What is Social Justice? (Part Two) | J. J. Ziegler | Catholic World Report
The teachings of Vatican II, Paul VI, John Paul II, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church
“Social justice,” a term coined by the Italian Jesuit Father Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio (1793-1862), appeared in an 1894 curial document and a 1904 encyclical. Later, Pope Pius XI (1922-39) made it part and parcel of Catholic social doctrine.
In perhaps the most succinct description of the virtue, Pope Pius wrote in 1937 that “it is [the essence] of social justice to demand from individuals everything that is necessary for the common good.” Venerable Pius XII (1939-58) and Blessed John XXIII (1958-63) made Pope Pius XI’s teaching their own as they urged Catholics to cultivate the virtue of social justice. The former wrote in 1952 that society “ought to be renewed according to principles of charity and social justice,” while the latter prayed in 1960 that Christians might “offer to fellow citizens examples of all virtues, in the first place social justice and charity.”
The three decades following John XXIII’s death witnessed further developments in Catholic teaching on social justice. In 1992, Catholic doctrine on social justice was set forth with particular authority when Blessed John Paul II promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The term “social justice” appeared three times in the documents of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (1962-65). In Nostra Aetate (1965), the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, the Council Fathers exhorted Christians and Muslims to “preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom” (no. 3).
Six weeks later, in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), the Council Fathers observed that “excessive economic and social differences between the members of the one human family or population groups cause scandal and militate against social justice, equity, the dignity of the human person, as well as social and international peace” (no. 29). The Council Fathers called for the creation of an “organism of the universal Church” whose role would be “to stimulate the Catholic community to promote progress in needy regions and international social justice”—in the original Latin, “social justice among nations.” Venerable Paul VI established that organism, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in 1967.
The three conciliar references to social justice use the term in the context of “all mankind,” the “one human family,” and “among nations.”