We are pleased to have permission to share this essay on Solidarity, one of the key principles from the body of thinking known as Catholic Social Teaching, by Professor Anna Rowlands.
‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ (Matthew 22: 37–40)
“[T]here does not exist an orthopraxis which is simply just, detached from a knowledge of what is good.”[i]
Catholic Social Teaching and Solidarity: something old, something borrowed, something new?
On 9 March 2021 The Guardian newspaper carried a photograph of a forty five-year-old Burmese religious sister Sr Ann Rose Nu Tawng kneeling in front of a line of armed police, arms held out cruciform by her side. Taking part in organized peaceful protests in Myanmar against a military coup, The Guardian reported that Sr Ann had walked slowly towards the riot police and fallen to her knees to plead that they cease shooting into the crowd, which contained groups of children as well as adults. This was the second time she had pleaded with riot police to stop shooting, having made the same gesture ten days previously. She told the interviewing journalist, ‘I have thought myself dead already since 28 February. . . . I can’t stand and watch without doing anything.’ To talk about solidarity movements of the past century is to encounter a case study in the porous boundaries between the religious and the political. From the role of nineteenth century Nonconformists in leading the call for full voting franchise, the significance of Methodism and Catholicism in the formation of the British Labour movement, the role of Catholics in the Polish Solidarity movement, the significance of the Black churches in twentieth-century civil rights and twenty-first century Black Lives Matter movements to a religious sister kneeling before police in Myanmar, religion has proved a vital component of solidarity movements.
However, the picture is more complicated and interesting than mounting a set of claims that religion has been vital to the freedom and rights movements of the last two centuries. The very language of solidarity, used to inspire such movements, is itself a migration and secularization of a previously Christian set of ideas. Solidarity enters the modern lexicon on the slipstream of the revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, expressing what had been thought of over centuries in Christian usage as fraternity and friendship. This new idiom of solidarity took these older ideas and wove them through with an emerging Enlightenment language – itself the offspring of Reformation world views – of freedom and equality. In so doing what emerged into popular usage was an importantly new formulation of earlier ideas, now integrated with a modern individualism and emerging rights-based formulation of freedom and equality. Liberty, equality, fraternity (solidarity).
Over the last two centuries solidarity, now largely (but not entirely) secularized, has become deeply associated in our popular imagination with movements for civil, racial and gender rights, and more recently ecological politics. The story of the arrival of the language of solidarity into twentieth century CST complexifies this migration and integration of ideas a step further. It was from its new, modern secular formation that it was re-received and returned to its theological origins, in a renewed form. Solidarity first appeared in CST briefly in Pius XII’s 1939 encyclical and more extensively in John XXIII’s Mater et magistra; it emerged as an organizing virtue for the governing of states in Pacem in terris and as a Christological social emphasis in the Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et spes.[ii] In the late mid-century documents, solidarity is both a way of thinking about the responsibility of states in a more interdependent world and the normative motif of salvation history. Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, is the ultimate model of solidarity for the Christian.
If the principle and virtue of solidarity is identified with a single papacy, it is surely that of John Paul II; and its accompanying image was the blood-red lettering – Solidarność – painted on a white canvas banner, adorning a public stage or carried through the streets by processions of Polish workers. John Paul II chose to foreground this language in parallel with the development of the iconic Polish Solidarity movement and in the wake of the civil rights and anti-colonial struggles of the previous thirty years. Yet, as Meghan Clark argues, solidarity in its papal social guise is not merely a borrowing of language, nor simply a convenient descriptor for a globalizing age. In the teaching of John Paul II, building on the documents of the 1960s, it is clear that solidarity develops as a ‘theoretical way to understand many different aspects of the human person and the human reality’.[iii]
That the idea of solidarity is used in dialogue with, but not merely on the back of, the social movements of the twentieth century is of further significance given American novelist Marilynne Robinson’s argument, made forty years after John Paul II’s writings, that many of the movements of the last hundred years so clearly inspired by the idea of solidarity can be seen now either to have achieved their core goals or to have lost their edge and faded over time.[iv] Even Pope Francis writes of the idea in Evangelii gaudium as potentially a little worn round the edges and poorly understood in its fuller implications.[v] Robinson notes that the risk for even the most radical solidarity movements is that they fade from impressive flowering into trivialities. Yet, for neither Robinson nor Pope Francis ought this to lead to cynicism and despair, as one awakening of solidarity fades another is often born or sometimes reborn. We live in the midst of a moment when both insights – the fading and rebirth of solidarity movements – seem especially true.
One of the paradoxes of the political history of solidarity movements is that despite the role played by religious ideas and faith communities in the solidarity movements of the twentieth century, the very foundation of solidarity as a modern political concept happened not only as an easy secularization of religious language but at times in conscious contradistinction to Christianity. The early socialism of the nineteenth century presented its doctrine of solidarity as the effective theoretical and practical antidote to an ineffectual and class-complicit ethic of Christian charitable love. Where Christian love was perceived to have failed to address, even driven and legitimated, inequality in wealth, ownership and education, a socialist ethic would foster a rational solidarity that could build new structures. In this sense, the notion of solidarity was always a structural and communitarian notion – by its very definition it reached towards the idea of a community of action beyond individual acts of assistance.
In an address given before he became pope, Joseph Ratzinger draws on this history, singling out the figure of Pierre Leroux, an early socialist, and noting his hostility to a Christian foundation for social change, in favour of a radical solidaristic socialism.[vi] Refusing an account of transcendence as the true foundation or heart of solidarity was, Ratzinger notes, Leroux’s mistake. The contemporary Catholic must situate the Eucharist as the heart of any lasting and true movement of solidarity. Yet Ratzinger does not note, as he might have done, the interesting humanitarian mystical leanings and interests of Leroux. Leroux’s work argues not only for a structural response to poverty and workers’ conditions but for a humanitarian mysticism and, with echoes of Ratzinger’s own language, speaks of the moral ‘communion’ of all peoples. His continued appeal to such ideas caused much criticism from fellow socialists. Theological roots do not, it seems, die so easily, even if they do migrate into new ideas of core communities of practice. A continued immanent-mystical humanitarianism has arguably been the hinterland for much of the secular solidaristic thought of the last two hundred years, and if carefully engaged provides a basis for mutual dialogue. Perhaps somewhat in this vein, Ratzinger does go on to note in his 2002 address that the handling of the concept of solidarity in the Catholic social tradition is best viewed as an adoptionist one, a creative work of theological re-reception.
We can say, therefore, that the theologized social principle of solidarity represents the weaving together in the Catholic tradition of something as ancient as the Church itself, something inherently its own; and something borrowed. In so doing, CST produces something new – beyond its own roots alone, but also beyond a simple borrowing from the coda of the modern Left. It exists in a relationship of critical affinity with a range of contemporary movements.
