Article eight: Poverty and Charity
The Scandal of Poverty
287. For this reason, I wish to call attention to a number of general indicators, without excluding other specific ones. Without going into an analysis of figures and statistics, it is sufficient to face squarely the reality of an innumerable multitude of people children, adults and the elderly in other words, real and unique human persons, who are suffering under the intolerable burden of poverty. There are many millions who are deprived of hope due to the fact that, in many parts of the world, their situation has noticeably worsened. Before these tragedies of total indigence and need, in which so many of our brothers and sisters are living, it is the Lord Jesus himself who comes to question us (cf. Mt 25:31 46).
(Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 13)
288. Looking at all the various sectors the production and distribution of foodstuffs, hygiene, health and housing, availability of drinking water, working conditions (especially for women), life expectancy and other economic and social indicators the general picture is a disappointing one, both considered in itself and in relation to the corresponding data of the more developed countries. The word `gap’ returns spontaneously to mind.
(Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 14)
289. Those who lack fortune’s goods are taught by the Church that, before God as judge, poverty is no disgrace, and that no one should be ashamed because he makes his living by toil. And Jesus Christ has confirmed this by fact and by deed, Who for the salvation of men, being rich, became poor (2 Cor 8:9) and, although He was the Son of God and God Himself, yet He willed to seem and to be thought the son of a carpenter; nay, He even did not disdain to spend a great part of his life at the work of a carpenter. Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary? (Mk 6:3) Those who contemplate this Divine example will more easily understand these truths: True dignity and excellence in men resides in moral living, that is, in virtue; virtue is the common inheritance of man, attainable equally by the humblest and the mightiest, by the rich and the poor; and the reward of eternal happiness will follow upon virtue and merit alone, regardless of the person in whom they may be found. Nay, rather, the favor of God Himself seems to incline more toward the unfortunate as a class; for Jesus Christ calls the poor blessed, and He invites most lovingly all who are in labor or sorrow to come to Him for solace, embracing with special love the lowly and those harassed by injustice. At the realization of these things, the proud spirit of the rich is easily brought down, and the downcast heart of the afflicted is lifted up; the former are moved toward kindness, the latter toward reasonableness in their demands. Thus the distance between the classes, which pride seeks, is seduced, and it will easily be brought to pass that the two classes, with hands clasped in friendship, will be united in heart.
(Rerum Novarum, nn. 23 24)
290. We should add here that in today’s world there are many other forms of poverty. For are there not certain privations or deprivations which deserve this name? The denial or the limitation of human rights as, for example, the right to religious freedom, the right to share in the building of society, the freedom to organize and to form unions, or to take initiatives in economic matters do these not impoverish the human person as much as, if not more than, the deprivation of material goods? And is development which does not take into account the full affirmation of these rights really develop ment on the human level?
(Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 15)
291. The fact is that many people, perhaps the majority today, do not have the means which would enable them to take their place in an effective and humanly dignified way within a productive system in which work is truly central…. Thus, if not actually exploited, they are to a great extent marginalized: economic development takes place over their heads, so to speak, when it does not actually reduce the already narrow scope of their old subsistence economies…. Many other people, while not completely marginalized, live in situations in which the struggle for a bare minimum is uppermost…. Unfortunately, the great majority of people in the Third World still live in such conditions.
(Centesimus Annus, n. 33)
292. In reality, besides commutative justice, there is also social justice with its own set obligations, from which neither employers nor working men can escape. Now it is of the very essence of social justice to demand from each individual all that is necessary for the common good.
(Divini Redemptoris, n. 51)
293. To satisfy the demands of justice and equity, strenuous efforts must be made, without disregarding the rights of persons or the natural qualities of each country, to remove as quickly as possible the immense economic inequalities, which now exist and in many cases are growing and which are connected with individual and social discrimination. Justice and equity likewise require that the mobility, which is necessary in a developing economy, be regulated in such a way as to keep the life of individuals and their families from becoming insecure and precarious. When workers come from another country or district and contribute to the economic advancement of a nation or region by their labor, all discrimination as regards wages and working conditions must be carefully avoided. All the people, moreover, above all, the public authorities, must treat them not as mere tools of production but as persons, and must help them to bring their families to live with them and to provide themselves with a decent dwelling; they must also see to it that these workers are incorporated into the social life of the country or region that receives them. Employment opportunities, however, should be created in their own areas as far as possible. In economic affairs, which today are subject to change, as in the new forms of industrial society in which automation, for example, is advancing, care must be taken that sufficient and suitable work and the possibility of the appropriate technical and professional formation are furnished. The livelihood and the human dignity, especially of those who are in very difficult conditions because of illness or old age, must be guaranteed.
(Gaudium et Spes, n. 66)
294. All of you who have heard the cry of the needy and are trying to meet their needs are the persons we consider the promoters, and, so to speak, the apostles of beneficial and genuine development which, far from consisting in wealth which looks to individual advantage or is sought for its own sake, is rather to be found in an economy adjusted to the welfare of the human person and in daily sustenance provided for all, the source, as it were, of fraternal charity and a clear sign of the help of Divine Providence.
