Historic Volume Tells Why the Church Is Involved in the World
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 30, 2004 (Zenit.org).- In spite of the limited media coverage of Monday's publication of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, the event was an important moment. The compendium gathers, for the first time in the Church's history, magisterial teachings on social issues.
The introduction of the volume explains that the text is intended to be "an instrument for the moral and pastoral discernment of the complex events that mark our time" (No. 10). It is intended to help inspire the attitudes and choices of individuals and organizations in a way that will enable them to "look at the future with greater trust and hope."
The text starts by explaining the basis for the Church's interest in social matters. At the dawn of the third millennium the Church continues to preach the name of Christ as the way of salvation.
Such salvation is not only achieved in the new life after death, "but it also permeates this world in the realities of the economy and labor, of technology and communications, of society and politics, of the international community and the relations among cultures and peoples," the compendium says in part No. 1.
The salvation offered by Christ is of the whole person in all dimensions, personal, social, spiritual and corporeal. This salvation is also universal. Thus, there is a link "between the relationship that the person is called to have with God and the responsibility he has towards his neighbor in the concrete circumstances of history" (No. 40).
The opening section of the compendium deals with a number of underlying themes that are at the foundation of Catholic social teaching. For a start the text points out that efforts in social matters are not just motivated by mere philanthropic concerns or political interests. "Discovering that they are loved by God, people come to understand their own transcendent dignity, they learn not to be satisfied with only themselves but to encounter their neighbor in a network of relationships that are ever more authentically human" (No. 4).
The Christian love that should transform human relations spurs people on to take an interest in the problems of those around them, the text states. This love has its source in the Trinity, and it was love that inspired Jesus' ministry. The commandment of love contained in the Gospels "must inspire, purify and elevate all human relationships in society and in politics" (No. 33).
Another important spiritual foundation of social action is overcoming sin through a transformation of the human person. Personal and social life, notes No. 41, is threatened by sin, but Christ gave us an example we can follow. Transforming ourselves by following the model given to humanity by Christ "is the necessary prerequisite" for transforming our relationships with others (No. 41).
Finding the correct balance between spiritual and temporal realities is another theme addressed in the first part of the compendium. The text, in No. 45, quotes the Second Vatican Council constitution "Gaudium et Spes" which acknowledges the autonomy of earthly affairs in their own laws and values. At the same time, this autonomy should not lead us to think that creation can be used without any reference whatsoever to God.
If mankind insists on reducing itself to an exclusively earthly vision, this refusal of transcendence will lead to an alienation that also damages the solidarity between people, note the compendium, citing John Paul II's encyclical "Centesimus Annus."
Religion and politics
Establishing the correct view of what the Church's role is in social matters is another of the opening points dealt with by the compendium. The Church is serving the Kingdom of God through the proclamation of the Gospel values. However, "this temporal dimension of the Kingdom remains incomplete unless it is related to the Kingdom of Christ present in the Church and straining towards eschatological fullness" (No. 50).
Therefore, the Church must not be confused with a political community and it is not bound to any political system. "Indeed, it can be affirmed that the distinction between religion and politics and the principle of religious freedom constitute a specific achievement of Christianity and one of its fundamental historical and cultural contributions" (No. 50).
The coming of the Kingdom of God, explains the following number, cannot be found in a particular social, political or economic organization. "Rather, it is seen in the development of a human social sense which for mankind is a leaven for attaining wholeness, justice and solidarity in openness to the Transcendent as a point of reference for one's own personal definitive fulfillment."
Within the mission
The Church is involved in social matters as part of its role in sharing the joys and hopes, anxieties and sadness of men and women of every place and time (No. 60). In this context the Church seeks to proclaim the Gospel because society is not just a worldly reality, but made up of men and women who are the way of the Church (No. 62).
This concern for social matters does not mean the Church is straying from its mission. The redemption which is part of the saving mission of the Church is certainly of the supernatural order, notes the compendium. However, the supernatural is not something that begins where the natural ends, but is a raising of the natural to a higher plane. "In this way nothing of the created or the human order is foreign to or excluded from the supernatural or theological order of faith or grace, rather it is found within it, taken on and elevated by it" (No. 64).
Therefore, notes No. 66, social doctrine forms an integral part of the Church's evangelization. In fact, the plan of redemption touches questions of justice and charity. However, there are limits to social doctrine. The Church, notes No. 68, does not intervene in "technical questions," nor does it propose systems or models of social organization.
The compendium also defends the Church's right to proclaim its teaching on social matters. This proclamation is part of the role of the Church as a teacher and the truths in its content stem from human nature itself and from the Gospel. The Church has a right, and a duty, to proclaim "the liberating word of the Gospel" (No. 70), to the world.
A work in progress
The compendium observes that the Church's social doctrine has gradually been formed over time, through a series of statements on diverse issues. This helps to understand that over time some changes have taken place regarding its nature and structure.
This process is still under way. In No. 86 the compendium refers to social doctrine as a "work site," in which "perennial truth penetrates and permeates new circumstances, indicating paths of justice and peace."
But this teaching cannot be reduced to a socioeconomic level. Social doctrine is theological in nature and has its foundation in biblical Revelation and in the Tradition of the Church (Nos. 72-4). In this sense faith interacts with reason in a process whereby "the mystery of Christ illuminates the mystery of man" (No. 75). Along with Revelation and Tradition, social doctrine is also enriched by philosophy and the social sciences.
In his presentation of the compendium last Monday, Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, stated that the document "is now made available to all -- Catholics, other Christians, people of good will -- who seek sure signs of truth in order to better promote the social good of persons and societies." A task more necessary than ever.
CHURCH'S SOCIAL DOCTRINE MUST BE KNOWN, LIVED, PROPAGATED
VATICAN CITY, OCT 25, 2004 (VIS) - Saying the Church's social doctrine must be "known, lived and propagated," Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace today presented the "Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church" in the Holy See Press Office. Work on the volume, published in both Italian and English, began at the council five years ago under the presidency of the late Cardinal Francois-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.
Joining Cardinal Martino at the presentation were Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi and Msgr. Frank Dewane, respectively secretary and under-secretary of the council.
The cardinal pointed out that the book is dedicated to the Holy Father who, in No. 54 of the 1999 Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in America," recommended that "it would be very useful to have a compendium or approved synthesis of Catholic social doctrine, including a catechism which would show the connection between it and the new evangelization."
The volume, over 500 pages in length, opens with a letter to the president of the pontifical council from Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of State. It consists of an Introduction, "An Integral and Solidary Humanism," three parts and a Conclusion entitled "For a Civilization of Live."
Speaking of "the simple and straightforward structure of the volume," he explained that "Part One, composed of four chapters, deals with the fundamental presuppositions of social doctrine. ... Part Two, composed of seven chapters, deals with the contents and classical themes of social doctrine - the family, human work, economic life, the political community, the international community, the environment and peace. The third part, which is quite brief with one chapter, contains a series of recommendations for the use of social doctrine in the pastoral activity of the Church and the life of all Christians, above all the lay faithful."
