The basis for many principles of Catholic Social Teaching in the scriptures is called the Imago Dei (Genesis 1:27). Human beings were created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore all human beings have inherent dignity as God’s beloved children. It is not difficult to see, then, that we are one human family. We have a responsibility to care for our neighbors. But what does it mean to be a neighbor in a globalized society, one in which our neighbors are those in immediate proximity to us, as well as on the other side of the world?
Catholic Social Teaching proposes two principles help us to answer this question: the common good and solidarity. The common good indicates the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach more fully and more easily their fulfillment. However, the common good does not consist in the simple sum of the particular goods of each individual. Belonging to everyone and to each person, it is and remains “common”, because it is indivisible and because only together is it possible to attain it, increase it, and safeguard its effectiveness, with regard also to the future. Just as the moral actions of an individual are accomplished in doing what is good, so too the actions of a society attain their full stature when they bring about the common good. The common good, in fact, can be understood as the social and community dimension of the moral good.
Likewise, when the common good is not realized by particular individuals or segments of the human family, the principle of solidarity becomes important. These days the word “solidarity” has entered the popular vernacular and has many connotations. When Catholic Social Teaching discusses solidarity, it highlights the particulars ways in which the intrinsic social nature of the human person, the equality of all in dignity and rights, and the common path of individuals and peoples can move toward an ever more committed unity. Never before has there been such a widespread awareness of the bond of interdependence between individuals and peoples, which is found at every level. In the presence of the phenomenon of interdependence and its constant expansion, however, there persist in every part of the world stark inequalities between developed and developing countries, inequalities stoked also by various forms of exploitation, oppression, and corruption that have a negative influence on the internal and international life of many States. The acceleration of interdependence between persons and peoples needs to be accompanied by equally intense efforts on the ethical-social plane, in order to avoid the dangerous consequences of perpetrating injustice on a global scale. This would have very negative repercussions even in the very countries that are presently more advantaged.
Our next several posts will take a closer look at these principles to see what Catholic Social Teaching proposes.