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History of Catholic Social Teaching

The author shares his thoughts on various religious topics, with particular emphasis on Catholic teachings and doctrine.

Catholic Social Teaching (CST)

Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is not a list of rules. It is a list of principles in which Catholics should live. It contains ideas that respect human dignity; care for the common good; outline our rights and responsibilities as Catholics; teach us the importance of living in a community and a family; caring for the poor; care for God's creation. It is a framework, a skeleton, to help Catholics make appropriate decisions.

The Industrial Revolution was a time of innovation and advancement. It was a time of mechanical achievement, which lead to greater productivity than the world had ever experienced. Unfortunately, these advancements were limited in scope. The machinery was dangerous. Children were used, because of their small stature, to maintain the equipment while it was running. Additional hazards during the period resulted in demanding management. At times doors were locked to keep employees in and working. On more than one occasion, these locked doors resulted in the loss of life due to fire, or another emergency.


Pope Leo XIII Condemns Modern Philosophy, n.d.

These types of incidents lead Pope Leo XIII, in 1891, to write his encyclical, Rerum Novarum (Of New Things). It addressed the social changes brought on by the Industrial Revolution. In this encyclical, Pope Leo addresses the growing disparity between the workers and the wealthy. He upholds the rights to private property and rejects socialism and communism. He defends the dignity of the worker and the principle of labor over capital (people are more important than property).

The purpose of the state is to promote public well-being and private prosperity for the Common Good. The state is also required to defend the poor. Pope Leo XIII also is famous for the statement “Once the demand of necessity and propriety have been met in your life, everything else you own belongs rightfully to the poor”. (XIII, 2017)


(Christianity Today, 2018)

GK Chesterton was a Catholic convert whose writings, articles, and books were aimed at educating his readers on the common sense teachings of the Catholic Church. Chesterton’s writings, even today, inspire individuals to view their beliefs in a different light.


(Bradley Eli, 2017)

Written 40 years after Rerum Novarum, in 1931 by Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, was written just after the Soviet revolution, Mussolini had taken control of Italy, and the world was during the great depression. This writing demonstrated that CST not only applied to the Industrial Revolution but that the principles can be applied to all social situations. (California Catholic Conference, 2011)

It addressed the fact that a living wage was not being paid to workers. Individuals were unable to support their families. Much of the wealth was in the hands of the few.

Quadragesimo Anno addressed the concept of Subsidiarity (decision-making and social organization at the lowest level [grassroots]). Subsidiarity is the concept that gives individuals greater control over their lives. It prefers a local decision to a larger government decision.


(Hinderer, 2014)

Amid the Cold War, Pope John XXIII 1961 released his encyclical, Mater et Magistra (Mother and teacher). This document addressed the changes the Church was going through due to the political environment. Pope John XXIII reminds us that we have a duty to our fellow humans to provide aid to those in need. He also focusses our attention on population growth, and development caused by increasing population. Meaning that we must continue god’s work on earth by caring for his creation. (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, n.d.)

In 1963, Pope John XXIII released Pacem In Terris (Peace on earth). Here he discusses peace through truth, justice, love, and freedom. It was written shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and calls for the Church to defend human rights and freedom of conscience. Human rights and freedom of conscience must be considered prior to economic and political decisions. Most importantly, Pope John XXIII discusses that the Holy Spirit is working through us for the betterment of our world. (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, n.d.)


(Catholic News World, 2014)

In 1965, Paul VI issued his encyclical, Gaudeum et Spes (Joys and Hopes). It was his intention to remind us that we are made in the image and likeness of God. We are brothers and sisters in God. This we refer to as Solidarity (shared humanity). As such, we are responsible for one another. We are responsible for God’s creation, and to continue that creation as God commanded Adam and Eve. (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, n.d.)

Then, in 1967, Pope Paul VI published Populorum Progressio (Development of Peoples). Here the Pope is stating that Development is a new name for Peace. Peace is the key for developing nations to continue to grow. A nation can not develop without the assistance of other nations, thus the need for peace. People are called to share in good things on Earth. The church is an expert in humanity, not economics, therefore it is necessary to work in conjunction with experts in individual fields for the world to continue to develop. (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, n.d.)


(Famous People, n.d.)

Pope John Paul II reigned during one of the most dynamic eras in all history. As a priest, he helped Jews escape Nazis during World War II. As a Cardinal, he was a vocal member of the Vatican II proceedings. His long term as Pontiff allowed him to challenge Communism, see the end of the Soviet Union, make strides toward retaining members of the Church, and he was able to watch the world trade and world community begin to work as one.

