The Second Vatican council marked a new period in the life of the Church. One fundamental aspect of this new period was a change in the church’s attitude toward the world. Such a change has had a profound consequences for the themes and emphases of the Church’s social teaching.
An assault on political apathy. Many Church leaders, theologians and loyal critics continue to ask how it was possible for the Church to be largely silent and passive in the face of the atrocities of the Second World War. The answer at least in part is that Church and Religion had become confined to the private arena. Vatican II recognized that the Church shares responsibility for secular as well as for religious history. Pope Paul VI insisted in a Call to Action that politics is a vocation aimed at the transformation of society.
A commitment to the “humanization of life”. The council emphasized that the Church’s responsibility for the world, a world which God created and Jesus walked upon. Moreover,as the Council leaders affirmed and as Pope John Paul II stated on Human work, people can rightly consider that they are continuing the Creator’s work through their own labor and contributing to the realization in history of the divine plan. From these attitudes a respect develops for the rightful autonomy of the secular world.
A commitment to world justice. The Bishops in their 1971 Synod statement, Justice in the World. Urged that justice be sought at all levels of society but especially between the rich and powerful nations and those that are poor and weak. The bishops declared that the doing of justice is a “constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel”.
Preferential option for the poor. The Church has always understood that Christ identifies with the poor and underprivileged. But it now looks at this truth with new urgency and new pastoral consequences. Christians see God’s face above all in the faces of suffering and wounded people. Consequently fidelity to Christ requires an identification with and an “option” for the poor.
Imaging the Church as People of God. Vatican II in the Nature of the Church (Lumen Gentium, 1964), emphasized the Church as a People of God. This biblical image holds important implications not only for ecclesiology, but also for the Church’s approach to the social order.
The Church as a “People of God” lifts the faithful from a passive role to an active role in defining and shaping their history in the contemporary world. But the Church does not claim any special, unique competence in technical questions. It does not possess all the answers, but searches for them in cooperation with others. As Paul VI indicated in A Call to Action, it is up to local Christian communities to join others of goodwill in seeking solutions to pressing social questions.
Reading the “signs of the times” It is a basic Christian belief that God continues to speak in and through human history. This truth was reaffirmed by Vatican II. Consequently, the Church has “the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.
The Church looks to the world and discovers there God’s presence. Signs both reveal God’s presence in the world and manifest God’s design for the world. Implicit in this truth is that theology must go beyond the purely deductive and speculative. History ceases to be the mere context for the application of binding principles..it becomes the place of on-going revelation.
The primacy of love. Reason was the primary shaper of the Church’s earlier formulation of social teaching. In recent decades, however, the social teaching has been increasingly shaped by the primacy of love. The primacy of love has three meanings in this context. First, love is at the heart of the virtue of justice and brings the actions of justice to their fullest potential, meaning and life. Second, love is the motivation to act on behalf of justice. Third, the fundamental option of love, which the heart makes for God as the ground of our being, produces moral action. Reason is not discarded in the social teaching, but put in its proper place.
An orientation to pastoral planning and action. The evolving methodology of the Church’s social teaching is also praxis-oriented. Praxis, the action that comes out of reflection and leads back to reflection, can be viewed as the end result of an option which one makes in the struggle for justice.
Link of religious and social dimensions of life. The social- the human construction of the world—is not secular in the sense of being outside of God’s plan, but is intimately involved with the dynamic of the Reign of God. Therefore, faith and justice are necessarily linked together.
Dignity of the human person. Made in the image of God, women and men have a preeminent place in the social order. Human dignity can be recognized and protected only in the community with others. The fundamental question to ask about social development is : What is happening to people?
Political and Economic rights. All human persons enjoy inalienable rights, which are political-legal (e.g. votingm free speech, migration) and social economic (e.g. food, shelter, work and education) These are realized in community. Essential for the promotion of justice and solidarity, these rights are to be respected and protected by all the institutions of society.
Option for the poor. A preferential love should be shown to the poor, whose needs and rights are given special attention in God’s eyes. “Poor” is understood to refer to the economically disadvantaged who, as a consequence of their status, suffer oppression and powerlessness.
Link of love and justice. Love of neighbour is an absolute demand for justice, because charity must manifest itself in actions and structures which respect human dignity, protect human rights, and facilitate human development. To promote justice is to transform structures which block love.
Promotion of the common Good. The common good is the sum total of all those conditions of social living- economic, political, cultural which make possible for women and men readily and fully to achieve the perfection of their humanity. Individual rights are always experienced within the context of promotion of the common good.
Subsidiarity. Responsibilities and decisions should be attended to as close as possible to the level of individual initiative in local communities and institutions. Mediating structures of families, neigborhoods, community groups, small business and local governments should be fostered and participated in. But larger government structures do have a role when greater social coordination and regulation are necessary for the common good.
Political Participation. Democratic participation in decision making is the best way to respect the dignity and liberty of people. The government is the instrument by which people cooperate together in order to achieve the common good. The international common good requires participation in international organizations.
Economic justice. The economy is for the people and the resources of the earth are to be shared equitably by all. Human word is the key to contemporary social questions. Labor takes precedence over both capital and technology in the production process. Just wages and the right of workers to organize are to be respected.
Global solidarity. We belong to one human family and as such have mutual obligations to promote the rights and development of all people across the world, irrespective of national boundaries. In particular, the rich nations have responsibilities toward poor nations and the structures of international order must reflect justice.
Promotion of peace. Peace is the fruit of justice and is dependent upon the right order among humans and among nations. The arms race must cease and progressive disarmament take place if the future is to be secure. In order to promote peace and the conditions of peace, an effective international authority is necessary.