What is Catholic Social Teaching?

The Church’s social teaching is a rich treasure of wisdom about living lives of holiness and building a just society amidst the challenges of contemporary life.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “the Church's social teaching comprises a body of doctrine, which is articulated as the Church interprets events in the course of history, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit…. The Church's social teaching proposes principles for reflection; it provides criteria for judgment; it gives guidelines for action.”1

Since it is “the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society” 2 Catholic social teaching assists the faithful in forming their conscience according to the mind and heart of the Church on issues of consequence.3 The Church receives from the Gospel the full revelation of the truth about man. Catholic social teaching is itself “built on the foundation handed on by the apostles to the Fathers of the Church and then received and further explored by the great Christian doctors. It is attested to by the saints and by those who gave their lives for Christ.” 4

Its fundamental principles are universal, because they “seek the good of the human person, who is always being called by God to salvation. They do not speak only to Catholics, but to the world. Catholics have an obligation to speak of justice and peace to this world, as we seek to create a civilization of love.” 5 This teaching can be more easily accepted by men of good will, the more the faithful let themselves be guided by it.6


Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2422-2443.
2CCC 2239.
3CCC 1778, 1783.
4Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, 12.
5Bishop Earl Boyea, Pastoral Letter Go and Announce the Gospel of the Lord, 49.
6CCC 2422.

What are the four key principles of Catholic Social Teaching?

Catholic Social Teaching is built on the life and dignity of the human person. Solidarity, subsidiarity, and the common good flow immediately from this. As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church affirms: “The permanent principles of the Church's social doctrine constitute the very heart of Catholic social teaching. These are the principles of: the dignity of the human person … which is the foundation of all the other principles and content of the Church's social doctrine; the common good; subsidiarity; and solidarity.”1 These permanent and universal principles enjoy “unity… reciprocity, complementarities, and interconnectedness” which must be understood and considered to use them correctly for “interpreting and evaluating social phenomena.”2


1Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 160.
2Compendium, 161-62.

What does the Church teach about the common good?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 1906-1909) explains: “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."1 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 elements:

“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.2

“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.3

“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 defense.”


Gaudium et Spes 26 § 1; cf. GS 74 § 1.
2GS 26 § 2.
3Cf. GS 26 § 2.

What does the Church teach about human dignity?

The Root of Human Dignity

The dignity of the human person is rooted in his or her creation in the image and likeness of God. Endowed with a spiritual and immortal soul, intelligence and free will, the human person is ordered to God and called in soul and in body to eternal beatitude.1

Protection of Human Life

Every human life, from the moment of conception until natural death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God.2

Respect for Human Dignity

Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. and he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead.3

Call to Family

A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family. This institution is prior to any recognition by public authority, which has an obligation to recognize it. It should be considered the normal reference point by which the different forms of family relationship are to be evaluated.4

The Relationship between the Person and Society

The human person is and ought to be the principle, the subject, and the end of all social institutions.5


1Compendium CCC, 358.
2CCC 2319
3CCC 357
4CCC 2202
5Compendium CCC, 402.

What is solidarity?

All persons enjoy equal dignity and fundamental rights insofar as they are created in the image and likeness of the one God, are endowed with the same rational soul, have the same nature and origin, and are called in Christ, the one and only Savior, to the same divine beatitude.

There are, however, differences among people caused by various factors that enter into the plan of God. Indeed, God wills that each might receive what he or she needs from others and that those endowed with particular talents should share them with others. Such differences encourage and often oblige people to the practice of generosity, kindness, and the sharing of goods. They also foster the mutual enrichment of cultures.

Solidarity springs from human and Christian brotherhood, manifested in the just distribution of goods, by fair remuneration for work, and by a zeal for a more just social order. The virtue of solidarity also practices the sharing of spiritual goods of faith which is even more important than sharing material goods.1


Compendium CCC, 412-414, 518.19.

What is the principle of subsidiarity?

While social institutions are a good, they also present dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity which states that a community of a higher order should not assume the task belonging to a community of a lower order and deprive it of its authority. It should rather support it in case of need.1

Authentic human society requires respect for justice, a just hierarchy of values, and the subordination of material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones. In particular, where sin has perverted the social climate, it is necessary to call for the conversion of hearts and for the grace of God to obtain social changes that really serve each person and the whole person. Charity, which requires and makes possible the practice of justice, is the greatest social commandment.2


1 Compendium CCC, 403; CCC 1883.
2 Compendium CCC 404.

What does the Diocese of Lansing Catholic Social Teaching logo symbolize?

The Diocese of Lansing Catholic Social Teaching logo is an original design in the form of a cross, the sign of our redemption.

The uppermost quadrant features a cross, anchor, and heart, signifying faith, hope, and charity.

On the horizonal quadrants, seven stars represent seven virtues (the three theological virtues, plus the four cardinal virtues). At the same time, they signify the sacraments, since the practice of the virtues is strengthened by the sacraments, and the sacraments call us to lead a life of virtue. The stars also allude to the seven works of mercy and the seven days of creation, reminding us that the everyday tasks of ordinary life can be a made into a pathway to holiness, an opportunity to encounter and serve Christ with generosity, love, and joy: “Those with insight shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”1

The crown represents the eternal and universal rule of Christ the King, “a kingdom of truth and life, holiness and grace, justice, love and peace.”2 The encyclical inaugurating the Solemnity of Christ the King states: “When humanity recognizes, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony.”3

Catholic social teaching is grounded on four permanent principles. “The permanent principles of the Church's social doctrine constitute the very heart of Catholic social teaching. These are the principles of: the dignity of the human person … which is the foundation of all the other principles and content of the Church's social doctrine; the common good; subsidiarity; and solidarity.”4 Representing this truth, the words Dignitas Hominis, Bonum Commune, Solidarietas, and Subsidiarietas are inscribed at each quadrant.

The principles of the Church's social doctrine must be appreciated in their unity, interrelatedness, and articulation.5 Thus, at the center, an angel, the messenger of the Lord, proclaims the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity: Caritas (charity, love, agápē), reflecting the words of Saint Paul: And over all these things put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.6


1 Daniel 12:3.
2 Cf, Roman Missal, Preface, Christ, King of the Universe.
3 Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Quas Primas, 19.
4 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 160
5 Compendium, 162.
6 Colossians 3:14.