Major Documents                    

Modern Catholic social teaching is the body of social principles and moral teaching that is articulated in the papal, conciliar, and other official documents issued since the late nineteenth century and dealing with the economic, political, and social order. This teaching is rooted in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures as well as in traditional philosophical and theological teachings of the Church.

The following list includes not only the encyclical and conciliar documents that are typically considered to be the core texts, but also some key teaching documents issued by national bishops conferences and Vatican congregations, documents which contribute to the ongoing development of Catholic social teaching.

For a more extensive list of official Church documents, see this link.

For an excellent summary of the major social teachings provided by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, see this link.

Rerum Novarum  (On the Condition of Labor)  --  Pope Leo XIII, 1891

Official Text     Notable quotations     Bibliography    Text in Spanish     Online Concordance
This seminal work on modern Catholic social thought addresses the plight of the industrial workers in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. It calls for the protection of the weak and the poor through the persuit of justice while excluding socialism and class struggle as legitimate principles of change. It affirms the dignity of work, the right to private property, and the right to form and join professional associations.

Quadragesimo Anno  (After Forty Years)  --  Pope Pius XI, 1931

Official text     Notable quotations     Bibliography    Text in Spanish     Online concordance    
Writing in response to the alarming concentration of wealth and power in the socio-economic realm, Pius XI calls for the reestablishment of a social order based on the principle of subsidiarity. In commemorating the 40th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, this encyclical reaffirms the need for a social order animated by justice.

Mater et Magistra   (Christianity and Social Progress)  --  Pope John XXIII, 1961

Official text     Notable quotations     Bibliography    Text in Spanish     Online Concordance     Text on Vatican web site
Applying the teachings of his predecessors to modern problems, and affirming the role of the Church as a teacher, and as a nurturing guardian of the poor and oppressed, John XXIII calls for a greater awareness of the need for all peoples to live as one community with a common good. Special attention is focused on the plight of the farmers and farm workers in depressed rural, agricultural economies.

Pacem in Terris   (Peace on Earth)  --  Pope John XXIII, 1963

Official text     Notable quotations     Bibliography    Text in Spanish     Online Concordance    
Covering the entire spectrum of relations between individuals, between the individual and the community, and between nations, John XXIII affirms the inviolability of human rights. Peace, based on mutual trust, can be well-founded only if undergirded by a unity of right order in human affairs arising from a genuine respect for and adherence to the law of God.

Gaudium et Spes  (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World)

Vatican Council II, 1965

Part One     Part Two     Notable quotations     Bibliography    Online Concordance      
Calling for a new sense of service by the Church in a rapidly changing world, the Council presents the ethical framework of the Church's commitment to pastoral work in the world. This servant Church addresses itself to the real concerns and problems faced by Christians living in the modern age and calls for a development based on an unqualified accceptance of the inherent dignity of the human person.

Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples)  --  Pope Paul VI, 1967

Official text     Notable quotations     Bibliography    Text in Spanish     Online Concordance    
Calling attention to the worsening marginalization of the poor, Paul VI presents the various dimensions of an integral human development and the necessary conditions for growth in the solidarity of peoples. Only with an accompanying theological reflection on liberation from injustice and genuine human values can there be true development towards a more human condition.

Octogesima Adveniens  (A Call to Action)  --  Pope Paul VI, 1971

Official text     Notable quotations     Bibliography    Text in Spanish     Online Concordance    
Realizing the need for a genuine renewal in domestic and international societal structures, Paul VI calls on Christians to live up to the duty of participation in social and political reform as a way of discovering the truth and living out the Gospel.

Justicia in Mundo (Justice in the World) -- Synod of Bishops, 1971

Official text     Notable quotations     Bibliography
Calling attention to the structural roots of injustice afflicting human relations, the Bishops declare that action in the pursuit of justice, and participation in the transformation of the world are constitutive elements in the Church's mission of preaching the Gospel.

Laborem Exercens  (On Human Work)  --  Pope John Paul II, 1981

Official text     Notable quotations     The document in everyday language    Text in Spanish     Online Concordance     Bibliography
Exhorting Christians everywhere to be involved in the transformation of existing socio-economic systems, John Paul II presents work as a fundamental dimension of human existence through which the "social question" must be viewed. The meaning of work can only be properly understood when the dignity of labor is taken as an underlying premise.

Solicitudo Rei Socialis  (On Social Concern)  --  Pope John Paul II, 1987

Official text     Notable quotations     The document in everyday language   Text in Spanish     Online Concordance     Bibliography
Expanding on the notion of development in Populorum Progressio, John Paul II reviews the state of world development in the past two decades. The moral nature of development leading humanity to the "fullness of being" is emphasized. 

Centesimus Annus  (The Hundredth Year)  --  Pope John Paul II, 1991

Official text     Notable quotations     The document in everyday language    Text in Spanish     Online Concordance     Bibliography

Evangelium Vitae  (The Gospel of Life)  --  Pope John Paul II, 1995

Official text     Notable quotations     The document in everyday language    Text in Spanish     Online Concordance

Fides et Ratio  (Faith and Reason)  --  Pope John Paul II, 1998

Official text     Text in Spanish     Online Concordance

Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love)  --  Pope Benedict XVI, 2005

Official text     Text in Spanish    

Sacramentum Caritatis (Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist)  --  Pope Benedict XVI, 2007

Official text        

Caritas in Veritate  (In Charity and Truth)  --  Pope Benedict XVI, 2009

Official text     Text in Spanish    

Other Papal and Vatican Statements of Note

The Participation of Catholics in Political Life-- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2002

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, The Vatican, 1992
Selection from Part 3     Notable Quotations     Online Concordance
Complete official text of the Catechism

Selected U.S. Bishops' Statements

Program of Social Reconstruction 1919
Pastoral Letter of 1919

Brothers and Sisters to Us 1979
Capital Punishment, 1980

The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response, 1983        
       Part 1     Part 2      

Economic Justice All, 1986        
       Official Text     Notable Quotations 
Socially  Responsible Investing, 1991
The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace, 1993
A Reflection of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Tenth Anniversary of The Challenge of Peace

Communities of Salt and Light, 1993
       Notable Quotations        

A Decade after Economic Justice for All 1996
Called to Global Solidarity, 1997
Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions, 1998
       Notable Quotations 
Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice

Other Statements of Note

The Common Good and the Catholic Church's Social Teaching
Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, 1996
This Land is Home to Me, Appalachian Catholic Bishops, 1975

Looking for more in the way of commentaries etc.?

Try our reading list.

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