First, something old: Catholic teaching on solidarity explains that it is rooted in the insights of the Catholic biblical, doctrinal and philosophical views of human and divine nature, the nature of society and of political virtue. The authors of Gaudium et spes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI all make clear that any Catholic appeal to the idea of solidarity is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ. It is the fact of a prior transformative personal relationship that transforms all other personal relationships. Ratzinger makes an explicitly and exclusively Eucharistic argument for solidarity’s foundations in his June 2002 address.[vii] He argues, based on two scriptural texts – one Pauline, one Johannine – that a vertical communion with Christ in the Eucharist becomes simultaneously a horizontal communion with all others. The Eucharist is the communication of Christ himself to us, such that the communication of goods and of love and justice between humanity might flow. This communication is tangible and embodied but also to be pursued by the Christian as a good to be achieved in structural-relational terms between nations, regions and peoples. Ratzinger notes that the nature of the Church is not merely deliberative – the Church must deliberate – but primarily it communicates through an intimate companionship of worship and divine reception, which flows outwards as transformation into the world. An action which is Christ’s action of gift, self-giving in the flow of body and blood, enacts a transformation in the receiving Christian, which opens the heart to a wider radical action of receptivity to the neighbour. We do not transform our neighbour – the act of Christ is the truly active principle. Our own action is one of ever wider receptivity to the reality of the world, but this receptivity becomes reciprocally transformative on the horizontal plane. This register is deployed but shifted again in the direction of a theology of creation, as we shall see, by the interfaith focus of Pope Francis.[viii]
As Ratzinger indicates, however, solidarity is undeniably an idea also borrowed. As we have noted, talk of ‘solidarity’ as a duty and a virtue enters gradually into the canon of Catholic social teaching (CST), emerging in its Catholic form in close interaction with new forms of nineteenth- and twentieth-century social theory and social movements. Such social theory used the language of solidarity to denote the common interests that united a group of people, from workers forming trade unions to a nation seeking to find and express a common life. It would be a mistake, however, to view Catholicism or theological notions as simply external to these secular movements. Rather the migration of ideas between church and social movements, whose membership often overlapped, indicates a fluidity in the exchange of ideas and practices that we often fail to grasp. This is true even when that migration happens in reaction to, rather than simply as an adoption of, theological ideas. The relationship remains in some meaningful sense dialogical. It would also be a mistake to view the Church’s adoption of solidarity language as an inappropriate or weak ‘secularizing’ of the Church: the first appearance of the word ‘solidarity’ in the canon of CST, via the pen of Pius XII on the eve of war in 1939, is as a descriptor of the sociality of the Church itself. It is language that enriches the Church’s ability to talk about its own social life.
This mutual critical dialogue between theological anthropology and social theory that began to crystalize in the social teaching documents of the 1930s, bearing fruits in the 1940s and 1960s, was exemplified in the work of German Jesuit economist Fr Heinrich Pesch (1854–1926) and German Jesuit theologian-sociologist Fr Oswald von Nell Breuning (1890– 1990). Their work provided a vital context for the development of insights crucial to the emergence of a Catholic theory of solidarity. They drew their use of the phrase ‘solidarity’ from a reading of the Scriptures, natural law theory and nineteenth- and twentieth-century French and German language of fraternité and solidarnus, rooted as much in the readings of Roman law as in the sociology of Auguste Comte and Emile Durkheim. At stake in this dialogue are competing accounts of the essence and purpose of human social life. Heinrich Pesch was driven by a belief that the emerging twentieth-century theories of individualism and socialism, gaining in power and influence, represented false and impractical abstractions from the ways in which human beings sought to operate in concrete contexts. What had been in one sense sound insights about the co-belonging and mutual responsibility of human beings risked being theorized into a form of odd abstraction. There was something anthropologically misguided about these movements, Marxism and corporatist and nationalist fascism especially, and theology had both the responsibility and capacity to address this problem. Pesch argued that our true nature, expressed in observable deep human practices of social cooperation, is betrayed by narrow appeals to competitive individualism or overarching collectivism. To correct this profound empirical and theoretical error he laboured to produce an economic theory of solidarity that took into account a cooperative understanding of human nature and the common good that could be drawn on by social movements as well as the Church. Pesch’s Lehrbuch der Nationalökonomie was widely credited as a significant influence upon Pope Pius XI’s social encyclical Quadragesimo anno.
If the principle of human dignity is impelled in its development by the horrors of war, then also the principle of solidarity can be said to be given impetus by the mid and late twentieth-century experiences of war, revolution and resistance – from Western Europe to North and Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe. Whilst the pre-war years provide a fertile context for dialogue between social movements adopting solidarity as a central social principle, it is with the papacy of John Paul II that the idea comes into its own. In John Paul II’s writings, Bruening and Pesch’s earlier commitment to dialogue with ‘secular’ political and intellectual movements and the council’s desire for a more overtly theological direction to the Church’s social teaching become more clearly integrated. Influenced by his engagement with the Solidarność movement in Poland and his struggle to engage in a constructive response to the theories of solidarity emerging amongst liberation theologians in Latin America, John Paul II offers to CST a version of solidarity as a form of virtue theory that sits within its own evolving theory of society.
Developing reflection on solidarity in the encyclicals: 1891 onwards
Rerum novarum did not explicitly use the term ‘solidarity’. However, the ideas later expressed as a theory of solidarity can be meaningfully correlated with Leo XIII’s discussion of friendship, charity and justice, and his critique of liberalism and communism. They are also nascent in his articulation of the role of new social groups and the state. Rerum novarum might be said to offer four foundational elements integral to the later Catholic solidarity argument: first, the transcendent and covenantal basis to human solidarity and the consequent role for religion in motivating and sustaining solidarity; second, the threat to solidarity posed by all forms of social inequality and division and therefore the need to understand and respond to social division with ever new practices of social cooperation and mediation; third, the role of the state as a necessary, positive but profoundly limited organizing expression of solidarity; and fourth, a repeatedly stated belief that sustainable social results happen where causes learn how to overcome their estrangement and cooperate through the formation of civic friendship. This fourfold vision integrates theological norms with empirical practices, but for theological reasons it resists the idea that being practical means being narrowly prescriptive.
One of the defining features of the way that solidarity is understood in the first fifty years of the social encyclical tradition (1891–1961) is its heavy focus on the context of industrial work and the changing European social order. The key agents of solidarity are (male) workers and owners, struggling to live virtuous lives in a context where social division appears to be intensifying. In this context, Rerum novarum argues that religion itself is the most fundamentally solidaristic mechanism for drawing together rich and poor. The Church provides a context where human interests are identical, not opposed; where a common dignity is shared as gift; where a common Spirit is available to guide and heal; and where duties towards each other are rooted in a common duty to justice and charity. Social unity begins with a discussion of common origins, a common nature and a common destiny: of covenant and only then social contract.
Pope Leo contrasts this with the factors that mitigate against this same drawing together of interests in wider society: wage depression, usury, practices of monopoly, narrowed concepts of social contract rooted in a focus on economic life. However, Rerum novarum is clear that all human means must conspire to alleviate poverty and facilitate human capability and well-being, ‘results don’t happen save where all the causes cooperate’.[ix] In a section on the explicit part that the state should play in fostering cooperation, Rerum novarum outlines the following duties. The first duty of the state is to make sure that the laws and institutions, ‘the general character and administration of the commonwealth, shall be such as to produce of themselves public wellbeing and private prosperity. This is the proper office of wise statesmanship and the work of the heads of state’.[x] The state is understood to prosper by morality, flourishing family life, respect for religion and justice, moderation, equal distribution of public burdens, progress in arts and trade and abundant yield of the land. Solidarity enacted by institutions continues the focus on character, not simply on pragmatic and technical function: the character of public administration matters if it is to be an agent for the good.
