1. The common good is a very central principle of the SDC. It is rooted in a long tradition of the Church and Thomas Aquinas was one of the main thinkers who formulated it. For Thomistic philosophy the human lives in society...a being-with-others. Society is not meant to make each member enslaved. The institutions of society--such as the political institutions--are not meant to be served. Rather, they are to serve. Social institutions must function to make sure that goods are precisely offered to social members for their blooming.
2. Politics, for example, aims to allow social members to live well and in a very organized way. Politics aims for the well-being of society. For Thomistic philosophy the political community aims to make sure everyone is able to do his/her best to live well with others. The juridical system is motivated by justice and makes sure that justice is served to everyone. Politics therefore works so that the social world is a community of persons oriented towards fulfillment and good. Social members become truly and fully human; everyone develops fully. This is in line with God's own plan: that society lives in justice, peace, prosperity and happiness. Thomistic philosophy--and theology, of course--has a very positive look at social institutions, especially politics.
The Church over the years has picked this up and made it a principle for social living. The Church has called it "common good".
Pope Leo XIII and the aim of social institutions
3. Pope Leo XIII with his Rerum Novarum (1891), for example, took seriously the notion of common good. During his time Marxism was on the rise. Many industrial workers were so attracted to the ideas of Marx. For Marx the solution to social problems was class conflict. Conflict was necessary to resolve problems. The view of the conflict was the victory of the working class over the capitalists. Of course Pope Leo XIII did not follow that thinking. His view of social life was that of fraternal relationships within the perspective of social members as brothers and sisters under God the Father. Society cannot be a clash of classes. So Pope Leo XIII wrote: "In a State is it ordained by nature that these two classes (the laborers and the capitalists) should dwell in harmony and agreement, so as to maintain the balance of the body politic" (RN#19). He added: "for the purpose and perfection of an association is to aim at and to attain that for which it is formed, and its efforts should be put in motion and inspired by the end and object which originally gave it being" (RN #27). The core of society is not clash and conflict but a just relationship among social members. Government--politics--responds to the natural law and to God's will. It is God's will that the social institutions serve the good of the people. Social institutions, like the government, must aim for the prosperity of all. Everyone and not just a sector of society must profit from the resources of society. It will be very unjust if, for example, workers participate in work and prosperity of businesses while they are caught in the situation of misery. God's authority is exercised as a divine fatherhood for each social member--be that the workers or the owners of business. The value of equality should be taken into account.
Pope Pius XI and Common good as process of social linkages
4. Pope Pius XI faced a social situation where misery grew. There was the economic downfall of the 1930's. The pope called for a sharing of wealth for everyone. In 1931 he published an encyclical Quadragesimo anno. There he wrote, "To each, therefore, must be given his own share of goods, and the distribution of created goods, which, as every discerning person knows, is laboring today under the gravest evils due to the huge disparity between the few exceedingly rich and the unnumbered propertyless, must be effectively called back to and brought into conformity with the norms of the common good, that is, social justice" (QA#58). Note what the Pope is saying here. There is a big gap between the rich and those who have nothing--no properties. The goods and resources must be brought into common good. The goods must be distributed for the common good of everyone. The free market economy where resources move here to there freely does not help because the gap between rich and poor widens. Something must be added: justice and charity. Public services must protect and defend the poor. Politics must seek for an effective just social order where the propertyless are also respected and receive goods and resources. Common good here is understood as a process where the different sectors of society link together and help each other in charity.
Pope Pius XI recalls the natural rights of all human person--rights given by God, Creator who created the human in his image. So the pope emphasized the notion of common good: "the real common good ultimately takes its measure from man's nature, which balances personal rights and social obligations, and from the purpose of society, established for the benefit of human nature. Society, was intended by the Creator for the full development of individual possibilities, and for the social benefits, which by a give and take process, every one can claim for his own sake and that of others" (Mit brennender Sorge # 30). The Pope links common good with natural law. It is but natural that the goods of society be oriented for the benefit of everyone. God wanted it that way--God wanted the full development of everyone.
Pope John XXIII and "blooming"
5. The time of Pope John XIII was the time of the start of the Vatican II council. He wrote the encyclical, in 1961, Mater et Magistra. Here he wrote that the common good is about conditions. It is about "all those social conditions which favor the full development of human personality" (MM#665). In other words common good is about social conditions that make social members bloom! This involves public authorities and other social groups all working together to realize the blooming of everyone in society. The idea here is that associations can be established where each person to bloom. Individually and in isolation from others this blooming cannot happen. Social members need each other and the blooming happens in this being-with others. Groups and associations therefore serve to make the "development of human personality"--the blooming--to happen. Public authority and social groups serve creating conditions for make people bloom. During the time of Pope John XIII, the UN Declaration of Human Rights was still fresh. The Pope was so inspired by it that he saw the rights and duties of people to bloom. It is a right to bloom and it is a duty to aid each other in that. The Pope called for a construction of juridical order with moral order. The common good needed an established order in society for it to happen. "There can be no doubt that a State juridical system which conforms to the principles of justice and rightness, and corresponds to the degree of civic maturity evinced by the State in question, is highly conducive to the attainment of the common good" (Pacemin terris #70).
