Are There 7 Themes of Catholic Social Teaching?
Are there 7 themes of Catholic social teaching? The short answer is no.
The Three Principles of Catholic Social Teaching
Pope Benedict XVI affirmed this: “…the fundamental principles of the social doctrine of the Church such as the dignity of the human person, subsidiarity and solidarity.” (Address to the Pontifical Council for the Laity)
And The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church concurs with these and proposes the Common Good as an additional. (The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 160)
We need to be clear: Catholic social doctrine is based on a “threefold cornerstone of human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity“. (Pope St. John Paul II, 55)
Why Does the USCCB Propose Seven Themes?
The seven themes of Catholic social teaching were developed prior to the papal statements above and publication of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
Prior to these magisterial declarations other concepts were often amalgamated with ‘principles’ giving the impression they are of equal importance. One part of the “cornerstone” is even absent from the USCCB’s themes documents, the principle of Subsidiarity.
Now the Church is clear: there are three key principles: human dignity, solidarity, and subsidiarity with the common good being both the goal and result of Catholic social teaching applied in the world.
Summary of Catholic Social Teaching
The social teaching of the Church is built upon three principles whose application in society leads to the common good: (read Principles of Catholic Social Teaching) (Learn more about The Common Good)
- Human Dignity, rooted in a correct view of the human person (or, Christian anthropology), is the prime principle of Catholic social doctrine. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1700) (Learn more about Human Dignity)
- Solidarity, “We cannot believe in God the Father without seeing a brother or sister in every person, and we cannot follow Jesus without giving our lives for those for whom he died on the cross.” (Pope Francis) (Learn more about Solidarity)
- Subsidiarity, “insists on necessary limits to the State’s intervention” (Pope St. John Paul II, 11) The principle of subsidiarity lies at the heart of a stable social order by fostering the personal responsibility that naturally accompanies individual liberty – ensuring that personal interest is not placed in opposition to societal interests – and by seeking to bring individual desires and the demands of the common good into fruitful harmony. (Learn more about Subsidiarity)
CAPP-USA and Catholic Social Teaching
Pope St. John Paul II founded CAPP to promote the knowledge and practice of Catholic Social Teaching.
Later Pope Benedict XVI made it clear; Catholic Social Teaching is the provenance of the Holy Fathers. It “is an expression of the prophetic task of the supreme pontiffs to give apostolic guidance to the church of Christ and to discern the new demands of evangelization.” (Caritas in Veritate, 12)
In the absence of a Catholic Social Teaching catechism, we recognized the need to develop a normative canon of Catholic social teaching reflecting only papal and synodal social teaching so that what CAPP-USA presents is true to the teaching of the Magisterium and can reliably be represented as the teaching of the Church.
Catholic social teaching is built on three foundational principles - Human Dignity, Solidarity and Subsidiarity. Human Dignity, embodied in a correct understanding of the human person, is the greatest. The others flow from it. Good governments and good economic systems find ways of fostering the three principles.
This means a correct understanding of the human person and of each person’s unique value. All Catholic social teaching flows from this: the inherent dignity of every person that comes from being made in God’s image.
Solidarity is not “a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of others. It is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 38) Love of God and love of neighbor are, in fact, linked and form one, single commandment.
Subsidiarity “is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry. So, too, it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by the lesser and subordinate bodies”. (Pope Pius XI)