“Duc in altum” social thought of John Paul II

“Duc in altum” social thought of John Paul II

“Duc in altum!” – “Into deep water”, “without hesitation”, “to deep” -. The exhortation of Jesus to Peter, that John Paul II endorsed and transmitted to us with renewed apostolic zeal, today encourages us to delve into its vast social thought. John Paul II is certainly the pontiff who has written about the “social question”: three encyclicals, numerous speeches and homilies and constant reference to the social in all its documents surprise us, not only by the vastness but by the breadth of vision , the courage and the depth to which the Pope assumes all social doctrine of the Church and so reproposes renewed and fervent. Hitting “deep” in his thinking has some crossings that made the Lord with his disciples, aleccionándolos amid the rich and mysterious reality of the lake of Galilee, symbol of the world and history. In the mold drawing of “Laboren Excercens” or “rei socialis Sollicitudo” beats all the social doctrine of the Church universal and concrete mold, illuminated by the gospel. And you can smell the sea air on the promise of an abundant catch. From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope invites us to enter labor where man’s social life is played oars, to force down their nets once more: in the world of work and solidarity.

“Duc in altum”: with a breadth of vision

Commit to the “social question” is to jump right into the “global dimension”

Beginning with the words of John Paul II in Novo Milenio Ineunte (2001):

Effort is noteworthy that Church’s teaching authority, especially in the twentieth century, to interpret social reality in the light of the Gospel and to offer ever more timely and systematic its own contribution to the solution of the social question, which has already become a global dimension (NMI 52).

For the Pope, “this ethical and social aspect” should aim “as an essential element of Christian witness.” John Paul has the courage to reject as “temptation” a “and individualistic spirituality.” His proposal is a spirituality of communion, a spirituality that takes into account the social dimension of man. The other, individualistic and hidden, “has little to do with the demands of charity, with the logic of the Incarnation and the eschatological tension of Christianity.” It is true that the hope of heaven makes us aware “of the relative nature of the story.” But this “does not in any way relieve us of the duty to build it.” It is in this regard at the teaching of Vatican II: “The Christian message, not the men away from the task of building the world, or make them neglect the welfare of their fellows, but requires them to carry more do this as a duty ‘

“Duc in altum”, in the voice of the Pope’s exhortation that comforts us and strengthens us to put out into the new millennium, with the light of the gospel, illuminate the “social question” that has become a global issue.

“Duc in altum” is an invitation to engage with the task of building the world and drive to care for the common good of our fellow men as a duty that flows from the gospel itself.

The major milestones of social doctrine in the twentieth century

The effort of the teachers to interpret social reality in the light of the gospel, of whom the Pope has had to himself as the main protagonist.

In Tertio Millennio Adveniente (1994) John Paul II reminds us major milestones of social thought of the popes and their own:

Popes throughout the century, following the footsteps of Leo XIII, have consistently treated the themes of Catholic social teaching, considering the characteristics of a just system in the field of relations between labor and capital. Just think of the anno Quadragesimo encyclical of Pius XI, in the many speeches of Pius XII, on Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris in John XXIII, in Populorum Progressio and adveniens Octogesima Apostolic Letter of Pope Paul VI. On this subject I myself have repeatedly returned: I spent the encyclical Laborem Exercens in particular to the importance of human labor, while the Centesimus annus I tried to reaffirm the validity of the doctrine of Rerum Novarum after a hundred years. Besides the encyclical Sollicitudo previously proposed rei socialis again systematically all the social doctrine of the Church from the perspective of the confrontation between the two blocs East-West and the danger of nuclear war. The two elements of the Church’s social doctrine, the protection of the dignity and rights of the individual in the context of a fair relationship between labor and capital, and promoting peace, were found in this text and merged (TMA 22).

