The Catholic Church plays an important role in guiding its members toward what is right, particularly in matters of social morality amidst the changes and challenges of modern times. But how do they come up with what to teach and impart to its members regarding such topics? Well, here’s where Catholic social thought comes in.
Catholic social thought refers to the perception of the whole Church on social life, making it instrumental in creating a just community for everyone. It includes official teachings and other ideas from people and groups within the Church, helping identify the moral principles and values that the society badly needs.
See, Catholic social thought is more extensive than Catholic social teaching. How and what are their differences? Continue reading to find out more.
What is the Meaning of Catholic Social Thought?
Catholic social thought is any expression of ideas on how people relate with each other, particularly in society. By “any” I mean every idea and insight of the Catholic community in the world, including the official and formal teachings of Popes and Bishops and the thinking and writing of scholars, theologians, activists, and movements within the Church.
How is Catholic Social Thought and Teaching Different?
According to the Australian Catholic University (ACU), the term Catholic social teaching is “considered the official teaching of the Church that comes to us from the Church’s teaching authority.” It is an area of our doctrine as Catholics, which is formulated from encyclicals from the Pope, Church councils, and documents and letters from bishops.
On the other hand, Catholic social thought is broader than Catholic social teaching. It covers the ideas and insights of the much bigger Catholic community. This tradition goes beyond the teachings of the magisterium, giving importance to unofficial material from scholars, activists, theologians, and organizations within the Catholic Church.
That said, Catholic social thought comes from the formal teachings of the Church. It then further tries to explain them, giving context as to how they apply to the modern world. At the same time, Catholic social thought, through the reflections and advice of the members of the Church, can also influence and inform Catholic social teaching.
Why is Catholic Social Thought Important?
As humans, we are naturally social beings. We are dependent on others as we cannot live alone. We need each other to express our thoughts and feelings. That said, all our needs – spiritually, physically, mentally, intellectually, and emotionally – can only be fulfilled by each other.
Now, as social beings, we are expected to interact in a “certain way” and conform to role expectations in our families, education, the economy, politics, and daily life. This is to ensure a peaceful, orderly, and just human society. To help achieve this and the common good, the Church provides guiding principles and specific ways to live our lives. This is where Catholic social thought and teaching come in.
Through Catholic social thought and teaching, the Church can establish a body of principles that guides us toward social morality. These principles help us understand what is morally right or wrong in social institutions, and what our basic moral rights and responsibilities are toward each other as individuals and as social groups.
Principles of Catholic Social Thought
The development of Catholic social thought has had a huge impact on creating a more peaceful and compassionate society. From the material that comes from it, the Church can come up with the principles and values that our society currently needs. So what are these principles? Check them out below:
1. Human Dignity
This is the foundation of the Catholic social teaching. As Christians, we are taught that every person is created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ. So everyone – regardless of race, age, religion, sex and sexual orientation, employment, intelligence, achievement, health, economic status, or any other characteristic – has dignity and is thus worthy of respect.
2. Respect for Human Life
In the Catholic tradition, human life is sacred from the moment of conception until death. So every person has the right to life. This is consistent with that of human dignity. That said, every person’s life should be protected and respected, and it is always wrong to attack or take it.
The Catholic tradition holds that human beings are not only sacred but social as well. So our relationship with each other directly affects our capacity to grow in the community. By associating with other people, both in our families and other social institutions, we can fulfill our human needs.
We all have the right to participate in society. But more than that, we are called upon to pursue the greater good for everyone, especially the poor and the vulnerable.
So why is participation a key principle in having a just and good society? Well, without it, we won’t be able to receive the benefits of any social institution, which are necessary for our fulfillment as humans.
5. Rights and Responsibilities
It’s not enough that we only care about human life. We should also keep in mind that each person has a quality of life, which means that their dignity is to be respected. That said, we are called upon to respect each other’s rights.
6. Protection for the Poor and Vulnerable
Our faith tells us that we get closer to Jesus Christ if we come closer to those in need. This is why the Church teaches us to prioritize the needs of the poor and vulnerable. We should also remember that they are part of the community, hence, they should be given a voice.
The principle of solidarity can be translated to a more familiar commandment: “Love your neighbor”. We are one family, and we are called to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. This applies to everyone in the world, regardless of national, religious, racial, or any other differences.
We are urged to not only be grateful but also to be respectful towards God’s creation. That said, we should protect the environment and treat it as holy and a gift from God.
9. Human Equality
Derived from the principle of human dignity, human equality is important in having a fair society. While having different personal talents is part of God’s plan, discriminating against each other is not. So we should treat everyone equally.
Every person is encouraged to have a vocation and be God’s co-creator through their talents. With that said, we all have the right to have fair and decent work where our humanity and dignity are respected.
(Take note that there is no official count or list of principles of Catholic social thought. For instance, the University of Notre Dame’s list has only 7 while the Australian Catholic University has 9 and the Loyola Marymount University has 10. What I’ve listed is just a combination of these lists.)