Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Principles of Catholic Social Teaching: The Fundamental Values of Social Life

This will be the final post in the series on Catholic social teaching. There is much more to the Compendium, but I'm going to set it aside for the time being.

Underneath all the principles of Catholic social teaching are the fundamental values of truth, freedom, justice, and love.

Men and women have the specific duty to move always towards the truth, to respect it and bear responsible witness to it. Living in the truth has special significance in social relationships. In fact, when the coexistence of human beings within a community is founded on truth, it is ordered and fruitful, and it corresponds to their dignity as persons.
Freedom is the highest sign in man of his being made in the divine image and, consequently, is a sign of the sublime dignity of every human person. "Freedom is exercised in relationships between human beings. Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect. The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person". The meaning of freedom must not be restricted, considering it from a purely individualistic perspective and reducing it to the arbitrary and uncontrolled exercise of one's own personal autonomy: "Far from being achieved in total self-sufficiency and the absence of relationships, freedom only truly exists where reciprocal bonds, governed by truth and justice, link people to one another". The understanding of freedom becomes deeper and broader when it is defended, even at the social level, in all of its various dimensions.
Justice is a value that accompanies the exercise of the corresponding cardinal moral virtue. According to its most classic formulation, it "consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbour". From a subjective point of view, justice is translated into behaviour that is based on the will to recognize the other as a person, while, from an objective point of view, it constitutes the decisive criteria of morality in the intersubjective and social sphere.
Understanding the nature of humanity enables us to move beyond a "contractualistic vision of justice, which is a reductionistic vision". We must add to justice love - which is to say, in the social setting, solidarity. This is the way to achieve peace. "The goal of peace, in fact, 'will certainly be achieved through the putting into effect of social and international justice, but also through the practice of the virtues which favour togetherness, and which teach us to live in unity, so as to build in unity, by giving and receiving, a new society and a better world'."

The Way of Love
It is from the inner wellspring of love that the values of truth, freedom and justice are born and grow.
Love goes beyond justice. Justice alone can lead to its own destruction. Only love is "capable of restoring man to himself".
No legislation, no system of rules or negotiation will ever succeed in persuading men and peoples to live in unity, brotherhood and peace; no line of reasoning will ever be able to surpass the appeal of love. Only love, in its quality as "form of the virtues", can animate and shape social interaction, moving it towards peace in the context of a world that is ever more complex.
Love must not be limited to interactions between individuals. It must work for the common good, i.e., it must love the neighbor as he or she is found "in society".
To love him on the social level means, depending on the situations, to make use of social mediations to improve his life or to remove social factors that cause his indigence. It is undoubtedly an act of love, the work of mercy by which one responds here and now to a real and impelling need of one's neighbour, but it is an equally indispensable act of love to strive to organize and structure society so that one's neighbour will not find himself in poverty, above all when this becomes a situation within which an immense number of people and entire populations must struggle, and when it takes on the proportions of a true worldwide social issue.

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About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.