The council president underscored that the Compendium "is made available to all - Catholics, other Christians, people of good will." It is "an instrument for the moral and pastoral discernment of the complex events that mark our time, a guide to inspire, ... and an aid to the faithful concerning the Church's teaching in the area of social morality." It is also, he said, "an instrument for fostering ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue on the part of Catholics with all who sincerely seek the good of mankind."
Cardinal Martino then listed "certain decisive challenges of great relevance and importance" to which it is hoped the Compendium will respond: "First is the cultural challenge, which social doctrine deals with by keeping in mind its constitutive interdisciplinary dimension. ... The second challenge arises from ethical and religious indifference and the need for renewed inter-religious cooperation. ... The third challenge is a properly pastoral challenge. The future of the Church's social doctrine in the modern world will depend on the continually renewed understanding of this social doctrine as being rooted in the mission proper to the Church. ... It depends on the renewed understanding, therefore, of how this doctrine is connected with all aspects of the Church's life and action."
Basic Principles Behind Social Doctrine
Compendium Explains Background
ROME, NOV. 6, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Catholic social teaching often mentions the importance of the human person, or concepts such as the common good, but without going into much detail as to what they mean. After explaining the foundational elements underlying the Church's social doctrine the newly published Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church dedicates a couple of chapters to the human person and to a series of principles.
"The Church sees in men and women, in every person, the living image of God himself," states No. 105. Christ, by means of his incarnation, has united himself with humanity, continues the paragraph, giving to us "an incomparable and inalienable dignity."
This is relevant to society, notes the Compendium, because the protagonist of social life is always the human person. In fact, the entire body of social teaching offered by the Church "develops from the principle that affirms the inviolable dignity of the human person" (No. 107).
The Book of Genesis speaks of the human person as being created in the image of God. The human creature is placed at the center and summit of all creation, and receives from God the breath of life. There is, therefore, in each person an intrinsic relationship with God, which, while it can be forgotten or ignored, can never be eliminated (Nos. 108-9). Genesis also relates how man and woman were created together, thus demonstrating that the human person is not a solitary creature, but has a social nature.
The biblical account also relates how sin affected human nature and is, "At the root of personal and social divisions" (No. 116). Sin, separation from God, also brings with it a separation from other persons and from the world around us. There are also sins that constitute a direct assault on our neighbors, notably those that affect matters of justice, the right to life, and freedom to believe in God.
But along with the ever-present reality of sin we must not forget "the universality of salvation in Jesus Christ," recalls the Compendium (No. 120). Moreover, the redemption obtained by Christ enables each person to share in the nature of God.
The Compendium also warns against some errors in ideas about the human person. We should avoid reductionist conceptions that portray individuals either as absolutely autonomous or as a mere cell within a larger organism. Another error is to lose sight of the unity between body and soul, a mistake that can lead to either a spiritualism that despises the body, or a materialism that ignores the spirit (Nos. 125-9).
A just society
Coming to the consequences of the Church's vision of the human person the Compendium states that there can only be a just society "when it is based on the respect of the transcendent dignity of the human person" (No. 132). The text also insists on the importance of freedom. Authorities should be careful of the restrictions they place on freedom (No. 133) and our human dignity demands that we act "according to a knowing and free choice" (No. 135).
This freedom is not unlimited, however, given that only God can determine what is good and evil. Moreover, freedom should be exercised by a conscience that is guided by the natural moral law (Nos. 136-43).
Other consequences are:
-- The equal dignity of all people, whether it be between male and female, or persons with disabilities (Nos. 144-48).
-- The social nature of all humans that means we grow and realize our vocation in relation to others (Nos. 149-51).
-- The existence of human rights, based on the dignity of the person (Nos. 152-55).
"The very heart"
After looking at the human person the Compendium then goes on to consider other basic principles that "constitute the very heart of Catholic social teaching" (No. 160). The first of these is the common good.
The common good is more than just a simple sum of individual goods in society. It is the total of conditions that allow people to reach their fulfillment more fully and easily (No. 164). These conditions vary according to the concrete historical conditions, but include such elements as a commitment to peace, a sound juridical system and the provision of essential services.
The state has a responsibility to safeguard the common good, but individuals are also responsible for helping to develop it, according to the possibilities open to each one. The state is also charged with reconciling the particular goods of groups and individuals and the general common good. This is a delicate task, notes the Compendium, and in a democratic system authorities must be careful to interpret the common good not only according to the wishes of the majority, but also respecting the good of minorities.
The next principle is that of the universal destination of goods (Nos. 171-84). God destined the earth and its goods for the benefit of all. This means that each person should have access to the level of well-being necessary for full development.
This principle, explains the Compendium, has to be put into practice according to the differing social and cultural contexts and does not mean that everything is at the disposal of all. A right to use the goods of the earth needs to be exercised in an equitable and orderly way, according to a specific juridical order. Nor does this principle exclude the right to private property. Nevertheless, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that property is only a means, not an end in itself.
What is important to keep in mind is that: "The principle of the universal destination of goods is an invitation to develop an economic vision inspired by moral values that permit people not to lose sight of the origin or purpose of these goods, so as to bring about a world of fairness and solidarity, in which the creation of wealth can take on a positive function" (No. 174).
The Compendium also insists on the principle of a preferential option for the poor, to be exercised by means of Christian charity and inspired in the poverty of Jesus and his attention to the poor.
Another principle underlying social doctrine is subsidiarity. Civil society is made up of many groups and the state should not only recognize their role and respect their liberty of action, but also offer the help they may need to carry out their functions.
Each person, family and group has something original to offer to the community, notes the Compendium (No. 187) and a denial of this role limits, or even destroys, the spirit of freedom and initiative.
The principle of subsidiarity is opposed, therefore, to "certain forms of centralization, bureaucratization, and welfare assistance and to the unjustified and excessive presence of the State in public mechanisms."
An implication of subsidiarity is another principle -- participation. It is important that all cooperate in social, cultural and political life (No. 189). Participation, states the Compendium, is one of the pillars of a democratic system.
Another principle related to social life is solidarity. In modern times there is a greater awareness of the interdependence between individuals and peoples. Solidarity is both a principle of social life and a moral virtue (No. 193). By means of exercising solidarity each person makes a commitment to realizing the common good and to serving others.
Solidarity therefore means a willingness to give ourselves for the good of our neighbors. This, however, is not just a philanthropic concern. Our neighbor, says No. 196, is not just someone with rights "but becomes the living image of God the Father, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and placed under the permanent action of the Holy Spirit."
The Church on Political Life
Compendium Lays Out Guidelines
ROME, JAN. 29, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Tensions over church-state relations have a long history, as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church lays out in its introduction to a chapter on politics. In Old Testament times the prophets regularly denounced the kings for failing to defend the weak and not ensuring justice for the people.
