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"A clean heart create for him, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit." Psalm 51:12

Social Encyclicals And Other Vatican Documents on Social Justice

Writings of the Church on Catholic Social Teaching

  • Rerum Novarum: On the Condition of Labor (Leo XIII, 1891) - This encyclical is considered to be the first official document on Catholic Social Teaching.  It was prompted by questions in a society that was changing from a rural agricultural society to an urban industrialized society.  It discusses the responsibilities of labor, business, and government towards one another and the issue of rights (human dignity).  It also discusses the right to private property, the importance of the family, and the role of the state.
  • Quadragesimo Anno: On Reconstructing the Social Order (Pius XI, 1931) - This encyclical was written on the fortieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. It discusses the failings of Socialism and Economic Liberalism.  It presents the obligation of the Church to speak on social issues.  It further develops the concept of just wage (paragraph 71), the defense of private property and presents the principle of subsidiarity as it relates to social organization.
  • Mater et Magistra: Mother and Teacher (John XXIII, 1961) - Addresses issues of the separation of the rich and poor as injustice, the arms race and why Christians need to work for a more just world.
  • Pacem in Terris: Peace on Earth (John XXIII, 1963) - This encyclical is entitled Peace on Earth, but it works to ensure peace by beginning with listing many of the rights we are entitled to (paragraphs 11-27).  They include the right to life, food, shelter, clothing, work, and medical care (paragraph 11).  The list also includes economic rights (paragraphs 18-22) and political rights (paragraphs 26-27).  What sometimes gets forgotten is the responsibilities (a.k.a. duties) that go with those rights.  Paragraphs 28-38 speak of these duties.  From there,Pacem in Terris, moves from individual rights to responsibilities and relationship of the state, and final to the international order.  Through the issue of rights and disarmament we progress towards peace.  
  • Gaudium et Spes: The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World  (Second Vatican Council document, 1965) - Addresses the presence of the Church in the modern world and the role the Church should play.  The Church helps modern society answer not the "how" questions of our existence but the "why."  Why are we here?  How are we called to live in society?  It stresses the importance of stable families to ensure a stable society.  It discusses the concepts of the common good, the dignity of the human person, the nature of peace, the role of the state, and the arms race.
  • Populorum Progressio: On the Development of Peoples (Paul VI, 1967) - Addresses human development, global inequality, and international organizations to work for peace.
  • Octogesima Adveniens: An Apostolic Letter: A Call to Action (Paul VI, 1971) - Addresses the need for political action by local churches working for economic justice.
  • Justice in the World (Synod of Bishops, 1971) - Discusses the need for action as called for by the Gospels
  • Evangeli Nuntiandi: Evangelization in the Modern World (Paul VI, 1975) - Links justice with evangelization and liberation from oppression.
  • Laborum Exercems: On Human Work (John Paul II, 1981) - Addresses the dignity of work, the worker, and the rights of labor.
  • Economic Justice for All - Statement by the U.S. Bishops in 1986 regarding challenges facing the U.S. Economy and the role of the U.S. in the global economy.
  • Sollicitudo Rei Socialis: The Social Concerns of the Church (John Paul II, 1987) - Addresses the "option for the poor", solidarity, and using money from the arms race to alleviate suffering. 
  • Peace with God the Creator, Peace with Creation - Pastoral Letter (John Paul II, 1990) - Addresses ecology as it relates to morality and respecting creation.  
  • Centesimus Annus: One Hundred Years (John Paul II, 1991) - Written on the 100th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, it begins with an extensive affirmation of Rerum Novarum.  It was written following the collapse of the Soviet Regime in the late 1980's.  One of its key principles is that of a new freedom.  Pope John Paul II says this new freedom is the freedom to do as we ought to do as human beings created by God.  It endorses the "free market system" with the qualification that some things are not marketable.  It addresses the question of solidarityin light of globalization.
  • Caritas Et Veritate: Charity in Truth (Pope Benedict XVI, 2009) - On July 7, 2009 Pope Benedict XVI released his third encyclical. In it he discusses the relationship of charity and truth. He discusses the 2009 economic and financial crisis, environmental issues, and how these relate to a Christian vision of the world.


Recently, in 2005, the Catholic Church summarized its Social Teaching in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.


"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' " 

Matthew 25:35-36