A spirituality of work

Considering the two elements of the Church’s social doctrine that says the Pope – “the protection of the dignity and rights of the individual in the context of a fair relationship between labor and capital, and the promotion of peace” – in this brief presentation we will focus on the labor issue. And we will do from the perspective of the “spirituality of work”.

Explained why this option. In Novo Millennio Ineunte, this new spirituality, solidarity, communion, the Pope mentioned, has a striking realization of what he calls “a spirituality of work”:

Great events was the gathering of workers on 1 May developed within the traditional date of Labor Day. They asked her to live a spirituality of work, in imitation of St. Joseph and Jesus himself. His jubilee I also offered the opportunity to launch a strong call to remedy the economic and social imbalances that exist in the world of work, and manage decision processes of economic globalization based on solidarity and respect for each person human (NMI 10).

Explicitly, the Pope joined the work urging that spirituality of communion, who wants to be the paradigm of the Church of the new millennium. The features of this spirituality are beautifully marked:

A spirituality of communion indicates above all the heart’s contemplation especially towards the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be recognized on the face of the brothers who are with us (NMI 43).

Then the Pope specifies three areas where we have to “train” for communion in light of the presence of God in the face of every man. The well would characterize:

Enable us in the sense of belonging to a body:

A spirituality of communion also means an ability to feel the brother of faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as “one that belongs to me,” able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship (NMI 43) ..

Enable us in a vision that values ​​organically:

Spirituality of communion implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift of God: a “gift for me”, as well as being a gift for the brother who has received it directly ( NMI 43).


Enable us to give space to the other, not dominate spaces:

Anyway, spirituality of communion is to know “make room” brother, carrying the load of each other (cf. Gal 6:2) and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and envy (NMI 43).

We think that this spirituality of communion, of multiple resonances in each particular area of ​​the Church’s life has a special flavor if we apply it to the spirituality of work that the Pope invited the workers grow. Note, incidentally, that communion and work are the only two realities that document connote spirituality.

“Duc in altum” with the courage to enter the underlying theme

The work, key social issues

Let’s see why.

Ask yourself what is the conception of John Paul II on human work?

We all know that Redemptor Hominis, his first encyclical (1979), was programmatic. The Pope thought he had to leave the man, the man whose profound and end only found in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of man. Two years later, in 1981 John Paul II issued Laborem Excercens. Another programmatic encyclical John Paul II dedicated “man” in the broad context of the reality that is the work “:

I wish to dedicate this paper to human work, and even more desire to dedicate the man in the vast context of the reality that is work. Indeed, if as I said in the encyclical Redemptor Hominis, published at the beginning of my service in the See of Saint Peter, the man “is the primary and fundamental way for the Church”, and this precisely because of the unfathomable mystery of Redemption in Christ, then we must constantly return to this path and follow it ever anew in the various areas in which all wealth is revealed while all the toil of human existence on earth (LE 1).

Highlights since, first, this vision of the Pope who speaks of a spirituality that “starts and gets deep” by way of man. Of a man, well is stressed, immersed in the mystery of Christ Redeemer, but not a man only in its vertical dimension, but a man contextualized in the reality and history from the point of view of work.


Where did this important work? Do not stand over other values ​​such as solidarity and peace posed of justice …?

Let’s hear what you think the Pope’s work in relation to the social question:

If in this document we return to this problem (the “social question”), without any intention of playing all the arguments that concern it-not to pick up and repeat what is in the teachings of the Church, but rather to highlight-perhaps more than what has been done so far-that human work is a key, probably the essential key, to the whole social question, if we try to see that question really from the point of view of man’s good. And if the solution, or rather the gradual solution of the social question, which keeps coming up and becoming more complex, must be sought in the direction of “making life more human”, then the key, which namely human work, acquires fundamental and decisive importance (LE 3), (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2427).