David is the prototype of a king in the Old Testament, and while Israel ceased to have kings, the books and Psalms of the Bible continue to hope for a ruler who would govern with wisdom and justice -- a hope that culminates in the figure of Christ.
The Compendium observes that Jesus criticizes oppression and despotism, but does not directly oppose the civil authorities of his time. The famous line about paying taxes to Caesar rejects efforts by temporal power to make itself absolute, but also gives it a due place. Jesus teaches that human authority, tempted by the desire to dominate, finds "its authentic and complete meaning as service" (No. 383).
In the early Christian community St. Paul recommends payment of taxes, prayers for rulers, and submission to legitimate authority. But, when human authority goes beyond the limits willed by God, the Book of Revelation has harsh words for such authority "makes itself a deity and demands absolute submission" (No. 382).
Describing the nature of the political community, the Compendium once more places the human person at the center. The person is a naturally social and political being, needing interaction with others to reach complete fulfillment. The political community, therefore, exists in order to facilitate "the full growth of each of its members, called to cooperate steadfastly for the attainment of the common good" (No. 384).
This does not mean that "the people" are some kind of multitude to be manipulated and exploited. Rather, it means they are a group of persons, able to form an opinion on public matters, and with the freedom to express political options.
The Compendium also has something to say on the question of minorities within a political entity or nation. The Church's magisterium affirms that these minorities have rights, and duties, but above all the right to exist. Minorities also have a right to maintain their own culture, language and religion. At the same time, minorities in their quest for autonomy should rely on dialogue and negotiation; terrorism is unjustifiable. Minorities should also work for the common good of the state in which they live.
Putting the human person as the foundation of the political community also brings the Compendium to consider the matter of human rights. The rights and duties of a person "contain a concise summary of the principal moral and juridical requirements that must preside over the construction of the political community," states the text (No. 388).
In addition, friendship and fraternity play a role in political and civil life. Civil friendship implies selflessness, detachment from material goods and accepting the needs of others. Unfortunately, laments the Compendium, all too frequently this has not been put into practice in modern political life. Christians can also find inspiration in the Gospel principle of charity. This can help in establishing community relationships among people.
Every community needs some ruling authority and there can be different ways in which it is constituted, notes the Compendium. But this authority must also take into account the liberty of individuals and groups, "orienting this freedom, by respecting and defending the independence of the individual and social subjects, for the attainment of the common good" (No. 394).
Authority, the text recommends, should be carried out within the limits of morality and within the framework of a legally constituted juridical order, as well as being oriented toward the common good. If these conditions are fulfilled, then "citizens are conscience-bound to obey."
The Compendium also stipulates that authority ultimately resides in the people who make up the political community. This authority is transferred to those selected to govern, but the people retain the possibility of asserting their sovereignty and to replace those who are governing if they do not carry out their task satisfactorily.
Yet, merely obtaining the consent of the people is not sufficient in order to consider "just" the exercise of authority. "Authority must be guided by the moral law" (No. 396). It must also recognize and respect human and moral values, which cannot be invalidated by a majority vote. Laws, therefore, must "correspond to the dignity of the human person and to what is required by right reason" (No. 398). And when a law is contrary to this reason it is unjust and "ceases to be law and becomes an act of violence."
In this context, "Citizens are not obligated in conscience to follow the prescriptions of civil authorities if their precepts are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or to the teachings of the Gospel" (No. 399). In fact, there is a duty not to cooperate in morally evil acts, which civil law should recognize and protect.
The Compendium adds that cooperation with unjust laws cannot be justified by saying that it is done in order to respect the freedom of others, nor can it be legitimated by pointing out it is an action required by civil law. "No one can escape the moral responsibility for actions taken, and all will be judged by God himself based on this responsibility" (No. 399).
The text then goes on to consider when there may be the possibility to resist authority that is not being exercised justly. The Compendium is careful to point out that passive resistance is by far preferable, and enumerates a series of conditions that must be met before any form of armed resistance can be considered as a legitimate option.
A substantial section is dedicated to democracy. It starts by recalling the words of John Paul II's encyclical "Centesimus Annus," in which the Pope expressed his appreciation for democracy as a system that enables the active participation of citizens. But for a democracy to be authentic it must respect human dignity, be ordered to the common good, and respect a correct hierarchy of values.
The Compendium recommends that those in authority exercise power in the sense of service to the people, avoiding the temptation of seeking personal prestige or advantages. It also condemns corruption as one of the most serious deformities of the democratic system.
Several numbers are dedicated to explaining the importance of the media in a democracy. The Compendium urges that the media place itself at the service of the common good, and that it provide information based on truth, freedom, justice and solidarity. Problems arise when the media is concentrated in the hands of a few, or is dominated by ideology or the desire for profit.
The chapter concludes with a consideration on the relationship between the state and religious communities. The state is exhorted to respect the right to freedom of conscience and religion. However, this freedom may be regulated according to the requirements of prudence and the common good.
The Compendium asks that the state guarantee the Church sufficient freedom of action in order to carry out her mission. For its part, the Church respects the legitimate autonomy of the democratic order and enters into matters of political programs only with respect to their religious or moral implications. The often-heated debate over religion and politics would benefit greatly if participants took some time to reflect on the principles laid out by the Compendium.
Neither Tyrant Nor Tree-Hugger
A Christian Vision of the Environment
ROME, FEB. 12, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The new Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church dedicates an entire chapter to environmental issues, in recognition of the subject's increasing importance. The opening numbers urge Christians to view the environment with a positive attitude, to avoid a gloom-and-doom mentality, and to recognize God's presence in nature.
We should look to the future with hope, recommends the Compendium, "sustained by the promise and the covenant that God continually renews" (No. 451). In the Old Testament we see how Israel lived its faith in an environment that was seen as a gift from God. Moreover, "Nature, the work of God's creative action, is not a dangerous adversary."
The Compendium also calls to mind the opening of the Book of Genesis, in which man is placed at the summit of all beings and is entrusted by God with caring for all of creation. "The relationship of man with the world is a constitutive part of his human identity. This relationship is in turn the result of another still deeper relationship with God" (No. 452).
In the New Testament Jesus makes use of the natural elements in some of his miracles and reminds the disciples of his Father's providence. Then, in his death and resurrection, "Jesus inaugurates a new world in which everything is subjected to him and he creates anew those relationships of order and harmony that sin had destroyed" (No. 454).
Science and technology
The Second Vatican Council acknowledged the progress made by science and technology in extending our control over the created world. Bettering our lives in this way is in accord with God's will, concluded the Council fathers. They also noted that the Church is not opposed to scientific progress, which is a part of a God-given human creativity.
But, adds the Compendium, "A central point of reference for every scientific and technological application is respect for men and women, which must also be accompanied by a necessary attitude of respect for other living creatures" (No. 459). Therefore, our use of the earth should not be arbitrary and needs to be inspired by a spirit of cooperation with God.
