Social Doctrine From A to Z

Interview With Rector of Rome’s Salesian University

ROME, NOV. 3, 2006 ( The evangelizing action of the Church needs to refer back to its social doctrine, says the rector of the Salesian University of Rome.

In introducing the new Dictionary of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Father Mario Toso writes that the volume offers a “common spelling book” in the face of “illiteracy on the basic categories of the social doctrine of the Church.”

The volume was coordinated by Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and by Father Enrique Colom, professor of theology at the University of the Holy Cross.

Father Toso speaks with ZENIT about the dictionary that is organized by themes and published by the Salesian Athenaeum Library.

Q: How and why did you decide to publish the Dictionary of the Social Doctrine of the Church?

Father Toso: There are many reasons. Above all, the need was felt to disseminate and make more accessible an “updated synthesis” of the social doctrine of the Church, finally available in the compendium published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2004.

With this objective, the council itself entrusted the task of preparing the Dictionary of the Social Doctrine of the Church to Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi and to professor Enrique Colom.

Aware of the importance of the initiative, the Salesian university felt honored when it was offered the possibility to publish it through its own publishing house, the Salesian Athenaeum Library.

This was in response to the urgency, on the part of those engaged in the education of the faith, proclamation and witness, to have instruments capable of concretizing the social dimension of the Gospel.

As Pope John Paul II said, the social teaching of the Church is an “essential element” of the new evangelization.

But then, one must pass to the practice, concretizing such truth at the pastoral and cultural level, preparing materials that are appropriate for the evangelizing agents — priests, religious, educators, animators, etc. — and for the recipients — children, youths, adults, professionals, etc.

Of course the dictionary is not an elementary “alphabetical index” of the social doctrine. Hence, it is necessary to prepare simpler materials. I am thinking of videos, cards, CD’s, as instruments of presentation and communication of the contents of the social teaching for personal or group reflection.

Some materials already exist, but others are needed, planned and realized to help Christian communities and also families in their task of discernment and education.

Q: In the dictionary’s introduction, you speak of “instruments of a new humanism.” Could you tell us which ones they are and why they are needed?

Father Toso: The instruments of a new humanism never replace the faith, the personal encounter with Jesus Christ, the original experience of being and of feeling oneself a community of saved people.

The compendium and the dictionary and the different experimentations of the social doctrine of the Church in everyday life can, instead, represent places of projection and action of a new humanity, in the measure of that given by Jesus Christ from the cross. That is, a humanity capable of commitment, of overcoming evil with good, with forgiveness, with the greater justice that is love-agape, in full communion with God.

Humanity associated definitively to Jesus Christ’s destiny — word of God, beginning and end of history — can find in the compendium, the dictionary and other materials offered by the local communities, new expressions and institutional and cultural concretions in present-day society.

The compendium and the dictionary are instruments of a new humanism because they propose, in the present sociocultural context, marked by utilitarian and immanentist individualism, a communal and relational personalism open to transcendence.

This personalism makes them agents of a social morality that, based on the foundation of the redeemer God, strengthens the very secularism of the state and urges them to overcome the plan of modernity, which sought to base public morality on the principle — as if God did not exist — and that, with the passing of time, has shown itself as the cause of the aging of the ethos of peoples, of their desperate nihilism.

Moreover, it enables one to respond to the “aporias” proper to the present lack of theology of man, that is, of that cultural phenomenon by which the person is interpreted within the finitude of earthly hopes, enclosed in merely biologistic and natural dimensions, to the point of losing his specificity, his own face.

Q: What happens when man fails to acknowledge the transcendent?

Father Toso: The lack of acknowledgment of man’s transcendence in respect of nature — as happens for example in the theories that dilute the person — capable of understanding and loving — in the biotic community, challenges every moral plan, in the impossibility of finding a foundation for the environmental ethic itself.

In regard to all these perspectives, which deconstruct anthropology and accentuate the decline of hope and of the desire of a future, the dictionary and the compendium invite one to live a theocentric humanism — ethical and heroic — of the Incarnation.

In it, God and man join hands and cooperate to produce a work that is divine and human and which requires, on the creature’s part, the strength and constancy of love and of the virtues, without excluding martyrdom.

The prototype of a man required for such humanism is the saint and can be realized only with the means that Christian spirituality calls means of the cross, that is, the redeeming sufferings lived interiorly day by day, giving oneself without obstacles to God and others, according to the example of Jesus Christ.

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