Just two years ago, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of Laborem Excercens, John Paul II confirmed this intuition the beginning of his pontificate:
As long as man exists free gesture of genuine participation in creation that is work. It is one of the essential components for the realization of the human vocation, manifest and always discover who is called by God to “subdue the earth”. Not if you want, you can stop being “a subject that decides about himself” (LE, 6). To him God has entrusted this supreme and demanding freedom. From this perspective, today more than ever, we can repeat that “work is a key, probably the essential key, to the whole social question” (Message of the Holy Father John Paul II to the International Conference “The Work, Key Issue Social “in the XX Anniversary Excercens Laborem, September 14, 2001)

This repetition makes the Pope from the perspective of the essence of man, springing essence of the mission to “subdue the earth” and that means “free choice of collaborating with their Creator. Underlying this is the prophecy of Romano Guardini when, in his book on The Power stated the main reason of the paradigm shift that increasingly been operating in our modern world. Guardini said the most comprehensive and decisive feature of our present civilization was that power was becoming, of Increasingly, somewhat anonymous. come from there, as a result, all the dangers and injustices we suffer this time. Guardini proposing the antidote was none other than taking responsibility for each and in solidarity of power. This precise point lies the vision of John Paul II on human work as the place where man is decided freely by the use of power as service and collaboration in the creative work of God for the sake of their brothers.

The working man, free, creative, participatory and severally

Work is the place where all the principles of the social doctrine of the Church and society acquire real teeth. John Paul II has always affirmed that the first point of the Social Doctrine firm, from which all others derive, is that: social order is central to man … A man that works, we encourage you to add, to the working man, free, creative, participatory and severally.

This man who works focus and the other principles are linked concretely.

For the actual work is the principle of “universal destination of goods”.

For the actual work becomes “the legitimacy of private property, as a condition of personal and family autonomy.”

In the valuation of work-all-work as the source from which arise all goods that support life of society, lies the conception of the duties and rights that the state should regulate and clarifies the role of the state itself as promoter and guardian of the common good.

Work: place gradually operate all social transformations

This perspective rooted in the working man, debunks all fatalistic and mechanistic conceptions when judging how and where the great social operate.

It would be a serious mistake to believe that the current changes befall deterministic way. The decisive factor, in other words, “the referee” in this complex phase of change, is once again the man who should remain the true protagonist of his work. You can and should take over as creative and responsible for the current changes, to contribute to the growth of the individual, the family, the society in which he lives and of the whole human family (cf. Laborem Exercens, 10).

Vision and organic personalist social dimension of work

Ten years after his first social encyclical, in Centesimus Annus (1991), again place the Pope the man who works at the center of economic and social life:

In order to clarify the conflict that had arisen between capital and labor, Leo XIII affirmed the fundamental rights of workers. Hence, the key to reading the Encyclical is the dignity of the worker as such and, for this reason, the dignity of work, defined as “organized activity to provide for the necessities of life, and especially their conservation “(CA 6). .

The Pope describes work as “personal” as “the active force is inherent in the person of one who fully developed and in which the benefit has been given.” The work belongs, therefore, to the vocation of every person, indeed, man expresses and fulfills himself by working. At the same time, work has a social dimension through its intimate relationship not only to the family, either to the common good, “because it may truly be said that the work of the workers is the one that produces the wealth of the United ». All this is reflected and developed in my encyclical Laborem Exercens 15 (CA 6). The number 15 is key Excercens Laborem an organic vision of the dignity of work from the perspective of personalist argument.

The relationship between labor and capital

In the necessary relationship that exists between labor and capital, the work takes precedence, as the man “you want the fruits of labor employed by him and the other” and also wants to be co-responsible and sharer in building the work you do. You wish to be “taken into consideration in the process of production, feel like you are working” on something himself. ”

This awareness is extinguished within him in a system of excessive bureaucratic centralization, which the worker feels cog in a machine moved from above, you feel for whatever reason a mere instrument of production, rather than a true subject of work with an own initiative. The teachings of the Church has always expressed the strong and deep conviction that the work concerns not only the economy but also, and especially, personal values ​​(LE 15).

