Social Teaching of the Church
God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. (2 Cor. 5:18)
The task given to the Church is to reconcile the world with God. This entails reconciliation among men and women and, indeed, all creation. God sees us as one family.
Often, we envisage the social teaching of the Church as something extrinsic to the Church. Rather, we ought to see it as constitutive of her life. The Church addresses the values which she bears as a servant God and the minister of Christ. The Church proclaims the principles that express her life and bind the People of God together.
The Church is, first of all, a community. A community is made up of different persons, with various aptitudes and different objectives. She is called to show concern for all, no matter their state or condition in life. As Teacher she must explain to members of the community what are their rights and obligations. Only in this way can she truly proclaim that "there is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all." (Eph. 4:5,6).
To many, it would seem that the Church's social teaching is something which has developed only in the past hundred years or so. This is, of course, incorrect. The Fathers of the Church, like St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom and St. Ambrose, were very vocal about the social responsibility of Christians. But throughout the centuries, the Church has tended to concentrate more on her doctrinal, moral and liturgical life.
However, with the encyclical 'Rerum Novarum" of Pope Leo XIII in 1891 a new work era began. The Church began to understand the need to address the burning issues of workers, including just conditions of employment. This spirit was continued by Pope Pius XI who, in 1931, published the encyclical 'Quadragesimo Anno' on the occasion of the 40h anniversary of 'Rerum Novarum'.
With the advent of Pope John XXIII, a solid emphasis was placed on social teaching. This was well expressed in two documents, 'Mater et Magistra' and 'Pacem In Terris'. The Second Vatican Council placed further stress on this issue, particularly in the document entitled, 'The Church In The Modern World'. Pope Paul VI, in 'Populorum Progressio', related very effectively the teaching of the Church to the burning social issues of the day. This was followed by documents, 'On Social Concern' and 'The Church In America' (that is, the Western Hemisphere) by Pope John Paul II and 'Caritas In Veritate' by Pope Benedict XVI.
What is the purpose and object of the Church's social teaching? What is the thrust, the drive behind it? What is the goal of the Church?
In the post-modern world, the Church has grown in her understanding of the urgent need to transform society. A radical transformation is imperative if the world is to become the kind of society which God has in mind. Social transformation has, therefore, become a most important task of evangelization.
The Church's social teaching begins with the concept of the dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God. The Christian tradition recognizes persons not as individuals but as persons in community. This means that there are various relationships—family, social, business, economic, religious. There must be understanding and solidarity. For this, love, justice and peace must be promoted. The welfare of all must be the concern of all. And here we come to the famous words of Pope Paul VI, "Development is the new name for peace."
Respect for life in all its forms and an endeavour to promote the fullness of life is at the heart of the Church's social teaching. The prevailing culture of death which characterizes the present age, must be eliminated, according to Pope John Paul II.
Solidarity among persons must mean working together for the welfare of all. Church, State, Civil Society, all are obligated to work for the common goal. Solidarity also demands respect for subsidiarity.
A basic education must be available to all. The greatest poverty is not a lack of material necessities. Rather, it is the poverty of the mind. We are thinking beings or we are nothing at all!
Further, a just society must embrace the concepts of equity and participation. Poverty and inequality in the post-modern world are a glaring confirmation that the world is not what it is called to be. In fidelity to the Gospel, the Church has undertaken a preferential option for the poor.
Respect for the dignity of the family must be at the heart of the renewal of society. Of great concern is the calling into question of the uniqueness and sacredness of the traditional family. The very bedrock of society is at stake.
A Christian understanding of work is essential for the harmonious conduct of social and economic relationships. The dignity of work must be recognized. The primacy of labour over capital, as proclaimed by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical, 'Laborem Exercens', must serve as a guideline. This has tremendous implications for labour and management relationships.
It was Pope Paul VI who declared that "the world is in trouble because of a lack of thinking." No need to emphasize the rampant disturbances in society caused by men and women whose attitudes and polices are dominated by self-interest and the search for wealth and power, rather than by genuine social concern. A bold new attitude of serving and caring in the spirit of Christ, who made himself available to all, must be our watchword, if a large number of the world's population is not to be left behind in the development process.
Love and respect for God's creation is called for. Men and women have been placed in a garden to cultivate it. It must provide for the welfare for all. Respect for the environment is obligatory if the world is to be a place where people experience health and happiness.
In post-modern times, when advancement in technology has overcome many barriers to communication, there should be no need for war. The Church issues a loud call to the nations to "Beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks." War must cease to be embraced as a means of settling international disputes. The search for peace, justice and genuine harmonious relationships must be constantly pursued if Planet Earth is to survive.