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This chapter concerns developments in Catholic social teaching during the eventful pontificates of St. John XXIII (1958–63) and St. Paul VI (1963–78), including the work of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). The period was one of fast-moving social, political, and economic change. Pope St. John continued a change in emphasis already underway in the Church’s understanding of political authority, moving further away from the sort of sacral authority emphasized still by Pius XI to an emphasis on the natural moral law. He also treated the phenomenon of socialization and continued an emphasis on the dignity of the human person and a full-throated embrace of human rights. This was continued by the Council and by Paul VI, who was increasingly concerned with development in the global south and the relationship between economic problems and political violence. This period also saw the application of the doctrine of the universal destination of goods not only to individual persons but to nations as well. Both popes and the council fathers worked to develop the tradition while grappling with seemingly intractable challenges posed by secularization in the developed world and poverty and violence in the developing world as well as the climax of the Cold War.
The common good (bonum commune) has, since antiquity, referred to the aim of social and political association, and was particularly prominent in medieval Christian political theology. Since St. John XXIII’s 1961 encyclical letter, Mater et magistra, ecclesiastical statements about social teaching have employed a formulation of the common good, usually in the version that appeared in the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 Pastoral Constitution for the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes, as “the sum of those conditions of social life that allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment.” This chapter discusses the origins and development of this formulation as well as the ways that it has been used in subsequent Catholic Social Teaching. While it has sometimes been interpreted as an “instrumental” account of the common good, the sources and uses of the notion suggest that it is the particularly modern political component of a fuller notion of the common good continuous with the tradition. In particular, the recent formulation is concerned to limit the power of the modern state and protect the dignity of the human person in the challenging conditions of political modernity.