(Populorum Progressio,n. 86)
295. Justice is, at one and the same time, a moral virtue and a legal concept. Sometimes it is represented as a blindfolded figure; ineffect, though, it is the proper task of justice to be clear sighted and vigilant in ensuring the balance between rights and duties, in fostering an equitable sharing of burdens and benefits. Justice makes whole; it does not destroy; it leads to reconciliation, not to revenge. Upon examination, at its deepest level, it is rooted in love, which finds its most significant expression in mercy. Therefore, justice, if separated from merciful love, becomes cold and cutting.
(World Day of Peace Message, 1998, n. 1)
296. But, as we have often stated, the most important duty in the realm of justice is to allow each country to promote its own de velopment, within the framework of a cooperation free from any spirit of domination, whether economic or political. The complexity of the problems raised is certainly great, in the present intertwining of mutual dependencies. Thus it is necessary to have the courage to undertake a revision of the relationships between nations, whether it is a question of the international division of production, the structure of exchanges, the control of profits, the monetary system without forgetting the actions of human solidarity to question the models of growth of the rich nations and change people’s outlooks, so that they may realize the prior call of international duty, and to renew in ternational organizations so that they may increase in effectiveness.
(Octogesima Adveniens, n. 43)
297. True mercy is, so to speak, the most profound source of justice. If justice is in itself suitable for arbitration between people
concerning the reciprocal distribution of objective goods in an equitable manner, love and only love (including that kindly love we call mercy) is capable of restoring man to himself. Mercy that is truly Christian is also, in a certain sense, the most perfect incarnation of equality between people and therefore also the most perfect incarnation of justice as well, insofar as justice aims at the same result in its own sphere. However, the equality brought by justice is limited to the realm of objective and extrinsic goods, while love and mercy bring it about that people meet one another in that value which is man himself, with the dignity that is proper to him. At the same time, equality of people through patient and kind love does not take away differences….
(Dives in Misericordia, n. 14)
298. All experts in social problems are seeking eagerly a structure so fashioned in accordance with the norms of reason that it can lead economic life back to sound and right order. But this order, which We Ourselves ardently long for and with all Our efforts promote, will be wholly defective and incomplete unless all the activities of men harmoniously unite to imitate and attain, in so far as it lies within human strength, the marvelous unity of the Divine plan. We mean that perfect order which the Church, with great force and power, preaches, and which right human reason itself demands, that all things be directed to God as the first and supreme end of all created activity, and that all created good under God be considered as mere instruments to be used only in so far as they conduce to the attainment of the supreme end. Nor is it to be thought that gainful occupations are thereby belittled or judged less consonant with human dignity; on the contrary, we are taught to recognize in them with reverence the manifest will of the Divine Creator Who placed man upon the earth to work it and use it in a multitude of ways for his needs. Those who are engaged in producing goods, therefore, are not forbidden to in crease their fortune in a just and lawful manner; for it is only fair that he who renders service to the community and makes it richer should also, through the increased wealth of the community, be made richer himself according to his position, provided that all these things be sought with due respect for the laws of God and without impairing the rights of others, and that they be employed in accordance with faith and right reason. If these principles are observed by everyone, everywhere, and always, not only the production and acquisition of goods but also the use of wealth, which now is seen to be so often contrary to right order, will be brought back soon within the bounds of equity and just distribution. The sordid love of wealth, which is the shame and great sin of our age, will be opposed in actual fact by the gentle yet effective law of Christian moderation which commands man to seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice, with the assurance that, by virtue of God’s kindness and unfailing promise, temporal goods also, in so far as he has need of them, shall be given him besides.
(Quadragesimo Anno, n. 136)
299. Our contemporaries are coming to feel these inequalities with an ever sharper awareness, since they are thoroughly convinced that the ampler technical and economic possibilities which the world of today enjoys can and should correct this unhappy state of affairs. Hence, many reforms in the socioeconomic realm and a change of mentality and attitude are required of all. For this reason, the Church down through the centuries and in the light of the Gospel has worked out the principles of justice and equity demanded by right reason both for individual and social life and for international life, and she has proclaimed them especially in recent times. This sacred council intends to strengthen these principles according to the circumstances of this age and to set forth certain guidelines, especially with regard to the requirements of economic development.
(Gaudium et Spes,n. 63)
Charity and the Preferential Option for the Poor
300. Charity is the greatest social commandment. It respects others and their rights. It requires the practice of justice, and it alone makes us capable of it. Charity inspires a life of self giving: Who ever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it (Lk 17:33).
(CCC, n. 1889)
301. It will not be superfluous therefore to reexamine and further clarify in this light the characteristic themes and guidelines dealt with by the Magisterium in the recent years. Here I would like to indicate one of them: the preferential option or love of preference for the poor. This is an option, a special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness. It affects the life of each Christian inasmuch as he or she seeks to imitate the life of Christ, but it applies equally to our social responsibilities and hence to our manner of living, and to the logical decisions to be made concerning our ownership and the use of goods.
(Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 42)
302. Rereading the encyclical [Rerum Novarum] in the light of contemporary realities enables us to appreciate the Church’s constant concern for and dedication to categories of people who are especially beloved to the Lord Jesus. The content of the text is an excellent testimony to the continuity within the Church of the so called preferential option for the poor, an option which I defined as a special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity (SRS,n. 42).
(Centesimus Annus, n. 11)
303. In seeking to promote human dignity, the Church shows a preferential love of the poor and voiceless, because the Lord has identified himself with them in special way (cf. Mt 25:40). This love excludes no one, but simply embodies a priority of service to which the whole Christian tradition bears witness. This love of preference for the poor, and the decisions which it inspires in us, cannot but embrace the immense multitudes of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without medical care and, above all, those without hope of a better future.
(Ecclesia in Asia, n. 34)
304. The Church’s love of preference for the poor is wonderfully inscribed in Mary’s Magnificant. The God of the Covenant, celebrated in the exultation of her spirit by the Virgin of Nazareth, is also he who has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly … filled the hungry with good things, sent the rich away empty … scattered the proud hearted … and his mercy is from age to age on those who fear him (Lk 4:18). Mary is deeply imbued with the spirit of the poor of Yahweh, who in the prayer of the Psalms awaited from God their salvation, placing all their trust in him (cf. Ps25; 31; 35; 55).
(Redemptoris Mater, n. 37)
305. If a brother or a sister be naked, says Saint James, if they lack their daily nourishment, and one of you says to them:`Goin peace, be warmed and be filled,’ without giving them what is necessary for the body, what good does it do? (Jas 2:15 16) Today no one can be ignorant any longer of the fact that in whole continents countless men and women are ravished by hunger, countless numbers of children are undernourished, so that many of them die in infancy, while the physical growth and mental development of many others are retarded and, as a result, whole regions are condemned to the most depressing despondency.
(Populorum Progressio, n. 45)
306. And yet many today go so far as to condemn the Church as the ancient pagans once did, for such outstanding charity, and would substitute in lieu thereof a system of benevolence established by the laws of the State. But no human devices can ever be found to supplant Christian charity, which gives itself entirely for the benefit of others. This virtue belongs to the Church alone, for, unless it is derived from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, it is in no wise a virtue; and whosoever departs from the Church wanders far from Christ.
(Rerum Novarum, n. 30)
307. As can be readily deduced, and as the Church has always seriously warned, it is proper that the duty of helping the poor and unfortunate should especially stir Catholics, since they are members of the Mystical Body of Christ. In this we have come to know the love of God, said John the Apostle, that He laid down His life for us, and we likewise ought to lay down our life for the brethren. He who has the goods of this world and sees his brother in need and closes his heart to him, how does the love of God abide in him? (1Jn 3:16 17)
(Mater et Magistra, n. 159)
The Welfare State
308. In exceptional circumstances the State can also exercise a substitute function, when sectors or business systems are too weak or are just getting under way, and are not equal to the task at hand. Such supplementary interventions, which are justified by urgent reasons touching the common good, must be as brief as possible, so as to avoid removing permanently from society and business systems the functions which are properly theirs, and so as to avoid enlarging excessively the sphere of State intervention to the detriment of both economic and civil freedom. In recent years the range of such intervention has vastly expanded, to the point of creating a new type of state, the so called `Welfare State.’ This has happened in some countries in order to respond better to many needs and demands, by remedying forms of poverty and deprivation unworthy of the human person. However, excesses and abuses, especially in recent years, have provoked very harsh criticisms of the Welfare State, dubbed the `Social Assistance State.’ Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State. Here again 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. By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbors to those in need. It should be added that certain kinds of demands often call for a response which is not simply material but which is capable of perceiving the deeper human need. One thinks of the condition of refugees, immigrants, the elderly, the sick, and all those in circumstances which call for assistance, such as drug abusers: all these people can be helped effectively only by those who offer them genuine fraternal support, in addition to the necessary care.
(Centesimus Annus,n. 48)
309. If Pope Leo XIII calls upon the State to remedy the condition of the poor in accordance with justice, he does so because of his timely awareness that the state has the duty of watching over the common good and of ensuring that every sector of social life, not excluding the economic one, contributes to achieving that good, while respecting the rightful autonomy of each sector. This should not, however, lead us to think that Pope Leo expected the state to solve every soci al problem. On the contrary, he frequently insists on necessary limits to the State’s intervention and on its instrumental character, inasmuch as the State exists in order to protect their rights and not stifle them.
(Centesimus Annus, n. 11)
310. It is not right, as We have said, for either the citizen or the family to be absorbed by the State; it is proper that the individual and the family should be permitted to retain their freedom of action, as far as this is possible without jeopardizing the common good and without injuring anyone. Nevertheless, those who govern must see to it that they protect the community and its constituent parts: the community, because nature has entrusted its safeguarding to the sovereign power in the State to such an extent that the protection of the public welfare is not only the supreme law, but is the entire reason and cause for sovereignty.
(Rerum Novarum, n. 35)