A collection of personal reflections. Copyright © 2005-2011 K. Gurries

Monday, March 22, 2010


Dr. Rupert J. Ederer is Professor Emeritus of Buffalo State College (State University of New York).  In addition to being a premier Catholic economist1 in the U.S. he is perhaps the greatest living authority on the great minds that helped to pioneer and develop Catholic social teaching since the 19th century.  The English speaking world is in debt to Dr. Ederer for providing scholarly translations of the great German classics in Catholic social teaching.  Dr. Ederer is also the author of “Economics as if God Mattered” that provides scholarly insights into the vast array of Papal social teachings.  Now in his 87th year2, Dr. Ederer has graciously agreed to an interview.  The questions and answers to follow will survey aspects of his background, education and major works.  In addition, Dr. Ederer will give his own perspective and insights into some of the complexities and controversies involved in various competing “schools” of thought.  Finally, Dr. Ederer will offer some thoughts on Caritas in Veritate, the latest social encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, as well as some suggestions to young people interested in Catholic social teaching and the social sciences.     

1) Dr. Ederer, what can you tell us about your early years?

I was born in Munich, Germany in September 1923.  That was two months before the Putsch when the Nazis tried to take over Bavaria about a mile from where we lived.  It was also in the midst of the great inflation which wiped out the savings of millions of Germans.  After my Dad returned from WWI, the Marxists under Kurt Eisner took over Bavaria and ran it for a short time. My folks always voted for the Volkspartei (Catholic) in the frequent elections under the Weimar Republic.  The famous Jesuit Rupert Mayer, now Blessed, was chaplain of the Men's Marian Sodality to which my father belonged.  He was instrumental in keeping many, including my folks, on the right track politically.  (They named me for him, and many years later my wife and I were present for his beatification in Munich).  By 1926 they had enough and emigrated to the U. S.  Imagine immigrants from Munich landing in the midst of Prohibition!  And soon afterwards – the Great Depression.

2) How did you come to be interested in Catholic social teaching and the social sciences?

Perhaps it is because I was born into such social tumult which my parents often told their children about, that I became interested in social order!  Also, in those days Father Charles Coughlin was on the radio each Sunday at our house, and I was strangely fascinated by his oratory. But it was an enthusiastic teacher (a priest) who first aroused my interest in the Church's social teachings in my first year of college in a minor seminary. We were far too immature to understand much about them, but he provided the spark which later ignited in the major seminary.  There I read what I could find, and my interest increased.

3) What inspired you to study and translate the works of Bishop von Ketteler and Fr. Heinrich Pesch?

During my second year of theology, when I decided that I was not called to be a priest, I came across an article in a periodical - The Catholic Mind - a Jesuit publication - about the influence of Bishop von Ketteler and the Jesuit Heinrich Pesch had on the social teachings of the Catholic Church.  That was during World War II at about the time I decided to leave the seminary, after which I was promptly drafted for service in WW II.  German stock was at a very low level at the time.  As a German-American I was impressed by that other dimension where German social thought played a prominent role in the development of my Church's social teachings.  The Catholic Mind article also indicated where scholars familiar with Pesch's work held positions in various Catholic universities in the U. S.  I resolved to seek out one of these to do graduate studies there after my term in the army.  St. Louis University offered me a graduate assistantship, and I began studies in economics under the brilliant Jesuit Bernard Dempsey who, I learned later, was trying to get Pesch's work translated into English.  I was not the right person for that since I was then a newcomer to economics.  The spark caught on years later after I got my PhD and began college teaching.  I came to understand what my mentor, Father Dempsey, wrote later in a chapter in his book - The Functional Economy - on "The Biography of An Unsatisfactory Science."

My dissatisfaction with standard economics that I was expected to teach, along with my German language skill, eventually led me to translate – over a quarter of a century and well into retirement – the works of Ketteler and Pesch.  It is part payment to the country which was willing to take in the Ederer family as refugees from what was to become one of the worst periods in Germany's history.  German culture had also some better by-products than Nazism.

4) Why is Bishop Ketteler of Mainz often referred to as the "pioneer" of Catholic social teaching in the modern era?

One of Ketteler's biographers (Lenhart) indicated that Leo XIII referred to him as "Our great Predecessor."  On another occasion before a papal audience group from Mainz, Ketteler's diocese, the same pope remarked about their bishop, "It is from him that We have learned."  This is clear not only in Rerum Novarum, but also in other works like the Pope's encyclicals on marriage and the family, on Liberty, etc.  Rerum Novarum is of course, the pioneer papal encyclical on the economic order.

More recently, Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est referred to "Bishop Ketteler of Mainz" as one of the "pioneers" of Catholic social teachings (27).3

5) What was Fr. Pecsh's contribution to Catholic social teaching – and why do many regard his major work as a "summa economica"?

