The Social Doctrine of the Church cannot be chained Up

Introductory synthesis of the Third Report on the Social Doctrine of the Church in the World

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VATICAN CITY, Monday, December 5th, 2011 ( Offered to our readers is this introductory synthesis of the “Third Report on the Social Doctrine of the Church in the World” prepared by the Observatory Cardinal Van Thuân and published by Edizioni Cantagali of Siena. On Saturday 3 December, at a Symposium to be held at Palazzo Diana in Trieste, the Report will be presented to the general public by Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, Prof. Simona Beretta of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and Prof. Stefano Fontana, the director of the Observatory.




Diego Arias Padilla, Philippe de Saint Germain, Stefano Fontana, Fernando Fuentes Alcantara1

Living amid a plurality of value systems and ethical outlooks requires a journey to the core of one’s being and to the nucleus of Christianity so as to reinforce the quality of one’s witness to the point of sanctity and to find mission paths that lead even to the radical choice of martyrdom”

(Benedict XVI, speech at the airport of Portela, Lisbon, Tuesday 11 May 2010).


During his apostolic visit to Portugal Benedict XVI voiced words we have adopted as the guiding thrust for this introductory Synthesis: “The word of God cannot be chained up! (2 Tm 2:9).The Social Doctrine of the Church is not the Word of God in an immediate sense, and yet it is based on the Word of God and is both proclaimed and lived in the Church. We can therefore say this evocation also applies for the Social Doctrine of the Church: it cannot be chained up.

Looking back to 2010, the year to which this Report is dedicated, we realize that many are the chains that would keep the Social Doctrine of the Church in a sort of bondage.These are external chains and internal chains.

External can be considered the following chains: the aggressive laicist culture that this year as well has most violently deployed efforts for the secularization of society not only from religion as such, but also from ethics and even ordinary common sense; the forces on the international level launching a brutal and ongoing attack against life and the family, fielding extensive means and resources so all countries would frame laws facilitating abortion and destroying the family; the cultural agencies that impose a single line of thought on themes such as individual liberty, relations between the sexes and the vision of procreation;the major economic interests and the limited Christian and ethical sensitivity evident in the management of corporations and finance, which perpetuate situations of poverty and sufferance.

There are also internal chains that prevent the Church and Catholics themselves from digesting the Church’s social doctrine in full and making it become a personal and community commitment. Internal chains, for example, are: the lack of attention to the Magisterium of the pope, which often with culpable negligence is understood as but one possibility among others, with the ensuing risk that the light of truth being shined by Benedict XVI may fail to nourish the workings of the faithful in the concreteness of daily life; the non-application to the Social Doctrine of the Church of the hermeneutic criterion suggested by Benedict XVI with respect to Vatican Council II, and hence the fact the people continue talking about two social doctrines, one pre-Conciliar and one post-Conciliar, thereby preventing the faithful from drawing upon a Social Doctrine of the Church seen in its completeness and entirely within the mainstream of tradition; the weakness and extemporaneous way people dedicate themselves to the Social Doctrine of the Church, which experiences periods of revival and others of abandonment; the secularization of the Social Doctrine of the Church which, with the excuse of turning it into a secular instrument of constructive discussion with one and all, is often presented as a human moral code and wisdom of this world, with the ensuing loss of its true reason for existing, which is the glory of God; the intellectualization of the Social Doctrine of the Church reduced to being the theme for debate at meetings and encounters among experts and not transmitted to the grassroots of the ecclesial community in a systematic manner, a manner vitally connected with itineraries of formation and Christian witness.

These are some of the chains that hinder the movement of the Social Doctrine of the Church, and in 2010 as well they showed just how resistant they are. Nonetheless, the Holy Father tells us the social doctrine is not made to remain in chains. And when he says so he is also speaking about witnesses, saints and martyrs, prophecy and courage, new missionary vigor, the ardor of sanctity, the call to work for the Kingdom of God, union with Christ and the workings of His Spirit, renewing the face of the earth beginning from God, vitality and joyfulness in announcing the resurrection of Christ, a broad-reaching capillary effort to be deployed, a courageous and integral evocation of principles, the fervor of the origins and the joyfulness at the beginning of the Christian experience, the quality of witness and well defined identity. These are all expressions taken from addresses delivered by Benedict XVI in 2010.

