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17 September 2009

TY255 – Catholic Social Teaching

            Tertullian asks “What has Jerusalem to say to Athens?” (Massaro 19)  Massaro suggests that either extreme in answering this question – nothing or everything – is not wise.  He states, “A crusading spirit often short-circuits the prudence necessary for wise governance.…  Religion offers one thing the political process requires but can find in no other place: ideals” (26).  Both Athens and Jerusalem, politics and religion, the state and the church, have essential contributions to a society.  One cannot offer all that is necessary to the community.

In chapter two, Massaro discusses the difficulties in balancing “Jerusalem” and “Athens”.  Some seclude themselves from the world around them and may become apathetic.  Others may focus on this world and nothing beyond this world.  Either extreme, Massaro suggests, is unwise.  “There will always be a delicate balance between the two places where this hope is found: the hope that lies in human history and the hope that lies in the Kingdom of God.  These two locations of hope must be kept in sharp focus, for there is no substitute for either one” (Massaro 28).

Massaro’s believes that there should be a balance between politics and religion within a society.  He suggests that, despite the saying that religion and politics should not be brought up in polite conversation, those of “mature and socially responsible faith” should not avoid the topics, especially when the two topics are addressed together (17). 

Massaro relates the complementarities between religion and politics to those of the soul and the body.  The body and the soul can be neither separated nor fully understood as one or the other.  “Each human person is simultaneously a body and a soul” just as a society is simultaneously material and spiritual (29).  “To truly respect people is to demonstrate concern for their earthly well-being as well as their heavenly destiny” (29).

            One way in which the Church combines the two is in Catholic social teaching.  Such teachings are formed based on four sources: revelation, reason, tradition, and experience.  These four sources all intermingle and work together, helping us to form Catholic social teaching.

            Revelation is the way in which God reveals himself to people.  God does this through apparitions and visions, but mostly in Scripture.  When it comes to morality, Scripture is used to “justify a judgment” (60).  The “overriding concern [though, is] to build a faithful relationship with God and others” (59).

            The second source is reason, which must be used in the interpretation of revelation.  Although born into original sin, humans have been given the intellect to use.  “To ignore the law of nature, which is mysteriously inscribed in human hearts and minds… is to sin by disobeying God’s will” (65).  Revelation and reason go hand in hand.  One cannot replace the other.

            Tradition in terms of Catholic social teaching “refers to all the previous reflection on social issues that has gone on within Christian theology” (68).  It contains the history of Catholic social teaching.  Tradition is closely linked to Scripture.  The two cannot be separated.  “As key sources of Christian ethics, they work together to help believers know and interpret the Word of God as it addresses the contemporary world” (71).

            Experience is everything that “passes through [our] five senses” (Massaro 72).  It is a “method by which contemporary people seeking to form moral judgments take into account what they observe and learn from worldly events” (72).  Human experience cannot be separated from revelation, reason and tradition because everything known to humans is first experienced.

            Although all formed by these four sources, there is not one specific list of themes of Catholic social teaching.  Massaro lists nine key themes while the Compendium lists multiple.  Still other sources list different amounts of key themes.  However many themes there are, however these themes are split up, they cover the same basic principles.

            “The dignity of every person and human rights” is the first of Massaro’s themes of Catholic social teaching.  This says that every human is of great worth and should therefore be treated as such.  We therefore have certain rights that should not be violated.  The Compendium goes further to say that we are made in the image and likeness of God.  We are all unique and have all been given free will.  Yet we are all united and equal in dignity.

            “Solidarity, common good, and participation” is the second of Massaro’s themes.  This states that humans are all interdependent.  We should all participate in society in order to contribute to the common good.  In the Compendium it is written that we all have valuable contributions to society that we are to share.

            The third theme according to Massaro is “family life”.  Family life is very important because this is where a child’s knowledge begins.  The Compendium says that the family is where one first learns how to love.  The family is beneficial not only to the individual, but also to society.  The Compendium also shows marriage as the foundation of the family.  The parents are to educate their children.

            “Subsidiarity and the proper role of government” is the fourth theme Massaro lists.  “[I]t refers to the way the various levels of society should relate to each other and assist one another in bringing about the best outcomes for all people” (89).  According to the Compendium “[s]ubsidiarity is among the most constant and characteristic directives of the Church’s social doctrine” (185).  It is the balance of how much or how little, and how and when the government assists the people.

            “Property ownership in modern society: rights and responsibilities” is another key theme Massaro lists.  The Compendium says that “The Church’s social doctrine requires that ownership of goods be equally accessible to all” (176).

            The last four themes listed by Massaro are not specifically mentioned in the Compendium.  “The dignity of work, rights of workers, and support for labor unions”, being one of them includes things such as fair wages for all workers.

“Colonialism and economic development” includes things such as bettering the economic development in less-developed parts of the world.  “Peace and disarmament” focuses obviously on peace.  Further than that though, it focuses on making society secure and stable, making the world a safer place to live.  “Option for the poor and vulnerable” focuses on “the well-being of the least fortunate” (112).

The Compendium mentions “fundamental values of social life” such as truth, freedom, and justice that are not specifically mentioned by Massaro, although included in all of his themes.  Humans are directed toward truth.  Freedom is what makes humans human and we are called to act in freedom.  Each person is equal in dignity and therefore should be treated as such, with justice.

            Despite the differences in the lists of Catholic social teaching, they are formed by revelation, reason, tradition, and experience, as stated before.  The social teachings as we know them today are based mostly off of twelve major documents of the Catholic Church.  When it comes to Catholic social teaching especially, it is very important “for church leaders to listen attentively to ‘the signs of the times’…” (Massaro 50).

Massaro says that “the agenda of the U.S. bishops on social issues is to apply the more general principles contained in Roman documents to the specific context of the United States” (39).  Catholic social teaching is a way in which people are more able to act upon the social teachings of the Church, without having to read multiple official Church documents.

            In discussing Catholic social teaching, one must balance the importance of religion with that of politics.  Every list of social teachings should do this.  Even though there are many different lists, each list is based on scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.  These lists are based more on quality than on quantity.  What the teachings contain matters much more than one set number of themes of Catholic social teaching.  The themes are put in simpler and more concise words than are official church writings such as encyclicals.  They are also easier and less time consuming to read.  Therefore, people are more able to act on such teachings of the Church.

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