BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (191): What are the four principles of the Church’s teaching on society?

Rev José Mario O Mandía

In Bite-Size Philosophy, we had taken up the four principles of the Church’s teaching on society: (1) the principle of the dignity of the human person (BSP 54), (2) the principle of the common good (BSP 73), (3) the principle of subsidiarity (BSP 74), and (4) the principle of solidarity (BSP 75). Here’s a brief review.

DIGNITY: From the human point of view, each person has dignity because he has the power of self-determination. This power comes from his freedom.

But the faith further reinforces this principle of human dignity because it teaches us that we are made in the image and likeness of the Creator. This is why, for a person with faith, every human life is truly sacred. “The human person is and ought to be the principle, the subject and the end of all social institutions” (CCCC No.402).

COMMON GOOD: The dignity inherent in each person calls for conditions that will enable each one to achieve both his temporal and supernatural ends, to attain the good not only for himself but for society at large. The sum of conditions that help achieve the good of each one and the good of all is called the “common good.”

Point 409 of the CCCC says: “The most complete realization of the common good is found in those political communities which defend and promote the good of their citizens and of intermediate groups without forgetting the universal good of the entire human family.”

The principle of the common good reaches beyond national borders. Hence, the CCC (No. 1911) talks of a universal common good.

SUBSIDIARITY: The CCCC (No. 403) teaches: “The principle of subsidiarity states that a community of a higher order should not assume the task belonging to a community of a lower order and deprive it of its authority. It should rather support it in case of need.”

The model for the exercise of subsidiarity is God himself. The CCC (No. 1884) points out: “God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.”

SOLIDARITY: This principle, also called the principle of friendship or social charity, is a complement to the principle of subsidiarity. It enjoins everyone to work together, to cooperate, for the common good.

The CCCC (No. 414; cf. CCC 1939-1942, 1948) explains how it works. “Solidarity, which springs from human and Christian brotherhood, is manifested in the first place by the just distribution of goods, by a fair remuneration for work and by zeal for a more just social order. The virtue of solidarity also practices the sharing of the spiritual goods of faith which is even more important than sharing material goods.”

In connection with this, the CCCC (No. 402) explains rather clearly that some “societies, such as the family and the civic community, are necessary for the human person. Also helpful are other associations on the national and international levels with due respect for the principle of subsidiarity.”

The lay faithful have an important part in making sure that these principles are lived out in society. “It is not the role of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organization of social life. This task is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens” (CCC No. 2442).