The Principles of Catholic Social Teaching

Catholic social teaching is a fundamental aspect of the Catholic faith with roots in the Hebrew prophets who shared God’s message and love, calling all of God’s children to a covenant of justice and love. Catholic social teachings and principles are built on the life, teachings and words of Jesus Christ.

The pillars of Catholic social teaching are also founded on the commitment to the poor. The social teachings of the Church emerge from what God revealed about himself. In the Catholic faith, we believe in the triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are made in the image of God and share His social and communal nature. Learn more about the social teachings of the Church.

History of Catholic Social Teaching

The writings of ancient theologians are where some of the earliest signs of Catholic social teaching can be found. However, modern Catholic social teachings were laid out in encyclicals, official papal letters sent to bishops of the Catholic Church. Pope Leo XIII wrote an encyclical letter in 1891 titled Rerum Novarum, which is considered to set a precedent for modern Catholic social teachings.

Encyclicals remain an important aspect of the Church and continue to teach us how to lead a life following God's teachings and respect all of His creations.

Encyclicals remain an important aspect of the Church and continue to teach us how to lead a life following God’s teachings and respect all of His creations. One of the most recent encyclicals was written by Pope Francis in 2020 and titled Fratelli tutti.

What Are the Catholic Social Teachings?

There are seven fundamental Catholic social teachings that help us lead a life closer to God and His teachings. The seven Catholic social teachings include:

1. Life and Dignity of the Human Person

Every human is created in God’s image, meaning there is dignity in every person’s life. The very foundation of Catholic social teachings is that every life is sacred, creating a moral vision for society. Catholic teachings call on us all to respect all life.

One of the ten commandments, “Thou shalt not kill,” clearly shows the importance of all human life in the Catholic faith. Inequality and exclusion go against the very teachings of Jesus Christ. We should never turn our back on another human being.

All human life is sacred, even if society tries to tell us otherwise. Whether someone is elderly, poor or homeless, they are still created in the glory and image of God.

All human life is sacred, even if society tries to tell us otherwise. Whether someone is elderly, poor or homeless, they are still created in the glory and image of God. Understanding that all people and life are valuable is essential to the Catholic faith.

In Genesis 1:27, the Bible states: “God created mankind in His image; in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” The Bible teaches us to honor all life because God created each person in His image.

Unfortunately, society often excludes or neglects those less fortunate than us. Even if a person is sick or homeless, they deserve compassion and respect. We should follow His teachings by helping and lifting those up who are less fortunate than we are.

God and His almighty glory continue to watch over those less fortunate and send blessings their way. We must remember not to judge those who society may condemn. Instead, we should treat them as a brother or sister because we are all children in His eyes.

Deuteronomy 10:17-19 tells us: “For the LORD, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes, / who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing. / So you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt.”

2. Call to Family, Community and Participation

While all people are sacred, we are also social. Family and marriage are fundamental aspects of our lives and the Church and must be strengthened and supported. The Catholic Church teaches that we all have a duty and right to participate in our communities and society as a whole, especially the vulnerable and poor.

An essential aspect of our lives is our family, founded on marriage and the environment a wife and husband create to raise children.

An essential aspect of our lives is our family, founded on marriage and the environment a wife and husband create to raise children. Because Catholic tradition states that all people are social, we must support and uphold our families.

Genesis 2:18 states: “The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him.” God tells us that we, as humans, must value our family and community, as we are all social beings. No person should be left alone, not even those society wrongfully rejects.

We should all serve to strengthen our community and show compassion to the sick, elderly, homeless and all those who may be less fortunate. Our lives and the success of our communities are directly related to the well-being of our families, as family is the fundamental building block of our community.

God also teaches us to love and honor our parents and that we must also love our brothers and sisters, as John 4:19-21 says: “We love because He first loved us. / If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. / This is the commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

While work is another important aspect of life, we mustn’t let it eclipse the love for our families. Materialism and greed threaten the bond of husband, wife, brother, sister, child and parent. We must always remember what is truly important in this life: God, His glory and our families.

3. Rights and Responsibilities

We all have the right to life, a fundamental right that provides us the opportunity to receive other rights. Each person has the right to lead a decent life with family, faith, shelter, food, education, health care, employment and housing. We must not turn our backs on those who are spiritually or materially less fortunate.

Just because someone is ill or homeless doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to a decent life. God teaches us to show compassion and help those less fortunate find a decent, safe and happy life. While it is important to respect these rights for ourselves, we must remember to respect them for every other person we meet on Earth.

In addition to our rights, we all have responsibilities to fulfill for our families, local communities and civilization as a whole. Isaiah 1:16-17 states, “Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; / learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.”

God teaches us to turn our backs on false idols, such as money and greed. Instead, we have the responsibility to treat each person with respect to their own rights. Instead of ignoring a sick, injured or materially poor person, we must understand that they are a person with the right to life.

Whenever possible, we should seek to help others to lead a safe and decent life. While we have duties to ourselves and our families, we have an important duty to those in need who can't help themselves.

Whenever possible, we should seek to help others to lead a safe and decent life. While we have duties to ourselves and our families, we have an important duty to those in need who can’t help themselves. Unfortunately, society teaches us to reject these people, but the very opposite is true. We must show compassion and respect, helping these people find wellness again.

Jeremiah 22:13-16 says, “Woe to him who builds his house on wrongdoing, his roof-chambers on injustice; Who works his neighbors without pay, and gives them no wages. / Who says, ‘I will build myself a spacious house, with airy rooms,’ Who cuts out windows for it, panels it with cedar and paints it with vermilion. / Must you prove your rank among kings by competing with them in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink, And act justly and righteously? Then he prospered. / Because he dispensed justice to the weak and the poor, he prospered. Is this not to know me?—oracle of the LORD.”

