THE CHURCH’S SOCIAL DOCUMENTS
RERUM NOVARUM (The Condition of Labor)
The writing of this encyclical was prompted by the ill effects of the Industrial Revolution and the dominant way of thinking called Enlightenment. In this encyclical, Pope Leo XIII described the appalling situation of industrial workers in the hands of the capitalists who treated the workers merely as part of their resources. The workers’ condition was aggravated by the unrestrained competition of rigid capitalism and the indifference of the government. This resulted in the conflict between capitalists and the working class, and a great gap between the rich and the poor. Because of this, Leo XIII brought serious attention to all this social injustice. He rejected the Marxist’s ideology of
class conflict and stressed how the two social classes should live in harmony. The rich, on the one hand, are called to use wisely what they have and exercise Christian Charity to the needy from their surplus. The poor on the other hand are reminded that being poor can be a grace. When it comes to the role of the state, Leo XIII admonished the state to intervene in case of unresolved conflict between the capitalists and the workers and assure the workers that they receive what were due them: just wage, good working condition, etc.
Leo XIII clearly rejected the solution of socialism. He repeatedly insisted that the remedy of socialism was worse than the disease it was trying to cure. The socialists at the time advocated the notion of economic equality and the total abolition of private ownership of property through class struggle.
QUADRAGESIMO ANNO (The Reconstruction of the Social Order,
Forty years after Rerum Novarum, Pius XI released this encyclical to reiterate and expand the themes of Rerum Novarum. This was written in the midst of the great Depression and rise of fascism in Europe. At the outset of 1920s, many started to question the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. They were critical of capitalism for what it brought to society: monopoly of means of production, massive depression in 1929, economic slavery, child labor, and other forms of social injustice. The whole economic life had become hard, cruel, and relentless to a ghastly measure for the great majority of the people (no. 109). Compared to Leo XIII, Pius XI pointed out the following issues with much stronger emphasis:
a) The right to private property is relative. The “right” must be distinguished
from the use of private property. The superfluous wealth and possessions
of the rich are not meant for themselves alone; rather these have to be
shared. This indicates that the right to private property is not absolute.
b) Workers deserve to receive a family wage, i.e., wage that is enough for
them to raise and sustain a family.
c) To form unions is the workers’ right. The workers’ unions are their venue
and means to forward their concerns.
d) The state has the responsibility to intervene and exercise its authority in
case a serious violation of the rights of the people, especially of the
e) A new form of socialism had emerged, “mitigated” socialism exercised in
line with certain Christian principles, and thus in view of this, an alternative
social concept was created between strict capitalism and rigid socialism,
that is “corporate society.”
f) The concept of sin was extended to collective efforts. With the continuous
growth of the network of industrialization, sin has assumed a new
dimension, a corporate stature. It has slowly penetrated into the structures
of society and that made it hard to trace the responsibilities of the
MATER ET MAGISTRA (Christianity and Social Progress, 1961)
The historical events that served as the backdrop for writing Mater et Magistra were the tremendous changes that had taken place in world politics after WWII, namely the independence of many Third World countries, a period of relative détente between the communist block and Western democratic countries, and the emergence of Civil Rights movements in USA. The themes in this encyclical were taken up from global perspective, i.e., issues about developed and underdeveloped countries, world population and resources, etc.
Responding to the worldwide social questions, Mater et Magistra introduced the concepts of an international economic system, global interdependence, and the responsibility of rich countries. It called for a social reconstruction on the grounds of truth, justice, freedom, and love.
PACEM IN TERRIS (Peace on Earth, 1963)
This encyclical was addressed not only to Catholics but all people of goodwill. With its powerful teachings, Pacem in Terris is noted for its significant influence on the Second Vatican Council. This was written amid worldwide concern about nuclear war.
In Pacem in Terris, John XXIII contended that peace could be attained only if the order designed by God is observed. He linked peace with justice. He stressed the following points:
a) The rights and duties of people. Human rights must be respected by
individuals, public authorities, national government, and the world
b) The duty of the people to take part in public life. All people-Catholics and
non-Catholics- are challenged (morally obliged) to work together on
matters of social change. There should be mutual cooperation in all levels
of relationships: individual, national, and international.
c) The significance of socialism. Concerning this issue, John distinguished
between the philosophical teachings of socialism and its socio-economic
movements. Though socialism is inadequate in its philosophical teachings,
it can be effective in leading the people to be involved in the work for
social justice. Thus, cooperation with socialism was for the first time seen
GAUDIUM ET SPES (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the
Modern World, 1965)
Vatican II initiated a new way of thinking in the Church, producing sixteen documents, including Gaudium et Spes, which is considered to have the most authority in the Church’s social teaching documents.
