Presentation of Compendium of Church's Social Doctrine

«A Text That Had No Precedent»

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 25, 2004 ( Here is the presentation of the «Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church," made today in a press conference by Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

* * *

I am particularly pleased to make public today the long-awaited document «Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.» This document has been prepared — at the request of the Holy Father, to whom it is dedicated — by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which is fully responsible for its content. It 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. This work began five years ago under the presidency of my venerated predecessor Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân. An unavoidable delay in the work was caused by the sickness and death of Cardinal Van Thuân and by the subsequent change in presidency of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

The drafting of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church was not a simple undertaking. The most complex problems that had to be dealt with were essentially those determined by: a) the fact that this amounted to compiling a text that had no precedent in the Church’s history; b) the attempt to bring into focus certain complex epistemological questions inherent in the nature of the Church’s Social Doctrine; c) the need to give a unified and universal dimension to the document notwithstanding the countless facets and unlimited variety of social realities in the world and of the world; and d) the desire to offer a teaching that loses nothing of its luster over time, in an historical period marked by very rapid and radical social, economic and political changes.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church offers a complete overview of the fundamental framework of the doctrinal corpus of Catholic social teaching. Faithful to the authoritative recommendation made by the Holy Father John Paul II in No. 54 of the postsynodal apostolic exhortation «Ecclesia in America,» the document presents «in a complete and systematic manner, even if by means of an overview, the Church’s social teaching, which is the fruit of careful Magisterial reflection and an expression of the Church’s constant commitment in fidelity to the grace of salvation wrought in Christ and in loving concern for humanity’s destiny» (Compendium, 8).

The Compendium has a simple and straightforward structure. After an introduction, there follow three parts. The first, composed of four chapters, deals with the fundamental presuppositions of Social Doctrine — God’s plan of love for humanity and society, the Church’s mission and the nature of social doctrine, the human person and human rights, and the principles and values of Social Doctrine.

The second part, 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 just one chapter, contains a series of recommendations for the use of Social Doctrine in the pastoral activity of the Church and in the life of Christians, above all the lay faithful. The conclusion, entitled «For a Civilization of Love,» is an expression of the underlying purpose of the entire document.

The work is accompanied by extensive indexes that make for easy and very useful consultation.

The Compendium has a specific goal and is characterized by certain objectives spelled out in No. 10 of the introduction. The document «is presented as an instrument for the moral and pastoral discernment of the complex events that mark our time; as a guide to inspire, at the individual and community levels, attitudes and choices that will permit all people to look to the future with greater trust and hope; as an aid for the faithful concerning the Church’s teaching in the area of social morality» (Compendium, 10).

It is moreover an instrument put together for the precise purpose of promoting «new strategies suited to the demands of our time and in keeping with human needs and resources. But above all there can arise the motivation to rediscover the vocation proper to the different charisms within the Church that are destined to the evangelization of the social order, because ‘all the members of the Church are sharers in this secular dimension’1» (Compendium, 10).

A point worth emphasizing, because it is found in various parts of the document, is the following: the text is presented as an instrument for fostering ecumenical and interreligious dialogue on the part of Catholics with all who sincerely seek the good of mankind. In fact, the statement is made in No. 12 that the document «is proposed also to the brethren of other Churches and ecclesial communities, to the followers of other religions, as well as to all people of good will who are committed to serving the common good.»

Social Doctrine, indeed, is intended for a universal audience, in addition to those to whom it is primarily and specifically addressed, the sons and daughters of the Church. The light of the Gospel, which Social Doctrine brings to shine on society, illuminates every person; every conscience and every intellect is able to grasp the human depths of meaning and values expressed in this doctrine, as well as the outpouring of humanity and humanization contained in its norms for action.

Obviously, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church concerns Catholics first of all, for «the first recipient of the Church’s Social Doctrine is the Church community in its entire membership, because everyone has social responsibilities that must be fulfilled. In the tasks of evangelization, that is to say, of teaching, catechesis and formation that the Church’s Social Doctrine inspires, it is addressed to every Christian, each according to the competence, charisms, office and mission of proclamation that is proper to each one» (Compendium, 83).

Social Doctrine also implies responsibility regarding the construction, organization and functioning of society: political, economic and administrative duties, or duties of a secular nature that belong to the lay faithful in a particular way because of the secular nature of their state of life and vocation. By means of this responsibility, the laity put Social Doctrine into practice and fulfill the Church’s secular mission.

In the preparation of the Compendium, the question of the place of the Church’s Social Doctrine in today’s world was constantly raised. In formulating an answer to this question, it was decided that proceeding along the road of a simple sociological analysis was not necessary, nor was a listing of social priorities or emerging problems. Rather, it was thought that the Compendium should represent a serious and precise instrument suitable for assisting that discernment — a cognitive act of the Church and the community — that is so indispensable today.

