Mater et Magistra at 50

From Criterio magazine via Mirada Global:

It is the 50th anniversary of John XXIII’s social encyclical Mater et magistra, published on the 70th anniversary of Rerum Novarum (1891), the document where Leon XIII established the foundations of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Within a fundamental continuity the thought of the Church on social issues has adopted different figures or paradigms throughout the years, partly because of the changes in social reality, partly because of the changes in the underlying theological perspective. In this complex process, Mater et magistra is undoubtedly recognized today as a remarkably innovative text, a true preannouncement of the turn that the Second Vatican Council would stamp on the Social Doctrine of the Church. Until then it had been conceived as a social philosophy alternative to liberalism and socialism, or even as a “third way”, that is, a model of society different from capitalism and communism. John XXIII clearly sees the progressive weakening of the ideologies because of their lack of an adequate anthropology and religious meaning, and therefore understands the danger of conceiving the Social Doctrine of the Church as a closed system, whether under the form of a “Catholic ideology”, or a “Christian society” project. Thus, a new stage is launched, marked by openness and the disposition to dialogue.


This new inspiration is still reflected not so much in the contents but in the style and the methodology of the encyclical. Indeed, in contrast with previous popes, Pope John adopts a direct, familiar, realistic and positive style. He thus puts forward an attitude free from nostalgia, characterized by a serene confidence in the future. Even when he indicates the negative aspects of modern society without the use of euphemisms, he considers it in an essentially appreciative way, and bets on the collaboration with good will men.

At the same time, he avoids the judgement that either side of the ideological spectrum expected, doesn’t get sp involved into theoretical discussions, and prefers to focus on practical issues. That is why in this text we no longer find the well known scheme “negative judgement-positive recommendation”, a sign that the preceding, more “apologetical” figure of the Social Doctrine of the Church was left in the past.

In relation to the methodology of Mater et magistra, it gives wider recognition to the role of science and their importance in order to understand reality (in fact, several of his advisors were sociologists), unlike the more philosophical and deductive accent of previous documents.

Read the rest here. Also available in Spanish.

Tim Reidy


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david power
6 years 1 month ago
As much as I admire Roncalli and think that studying his life would do anybody a whole lot of good there is a problem with reading this text.It was not written by the Pope and so the jargon is not the most enticing.
It has some beautiful phrases and passages  but on the whole it will dissapoint all but the  most studious of people.
Most Papal documents would give any flock of sheep a beating in the putting one to sleep stakes and those under Pope John's time were no different.
"Negative Judgement -positive recommendation" is a very good description of what all papal encyclicals were like before Roncalli took out his famous ruler and said as he measured it against the text something to the effect of "that is 20 inches of nothing but negativity".
St Pius x had great encylicals as did Pacelli.Mit brennender Sorge is a classic that will be read well into history.
I asked Michael Sean Winters a few years ago to write a book of essays on the subject of papal encyclicals .They all need an "updating/aggiornamento". No reply from MSW.
The use of discernment in the article is interesting as it was linked to both Roncalli and Montini but then was replaced in the time of Wojtyla.  The entire gift of discernment was missing from that papacy and has not really been restored under Pope Benedict.
I liked the summing of the Roncalli papacy "confidence in the moral resources of the human heart prevails in the vision of John XXIII, which makes him avoid condemning those who didn’t share his views.". 
Discernment is something that we could all do with a lesson on,I would love for a Jesuit to come on to America and explain to us the Ignation act par excellence. 
we vnornm
6 years ago

Here is a wonderful commentary on Vatican II that can be downlowaded in MS Word format:

It is near the bottom of the list.

tx, bill
david power
6 years ago
Thanks Bill,

I am making my way through it.
Lots to read.

Jim McCrea
6 years ago
I wonder what Bill Buckley would have to say 50 years later.  Probably nothing different, but who knows?


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