Catechism of the Catholic Church / Part Three: Life In Christ
Section One - Man’s Vocation Life In The Spirit
Chapter Two - The Human Communion
The vocation of humanity is to show forth the image of God and to be
transformed into the image of the Father's only Son. This vocation takes a
personal form since each of us is called to enter into the divine beatitude; it
also concerns the human community as a whole.
THE PERSON AND SOCIETY
I. The Communal Character of the Human Vocation
All men are called to the same end: God himself. There is a certain resemblance
between the union of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to
establish among themselves in truth and love.1 Love of neighbor is
inseparable from love for God.
The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous
addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others,
mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he
thus responds to his vocation.2
A society is a group of persons bound together organically by a principle of
unity that goes beyond each one of them. As an assembly that is at once visible
and spiritual, a society endures through time: it gathers up the past and
prepares for the future. By means of society, each man is established as an
"heir" and receives certain "talents" that enrich his
identity and whose fruits he must develop.3 He rightly owes loyalty to
the communities of which he is part and respect to those in authority who have
charge of the common good.
Each community is defined by its purpose and consequently obeys specific rules;
but "the human person . . . is and ought to be the principle, the subject
and the end of all social institutions."4
Certain societies, such as the family and the state, correspond more directly
to the nature of man; they are necessary to him. To promote the participation
of the greatest number in the life of a society, the creation of voluntary
associations and institutions must be encouraged "on both national and
international levels, which relate to economic and social goals, to cultural
and recreational activities, to sport, to various professions, and to political
affairs."5 This "socialization" also expresses the
natural tendency for human beings to associate with one another for the sake of
attaining objectives that exceed individual capacities. It develops the qualities
of the person, especially the sense of initiative and responsibility, and helps
guarantee his rights.6
Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can
threaten personal freedom and initiative. the teaching of the Church has
elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community
of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a
lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support
it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of
the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."7
God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to
every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the
capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in
social life. the way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to
such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who
govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.
The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets
limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between
individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true
II. Conversion and Society
Society is essential to the fulfillment of the human vocation. To attain this
aim, respect must be accorded to the just hierarchy of values, which
"subordinates physical and instinctual dimensions to interior and
Human society must primarily
be considered something pertaining to the spiritual. Through it, in the bright
light of truth, men should share their knowledge, be able to exercise their
rights and fulfill their obligations, be inspired to seek spiritual values;
mutually derive genuine pleasure from the beautiful, of whatever order it be;
always be readily disposed to pass on to others the best of their own cultural
heritage; and eagerly strive to make their own the spiritual achievements of
others. These benefits not only influence, but at the same time give aim and
scope to all that has bearing on cultural expressions, economic, and social
institutions, political movements and forms, laws, and all other structures by
which society is outwardly established and constantly developed.9
The inversion of means and ends,10 which results in giving the value of
ultimate end to what is only a means for attaining it, or in viewing persons as
mere means to that end, engenders unjust structures which "make Christian
conduct in keeping with the commandments of the divine Law-giver difficult and
It is necessary, then, to appeal to the spiritual and moral capacities of the human
person and to the permanent need for his inner conversion, so as to obtain
social changes that will really serve him. the acknowledged priority of the
conversion of heart in no way eliminates but on the contrary imposes the
obligation of bringing the appropriate remedies to institutions and living
conditions when they are an inducement to sin, so that they conform to the
norms of justice and advance the good rather than hinder it.12
Without the help of grace, men would not know how "to discern the often
narrow path between the cowardice which gives in to evil, and the violence
which under the illusion of fighting evil only makes it worse."13
This is the path of charity, that is, of the love of God and of neighbor.
Charity is the greatest social commandment. It respects others and their
rights. It requires the practice of justice, and it alone makes us capable of
it. Charity inspires a life of self-giving: "Whoever seeks to gain his
life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it."14
1890 There is a certain
resemblance between the union of the divine persons and the fraternity that men
ought to establish among themselves.
1891 The human person needs
life in society in order to develop in accordance with his nature. Certain
societies, such as the family and the state, correspond more directly to the
nature of man.
1892 "The human person .
. . is and ought to be the principle, the subject, and the object of every
social organization" (GS 25 # 1).
1893 Widespread participation
in voluntary associations and institutions is to be encouraged.
