginalization, exploitation, insensitivity to the poor, the “idolatry of the market,” consumerism and
environmental abuse/ destruction. (refer to the article of Roberto Yap, S.J. in the textbook entitled “Has
the Pope turned Capitalist Idealogue?”)
> context of the emphasis of Centesimus Annus on production/ productive efficiency (as a complement
to the previous stress on equitable distribution of the fruits of labor) and its praise of “economic virtues”
associated with the successful organization and management of business enterprises: “diligence,
industriousness, prudence in undertaking reasonable risk, reliability and fidelity in interpersonal
relationships, as well as courage in carrying out decisions...” (CA 32)
2. The market economy must necessarily be circumscribed by a strong juridical framework which would
place it at the service of the common good. (CA 42) (In other words, a minimum degree of government
regulation of the market is necessary.)
3. Economic activity must promote the broadest participation of all in the production of wealth, and to this
end, the productive use of labor, the access to basic services and the accumulation of human capital
(human skills, know-how and education) on the part especially of the poor. (CA 32 and following)
4. In the context of the above, for the businessperson “the decision to invest in one place rather than
another, in one productive sector rather than another, is always a moral and cultural choice” because it
can hinder or promote the above ends. (CA 36)

b. Role of the State


1. Church social teaching has always rejected two ideological extremes with regard to the role of State:
that of communism/ state socialism (which would have the State take over and manage the entire
economy) and that of liberal capitalism (which would have the State practically retire from society and
leave the economy to be governed by market forces alone).
2. The role of the state vis-a-vis the market is to provide the legal and institutional framework within which
the economy can operate effectively for the common good. This framework includes “guarantees of
freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services ... so that those who work
and produce feel encouraged to work efficiently and honestly.” (CA 48) The state is also necessary to
complement and regulate the weaknesses/ excesses of the market (tendency of the market, for
example, to widen the gap between the rich and poor, to marginalize weaker sectors of society and to
result in environmental degradation).
3. The role of the State is circumscribed by the principle of subsidiarity (its activity should not unduly limit
the freedom and self-determination of individuals and groups within society) and the principle of
solidarity (its obligation to defend and protect the interests of the poor and weak). (CA 15 and 48)

NOTE: Articles from which quotations are taken and used in these notes:

1. “Human Dignity and Human Rights: Moral Aspect” by Romeo J. Intengan S.J.
2. “Civil Society: Tool of Analysis and Guide for Action” by John J. Carroll S.J. (article 1)
3. “Laborem Exercens: A Worker-Pope Speaks to Workers” by John J. Carroll S.J. (article 2)
4. “Centesimus Annus: A New Vision” by John J. Carroll S.J. (article 3)