Forgetting this is often the cause of actions that damage the environment. Reducing nature to "mechanistic terms," often accompanied by the false idea that its resources are unlimited, leads to seeing development in a purely material dimension, in which first place is "given to doing and having rather than to being" (No. 462).
If we need to avoid the error of reducing nature to purely utilitarian terms, in which it is only something to be exploited, we also need to avoid going to the other extreme of making it an absolute value. An ecocentric or biocentric vision of the environment falls into the error of putting all living beings on the same level, ignoring the qualitative difference between humans, based on the dignity of the human person, and other creatures.
The key to avoiding such mistakes is to maintain a transcendent vision. Acting responsibly toward the environment is more likely when we remember God's role in creation, explains the Compendium. Christian culture considers creatures as a gift from God, to be nurtured and safeguarded. Caring for the environment also falls within a responsibility for ensuring the common good, in which creation is destined for all. The Compendium also notes that we have a responsibility toward future generations.
A section of the chapter focuses on the issue of biotechnology. The new possibilities offered by these techniques are a source of hope, but have also raised hostility and alarm. As a rule, notes the text, the Christian view of creation accepts human intervention, because nature is not some sort of sacred object that must be left alone.
But nature is also a gift to be used responsibly and, therefore, modifying the properties of living beings must be accompanied by a careful evaluation of the benefits and risks of such actions. Moreover, biotechnology needs to be guided by the same ethical criteria that should orient our actions in the social and political spheres of action. And the duties of justice and solidarity are also to be taken into account.
Regarding solidarity the Compendium asks for "equitable commercial exchange, without the burden of unjust stipulations" (No. 475). In this sense it is important to help nations to achieve a certain autonomy in science and technology, transferring to them knowledge that will help in the process of development. Solidarity also means that, along with biotechnology, favorable trade policies are needed in order to improve food and health.
The Compendium also reminds scientists that while they are called upon to work intelligently and with perseverance to resolve problems of food supply and health, they should also remember that they are working with objects that form part of humanity's patrimony.
For entrepreneurs and public agencies in the field of biotechnology the text recommends that along with a concern for making a legitimate profit they also keep in mind the common good. This is particularly applicable in poorer countries, and in safeguarding the ecosystem.
A section of the chapter is also devoted to the question of sharing the earth's resources. God created the goods of the earth to be used by all, notes the Compendium, and "They must be shared equitably, in accordance with justice and charity" (No. 481). In fact, international cooperation on ecological issues is necessary, as they are often problems on a global scale.
Ecological problems are also often connected with poverty, with poor people unable to cope with problems such as the erosion of farming land because of economic and technological limitations. And many poor people live in urban slums, afflicted by pollution. "In such cases hunger and poverty make it virtually impossible to avoid an intense and excessive exploitation of the environment" (No. 482).
The answer to these problems is not, however, the policies of population control that do not respect the dignity of the human person. The Compendium argues that demographic growth is "fully compatible with an integral and shared development" (No. 483). Development should also be integral, continues the text, ensuring the true good of people.
The universal destination of goods is to be kept in mind regarding natural resources, and particularly so when it comes to water. Inadequate access to safe drinking water affects a large number of people and is often the source of disease and death.
For the developed world, the Compendium offers some words on appropriate lifestyles. At the individual and community level, the virtues of sobriety, temperance and self-discipline are recommended. We need to break with a mentality based on mere consumption, as well as being aware of the ecological consequences of our choices, the text urges.
The Compendium concludes its chapter calling for our action toward creation to be characterized by gratitude and appreciation. We should also remember that the world reveals the mystery of God who created and sustains it. Rediscovering this profound meaning of nature not only helps us to discover God, but is also the key to acting responsibly regarding the environment.
Social Doctrine's Role in the Church
Pastoral Priorities for Christians
The last section of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church explains the pastoral and ecclesial dimensions of the teaching in this area. The social teaching "offers above all an integral vision of man and a complete understanding of his personal and social dimensions" (No. 522).
Based as it is on a Christian anthropology the Church's social doctrine sheds light on authentic human values, thus inspiring and sustaining the task of giving Christian witness in the world, notes the Compendium. It is also an aid in the task of inculturating the faith and helping the modern world overcome the rift between the Gospel and culture.
The Compendium also recommends that the social message of the Gospel be a guide in the mission of the New Evangelization. In this pastoral role the social teaching will not only help men and women discover the truth, but will also encourage Christians to "bear witness with a spirit of service to the Gospel in the field of social activity" (No. 525).
Social teaching also has a vital role in Christian formation, especially for those who have responsibilities in social and public life. But for this to be a reality, the Compendium urges that social doctrine receive greater priority in catechesis so that the faithful are better instructed on this subject.
This instruction should not be merely the transmission of abstract theory, the text adds. "In the context of catechesis above all it is important that the teaching of the Church's social doctrine be directed towards motivating action for the evangelization and humanization of temporal realities" (No. 530).
The Compendium also notes that social teaching can be a useful instrument in ecumenical dialogue, and in dialogue between the Church and the civil world. Defending the dignity of the human person, promoting peace and helping the poor improve their lot are fields of action where cooperation with others can increase Christian unity.
All Christians have a role to play in the social sector, the text explains. Within the Church, bishops, assisted by priests, religious and the laity, are responsible for promoting the teaching of the social doctrine. In this context the Compendium calls for priests to receive suitable formation in the Church's doctrine so as to be able then to help in the instruction of lay Christians.
The lay faithful also have a vital role in spreading the social teaching, starting with "an exemplary witness of life rooted in Christ and lived in temporal realities" (No. 543). This witness is rooted in the gift of grace, the Compendium explains, thus distinguishing it from a humanistic action that is limited to temporal considerations. "The eschatological perspective is the key that allows a correct understanding of human realities," the Compendium insists in No. 544.
To help maintain this perspective the text calls upon the faithful to cultivate an authentic spirituality and to strengthen their moral lives. Deepening the interior life by means of an ongoing formation will help ensure greater harmony between everyday life and Christian faith.
The Compendium further recommends prudence for the lay faithful in the social field. Prudence is needed in three moments: studying and reflecting on the question in hand; evaluating the reality in the light of God's plan; and deciding upon the action to be taken. Prudence, the text continues, is neither human shrewdness nor timidity in making a decision, but a virtue that helps to decide with wisdom and courage the course of action to be taken.
The establishment of ecclesial associations, which can guide the faithful in their actions in this field, is another step recommended by the Compendium. Groups and associations can play both a valuable role in offering formation to their members in this area, as well as coordinating pastoral activity.
A culture of service
In implementing social doctrine the Compendium suggests viewing it from the point of view of service. The credibility of Church teaching in this area, in fact, "comes more immediately from the witness of action than from its internal consistency or logic" (No. 551).
