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The four principles of the Church's social doctrine

on Saturday, 01 April 2006. Posted in Social Doctrine

The dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity, solidarity

One of the last important documents issued during the pontificate of John Paul II is the "Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church", published in October, 2004, which presents, in a systematic manner (300 pages of text plus a 200-page index), the principles of the Church's social doctrine in diverse areas of public life.

When one compares the Social Credit proposals with these four principles, one sees that they are a fresh, concrete and efficient way of applying these principles, especially with the Social Credit dividend that would apply the universal destination of goods, and put into action the principle of subsidiarity: with enough money into the hands of individuals and families, there would be less need for State intervention and centralization.

Here are excerpts from Chapter Four of this new Compendium, which explains the four main principles of the Church's social doctrine. (The numbers in front of paragraphs are those used in the Compendium.)

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The heart of Catholic social teaching

160. The permanent principles of the Church's social doctrine constitute the very heart of Catholic social teaching. These are the principles of: the dignity of the human person, which is the foundation of all the other principles and content of the Church's social doctrine; the common good; subsidiarity; and solidarity. These principles, the expression of the whole truth about man known by reason and faith, are born of "the encounter of the Gospel message and of its demands summarized in the supreme commandment of love of God and neighbour in justice with the problems emanating from the life of society." In the course of history and with the light of the Spirit, the Church has wisely reflected within her own tradition of faith and has been able to provide an ever more accurate foundation and shape to these principles, progressively explaining them in the attempt to respond coherently to the demands of the times and to the continuous developments of social life.

161. These are principles of a general and fundamental character, since they concern the reality of society in its entirety: from close and immediate relationships to those mediated by politics, economics and law; from relationships among communities and groups to relations between peoples and nations. Because of their permanence in time and their universality of meaning, the Church presents them as the primary and fundamental parameters of reference for interpreting and evaluating social phenomena, which is the necessary source for working out the criteria for the discernement and orientation of social interactions in every area.

The dignity of the human person

105. The Church sees in men and women, in every person, the living image of God Himself. This image finds, and must always find anew, 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.

106. All of social life is an expression of its unmistakable protagonist: the human person. The Church has many times and in many ways been the authoritative advocate of this understanding, recognizing and affirming the centrality of the human person in every sector and expression of society: "Human society is therefore the object of the social teaching of the Church since she is neither outside nor over and above socially united men, but exists exclusively in them and, therefore, for them." This important awareness is expressed in the affirmation that "far from being the object or passive element of social life" the human person "is rather, and must always remain, its subject, foundation and goal." (Pius XII, Radio Message of December 24, 1944.) The origin of social life is therefore found in the human person, and society cannot refuse to recognize its active and responsible subject; every expression of society must be directed towards the human person.

107. Men and women, in the concrete circumstances of history, represent the heart and soul of Catholic social thought. (Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 11.) The whole of the Church's social doctrine, in fact, develops from the principle that affirms the inviolable dignity of the human person. (Cf. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Mater et Magistra.)

132. A just society can become a reality only when it is based on the respect of the transcendent dignity of the human person. The person represents the ultimate end of society, by which it is ordered to the person: "Hence, the social order and its development must invariably work the benefit of the human person, since the order of things is to be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other way around." (Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 26.)

Respect for human dignity can in no way be separated from obedience to this principle. It is necessary to "consider every neighbour without exception as another self, taking into account first of all his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity." Every political, economic, social, scientific and cultural programme must be inspired by the awareness of the primacy of each human being over society.

The specification of rights

155. The teachings of Pope John XXIII, the Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et Spes, 26), and Pope Paul VI have given abundant indication of the concept of human rights as articulated by the Magisterium. Pope John Paul II has drawn up a list of them in the Encyclical Centesium Annus (n. 47): "the right to life, an integral part of which is the right of the child to develop in the mother's womb from the moment of conception; the right to live in a united family and in a moral environment conducive to the growth of the child's personality; the right to develop one's intelligence and freedom in seeking and knowing the truth; the right to share in the work which makes wise use of the earth's material resources, and to derive from that work the means to support oneself and one's dependents; and the right freely to establish a family, to have and to rear children through the responsible exercise of one's sexuality. In a certain sense, the source and synthesis of these rights is religious freedom, understood as the right to live in the truth of one's faith and in conformity with one's transcendent dignity as a person."

The principle of the common good

164. The principle of the common good, to whichever every aspect of social life must be related if it is to attain its fullest meaning, stems from the dignity, unity and equality of all people. According to its primary and broadly accepted sense, the common good indicates "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily." (Gaudium et Spes, 26.)

167. The common good therefore involves all members of society; no one is exempt from cooperating, according to each one's possibilities, in attaining it and developing it.

