Seven Principles of Catholic Social Teaching

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' "

Matthew 25:35-36

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops teaching on Social Justice is based on 7 Basic Principles:

  1. Life and Dignity of the Human Person - All life is a gift from God.  Thus, each person deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.  The Golden Rule from Matthew 7:12 tells us to treat others as we wish to be treated and Jesus tells us the Greatest Commandment is to love God and after that to love your neighbor (Matthew 22:34-39).  Genesis 1:27 tells how we are created in the image of God.  Jesus became human.  All this shows that all humans are special and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
  2. Call to Family, Community, and Participation - We are not meant to individuals living in isolation from one another.  In Genesis 2, God created Eve because He saw that it was not good for man to be alone.  We cannot always put our own desires first.  We must consider the needs of our family, community and all around us.  We are called to act for the good of all.
  3. Rights and Responsibilities - Today, we hear often how we have rights that cannot be taking from us. Pacem in Terris, in paragraphs 11-27, lists many of the rights we are entitled to.  They include the right to life, food, shelter, clothing, work, and medical care (paragraph 11).  The list also includes economic rights (paragraphs 18-22) and political rights (paragraphs 26-27).  What sometimes gets forgotten is the responsibilities (a.k.a. duties) that go with those rights.  Paragraphs 29-38 of Pacem in Terris speak of these duties.  We all have a responsibility to work to ensure the common good of our families and also the strangers and to see that their needs are provided for.  If we wish to claim our rights, then we have a responsibility to ensure those same rights for others.
  4. Option for the Poor and Vulnerable - The Option for the Poor does not mean that the needs of the poor are the only thing we consider in our actions but it does call us to evaluate each of our actions, laws, and policies affect the poor.  Does it help them, oppress them, or have no affect?
  5. The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers -In Genesis 2 we read how God created man and put him in the garden to cultivate and care for it.  Work is good and we are only fulfilled when we can contribute by working.  The Industrial Revolution changed our society forever.  There has always been issues of how owners treat their workers.  The Industrial Revolution brought it to a new level with the question of working conditions and just wages.  Rerum Novarum was written in 1891 to address the questions of the rights and duties of both workers and employers.  Centesimus Annus was written in 1991 as an "updating" of Rerum Novarum in the contemporary world.
  6. Solidarity - We are one people.  We are different, hence our different cultures and governments.  Yet we are still called to work for the good of all, not just those we agree with.  Globalization is becoming a common word.  It is the interdependence we have not as isolated nations but as nations who have needs to fulfill and gifts to other.  Globalization is the physical reality of this.  Solidarity involves the attitude we live with acknowledging how we can benefit one another.
  7. Care for God's Creation -Genesis 2:15 declares that we are charged to care of the world.  Genesis 1:26 gives us dominion over the world.  Dominion does not mean we can do whatever we want.  We must choose wisely how we use the natural resources to show value for them and not use the resources beyond our basic needs.  We are called to be good stewards of our resources.

While Pacem in Terris means Peace on Earth, it does not spend the entire length of the document speaking explicitly on peace.  Rather, much of the document speaks of some of the principles of Social Justice.  If we ensure rights, if we respect the dignity of all, if we live in solidarity, then we will have peace.

*In April 2024, the Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith issued "Dignitas Infinita" on the concepts behind our understanding of human dignity and examples of the importance of human dignity in real life situations.  Please see Part I and Part II of my reflection on "Dignitas Infinita" for more on this.

Updated 4/30/24