How is Catholic Social Justice related to the History of the Church? Is it just an addition to Church teachings from the Second Vatican Council?

While there has been a growing emphasis on this third element of the Church since Vatican Council II, the social mission of the Church has deep biblical and magisterial roots.  Vatican II re-animated the social mission of the early church; especially noteworthy is the call for the inclusion of “Social Justice” courses in the curriculum of primary, secondary and higher Catholic education. “This is a call to action, an appeal especially to pastors, educators, and catechists to teach the Catholic social tradition in its fullness.”  The more recent emphasis on teaching Catholic Social Theory was spurred on by the US bishop’s task force on social justice  [3], which found that

  1. there was a general lack of knowledge about the basis of social justice among Catholics,
  2. which in turn implied a need for leadership formation and faculty training
  3. which could then meet the need to be more explicit in teaching the principles of Catholic social thought and …
  4. to help Catholics to go beyond volunteering/direct service to participating in social justice.

In keeping with the spirit of Vatican II, the U.S. Bishops re-inforced that participation in social justice is, in effect, a true participation in our personal faith as Catholics and a more full participation in our common vocation “to be a Church that is true to the demands of the Gospel” as part of the Body of Christ.

The following are excerpts from the U.S. Bishops’ findings in “Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions” [3], where they reflect on the need to re-emphasize social justice in catholic education in general and in the life of Catholics in particular:

  • Catholic social teaching is a central and essential element of our faith. Its roots are in the Hebrew prophets who announced God’s special love for the poor and called God’s people to a covenant of love and justice. It is a teaching founded on the life and words of Jesus Christ, who came “to bring glad tidings to the poor . . . liberty to captives . . . recovery of sight to the blind”(Lk 4:18-19), and who identified himself with “the least of these,” the hungry and the stranger (cf. Mt 25:45). Catholic social teaching is built on a commitment to the poor. This commitment arises from our experiences of Christ in the eucharist….
  • Catholic social teaching emerges from the truth of what God has revealed to us about himself. We believe in the triune God whose very nature is communal and social. God the Father sends his only Son Jesus Christ and shares the Holy Spirit as his gift of love. God reveals himself to us as one who is not alone, but rather as one who is relational, one who is Trinity. Therefore, we who are made in God’s image share this communal, social nature. We are called to reach out and to build relationships of love and justice.
  • Catholic social teaching is based on and inseparable from our understanding of human life and human dignity. Every human being is created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ, and therefore is invaluable and worthy of respect as a member of the human family. Every person, from the moment of conception to natural death, has inherent dignity and a right to life consistent with that dignity. Human dignity comes from God, not from any human quality or accomplishment.
     [1] “Catholic Social Teaching: A Key to Catholic Identity”  PPT presentation developed by the Office for Social Justice,
              Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, original PPT available at

[2] Pope Benedict XVI. Caritas in Veritate (2009); available through the Vatican website in many languages

     [3] U.S. Bishops’ findings in “Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Direction” (June 19, 1998), available at

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