The relationship between labor and private property

From this perspective of personal values, John Paul II stands at the core of the debate between private property or socialization of the means of production and says that the important thing in any of the two systems to be adopted at the macro-structural is that the working man, aware of working “on something himself.”

The same economic system and the production process benefit precisely when these personal values ​​are fully respected. According to the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, is the principal reason which testifies in favor of private ownership of the means of production. If we admit that some well founded reasons exceptions to the principle of private property, and in our time we even see that the introduction of property “socialized” – the personalist argument however does not lose its force, either at the beginning or practical level. To be rational and fruitful, any socialization of the means of production must consider this argument. We must do everything possible to man, even within this system can preserve his awareness of working “thing itself”. Otherwise, the entire economic process damages arising necessarily incalculable damage not only economic, but first and foremost damage to man (LE 15).

The wage

Within this vision of “working on something himself” the living wage issue is key:

This consideration is a purely descriptive, not a brief treatise on economics or politics. This is to highlight the moral and ethical approach. The key problem of social ethics is that of just remuneration for work done. There exists in the current context otherwise for securing a just relationship between the worker and the employer than that constituted by remuneration for work. Regardless of the fact that this work was put into effect within the system of private ownership of the means of production or in a system where ownership has undergone a kind of “socialization”, the relationship between the employer (mostly direct) the worker is resolved on the basis of wage, that is, with just remuneration for work done “(LE 19).

At this point the Pope focused his entire vision of the working man. The wage becomes the key to verify the fairness or unfairness of the whole socio-economic system, and that is what becomes real the principle of “common goods”.

It should be emphasized also that the justice of a socioeconomic system and, in any case, its just functioning, deserve in the end be evaluated by the way as human work properly remunerated in such a system. Here we return back to the first principle of the whole ethical and social order: the principle of the common use of goods. In any system that does not take into account the fundamental relations between capital and labor, wages, ie, labor remuneration, remains a specific pathway through which the vast majority of people can have access to goods that are intended for common use: both the goods of nature as they result from production. One and the other are made accessible to the worker through the wage you receive as remuneration for their work. Hence, just wage becomes case more concrete verification of the justice of the whole socioeconomic system and, in any case, its just functioning. This is not the only means of checking, but is particularly important and is in a sense the key means. (LE 19)

Create structures that safeguard the dignity of work

Since around work decently paid to play the real participation of all men in the universal destination of goods, Pope urges institutions to “create structures that safeguard the dignity of work”:

Given these problems, imagine and build new forms of solidarity, taking into account the interdependence that binds together the working men. Although the current change is deep, should be even more intense effort of the intelligence and the will to protect the dignity of labor, strengthening at various levels, the institutions concerned. Great is the responsibility of governments, but not least is the organizations responsible for protecting the collective interests of workers and employers. All are called not only to promote these interests in an honorable way and the path of dialogue, but also to renew their same functions, its structure, its nature and modalities of action. As I wrote in the encyclical Centesimus annus, these organizations can and should become “places where it expresses the personality of the workers” (ca. 15) (Message of the Holy Father John Paul II to the International Conference “The Work, Key Social Question “in the XX Anniversary Excercens Laborem, September 14, 2001)

This task of creating structures that safeguard the dignity of work involves a dual demand. For thinkers and researchers from different disciplines, the challenge is to “think with scientific rigor and wisdom” the theme of work, so to help understand the change that is occurring in the world of work and point chances and risks. And for all Christians, the challenge lies in making “a preferential option of love” for the poor, the excluded work “:

Today, given the worldwide dimension which the social question has become, this love of preference, with the decisions that inspires us, can not but embrace the immense multitudes of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without medical care and, above all, without hope for a better future can not forget the existence of this reality. Ignore them would mean becoming like the “rich man” who pretended not to know the beggar Lazarus lying at his gate (cf. Lk 16, 19-31) (SRS 42).