The commitment by the laity in the social area can be seen, the text continues, as a service to the human person. This service starts with an interior conversion of our hearts, and, in turn, this conversion leads to concern for the welfare of others.
The Compendium then goes on to outline a number of priority areas for action.
-- Service to the human person, by affirming the inviolability of human life, from conception to natural death. Human dignity also requires freedom of conscience and religious freedom, as well as the defense of marriage and the family.
-- Service in the area of culture, broadly intended. The Compendium notes the problems with a consumeristic lifestyle and the emphasis placed on superficial appearances. We need to recover the genuine sense of human growth, and develop our capacity to communicate and relate with others.
-- Encouraging the participation of Catholics in social and political life is another priority. Involvement in public life is necessary in order to present in an efficacious way the proposals stemming from a Catholic vision of social life.
-- Preserving the ethical dimension of culture is another important task. Culture can become sterile and decadent, or it can be a means to enriching people's lives. Ensuring the latter requires people who are prepared to use their capacities "for self-control, personal sacrifice, solidarity and readiness to promote the common good" (No. 556).
-- Specifically, within today's culture, the Compendium outlines a number of fields where action is particularly needed: guaranteeing the rights of each person; ensuring a commitment to truth; working to ensure that the religious dimension of culture is respected; and using correctly the mass media.
-- Service in the economy. The Compendium calls upon Christians to remember the centrality of the human person. It also urges a better harmony between the demands of economic efficiency and the requirements of social justice.
-- Service in politics. Pursuing the common good in spirit of service should inspire the Christian laity, the text recommends. The text also insists on an adequate attention to the moral dimension in political life and for an increased Christian witness on the part of politicians.
A civilization of love
The closing pages of the Compendium are dedicated to the theme of building a "Civilization of Love." People are searching for meaning in their lives, the text notes, and the Church responds with the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. Through faith in God and Jesus Christ, Christians can obtain inspiration regarding the principles that should order private and public life.
Bringing about a renewal of society to ensure justice and solidarity is no easy task, and we should not be led into thinking that there is some magic formula to solve problems. Our salvation does not lie in such a formula, but in the person of Christ, found in the Gospel and in the Tradition of the Church.
And even if believers know that there will never be an earthly paradise, their hope founded in Christ gives them confidence in the building of a better world. In this effort we should be guided by the principle of the primacy of love. Love, the Compendium adds, should permeate every social relationship and be the highest norm for all activity.
The commandment of love contained in the Gospel should be for Christians a message that transforms them and leads them to reject egoism, individualism and selfishness. This love in turn requires the practice of justice and inspires us to self-giving. Fitting words to close this synthesis of the Church's social doctrine.
Dublin's Archbishop on Compendium of Social
"Not a Simple Scissors-and-Paste Job"
MAYNOOTH, Ireland, JUNE 15, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is a text of the notes prepared by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin for a presentation of the Irish edition of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The presentation was Monday.
* * *
St. Patrick's College, Maynooth
13 June 2005
I remember well my first introduction into the world of international finance. It was in early 1987 and the then Pontifical Commission "Iustitia et Pax" had just published a document on the international debt question. As the newly appointed undersecretary of the commission, I was dispatched to meet with some senior figures from the international banks and to elucidate the text.
We met in Cardinal Hume's house in London. I received quite a rough welcome. Bankers spoke forcefully about the difficulties with their text and about the complexities of the matter. They were surprised to be challenged by an examination of the ethical dimensions of the laws of international finance.
Just as I was leaving I was surprised when one of the more vocal participants -- a rather cynical English banker -- came to me and said that he hoped he had not been too forceful in his contributions. Then he said: You know, as a Catholic banker I have often been asked by my bishop for some advice on his investments and financial administration or by the local Catholic school about its finances. But this is the first time that I have been consulted by the Church on what I do all day, about my own professional commitment and its social consequences.
Today in Ireland when we talk about the role and the involvement of the laity in Church life, we tend to speak about participation and leadership in local pastoral structures. I believe that we still do too little in the formation of lay persons -- women and men -- for the "secular nature of their Christian discipleship," their duty "to proclaim the Gospel with an exemplary witness of life rooted in Christ and lived in temporal realities."
The Irish Church needs more active, articulate lay people who understand and assume their responsibilities as Christian believers in various aspects of society. Irish society and Irish democracy would benefit from a new generation of lay persons prepared and capable of informing public opinion on the contribution that can be derived from the message of Jesus to establishing the values which should inspire different sectors of a pluralistic Irish political and social life.
Undertaking the task
The idea of a catechism of the social doctrine of the Church was first mooted during the Synod of Bishops for America and was taken up in the apostolic exhortation of Pope John Paul II "Ecclesia in America."
Within days of the publication of that pontifical document, the then president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Archbishop François Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân, wrote to the Pope stating the willingness of the pontifical council to undertake the task of preparing the document.
It seemed a reasonably simple exercise. The social doctrine of the Church had been developed well especially since "Mater et Magistra" of Pope John XXIII. It had been updated at the Second Vatican Council, especially in the pastoral constitution "Gaudium et Spes," and then by Pope Paul VI. Pope John Paul II had written three social encyclicals: "Laborem Exercens," "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis" and "Centesimus Annus." The apostolic letter "Tertio Millennio Adveniente" on the theme and preparation of the Jubilee also touched on social questions and provoked renewed social reflection throughout the entire Church focused on the concept of Jubilee.
But it soon became evident to the working group which was charged with writing the document -- of which I was chairperson in the initial period -- that a compendium of the social teaching of the Church could not be a simple scissors-and-paste job.
Many changes had taken place in society which required a deeper look at the nature of the Church's social teaching. In the last decades of the 1900s doubts had emerged about what exactly what was meant by the social doctrine of the Church.
Paradoxically, the concept of the social teaching in the Church seemed to enter into crisis in the years immediately after Vatican II. Gone were the days of Dublin's mass Social Study Conferences. Organizations like the Christus Rex Society, linked with Maynooth College, went into hibernation and have yet to re-emerge. Many were unhappy with the term "doctrine," preferring "social teaching" or "social reflection" or "social thought."
Clash of visions
There was the feeling in many places that the social teaching of the Church should be rather a form of social ethic which could be shared by people of various viewpoints, religious or not. There were clashes with different visions of social teaching. The Cold War inevitably led to a polarization of ideologies in social and economic reflection of all types. Certain trends of liberation theology had assumed a methodology which was flawed by elements of Marxist analysis. In other cases there was confusion between social teaching and outright political manifestoes.
A further difficulty was linked to the change in the concept of anthropology which inspired the social sciences and the challenges that this presented in dialogue with the doctrine of the Church. This was particularly evident in reflection around themes of marriage and the family, but it also appeared for example in reflection on the nature of the liberal market economy and its relationship to solidarity. A strong stress on the empirical made it difficult to speak of openness to the transcendent.