Leo XIII also asserts that a commitment to solidarity requires critical attention to the role of markets. In this context, it is the threat to universal friendship, justice and charity posed by the development of nineteenth century free market capitalism that meets with most sustained comment in Rerum novarum. More concretely, Leo XIII expresses concern about the isolation and relative powerlessness of workingmen in the face of unrestrained market competition, new forms of usury, practices of monopoly and the use of contracts to regulate labour practices. Leo sees this multifaceted power imbalance as ‘a yoke little better than slavery itself’.[xi] Rerum novarum warns against the ‘false’ social remedies to these problems represented first by the communist desire to eradicate private property and grow a collectivist and centralized state, and second, the (economically) liberal desire for a market largely free from intervention. He is also strongly critical of workers or owners who ferment social or economic division. He praises by contrast those who foster mediation, relationship and new forms of social cooperation.
Leo XIII suggests that in addition to just economic practice, necessary acts of personal charity and the work of guilds and associations, there must be a cautious use of the state as a form of structural solidarity to aid the family or household in need. The state should not penetrate and pervade the family, but if the family finds itself in great difficulty and ‘utterly friendless’ it is right that extreme necessity be met by public aid, ‘for each family is part of a commonwealth’.[xii] Strong words are used to warn against absorbing the individual or family into the state, or increasing the fundamental dependence of the person upon the state. The role of the state is rather to anxiously safeguard the potential for lives of virtue within the community. However, much of the logic of non-interference in family life is framed in strongly paternal(ist) language: the family is ‘a continuation of the father’s personality’, and children are property of the father.13 Later encyclicals frame an understanding of the family in more theological language and less overtly paternalistic terms, although a debate about the representation and agency of women in CST continues to the present.
Rerum novarum also offers a moral basis for structural solidarity with the poorest. The solidaristic function of the state requires those who govern to benefit every order of the state, to promote to the highest degree within its citizens the interests of the poorest and consult widely amongst the commonwealth on the terms of the common good. The more the needs and interests of the working population are served by the general laws of the land, the less there will be need for particular means of poor relief. The state should be conscious that its poorer citizens are its majority, the wealthy its minority. To violate this balance of interest is an offence against distributive justice: that each person should receive his or her due, guided by the principle of the universal destination of goods. The state’s chief practical duty is to act with strict distributive justice, in relation to persons and classes. Whilst all citizens are duty bound to participate according to gifts and capacities for the sake of the common good, the state must recognize that not all can contribute in the same way or to the same extent. Any contributory principle needs to be understood in a pluralistic, proportionate and capacity-oriented manner. Engaging the contributory principle in the light of this teaching on solidarity implies, first, maximizing conditions for capability and participation, and, second, a personal duty to find ways to contribute to the common good appropriate to each person and institution. Here we see clearly that the common good that the state needs to safeguard and maximize the conditions for is much less about seeking a formal consensus of ideas, a common mind, and much more about the expression of a plurality of forms of life seeking to be, to create and to participate in the life of the common good, in the light of the search for truth.
There are, however, things the state simply cannot do with regard to solidarity. These limitations relate primarily to the formation of personal, reciprocal and transformative just and charitable friendships, which are necessary forms of social relationships for individuals to be able to recognize the life of the common good. These forms of life are reserved for person-to person relationships that can be fostered between individual persons and within smaller scale associations. First, Rerum novarum emphasizes the role of new associations, trade unions and guilds, saving particular praise for those who have arranged for new ways to organize seemingly opposed interests into new partnerships – Leo names in particular associations of working men, workers and employers together into groups, founding insurance societies and new forms of philanthropy.[xiii] He praises solidarity expressed through creative associationalism in its many forms. He is at pains to communicate the message that unionization is a good because it is a form of human organizing that seeks to unify workers in pursuit of a positive just goal and to counter the Marxist narrative of class enemies and conflict. Second, Leo XIII repeatedly reinforces a message present in every subsequent social encyclical: personal charity (caritas) will always be a social necessity and a vital form of friendship. It is a religious duty with transcendent dimensions that connect us to our divine origins and a permanent social necessity. The interpenetration of justice and charity as the basis and expression of solidarity is a key theme here.
We have spent some time on this encyclical because its major ‘solidaristic’ themes – covenant and cooperation, mediation and civic friendship across seemingly estranged groups, associationalism and a limited assistance state, just distribution of goods and the necessary interrelation of justice and charity – set the foundations for subsequent letters which interpret, develop and improvise on these themes.
Forty years later, and set against the context of rising fascism and nationalism, Quadrogesimo anno develops a more explicit Christian theory of solidarity. Pope Pius XI reinforces the idea that society should be understood as ontological oriented towards cooperation and builds on the language of friendship and shared interest. A new urgency is evident in Pius XI’s talk about the universal basis for human friendship and cooperation. Contra fascism, Pius stressed universal human kinship set against attempts to place priority on solidarity within ethnic, national groups and consequent claims to racial superiority. Yet a focus on solidarity amongst workers and between industrial labour and capital continues to be a particular hallmark: owners, managers and workers bear mutually cooperative responsibilities. Solidarity continues to emerge as concrete and universal, personal and structural. Pius repeats and develops reflection on the torn halves of charity and justice: charity is more than justice, requires us to go beyond giving each their due into personal relationships of care, accompaniment, repentance, forgiveness and trust. However, charity alone does not express the fullness of care required in the social order and justice itself is a form of caritas:
Charity cannot take the place of justice unfairly withheld, but, even though a state of things be pictured in which every man receives at last all that is his due, a wide field will nevertheless remain open for charity. For, justice alone, even though most faithfully observed, can remove indeed the cause of social strife, but can never bring about a union of hearts and minds. Yet this union, binding all men together, is the main principle of stability in all institutions, no matter how perfect they may seem, which aim at establishing social peace and promoting mutual aid. In its absence, as repeated experience proves, the wisest regulations come to nothing.[xiv]
Pius XI reinforces Leo’s teaching on the solidaristic responsibility of the state for the common welfare – in particular the duty to foster harmony between classes and groups. This requires functional intermediary groups and forms of organized citizens and workers. The health of the state depends not simply on what the state does but on its relationship to a wide range of in-between groups. Therefore, the state (in its own interest) should foster the conditions necessary for such groups to flourish. Quadragesimo anno reminds its readers that private personal or business conduct should also be oriented towards solidarity and the common good. Pius praises the use of jurisprudence to develop new ways of thinking about the provision of protection against poverty and suffering, health and housing; praises the foundation of new unions and criticizes those following solely laissezfaire economic approaches. The concept of the living wage is developed in greater detail as a necessary condition for cooperation and social harmony.
The first formal uses of the term ‘solidarity’ in magisterial texts occur on the eve of the Second World War and in its aftermath. In Pius XII’s 1939 encyclical Summi pontificatus (‘On the Unity of Human Society’) and his 1950 Christmas message, solidarity emerges as an expression of natural and divine law: a ‘law’ that relates to our common human origins and destiny, our equality in light of both the pervasive reality of sin and the promise of salvation. Nonetheless, the first use of this language is applied to the experience of the Church in a time of crisis and as a response of suffering, rather than as a social ethic, as it is often later perceived. Insofar as it emerges as a social principle it is presented as a necessary precondition for wider social collaboration and as a practice that supports the basic units of the associational order; solidarity is also presented as a practice necessary for peacebuilding at both the interpersonal and international level.
It is with the publication of John XXIII’s first social encyclical in 1961 that the Catholic theory of solidarity begins to be given a more expansive theological base and to be articulated as a more systematic guide for social and political action. John XXIII moves away from solidarity conceived primarily as reflection on the relationship between labour and capital, industrialist and worker. He shifts CST towards greater engagement with the realities of being a global church in the context of radically unequal relations between global north and south. Thus, Mater et magistra focuses on the challenges and need for solidarity between, as well as within, nation states. John sees this as necessary given the fact that social processes of industrialization and globalization are increasing the de facto interdependence between states, and that a Catholic vision of the international order has long been oriented towards cooperation.
However, shifting practices of post-war solidarity in Europe are also important. John XXIII sees the development of post-war welfare states as a key ‘sign of the times’. Mater et magistra praises social insurance and social security as forms of distributive justice, addressing inequity between groups and classes. However, John XXIII is careful to return to the developing theme that solidarity and subsidiarity should be balanced throughout the body politic, and that the state must not give in to the idea of a perfect bureaucratic form of justice. John XXIII exhorts politicians to foster balance through freedom of groups to act autonomously whilst also encouraging cooperation within a wider regulated system. John argues that if – and only if – this balance is respected then the extension of state welfare will not inevitably be overly burdensome nor dependency oriented. Mirroring his own rural background, he chooses an agricultural rather than industrial example to illustrate his point: mutual aid societies and professional associations help to protect prices, offer ways to learn about best practices and new technologies, provide for fellowship amongst agricultural workers and enable effective advocacy. All of these are subsidiary forms of welfare and promote human freedom and agency. But he warns: you need to be organized into groups to be heard. Once again, a vision of solidarity emerges rooted in both dire need and a natural human capacity for mutual assistance.
Pacem in terris focuses on solidarity in the context of questions of peace, war and human rights, attending to the global dimensions of solidarity: the importance of solidarity within each political community and between political communities. This letter introduces formally into CST the notion that each political community has a meaningful common good of its own, and that solidarity is the engine for driving towards the common good. One theme that links the national, regional and global politics of solidarity is evidence of rising politics of fear and distrust. John XXIII expresses concern about a vicious political cycle taking hold in which public opinion and public policy reinforce one another in a negative cycle of the defensive and destructive. He argued provocatively that rather than acting to overcome fear and distrust, public policy under democratic conditions seems at times to feed it. Democracy is not in itself a guarantee against cycles of fear and distrust. He notes the tie between the democratic and authoritarian politics of 1960s and increased militarization. Why do public policy decisions seem to prioritize armament over food and pursue militarization as a private interest, dressed up in a false language of public interest? He argued with passion that such public policy displaces basic social and economic development needs, forgetting to invest in the needs and capabilities of people as the basis of development: the basic characteristic of human relations and the purpose of social institutions is solidarity. Mater et magistra posited that this cycle actively thwarts the conditions necessary for the growth of a politics of collaboration and solidarity. Fostering cooperation and basic human capability is the necessary basis of a different – more theological – cycle of response to fear and distrust.
The contribution of the Second Vatican Council to the developing understanding of solidarity took a slightly different turn again. The council was marked by a desire to reconnect Catholic theology with its biblical and patristic roots. As such Gaudium et spes, the main social teaching document produced by the council, is marked by the halting beginnings of a more doctrinal take on solidarity. Drawing on themes of Incarnation and soteriology the document emphasizes that we are saved and made holy not merely as individuals without bonds but by being made into a people, a communal character consummated in the work of Jesus Christ, Word made Flesh. God willed to share in our nature and as a unique act of solidarity Jesus Christ takes on the form of our solidarities. We share in kinship with Christ who becomes the firstborn of many brethren. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are united into His Body, the Church. The long revolution of faith requires a constant increase in, and ever-renewed practices of, solidarity – which we receive and enact as practices of communion – until the day it is brought to perfection in God’s kingdom. This is therefore a thoroughly communitarian and ecclesial ethic: the community of Jesus is to be a community of solidarity, and we are saved as members of a community of faith, but the wider doctrinal and natural law emphasis of the document means that this is never solely envisioned a practice of the visible Church alone.
Gaudium et spes also continues to develop the new mode of reflection on solidarity set within the global context of greater wealth but more inequality, greater interaction but more alienation, greater socialization but less personalization. The document offers further development of universal kinship themes; it maintains and further develops the parallel theme of worker solidarity. It reinforces the Catholic view of globalization as an essentially neutral process – open, if engaged with through the virtues, to opportunities for greater socialization whilst also containing new possibilities for inequality and oppression. Globalization, for example, means that we see more plainly and concretely beyond our national and particular groups to the universal kinship of humanity. Ideas of universal kinship can sound very theoretical and abstract, but become something we can reach out and touch through travel, new forms of social communication, cultural exchange and economic cooperation. However, structures of sin take on global dimensions too and threaten the fragile solidarity that globalization invites.
The pre-conciliar encyclicals had tended to talk about ‘the law of human solidarity’, rooting the call to solidarity in a natural law account of the human person. Through the years of the council a parallel biblical and doctrinal interpretation developed which did not repudiate the earlier natural law emphasis but which supplemented a more Christological and ecclesiological account. Representing this shift in his first post-conciliar social encyclical, Paul VI moves to talking about the Christological ‘duty’ of human solidarity. As Mark Potter argues, Paul VI also introduces a greater sense of teleology to Catholic discussions about solidarity.[xv] Paul VI does this through his introduction of the term ‘integral’ or ‘authentic’ human development in Populorum progressio. Whilst this term remains ambiguous in meaning, acting in more heuristic than precise terms (as with much in the social encyclical tradition), it functions to remind readers of the social encyclicals that the social order must operate according to a goal, consideration of how we reach this goal necessarily takes us by way of reflection on the need for and nature of human solidarity. As Potter notes, this solidarity is both the necessary way to reach the goal and also intrinsically part of the goal itself.[xvi] Interestingly, he also sees a serious challenge to the Church, considering itself to be a global community, in
living solidarity within her own life: How can the Church relate across differences of culture and extreme differences of wealth and poverty, race, class and gender politics, without addressing these real social divisions and overcoming them in the life of the Church? If the task of the Church is to facilitate the conversion of the world, then the capacity for the Church to be a visible sign of the solidarity it wishes the world to desire needs to lead to careful attentiveness, dialogue and communal reflection.