Christian discernment is based on reading the signs of the times, a reading made in the light of the Word of God and that corpus of truth the magisterium has established as the Church’s Social Doctrine, for the purpose of giving direction to community and personal action. With this we arrive at the very heart of the Church’s Social Doctrine, we touch its innermost nature as «the encounter of the Gospel message and of its demands with the problems emanating from the life of society.»2 The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church presents the Church’s Social Doctrine as a doctrine that is born from discernment, that is itself discernment, and that has discernment as its goal.

It is in this basic perspective that the Compendium has the high expectation of helping to bring about a discernment capable of responding to certain decisive chall
enges of great relevance and importance.

a) First is the cultural challenge, which social doctrine deals with by keeping in mind its constitutive interdisciplinary dimension. Through her Social Doctrine the Church «proclaims the truth about Christ, about herself and about man, applying this truth to a concrete situation.»3 It is therefore evident that, in view of the future, Social Doctrine will always have to further develop its interdisciplinary dimension.4 This interdisciplinary aspect is not something extraneous but an intrinsic dimension of the Church’s Social Doctrine, because it is closely connected with the goal of incarnating the eternal truth of the Gospel in the historical problems humanity must face.

The truth of the Gospel needs to be brought into contact with the various branches of human knowledge because faith is not foreign to reason. The historical fruits of justice and peace develop when the light of the Gospel filters through and enters the fabric of human cultures, respecting the mutual autonomy of faith and knowledge, but also heeding their analogous connections. When dialogue with the various disciplines of knowledge draws the parties closer together and becomes productive, the Church’s Social Doctrine is able to fulfill its role of fostering the planning of new social, economic and political programs, at the center of which is the human person in all his dimensions.

It is hardly necessary to observe how a theologically oriented interdisciplinary dimension is able to respond to two needs that are strongly felt in today’s culture. Modern culture rejects any kind of «closed» system, but at the same time it is in search of reasoned explanations. The Church’s Social Doctrine is not «a closed system,»5 and there are two reasons why this is so: because it is historical, that is, it «develops in accordance with the changing circumstances of history»;6 and because it draws its origins from the message of the Gospel,7 which is transcendent and, precisely for this reason, is the principal «source of renewal»8 for history. This interdisciplinary dimension allows Social Doctrine to offer guidance without being a system and without being a misguiding system.

b) The second challenge arises from ethical and religious indifference and the need for renewed interreligious cooperation. At the social level, the most important aspects of widespread indifference are the separation between ethics and politics and the conviction that ethical questions have no place in the public arena, that they cannot be the object of rational political debate, held as expressions of individual, even private, choices. By extension, the separation between ethics and politics tends to be applied as well to the relationship between politics and religion, which is assigned to the realm of private matters.

In this area the Church’s social doctrine has an arduous task to fulfill today and in the near future, a task that is more easily engaged if it is undertaken in dialogue with other Christian professions and even with non-Christian religions. Interreligious cooperation will be one of the paths of great strategic value for the good of humanity and decisive in the future of social doctrine. Looking through the eyes of Christian wisdom at the events of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the new millennium, we can, as the Holy Father has indicated, identify at least one historical area of primary importance for interreligious dialogue in the social sphere. This is the area of peace and human rights. Everyone knows the numerous and heartfelt appeals made by the Pope in this regard.

A review of John Paul II’s Addresses to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See during these 26 years of the pontificate is enough to give us an idea of the frequency and insistence of his appeals for the world’s religions to work together for peace, in the «spirit of Assisi.» It is sufficient here to recall the reference in his Message for the 2002 World Day of Peace, where the Holy Father wrote: «The various Christian confessions, as well as the world’s great religions, need to work together to eliminate the social and cultural causes of terrorism. They can do this by teaching the greatness and dignity of the human person, and by spreading a clearer sense of the oneness of the human family. This is a specific area of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and cooperation, a pressing service which religion can offer to world peace.»9

In the near future, the areas of human rights, peace, social and economic justice, and development will be increasingly at the center of interreligious dialogue. Catholics will be called to participate in this dialogue with their Social Doctrine, understood as a «doctrinal corpus» that prompts, but is also nurtured by, «the fruitful activity of many millions of people, who have sought to make that teaching the inspiration for their involvement in the world.»10

c) 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; of how this Doctrine is born from the Word of God and from the living faith of the Church; of how it is an expression of the Church’s service to the world, in which the salvation of Christ is to be proclaimed in word and deed. It depends on the renewed understanding, therefore, of how this Doctrine is connected with all aspects of the Church’s life and action: the sacraments, the liturgy, catechesis, and pastoral activity. The Church’s Social Doctrine, which «is an essential part of the Christian message,»11 must be known, propagated and lived. When, in any way whatsoever, one loses the keen awareness that this Social Doctrine belongs to the Church’s mission, Social Doctrine itself is manipulated, falling prey to various forms of ambiguity and partisan application.

