Dr. Andrew Abela helps mark the release of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate by discussing Church teaching on the responsibilities of Christians in business. He excerpts from the forthcoming Catechism for Business, tackling this issue of Catholic social teaching as applied to business as found in 118 years of papal encyclicals . . .
To celebrate the June release of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate, our selection from the forthcoming Catechism for Business includes just one question about the overarching themes in Catholic social teaching as applied to business. The selected quotations illustrate the continuity and fruitfulness of this teaching across 118 years of papal encyclicals.
What general themes occur throughout Church teaching regarding the responsibilities of Christians in business?
“The Church’s social doctrine holds that authentically human social relationships of friendship, solidarity and reciprocity can also be conducted within economic activity, and not only outside it or ‘after’ it. The economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner.” — Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 79.
“It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love — a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free. In ancient times, honest enquiring minds were aware of this. Heaven is not empty. Life is not a simple product of laws and the randomness of matter, but within everything and at the same time above everything, there is a personal will, there is a Spirit who in Jesus has revealed himself as Love.” — Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 5.
“… the purpose of a business firm is not simply to make a profit, but is to be found in its very existence as a community of persons who in various ways are endeavoring to satisfy their basic needs, and who form a particular group at the service of the whole of society.” — Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 35.
“What are less than human conditions? The material poverty of those who lack the bare necessities of life, and the moral poverty of those who are crushed under the weight of their own self-love; oppressive political structures resulting from the abuse of ownership or the improper exercise of power, from the exploitation of the worker or unjust transactions.
“What are truly human conditions? The rise from poverty to the acquisition of life’s necessities; the elimination of social ills; broadening the horizons of knowledge; acquiring refinement and culture. From there one can go on to acquire a growing awareness of other people’s dignity, a taste for the spirit of poverty, an active interest in the common good and a desire for peace. Then man can acknowledge the highest values and God himself, their author and end. Finally and above all, there is faith — God’s gift to men of good will — and our loving unity in Christ, who calls all men to share God’s life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men.” — Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, 21.
“The great truth which we learn from nature herself is also the grand Christian dogma on which religion rests as on its foundation — that, when we have given up this present life, then shall we really begin to live. God has not created us for the perishable and transitory things of earth, but for things heavenly and everlasting; He has given us this world as a place of exile and not as our abiding place.
“As for riches and the other things which men call good and desirable, whether we have them in abundance or are lacking in them — so far as eternal happiness is concerned — it makes no difference; the only important thing is to use them aright. Jesus Christ, when he redeemed us with plentiful redemption, took not away the pains and sorrows which in such large proportion are woven together in the web of our mortal life. He transformed them into motives of virtue and occasions of merit; and no man can hope for eternal reward unless he follow in the blood-stained footprints of his Savior. ‘If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him’ (2 Tim 2:12).
“Therefore, those whom fortune favors are warned that riches do not bring freedom from sorrow and are of no avail for eternal happiness, but rather are obstacles; that the rich should tremble at the threatenings of Jesus Christ — threatenings so unwonted in the mouth of our Lord (Lk 6:24-25) — and that a most strict account must be given to the Supreme Judge for all we possess.” —Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 21-22.
Dr. Andrew V. Abela is chairman of the Department of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America. He received the Acton Institute’s 2009 Novak Award for research into the relationship between religion and economic liberty. He is a charter member of Legatus’ Arlington Chapter.