8.2.6 Chap. 6: ‘Man Is the Way of the Church’
Back to 8.2.5
In Unit 7, I noted that it is baffling that the Vatican continues to use gender-exclusive language in its teaching documents, at least in English translations (7.2.1, n.1). In part, Centesimus Annus is an exception to this as it explicitly refers to ‘men and women’ (or equivalents) at some points where gender-exclusive language could have been used (e.g. ##7, 12, 22, 59).
This makes it surprising that in English its final chapter has the heading above. This is especially for two reasons. First, the official Latin text uses the standard generic term for ‘human being’, homo, in that heading.1 Second, the English translation goes on to speak eloquently and powerfully about “humanity” and “the human person”, using these words to translate cognates of homo. For the title, “Man is the way of the Church”, read “Humanity is the way of the Church”. This puts across the chapter’s content well.
As the final part of this encyclical that marks the centenary of the founding document of modern CST, chapter 6 does three things:
- It summarises some of the affirmations that are central in CST. The first section, speaking of commitment to the human person, says: “This, and this alone, is the principle which inspires the Church’s social doctrine” (#53).
- It reflects further on Rerum Novarum.
- It emphasises that “the social message of the Gospel [is] above all else a basis and a motivation for action” (#57). Possibly these words will ring a bell, as they were quoted at the very start of the module (1.1.1).
Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus,
Chapter 6, ‘Man Is the Way of the Church‘
Did you notice that Pope John Paul thanks such people as you who are studying this module, as well as its writer? “I wish to thank all… who have devoted themselves to studying, expounding and making better known Christian social teaching” (#56). There’s an encouragement!
What is (a) striking, and (b) new to you in CA’s final chapter?
Here are three things I find especially striking:
(i) In #56, the Pope gives contrasting emphases in relation to former Communist countries and to Western states. This is worth quoting:
In particular, I wish this teaching to be made known and applied in the countries which, following the collapse of “Real Socialism”, are experiencing a serious lack of direction in the work of rebuilding. The Western countries, in turn, run the risk of seeing this collapse as a one-sided victory of their own economic system, and thereby failing to make necessary corrections in that system.
This statement surely summarizes the fundamental concerns that Pope John Paul brought to the writing of CA.
(ii) There is a very obvious stress on the ‘preferential option for the poor’. The chapter starts with a reminder that it was “the poverty of the working class” that drove Pope Leo XIII to write Rerum Novarum. CST’s orientation to “love for the poor, in whom the Church sees Christ himself”, then is the focus of ##57-58. John Paul emphasizes that this requires, not only ‘giving from one’s surplus’, but “above all a change of lifestyles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power which today govern societies”. If you have done Unit 5, that statement will bring to mind study of ‘structures of sin’ there.
(iii) John Paul refers explicitly to the development of CST gradually over time (#53). This is significant for two reasons. First, it implies that CST did not emerge at one moment, pristine and fully complete, as though a new car from a production line. Rather, at each stage the statements that now make up CST addressed just some of the possible issues.
Second, the fact that CST develops gradually over time invites us to think critically about it. Even though Centesimus Annus itself made a major contribution to modern CST being systematic, CST does not claim to be complete. The Compendium also makes this clear, as we saw earlier in this unit (8.1.3). So we can think about where CST is up to at any point in time. What has it addressed and what has it not given much attention to? What could benefit from clarification? Are there topics on which development is necessary, perhaps urgently?
These questions make a good cue for turning to the task of critical assessment of CST, which we do in the following, third part of this unit.
End of 8.2.6
Copyright © Newman University. If you wish to quote from this page, see Citation Information. N.B. If you are a student and make use of material on this page in an assignment, you are obliged to reference the source in line with the citation information.
The title in Latin is ‘Via est ecclesiae homo’. As noted in 7.2.1 n. 1, homo connotes ‘human being’ (which is reflected in the etymological connection of homo and human). In contrast, vir means ‘man’ (male human being) and mulier ‘woman’. There are not two English terms with equivalent semantic ranges as homo and vir. Latin has further words for male, marem, and female, feminam. ↩