Social Justice in Quadragesimo Anno I

Social Justice in Quadragesimo Anno I

by Dr. Paul Hwang –   Director of ALL Forum

Historical background

ALL Forum has been holding an online course on major documents of Pope Francis including ALL Brothers or Fratelli Tutti for Indonesian Catholics including youth.

Mentioned in one session already, Fratelli Tutti has a historical background similar to Pope Pius XI’s 40th Anniversary or Quardragesimo Anno (1931). The latter was published for the 40th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891), which marks the 130th anniversary this year. The first papal document which what we called “Catholic Social Teachings” is a good example of social doctrine.

The 40th Anniversary came almost immediately after the Great Depression (1930), in a situation of fascism in Italy that was Mussolini’s iron fist rule and Hitler’s rush to power in Germany. The encyclical is Pius XI’s attempt to stop the ‘bomb’ called World War II. The background and meaning of the document and Fratelli Tutti which is the most comprehensive of Pope Francis’ documents so far is remarkably similar.

Major Issues

Pius XI criticized both free market capitalism and communism, and sought ‘a third way’ based on traditional Catholic social teachings. Pius XI suggested corporatist structures in place in Italy at that time as the third way between socialism and capitalism. He trusted that such corporatist associations or organizations had the advantages of “peaceful collaboration of the classes, repression of socialist organizations and efforts, the moderating authority of a special ministry.” (no. 95). It introduced the term ‘social justice’ into the social teachings, using it to describe

the just relationships between groups in society required by recognition of the demands of the common good (no. 57-58).

“To each, therefore, must be given his own share of goods, and the distribution of created goods, which, as every discerning person knows, is laboring today under the gravest evils due to the huge disparity between the few exceedingly rich and the unnumbered propertyless, must be effectively called back to and brought into conformity with the norms of the common good, that is, social justice.” (no.58)

Another important contribution is its formal articulation of the principle of subsidiarity in Catholic Social Teachings as follows:

“Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.” (no.79)

Lastly, Pius XI’s encouragement of laymen’s participation both inside and outside the church by formulating Catholic Action in Quardragesimo Anno and particularly his document called Divini Redemptoris (1937) which more clearly and formally recognized the Catholic Action. That would be compared to the Pope Francis’ statement of the “popular movements” as “social poets” (no.169) in the Fratelli Tutti which we will dig into in the next issue.