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The Social Doctrine of the Church

on Tuesday, 01 January 2013. Posted in Social Doctrine

The light of the world for justice and peace in the social and economic spheres

Bishop Mathieu MadegaWith the theme “Justice, Peace and Social Credit”, Bishop Mathieu Madega Lebouakehan invited Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in the Vatican, and our Full-Time Pilgrim Marcel Lefebvre, vice-president of the Louis Even Institute, to an international seminar held at the Cathedral of Port-Gentil, in Gabon, January 8-16, 2013, Here are large excerpts from the lecture given by the Cardinal after the Mass celebrated in Port-Gentil’s Saint Louis Cathedral on Sunday, January 13, 2013:

by Cardinal Peter Turkson

The Social Doctrine of the Church drives all its principles from the very sources of the Faith, and has for its goal to concretize the new commandment of Christ, the commandment of Love (John 13:34) in all diverse social situations...

Concern for the social development of humanity is a topic that the Church has endorsed a long time ago. A reflection on the significance of authentic human life throughout history and culture was already expressed in Scriptures, as well as by the Fathers of the Church. The prophets, in particular Amos and Isaiah, often pointed out the importance of social justice and the concern for the poor. Moreover, the institution of the Sabbath aimed not only at regulating Divine Worship, but also the social order and the concern for the poor.

These same motivations appear in the celebration of the Jubilee. A jubilee took place at intervals of seven years, and constituted one year of favors; a year of liberation, release for those who were dispossessed. According to Deut 15:4, this celebration made it possible to carry out the precept: “There will be no poor among you”. The blessings proclaimed in the celebration of the Jubilee inspired the announcement that Jesus made of His Ministry in the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:16), and became the focus of His Mission. Inspired by the Ministry of Jesus, the primitive Church and the churches (communities) established by St. Paul devoted themselves to the Word of God, communion (or fraternity) and to service of the poor (Acts 2: 44-47; 4:32-35).

Later, at the time of the first persecutions, the members of the Christian communities were deeply engaged in providing “social services”. As related in the stories of the primitive Church, once the persecutions against the Christians were over, the Church took full advantage of its new freedom to influence society.

The spirit of Christian charity and self-sacrifice, which had impressed the pagan world so much, had certainly not disappeared. In fact, due to the immediate needs of the time, new methods to put into practice Christian charity were made possible. The historical chronicles relate innumerable examples of practical works of mercy. The Church constituted for society a capacity in the declining culture of the time. The Bishops had to replace a corrupted and decrepit administration: to assume the tasks of public assistance; to provide for the suffering and those without food, clothing and lodging; and in many cases to organize the defense of the cities… Assistance to the poor, the slaves, the prisoners, as well as travelers, became their concern. Part of the income of the Church was reserved for helping the poor.

In the large cities such as Constantinople and Antioch, this work of the Church among the poor was, to a great extent, very organized. From these concerted efforts were born many primary and considerable institutions for the relief of all human needs: hospitals, residences for the poor, orphanages, homes for homeless children, shelter for travelers, etc.. These were all organizations completely unheard of before the Christian era.

Pilgrims of Saint-MichaelThese interventions animated through faith and charity, or we should say, through the Light of the Gospel, continued through the centuries with various intermediaries and protagonists; sometimes the laity, sometimes religious orders, and sometimes ecclesiastical movements. Take for example, the Hospitallers Order which began with works of mercy in hospitals before becoming a military organization, returning to their vocation of works of mercy in our own time. Think of the courageous men and women religious who founded hospitals and schools throughout the world; in many areas, they were the first to do so. They truly accomplished the mission of Jesus the Healer, and Jesus the Teacher, therefore, of Jesus the Light of the World).

These various interpretations found their official expression in the Social Doctrine of the Church, from which they were nourished, and then formulated by the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (1891). The Pope, having considered the wretched conditions of the workers at the time of the Industrial Revolution, tackled the emergence of economic systems that favored the mighty, at the expense of the dignity and the rights of the human person. Rerum Novarum affirms the dignity of the worker and the right to private property, decent work and the formation of trade unions to protect the interest of the workers. The encyclical interprets the concerns of the Church, not only in what concerns changes in society, but also, and most especially, the misery and great difficulties that afflict the people. This encyclical gave a voice of authority to the Church in matters that regard social justice.

Forty years later, in his social encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (1931), Pope Pius XI developed these principles and the teachings formulated by Pope Leo XIII. Faced with the economic situation of the 1930’s, and in particular the repercussions of the Great Depression of 1929, the Holy Father underlined the principles of solidarity and cooperation in order to overcome the “social contradictions” of the time. The Pope also tackled the question of the relation of the State with its citizens and formulated the principle of subsidiarity. According to this principle, a higher authority should never take on what the authorities at a local level are capable of. “Subsidiarity” would become a permanent element of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Pope John XXIII in Pacem in Terris (1963), stressed the importance of peace in an environment of “Cold War” threatening the world. This was the first encyclical addressed, not only to Catholics, but also “to all men of goodwill”. It called for a universal mobilization in view of this huge task, “re-establishing relations of a life in society based on truth, justice, charity and freedom”. The encyclical tackles the question of the public authority of the global community over the universal common goods, calling on them to face and solve the problems of an economic, social, political or cultural nature.