1894 In accordance with the
principle of subsidiarity, neither the state nor any larger society should
substitute itself for the initiative and responsibility of individuals and
1895 Society ought to promote
the exercise of virtue, not obstruct it. It should be animated by a just
hierarchy of values.
1896 Where sin has perverted
the social climate, it is necessary to call for the conversion of hearts and
appeal to the grace of God. Charity urges just reforms. There is no solution to
the social question apart from the Gospel (cf CA 3, 5).
PARTICIPATION IN SOCIAL LIFE
"Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some
people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to
devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of
By "authority" one means the quality by virtue of which persons or
institutions make laws and give orders to men and expect obedience from them.
Every human community needs an authority to govern it.16 The foundation
of such authority lies in human nature. It is necessary for the unity of the
state. Its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society.
The authority required by the moral order derives from God: "Let every
person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority
except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he
who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who
resist will incur judgment."17
The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat
those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is
deserved, with gratitude and good-will.
Pope St. Clement of Rome
provides the Church's most ancient prayer for political authorities:18
"Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, concord, and stability, so that they
may exercise without offense the sovereignty that you have given them. Master,
heavenly King of the ages, you give glory, honor, and power over the things of
earth to the sons of men. Direct, Lord, their counsel, following what is
pleasing and acceptable in your sight, so that by exercising with devotion and
in peace and gentleness the power that you have given to them, they may find
favor with you."19
If authority belongs to the order established by God, "the choice of the
political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of
The diversity of political regimes is morally acceptable, provided they serve
the legitimate good of the communities that adopt them. Regimes whose nature is
contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights
of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have
Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave
in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a "moral force
based on freedom and a sense of responsibility":21
A human law has the character
of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from
the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an
unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of
Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the
group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers
were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such
arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case,
"authority breaks down completely and results in shameful
"It is preferable that each power be balanced by other powers and by other
spheres of responsibility which keep it within proper bounds. This is the
principle of the 'rule of law,' in which the law is sovereign and not the
arbitrary will of men."
II. The Common Good
In keeping with the social nature of man, the good of each individual is
necessarily related to the common good, which in turn can be defined only in
reference to the human person:
Do not live entirely isolated,
having retreated into yourselves, as if you were already justified, but gather instead
to seek the common good together.25
By common good is to be understood "the sum total of social conditions
which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their
fulfillment more fully and more easily."26 The common good
concerns the life of all. It calls for prudence from each, and even more from
those who exercise the office of authority. It consists of three essential
First, the common good presupposes respect for the person as such. In the name
of the common good, public authorities are bound to respect the fundamental and
inalienable rights of the human person. Society should permit each of its
members to fulfill his vocation. In particular, the common good resides in the
conditions for the exercise of the natural freedoms indispensable for the
development of the human vocation, such as "the right to act according to
a sound norm of conscience and to safeguard . . . privacy, and rightful freedom
also in matters of religion."27
Second, the common good requires the social well-being and development of the
group itself. Development is the epitome of all social duties. Certainly, it is
the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good,
between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each
what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work,
education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family,
and so on.28
Finally, the common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of
a just order. It presupposes that authority should ensure by morally acceptable
means the security of society and its members. It is the basis of the right to
legitimate personal and collective defence.
Each human community possesses a common good which permits it to be recognized
as such; it is in the political community that its most complete realization is
found. It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of
civil society, its citizens, and intermediate bodies.
Human interdependence is increasing and gradually spreading throughout the
world. the unity of the human family, embracing people who enjoy equal natural
dignity, implies a universal common good. This good calls for an organization
of the community of nations able to "provide for the different needs of
men; this will involve the sphere of social life to which belong questions of
food, hygiene, education, . . . and certain situations arising here and there,
as for example . . . alleviating the miseries of refugees dispersed throughout
the world, and assisting migrants and their families."29
The common good is always oriented towards the progress of persons: "The
order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other
way around."30 This order is founded on truth, built up in
justice, and animated by love.
III. Responsibility and Participation
"Participation" is the voluntary and generous engagement of a person
in social interchange. It is necessary that all participate, each according to
his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is
inherent in the dignity of the human person.
Participation is achieved first of all by taking charge of the areas for which
one assumes personal responsibility: by the care taken for the education of his
family, by conscientious work, and so forth, man participates in the good of
others and of society.31
As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life. the
manner of this participation may vary from one country or culture to another.
