Catholic Social Teaching

Key Principles of Catholic Social Teaching

The key principles of Catholic Social Teaching have been identified from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church), and the Congregation for Catholic Education (in its Guidelines for the Study and Teaching of Catholic Social Doctrine in the Formation of Priests). These four principles are deemed valid always and everywhere. They include:

Human Dignity

"Created in the image and likeness of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all persons have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.1934)

The Common Good

"It is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all ...because we are all really responsible for all." (Pope John Paul II, On Social Concern, 1987)


"On the basis of this principle, all societies of a superior order must adopt attitudes of help ("subsidium") – therefore of support, promotion, development – with respect to lower-order societies. In this way, intermediate social entities can properly perform the functions that fall to them without being required to hand them over unjustly to other social entities of a higher level, by which they would end up being absorbed and substituted, in the end seeing themselves denied their dignity and essential place." (Pontifical Council for Justice & Peace Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n.186)


"Solidarity helps us to see the 'other' - whether a person, people, or nation - not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our neighbour, a helper (cf Gn 2:18-20), to be a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God." (John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n.39)

These four principles, often referred to as the permanent or perennial principles, are foundational for Catholic Social Teaching. They are born of "the encounter of the Gospel message and of its demands summarised in the supreme commandment of love of God and neighbour in justice with the problems emanating from the life of society." (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church par.160)


Biblical Sources for Catholic Social Teaching

To create a life of compassion, a life where justice and peace is perpetually cultivated and renewed, is to begin by answering God’s invitation to Justice from the Scriptures, beginning through the spirit of prayer.

Catholic Social Teaching is rooted in the Bible. The abundance of texts both from the Old Testament and the New Testament stimulate the call to promote the vision of a just society. The biblical themes of Justice throughout the bible offer sustenance to each of us, not to lose hope but to continually develop new ways to live and work for justice as His disciples, building the Kingdom of God in the world today. 

Biblical Themes of Justice

God is active in human history
Covenant relationship
Anawim - "the widows, orphans and aliens”
The example of Jesus – reign of God, healing

Suggestion #1

Visiting some Scriptures individually or as a group. 

Old Testament Texts New Testament Texts 
 Genesis 1:27  Luke 3:11
 Isaiah 61:1-2  Matthew 25:31-46
 Micah 6:8  Matthew 5:3-10
 1 Kings 17:8-24  Acts 2:44-45
 Psalm 77  Acts 4:32-37
 Leviticus 19:13-18  James 1:5-17
 Exodus 23:6-8  Philippians 2:4-7

Suggestion #2

Sourcing a Bible Study which calls your group to Justice, for example:

Using stimulus material; Sandie Cornish offers an online PowerPoint for group discussion, where the whole presentation may be used as a discussion starter or one slide may be selected as a focus for personal or group reflection and it is adaptable for different texts you may choose.

Great Social Encyclicals of the Catholic Church

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis calls us to read his apostolic exhortation. Pope Francis, whilst being honest, implores each of us individually and as community to read such documents stating,

"I am aware that nowadays documents do not arouse the same interest as in the past and that they are quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences. I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. 'Mere administration' can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be “permanently in a state of mission."

The ongoing development of Catholic Social teaching has a rich history. The table below lists many of these major official texts and although not comprehensive they do reflect how teaching has changed over history in reaction to changing times. For ongoing development of Modern Catholic Social teaching, offers links to some of these official texts, notable quotations, bibliography and online concordances.

Table containing History of the Major Official Texts which have enriched
Modern Catholic Social Teaching today

Year Name of Encyclical or Document Pontifical Leader / Author
 1891  Rerum Novarum
  On Capital and Labor
 1931 Quadragesimo Anno 
  On Reconstruction of the Social Order
 Pius XI
 1961  Mater et Magistra
  On Christianity and Social Progress
 1963  Pacem in Terris 
  On Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity, and Liberty
 1965 Gaudium et Spes
  On the Church in the Modern World
 Vatican II
 1967  Populorum Progressio
  On the Development of Peoples
 Paul VI
 1971  Octogesima Adveniens 
  On the 80th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum
 Paul VI
 1971 Justicia in Mundo
  Justice in the World
 Synod of Bishops
 1979  Redemptor Hominis
  To the Church and All of Good Will at the Beginning of his Papal Ministry
 John Paul II
 1981  Laborem Exercens
  On Human Work on the 90th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum
 John Paul II
 1987 Sollicitudo rei Socialis
  On the 20th Anniversary of Popolorum Progressio
 John Paul II
 1991  Centesimus Annus
  On the 100th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum
 John Paul II
 1995  Evangelium Vitae
  On the Value and Inviolability of Human Life
 John Paul II
 1998  Fides et Ratio
  On the Relationship Between Faith and Reason
 John Paul II
 2005  Deus Caritas Est
  On Christian Love
 Benedict XVI
 2007 Sacramentum Caritatis
  On the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church's Life and Mission
 Benedict XVI
 2009 Caritas in Veritate
  On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth
 Benedict XVI
 2013 Lumen Fidei
  On Faith
 2013  Evangelii Gaudium
  On the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today's World
 2015  Laudato Si'
  On Care for our Common Home
 2016  Amoris Laetitia
  On Love in the Family
 2018  Gaudete et Exsultate
  On the Call to Holiness in the World