Gaudium et Spes (1965), the pastoral Constitution on the Church in the world today, from the Council of Vatican II, represents the face of the Church “in profound solidarity with the whole human family”. The Church has a long history of experience in human affairs but does not at all wish to mix with the political activities of any nation. In fact, “…the Church seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served.” (See Gaudium et Spes, 3)

Another document of the Council, the declaration Dignitatis Humanae (1965), recognizes religious freedom as a right founded on the dignity of man.

In his encyclical Populorum Progressio (1967), which develops the themes of Gaudium et Spes, Pope Paul VI noted that “development is the new name for peace” and spoke about the importance of a durable social and economic development for all people through the recognition of the supreme good which is the loving acceptance of our relation with God himself.

In his apostolic letter Octogesima Adveniens (1971), Pope Paul VI proposed an update on the social teaching of Pope Leo XIII and reflected on the post-industrial society with all its complex problems, underlining the insufficiency of ideologies in answering to the challenges brought about by urbanization, the situation of young people, the conditions for women, unemployment, discrimination, emigration, population growth, the influence of the social media and ecological problems.

Pope John Paul II wrote three social encyclicals: Laborem Exercens (1981), related to the questions of work, of the right to work, the fundamental good of man and the true objective of economic activities; Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987) treating on failed efforts in development, particularly in the Third World countries; lastly, to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, he wrote Centesimus Annus (1991) stressing on the importance of understanding the relation of humanity with God and the relationship between men themselves, including solidarity.

Of course, the list of papal statements on social matters does not end there. It would be necessary to also add the encyclical letter of Pope Benedict XV on reconciliation and “peace, this splendid gift of God ” (1920). We should also read Casti Connubi (1930) of Pope Pius XI, an encyclical on marriage and its important social dimensions. This Pope made numerous declarations and delivered other messages for the promotion of civil laws and social peace, treating on such questions as: refugees, education, the protection of the family and healthcare, even unity among nations. Catholic Social Teaching also includes two encyclicals relating to life, Humanae Vitae (1967) of Pope Paul VI and Evangelium Vitae (1995) of Pope John Paul II. The forty-three messages delivered for the World Day of Peace – the first one written by Pope Paul VI in 1968 – entitled this year, “Happy are the Peacemakers” (see page 20) – constitutes a quantity of annual contributions to the Catholic Social Doctrine. Lastly, it is necessary to recognize the many lessons given with each papal audience and apostolic visit, similar to these current studies and seminars and those of various groups and institutions in the Church.

The encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, marks the 40th Anniversary of Populorum Progressio (1967) of Pope Paul VI and the 20th Anniversary of Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987) of Pope John Paul II. Caritas in Veritate was written to commemorate these two encyclicals by reason of their reflections on development and for a more profound look into the understanding of human development under new circumstances, in a new globalized world. The social questions, which pertained to development in the time of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, have become “global” questions. The roadmap proposed by Benedict XVI in order to guide us through today’s diverting world could not be more fundamental. We are God’s creatures; before we become patrons or employees, successes or failures, we are all beneficiaries of this free gift of life; our existence. Each one of us is our own person, but at the same time is radically connected to each other. Grateful for the gifts we have received from God, we must gracefully and freely give the best of ourselves in return: of our possessions, of our time, of our spirit, of our heart.

It should be noted that in the course of time, the social order (res socialis) to which the social teaching of the Church refers, has constantly evolved: from the miserable conditions of the workers during the Industrial Revolution, the emergence of Marxism (Leo XIII), the economic crisis of 1929 and the depression which followed (Pius XI), decolonization and the advent of “Third-Worldism” (John XXIII and Paul VI), the fall of the Berlin Wall and the political transformation of Eastern Europe (John Paul II), globalization, underdevelopment and the financial crisis, economic, ecological, moral and anthropological (Benedict XVI).

All these encyclicals, these messages, the enlightenment of Scripture, of theology, of philosophy, of the economy, of ecology and of politics were examined coherently so as to formulate a social teaching which puts man and his integral development at the very center of all systems of thought and global activities. In all the constantly evolving situations of the world, the social encyclicals reaffirm the guiding principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church where Christian Faith and the love of Christ meet the social order. The Church, constantly discerning the choices that the people of God must make on the basis of these inherited principles and values, proposes a possibility for even greater development. Therefore, “The Church’s social doctrine illuminates with an unchanging light new problems that are constantly emerging.”

Inside this inheritance, Caritas in Veritate touches upon the conditions of the integral development of man in all his dimensions and forms in the problematic situations of our globalized contemporary world. Pope Benedict XVI refers constantly to Vatican II, particularly to Gaudium et Spes, Populorum Progressio and Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, and to the fundamental principles of human dignity, the common good, the universal destination of the goods of the earth, the fraternity of the human family, solidarity and subsidiarity…

In conclusion, allow me to sincerely wish that the grace of God, the inspiration of the Spirit and the example of Jesus and His faithful servants over the centuries, enable you to find your own ways of adopting and of applying the principles of the Catholic Social Teaching. In finishing, let me remind you of the three key points underlying the whole of Caritas in Veritate that will help you to take part in this holy mission:

l Man is always at the center, with the well-being of all humans and their integral development in all activities.

l We are called to self-dedication and self-transcendence, guided by principle the logic of gift and gratuitousness; we are called to evangelize our world of inequality and poverty.

l Human activity, which builds the earthly city, is an anticipation of the universal city of God when this activity is inspired by love and justice, and has for its goal the well-being of man in his integrity, and that of all the people, not just the few.

May God bless you and bless all your undertakings.

Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson

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