"One must pay tribute to those nations whose systems permit the largest
possible number of the citizens to take part in public life in a climate of
As with any ethical obligation, the participation of all in realizing the
common good calls for a continually renewed conversion of the social partners.
Fraud and other subterfuges, by which some people evade the constraints of the
law and the prescriptions of societal obligation, must be firmly condemned
because they are incompatible with the requirements of justice. Much care
should be taken to promote institutions that improve the conditions of human
It is incumbent on those who exercise authority to strengthen the values that
inspire the confidence of the members of the group and encourage them to put
themselves at the service of others. Participation begins with education and
culture. "One is entitled to think that the future of humanity is in the
hands of those who are capable of providing the generations to come with
reasons for life and optimism."34
1918 "There is no
authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been
instituted by God" (⇒ Rom 13:1).
1919 Every human community
needs an authority in order to endure and develop.
1920 "The political
community and public authority are based on human nature and therefore . . .
belong to an order established by God" (GS 74 # 3).
1921 Authority is exercised
legitimately if it is committed to the common good of society. To attain this
it must employ morally acceptable means.
1922 The diversity of
political regimes is legitimate, provided they contribute to the good of the
1923 Political authority must
be exercised within the limits of the moral order and must guarantee the
conditions for the exercise of freedom.
1924 The common good
comprises "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either
as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more
easily" (GS 26 1).
1925 The common good consists
of three essential elements: respect for and promotion of the fundamental
rights of the person; prosperity, or the development of the spiritual and
temporal goods of society; the peace and security of the group and of its
1926 The dignity of the human
person requires the pursuit of the common good. Everyone should be concerned to
create and support institutions that improve the conditions of human life.
1927 It is the role of the
state to defend and promote the common good of civil society. the common good
of the whole human family calls for an organization of society on the
Society ensures social justice when it provides the conditions that allow
associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their
nature and their vocation. Social justice is linked to the common good and the
exercise of authority.
I. Respect For the Human Person
Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of
man. the person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to
What is at stake is the
dignity of the human person, whose defense and promotion have been entrusted to
us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are
strictly and responsibly in debt.35
Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his
dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized
by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by
flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a
society undermines its own moral legitimacy.36 If it does not respect
them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its
subjects. It is the Church's role to remind men of good will of these rights
and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims.
Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that
"everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as
'another self,' above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for
living it with dignity."37 No legislation could by itself do away
with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which
obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will
cease only through the charity that finds in every man a "neighbor,"
The duty of making oneself a neighbor to others and actively serving them
becomes even more urgent when it involves the disadvantaged, in whatever area
this may be. "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you
did it to me."38
This same duty extends to those who think or act differently from us. the
teaching of Christ goes so far as to require the forgiveness of offenses. He
extends the commandment of love, which is that of the New Law, to all
enemies.39 Liberation in the spirit of the Gospel is incompatible with
hatred of one's enemy as a person, but not with hatred of the evil that he does
as an enemy.
II. Equality and Differences Among Men
Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls,
all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of
Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all
therefore enjoy an equal dignity.
The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the
rights that flow from it:
Every form of social or
cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex,
race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and
eradicated as incompatible with God's design.40
On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for
developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others. Differences appear
tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, the benefits
derived from social commerce, and the distribution of wealth.41 The
"talents" are not distributed equally.42
These differences belong to God's plan, who wills that each receive what he
needs from others, and that those endowed with particular "talents"
share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and
often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods;
they foster the mutual enrichment of cultures:
I distribute the virtues quite
diversely; I do not give all of them to each person, but some to one, some to
others.... I shall give principally charity to one; justice to another;
humility to this one, a living faith to that one.... and so I have given many
gifts and graces, both spiritual and temporal, with such diversity that I have
not given everything to one single person, so that you may be constrained to
practice charity towards one another.... I have willed that one should need
another and that all should be my ministers in distributing the graces and gifts
they have received from me.43
There exist also sinful inequalities that affect millions of men and women.