It was thus decided to give the new Compendium an original character which would begin by focusing on the nature of the social doctrine and the fundamental dimensions and principles of that doctrine. Then it would look at the positions which had emerged in the social teaching around a number of key questions: the family, work, economic life, the political community, the international community and the promotion of peace. It is the first ecclesial document which dedicates a special and ample section to the theme of the promotion of the environment.
All of this is centered on theological reflection. The Compendium becomes a theological reading of the signs of the times. It examines the evolution of the revelation of God's love in the history of salvation, especially the revelation of God's Trinitarian love. This leads to a reflection on the centrality of the human person and to an anthropology which is not individualistic, but which reflects the fact the God, in the Trinity, is relationship and self-giving. It is in this context that the Compendium addresses the centrality of human freedom, dignity and rights.
Certain principles emerge from this reflection such as the principles of the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity and the universal destination of the goods of creation, a principle which assumes a new significance in the era of globalization and in reflection on the responsibility for sharing the wealth of the earth, including the fruit of human genius. The principle of the universal destination of the goods of creation is in many ways the principle guiding line in the Compendium's reflections on the economy and on globalization.
Each section is introduced by some reflections from Scripture, both from the Old and the New Testaments, which stress the religious nature of the social doctrine and the link between social teaching and the mission of the Church.
Such biblical reflections stress the originality of the Church's thought and they illustrate the foundation for the Church's interventions in society concerning the challenges posed by the social questions of the day. The specifically religious language of the Bible can at times be a surprisingly useful language for dialogue with a secularized world, as for example the concept Jubilee showed during the year 2000.
The Compendium is not a handbook of ready-made answers to the social challenges of the day. It "offers a complete overview of the fundamental framework of the doctrinal corpus of Catholic social teaching."
It presents a unified corpus of principles and criteria which draw their origin from the Gospels and which are applied to the realities of the times in order to form Christians to make their own personal responsible judgments on the best manner to stimulate the ideals proposed by the Gospel in contemporary culture.
Neither is the social doctrine fundamentalist. It requires a form of mediation by the reader, in dialogue with the social sciences, which brings the social thought of the Scriptures into dialogue with the dynamics of contemporary social life and culture.
An original way
The social doctrine of the Church is not a political manifesto and cannot be simply appropriated as the agenda of any political party. The social teaching is not a "third way," it is an original way. Neither does it aim to foster unnecessary divisions or factions within the Church. The Church cannot impose as binding anything other than that which it can draw out of Scripture and authentic tradition. It recognizes that Christians may work in different ways in order to reach the same goal.
At the same time, the term "doctrine" draws attention to the fact that the Christian cannot simply decide that anything goes in terms of social conscience and that certain underlying principles of the social doctrine, especially those closest to the kernel of the Church's teaching, have binding character in their own right.
The social doctrine of the Church is above all an instrument to guide the formation of the consciences of Christians, especially Christian lay persons. Even though the Compendium is addressed first of all to bishops, I would venture to say that the success of the social teaching is not to be measured in the number of episcopal statements on social issues it provokes -- many of which of course may indeed be opportune -- but in the maturity of the commitment and responsibility by which lay Christians involve themselves in the realization of a more just and loving society, coherent with Gospel principles.
I have drawn attention elsewhere to the author who noted that "Catholics have the bad habit of thinking of the Church as the hierarchy. This is a false equation theologically and a fatal equation politically. If the Catholic voice is merely the voice of the hierarchy -- as eloquent and holy as they might be -- the game is up. If the hierarchy is neither eloquent nor holy the game will not even get started."
The social teaching of the Church serves to offer guidance to Christians, especially lay Christians, as they exercise their prophetic role in society. Lay Christians share in their own special way in the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of Christ. The prophetic office is exercised in the manner in which Christian lay people commit themselves from within society to making that society a more just and loving society.
The Compendium is too important a document to be
by episcopal commissions or professional Church bureaucrats. There is a
sense in which the real "translation" of any social encyclical or any
of the social teaching of the Church is written not by professional
but by the action of Christian lay people in the world in which they
as they try day by day to apply these principles in their life and
The new Compendium will certainly be a most useful instrument for them
in achieving this task.
Foundation of Catholic Social Doctrines
by Adrian Calderone
Catholic social doctrines are catholic in a double sense. First, they are taught by the Catholic Church. Second, they are catholic, or universal, in scope. They apply to everyone regardless of religion. Catholic social precepts are universal because their foundation is derived from what is common to all human beings. This foundation comprises principles of natural law, human dignity and fellowship.
1. Natural Law
Natural law is the law of nature.1 We can define natural law as the prescriptions for human conduct derived from reason as applied to the nature of things. By "prescriptions for human conduct" I mean what we ought to do or not to do. Reason, of course, is a fundamental basis for any law. There's the old saying that where reason ends, so ends the law. And by the nature of things we mean reality, the way things act by their nature, and that includes human nature. This definition also presupposes some purpose. The Ten Commandments are a concise statement of natural law principles.
We can distinguish between normative laws and descriptive laws. Normative laws are laws that are made by some agent. They prescribe what ought to be done, or what is prohibited. The laws can be broken by disobedience, for which a punishment might or might not be administered. Traffic laws are an example of normative laws. Descriptive laws, on the other hand, are not made but discovered. They describe what is the case. There is no punishment for breaking the law because it cannot be broken. If some event is inconsistent with the law as it is currently known, the law has to be reformulated to take into account the discrepancy between what is discovered and the previous statement of the law. What the descriptive laws describe are cause and effect. Scientific laws are an example of descriptive laws.
Natural law has aspects of both normative law and descriptive law. It is, in a sense, normative because people can choose to break the law by acting against their nature. Human beings have intellect and will. These powers enable us to choose our actions. But natural law also is like descriptive law because there are unavoidable consequences from going against human nature. Society cannot function properly if natural law is not acknowledged and respected. Consider, for example, what would happen to society if people lied as a matter of course. No communication would be trustworthy. There could be no social link between individuals. A society is founded upon truth or it is not a viable society.
It is important to come to a correct understanding of human nature. There are those who deny that there is any such thing as human nature in an objective sense. They point to different cultures around the world and say, "You see, in such and such a civilization they adopted practices that we condemn. Who are we to say that our practices are natural but theirs are not? It's all relative. Whatever a person's inclinations are, that is what is natural for him." Indeed, throughout human history we have seen almost anything humans are capable of doing permitted by laws: human sacrifice, cannibalism, homosexuality, infanticide. Why, then, are these not natural?