Everyone also has the right to enjoy the conditions of social life that are brought about by the quest for the common good. The teaching of Pope Pius XI is still relevant: "The distribution of created goods, which, as every discerning person knows, is labouring today under the gravest evils due to the huge disparity between the few exceedingly rich and the unnumbered propertyless, must be effectively called back to, and brought into conformity with, the norms of the common good, that is, social justice." (Encyclical Letter Quadragesimo Anno, 197.)

Tasks of the political community

168. The responsibility for attaining the common good, besides falling to individual persons, belongs also to the State, since the common good is the reason that the political authority exists. (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1910.) The State, in fact, must guarantee the coherency, unity and organization of the civil society of which it is an expression, in order that the common good may be attained with the contribution of every citizen. The individual person, the family or intermediate groups are not able to achieve their full development by themselves for living a truly human life. Hence the necessity of political institutions, the purpose of which is to make available to persons the necessary material, cultural, moral and spiritual goods. The goal of life in society is in fact the historically attainable common good.

170. The common good of society is not an end in itself; it has value only in reference to attaining the ultimate ends of the person and the universal common good of the whole of creation. God is the ultimate end of His creatures, and for no reason may the common good be deprived of its transcendent dimension, which moves beyond the historical dimension while at the same time fulfilling it.

The universal destination of goods

171. Among the numerous implications of the common good, immediate significance is taken on by the principle of the universal destination of goods: "God destined the earth and all it contains for all men and all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity." (Gaudium et Spes, 69.) This principle is based on the fact that "the original source of all that is good is the very act of God, who created both the earth and man, and who gave the earth to man so that he might have dominion over it by his work and enjoy its fruits (Gen 1:28-29). God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone. This is the foundation of the universal destination of the earth's goods. The earth, by reason of its fruitfulness and its capacity to satisfy human needs, is God's first gift for the sustenance of human life." (John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 31.) The human person cannot do without the material goods that correspond to his primary needs and constitute the basic conditions for his existence; these goods are absolutely indispensable if he is to feed himself, grow, communicate, associate with others, and attain the highest purposes to which he is called. (Cf. Pius XI, Radio Message of June 1, 1941.)

172. The universal right to use the goods of the earth is based on the principle of the universal destination of goods. Each person must have access to the level of well-being necessary for his full development. The right to the common use of goods is the "first principle of the whole ethical and social order " and "the characteristic principle of Christian social doctrine." (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 42.)

For this reason the Church feels bound in duty to specify the nature and characteristics of this principle. It is first of all a natural right, inscribed in human nature, and not merely a positive right connected with changing historical circumstances; moreover it is an "inherent" right. It is innate in individual persons, and has priority with regard to any human intervention concerning goods, to any legal system concerning the same, to any economic or social system or method: "All other rights, whatever they are, including property rights and the right of free trade, must be subordinated to this norm [the universal destination of goods]; they must not hinder it, but must rather expedite its application. It must be considered a serious and urgent social obligation to refer these rights to their original purpose." (Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 22.)

Private property

176. By means of work and making use of the gift of intelligence, people are able to exercise dominion over the earth and make it a fitting home: "In this way, he makes part of the earth his own, precisely the part which he has acquired through work; this is the origin of individual property." (John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 31.)

Private property and other forms of private ownership of goods "assure a person a highly necessary sphere for the exercise of his personal and family autonomy, and ought to be considered as an extension of human freedom... stimulating exercise of responsibility, it constitutes one of the conditions for civil liberty." (Gaudium et Spes, 71.) Private property is an essential element of an authentically social and democratic economic policy, and it is the guarantee of a correct social order. The Church's social doctrine requires that ownership of goods be equally accessible to all, so that all may become, at least in some measure, owners, and it excludes recourse to forms of "common and promiscuous dominion." (Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 11.)

The heritage of progress

179. The present historical period has placed at the disposal of society new goods that were completely unknown until recent times. This calls for a fresh reading of the principle of the universal destination of the goods, the earth, and makes it necessary to extend this principle so that it includes the latest developments brought about by economic and technological progress. The ownership of these new goods — the results of knowledge, technology and know-how — becomes ever more decisive, because "the wealth of the industrialized nations is based much more on this kind of ownership than on natural resources." (John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 32.)

New technological and scientific knowledge must be placed at the service of mankind's primary needs, gradually increasing humanity's common patrimony. Putting the principle of the universal destination of goods into full effect therefore requires action at the international level and planned programmes on the part of all countries. "It is necessary to break down the barriers and monopolies which leave so many countries on the margins of development, and to provide all individuals and nations with the basic conditions which will enable them to share in development."

