|Church's Social Doctrine Sheds Light on Its Meaning
ROME, 15 JAN. 2005 (ZENIT)
Many still keep alive the spiritual message
of Christmas in their families, but the end of holidays, and a return to
work for many, should not mean forgetting about religion. The recently
published Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church dedicates a
chapter to human work, and seeks to explain its deeper meaning.
Heading the chapter is an explanation of what the Bible has to say about
work. In Genesis God entrusts to man the task of exercising dominion
over creation. "Work is part of the original state of man and precedes
his fall; it is therefore not a punishment or curse," the Compendium
notes (No. 256).
Work becomes associated with pain and toil as a result of original sin.
Yet it still should be considered as something worthwhile since it
enables us to provide the material elements we need, the Compendium
At the same time, the Compendium warns against placing work at the apex
of our activities. "Work is essential, but it is God
and not work
who is the origin of life and the final goal of man" (No. 257). In this
context the stipulation of the Sabbath rest is important, because it
gives an opportunity to refocus on God.
In the New Testament one finds the example of Jesus, who carried out the
task of manual work as a carpenter. Jesus decries the servant who hides
his talent in the ground and describes his own mission as that of
working (John 5:17). But Jesus also teaches us to seek the treasures of
heaven that will last, unlike those that are perishable (Mark
Jesus further reveals that work is not only participation in
creation, but also in the work of redemption. "Those who put up with the
difficult rigors of work in union with Jesus cooperate, in a certain
sense, with the Son of God in his work of redemption and show that they
are disciples of Christ bearing his cross" (No. 263).
In fact, as St. Paul teaches, no Christian has the right not to work and
merely to live at the expense of others (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12). The
Apostle Paul encourages Christians to work and then to share the fruits
with others who are in need.
The Compendium delves deeper into what work means for each person. It
has both an objective and subjective dimension. Its objective meaning
refers to the area of activities, instruments and technologies that are
used to produce things. While the subjective sense is related to work as
being the activity of a human person, who carries out work as part of a
personal vocation. "As a person, man is therefore the subject of work"
This subjective aspect of work is vital to a correct understanding of
its value and dignity. Work is not simply the production of a commodity,
but is also the activity of a human person, whose dignity must be
respected. The Compendium adds that the subjective dimension should take
precedence over the objective aspects, "because it is the dimension of
the person himself who engages in work, determining its quality and
consummate value" (No. 271).
Human work also has a social dimension, as an individual's activity is
connected with that of other people. "The fruits of work offer occasions
for exchange, relationship and encounter" (No. 273).
Labor and capital
When it comes to the theme of understanding the relationship between
workers and the material elements of production (capital), the
Compendium repeats the importance of keeping in first place the concept
of work as a subjective or personal task. In fact, in the modern economy
the text notes that there is growing recognition of the value of "human
capital" as an important resource in production.
But, while keeping in place the principle of the priority of the human
person, labor and capital should exist in a relationship of
complementarity, adds the Compendium. Each one needs the other and it
would be wrong to exalt one and forget the contribution of the other.
To this end the Compendium encourages cooperation between work and
capital through such means as participation in management, ownership and
profits. This may be easier in today's world, given that human knowledge
is a more important factor in the economy.
Regarding the cooperation between work and capital the text defends the
right to private property, while also calling to mind the importance of
placing it at the service of all. Both private and public property,
"must be oriented to an economy of service to mankind" (No. 283).
A section of the Compendium is dedicated to explaining what some of the
rights are in the area of human work. For a start, "work is a
fundamental right and a good for all mankind" (No. 287). Work is needed
to support a family and unemployment brings with it many social
problems. Achieving full employment, therefore, remains a key economic
goal. An important means in carrying this out is to provide an adequate
education, which continues throughout the working life, so that people
can find suitable employment.
The state has a role to play in this, but the Compendium is careful to
stipulate that this does not mean that governments should directly
employ people to provide all with a job. The duty of the state is to
encourage business activity by creating conditions that will lead to
adequate job opportunities.
With the increasing globalization of the economy the Compendium also
recommends that governments cooperate with one another to safeguard the
right to work and to ameliorate the ups and downs of the economic cycle.
Another responsibility is to take care of the family. Businesses, unions
and the state should promote policies that support the family.
Other themes treated in this section deal range from women and children,
to protecting immigrants and agricultural workers. Women's rights should
be respected and discrimination against them is not acceptable,
especially with regard to pay and social security. Child labor,
continues the text, "constitutes a kind of violence that is less obvious
than others but it is not for this reason any less terrible" (No. 296).
While it is true that in some countries income earned by children is
important for families, nevertheless this exploitation constitutes a
serious violation of human dignity.
When it comes to spelling out more specific rights, such as a just wage,
the Compendium recalls that "The rights of workers, like all other
rights, are based on the nature of the human person and on his
transcendent dignity" (No. 301).
The last part of the chapter on work deals with some recent developments
in world of work. Globalization has brought with it many changes, and it
is important to remember that along with this process the world also
needs "a globalization of safeguards, minimum essential rights and
equity" (No. 310).
An economy no longer built on an industrial base, but on services and
newer technologies, brings with it many changes for those working, and
some difficult adjustments. To deal with this the Compendium recommends
avoiding the error of insisting that changes take place in a determined
manner. "The decisive factor and 'referee' of this complex phase of
change is once more the human person, who must remain the true
protagonist of his work" (No. 317). Humanizing work, now on a planetary
scale, is thus the goal ahead.