What people do "naturally" is not necessarily in accord with human nature. There are two elements which should be reiterated: purpose and reason. What one considers as purpose depends upon what one believes about reality. If nature itself is created there must be a creative agency outside of nature that created it. All created things have a purpose that comes from the intent of the one who performed the act of creation. If one recognizes the fact that the divine is real, one also sees that there is a purpose to human life which is transcendent. Atheists believe that the only constituent of reality is this natural world. What follows from this belief is the rejection of an ultimate purpose to human life as well as the notion of truly human nature. More than that, if all that exists is matter, there is no such thing as a soul, which is the agency by which moral choices are made. Human freedom becomes an illusion, and morality itself becomes relativized.
Modern secularism is the political and social expression of atheism. Although secularists insist that they do not seek to ban religion, they wish to make it a purely private matter. They wish to exclude all reference to the supernatural from public discourse. To say that consideration of God is not relevant to society or is too divisive for our recognition is to establish an official policy of practical atheism under the banner of freedom of religion. This, in effect, is a denial of God. Hence, a secularist society loses sight of reality and necessarily drifts in a current of lies.
A common misconception is that what is natural is determined by customary practice or accidents of nature. Thus, if a certain practice is socially acceptable by a large percentage of people over a long period of time, that practice must be natural. Or if a person claims to have been born with a certain condition, such as a homosexual orientation, he asserts that it is his nature and natural for him. Against this misconception we must argue that certain practices are intrinsically unnatural. For example, the fact that the Carthaginians had a long standing practice of throwing their babies into a furnace as a sacrifice to their demon-god Moloch does not justify calling this a natural practice. Simply because a person happens to be born with a particular condition does not mean the condition is natural. Otherwise, there could be no such thing as a "birth defect" that needs remedy. Once again, we must look at purpose and to the whole of reality before we judge what belongs to human nature.
In addition to human nature there is the other element of reason. We do not always reason correctly. We have surely run across the syllogism: all men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal. This is all well and good. Would that all of the problems we face could be resolved by following the simple logic of the syllogism. But we often have to base decisions on partial information: some men have blue eyes; Socrates is a man. Does Socrates have blue eyes? We don't know from the limited information we are given. But life doesn't let us off the hook merely because we don't know. All too often we are forced to make decisions in serious matters when we just don't know all the relevant facts and consequences. Then, too, there are questions of valuation. The nation has a limited budget. What percentage of our resources should go to domestic spending? How much to the military?
Under the best of circumstances our practical reasoning has its limitations. But nothing clouds our reasoning more effectively than sin. Our sense of the proper ordering of the value of things is distorted, and we are blinded to the things we ought to consider. We don't judge the situation or the consequences properly.
For this reason the institution most suited to teaching social principles is the Catholic Church. It is the Catholic Church that has always upheld human freedom, and with it the human capacity for moral actions as well as sin. It is the Catholic Church which is the caretaker of the sacraments, which give spiritual life and sustenance to the human soul. It is the Catholic Church that is commissioned by Jesus Christ to bring the gospel to a wounded humanity. If there is any institution that understands the potential as well as the limits of human nature, it is the Catholic Church.
2. Human Dignity
Human dignity is that dignity belonging exclusively to human beings and lasting throughout their natural life by which they are due respect for the moral integration of their person. Human dignity belongs equally to all human beings. It is based upon the fact of the Redemption: that the Son of God took on human nature, became man in the person of Jesus, and by his life, death and resurrection redeemed man and opened up the possibility for salvation. Although the debt for our salvation is paid, a response is required of us.2 We can accept or refuse salvation. This option is open to us for as long as we live. Even if we wallow in sin there is always the opportunity for repentance and conversion, the reclaiming of our moral dignity. Human dignity is the basis for the respect due to ourselves and others by virtue of this opportunity. At death this opportunity terminates and so does human dignity. We are either confirmed among the saved as heirs to the kingdom of heaven, or take our place among the damned.
Human beings are, by nature, not integrated persons. As St. Paul said, "For I do not that good which I will; but the evil which I hate, that I do."3 Our life on earth entails a process of moral integration under the influence of grace acting through nature. Respect for the integration of the person means fostering and not impairing this process. This respect encompasses all of the dimensions of the human person: physical, intellectual, social, sexual, emotional and spiritual, and it has positive and negative aspects, i.e., what we should do and what we should not do.
I have written on this topic earlier.4 Here, I wish to emphasize two points. First, it is not sufficient for human dignity to be respected only on a person-to-person basis. Respect for human dignity is due as a matter of justice. If human dignity is not protected by the social structures under which we live then we have a society at war with the people which constitute it. Or, rather, what we have is not a true society at all, but an organization of people based upon mutual exploitation.
Second, human dignity is irrelevant unless there is a hell and the radical option of our going there. There seems to be a current of thought which plays down the reality of hell so that it becomes meaningless; "If there is a hell it is empty." This makes a mockery of the sufferings and death of Jesus. If human dignity is based upon respect for our option of choosing salvation, what meaning does it have if we are all going to be saved whether we choose it or not? Why bother to provide a moral social environment if there are no everlasting consequences?
A third principle of Catholic social teaching is fellowship. Fellowship and friendship often go together but they are not the same thing. Friendship is oriented towards the personal relationship. In its highest form, friendship is a deep, close relationship between two people who gradually discover the goodness and love in each other. They develop intimacy, trust and fidelity with respect to their friend. It involves knowing one another.
Fellowship, as I see it, is more oriented towards a common goal or journey;5 there is the sense of movement in a particular direction. We are on a mission together. One can be in fellowship with others who are scarcely known personally but who work toward a common goal. The gospel calls us to fellowship with God and neighbor.6 John exhorts us to walk in the light of Christ:
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you may also have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you. God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in darkness we lie and do not live in truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.7
In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds us that God has called us into fellowship with his Son, Jesus. Fellowship cannot abide with divisions and conflicts.8
It is clear that fellowship requires commonality of purpose. We are traveling along a common path of light and truth in communion with God and neighbor. Indeed, so close is this fellowship that we cannot separate fellowship with neighbor from fellowship with God. We must have both or we have neither. In the Old Testament we learned of God's love. In the New Testament we learned not only of his love, but also of his fellowship. For the Word of God became man and dwelt amongst us. Jesus is not only God, but also man, and he abides with us on our journey.
To what end? What is our ultimate destination? What is our purpose in life? The Catechism's answer is this: to know, love and serve God in this world, and to be happy with him in the world to come. This simple but profound formula contains the sum and substance of the Christian life. However, it applies not only to Christians but to all people. As human beings, we are all made for God. As St. Augustine wrote, our souls are restless until they rest in God. And our souls continue to exist after our physical death. There is an everlasting world to come. How tragic if the immortal soul does not rest in God. It spends a miserable unending existence in frustration, resentment and suffering. If we are in fellowship with our neighbor we should help him to avoid such a fate. This is the essence of respecting human dignity.
The Chinese have a saying that society is like a big dyeing vat. If you put a white cloth into a vat of blue dye, it comes out blue; if it is red dye, the cloth comes out red. The meaning is that we are influenced by our environment. If you associate with good people you pick up their good qualities. If you associate with bad people you pick up their bad qualities.
