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Catholic Culture

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace gave a great gift to the Church and to the world with the publication of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church in 2004 (full text available on the Vatican website and in its published English form through on-line book dealers).

compendium.usccb.publicationFor the first time, the rich teachings of the Church on questions of the human person, society, political authority, economics, the environment, and world peace (among other topics) were synthesized and gathered into a single systematic work.

Unfortunately, many Catholics still remain unaware of this important resource.  Young Catholics especially feel the urgency to understand and respond to new demands for justice and peace in our contemporary world, yet often lack the adequate formation to do so.

The Compendium itself describes its work of making known the social doctrine of the Church “a genuine pastoral priority, so that men and women will be enlightened by it and will be thus enabled to interpret today’s reality and seek appropriate paths of action (#7).” 

This Catholic Culture article hopes to invite readers to discover the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, and to share it with others.  Let us begin by looking at the structure of the work and what are understood as the nature, goals, and limits of the Church’s teaching on social questions.

In order to make it widely available, the Vatican website offers the text in 16 languages: AlbanianBelorussianChineseDutch,
 Ukrainian, and Vietnamese.

“The teaching and spreading of her social doctrine are part of the Church’s evangelizing mission.”
— John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 41: AAS 80 (1988), 571-572.

Opening Letter and Official Presentation

The work is formally dedicated “to His Holiness John Paul II Master of Social Doctrine and Evangelical Witness to Justice and Peace.”

Cardinal Angelo Sodano introduces the work through an opening letter addressed to Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the time of the publication.

Next, Cardinal Martino’s Presentation of the work gives more of the history of the project and the important leadership under Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân.

Introduction: An Integral and Solidary Humanism

a. At the dawn of the Third Millennium (#1 – #7)

The significance of this document (#8 – #12)

What are its goals and methods?

From #8:

“This document intends to present in a complete and systematic manner, even if by means of an overview, the Church’s social teaching, which is the fruit of careful Magisterial reflection and an expression of the Church’s constant commitment in fidelity to the grace of salvation wrought in Christ and in loving concern for humanity’s destiny.

“Herein the most relevant theological, philosophical, moral, cultural and pastoral considerations of this teaching are systematically presented as they relate to social questions.

“In this way, witness is borne to the fruitfulness of the encounter between the Gospel and the problems that mankind encounters on its journey through history.”

Who was it written for?

From #11, 12:

Bishops, who will determine the most suitable methods for making it known and for interpreting it correctly…

Priests, men and women religious 

Those responsible for formation

The lay faithful, who seek the Kingdom of God “by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will”(Lumen Gentium, #31), will find in it enlightenment for their own specific mission…

Christian communities

The brethren of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities

The followers of other religions

All people of good will who are committed to serving the common good

“…May they receive it as the fruit of a universal human experience marked by countless signs of the presence of God’s Spirit.”

c. At the service of the full truth about man (#13 – #17)


What is it trying to accomplish?

From #14:

To offer a contribution of truth to the question of man’s place in nature and in human society, a question faced by civilizations and cultures in which expressions of human wisdom are found.

“Rooted in a past that is often thousands of years old and manifesting themselves in forms of religion, philosophy and poetic genius of every time and of every people, these civilizations and cultures offer their own interpretation of the universe and of human society, and seek an understanding of existence and of the mystery that surrounds it.

Who am I?
Why is there pain, evil, death, despite all the progress that has been made?
What is the value of so many accomplishments if the cost has been unbearable?
What will there be after this life?

“These are the basic questions that characterize the course of human life[17]. In this regard, we can recall the admonition “Know yourself”, carved on the temple portal at Delphi, which testifies to the basic truth that man, called to be set apart from the rest of creation, is man precisely because in his essence he is oriented to knowing himself.”

How does the quest for self knowledge inform our answers to social questions?

From #15:


“The direction that human existence, society and history will take depends largely on the answers given to the questions of man’s place in nature and society; the purpose of the present document is to make a contribution to these answers. 

“The aforementioned questions incessantly draw human intelligence and the human will to this quest. They are the highest expression of human nature, since they require a response that measures the depth of an individual’s commitment to his own existence.”The deepest meaning of human existence, in fact, is revealed in the free quest for that truth capable of giving direction and fullness to life.

“Moreover, it is dealt here with questions that are essentially religious: “When the ‘why of things’ is investigated integrally with the search for the ultimate and exhaustive answer, then human reason reaches its apex and opens itself to religiousness. … religiousness represents the loftiest expression of the human person, because it is the culmination of his rational nature. It springs from man’s profound aspiration for truth and is at the basis of the free and personal search he makes for the divine” [John Paul II, Address at General Audience (19 October 1983), 2: L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, 24 October 1983, p. 9.].

What are the Three Great Challenges Facing Humanity Today?

From #16

1) the truth itself of the being who is man
The boundary and relation between nature, technology and morality are issues that decisively summon personal and collective responsibility with regard to the attitudes to adopt concerning what human beings are, what they are able to accomplish and what they should be.

Mission Projects

2) the understanding and management of pluralism and differences at every level
These levels include ways of thinking, moral choices, culture, religious affiliation, philosophy of human and social development.

3) globalization
The significance of globalization is much wider and more profound than simple economic globalization, since history has witnessed the opening of a new era that concerns humanity’s destiny.

From #18:

“The Church journeys along the roads of history together with all of humanity. She lives in the world, and although not of the world (cf. Jn 17:14-16) she is called to serve the world according to her innermost vocation.

“This attitude, found also in the present document, is based on the deep conviction that just as it is important for the world to recognize the Church as a reality of history and a leaven in history, so too is it important for the Church to recognize what she has received from history and from the development of the human race [Gaudium et Spes, 44].

“The Second Vatican Council gave an eloquent demonstration of solidarity, respect and affection for the whole human family by engaging in dialogue with it about many problems, “bringing the light kindled from the Gospel and putting at the disposal of the human race the saving resources which the Church has received from her Founder under the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It is man himself who must be saved; it is human society which must be renewed [Gaudium et Spes, 3].”

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