Earlier this year, Fr Simon Cuff, Tutor and Lecture in Theology published a new book attempting to offer an accessible introduction to Catholic Social Teaching for every Christian and church leader. Catholic Social Teaching has been described as the Catholic Church’s best kept secret. Archbishop Justin Welby has recently described this teaching as an ‘applied outworking of the good news of Jesus Christ in terms of social structures and social justice’. At the press conference to announce that he would be the next Archbishop, he described it as ‘the glorious and … far too well-hidden structure of Catholic Social Teaching, which surprisingly few Catholics know about, let alone others’. His recent address to the Trade Union Congress was an application of the principles of Catholic Social Teaching to contemporary Britain. An understanding of this important body of teaching is thus essential to anyone wanting to understand this influence approach to the social teaching of the Church.
Fr Simon seeks to introduce readers from across Christian denominations to the riches of Catholic social thought so that this body of teaching might be a little less hidden and a lot more lived out. The book therefore begins by exploring lives lived according to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching by exploring key figures who witness to, and are involved in the development of, this rich body of thought.
It then moves on to explore each of the key principles of Catholic Social Teaching in turn. The dignity of the human person is the foundational principle of Catholic Social Teaching and the subject of the first of these chapters. Subsequent chapters are devoted to acting in accordance with the common good, and in solidarity with others. The book then explores the principle of subsidiarity, which encourages the flourishing of intermediary institutions such as guilds, churches, and trade unions that mediate between individuals and larger authorities and the state. Subsidiarity encourages people to develop and grow in their leadership potential in smaller institutions, developing their contribution to larger institutions and ultimately to society and the Church as a whole. Subsidiarity also seeks to ensure that power is held, and decisions made, as close as possible to the people impacted by all exercises of power.
Further chapters explore two concepts which have entered Catholic Social Teaching through the influence of Liberation Theology: social sin and the preferential option for the poor. These chapters explore these notions and ask what Christian action might look like in the light of structural sin and in fulfilment of the obligation to prioritise the poor and overcome the mechanisms of poverty and marginalisation.
The final chapter is perhaps the most important for Christian practitioners and those in Church leadership. It systematically asks what a Church or Christian community which is organised according to these principles might look like. This chapter is in some sense stand-alone, and could be used as a tool by parish councils and church leadership teams to see how they fare according to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and is of interest to all those who want to lead and build flourishing Christian communities.
The argument of the book is that, if lived out, the principles of Catholic Social Teaching will contribute to the flourishing of every individual in society and every Christian community. This final chapter helps church leaders and Christian communities to begin thinking how the Church might live out this call to help all those we encounter live life in all its fullness, and in what ways we as Church are falling short of our Christian vocation to put love into action.
Love in Action: Catholic Social Teaching for Every Church is published by SCM Press and can be ordered here.