Beatified in Warsaw on 6 June 2010 was Father Padre Jerzy Popieluszko, a martyr of the times of communism. 2010 also witnessed the beginning of the process of canonization of Cardinal Van Thuân. Two radiant examples of Christian martyrdom with such substantial beneficial consequences for society, but certainly not driven primarily by social needs, but by spiritual requirements, by the desire to know God and live in Him, by the wish to assign first place to Him. Christ’s lordship over the world is first and foremost lordship of hearts, and when the heart of man opens to the Spirit the consequences in terms of social wellness become tangible as well. Those who will read this Report, even if only the chronology of facts presented at the end, will realize how many martyrs there really were in 2010. And they were the ones who broke the chains often holding down the Social Doctrine of the Church.

It must not be thought, however, that a witness, a saint or a martyr has to live exceptional experiences as was the case for Father Padre Jerzy Popieluszko or Cardinal Van Thuân. To use yet other words of Benedict XVI, those who are not ashamed of taking a stand against the divinities and lords of this world also in the circumscribed dimensions of their daily life and do not give a helping hand to secularism, those who bear witness to the social teaching of the Church in surroundings – ecclesial as well – that at times mock them, those who refrain from placing all their trust in structures and programmes, those who struggle to demolish the falsehoods of the dominant culture and denounce forms of violence and abuse, those who take action against unjust laws and dedicate their forces, sleep and resources to the battle for truth and good. . .all such people are also witnesses who break the chains around the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Regarding witnesses, however, there is also a reductive and unsatisfactory version that considers them merely as people who do things, spend themselves and take a personal stand, but don’t necessarily know why. Witness is often sent against knowledge, motivation, and solidity of thought. This type of witness is not able to break the chains holding down the Social Doctrine of the Church. Action is not a complete expression of love if it is not an expression of truth at one and the same time. Having witnesses of the Social Doctrine of the Church means having persons who know it from within Christian doctrine as a whole and live it as an act of intelligent love. Therefore, it isn’t a matter of launching into actual practice wit
hout the necessary doctrinal and spiritual formation, or a matter of stopping at theoretical formation without projecting all this into concrete life itself. Therefore, the witness, and even more so the saint and the martyr, usher us into the entire Christian experience of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which is itself only within the life of the Church, but the life of the Church is doctrine and love. The witness Benedict XVI calls for in a special way so the salt does not become tasteless is witness that justifies the Social Doctrine of the Church as a whole.

This we feel is the deep sense of the Magisterium’s constant references to natural law, which by no means ceased in 2010 and also guided positions assumed by the Holy See in international fora. Obedience to natural law is both an act of conscience and an act of love, and the two are inseparable: an act of conscience because natural law is the expression of the truth stemming from reason and revealed faith; an act of love because whomsoever loves wishes to know the person loved and desires all good for him. Obeying the truth of other-than-self means to love him, wish all good for him; it means to help him realize his nature and attain his beinghood in full. Those witnesses throughout the world who have battled for truth have also done so with love, and have thereby broken the two main chains preventing the Social Doctrine of the Church from spreading and becoming incarnate: the skepticism that says no truth exists, and the individualism that says no love exists. Both deny that other-than-self is a vocation, and both prevent outward projection of self, even if in today’s society of the secularized masses people almost always end up living outside themselves.

This introductory Synthesis examines the year in question – 2010 this time – and strives to highlight its main features. It then indicates an itinerary to be traveled together, offering input on action for the future. In our opinion the outstanding feature of 2010 can be seen in the clear indication of the urgent need for witness, sanctity and martyrdom in the Social Doctrine of the Church. The indication for the future is to never separate the different aspects of the Social Doctrine of the Church, but always keep them bonded together in authentic Christian life in the Church. Witness, sanctity and martyrdom remind us of this need, without which the Social Doctrine of the Church succumbs to the ferocious secularization underway and loses sight of the primacy of God.

1 Diego Arias Padilla, Director of the Centro de Piensamento Social Católico of the Universidad San Pablo di Arequipa, Peru.

Philippe de Saint Germain, General Delegate of the Association for the Foundation for Public Service, ParisParigi.

Stefano Fontana, Director of the International ObservatoryCardinal Van Thuân on the Social Doctrine of the Church, Verona.

Fernando Fuentes Alcantara, Director of the Fundación Pablo VI, Madrid.

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