183. It is by what they have done for the poor that Jesus Christ will recognize His chosen ones... the poor remain entrusted to us, and it is this responsibility upon which we shall be judged at the end of time (cf. Mt 25:31-46): "Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from Him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are His brethren."

The principle of subsidiarity

185. Subsidiarity is among the most constant and characteristic directives of the Church's social doctrine, and has been present since the first great social encyclical. (Cf. Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Rerum Novarum, 11.) It is impossible to promote the dignity of the person without showing concern for the family, groups, associations, local territorial realities; in short, for that aggregate of economic, social, cultural, sports-oriented, recreational, professional and political expressions to which people spontaneously give life and which make it possible for them to achieve effective social growth.

This is the realm of civil society, understood as the sum of the relationships between individuals and intermediate social groupings, which are the first relationships to arise and which come about thanks to "the creative subjectivity of the citizen." This network of relationships strengthens the social fabric and constitutes the basis of a true community of persons, making possible the recognition of higher forms of social activity.

186. The necessity of defending and promoting the original expressions of social life is emphasized by the Church in the Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, in which the principle of subsidiarity is indicated as a most important principle of "social philosophy". "Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice, and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order, to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the social body, and never destroy and absorb them."

On the basis of this principle, all societies of a superior order must adopt attitudes of help ("subsidium") — therefore of support, promotion, development — with respect to lower-order societies. In this way, intermediate social entities can properly perform the functions that fall to them without being required to hand them over unjustly to other social entities of a higher level, by which they would end up being absorbed and substituted, in the end seeing themselves denied their dignity and essential place.

Subsidiarity, understood in the positive sense as economic, institutional or juridical assistance offered to lesser social entities, entails a corresponding series of negative implications that require the State to refrain from anything that would de facto restrict the existential space of the smaller essential cells of society. Their initiative, freedom and responsibility must not be supplanted.

Opposed to centralization

187. The principle of subsidiarity protects people from abuses by higher-level social authority, and calls on these same authorities to help individuals and intermediate groups to fulfil their duties. This principle is imperative because every person, family and intermediate group has something original to offer to the community. Experience shows that the denial of subsidiarity, or its limitation in the name of an alleged democratization or equality of all members of society, limits and sometimes even destroys the spirit of freedom and initiative.

The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to certain forms of centralization, bureaucratization, and welfare assistance, and to the unjustified and excessive presence of the State in public mechanisms. "By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending." (Centesimus Annus, 48.) An absent or insufficient recognition of private initiative — in economic matters also — and the failure to recognize its public function, contribute to the undermining of the principle of subsidiarity, as monopolies do as well.

In order for the principle of subsidiarity to be put into practice, there is a corresponding need for: respect and effective promotion of the human person and the family; ever greater appreciation of associations and intermediate organizations in their fundamental choices and in those that cannot be delegated to or exercised by others; the encouragement of private initiative so that every social entity remains at the service of the common good, each with its own distinctive characteristics; the presence of pluralism in society and due representation of its vital components; safeguarding human rights and the rights of minorities; bringing about bureaucratic and administrative decentralization; striking a balance between the public and private spheres, with the resulting recognition of the social function of the private sphere; appropriate methods for making citizens more responsible in actively "being a part" of the political and social reality of their country.

188. Various circumstances may make it advisable that the State step in to supply certain functions. One may think, for example, of situations in which it is necessary for the State itself to stimulate the economy because it is impossible for civil society to support initiatives on its own. One may also envision the reality of serious social imbalance or injustice where only the intervention of the public authority can create conditions of greater equality, justice and peace.

(Note of "Michael": to correct the financial system is certainly one of the duties of the State.)

The principle of solidarity

192. Solidarity highlights in a particular way the intrinsic social nature of the human person, the equality of all in dignity and rights, and the common path of individuals and peoples towards an ever committed unity. Never before has there been such a widespread awareness of the bond of interdependence between individuals and peoples, which is found at every level. The very rapid expansion in ways and means of communication "in real time", such as those offered by information technology, the extraordinary advances in computer technology, the increased volume of commerce and information exchange all bear witness to the fact that, for the first time since the beginning of human history, it is now possible — at least technically — to establish relationships between people who are separated by great distances and are unknown to each other.

In the presence of the phenomenon of interdependence and its constant expansion, however, there persist in every part of the world stark inequalities between developed and developing countries, inequalities stoked also by various forms of exploitation, oppression and corruption that have a negative influence on the internal and international life of many States. The acceleration of interdependence between persons and peoples needs to be accompanied by equally intense efforts on the ethical-social plane, in order to avoid the dangerous consequences of perpetrating injustice on a global scale. This would have very negative repercussions even in the very countries that are presently more advantaged.

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