The Compendium is a remarkable collection of what the leaders in the Church throughout the twentieth century have identified as current social questions or issues. The book, however, is for all men and women because it provides a vision of a better world for every human being.
The final document of Vatican II (1962-65) was Gaudium et Spes whose title in English is The Church in the Modern World. In 1967, Pope Paul VI set up a Pontifical Commission (now called Council) for Justice and Peace. The Council published the Compendium in several languages; a quite readable one in the English version. I see the volume as a contemporary sequel 40 years after Gaudium et Spes.
The collection contains three parts and two lengthy indexes. One is an Index of References (pp. 257-282) containing citations of Scripture, Ecumenical Councils, Papal writings and speeches, Documents from Congregations, even International Law. The other is an Analytical Index (pp.283-446) with many topics and cross- references.
Part One in the Compendium makes connections among biblical themes, gospel teachings and what is called the social doctrine or social teaching of the Church. The human person is the center of God's plan for humanity which includes the transcendence of salvation and the autonomy of earthly realities. The Church's mission, then, is to defend the transcendence of the human person and to promote the renewal of social relations.
Evangelization, the preaching and interpreting the Gospel message, becomes more closely connected with the social teaching of the Church. The Gospel values of truth, freedom, justice and love are fostered through the principles, analysis and application of the social teaching about current social realities. The Church invites friendly dialogue with all branches of knowledge in order to learn how to recognize more clearly the issues and the corrective remedies to actual situations. The objective is to enable society to be reconciled in justice and love through an ever new promotion of renewal and reformation.
In several places in the text, the authors note that the Church, at the beginning of the third millennium, is entering a new path based on what it had gradually learned through the previous century from Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum (1891) to the final year of John Paul II's tenure. Vatican II had promoted dialogue and ecumenical discussions. Today all members of the Church are urged to dialogue and cooperate with other citizens in discussing and acting on the pertinent agenda with the help of Catholic social teaching.
The central hinge of the Compendium is found in chapters 3 and 4. In chapter 3, the first of four principles is elaborated and serves as the foundation of the social teaching. The heading is "The Human Person and Human Rights." The human person is created in the image of God, is open to transcendence, deserves respect because of human dignity and freedom. Human rights are based on the recognition of the equal dignity of all peoples.
In chapter four, three principles are cited: the common good with a section on the universal destination of goods; subsidiarity with a section on participation and democracy; and solidarity. Solidarity is both principle and moral virtue as the global world becomes more unified and interdependent.
What is remarkable in Part One is the interwoven foundation in scripture, the plan of salvation, contemporary knowledge, all illuminated and made clearer by faith. The principles, then, are not merely the result of philosophical analysis. They are shaped and honed by biblical understanding and contemporary knowledge. They nourish the imagination to choose wisely and commit to action as a participant in making a better world come into being.
In Part Two, there are seven chapters identifying the multiple social worlds in which we live and act. They are: the family, human work, economic life, the political community, the international community, the issue of safeguarding the environment, and the prormotion of peace. In each chapter, there is recognition of "new things" happening in those social worlds. They raise new questions but also new possibilities for ethical action. A better world is possible and all are invited to participate in innovative and creative ways.
Interconnections are made among the chapters. The family is at the service of its members in learning how to participate actively in social life; society is at the service of the family. Human work is part of a human life. A job for pay enables family members to contribute to and share in the wealth of the society. Everyone has work to do in caring for the environment, in promoting peace and in developing one's creative abilities to enrich the social groups to which the person belongs. Economic life is at the service of man and woman. Private initiatives would be complemented by public initiatives to correct any excesses and exclusions so that all persons can share in the wealth of society. The political community is at the service of civil society in its diversity and variety. The international community is at the service of cooperation for human development throughout the world. Care for the environment is a common responsibility for all men and women. Peace is the fruit of justice and love, a common responsibility in all the social relations of men and women.
On the page announcing Part Three of the Compendium is a quotation from John Paul II: "...the social message of the Gospel must not be considered a theory, but above all else a basis and a motivation for action" (Centesimus Annus, 57). What follows is one chapter, "Social Doctrine and Ecclesial Action"(21 pp.) and the Conclusion (5 pp.). While brief in length, this section looks inward to pastoral action and the commitment of the "lay faithful", but It also looks forward to the future with a rich but condensed outline of tasks to be accomplished. I will comment on selected highlights that need further clarification and adaptation. Before I do, it is important to say that the Compendium is not a Catechism of what to do and what not to do. It is a collection of tools to use in dialogue with others as one decides what ethical actions should be taken to correct existing social situations.
Vatican II had celebrated the church as the people of God with an equality of the membership based on the initiations in baptism. While a small number become ordained and some others are members of religious communities, together we are one people and all of us have the responsibility toward the new emphasis of social evangelization. In several texts of the Compendium, all the people are invited to enter a new stage of history in missionary dynamism. As I understand it, the mission respects the religious freedom of all participants as the Gospel is cited and shared through the relevant social teaching in addressing current social issues.
The text refers to a Christian anthropology which "supports the pastoral task of inculturation"(p. 230). There is ambiguity when looking at how anthropologists use acculturation, the process of learning a second or subsequent culture often with unpredictable outcomes; or enculturation as the young learn the culture of the people where they are born, what the sociologist calls the internalization of the culture or the socialization of the child. What direction is the pastoral task: to teach or to learn from the people? Is there a danger that the social teaching is couched in eurocentric language and not in the language of the people's culture? Or will dialogue equalize the conversation as one interprets and adapts for appropriate action. The text notes a rift between the Gospel and the culture which may be a question of language or a conflict of values. Dialogue requires civil discourse in listening to and learning from one another.
The second part of the chapter has the focus on the laity in their spirituality, their associations but most importantly on "service in various sectors of social life" (pp. 239-249). Vatican II had prepared the ground for greater participation of the laity in the "work of the Church." The text in the Compendium includes more explicit invitations to greater public service of all the members of the people of God at various levels in society: the cultural life, the economy, and active citizenship in political life.
I did not find in the Compendium any recommendation for renewal and reform of the Church as an organization. The inclusion of all members in the pastoral activity and public service may in the future be the basis for transforming the social world of the Church. Yet, as the Catholic Church becomes more global in its membership, even pluralistic in its "inculturation of the faith" on different continents, there will be the need for internal dialogue. Its own excellent social teaching could be adapted at every level of the Church for frequent renewal and occasional reform. Indeed, how well do the organizations express and manifest the objectives and values in Catholic social teaching? The Church calls itself a pilgrim people at the dawn of the third millennium. In taking a new path toward an integral and solidary humanism it is open to dialogue with all branches of knowledge and with men and women everywhere in the world. It wants to become a learning Church as it shares its teachings. It also wants to find a new "public" voice in the 21st Century through its members around the world, especially about the new things that are happening and the new possibilities for improving the situations of men and women throughout the world.
Catholic social teaching is offered as a help to modern man to engage in dialogue and cooperation in building a better world. The entire collection fosters motivation that leads to ethical action of service in social life. It is an invitation to a new beginning. The social teaching is neither ideological nor utopian thinking. It is knowledge illuminated by faith leading to action.
I commend the Compendium's authors and publisher for the useful collection. They also note that there will be updates of the text because they are dealing with historical realities that are continually changing.