The Bible continually teaches us to respect others and that we are not better or worse than any one of God’s children. We are all created in His image, we all have the right to life, and we all must hold up our responsibilities to society and those in need.

4. Options for the Poor and Vulnerable

The poor and vulnerable deserve to be unoppressed and loved. Sadly, our society remains divided between the poor and rich, and we often wrongfully disregard the poor and vulnerable in our communities. Instead, we should be putting the needs of these people first, supporting them and showing compassion.

Matthew 25:34-40 states: “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. / For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, / naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’”

The chapter continues, “Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? / When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? / When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ / And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

The Bible tells us that what we do and how we care for one another, including the vulnerable and poor, is the same as how we treat God Himself.

The Bible tells us that what we do and how we care for one another, including the vulnerable and poor, is the same as how we treat God Himself. Although many think the beliefs we hold bring us closer to God and His Kingdom, it is really our actions that define our spirit.

It can help to ask yourself if you are caring, compassionate and charitable to others, especially those who are experiencing the hardest times in their lives, whether a person is sick, injured or otherwise unwell. Our character and love for God and His children are shown in our actions, not our words.

5. The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers

Sometimes, we may think that people serve the economy, but this is not the correct order of things. Instead, the economy must serve and provide for the people, protecting human rights and life. Work is not just a way to make a living and provide for our families, although this is important.

Instead, work is another way to participate in our communities and God’s creation. To protect the dignity of work, our economy must also protect the basic rights of all workers. Workers have the right to productive work, unions, economic initiative, private property and livable wages.

You shall not exploit a poor and needy hired servant, whether one of your own kindred or one of the resident aliens who live in your land, within your gates.

Deuteronomy 24:14-15 teaches us, “You shall not exploit a poor and needy hired servant, whether one of your own kindred or one of the resident aliens who live in your land, within your gates. / On each day you shall pay the servant’s wages before the sun goes down, since the servant is poor and is counting on them. Otherwise the servant will cry to the LORD against you, and you will be held guilty.”

James 5:1-6 says, “Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. / Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days.”

The passage continues: “Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. / You have lived on Earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. / You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; He offers you no resistance.”

Deuteronomy and James remind us of the importance of workers’ rights and dignified work. We must always respect others, and workers are no different. Workers reserve the right to fair employment and pay. Another important passage to keep in mind is Matthew 20:1-16, which compares the kingdom of heaven to a landowner hiring laborers.

6. Solidarity

Solidarity is another fundamental aspect of Catholic social teaching. Solidarity is not merely helping others who are less fortunate. Instead, solidarity teaches us that we are all one human family, despite our differences. We are all brothers and sisters in the eyes of God, regardless of ethnicity, creed or race.

We are all of the same family and must work together to pursue peace and justice out of love for our neighbors.

We are all of the same family and must work together to pursue peace and justice out of love for our neighbors. To learn true solidarity, we must commit ourselves to social works of compassion and mercy, acting for the sake of our brothers and sisters, not just ourselves.

1 Corinthians 12:12-26 teaches us about solidarity, stating “If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”

These verses are an excellent metaphor for society and our community as a whole. While we are all many parts, we make up the whole of God’s children, and we each serve a vital purpose. When we show compassion and empathy for our brothers and sisters, we become closer to Christ and His teachings.

Care for God’s Creation

7. Care for God’s Creation

We show our respect for God by being the stewards of our planet’s well-being and health. We should remember to care for our planet each day, as it is a fundamental aspect of our faith. It is our responsibility to protect our planet and our brothers and sisters worldwide.

Caring for God’s creations allows us to strengthen our faith and connection with others and God, as Genesis 2:15 teaches us: “The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.” Another important verse to consider is 1 Corinthians 10:26: “for “the Earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.”

Leviticus 25:1-7 explains, “The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai: / Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, let the land, too, keep a sabbath for the LORD. / For six years you may sow your field, and for six years prune your vineyard, gathering in their produce. / But during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath for the LORD, when you may neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard.”

Leviticus continues, “The aftergrowth of your harvest you shall not reap, nor shall you pick the grapes of your untrimmed vines. It shall be a year of rest for the land. / While the land has its sabbath, all its produce will be food to eat for you yourself and for your male and female slave, for your laborer and the tenant who live with you, / and likewise for your livestock and for the wild animals on your land.”

Leviticus teaches us a valuable lesson to remain reliant on God and follow His teachings. These verses also remind us that we should share our good fortunes with others, as we are all family in the eyes of God. As His children, we must also respect the animals that He has created.

St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology, reminds us of God’s teaching to reject materialism and respect all of His creations. St. Francis continues to influence and inspire us with his love and devotion for all of God’s creations. On Nov. 29, 1979, Pope John Paul II officially named St. Francis the patron saint of ecology, recognizing St. Francis’s impact and devotion to Jesus Christ and His teachings.

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Deacon Rick Medina
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Deacon Rick Medina is the Executive Director of Catholic World Mission and oversees the management of all of Catholic World Mission's projects in over 35 countries. He was ordained a deacon of the archdiocese of Atlanta in 2013. He currently serves at All Saints Catholic Church in Dunwoody, Georgia, and is active in several ministries, including RCIA, baptism preparation, Life Teen, Altar Server group, Grief Share, and Adult Faith Formation.

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