Here I would like to recall the famous expression «Catholic Social Doctrine is an integral part of the Christian conception of life,»12 with which Blessed Pope John XXIII, in his encyclical «Mater et Magistra,» paved the way many years earlier for the successive, important and profound statements of John Paul II: «the teaching and spreading of her Social Doctrine are part of the Church’s evangelizing mission»;13 an «instrument of evangelization,»14 Social Doctrine «proclaims God and his mystery of salvation in Christ to every human being.»15

The less this doctrine is reduced to discourses of sociology or political science, to moralizing exhortations, to «a pseudo-science of well-being»16 or to a simple «ethics for difficult situations,» the better it will be able to render its service to men and women in the fabric of society and in the economic sphere. It will be ever better known, taught, lived and incarnated in the fullness of its «vital link with the Gospel of the Lord.»17

Concluding this presentation of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church with these reflections on the role of the Church’s Social Doctrine in today’s world as it faces the new challenges of evangelization, I would like to emphasize a twofold dimension of the presence of Christians in society, a twofold inspiration that comes to us from this Social Doctrine itself and that in the future will increasingly need to be lived in a complementarity that brings many different aspects together.

I am referring to the need for personal witness on the one hand, and, on the other, to the need for the planning of new programs for an authentic humanism that involves social structures. These two dimensions, personal and social, must never be separated. My fervent hope is that the Compendium of the Church’s Social Doctrine will help to develop authentic, believing characters and inspire them to bear credible witness capable, by thought and by action, of modifying the mechanisms of modern society. There is always a need for witnesses, martyrs and saints, also in the social sphere.

Popes ha
ve made repeated reference to people who have lived their presence in society bearing «witness to Christ the Savior.»18 We are speaking here of all those whom «Rerum Novarum» considered «worthy of all praise»19 for their active commitment to improving, in that time, the conditions of workers; of those who, in the words of «Centesimus Annus,» «succeeded time after time in finding effective ways of bearing witness to the truth»;20 of those who «spurred on by the social magisterium, have sought to make that teaching the inspiration for their involvement in the world. Acting either as individuals or joined together in various groups, associations and organizations, these people represent a great movement for the defense of the human person and the safeguarding of human dignity.»21

We are speaking here of many Christians, many of whom are lay people, who «attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life.»22 Personal witness — fruit of an «adult» Christian life, profound and mature — cannot fail to undertake also the task of building a new civilization, in dialogue with the various branches of human knowledge, in dialogue with other religions and with all people of good will to bring about an integral humanism marked by solidarity.

* * *

1 John Paul II, postsynodal apostolic exhortation «Christifideles Laici,» 15.
2 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, instruction «Libertatis Conscientia,» 72.
3 John Paul II, encyclical letter «Sollicitudo Rei Socialis,» 41.
4 «The Church’s social teaching has an important interdisciplinary dimension. In order better to incarnate the one truth about man in different and constantly changing social, economic and political contexts, this teaching enters into dialogue with the various disciplines concerned with man. It assimilates what these disciplines have to contribute, and helps them to open themselves to a broader horizon, aimed at serving the individual person who is acknowledged and loved in the fullness of his or her vocation» (John Paul II, encyclical letter «Centesimus Annus,» 59).
5 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, instruction «Libertatis Conscientia,» 72.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Paul VI, «Octogesima Adveniens,» 42.
9 John Paul II, «No Peace Without Justice, No Justice Without Forgiveness», Message for the 2002 World Day of Peace, 12.
10 John Paul II, encyclical letter «Centesimus Annus,» 3.
11 John Paul II, encyclical letter «Centesimus Annus,» 5.
12 John XXIII, encyclical letter «Mater et Magistra,» 222.
13 John Paul II, encyclical letter «Sollicitudo Rei Socialis,» 41.
14 John Paul II, encyclical letter «Centesimus Annus,» 54.
15 Ibid.
16 John Paul II, encyclical letter «Redemptoris Missio,» 11.
17 John Paul II, encyclical letter «Sollicitudo Rei Socialis,» 3.
18 John Paul II, encyclical letter «Centesimus Annus,» 5.
19 Leo XIII, encyclical letter «Rerum Novarum,» 55.
20 John Paul II, encyclical letter «Centesimus Annus,» 23.
21 John Paul II, encyclical letter «Centesimus Annus,» 3.
22 John Paul II, apostolic letter «Novo Millennio Ineunte,» 31.

[Translation issued by the Vatican press office]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation