DOCAT contents for At-Home Lesson#4

DOCAT# 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, and 27 [1]

DOCAT#22 Why does the Church have a social doctrine?

Human beings are profoundly SOCIAL creatures. Both in heaven and on earth man is dependent on community. Back in the Old Testament, God gave his people humane regulations and commandments by which they could lead a life that is just and good. Human reason can distinguish unjust actions from the just deeds that are necessary to build a just social order. In Jesus we see that justice is fulfilled only in love. Our present-day notions of solidarity are inspired by Christian love of neighbor.

DOCAT#23 What are the purposes of social doctrine?

Social doctrine has two purposes:

The Christian faith has a clear concept of the dignity of man, and from this concept it derives certain principles, norms, and value judgments that make a free and just social order possible. As clear as the principles of social doctrine are, they still must be applied again and again to current social questions. In applying her social doctrine, the Church becomes the advocate of all people who for very different reasons cannot raise their voices and not infrequently are the ones most affected by unjust actions and structures.

DOCAT#24 Who determines what the social doctrine of the Church is?

All members of the Church, according to their particular tasks and charisms, participate in the development of social doctrine. The principles of social doctrine have been spelled out in important Church documents. Social doctrine is an official “teaching” of the Church. The Magisterium of the Church — meaning the pope and the bishops in communion with him —   repeatedly instructs the Church and mankind about the requirements for just, peaceful, and social communities.

DOCAT#25 How did the Church’s social doctrine come into being?

No one can listen to the Gospel without being challenged socially. The term “social doctrine”, however, refers to those statements on social questions that the Church’s Magisterium has issued since the Encyclical Rerum Novarum, by Pope Leo XIII. With industrialization in the nineteenth century, an entirely new “social question” emerged. Most people were no longer employed in agriculture but worked in industry, instead. There was no worker protection, no health insurance, no guaranteed vacation time, and very often there was even child labor. Unions were formed to stand up for the workers’ interests. It was clear to Pope Leo XIII that he had to respond with an extraordinary measure. In his Encyclical Rerum novarum, he sketched the outline of a just social order. Since then, the popes have responded again and again to the “signs of the times” and have addressed especially urgent social questions in the tradition of Rerum novarum. The statements that accumulated in this way over time are called the Church’s social doctrine. Besides the documents of the Universal Church (i.e., statements by the pope, a council, or the Roman Curia), regional statements, too, for instance the pastoral letters of a bishops’ conference on social questions, can be part of the Church’s social doctrine.

DOCAT#26 Why is the Church interested not only in the individual?

It used to be that the Church was accused of being interested only in the salvation of the individual soul. In fact, every individual human being counts in God’s sight. We are all irreplaceable and unique. Nevertheless, from our mother’s womb we are dependent on communion with other human beings. We can be happy only in good relationships with others. Therefore it says in the account of creation: “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’ ” (Gen 2:18). God is interested in the total welfare of a person and, therefore, also in his development of community, in which people participate in manifold ways.

DOCAT#27 Why does the Church practice solidarity?

A Church that showed no solidarity would be a contradiction in terms. The Church is the place in which God’s lasting solidarity with mankind comes about. In the communion of the Church, God’s love is supposed to have its human continuation and finally reach all mankind. The Church is the place where God wants to gather all men: “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men” (Rev 21:3). The Church is the “sign and instrument of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (LG 1). Through his Church, which follows the example of her Lord and shows solidarity with the helpless, the victims of injustice, and the poor of her times, God tries to reach the people of all nations and cultures and to help them. Whenever people try to shape a more human world, God is on their side. The Church is therefore in solidarity with all who want to give God’s salvation a visible face in the world.

References / Citations

[1] DOCAT: What to do? The Social Teaching of the Catholic Church. San Francisco, Calif: Ignatius Press, 2016.

[2] BibleGateway (online bible).