Pope John Paul II's 1981 encyclical, Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), which was written to address the Solidarity Movement in Poland and Eastern Europe, in it we are reminded that there is dignity in work. As God worked for six days and rested on the seventh, He commanded that Adam and Eve (and subsequent generations) continue His work on earth. (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, n.d.)

In 1987, Pope John Paul II released Sollicitudo Rei Solialis (Social Concern of the Church). There is an assessment of both Capitalism and Communism economic systems. We are introduced that evil can bring sin to social systems and markets. The Church, the Body of Christ, must be mindful of the needs of the poor to avoid such temptations. (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, n.d.)

1991 brought us the publication of Centesimus Annus (One Hundred Years) for the centennial anniversary of Pope Leo’s Rerum Novarum. Communism in Europe was collapsing and there was a great change resulting from the downfall. The point was to warn against fondness for the markets. (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, n.d.)

Tertio Millennio Adventiete (Third Millennium) was distributed in 1994. Here John Paul II attempted to prepare the Church and the World for the upcoming century. He declares the year 2000 a Jubilee year, which for the Church is a special time of reflection and prayer. We are reminded of the unity (Solidarity) in Christ. With this encyclical he stresses the necessity to proclaim the good news to the poor. (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, n.d.)


(Catholic News Agency, 2017)

Pope Benedict XVI, in 2009, issued Caritas in Vertate (Charity in Truth or Love and Truth). He wrote this at the onset the most recent financial crisis, the Great Recession. He reminds us to respect the common good, religious freedom, and sanctity of human life. Ethical business decisions that emphasize the person rather than profit would be an appropriate approach to the recovery from that crisis. He encourages generosity and care for the environment. (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, n.d.)


(Edwards, 2017)

Pope Francis, in 2015, circulated Laudato Si (Praised Be). This is a long encyclical that deals with several topics. Pope Francis comes out against socialism. He embraces the market economy: the rights, freedoms, and dignity of the individual. We are warned against capitalism run amok. We need to avoid people falling through the cracks in the market, encouraging fairness and justice. Concern for the individual and the environment is a recurring theme through Papal writing, reminding us of our mandate in Genesis. (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, n.d.)

There are moral issues that complicate an open market: profit at any price, social exclusion, unfettered greed for money, the propensity to make capital an idol, and the tendency to neglect the Common good. No Pope has ever come out against the free market; in fact, they encourage the free market. Their concerns have only come about by what Pope Francis warns against above.


The Popes have been advising through encyclicals since 1891 on the social teaching of the Church. But, the roots of the teachings come from scripture. We are created in the image and likeness of God. We are to continue God’s work of creation. Christ commanded us to “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

By following the advice of our Popes and applying them to our daily lives we will live as Christ did.


Bradley Eli, M. M. (2017, Nov 21). POPE PIUS XI PRAISED MEXICO’S MARTYRS. Retrieved from

California Catholic Conference. (2011, November 21). Quadragesimo Anno (The Fortieth Year). Retrieved from California Catholic Conference:

Catholic News Agency. (2017, October 17). April 26 Teach-in on Catholic Social Teaching and NEPA. Retrieved from Catholic News Agency:

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Christianity Today. (2018). Christianity Today. Retrieved from G.K. Chesterton:

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Famous People. (n.d.). Pope John Paul II Biography. Retrieved from The Famous people:

Hinderer, S. J. (2014, October 9). Feast of Pope John XXIII - Saint and Prophet! Retrieved from streams 'n stirrings:

JTA. (2014, May 11). Pope Paul VI, first pontiff to visit Israel, to be beatified. Retrieved from The Times of Israel:

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Libreria Editrice Vaticana. (n.d.). LABOREM EXERCENS. Retrieved from Libreria Editrice Vaticana:

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Libreria Editrice Vaticana. (n.d.). MATER ET MAGISTRA. Retrieved from Libreria Editrice Vaticana:

Libreria Editrice Vaticana. (n.d.). PACEM IN TERRIS. Retrieved from Libreria Editrice Vaticana:

Libreria Editrice Vaticana. (n.d.). POPULORUM PROGRESSIO. Retrieved from Libreria Editrice Vaticana:

Libreria Editrice Vaticana. (n.d.). SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS. Retrieved from Libreria Editrice Vaticana:

Libreria Editrice Vaticana. (n.d.). TERTIO MILLENNIO ADVENIENTE . Retrieved from Libreria Editrice Vaticana:

Libreria Editrice Vaticana. (n.d.). TERTIO MILLENNIO ADVENIENTE . Retrieved from Libreria Editrice Vaticana:

Pope Leo XIII Condemns Modern Philosophy. (n.d.). Retrieved from

XIII, P. L. (2017, Feb 20). Papal Encyclicals Online. Retrieved from Rerum Novarum:

© 2018 Mike Czarnecki