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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.
Modern Catholic social teaching, especially as articulated by the popes, the curia, and the bishops, has said little directly and formally about systems of finance. Where these voices have spoken, they have encouraged sound practices in broad outline and criticized obviously unsound and immoral behaviors. Unfortunately, their own financial management practices have not offered good models for what might be done. Nevertheless, key concepts like the logic of gift, the idea of solidarity and the common good, and the vision of integral human development, coupled with the competence and integrity of Catholics working in systems of finance, can imagine possibilities and generate inspiring models of professional conduct. The key to making this work well is to understand and embrace the possibility of pursuing work in the system of finance as a genuine Christian vocation that in its own way genuinely addresses human needs and helps to build the Kingdom of God. In service of this, the pastors of the Church at every level can and should affirm this profession as a vocation, encourage Catholics to bring their faith to their work, avoid unnecessary criticism of business practices, and assist business professionals to see more clearly the challenges and possibilities they face.
This chapter is an analytical summary of Rerum novarum. Its goal is to illuminate the purpose of the encyclical and the main lines of Pope Leo’s reasoning, his key premises and central ethical conclusions, and in this way, to articulate as clearly as possible the teaching that comprises Rerum novarum. Rerum’s influence on Catholic teaching and practice is most manifest in the Church’s “social teaching,” which in various ways identifies the encyclical as its founding statement. This identification is made in the names and citations of some of the most important papal contributions to Catholic Social Teaching (CST) and is pervasive throughout the corpus of CST. And it is revealed in the ways in which the accepted principles of CST are present or anticipated in Rerum novarum. Although the chapter does not undertake the large and formidable task of characterizing CST, it does indicate how these principles figure in Pope Leo’s analysis. It also underlines the extent to which these principles are not the main point of Rerum novarum, but stand in the service of the moral and religious reform urged by Pope Leo.
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.
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