International development and the possibilities of solidarity-as communion through a trinity of charity, trade and aid dominate Paul VI’s 1967 Populorum progressio. For the first time this social encyclical also raises the question of cultural difference and the need for attention to intercultural dynamics in conceiving of global relations of solidarity. He sees threats to solidarity in the forms of unregulated economy that widens inequality; social conflict driven by imbalances of possessions and power; and breakdown of traditional forms of social ties through increased industrialization. The spirit of solidarity, expressed as authentic human development, is the framework for exploring aid, trade, charity and conflict resolution. As Meghan Clark notes, for Paul VI the capacity to act in and for solidarity is seen as itself the fullness of human development. Development is not merely the instrumental end point, but the practised virtue of solidarity is itself a form of fullness of being human.[xvii] We can talk therefore about a ‘development in solidarity’, as well as solidarity as the basis for economic and political development. The text appeals for practical ways to promote communion between nations through solidarity (aid), social justice (trade) and charity (mutuality and participation). In his subsequent apostolic exhortation Octogesima adveniens Paul VI begins to make tentative connections between human freedom and solidarity: the deepest character of freedom is found in building up active and lived solidarity.
In Justitia in mundo, the 1971 Synod of Bishops deploys the developing language of solidarity to talk about the pursuit of justice. Solidarity is necessary to secure human dignity, the common good and a true humanity. A right relation to God is unimaginable without taking in the dimensions of solidaristic human relations. This is not imagined as ‘law’, duty or penance – a taxation due on divine benefits. Rather, an economy of intersecting relations, a constant flow of interconnected human–human, human–divine relations is presented, in which solidarity is both a divine and human action, and in which learning the virtue of solidarity opens up fullness of life as a communion of creatures and with the Creator.
Thus, whilst earlier papacies begin a tentative social theological use of the language of solidarity, John Paul II’s papacy contributes to its theological political development in three key ways: first, he formalizes solidarity as a permanent principle of CST, second, he adds further theological depth to the notion of solidarity and third, he brings a new emphasis focusing on the concrete, practical nature of solidarity. In so doing he articulates a more overtly personalist and structural account of solidarity as a Catholic social principle.
John Paul II was the only pontiff to write part of the modern canon of CST who had come to the papacy already having produced his own body of work on the philosophical and theological basis of the idea of solidarity. Karol Wojtyła had laboured as a young philosopher priest in Poland to produce a new synthesis of the Thomism he had been taught in the seminary and the phenomenology he encountered amongst his colleagues involved in Christian–Marxist dialogue. His book The Acting Person was the result. Wojtyła was convinced that theologians needed to renew their thought by working from an understanding of how the person experiences the world: to experience ourselves in action. He believed that reflecting on the acting person would bring us – via a different path – to the same metaphysical truths Aquinas’ system proposes, but it would correct the tendency in Thomism to underplay the dynamic nature of the human person.
These ideas of the free, self-governing and yet radically interdependent person were developed in dialogue with the work of German philosopher Max Scheler and Polish priest-philosopher Józef Tischner. If Scheler helped Karol Wojtyła to develop his personalist theory of moral personality, Tischner helped him to develop his theory of solidarity as the praxis of community. Tischner’s The Ethics of Solidarity focuses on the role of conscience and work as providing deep structures for renewing solidarity. Arguing that the deeper problem of economic and social crisis was an issue of enacting conscience, Tischner offers a compelling account of the need for the Church in building a solidarity of consciences. Tischner’s work, whilst centred on conscience as a moral category, should not be read as an individualistic or personalist account lacking in structural or communal engagement. For Tischner – who also acted as the first chaplain to solidarity movement in Poland – dialogue and work become key categories, for consciences need to operate in the context of dialogue about value, and a crucial everyday context for such dialogue is work. Work becomes a form of solidarity in the sense that labour is a co-creative process and a mechanism through which we participate in an intergenerational – past, present, future – conversation about labour and value. The first social encyclical produced by John Paul II, Laborem exercens, mirrors many of Tischner’s concerns.
One of the distinctive hallmarks of Laborem exercens is the attempt to set out a narrative and background history within which to situate the developing Catholic conversation about solidarity. John Paul II begins by placing talk of solidarity firmly in the context of reflection on work. He observes that the practical movements of solidarity as historical forces have been a reaction against the degradation of man as the subject of work and exploitation in wages, conditions and social security. Solidarity of workers has produced new forms of cooperation, yet as new forms of solidarity are created – workers sharing in the running of companies, social legislation on pay and conditions, including living wages – so, simultaneously, new forms of injustice emerge and new challenges – increased automation, and as the pandemic has made clear gaps between knowledge industry and manual and caring work. These observations shouldn’t lead to pessimism and passivity. Solidarity is never a fruitless struggle, but it is an arduous struggle that needs to be understood in the dimensions of time as well as space. Just as work itself is a sort of solidarity – sharing in the activity of the Creator and expressing of a common nature and purpose – so acts of solidarity are expressions of work: an arduous good, representing incomplete but compelling forms of practical love. In response we need to work and study for the development of ever new movements of solidarity of and with workers, attentive to both the endlessly inventive nature of degradation, exploitation, poverty and hunger and the possibility for human cooperation and communion. The reality of work is caught up in both these cycles.
Catholic reflection on solidarity is driven by a set of simultaneously ontological and historical claims. Solidarity can be viewed in empirical terms as something observable in the way that human beings operate: as an inherent, traceable way of being that can be affirmed by secular as well as theological reasoning. Nonetheless, the theological account is argued to exceed the secular in so far as it offers a ‘thicker’ ontology to ground the call to solidarity: solidarity is first and foremost a divine act before it is something that we do, a divine gift to humanity through creation, renewed, deepened and extended in the Incarnation and through redemption. Read through the lens of divine law, solidarity becomes both gift and duty, an act corresponding to the calling latent within our nature and an act grounded in that which we first receive – and which in a fallen world we memorialize and re-receive in sacramental and liturgical form. In this sense solidarity is both a fact and a call to action.
John Paul II’s social encyclicals present a pluralist, associationalist vision of solidarity as a virtue or duty to be enacted by individual persons, amongst the professions, by classes, by small-scale communities and by nations. This vision influences John Paul II’s critique of the ‘suffocation’ of the person between market and state. He notes the many levels of relationship needed to ‘personalize’ and ‘socialize’ and enable human relations to ‘breathe’: family, associations and groups that cross labour–capital, class, ethnic, national boundaries. The oxygenation of social life – and of work as one vital facet of this reality – requires not only the commitment of the individual and of the institution or organization to the pursuit of genuine individual, public and common goods but also the flourishing of an associational and public life that is external to the workplace. A Catholic theology of work whilst placing very significant emphasis on work as a context for the generation of value does not reify work within a self-enclosed world, nor imagine that institutions or organizations will pursue genuine goods without some level of external challenge or inspiration.
His vision is also grounded in an unsurprisingly realist appeal to truth as the grounds of ‘integral’ or ‘authentic’ human development. What sets John Paul II’s account of globalization apart from contemporary secular accounts is his emphasis on the search for and free submission of the self to truth. Real and sustained relationships of solidarity need to recognize the fundamental drive of the human person for the search for truth and its pre-eminent human importance. Through this process we learn how to choose the common good, a good that is our own good and the good of the whole. Only recognition of these empirical realities can enable us to move from a sociological observation of the fact of complex social interdependence to a moral and spiritual apprehension of interdependence as a call for a new understanding of human dignity and an invitation to forms of life in communion. Thus, in Sollicitudo rei socialis interdependence is presented as a globalized system determining relationships (economic, political, cultural and religious) and as a moral category. Solidarity within society means mutual recognition of personhood, cooperation whereby the stronger aid the weaker and reciprocal cooperative action whereby the weaker or poorer resist the trap of passivity or narrow rights-claiming approaches to seek means of participation. International relations, solidarity between nations, is rooted in the principle that the goods of creation are meant for all. The products of human work, shaped from common raw materials, are destined to serve equally the needs and the good of all. John Paul calls for solidarity to be practising above all as a way of seeing: seeing persons, peoples and nations as sharers, helpers and neighbours in the banquet of life, to which all are equally called. Hence, ultimately, solidarity is rooted in and requires a religious re-awakening of both persons and peoples.