Below are just few of the many things that the council of fathers tried to stress in this document.
a) The Church’s duty is to serve the world. One way to do this is to scrutinize
the signs of the times and to be in constant dialogue with all that concerns
b) Human beings are the “source, the center, and the purpose of all
economic and social life” (GS 63).
c) Peace is not just the absence of war but justice throughout society.
POPULORUM PROGRESSIO (On the Development of Peoples, 1967)
Paul VI pointed out that the whole question of human development is now seen from a much larger and wider perspective. Problems of poverty and injustice have now taken on an international dimension since they affect not only single nations but also the entire global community. The expansion of close interdependence of all human persons and nations demands common responsibility for the development of all peoples. The rich nations are called to help the poor nations. And the Church, in its fidelity to preserving human dignity and the common good of all, has a role also in the process of development.
In view of this, Paul VI proposed the Christian vision of human development which is integral, covering all aspects of human life. His central theme was about integral development as the new name for peace and conversely, peace means full human development.
OCTOGESIMA ADVENIENS (A Call to Action, 1971)
This is an open letter of Paul VI to Cardinal Roy of Quebec, chairman of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace.
At the time of publication of this letter, many people around the world, especially those of the Third World countries were questioning the whole socio-economic system of capitalism as typified by the International Monetary Fund, the World’s Bank’s lending practices, the economic imperialism of the First World nations, and the evils of the social phenomenon called “urbanization” that gave birth to what Paul VI called the “new poor,” and to the pitiful condition of the women and youth. Impelled by these conditions, many were attracted to the Marxist principles which promised them justice and liberation from their miserable conditions. They clamored for a new society.
This letter turned out to be a call to action. The whole Church, specifically the local Churches, was summoned to respond to the specific situations of the people. Local Churches have to work to ensure that equality and participation in society must be part of any authentic development project. The Church an its members, in order to respond to the world’s conditions, must reflect on these contemporary situations, apply
the Gospel principles and take moral actions, even within political areas when appropriate.
JUSTITIA IN MUNDO (Justice in the world, 1971)
This is written by a gathering of bishops from around the world, many from poor underdeveloped countries.
The bishops acknowledged the escalating severity and seriousness of injustice through a network of domination, oppression, and other form of abuses worldwide. In their statement, the bishops strongly declared the Church’s mission is to transform
these world conditions, that the work for justice is a constitutive dimension of faith. They required that the thrust for justice be actualized in the Church’s lifestyle, educational activities, projects, and programs locally and internationally. They said, “Christian love
of neighbor and justice cannot be separated” (JM 34).
EVANGELII NUNTIANDI (Evangelization in the Modern World, 1975)
This apostolic exhortation on evangelization in the modern world was Paul VI’s confirmation of the Synod of Bishops’ document Justice in the World. In his message,
Paul VI dealt with the meaning of evangelization. The duty and responsibility of the Church is to proclaim and spread the teachings of the Gospel to the people of the twentieth century in ways understandable to them. In a sense, the encyclical spelled out the truth that to be faithful to the Gospel is to be faithful to the people that means that to evangelize includes the work for justice an liberation. Justice is an essential component of evangelization. Christians must confront things including the way society is organized an structured if they serve as obstacles to justice.
True liberation is not only personal but also local.
LABOREM EXERCENS (On Human Work, 1981)
In Laborem Exercens, John Paul II focuses on one topic, human work. He place human work at the center of all social problems. All social problems can be either directly or indirectly related to violations of the dignity of human work. He explained that since human persons are dignified by and are the proper subject of work, work therefore expresses and increases human dignity. He developed this insight proposing a spirituality of human work. In the end, he concluded that anything- people, systems, ideologies- that ill opposes the dignity of work definitely contributes to social injustice.
SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS (On Social Concern, 1987)
Sollicitudo Rei Socialis was written by John Paul II on the twentieth anniversary of Populorum Progressio described above. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis hinged on the Christian vision of total human development, covering all aspects of human life- economic, political, cultural, and spiritual. It stressed the ethical dimension of development that shows that development cannot be defined in purely economic terms. Furthermore, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis emphasized that though the Church proposes its vision of development, it does not offer a technical solution to social problems. Rather, it offers its general fundamental principles that must be the basis for the technical measures institutions and projects needed to bring about social justice.
thCENTESSIMUS ANNUS (100 Anniversay, 1991) th On the 100 anniversary of Rerum Novarum, John Paul II released Centessimus Annus. In this encyclical, he reviewed the fundamental social teachings of the Church that grew and developed over the past 100 years and concluded that Church social doctrine is a valid instrument for evangelization. Some of the key teachings he underscored and elaborated were the following:
a) Dignity of human persons. The grave violations and the dignity of humanb
persons marked the eventual fall of communism in 1990.
b) Critical judgment on the two opposing ideologies, namely, strict capitalism and
c) Dignity of human work
d) Universal destination of goods
e) Call for new social order
f) Spirituality of the struggle for social justice