The Holy Father | Encyclicals | Download Help
|Sollicitudo rei socialis|
Ioannes Paulus PP. II
1987 12 30
IntraText CT - Text
II. ORIGINALITY OF THE ENCYCLICAL POPULORUM PROGRESSIO
5. As soon as it appeared, the document of Pope Paul VI captured the attention of public opinion by reason of its originality. In a concrete manner and with great clarity, it was possible to identify the above mentioned characteristics of continuity and renewal within the Church's social doctrine. The intention of rediscovering numerous aspects of this teaching, through a careful rereading of the Encyclical, will therefore; constitute the main thread of the present reflections.
But first I wish to say a few words about the date of publication; the year 1967. The very fact that Pope Paul VI chose to publish a social Encyclical in that year invites us to consider the document in relationship to the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, which had ended on December 8, 1965.
6. We should see something more in this than simple chronological proximity. The Encyclical Populorum Progressio presents itself, in a certain way, as a document which applies the teachings of the Council. It not only makes continual reference to the texts of the Council,8 but it also flows from the same concern of the Church which inspired the whole effort of the Council-and in a particular way the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes - to coordinate and develop a number of themes of her social teaching.
We can therefore affirm that the Encyclical Populorum Progressio is a kind of response to the Council's appeal with which the Constitution Gaudium et Spes begins: "The joys and the hopes. the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts."9 These words express the fundamental motive inspiring the great document of the Council, which begins by noting the situation of poverty and of underdevelopment in which millions of human beings live.
This poverty and underdevelopment are, under another name, the "griefs and the anxieties" of today, of "especially those who are poor." Before this vast panorama of pain and suffering, the Council wished to suggest horizons of joy and hope. The Encyclical of Paul VI has the same purpose, in full fidelity to the inspiration of the Council.
7. There is also the theme of the Encyclical which, in keeping with the great tradition of the Church's social teaching, takes up again in a direct manner the new exposition and rich synthesis which the Council produced, notably in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes.
With regard to the content and themes once again set forth by the Encyclical, the following should be emphasized: the awareness of the duty of the Church, as "an expert in humanity," "to scrutinize the signs of the times and to interpret them in the light of the Gospel"10; the awareness, equally profound, of her mission of "service," a mission distinct from the function of the State, even when she is concerned with people's concrete situation"11; the reference to the notorious inequalities in the situations of those same people12; the confirmation of the Council's teaching, a faithful echo of the centuries - old tradition of the Church regarding the "universal purpose of goods"13; the appreciation of the culture and the technological civilization which contribute to human liberation,14 without failing to recognize their limits's15; finally, on the specific theme of development, which is precisely the theme of the Encyclical, the insistence on the "most serious duty" incumbent on the more developed nations "to help the developing countries."16 The same idea of development proposed by the Encyclical flows directly from the approach which the Pastoral Constitution takes to this problem.17
These and other explicit references to the Pastoral Constitution lead one to conclude that the Encyclical presents itself as an application of the Council's teaching in social matters to the specific problem of the development and the underdevelopment of peoples.
8. This brief analysis helps us to appreciate better the originality of the Encyclical, which can be stated in three points.
The first is constituted by the very fact of a document, issued by the highest authority of the Catholic Church and addressed both to the Church herself and "to all people of good will,"18 on a matter which at first sight is solely economic and social: the development of peoples. The term "development" is taken from the vocabulary of the social and economic sciences. From this point of view, the Encyclical Populorum Progressio follows directly in the line of the Encyclical Rerum Novarum, which deals with the "condition of the workers."19 Considered superficially, both themes could seem extraneous to the legitimate concern of the Church seen as a religious institution - and "development" even more so than the "condition of the workers."
In continuity with the Encyclical of Leo XIII, it must be recognized that the document of Paul VI possesses the merit of having emphasized the ethical and cultural character of the problems connected with development, and likewise the legitimacy and necessity of the Church's intervention in this field.
In addition, the social doctrine of the Church has once more demonstrated its character as an application of the word of God to people's lives and the life of society, as well as to the earthly realities connected with them, offering "principles for reflection," "criteria of judgment" and "directives for action."20 Here, in the document of Paul VI, one finds these three elements with a prevalently practical orientation, that is, directed towards moral conduct.
In consequence, when the Church concerns herself with the "development of peoples," she cannot be accused of going outside her own specific field of competence and, still less, outside the mandate received from the Lord.
9. The second point of originality of Populorum Progressio is shown by the breadth of outlook open to what is commonly called the "social question."