Uniting, in a glance, spirituality of communion and spirituality can affirm that:

What is common to all spirituality of communion, from the point of view of the subject, is the look of the heart. A look friendly is an integrated look. Faced with the conception that reduces work to a mere job, which is aimed at producing goods that serve only to some, the spiritual eye sees the work as an expression of all dimensions of man: from the most basic, which makes the “made of the person” to the highest, which is considered “service” of love.

From the objective point of view, that look friendly, which simultaneously addresses “the mystery of the Trinity and the mystery of every human face”, makes us appreciate the work binding, leads us to see every man as “someone who mine “and enhances self-effort of each as a” gift for everyone. ” Around these values ​​is woven a human society without exclusion of any kind. At the same time, the work opens itself these “spaces of engagement” that the Pope speaks, and turns them into spaces for real participation, practical, dignified.

“Duc in altum” toward the theological depth of the dignity of work

Surpassing dignity of work of Jesus Christ

The work done to the dignity of man, linking the personal dimension and social dimension, but not only that, but a dignity sobreemintente whose ultimate reason lies in Jesus Christ. So says the Pope in Christifidelis laici:

With work, man ordinarily provides the very life and that of their families, joins his fellow men and makes them a service, can exercise genuine charity and cooperate with the activity itself to the improvement of the divine creation. Not only this. We know that, with the offering of his work to God, men are associated with the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, who gave the work a surpassing dignity, working with his hands at Nazareth “(CL 43).

If we value in perspective which means that the Lord redeemed us with his life-actions, words and gestures, joys and sufferings … – his long years of quiet work and everyday in the small world of Nazareth must weigh on our mind with full extent. If beat in silence in the Gospel is precisely why: because the value of a spirituality of work is inherently quiet, humble, restrained. “Surpassing dignity of labor” and calls the Pope to Jesus’ work, made with their own hands.

It buries the job following his dignity in the Trinity itself: “My Father works and I work,” says the Lord. It’s just a working image which highlights the pope to keep on the heart so it can address problems darken the horizon of our time:

Just think of the urgency to work for peace, to put solid premises of justice and solidarity in relations between peoples, to defend human life from conception to its natural end. And what should we say of the thousand inconsistencies of a “globalized” world where the weakest, the smallest and the poorest appear to have so little hope!

In this world, says the Pope, “is where you shine the Christian hope.” And what, then, is universal and concrete image, which presents the most clear and effective Christian hope? It is the image of Jesus, Master of fellowship and service. Significantly, the Pope says that the Gospel of John, where the Synoptics recount the institution of the Eucharist, proposed, illustrating its profound meaning, the account of the “washing of the feet”, in which Jesus appears as the teacher of fellowship and service (cf. Jn 13: 1-20). The Lord wanted to stay with us in the Eucharist, making his presence in sacrificial and convivial (in the humble service of washing of feet, slave labor) the promise of a humanity renewed by his love (Ecclesia de Eucharistia …).

In celebration of this “work” in which, imitating the Redeemer, the Church “makes the Eucharist”, condenses all the eschatological tension of Christianity: the commitment to transform the world and all existence to become Eucharist “:

Proclaiming the death of the Lord “until he comes” (1 Cor 11, 26), behaves for participating in the Eucharist be committed to changing their lives, so that all of it becomes somewhat “Eucharistic”. It is this fruit of a transfigured existence and a commitment to transform the world according to the Gospel which splendidly illustrates the eschatological tension of the Eucharist and the Christian life (Ecclesia de Eucharistia 20).

Let me conclude these reflections to the Holy Father expressed the feelings of gratitude for all of us throughout this rich teaching on social issues such as proposed to us: with a breadth of vision, with the courage to enter the theme and pointing to the theological depth of the dignity of work. Holy Father, thank you very much.

Buenos Aires, June 7, 2003.

Card. Jorge Mario Bergoglio S.J.

Posted in 2003

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