Common Good and Community

It is imperative that no one...indulge in a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfill one's obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good according to one's means and the needs of others, and also to promote and help public and private organizations devoted to bettering the conditions of life.

Gaudium et Spes ("The Church in the Modern World"), Vatican II, 1965 #30

Now a State chiefly prospers and thrives through moral rule, well-regulated family life, respect for religion and justice, the moderation and fair imposing of public taxes, the progress of the arts and of trade, the abundant yield of the land-through everything, in fact, which makes the citizens better and happier. Hereby, then, it lies in the power of a ruler to benefit every class in the State, and amongst the rest to promote to the utmost the interests of the poor; and this in virtue of his office, and without being open to suspicion of undue interference – since it is the province of the commonwealth to serve the common good.

Rerum Novarum (“On the Condition of Labor and the Working Classes”), Pope Leo XIII, 1891 #32.


 

We have said that the State must not absorb the individual or the family; both should be allowed free and untrammelled action so far as is consistent with the common good and the interest of others. Rulers should, nevertheless, anxiously safeguard the community and all its members.

Rerum Novarum (“On the Condition of Labor and the Working Classes”), Pope Leo XIII, 1891 #32.


 

Once more, however, we must emphasize the need of laying a sure foundation in the individual mind and conscience. Upon the integrity of each, upon his personal observance of justice and charity, depends the efficacy of legislation and of all endeavor for the common good. Our aim, therefore, should be, not to multiply laws and restrictions, but to develop such a spirit as will enable us to live in harmony under the simplest possible form, and only the necessary amount, of external regulation. Democracy, understood as self-government, implies that the people as a whole shall rule themselves.

Pastoral Letter of 1919, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1919 “Education.”


 

Just freedom of action must … be left both to individual citizens and to families, yet only on condition that the common good be preserved and wrong to any individual be abolished. The function of the rulers of the State is to watch over the community and its parts; but in protecting private individuals in their rights, chief consideration ought to be given to the weak and the poor.

Quadragesimo Anno (“After Forty Years”), Pope Pius XI, 1931 #25


 

The riches that economic-social developments constantly increase ought to be so distributed among individual persons and classes that the common advantage of all, which Leo XIII had praised, will be safeguarded; in other words, that the common good of all society will be kept inviolate.

Quadragesimo Anno (“After Forty Years”), Pope Pius XI, 1931 #57


 

As for the State, its whole raison d’etre is the realization of the common good in the temporal order. It cannot, therefore, hold aloof from economic matters…It has also the duty to protect the rights of all its people, and particularly of its weaker members, the workers, women and children. It can never be right for the State to shirk its obligation of working actively for the betterment of the condition of the workingman.

Mater et Magistra (“Mother and Teacher”), Pope John XXIII, 1961 #20


 

[A] sane view of the common good must be present and operative in men invested with public authority. They must take account of all those social conditions which favor the full development of human[ity]. Moreover, We consider it altogether vital that the numerous intermediary bodies and corporate enterprises–which are, so to say, the main vehicle of this social growth, be really autonomous, and loyally collaborate in pursuit of their own specific interests and those of the common good. For these groups must themselves necessarily present the form and substance of a true community, and this will only be the case if they treat their individual members as human persons and encourage them to take an active part in the ordering of their lives.

Mater et Magistra (“Mother and Teacher”), Pope John XXIII, 1961#65


 

The common good embraces the sum total of all those conditions of social life which enable individuals, families, and organizations to achieve complete an effective fulfillment.

Mater et Magistra (“Mother and Teacher”), Pope John XXIII, 1961 #74


 

Every day, human interdependence grows more tightly drawn and spreads by degrees over the whole world. As a result the common good, that is, the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment, today takes on an increasingly universal complexion and consequently involves rights and duties with respect to the whole human race. Every social group must take account of the needs and legitimate aspirations of other groups, and even of the general welfare of the entire human family.