In fact, the Encyclical Mater et Magistra of Pope John XXIII had already entered into this wider outlook,21 and the Council had echoed the same in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes.22 However, the social teaching of the Church had not yet reached the point of affirming with such clarity that the social question has acquired a worldwide dimension,23 nor had this affirmation and the accompanying analysis yet been made into a "directive for action," as Paul VI did in his Encyclical.
Such an explicit taking up of a position offers a great wealth of content, which it is appropriate to point out.
In the first place a possible misunderstanding has to be eliminated. Recognition that the "social question" has assumed a worldwide dimension does not at all mean that it has lost its incisiveness or its national and local importance. On the contrary, it means that the problems in industrial enterprises or in the workers' and union movements of a particular country or region are not to be considered as isolated cases with no connection. On the contrary they depend more and more on the influence of factors beyond regional boundaries and national frontiers.
Unfortunately, from the economic point of view, the developing countries are much more numerous than the developed ones; the multitudes of human beings who lack the goods and services offered by development are much more numerous than those who possess them.
We are therefore faced with a serious problem of unequal distribution of the means of subsistence originally meant for everybody, and thus also an unequal distribution of the benefits deriving from them. And this happens not through the fault of the needy people, and even less through a sort of inevitability dependent on natural conditions or circumstances as a whole.
The Encyclical of Paul VI, in declaring that the social question has acquired worldwide dimensions, first of all points out a moral fact, one which has its foundation in an objective analysis of reality. In the words of the Encyclical itself, "each one must be conscious" of this fact,24 precisely because it directly concerns the conscience, which is the source of moral decisions.
In this framework, the originality of the Encyclical consists not so much in the affirmation, historical in character, of the universality of the social question, but rather in the moral evaluation of this reality. Therefore political leaders, and citizens of rich countries considered as individuals, especially if they are Christians, have the moral obligation, according to the degree of each one's responsibility, to take into consideration, in personal decisions and decisions of government, this relationship of universality, this interdependence which exists between their conduct and the poverty and underdevelopment of so many millions of people. Pope Paul's Encyclical translates more succinctly the moral obligation as the "duty of solidarity"25; and this affirmation, even though many situations have changed in the world, has the same force and validity today as when it was written.
On the other hand, without departing from the lines of this moral vision, the originality of the Encyclical also consists in the basic insight that the very concept of development, if considered in the perspective of universal interdependence, changes notably. True development cannot consist in the simple accumulation of wealth and in the greater availability of goods and services, if this is gained at the expense of the development of the masses, and without due consideration for the social, cultural and spiritual dimensions of the human being.26
10. As a third point, the Encyclical provides a very original contribution to the social doctrine of the Church in its totality and to the very concept of development. This originality is recognizable in a phrase of the document's concluding paragraph, which can be considered as its summary, as well as its historic label: "Development is the new name for peace."27
In fact, if the social question has acquired a worldwide dimension, this is because the demand for justice can only be satisfied on that level. To ignore this demand could encourage the temptation among the victims of injustice to respond with violence, as happens at the origin of many wars. Peoples excluded from the fair distribution of the goods originally destined for all could ask themselves: why not respond with violence to those who first treat us with violence? And if the situation is examined in the light of the division of the world into ideological blocs a division already existing in 1967 - and in the light of the subsequent economic and political repercussions and dependencies, the danger is seen to be much greater.
The first consideration of the striking content of the Encyclical's historic phrase may be supplemented by a second consideration to which the document itself alludes28: how can one justify the fact that huge sums of money, which could and should be used for increasing the development of peoples, are instead utilized for the enrichment of individuals or groups, or assigned to the increase of stockpiles of weapons, both in developed countries and in the developing ones, thereby upsetting the real priorities? This is even more serious given the difficulties which often hinder the direct transfer of capital set aside for helping needy countries. If "development is the new name for peace," war and military preparations are the major enemy of the integral development of peoples.
In the light of this expression of Pope Paul VI, we are thus invited to re-examine the concept of development. This of course is not limited to merely satisfying material necessities through an increase of goods, while ignoring the sufferings of the many and making the selfishness of individuals and nations the principal motivation. As the Letter of St. James pointedly reminds us: "What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have" (Js 4:1-2).
On the contrary, in a different world, ruled by concern for the common good of all humanity, or by concern for the "spiritual and human development of all" instead of by the quest for individual profit, peace would be possible as the result of a "more perfect justice among people."29
Also this new element of the Encyclical has a permanent and contemporary value, in view of the modern attitude which is so sensitive to the close link between respect for justice and the establishment of real peace.