Reading Octogesim Advenins through Liberation and Development

Reading Octogesim Advenins through Liberation and Development

Dr. Paul Hwang – Director of ALL Forum

After the General Assembly of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) in Medellin, Columbia, (1968), Pope Paul VI published in 1971 an important document on social issues, Octogesim Advenins, or the “Eightieth Anniversary”, as a response to the Medellin conference which seemed to influence the pope in a significant way. It is the papal letter commemorating the 80th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum. The letter refers to his another encyclical Populorum Pregressio (1967) or “On Development of the Peoples” in several places, but with a different perspective. It shows its relationship with Gaudium et Spes (1965), one of most important documents of Vatican II; the subsequent Populorum Pregressio, which focuses on an integral development and the Medellin document which emphasizes on liberation. The paragraphs 5 and 6  of Octogesim Advenins illustrate this well:

“Since the period in which the encyclical Rerum Novarum denounced in a forceful and imperative manner the scandal of the condition of the workers in the nascent industrial society, historical evolution has led to an awareness of other dimensions and other applications of social justice. The encyclicals Quadragesimo Anno and Mater et Magistra already noted this fact. The recent Council for its part took care to point them out, in particular in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes. We ourself have already continued these lines of thought in our encyclical Populorum Progressio. ‘Today’, we said, ‘the principal fact that we must all recognize is that the social question has become worldwide’.” (no.5)

“It will moreover be for the forthcoming Synod of Bishops itself to study more closely and to examine in greater detail the Church’s mission in the face of grave issues raised today by the question of justice in the world.”(no.6)

Pope Paul VI asserts “development is a new name for peace” in his Populorum Pregressio. The Pope believes that a beneficial development for all is the way to respond to the demand for justice at the global level, and that if justice at the global level is implemented, peace can be achieved in the world. In 1967, Paul VI established the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace to practice development and peace. He consciously addressed some of the political issues involved in choosing and implementing a fair social order, focusing on political issues that lay in the economic crisis. Therefore, it attempted to balance development and liberation. The Saint pope also institutionalized a synod of bishops to specifically support the Vatican II’s decision and to determine follow-up measures. In 1971, the bishops’ synod published “Justice in the World”, one of the most significant document in the area of Catholic Social Teachings or CSTs of the Church especially the theme of social justice. The text emphasizes that “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel.” (no. 6).

Many leaders, including bishops, still believed that the way to overcome poverty was through development. The expression ‘liberation through development’ represents an attempt to take into account various situations and prospects. The emphasis on the importance of political activities or involvement expressed in the paragraph 46 of Octogesima Advenins is also seen as an important contribution to CSTs as follows:

“Though it is often a field of confrontation and domination, it can give rise to dialogue and foster cooperation. Yet it runs the risk of taking up too much strength and freedom. This is why the need is felt to pass from economics to politics…. 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.”(no. 46)