These are in open contradiction of the Gospel:
Their equal dignity as persons
demands that we strive for fairer and more humane conditions. Excessive
economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples of the one human
race is a source of scandal and militates against social justice, equity, human
dignity, as well as social and international peace.44
III. Human Solidarity
The principle of solidarity, also articulated in terms of
"friendship" or "social charity," is a direct demand of
human and Christian brotherhood.45
An error, "today
abundantly widespread, is disregard for the law of human solidarity and
charity, dictated and imposed both by our common origin and by the equality in
rational nature of all men, whatever nation they belong to. This law is sealed
by the sacrifice of redemption offered by Jesus Christ on the altar of the
Cross to his heavenly Father, on behalf of sinful humanity."46
Solidarity is manifested in the first place by the distribution of goods and
remuneration for work. It also presupposes the effort for a more just social
order where tensions are better able to be reduced and conflicts more readily
settled by negotiation.
Socio-economic problems can be resolved only with the help of all the forms of
solidarity: solidarity of the poor among themselves, between rich and poor, of
workers among themselves, between employers and employees in a business,
solidarity among nations and peoples. International solidarity is a requirement
of the moral order; world peace depends in part upon this.
The virtue of solidarity goes beyond material goods. In spreading the spiritual
goods of the faith, the Church has promoted, and often opened new paths for,
the development of temporal goods as well. and so throughout the centuries has
the Lord's saying been verified: "Seek first his kingdom and his
righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well":47
For two thousand years this
sentiment has lived and endured in the soul of the Church, impelling souls then
and now to the heroic charity of monastic farmers, liberators of slaves,
healers of the sick, and messengers of faith, civilization, and science to all
generations and all peoples for the sake of creating the social conditions
capable of offering to everyone possible a life worthy of man and of a
1943 Society ensures social
justice by providing the conditions that allow associations and individuals to
obtain their due.
1944 Respect for the human
person considers the other "another self." It presupposes respect for
the fundamental rights that flow from the dignity intrinsic of the person.
1945 The equality of men
concerns their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it.
1946 The differences among
persons belong to God's plan, who wills that we should need one another. These
differences should encourage charity.
1947 The equal dignity of
human persons requires the effort to reduce excessive social and economic
inequalities. It gives urgency to the elimination of sinful inequalities.
1948 Solidarity is an
eminently Christian virtue. It practices the sharing of spiritual goods even
more than material ones.
1 Cf. GS 24 # 3.
2 Cf. GS 25 # 1.
3 Cf. ⇒ Lk 19:13, 15.
4 GS 25 # 1.
5 John XXIII, MM 60.
6 Cf. GS 25 # 2; CA 12.
7 CA 48 # 4; cf. Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno I, 184-186.
8 CA 36 # 2.
9 John XXIII, PT 36.
10 Cf. CA 41.
11 Pius XII, Address at Pentecost, June 1, 1941.
12 Cf. LG 36.
13 CA 25.
14 ⇒ Lk 17:33.
15 John XXIII, PT 46.
16 Cf. Leo XIII, Immortale Dei; Diuturnum illud.
18 Cf. as early as 1 Tim 2:1-2.
19 St. Clement of Rome, Ad Cor. 61: SCh 167,198-200.
20 GS 74 # 3.
21 GS 74 # 2.
22 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II, 93, 3, ad 2.
23 John XXIII PT 51.
25 Ep. Barnabae, 4,10: PG 2, 734.
26 GS 26 # 1; cf.
GS 74 # 1.
27 GS 26 # 2.
28 Cf. GS 26 # 2.
29 GS 84 # 2.
30 GS 26 # 3.
31 Cf. CA 43.
32 GS 31 # 3.
33 Cf. GS 30 # 1.
34 GS 31 # 3.
35 John Paul II, SRS 47.
36 Cf. John
XXIII, PT 65.
37 GS 27 # 1.
38 ⇒ Mt 25:40.
39 Cf. ⇒ Mt 5:43-44.
40 GS 29 # 2.
41 Cf. GS 29 # 2.
42 Cf. ⇒ Mt 25:14-30;
⇒ Lk 19:27.
43 St. Catherine of Siena, Dial. I, 7.
44 CS 29 # 3.
45 Cf. John Paul II, SRS 38 40; CA 10.
46 Pius XII, Summi pontificatus, October 20, 1939; AAS 31 (1939) 423
47 ⇒ Mt 6:33.
48 Pius XII, Discourse, June 1, 1941.
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