Catholic Social Teaching - Online

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Mon 12 Jun
  • Monday, 12 June 2023
  • 12:00pm - 1:00pm
  • Online - Zoom



Course Overview

Catholic Social Teaching is the label given to the areas of Catholic doctrine which relate to human dignity and the common good. Although it has deep roots – going back to the patristic era and ultimately to the teachings of Jesus – the nomenclature of Catholic Social Teaching was originated in the nineteenth century.  This was a period of great political upheaval and the Church was called on during this period to answer the claims made by new political ideologies: socialism, social democracy, liberalism, anarchism and capitalism. In response the Church created a new strand of political philosophy which drew upon influences both secular and Christian tradition. Over the five weeks of this course, we will examine each of the five key principles of Catholic Social Teaching, examining the doctrinal basis, the history and the practical applicability of each one.

Course Outline

Week 1 – Human Dignity

The central pillar of all Catholic teaching is the sanctity of life. As such, Catholic Social Teaching is primarily concerned with protecting life and with protecting the value and dignity of human beings. This aspect of Catholic Social Teaching takes practical shape in the Churches opposition to abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty and military adventurism. It also influences the churches position on the exploitation of labour and on the abrogation of human freedom within despotic regimes. This week, we will discuss the history of the Churches teaching on human dignity and consider what it means to safeguard human life in the twenty-first century.


Week 2 – Subsidiarity

In 1931, Pope Pius XI declared that it was ‘a grave evil… to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.’ In this statement, the pontiff enshrined the principle of subsidiarity: the idea that the responsibilities of civic life belong properly within the smallest possible unit which can accomplish the wellbeing of the people. As such, the principle of subsidiarity militates against the misdistribution of power and authority, the attribution of too much power to one single group or actor: whether they be corporate or state. The notion of subsidiarity has taken on new meaning in the communication age and we will be discussing ways in which subsidiarity can be understood in our own society in this weeks session. 

Week 3 – Solidarity

A third principle of Catholic Social Teaching is belief in solidarity. Catholics are supposed to believe that noone is an island, that each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. There is no good other than the common good. Today, we live in a society in which the prevailing value is the pursuit of the individual good. What role does the Church have in pushing back against this ideology? To what extent can the ethos of solidarity be supported without eroding individual freedoms? These questions will form the basis of our discussion this week.

Week 4 – Love

When Jesus was asked to identify the greatest commandment, he responded:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… and love your neighbour as yourself.

It is clear, therefore, that love of neighbour is the fundamental concern of all Christian ethics. Today, some argue that the Churches attitudes are not loving. How does the Church understand the concept of love as a social concern? How does this principle influence the Churches positions on social issues? These are the questions we will be considering this week.


Week 5 – Redistribution

Capitalism, particularly in the current era, appears to lead inexorably to the unequal distribution of wealth and resources. In recent times we have seen how this situation can lead to injustice, and ultimately to civil strife. Catholic Social Teaching has always argued for a just distribution of wealth. How do societies ensure that the least fortunate are provided with the opportunity to succeed and live flourishing lives without allowing the state powers to expropriate wealth? This is a key question for Catholic economists and one which we will grapple with in the final week of the course. 

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