Gaudium et Spes (“The Church in the Modern World”), Vatican II, 1965 #26


 

It is imperative that no one…indulge in a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfill one’s obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good according to one’s means and the needs of others, and also to promote and help public and private organizations devoted to bettering the conditions of life.

Gaudium et Spes (“The Church in the Modern World”), Vatican II, 1965 #30


 

Christians must be conscious of their specific and proper role in the political community; they should be a shining example by their sense of responsibility and their dedication to the common good; they should show in practice how authority can be reconciled with freedom, personal initiative with solidarity and the needs of the social framework as a whole, and the advantages of unity with the benefits of diversity.

Gaudium et Spes (“The Church in the Modern World”), Vatican II, 1965 #75


 

Individual citizens and intermediate groups are obliged to make their specific contributions to the common welfare. One of the chief consequences of this is that they must bring their own interests into harmony with the needs of the community, and must contribute their goods and their services as civil authorities have prescribed, in accord with the norms of justice and within the limits of their competence.

Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”), Pope John XXIII, 1963#53


 

… the whole reason for the existence of civil authorities is the realization of the common good.

Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”), Pope John XXIII, 1963#54


 

Moreover, if we carefully consider the essential nature of the common good on the one hand, and the nature and function of public authority on the other, everyone sees that there is an intrinsic connection between the two. And, indeed, just as the moral order needs public authority to promote the common good in civil society, a likewise demands that public authority actually be able to attain it.

Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”), Pope John XXIII, 1963 #136


 

Today the universal common good poses problems of worldwide dimensions, which cannot be adequately tackled or solved except by the efforts of public authority endowed with a wideness of powers, structure and means of the same proportions: that is, of public authority which is in a position to operate in an effective manner on a world-wide basis.

Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”), Pope John XXIII, 1963 #137


 

We know, however, that a revolutionary uprising–save where there is manifest, long-standing tyranny which would do great damage to fundamental personal rights and dangerous harm to the common good of the country–produces new injustices, throws more elements out of balance and brings on new disasters. A real evil should not be fought against at the cost of greater misery.

Populorum Progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”), Pope Paul VI, 1967 #31


 

Excessive economic, social and cultural inequalities among peoples arouse tensions and conflicts, and are a danger to peace…To wage war on misery and to struggle against injustice is to promote, along with improved conditions, the human and spiritual progress of all men, and therefore the common good of humanity.

Populorum Progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”), Pope Paul VI, 1967 #76


 

The members of the Church, as members of society, have the same right and duty to promote the common good as do other citizens. Christians ought to fulfil their temporal obligations with fidelity and competence. They should act as a leaven in the world, in their family, professional, social, cultural and political life.

Justicia in Mundo (“Justice in the World”), World Synod of Catholic Bishops, 1971 #38


 

Political power, which is the natural and necessary link for ensuring the cohesion of the social body, must have as its aim the achievement of the common good. While respecting the legitimate liberties of individuals, families and subsidiary groups, it acts in such a way as to create, effectively and for the well-being of all, the conditions required for attaining humanity’s true and complete good, including spiritual ends.

Octogesima Adveniens (“A Call to Action”), Pope Paul VI, 1971 #46


 

The obligation to “love our neighbor” has an individual dimension, but it also requires a broader social commitment to the common good. We have many partial ways to measure and debate the health of our economy: Gross National Product, per capita income, stock market prices, and so forth. The Christian vision of economic life looks beyond them all and asks, Does economic life enhance or threaten our life together as a community?

Economic Justice for All, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986 #14.


 

For this reason, it is all the more significant that the teachings of the Church insist that government has a moral function: protecting human rights and securing basic justice for all members of the commonwealth. Society as a whole and in all its diversity is responsible for building up the common good. But it is the government’s role to guarantee the minimum conditions that make this rich social activity possible, namely, human rights and justice. This obligation also falls on individual citizens as they choose their representatives and participate in shaping public opinion.