The Common good is for all...it is universal
6. Of course the attainment of the common good--the conditions for the blooming of everyone--is not easy. Pope John XIII however never gave up. He called for putting together both material and spiritual wealth among nations. He called for mutual collaboration among nations "in the economic, social, political, educational, health and athletic spheres" (PT#98). The Pope believed that the common good within a country "cannot be divorced from the common good of the entire human family" (PT #98). Was the Pope dreaming too much? Well, he admitted that the challenge was too big but he saw the urgency of an international work. The common good had to be universal.
Vatican II council picked this up. Gaudium et spes, published in 1965, mentioned the universality of the common good. Human nature, according to the document, is also social nature. The human cannot live in isolation from others. Each of us grows, develops and blooms within social relationships--family, friends, school, work, etc. To develop the person we need to develop the social world of that person. Thus the common good is not just about the development--and blooming--of individuals but of social groups. The whole society must bloom! All humanity must bloom! Let us quote: "the common good, that is, the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment, today takes on an increasingly universal complexion and consequently involves rights and duties with respect to the whole human race. Every social group must take account of the needs and legitimate aspirations of other groups, and even of the general welfare of the entire human family" (GS #26).
7. We really must be converted for the good. In morality we realize that we are not meant to be "too full of oneself". I am not the only person in this society, in this world. What is good is a spiritual reality alright, but it spreads itself in human relationships. "This social order requires constant improvement. It must be founded on truth, built on justice and animated by love; in freedom it should grow every day toward a more humane balance. An improvement in attitudes and abundant changes in society will have to take place if these objectives are to be gained" (GS #26). We need a constant renewal of our attitudes. Changes need to happen regularly--changes for the good. We need a conversion to work for the common good of everyone. "A special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception" (GS # 27). "Let everyone consider it his sacred obligation to esteem and observe social necessities as belonging to the primary duties of modern man. With the needed help of divine grace men who are truly new and artisans of a new humanity can be forthcoming" (GS #30).
Common good and solidarity
8. Pope Paul VI saw that the social issues of the world became more and more global. Integral development had to be global too. Pope (Saint) John Paul II espoused solidarity. He define solidarity as "a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good" (Sollicitudo rei socialis #38). Thus solidarity includes a battle in "overcoming of the moral obstacles to development... to point to the positive and moral value of the growing awareness of interdependence among individuals and nations" (SRS # 38). What we can see here is that the common good serves as a call--an urgent call--to be engaged personally and collectively.
9. For Pope Benedict XVI the common good orients our moral action. Charity is at work when we strive for the common good. Common good "is the good of 'all of us' ... who together constitute society. ....To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity" (Caritas in veritate # 7). For Pope Benedict XVI, the common good is a charitable practice that is institutional, it is political! "This is the institutional path — we might also call it the political path — of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbour directly" (CV # 7).
10. We looked at a flow of the notion of common good. We see that is has evolved in meaning. It is clear that the human is not an island isolated from others. We all form a human family. If we are to be truly "image of God" we let it happen in relationships with others--inter-personally and socially--and internationally. We are part of a web of relationships. The different strands of the web are interdependent. If we want to bloom we really have to work this out in relationships. The common good can thus be an orientation point for us. Through it we can have a better perspective of our social links. We work for the common good--that we all bloom. It is a not-stop work of charity. Maybe there are people who will find this silly. Why think of the common good? But the drams of people, the aspirations of societies is really the blooming of everyone. It is the aspiration of all to be rooted in our true human nature--we are together, we bloom together. Yes, the notion of the common good--like the other principles of the SDC--may look like a "pie in the sky". But we cannot ignore it. It is part of our proclamation of faith and part of our work of evangelization to promote the common good.
Our Common Home
1. Pope Francis, in his Laudato si (LS), invites us to take care of our "common home". The pope mentions this in many parts of the encyclical. Our common home is our earth and the ecosystem, but it is also our neighborhoods, our villages, our cities. The idea of common home is not just a place where we accumulate things--like a TV set and chairs and a kitchen. It is not just the place where we reside.
2. Our common home is the place where we really feel AT HOME. We are at rest there. We are comfortable and we feel secured. So if we follow this thinking of the pope we can ask ourselves if the places where we live really make us feel AT HOME and there we can bloom. Can we be assured that we and our families are secured, at peace and can grow and develop in full humanity?
3. To live in our common home is a gift to us; we are so fortunate to have such. But it is also a CONSTRUCTION of living together. We build, we construct our common home. We work together so that we can live well together. Notice that this is in line with the Natural Law regarding social living. The common home of Pope Francis can be linked with the notion of the common good as formulated by the Social Doctrine of the Church (SDC).
