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Pope.jpgOnce again, Mary Veeneman, professor in theology at North Park University, steps up to guide us into understanding Pope Benedict XVI’s most recent statement. This is a two-part post and tomorrow Mary will explore the significance of this new statement. Today Mary sets the stage by sketching Catholic social vision — and I wish I could point to more of this by evangelical thinkers.

Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclial Caritas in Veritate is the latest encyclical that falls under the
rubric of Catholic Social Teaching and has been fairly well received in the
mainstream media, due to its teaching on economic issues (more on that
later). 

Modern Catholic Social
Teaching (CST) is made up of a number of encyclicals and other church documents that
elucidate the Catholic Church’s teachings on social ethics.  Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891) is understood as the origin of modern
CST.  Rerum Novarum was written in the midst of labor disputes in various
industrial countries and talks about the importance of a living wage and the
right of workers to organize. 

Question: If CST is characterized
as a care for life from “womb to tomb” as Firer Hinze argues, what might its
implications be as we think through various issues related to the sanctity of
life and the care for the poor?

In the encyclicals that follow, Rerum Novarum is reaffirmed and expanded upon with several key
themes emerging (and here I have to give credit and appreciation to one of my
professors, Dr. Christine Firer Hinze for laying out these themes in such a
clear way for me when I was her student). 

The first and probably most central theme is the dignity of the human
person
.  The entire tradition of
Catholic Social Teaching rests on the affirmation that the life and dignity of
each and every human being must be upheld and protected.  Further, the goal of every social
sphere must be human flourishing
. 
CST also upholds the common good as the aim of the state and of other
organizations.  This tradition also
upholds the dignity of work and the rights of workers. 

CST understands the right purpose of the
economy as that which provides access, on fair conditions, to reasonable
degrees of material flourishing for all people
.  Further, work is not simply a means to the end of material
flourishing.  It is also understood
as an important way in which one can express his or her creative capacities as
well as a way in which individuals can collaborate to further the common
good. 

 

The positions mentioned before then indicate a particular
understanding of economics.  Leo
XIII (as well as John Paul II) offered critiques of both Marxism and
laissez-faire capitalism.  CST has
tended to advocate some kind of capitalism and affirm private ownership, but to
understand both things in a limited way. 
CST affirms that the resources of the earth are intended to be enjoyed
by all.  Private property is
permissible in so far as it is able to advance the needs of the community but
the common good limits it. 
Throughout CST are warnings against greed and directives that the
possession of private property must be accompanied by a special concern for the
poor and vulnerable.  Further,
large disparities of wealth are considered morally suspect. 

 

In addition to these concerns, two key themes that run
throughout CST are solidarity as a central Christian virtue and a preferential
option for the poor
.  The argument
here is that the Bible depicts God as taking the side of the most
vulnerable.  This can be seen
especially in the prophets of the Hebrew Bible and the ministry of Jesus.  As a result, groups, institutions,
programs and practices must be evaluated in light of how they affect the
vulnerable.  Christine Firer Hinze describes
this stance as a consistent ethic that promotes life and the just conditions
for flourishing “from womb to tomb.”
 
Solidarity reinforces this as the virtue of seeing our interdependence
and living our lives accordingly. 
Solidarity is a commitment to promote the common good because each
individual is responsible for every other person. 

 

This introduction to CST will set the stage for our
discussion of Caritas in Veritate.  To initiate that discussion, I want to
ask one question.  If CST is characterized
as a care for life from “womb to tomb” as Firer Hinze argues, what might its
implications be as we think through various issues related to the sanctity of
life and the care for the poor?

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