John Paul II’s work on solidarity offers two theological innovations of particular note for the development of CST: he suggests we need more focus on both sin and love as themes to be applied to the complex social and political realities that threaten peace. These themes of love and sin can be seen as a logic follow on from his concern to address questions of truth and to understand the social conditions that seem to block or frustrate access or apprehension of this truth. John Paul II’s theological development of reflection on solidarity drew also on the growing influence of Latin American liberation theologians’ reflections on inequality, love and sin as social themes. To talk about social sin is not just to harp on in a dreary fashion about moral conduct but opens to us a series of practical actions and categories not typically present in political analysis: forgiveness, mercy, repentance and conversion. These remain categories of justice which are not contained within the realm of the political alone and require theological language, exposition and practice. This language of sin relates to persons and to structures: the capacity of nations and blocs to manifest ‘sin’ and the negative significance of such structures in working against the development of ‘a true awareness of the universal common good’.[xviii] Solidarity emerges as the way that we resist structures of sin and keeps open a space for the apprehension of the common good as a necessary social pursuit. John Paul grounds his personalist virtue of solidarity in the universal destination of goods – the principle that the goods of the earth are intended for the benefit of all. In doing so he insists on the connections between solidarity and justice, and an attention to inequality as an integral part of Christian solidarity.
John Paul II extends earlier treatment of these themes in CST and addresses directly the social and political dimensions of sin, forgiveness, mercy, repentance and conversion. He insists that there is no route towards dealing with world problems of peace and development without engaging the fallen and redeeming realities of interdependence as a moral reality. There is also no process of politics without some form of dispossession – reflecting on the fact that politics involves being willing to give things up. He challenges us by asking: What are we required to give up to engage in a more adequately moral form of social exchange? His answer highlights the politics of blocs, all forms of economic, political and military imperialism, forms of mutual fear and distrust in favour of practical collaboration focused on shared needs. These forms of dispossession are not ‘losses’ but acts ‘proper to solidarity’.[xix] Peace as the fruit of justice becomes peace as the fruit of solidarity. Here he draws on biblical roots in Isaiah 32.17 and James 3.18. This pushes the idea of justice beyond solely each being given their due into a prior consideration of the virtues that foster togetherness and increase the chance of each being given their due.
Equally significant from a theological point of view is John Paul II’s desire to relate the Christian concept of solidarity back to its roots in charity and holiness. Solidarity is called to go beyond itself, to take on the specifically Christian dimension of total gratuity, forgiveness and reconciliation. This orientation requires us to acknowledge that our neighbour is not just a competing rights-bearer but an image of the living God, shares a common paternity and kinship through God, and is made to be part of the sacrament of communion. The disposition appropriate to solidarity is therefore caritas. Here John Paul II draws attention to the saints as models of solidarity, particularly the sixteenth-century Jesuit patron saint of slaves Peter Claver and the twentieth-century Franciscan saint who took the place of a stranger in Auschwitz Maximillian Kolbe. He also draws into CST reflection on pneumatology, a generally underdeveloped theme in Catholic social thought: it is through the Spirit that we are able to move beyond ordinary solidarity into this space of gratuity.
Benedict XVI takes further this task of re-theologizing the relationship between charity and justice. He places a greater emphasis on making explicit the transcendent basis of true solidarity and authentic human development: rooted in an acceptance of the divine image present in our neighbour. An implicit move within Benedict’s writings is the move away from use of the word ‘solidarity’ and towards the language of fraternity. Benedict continues to use the language of solidarity in order to refer to forms of civic coexistence, as a virtue that secular societies can aim for and should embody as a minimum condition. In his writings, solidarity is a principle and practice necessary within markets and within each individual transaction. Solidarity builds trust and without prior forms of solidarity trust will diminish. Trust is the basic category necessary for both political and market relations, so it is ironic and problematic that both tend towards self-harm by working against the very conditions they require to function.
Whilst the term ‘solidarity’ does not disappear in his writings, Benedict XVI makes much fuller theological use of the term ‘fraternity’, drawing out its connections to ideas of reciprocity, gift and gratuity. It is possible that Benedict’s turn towards the language of fraternity is an attempt (as some have argued) to move away from any perceived individualism or secularity that might be perceived to cling to the language of solidarity and to return the idea of solidarity to its pre-Enlightenment roots. In drawing on the language of fraternity Benedict is judged to have emphasized the communal and reciprocal character of Christian social relations and their rootedness in Christian liturgical life and community. At very least, Benedict appears to present a preference for fraternity as a form of social language that captures the fact that Christian social life – and therefore all social theology – originates in a receptive movement in which we are first loved and therefore given to each other in and for love.
Benedict offers this logic of fraternity as the basis for a critique and reconstruction of liberal economic and social transactions – he believes that contract logic, emphasizing exchange and duty, has dominated our thinking and gift logic has been left behind, often dismissed. He argued that a logic of gift and communion in political and economic thinking takes us beyond an ethics of mere duty, obligation or right – the other person as ‘law’ and limit – and towards an ethics of encounter, exchange and relational abundance. Such thinking does not diminish notions of obligation or rights, but it frames the social imagination in a very different way, and this mattered deeply for Benedict. Solidarity is never mere duty or indebtedness, rather it expands outwards from an initial experience of gift and reciprocity, in a circle of exchange without limit, in search of both justice and love, impelled by a prior experience of both. In Caritas in veritate, drawing partly on the work of Catholic ‘civil economy’ thinkers Stefano Zamagni and Luigino Bruni, Benedict argued the case for a new, post-financial crash model of economy as gift.[xx]
It is interesting, then, that the papacy of Francis has sought to reemphasize the principle of solidarity in categorical terms but has also continued to develop the language of fraternity foregrounded in Caritas in veritate. In doing so, Francis has both repeated the solidaristic themes of John XXIII, John Paul II and Benedict, and produced an integrated social teaching of his own. Francis emphasizes the primary importance of a Christian doctrine of creation and redemption for shaping a distinctive understanding of human interdependence and solidarity; the practical evidence of a solidaristic mindset in a willingness to think and act in terms of community, including in its intergenerational dimensions, and as a wider biospheric ethic; and the structural dimension to solidarity which requires an institutional and personal commitment to ensuring a priority of human life over capital, profit and the ‘appropriation of goods by the few’. Francis has placed a concrete emphasis on the communal pursuit of land, housing and decent work as the work of solidarity.
Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium contains an urgent emphasis on solidarity as a crucial virtue and principle, most particularly as it relates to the preferential option for the poor. Francis states: ‘The word “solidarity” is a little worn and at times poorly understood, but it refers to something more than a few sporadic acts of generosity. It presumes the creation of a new mindset which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few.’22 He continues:
Solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property. The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good; for this reason, solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them. These convictions and habits of solidarity, when they are put into practice, open the way to other structural transformations and make them possible. Changing structures without generating new convictions and attitudes will only ensure that those same structures will become, sooner or later, corrupt, oppressive and ineffectual.[xxi]
In Laudato si’ Francis expands his use of solidarity to encompass a commitment to sustainable development. He argues that sustainable development is only possible if we are inspired by a vision of intergenerational solidarity – politics as the present connection between past and future, as he later argues in Fratelli tutti. In Laudato si’ he notes:
We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity. Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. . . . Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.[xxii]
Francis uses Laudato si’ to reimagine solidarity not merely in intergenerational terms but in more expansively intragenerational, creaturely and biospheric terms.[xxiii] He presents a narrative of human beings as creaturely beings, embedded in a wider natural world, in which each part of that world is reaching towards its future. A biospheric teleology marks the basis of this account of solidarity, an interdependent, dynamic process of becoming marks the whole earth. Francis writes sharply: ‘the ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us’.[xxiv] The horizon for ultimate purpose is transcendent, not immanent, and marked by a capacity to relate to difference. Solidarity is marked by a respect for this fact.
Two other key addresses develop Francis’ teaching on solidarity. In two addresses to popular movements Francis talks about solidarity as increasingly a ‘dirty word’, seen as naïve and worn. He reiterates the older CST themes we have noted earlier, that solidarity means thinking in terms
of communities of mutual belonging, of a structural priority of human persons above both capital and concentrations or appropriations of wealth or goods and a willingness to actively struggle against the structural causes of poverty and inequality. He suggests a need for Christian social action both to address the conditions of lack or privation of the basic goods of human life and to actively secure those goods, which he names in material terms as decent work, land and housing. Without these three the conditions for solidarity as well as human dignity are threatened.
In his Covid-19 public audiences during the summer of 2020, Francis explored each principle of the Church’s social teaching in an accessible manner and with reflection on the pandemic.[xxv] He paired each principle with a theological virtue – in this instance, solidarity with faith. He offers one distinctive emphasis in this address and highlights a striking metaphor. In his theological treatment of solidarity, Francis explains that without honouring the transcendent basis to our human interdependence – which he summarizes neatly as recognition of a common origin, a common home, a common life and a common destination – we are at great risk of forgetfulness about the mutuality that anchors our common life, turning interdependence into dependence. There is only proper recognition of interdependence or toxic cycles of dependence. Where interdependence is not noted and honoured, unhealthy forms of dependence become the norm. He had already named these in his 2014 address to the popular movements as evidenced in extreme inequality, violence, dislocation, trafficking and forced emigration. He uses the biblical story of Babel and the event of Pentecost as his hermeneutic frame of reference. Babel involves building higher to reach the heavens but without a mindset of communal communication and mutual belonging. Pentecost, by contrast, infused by the Spirit, honours participation and the contribution of each. It is at this point that Francis draws a striking metaphor for understanding solidarity through a CST lens is drawn from the pandemic itself. Francis argues that as a Pentecostal community God inspires faith as a virtue in God’s people, making the impossible a reality – a unity in diversity and solidarity. It is this faith that provides the ‘“antibodies” that ensure that the singularity of each person – which is a gift, unique and unrepeatable – does not become sick with individualism, with selfishness’.[xxvi] Francis goes on to suggest that a social body that can honour ‘diversity in solidarity’ possesses antibodies that help heal social structures that have ‘degenerated into systems of injustice’.[xxvii]
In Fratelli tutti Francis arguably adopts solidarity as the framework for the entire encyclical, although he chooses the language of fraternity to express this ethic. As with Francis’ other writings on solidarity, Fratelli tutti returns solidarity to a doctrine of creation: a common fatherhood and a common siblinghood, or fraternity in Christ. Francis’ handling of the theme of solidarity is marked by a notably mystical emphasis: to perceive the common fatherhood we share and to view others as sisters and brothers is first to apprehend the reality that makes this so. This is a contemplative activity, and it is this contemplation that marks the basis for a properly expansive and sustainable practice of solidarity: the view that we are all related to all, and responsible for all, and together saved. The Church is the doxological, liturgical and diaconal reality that binds this community of Christ in and for the world, with and for others. In the conclusion to this book, I explore the particular use of the Good Samaritan passage as a theological heart to Francis’ biblical account of solidarity. In addition, Francis repeats both the earlier themes we have already noted in the twentieth-century CST tradition. He adds a particular note of emphasis to the family and educators as the first contexts for formation in solidarity and of acts of service and care as the concrete manifestations of solidarity. This theme of solidarity as service, through the works of mercy, has the usual Francis embodied rallying call – solidarity as service looks into the face of the other, touches flesh and ‘suffers closeness’ to the suffering of others. Two further reflections emerge in Fratelli tutti, which echo comments made during in a range of addresses. First, the importance of recognizing in nonpatronizing terms that the poorest communities are often most expert in the need for and practice of solidarity as a means of survival and resistance, and from these communities grow the possible seeds of movements that might bring new history. They are not merely the beneficiaries of solidarity done to or for them. Second, that forms of ‘closed’ populism, as Francis names them, which appeal to the solidarity of the group but are closed to those beyond the identified group, are not truly solidaristic but in fact risk being forms of narcissistic localism. He repeats Benedict’s theme that without solidarity and mutual trust as an internal practice of market systems, economies will fail to provide solid and ethical growth.
The development of solidarity as a Catholic social principle
The 1993 Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the principle of solidarity as follows:
The principle of solidarity, also articulated in terms of ‘friendship’ or ‘social charity’, is a direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood. An error, ‘today abundantly widespread, is disregard for the law of human solidarity and charity, dictated and imposed both by our common origin and by the equality in rational nature of all men, whatever nation they belong to. This law is sealed by the sacrifice of redemption offered by Jesus Christ on the altar of the Cross to his heavenly Father, on behalf of sinful humanity.’ Solidarity is manifested in the first place by the distribution of goods and remuneration for work. It also presupposes the effort for a more just social order where tensions are better able to be reduced and conflicts more readily settled by negotiation. Socio-economic problems can be resolved only with the help of all the forms of solidarity: solidarity of the poor among themselves, between rich and poor, of workers among themselves, between employers and employees in a business, solidarity among nations and peoples. International solidarity is a requirement of the moral order; world peace depends in part upon this. The virtue of solidarity goes beyond material goods. In spreading the spiritual goods of the faith, the Church has promoted, and often opened new paths for, the development of temporal goods as well.[xxviii]
This statement presents the threefold account of solidarity we have seen emerging through our discussion of the encyclicals: as an anthropological fact and theological reality; as an ethical principle or moral outlook; and finally, as a structural and institutional imperative. These three elements help us to see the difference between solidarity as a ‘load bearing’ and distinctive concept in CST and more general ideas about compassion and neighbourliness.