Economic Justice for All, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1986 #122


 

It is timely to mention and it is no exaggeration that a leadership role among nations can only be justified by the possibility and willingness to contribute widely and generously to the common good. If a nation were to succumb more or less deliberately to the temptation to close in upon itself and failed to meet the responsibilities following from its superior position in the community of nations, it would fall seriously short of its clear ethical duty.

Solicitudo Rei Socialis (“On Social Concern”), Pope John Paul II, 1987 #23.


 

It is important to note therefore that a world which is divided unto blocs, sustained by rigid ideologies, and in which instead of interdependence and solidarity different forms of imperialism hold sway, can only be a world subject to structures of sin. The sum total of the negative factors working against a true awareness of the universal common good, and the need to further it, gives the impression of creating, in persons and institutions, an obstacle which is difficult to overcome.

Solicitudo Rei Socialis (“On Social Concern”), Pope John Paul II, 1987 #36.


 

Surmounting every type of imperialism and determination to preserve their own hegemony, the stronger and richer nations must have a sense of moral responsibility for the other nations, so that a real international system may be established which will rest on the foundation of the equality of all peoples and on the necessary respect for their legitimate differences. The economically weaker countries, or those still at subsistence level, must be enabled, with the assistance of other peoples and of the international community, to make a contribution of their own to the common good with their treasures of humanity and culture, which otherwise would be lost for ever.

Solicitudo Rei Socialis (“On Social Concern”), Pope John Paul II, 1987 #39.


 

Work thus belongs to the vocation of every person; indeed, a human being expresses and fulfills himself by working. At the same time, work has a “social” dimension through its intimate relationship not only to the family, but also to the common good, since “it may truly be said that it is only by the labor of working men that states grow rich.”

Centesimus Annus (“The Hundredth Year”), Pope John Paul II, 1991 #6.


 

The principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.

Centesimus Annus (“The Hundredth Year”), Pope John Paul II, 1991 #48.


 

For [peoples which are presently excluded or marginalized to enter into the sphere of economic and human development], it is not enough to draw on the surplus goods which in fact our world abundantly produces; it requires above all a change of lifestyles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power which today govern societies. Nor is it a matter of eliminating instruments of social organization which have proved useful, but rather of orienting them according to an adequate notion of the common good in relation to the whole human family.

Centesimus Annus (“The Hundredth Year”) Pope John Paul II, 1991 #58.


 

To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. A society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized.

Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), Pope John Paul II, 1995 #101.


 

All human beings have unique talents, gifts from God that we are called to develop and share. We should celebrate this diversity. People who use their skills and expertise for the common good, the service of others, and the protection of creation, are good stewards of the gifts they have been given. When we labor with honesty, serve those in need, work for justice and contribute to charity, we use our talents to show our love–and God’s love–for our brothers and sisters.

Everyday Christianity: To Hunger and Thirst for Justice, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1998 “Called to Justice in Everyday Life.”


 

As citizens in the world’s leading democracy, Catholics in the United States have special responsibilities to protect human life and dignity and to stand with those who are poor and vulnerable. We are also called to welcome the stranger, to combat discrimination, to pursue peace, and to promote the common good. Catholic social teaching calls us to practice civic virtues and offers us principles to shape participation in public life.

Everyday Christianity: To Hunger and Thirst for Justice, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1998 “Called to Justice in Everyday Life.”


 

Those who harm others or damage property must be held accountable for the hurt they have caused. The community has a right to establish and enforce laws to protect people and to advance the common good. At the same time, a Catholic approach does not give up on those who violate these laws. We believe that both victims and offenders are children of God.

Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 2000 “Scriptural, Theological, and Sacramental Heritage.”


 

The social dimension of our teaching leads us to the common good and its relationship to punishment. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, punishment by civil authorities for criminal activity should serve three principal purposes: (1) the preservation and protection of the common good of society, (2) the restoration of public order, and (3) the restoration or conversion of the offender. The concept of “redress,” or repair of the harm done to the victims and to society by the criminal activity, is also important to restoring the common good. This often neglected dimension of punishment allows victims to move from a place of pain and anger to one of healing and resolution. In our tradition, restoring the balance of rights through restitution is an important element of justice.

Reponsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 2000 “The Common Good.”


 

Global climate is by its very nature a part of the planetary commons. The earth’s atmosphere encompasses all people, creatures, and habitats. The melting of ice sheets and glaciers, the destruction of rain forests, and the pollution of water in one place can have environmental impacts elsewhere. As Pope John Paul II has said, “We cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due attention both to the consequences of such interference in other areas and to the well being of future generations.”3 Responses to global climate change should reflect our interdependence and common responsibility for the future of our planet. Individual nations must measure their own self-interest against the greater common good and contribute equitably to global solutions.

Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 2001 #15


 

Catholic social teaching calls for bold and generous action on behalf of the common good. “Interdependence,” as Pope John Paul II has written, “must be transformed into solidarity. . . . Surmounting every type of imperialism and determination to preserve their own hegemony, the stronger and richer nations must have a sense of moral responsibility for the other nations, so that a real international system may be established which will rest on the foundation of the equality of all peoples and on the necessary respect for their legitimate differences.”

Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 2001 #29


 

The Church recognizes the right of a sovereign state to control its borders in furtherance of the common good. It also recognizes the right of human persons to migrate so that they can realize their God-given rights. These teachings complement each other. While the sovereign state may impose reasonable limits on immigration, the common good is not served when the basic human rights of the individual are violated.

Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Conference of Mexican Bishops, 2003 #39.


 

The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice…A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.

Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), Pope Benedict XVI, 2005 #28.


 

The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other hand, is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the State, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity. So they cannot relinquish their participation “in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good.” [21] The mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences and fulfilling their own responsibility.
Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), Pope Benedict XVI, 2005 #29.


 

To love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it. Besides the good of the individual, there is a good that is linked to living in society: the common good. It is the good of “all of us”, made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society. It is a good that is sought not for its own sake, but for the people who belong to the social community and who can only really and effectively pursue their good within it.

Caritas in Veritate (“In Charity and Truth”), Pope Benedict XVI, 2009 #7.


 

In an increasingly globalized society, the common good and the effort to obtain it cannot fail to assume the dimensions of the whole human family, that is to say, the community of peoples and nations, in such a way as to shape the earthly city in unity and peace, rendering it to some degree an anticipation and a prefiguration of the undivided city of God.

Caritas in Veritate (“In Charity and Truth”), Pope Benedict XVI, 2009 #7.


 

Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.

Caritas in Veritate (“In Charity and Truth”), Pope Benedict XVI, 2009 #36.


 

The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies.

Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), Pope Francis, 2013 #203.


 

Peace in society cannot be understood as pacification or the mere absence of violence resulting from the domination of one part of society over others. Nor does true peace act as a pretext for justifying a social structure which silences or appeases the poor, so that the more affluent can placidly support their lifestyle while others have to make do as they can. Demands involving the distribution of wealth, concern for the poor and human rights cannot be suppressed under the guise of creating a consensus on paper or a transient peace for a contented minority. The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges.

Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), Pope Francis, 2013 #218.


 

There is a place for the poor and their culture, their aspirations and their potential. Even people who can be considered dubious on account of their errors have something to offer which must not be overlooked. [A global community] is the convergence of peoples who, within the universal order, maintain their own individuality; it is the sum total of persons within a society which pursues the common good, which truly has a place for everyone.

Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), Pope Francis, 2013 #236.


 

To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute. Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.

Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be”), Pope Francis, 2015 #129.


 

In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters. This option…demands before all else an appreciation of the immense dignity of the poor in the light of our deepest convictions as believers.

Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be”), Pope Francis, 2015 #158.


 

The notion of the common good also extends to future generations. The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us. We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity.

Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be”), Pope Francis, 2015 #159.