Catholic Social Thought
The principles of Catholic social thought (often called the Church's 'best kept secret') represent a body of work, informed by Gospel values and the lived experience of Christian reflection (drawing on the traditions of other Christian denominations, as well as Roman Catholic), from different historical, political and social contexts.
They are not intended to constitute an ideology, a political third way or a model. They are meant to be used as tools for reflection, criteria for judgment and guidelines for action. The principles are helpful in the process of discerning what is 'the common good' in any given context - see below.
Essentially, the principles of Catholic social thought are meant for all to use, and cover:
human dignity; community and participation; care for creation; dignity in work; peace and reconciliation; solidarity and subsidiarity.
- To see our approach, see our 'Common Good Thinking' page
- To discover more about Catholic Social Teaching, we recommend this site http://www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk/principles and for the key documents (eg. Rerum Novarum and Caritas in Veritate, two of the most influential) here http://www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk/principles/documents
- To study Catholic Social Teaching in depth, we recommend the Virtual Plater site which contains modules for online study http://www.virtualplater.org.uk/
- You will find a rich resource in our 'Further Study Materials' pages but don't miss these:
In this 14-minute video, Martin Robinson, Principal of ForMission College, interviews Anna Rowlands about her chapter on Catholic Social Teaching in T4CG's book of 13 essays, Together for the Common Good: Towards a National Conversation. It's a link from the Spring 2016 edition of the Journal of Missional Practice.
Laudato si' (Sulla cura della casa comune) (Praise Be to You: On the care for our common home). The papal encyclical by Pope Francis on creation and the environment, published on June 18, 2015. This perhaps the most ambitious papal document of the past 100 years, since it is addressed not just to Catholics, or Christians, but to everyone on Earth. The environment, in the Pope’s use of the word, is not something 'out there' - nature as opposed to the human world. Rather, the term describes the relationship between nature and humans, who are inextricably linked and part of each other.
How is 'the common good' related to Catholic social thought?
When people say 'we need a definition of the common good' this may be based on a misunderstanding. The 'common good' is something that comes about as a result of a creative process and is more like a practice than a definition. It is not meant to be a monolithic or rational consensus.
The common good is something that is revealed through the 'best possible conversation' using a clear set of rigorous theological principles centred around human dignity and care for creation. In effect it is about reconciliation between all parties concerned in a way that enables all to flourish.
CST principles are for all who are committed to serving the common good: they are addressed to “all of goodwill”, "for the brethren of other churches and ecclesial communities, to the followers of other religions, as well as to people of goodwill who are committed to serving the common good.” The teachings do though have special significance for Catholics for whom the pursuit of social justice has been stipulated as a faith commitment.
Whether it be about work, food, or housing for example, a 'common good' conversation, underpinned by these principles, needs to be time and place specific, practical, and involving all the parties concerned. It requires time and sensitivity and 'the common good' can be measured by the level of human flourishing of each person and community involved.
We recognise that there is some confusion around the ubiquitous use of the term 'common good'. Some people are using the phrase in a general way without realising that others are referring to a specific set of principles within Catholic social thought. There is also something of a gap between those who are coming from an academic perspective and practitioners on the ground who may implicitly be working towards ‘the common good’ without ever spelling it out. Seeking consensus on a definition is a red herring - it will be impossible precisely because 'the common good' is specific to each situation and needs to be worked out in each context through dialogue and collaboration.
We recommend reading the following: