We’ve got two week left in the liturgical year so it isn’t really the best of time to start up a new round of reflections on the rosary. So this week we are going to be looking at Catholic Social Teaching, basically social justice. After I finish going through all the Vatican II documents I plan to take some time and give a look at all of these as well.
The whole idea coalesced in a Pope Leo XIII Encyclical from back in 1891, Rerum novarum “New Things” or “of Revolutionary Change” focused on the rights and duties of capital and labor. In it Pope Leo says that the State should promote social justice through the protection of rights, and the Church must speak out on social issues. He also talks about the dignity of the individual and the preferential option of the poor. The roots of these ideas came from Saints Thomas Aquinas and Augustine as well as from the Old Testament custom of Jubilee. These ideas have been expanded upon in the years since. The next major document is Quadragesimo anno an Encyclical from 1931 and the Papacy of Pius XI, it marks the 40th year since Rerum novarum. Pius focuses on the ethical implications of the social and economic order. He brings up the idea of that the world (social order) should be built upon the ideas of solidarity and subsidiarity.
Thirty years later Pope John XXIII came around and he wrote a couple important encyclicals Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris. Mater et Magistra was written in the 70th year since Leo XIII wrote his and addresses the social concerns of a more modern world, it recaps the previous encyclicals and adds to them the need to work to a more authentic world which would promote human dignity. John talks about how sometime that nations have to help one another and should intervene in education, health care and housing when necessary. Pacem in terris is a unique point in the development of Catholic Social Teaching as it was the first time that a Pope wrote to all people of good will. In it John outlines the basic “Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services.” This document led to the Vatican II declaration Dignitatis humanae (Of the Dignity of the Human Person) and Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes (Church in the Modern World).
After Vatican II, Pope Paul VI himself also looked at the discrepancy between the first and third world in his 1967 Encyclical Populorum progressio. The major point here is that the economy should serve the whole world and not just a select few. This idea continued in an Apostolic letter Octogesima adveniens where he looks at urbanization and urban poverty as well as calling for Christians respond to injustices. The second idea was expanded upon in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelli nutiandi which says that working for social justice is an essential part in Evangelization. Pope John Paul II picks up the pieces and starts running with it. In Laborem exercens written in the 90th year of Rerum novarum JPII brings up the theological and philosophical element of work and rights of workers. John Paul writes in Sollicitudo rei socialis emphasizing what Paul VI wrote 20 year prior differences between progress and development, and insists that true development cannot be limited to the multiplication of goods and services, but must contribute to the fullness of being a human being, In 1991, JPII wrote Centesimus annus in the 100th year of Rerum novarum first off echoing all the previous documents but focusing it in the light of the world today. A few years later in Evangelium vitae, Pope John Paul II talks about the sanctity of human life.
As the new Century began in 2004 JPII promulgated the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, this puts all the ideas in the documents together in one book in a new format. Pope Benedict XVI continued talking about Social justice and in 2009 in the Encyclical Caritas in Veritate he calls Populorum Progressio “the Rerum novarum of today”, Benedict also reiterates that we are all one human family. Today Pope Francis has taken the mantel and has made social justice a major part of his papacy. In the Apostolic Exhortation in 2013 Evangelii gaudium Francis emphasizes the need for care of the weakest (homeless, addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly, and many others) and that Catholics can learn a lot from non-Catholics especially the Anglicans and Orthodox. He continued this the Encyclical Laudato Si saying that concern for the world is an integral aspect of social justice. This is where we are today in terms of major Vatican Documents. Bishop Conferences around the world have also written some documents on Social Justice in their specific nations.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops compiled a list of seven themes of Catholic Social Teaching. They are as follows: Sanctity of human life and Dignity of the person; Call to family, Community and Participation and the pursuit of the Common Good; Rights and Responsibilities (Social Justice); Preferential option for the Poor and Vulnerable; Dignity of Work and The Rights of Workers; Solidarity and the universal destiny of the goods of the Earth; and the Care of God’s Creation.