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.

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. 

Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) (Pope Francis, 26 November 2013) An 84-page document, written in his own words, was the first major work since his election. It is known as an apostolic exhortation and amounts to an official platform for his papacy. In it he calls unfettered capitalism "a new tyranny", urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality. He criticises the global economic system, attacking the "idolatry of money" and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens "dignified work, education and healthcare".
 
The Living Wage - watch video with Dr Anna Rowlands explaining why Catholic Social Teaching supports the Living Wage plus useful downloads
 
 
Matthew Taylor, former policy advisor to New Labour, ponders the tradition and asks what it might offer to post credit crunch polities which are looking for ways to regenerate. With Dr Anna Rowlands, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Jon Cruddas and Lord Glasman...

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:

The Common Good This seminal document was published in 1996 just before the 1997 election, by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales.
 
Choosing the Common Good (Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, 2010) 
 
The Common Good, (Clifford Longley, May 2012) Clifford Longley gives a sophisticated articulation of the principles here.
 
Address by Lord Glasman to the Centesimus Annus Foundation (Maurice Glasman, May 2013, Rome) While Lord Glasman is Jewish he is one of the leading proponents of 'common good' political thinking and Catholic social thought). Also see video of Lord Glasman explaining the politics of the common good at the Church Urban Fund 'Tackling Poverty Together' Conference 2013. The text of his speech is here
 
What is meant by the Common Good? And how can the Church best apply it to society today? Jesuit Father William Rehg reflected on these questions at a conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome December 14th 2010.

There are many other Catholic social justice traditions, such as the Catholic Worker Movement and the Young Christian Workers.