Pope Francis at the end of his encyclical prayed: "
Enlighten those who possess power and money
...that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live. (LS 246)
4. By inviting us to take care of our common home Pope Francis touches on social and ecological concerns. The whole earth is our common residence--this is where we live. Earth is not just a commodity. It is "home". If we are at home, we do not close the windows and lock the doors and stay in the dark. Real home is where we can leave the windows open and let good air and sun come in. We allow the door open for friends and visitors to come. Home is where we belong and it is also the place where we build relationships--with neighbors, friends, etc. We build relationships that are varied but very "cozy" and human. We feast with others. We share memories with others. We share trials and joys. We are in fraternity and communion with others. We have mutual support with others--they come to help us in need, we go to them when they are in need. This is where home is. Home is where we are really AT HOME and open to others who are also AT HOME.
5. Is earth like this now? Is society like this now? Are our cities home for us? Pope Francis illustrates this well when he says that our cities and villages and rural areas "combine to form a whole which is perceived by its inhabitants as a coherent and meaningful framework for their lives. Others will then no longer be seen as strangers, but as part of a 'we' which all of us are working to create" (LS#151).
6. Our common home is threatened. It is being degraded gradually over time. We are disturbed. Our reaction is to close our doors--treat others as strangers. The presence of new people disturb us. We feel insecure. We feel fear. Yes, security can be positive because we work together in solidarity to help each other in front of natural catastrophes. But today more and more security has turned negative. Security becomes a matter of excluding others, closing doors and putting fences and barriers. This is not common home.
7. Pope Francis is realistic. He knows that problems exist. Yet he invites that we seek for a solution. Let us work to build a common home. Can we build our cities and neighborhoods as common homes where everyone is respected and allowed to be AT HOME?
8. This is urgent, says the pope, especially in front of the ecological crisis. Water, air, soil are threatened by bad habits. "Human beings too are creatures of this world, enjoying a right to life and happiness, and endowed with unique dignity. So we cannot fail to consider the effects on people’s lives of environmental deterioration, current models of development and the throwaway culture" (LS 43).
9. The air is a common good, for example. Our common home is where we can breathe well. "The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all" (LS #23). The oceans and other natural goods are what the pope calls as “global commons” (see LS #174). Thus the Pope himself thinks that even private property--like ownership of carbon fuels and petroleum--must respect common good. The ownership of resources has created problems violating the common good. "The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes" (LS#23).
10. If we should think of owning natural resources--as some big businesses do--there is the demand to consider the common good. "The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others" (LS #95).
11. In fact it may even be time to give up some form of development and progress to liberate Nature--like air--and allow for a new form of development and progress more attuned to respecting the common good. "We know how unsustainable is the behaviour of those who constantly consume and destroy, while others are not yet able to live in a way worthy of their human dignity. That is why the time has come to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth" (LS #193). The pope here is saying that we need to decrease development that promotes consumption and destruction and increase development where healthier living can happen. Increase development where everyone can bloom.
12. The worse the ecological crisis grows the more we stop working for a common home; the more we try to secure ourselves by separating from others and dividing our social lives. But we live in this world--on earth given to us by God. The more we see ourselves living in this God-given earth the more we "we are journeying towards ... our common home in heaven" (LS #243).
Security as a common good:
1. In general then we can identify certain areas of security:
a. economic security: the absence of poverty
b. food security: access to food resources
c. health and sanitation security: access to health care and protection against illnesses
d. ecological security: absence of threats to our eco-system
e. personal security: protection against torture, domestic violence, crimes, illegal drugs, war
f. community security: the possibility of the survival of traditional culture, language, religion, arts, etc.
g. political security: the protection of civil rights.
2. The absence of threat to any of these is "security". So, for example, when work is available, there is the absence of poverty, then we feel secured economically. If we can continue to observe our religious practices, there is the absence of religious intolerance, so we feel secured as a community.
3. Note then that security is more than what the government can offer. Very often we link security with "national security". Society's government serves to secure the social members, to protect them and to keep them safe from threats to lives and properties. The government then needs an army or police.
It is not enough to think of security as that of having an army to protect us. Certain threats to us may not be accompanied by explicit violence--like the threat of war. But still we experience insecurity and we call for security.
4. Security goes beyond what our governments can do for us. Security is more than having an army and a police. Social members are subject of security here. Take the example of ecological security. We can think of a neighborhood--or a village--wherein every resident there participates in the clean up of the place. Of course the government can do something here; but why wait for the government when we can help secure, to some extent, our eco-system.
Think of cultural security. Some cultures are threatened that they start losing their language, they cannot practice their religions, they lose their traditional practices.
5. Is it not true that we sometimes feel that our governments "do nothing" to give us security in our need for work, in our need for culture, etc. Governments may not feel threatened; but we do feel the threat. We have fears of insecurity. There is a challenge to give to our governments. Where are they when we need them?