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 (Updated: August 14, 2009)

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Papal Social Encyclicals

The Church makes a moral judgment about economic and social matters, "when the fundamental rights of the person or the salvation of souls requires it."  In the moral order she bears a mission distinct from that of political authorities:  The Church is concerned with the temporal aspects of the common good because they are ordered to the sovereign Good, our ultimate end. She strives to inspire right attitudes with Respect to earthly goods and in socio-economic relationships. 
The social doctrine of the Church developed in the nineteenth century when the Gospel encountered modern industrial society with its new structures for the production of consumer goods, its new concept of society, the state and authority, and its new forms of labor and ownership.  The development of the doctrine of the Church on economic and social matters attests the permanent value of the Church's teaching at the same time as it attests the true meaning of her Tradition, always living and active.

The Church's social teaching comprises a body of doctrine, which is articulated as the church interprets events in the course of history, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, in the light of the whole of what has been revealed by Jesus Christ. This teaching can be more easily accepted by men of good will, the more the faithful let themselves be guided by it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2420 - 2422)

For over one hundred years popes have used the encyclical letter to address the economic challenges and changes confronting humankind.  In this section of the C-L Network web page, the major papal encyclicals dealing with economic justice are collected.

Pope Leo XIIIPope Leo XIII

    Issued on the fifteenth of May 1891. Literally "Of New Things," on capital and labor and the condition of the working class. This was the most significant of all the encyclicals before or since. Rerum Novarum broke down the barriers that separated the church from the worker. Never before had the church spoken on social matters in such an official and comprehensive fashion**.
Pope Pius XIPope Pius XI
    Issued May 15, 1931. Literally "In forty Years," commemorating the fortieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. This encyclical repeated many of the themes of Rerum Novarum: the dignity of labor, the rights of workers to organize, etc. Quadragesimo anno also emphasized the immorality of keeping economic control in the hands of a few. It recognized the principle of subsidiarity, which held that higher levels of authority should act only when lower levels cannot deal with a problem. **

Pope John XXIIIPope John XXIII

Issued May 15, 1961. Literally "Mother and Teacher," on Christianity and Social progress. This encyclical gave an updated interpretation of the classic theme of private property and introduced the notion of private initiative as an extension of private property. While Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno left responsibility for social justice with the individual, Mater et Magistra placed some in the hands of the state. (this encyclical needs to be read in conjunction with Pacem in Terris, literally "Peace on Earth," Pope John XXIII's other great encyclical.) **

Pope Paul VI

Issued March 26, 1967. Literally "On the Progress of Peoples." A vigorous endorsement of Mater et Magistra, Populorum Progressio presented Catholicism as no longer tied to a social system based on natural law, but rather as a proponent of a pluralistic, decentralized approach to economic problems. **

Pope John Paul II

  Laborem Exercens: On Human Work 
Issued on September 14, 1981. Literally "On Human Work." Laborem Exercens focused on the themes that work is central to the social question and that work has potential not only to dehumanize but also to be the means whereby the human person cooperates in God's ongoing creation.**
Issued on December 30, 1987. Literally "On Social Concerns," commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Populorum Progressio. Solicitudo Rei Socialis presented an overview of modern social problems with some guidelines for action. It dealt with authentic human development and adopted a critical attitude toward both capitalism and communism. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis warned that economic development alone may not set people free but only enslave them more. **
Issued on May 1, 1991. Literally, "The Hundredth Year," commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. Centesimus Annus brought Rerum Novarum up to date and tied it to "the preferential option for the poor." done in the context of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Centesimus Annus still criticized both capitalism and communism. **

The Holy Father Benedict XVI Pope Benedict XVI

Caritas in veritate - Love in Truth Page

Non Encyclical Statements & Stories

** The above explanations were taken from Upon This Rock: The Church, Work, Money and You, by Tim Unsworth & Jean Unsworth. Published by ACTA Publications, 4848 N. Clark Street, chicago, Illinois, 60640, copy right 1991.  This volume is still in print, and is designed as an adult study guide to visit and evaluate church teachings and practices on the issues of work and money.

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