First, it begins with an explicit ontology. Anthropologically speaking, the principle of solidarity is rooted in an account of the human person as essentially relational, social and interdependent, having a common origin and possessing a common and equal rationality. Theologically speaking, this is an account of created nature, universal kinship and a common redemption offered through Jesus Christ. CST’s anthropology of solidarity stands in contrast to a social order understood as inherently and ultimately conflictive and competitive. The essential and abiding core of the human personality is seen to be relational, cooperative and oriented towards reciprocity, communication and gift exchange. We create social structures and processes that enable this nature to be secured, protected and expressed as much as to restrain our conflictive, violent and destructive human tendencies. The idea of solidarity is not intended as a denial of conflict, violence, brokenness and loss; rather, what CST has to say about solidarity is unthinkable without an acknowledgement of these darker realities. Our social nature is a prior gift that enables us to live with, through and over against conflict and loss. And yet we need to be equally clear to avoid implying that CST is proposing a false dualism or weak dialectic at the root of our social relations: our cultures, institutions and structures express the constant intermingling of these realities, which will only be separated, as the wheat and tares, at the end of time. In the context of this intermingled reality cooperation – and the stronger ‘theological’ possibility of communion – stands at the basis of the social order prior to conflict and competition. It is also at the end of the social order: our destiny as human persons is to be caught up in the communion life of the divine. For CST, therefore, conversion towards a life which seeks communion, cooperation and gift exchange as practices of resistance and as a participation in what already is and shall be stands at the heart of all social, political and economic life. We can say, then, that CST begins its reflection on solidarity by presenting an anthropological view of solidarity as ontological and teleological.
If we are willing to contemplate our interdependent nature from a moral point of view, then we are led to reflect not simply on the consequences of our nature but also to reflect on solidarity as an active virtue and a dynamic moral reality. Solidarity as a moral perspective brought to bear upon our social, rational and interdependent nature leads us towards one of the most complex human struggles: to recognize that our human interdependence is profound enough to mean that we are called to something more than, as John Paul says, ‘vague compassion or shallow distress’, rather to ‘a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are all really responsible for all’.[xxix] Far from being a loose and saccharine concept of human connection, the principle of solidarity requires a practical, moral engagement with ideas of universal human kinship and the universal destination of material goods that challenges the dominant political, economic and social arrangements of the world of nation states and late capitalist economies.
All of this teaching is steeped in a world view that refuses to see human relationships as primarily pragmatic, instrumental or contractual. An ethics of friendship, charity and justice is the intrinsic basis of institutional as well as personal life: rightly this takes different form in different contexts and involves much plurality. It represents a strong critique of a world view that has been repeatedly in danger of settling for a version of common interest politics that could talk only, at best, about extrinsic duties and goods. So, to come full circle back to where we began this chapter, with the language of solidarity viewed as something old, some borrowed and something new. Matthew Lamb argues that this understanding of solidarity, whilst borrowing from the language of Enlightenment politics, stands in contrast to modern notions of solidarity as extrinsic and voluntarist: for CST ‘the ontology of solidarity is the fact of the human species’.[xxx] This positive theological appraisal of solidarity is not a dualist denial of the reality of social conflict but views solidarity as ontologically prior to violence and therefore as a practical, concrete reality to be enacted for transformation in the midst of violence and conflict.
© Anna Rowlands
[i] Benedict XVI, https:/ /www.vatican.va/roman _curia/ congregations/cfaith/documents/rc _c on_cfaith_doc _200206 02 _ratzinger-eucharistic-congress _e n.html (accessed 6 February 2021).
[ii] For an excellent overview of the use of solidarity in CST, see Clark, The Vision of Catholic Social Thought, especially pp. 18–33, 110–24.
[iii] Ibid., p. 20.
[iv] Marilynne Robinson, ‘Christianity: Ethos not Identity’, Theos lecture, 2013.
[v] Evangelii gaudium, §188.
[vi] Joseph Ratzinger, ‘Eucharist, Communion and Solidarity’, Address given to the Bishops’ Conference of the Region of Campania in Benevento, Italy, https :/ /ww w .vat ican. va /ro man _c uria/ congr egati ons /c faith /docu ments /rc _c on _cf aith_ doc _2 00206 02 _ra tzing er -eu chari stic- congre ss _en .htm l (last accessed 1 April 2021). It is a further irony, in this light, that Charles Curran comments on the replacement of the language of love with solidarity language by John XXIII in Pacem in terris. See Charles Curran, Catholic Social Teaching 1891-Present: A Historical, Theological and Ethical Analysis (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2002), p. 74.
[vii] Ratzinger, ‘Eucharist, Communion and Solidarity’.
[viii] Meghan Clark argues for a deep connection between a theology of creation and the principle of subsidiarity from John XXIII onwards. See Clark, The Vision of Catholic Social Thought, pp. 20–21. We might argue that it is this connection, already woven into the documents of the 1960s, that Francis picks up and re-threads.
[ix] Rerum novarum, §31.
[x] Ibid., §32.
[xi] Ibid., §3.
[xii] Ibid., §14. 13Ibid., §14.
[xiii] Rerum novarum, §41.
[xiv] Quadragesimo anno, §137.
[xv] Mark W. Potter, ‘Solidarity as a Spiritual Exercise: A Contribution to the Development of Solidarity in the Catholic Social Tradition’, Boston College, 2009, unpublished PhD. I am grateful to the author for sharing a copy of this thesis.
[xvii] Clark, The Vision of Catholic Social Thought, p. 21. Clark notes equity and mutuality as the hallmarks of the vision of solidarity and development in Populorum progressio.
[xviii] Sollicitudo rei socialis, §36.
[xix] Ibid., §39.
[xx] Fraternity brings with it the rich association of a religious society or guild built on relationships of reciprocal friendship and the common use of goods. However, given the obviously gendered roots of the word – which passes without comment in the official teaching texts – there has been significant comment from those uncomfortable with a non-inclusive use of this phrase, especially in an era when CST is trying to reflect on some of its more paternalist tendencies. This debate emerged following the publication of Caritas in veritate but intensified in the wake of Fratelli tutti. 22Evangelii gaudium, §188.
[xxi] Ibid., §189.
[xxii] Laudato si’, §159.
[xxiii] This is not a new connection in CST – John Paul II makes such connections to the virtue of solidarity and also to structures of social sin in Evangelium vitae §10 and Sollicitudo rei socialis §26.
[xxiv] Laudato si’, §83.
[xxv] Pope Francis, To Heal the World: Catechesis on the Pandemic, Preface by Cardinal Peter Kodwo Turkson (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2020), pp. 51–8.
[xxvi] Ibid., p. 55.
[xxviii] Catechism of the Catholic Church (1993 Edition), §1939–42.
[xxix] See Sollicitudo rei socialis, §38.
[xxx] Matthew Lamb, ‘Solidarity’, in The New Dictionary of Catholic Social Thought, ed. Judith Dwyer (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1994), p. 911.
Anna Rowlands is St Hilda Professor of Catholic Social Thought and Practice in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University, UK, and Chair of the UK Centre for Catholic Social Thought and Practice.
This essay is taken from The Politics of Communion: Catholic Social Teaching for Dark Times by Anna Rowlands. Shared here with the kind permssion of the author and the publisher, Bloomsbury.
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