Sunday, October 30, 2016

Experience and the Social Doctrine of the Church

1.     The Social Doctrine of the Church is composed of many documents. That may give us an impression that it is abstract. But remember what we said at the very start of our studies here regarding revelation. Revelation is accessed through Bible and Tradition. The Social Doctrine is a result of a dialogue with Bible and Tradition. But this dialogue is done because of the questions members of the Church raise in front of their social lives. So we can say that the Social Doctrine has, as its sources, Bible, Tradition and the experiences of the Church. For such a long time people have questioned about human rights, social inequality, war, cultural diversity, etc. Experience is a major source.
2.     Take the example of the time of Pope Leo XIII. In 1891 he published an encyclical, Rerum novarum. It means “new things” or “new experiences”. The encyclical was a reaction to the new experiences at that time. Industrial workers in Europe were in very miserable conditions. The shift from agricultural to industrial life made conditions very hard for many working people. Really there was an acute experience of social inequality. Owners of industries were reaping profits but without considering the working conditions in factories.
3.     Many persons and groups began to struggle with the problem and they asked the Pope to respond. The Pope was motivated by the request and even by the presence of poor laborers who came to Rome for pilgrimage. So it was a time of new experiences. The Pope then wrote his encyclical to insist on justice and charity that can put in place respect for industrial laborers. The Pope called for the rights of workers to form unions and have a voice in the negotiations with industrial capitalists.
4.     Let us take another example. In around 1930’s world economy was falling apart. Many people lost jobs. So Pope Pius XI, in 1931, published his encyclical Quadragesimo anno. The experience of economic crisis led the Pope to speak out in favor of State intervention in economics. Here the word “subsidiarity” became an important theme. The State had to help and intervene in the conditions of people suffering the impact of the economic downfall. If people cannot anymore rise from their misery, the State had to come in aid. That is “subsidiarity”. More of this will be said later in the semester.
5.     In the 1940’s Nazism and Soviet authoritarianism went to dominate many nations. World War II took place also. Pope Pius XII responded to that crisis. Much later in the 1960’s two Popes, John XXIII and Paul VI responded to the conditions of violations of human rights and the neglect of democracy. In 1965 the Vatican II council came out with two important documents, Gaudium et spes and Dignitatis humanae, responding to the modern problems of humanity. The council dealth with the hopes and dreams of people marked by the world wars, the shoa, colonialism, etc. The council emphasized human dignity and rights. The council affirmed human rights as required by the spirit of the Gospel given to humanity (see Gaudium et spes # 41).
6.     The Church participated in responding to the problems of modernity. The Church, with her social doctrine, supported the struggles for liberty and human dignity. The council was motivating. The Church became more and more active in the defense of democracy and human rights. Many Catholics came to oppose authoritarian governments, against military dictatorship, and other situations. Catholics became part of those who voiced out in favor of human rights and democratic governments.
7.     Of course we do not deny that there were people in the Church who also supported repressive governments, like in Argentina. Some catholic lay participated in the genocide in Rwanda. Let us not shut our eyes from these.
8.     But in general there arose a new awareness in the Church. It was an awareness based on experience. The Church in many ways has become a significant force for the promotion of human rights and dignity.
9.     Experiences added up over time. More and more today were are “planetary” and our social discussions touch on issues regarding the whole planet. Already in the time of Pope John XXIII international interdependence was recognized. The Church had to think more and more globally. Cultures show to be very diverse. Religions have become prominent. What is interesting here is the move to see the Church more and more global and not something emerging from Europe.
10.            Maybe it will be helpful to look at how the Church has evolved too over time. This is more of a topic in history but we can mention it here. The Church, for example, at a certain moment in history, was quite violent against those who were heretics and who left the Church. In fact torturing them seemed ok. At certain time too the Church accepted the practice of slavery.
11.            Yet the Church evolved thanks to new experiences. The Church saw, gradually, the horrible impact of torture and slavery. A deepening of reading and meditating on the Bible has helped too. Christian morality had to be based on a deep and intimate relationship with Christ. The Word of God is in scriptures and pre-eminently in Jesus Christ. Discerning social life had to be more and more done with the help of the Word of God.

12.            The challenge for us is to see social reality with the guidance of our faith in Jesus and the intuitions of the Bible and Tradition. Also we need to ask ourselves if we still make sense with our faith inside the experiences of people today. Given the violence and migration of people, for example, do we have anything to share? How much of our Biblical reflections and how much of our faith in Christ have a role in our social interactions? In the name of our faith in Jesus we are called to get involved in social questions. Christian faith and life is not solitary. We need to be in-formed by Bible, Tradition and experiences. 

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