The Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching
There are seven main themes of Catholic social teaching:
1. The Life and Dignity of the Human Person
2. The Call to Family, Community, and Participation
3. Rights and Responsibilities
4. The Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
5. The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
7. Care for God’s Creation
For a deeper dive into the seven themes themselves please read: (https://catholic-link.org/catholic-social-teaching/)
Today, I would like to investigate seven points that are important in approaching Catholic social teaching.
Point 1 – Principle and Application
Within these seven themes, there is an almost infinite number of things to say. Each of the themes carries with them a number of definitive principles of faith and morals which are not up to debate for faithful Catholics. However, there are also a great number of prudential applications which are not definitive but depend on the cultural and sociological circumstances of the times.
When reading the social encyclicals of the Popes, especially of the last 150 years, we certainly get a mix of principles of faith and morals as well as prudential judgments. What are we to do with these judgments? The Church says that even those teachings given by the ordinary teaching authority of the Pope require our religious submission of intellect and will. In other words, we need to think about the judgments the Popes are making and put them into action with our will.
It is important to not confuse applications or prudential judgments with principles of faith and morals. Principles of moral teaching such as the complete rejection of abortion and euthanasia are binding on the faithful in an unchangeable way. However, policies regarding immigration, working conditions, and unionization of workers could have different valid perspectives in the Catholic tradition depending on circumstances.
Point 2 – The Human Family
Recently in his writing, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis wrote a great phrase: “We gorged ourselves on networking, and lost the taste of fraternity. We looked for quick and safe results, only to find ourselves overwhelmed by impatience and anxiety (FT, 33).” In many ways, this phrase summarizes the modern problem of loneliness.
Catholic social teaching is rightly called “social” because it pertains to how we organize ourselves as a society. Rather, I should say as individual societies that are gathered up into one human family. When we see connections as networking rather than fraternity, we will get Catholic social teaching wrong. When we look for the most expedient path rather than the best path, we will get Catholic social teaching wrong.
There are no individual sins, in the final analysis. Everything we do affects everyone else, insofar as we are all connected at the very least as creatures of God. This connection is perfected and elevated by Baptism into Christ, especially.
Point 3 – The Mind of the Church
Because there is so much interplay between definitive Church teachings, opinions, policies, and prudential judgments, it is important to think with the mind of the Church. On those matters which pertain to faith and morals but are not explicitly defined and prescribed in the documents of the Church, we are called to think with the mind of the Church. This is a mark of fidelity to Christ and His Church.
If we are not sure exactly what the Church teaches, we need to research related teachings to determine, in prayer, what is the best course of action. We can do this by reading Sacred Scripture, in the context of the whole of the Bible. In other words, we cannot pick and choose passages. We can look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We can visit a site like NewAdvent.org. There are many great resources available.
Point 4 – Preeminence of the Fight Against Abortion
The seven themes of Catholic social teaching are all important! However, there is one modern-day issue that enjoys a preeminence in our priorities. We are obligated as Catholics to serve Christ and His Church. Part of that service means adhering to each of the seven areas of Catholic social teaching faithfully.
Naturally, there are certain issues that are more important or more pressing than others. There is no issue more pressing today than the fight against the “unspeakable crime” of abortion, to quote the Second Vatican Council. This would also include the intrinsic evil of euthanasia.
Point 5 – Allow for Legitimate Diversity in Approach, Where Possible
Just to circle back to Point 1, when we are approaching an issue, we have to adhere to the principles of faith and morals, but the application can be legitimately varied. It is important to allow our human reason to engage with others in a charitable manner, always seeking the truth, but allowing for a legitimate diversity where possible. Otherwise, we will start calling things definitive that are merely our own opinions. This can lead to ideological silos that harm true unity, which allows for legitimate diversity.
Point 6 – Favoring Subsidiarity
Many in our world favor a fairly extreme version of globalism which would minimize local culture and variations in favor of a monochromatic approach to the common good. As with any organization involving human beings, it is a delicate balance to see growth without becoming unruly.
The Church has consistently put forward the principle of subsidiarity as a guiding principle for political, social, and cultural organization. Basically, subsidiarity means that reasonable and legitimate power should be given to the local level because often the best decision is made at the local level.
The Catholic Church has given clear teachings that Communism is completely incompatible with the Catholic Faith, and that certain forms of Socialism and Capitalism are incompatible with the Faith. No matter our political viewpoint, it is important to favor a healthy measure of subsidiarity.
Point 7 – Rights Come with Responsibilities
In order for productive activity to freely develop, human rights must be upheld. These privileges, whether afforded by God our Creator or the consent of the governed in a given populace, carry with them firm responsibilities to serve the good. Of course, God is our highest good. So, when we exercise our rights and the accompanying responsibilities, it is a religious act. We have a responsibility to form our conscience in accord with the teachings of the Church and the right to act in accord with our conscience.
We also have to respect the legitimate rights of others, according to the unfailing and definite teachings of our Holy Mother Church.
God, help us to serve You, our neighbor, and ourselves in accord with Your will, always! Amen.