Introduction to Catholic social teaching, Rev. Raymond de Souza

by Chris Armstrong

…After the war, there was a human rights revolution in the thinking of the church. Facing the horrors of totalitarianism, there was a shift in emphasis: defense of human person, dignity, rights was essential. Universal declaration of human rights made after war. State no longer as in Aquinas’s time, a sacral actor: a thing thought of as exercising benign influence, but the source of evil, malign forces. Emphasized in documents of the 1960s: Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, Vat II emphasized religious liberty—a contested concept! Right to worship God freely! 1965 Dignitatis Humanae Personae.

Then toward end of 60s, shift to another problem that emerged: world that seemed to have prosperous, advancing societies, and those left behind with nothing. 1967, Paul VI, looked at question of income and equality. Not everyone sharing in fruits and goods of earth: focus on development, redistribution of wealth.

Then key figure, JP II, in social teaching of Catholicism: 27 year papacy. And lived in totalitarian world—came out of that. Three encyclicals: first: defense of right of workers, similar to that of Leo XIII. More deeply into anthropology of work: man’s work shapes him. Attacked communism not so much on loss of liberties, but mistakes about work: work is to be controlled by state to liberate man. NO man liberates through work, broadly speaking. Fundamental part of man’s liberty is exercised in his work, understood in broadest sense. Work is an expression of liberty. We use our intelligence in our work, gift of God. Our creativity is being applied, which is in the image of God.

Then a few  years later, the “Concern for the things of the social order” encyclical: Right to economic initiative. Sollicitudo rei socialis, 1987. Liberty not just in political, cultural, religious spheres. Also right to economic initiative—a liberty proper to man in his economic work, which should not be stifled by state. That expression is new. The idea goes back a long time. And the idea of entrepreneurship (Acton involved in this) affirmed for the first time here too.

Then Centesimus Annus, 1991, defense of free economy, as he calls it. Economic liberty exercised with others: if you mean this by capitalism, then that is good. But if you separate economic liberty from all other liberties—freedom to exploit—then that is not a Christian vision.

Wrapping up: that’s where things stood. Enter Benedict XVI, 2005. Not a lawyer like Pius XI, Leo XIII, not a historian like ____, not a diplomat like _____, not a philosopher like JPII, but a gifted theologian. That’s the exception. That’s unusual. Maybe never in history of church is the successor of Peter also the most accomplished theologian alive. He starts with a theological point on social teaching: the basic reality that ought to characterize our social relations is charity. Usually Catholic social teaching had started with justice. Ubi caritas, not ubi justitio. Where there is charity, there is God. Not where there is justice.

This is a challenge, therefore. For Christians, he says, we must start with charity. We wouldn’t disagree, but it’s a challenge to the way things has been done….

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