It is important to have good social structures. We cannot achieve our salvation in isolation as if we were autonomous beings. We can't run away from a bad society. Becoming desert hermits is not a practical solution for us. Our task is not to escape society but to transform it. And to do that we must live in it. And not only live in it but also live out the gospel in it. Were it not for the Church, the sacraments and the fellowship of Christ, such a mission would be impossible. The world hates the gospel. It hates Jesus. It will hate us as well. But good social structures will permit us to live the Christian life, even if the tares grow amidst the wheat. If the social structures decay under the influence of paganism or atheism our option will not be to live as Christians but to die as Christians.9 This is not a pleasant thought to consider. But it should motivate us to transform society according to Catholic social principles, which, founded upon the universal principles discussed above, are really for the benefit of all people.
Catholic social teachings apply to all areas of social life in which morality plays a part: marriage and family, wealth, war, money, education, labor, justice, and government, for example. While social doctrines were at least implicitly taught by the Church throughout its history, the Enlightenment and the accompanying rejection of Christendom forced the Church to become more explicit and more emphatic about social doctrines. Hence, during the last two centuries we have seen the great social encyclicals addressing the problems of the day. Now, more than ever, we see society in a very precarious state. Traditional notions of marriage, family, sexuality and freedom have been eroded. Our technology makes it possible to alter the genetic structure of life. Even the definition of what it means to be a human being is not secure. It is as if society is rushing headlong, without thought or foresight, into a moral abyss from which nothing short of a miracle will save it. We can at least do our part by using the means available to us to promote one of the "best kept secrets of the Catholic Church," i.e., the treasury of its social teachings.10
Let us now apply the principles expressed above to a concrete situation in modern secularist society. In particular, let us look at the family, which is of utmost importance as it is the fundamental social unit. What is a family? According to Catholic teaching it is an assemblage of persons residing in the same household under a common superior or head and united by ties founded on the natural law.11 By "residing in the same household" we do not exclude family members temporarily living elsewhere, such as those boarding at a distant school or away on military service. The family is founded upon marriage. The typical family unit includes a husband, wife, and children. In sociological terms the family unit can be a "small family" (also called a "nuclear family") or a "large family."12 An "extended family" includes persons outside of the family unit who are nevertheless morally united to members of the family unit by ties of blood or marriage. The family is where children are nurtured, taught and protected. Here, above all, we see the principles of natural law, human dignity and fellowship put into effect. The family is founded upon natural law, as a fellowship of persons, for the recognition and protection of the human dignity of its members.
In the present secularist society the fact that a family is a moral union of persons under the natural law is utterly disregarded. As mentioned above, the secularist society repudiates natural law, which is the basis for any society. Hence the morally bankrupt and breathtakingly witless decisions by the courts in the United States dealing with issues which relate to family life, such as abortion, contraception, sexual relations, homosexual unions and the like.
As bad as the situation is in the United States, it is not the worst. In Germany, for example, home-schooling has been criminalized. Home-schooling parents have been arrested and threatened with the confiscation of their property, while their children have been forcibly removed from home and taken to state-approved schools.13
What is happening throughout the world in conjunction with globalism is a growing totalitarianism, a grab at power. The state seeks to nullify any independent institution that supports the people and that can make demands upon the allegiance of the people, especially the family and the Church. To this end we will witness the perversion of marriage and sexual relationships, the confiscation of wealth, the forced indoctrination of children with state-approved ideology, and the imprisonment of those who refuse to comply. All fellowship between people, a danger to the totalitarian state, is destroyed because none of the three principles of natural law, human dignity and fellowship can long survive without support from the other two.
Is the situation the result of false ideologies that have taken root in society, or is it engineered by a wicked elite? The question presents a false dichotomy. It is like asking whether the anti-Christ is a philosophy or an actual human being. It can be both. The world of ideas includes both heresies and truth, the world of the spirits includes demons and angels, and the world of men includes the wicked and the just.
While there is yet time and opportunity it is incumbent upon the faithful to form and support organizations devoted to education and to the promotion of Catholic social principles. We should demonstrate our displeasure with certain government policies loudly and persistently. If natural means were the only mechanisms we could use to effect social change we would not fare so well as we should. The wicked are very clever. They are specialists at worldly designs, and Catholics tend to be otherworldly. But here, then, is a strength that is beyond their comprehension — the power of prayer. In the words of St. Ignatius, we should work as if everything depended upon us and pray as if everything depended upon God. The enemy turns to Christ and says now, as it once did two thousand years ago, "Die." We turn to society and say to all of our fellow human beings, "Live!"
1. There is a natural physical law, or scientific law, and a natural moral law. Here, we are dealing only with the natural moral law.
2. See, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, USCCB Publishing, §39: "The salvation offered by God to his children requires their free response and acceptance."
3. Romans 7:15.
4. See, Calderone, A., "Human Dignity," Homiletic and Pastoral Review, February 2005.
5. The Compendium makes reference to "solidarity." Fellowship and solidarity are very similar concepts. However, solidarity seems to be more oriented toward being with others with respect to some issue, whereas fellowship conveys the notion of traveling with others as if on some journey or mission. Both are principles underlying Catholic social teachings. My use of the term "fellowship" is not intended to exclude solidarity, but to embrace it with the added nuance of cooperative activity and journeying in fulfillment of a mission as on a pilgrimage.
6. Matthew 22:37-40.
7. 1 John 1:3-7.
8. 1 Corinthians 1:9-11.
9. I am not trying to be melodramatic. Those who think that such things cannot happen in modern democratic states should consider the lesson of the Vendee in France. Between the years 1793 and 1796, by some estimates almost a quarter of a million Catholics were slaughtered by the secularist advocates of Enlightenment humanism. The murder of Christians by the Communists is well known.
10. A useful summary of Catholic social teachings can be found in the recently published Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, USCCB Publishing, 3211 Fourth Street, NE, Washington D.C., 20017.
11. See, Cahill, E., S.J., The Framework of a Christian State, Roman Catholic Books, p. 320. The definition set forth above is adapted from that given by Fr. Cahill.
12. The terms "small" and "large" do not refer to the number of individuals in the family, but rather to the number of generations living in the same household. Thus, for sociological purposes, a family unit with three individuals, but each of a different generation (i.e., grandparent, parent and child), is a "large family," while a family unit consisting of two parents and ten children is a "small family."
13. See, "Catholic News Watch: Germany Returns to Its Nazi Ways," The Remnant, January 15, 2007, page 1.
Mr Adrian Calderone graduated from Manhattan College with B.Ch.E and M.E. degrees in Chemical Engineering. He spent more than three years living and traveling in Asia. Having earned his Juris Doctorate from New York Law School, he now practices intellectual property law. He and his wife Jo live in Brooklyn, N.Y. and have three daughters. His last article in HPR appeared in February 2005.