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Catholic Social Teaching answers the question posed by Tolstoy: "How, then, shall we live?"

The Church's social doctrine offers us a way to live our life.

"Its aim is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just." (DCE, 28)



A Definition


Catholic Social Teaching (CST) contains a set of 'principles for reflection' to form our conscience, 'critera for judgement' to evaluate the framework of society, and 'directives for action'

"On the one hand it is constant, for it remains identical in its fundamental inspiration, in its "principles of reflection," in its "criteria of judgment," in its basic "directives for action,"6 and above all in its vital link with the Gospel of the Lord" (SRS, 3)

Pope Saint John Paul II emphasized placing the insight brought upon by CST into the course and setting of our daily lives. In Centesimus Annus, he wrote that Catholic Social Thought

"must not be considered a theory, but above all else a basis and a motivation for action" (CA, 57)

120 years of thought and reflection of applying the word of God to people's lives and the life of society, CST addresses such questions as:

  • What form of government and economic system is best for promoting human freedom
  • Why must faith be part of the public square
  • What are the pathologies destroying our culture and how do we fix them
  • How should we address the issues of developing countries
  • What are the dangers of a “welfare state”

 ... among many other vexing issues facing us.

CST posits a three-part proposition of free culture, free markets, and free politics that create a free society.



Catholic Social Teaching and You


Whatever your career is – Business, the Professions, or Academia – the principles of CST are to be applied to form your conscience for acting in the public square, to bring about a more just society. To do this – to engage, interact and affect those institutions in a positive way – is to act in charity.



There are structures that need to be built, and there are structures of society that need to be destroyed. As Pope Saint John Paul II said,

"To destroy such structures and replace them with more authentic forms of living in community is a task which demands courage and patience." (CA, 38)

Catholic Social Teaching and Charity

The social doctrine of the Church is written primarily for the laity to become the salt, light, and leaven in the world, and, through our activity bring about a more just and moral human environment in the political, economic, and cultural aspects of society. To do this is Charity.

This type of Charity is different in action, but still morally connected to Corporal Works of Mercy, which are a major part of our parish ministry as well as our call for social work in secular organizations.

Yet all action is to be performed under the divine theological virtue of Charity that is infused within us by the Holy Spirit.

The Corporal Works of Mercy

    • Feed the hungry
    • Give drink to the thirsty
    • Clothe the naked
    • Shelter the homeless
    • Visit the sick
    • Visit the imprisoned
    • Bury the dead
  • What is the definition of Catholic Social Teaching?
    • Catholic Social Teaching is based upon a set of principles on which to form our consciences in order to evaluate the framework of society and to provide criteria for prudential judgment for current policy and action.

      Based on over 120 years of thinking and reflection on macro issues, Catholic Social Teaching addresses questions such as: what form of government and economic system is best for promoting human freedom; why must faith be part of the public square; what are the pathologies destroying our culture and how do we fix them; how should we address the issues of developing countries; what are the dangers of a “welfare state”; among many other vexing issues facing modern societies.

  • What is the long definition of Catholic Social Teaching?
    • Catholic social teaching is
    • "...built on the foundation handed on by the apostles to the Fathers of the Church and then received and further explored by the great Christian doctors...It is attested to by the saints and by those who gave their lives for Christ.” (CIV, 12)
    • Specifically,
    • "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." (CIV, 12)
    • "The Church’s social doctrine is not a ‘third way’ between liberal capitalism and Marxist socialism, nor even a possible alternative to other solutions less radically opposed to one another: rather it constitutes a category of its own. Nor is it an ideology, but rather the accurate formulation of the results of a careful reflection on the complex realities of human existence, in society and in the international order, in light of the faith and of the Church’s tradition. Its main aim is to interpret these realities and thus to guide Christian behavior." (SRS, 41)
  • How does CST apply specifically to me?
    • It is important to understand how our lives are shaped and influenced by the various institutions that comprise the fabric of our society, so we can engage, interact and affect those institutions in a positive way. Why? Because
    • “The decisions which create a human environment can give rise to specific structures of sin which impede the full realization of those who are in any way oppressed by them” (CA, 38) 
    • There are structures of society that need to be destroyed. There are structures that need to be built. And, to “do” this – to actually be active in the world – to make this happen – is to act in Charity! As Pope Saint John Paul II said,
    • “To destroy structures and replace them with more authentic forms of living in community is a task which demands courage and patience. (CA, 38)
    • Whatever your job or profession: Business; Policy Maker; Educator; Doctor; Lawyer or College Student, CST informs our conscience on how we are to interact with and impact on the framework of society.
  • Why should Catholics become acquainted with Catholic Social Teaching?
    • Pope Benedict XVI called on Catholics to become acquainted with the social teachings of the Church so that, as Saint John Paul the Great said, we can change: 1. Our life styles; 2. Our models of production and consumption, and; 3. The established structures of power which today govern societies. (CA, 58)
  • How do Catholic Social Theory and Secular Social Theory differ?
    • CST stands in marked contrast to the social theory of Hobbes and Locke. CST assumes we are inherently social – reflecting our Trinitarian God, in whose image we are created, and whose own being is irreducibly social. By contrast, social contract theory assumes we are inherently autonomous, committed to no higher moral grounding than our own self-interest.
    • In fact, it is in this inherently social versus autonomous anthropology that CST provides such a compelling answer to the multiple problems of modernity.
  • How does Christ fit into Catholic Social Teaching?
    • While Catholic Social Teaching is quite useful as a guide for living in and creating a civil society - areas this site will be exploring in some depth - it should be remembered that CST, as Saint John Paul II emphasized,
    • "...proclaims God and his mystery of salvation in Christ to every human being, and for that very reason reveals man to himself..." (CA, 54)
  • What are the principles of Catholic Social Teaching?
    • There are three fundamental principles of CST, the greatest of which the Church insists is the first: Human Dignity: this is the prime principle! Then there are Solidarity and Subsidiarity.
  • Of what practical use is Catholic Social Teaching?
    • CST informs us that good governments and good economic systems find ways of fostering Human Dignity, Solidarity and Subsidiarity. (CA, 15)
    • It places economic freedom parallel to political freedom; recognizing that free enterprise, rightly understood and implemented, is currently the best available vehicle for systemically caring for the physical needs of the poor, and a true global economy is the key way to create lasting development and, thereby, peace.
  • What does CST tell me of my responsibility?
    • "It is up to the lay faithful to demonstrate concretely in their personal and family life, in social, cultural and political life that…the fundamental principles of the social doctrine of the Church such as the dignity of the human person, subsidiarity and solidarity are extremely relevant and valuable in order to support new paths of development in service to the whole person and to all humanity." (Benedict XVI, Address to the 24th Plenary Session of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, 21 May 2010)
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