An Jesuit understudy of Pesch, Oswald von Nell-Breuning, is widely acclaimed to be "the main writer" of Quadragesimo Anno for Pius XI.  Whether or not that is a fact, several main features of that encyclical are clearly from Pesch's thought.  They include the principle of subsidiarity which occurs in various sections of the Lehrbuch, as well as the principle of solidarity which Pope John Paul II identifies in Centesimus Annus (10) as the social charity which Pius XI included along with social justice in Quadragesimo Anno as the principles for restoring social order (88).  The principle of vocational/functional groups for keeping order - short of having to rely on the State - is pure Pesch (Q.A. 81-87), as is the just wage principle (Q.A. 63-75).

Pope Pius XII had as his main advisor on social teaching the Jesuit Gustav Gundlach, also an understudy of Pesch.  The expression solidarity – in the relevant sense – first appeared in papal social teachings in the various writings, addresses, encyclicals of Pius XII.  In fact his first and very important encyclical Summi Pontificatus (although it is not usually listed as a "social" encyclical) has the Spanish title: Solidaridad Humana Y Estado Totalitario.

Finally, Pope John Paul II is not known as "the Pope of Solidarity" solely because of his support of the Polish labor union.  He devoted a large segment of his second social encyclical to explaining what he then referred to as "undoubtedly a Christian virtue" (40).  That is pure Pesch.

As for the summa economica designation, I don't know who used that first.  I know that Prof. Franz Mueller (St. Thomas U. in St. Paul) did, among others.4  Reasons?  First, the Lehrbuch in 5 volumes and some 3900 pages offered an extended systematic presentation of the science as St. Thomas did of theology.  It was exhaustive – covering aspects of economics as no one else has before or since; and most important Pesch did so according to the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy that was a standard part of Jesuit training in the late 19th - early 20th century. 

6) Fr. Pesch's Solaristic System of Human Work is criticized by some as "centralized planning" or "interventionist".  How would you respond to Pesch's critics?

"Centralized planning" is the stuff of which socialist states are made.  For the governance of economic life Pesch cited the individual with a conscience in conformity with the virtues of social justice and social charity (solidarity) as the first level of control in economic life.  At the next level he presented the notion of occupational organizations (also acting in conformity with those virtues) as presented in Quadragesimo Anno (82-87).  These would relieve much need for the state to regulate economic activity.  Finally the State as the ultimate protector of the common good is still present and necessary to foster and safeguard that good.  For example, could anyone imagine what would have happened during WW II if the U. S. government in Washington had not enforced price and wage controls, rationing of certain items, along with high taxes to successfully conduct that war?

7) Fr. Pesch died a few years before Keynes wrote his "General Theory".  What would have been Pesch's assessment of this work?

Pesch died in 1926, and the General Theory by Keynes appeared in 1936.  It is difficult to say what Pesch would have said about it.  Keynes' Essay, "The End of Laissez Faire" published in 1926 is another matter.  Although he characterized capitalism if "wisely managed" as "better than any alternative system yet in sight," he cited the need to work out a better system.  Then surprise of surprises!  "I believe that in many cases the ideal size for the unit of control and organization lies somewhere between the individual and the modern state…I propose a return, it may be said, toward medieval conceptions of separate autonomies..."!!!5  That is precisely what Pesch offered with his occupational organizations – a key element of his solidaristic system.6

8) In your view, what are the primary merits and pitfalls associated with Distributism?

Their main merit is their good intention, and we all know where good intentions often lead.  Distributism is never once mentioned in the social teachings of the Church.  There are figures of speech like the great Polish Pope's "common work bench" in Laborem Exercens?  But, remember that the man was also a poet.  To pick on such incidentals and in the process to distract attention from the important just wage doctrine which has been stated and developed from Rerum Novarum until now again in Caritas in Veritate, is unacceptable.  That doctrine from the beginning has involved a wage which will make possible "a certain moderate ownership." (Q.A. 63)  Although we have a long way to go, with many setbacks along the way, there are far more workers who earn such a wage now than there were before Rerum Novarum first stated the principle.  Many countries, for example, also have family allowances, (and even universal health care!) unheard of before 1891 or 1931 when Leo XIII and Pius XI proposed them.  Distributism fails to explain how the massive redistribution of ownership into modest parcels is to take place.  By revolution, or perhaps following some doomsday episode?  How are the principles of subsidiarity and distributive justice to be observed in the process?7

9) What is your view of the Austrian school of economics and related organizations such as the Ludwig von Mises Institute?

The much vaunted “Austrian School" - by which is usually meant Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek - two agnostic positivists - involves mainly an attempt to restore the "Free Market Economy of the Victorian era."8  It is opposed to the Church's social teachings, and Pope Paul VI and John Paul II cited that opposition referring to the new attempt at revival as "neo-liberalism" (Octagesima Adveniens 35-36; Ecclesia in America 56).9  Mises is old stuff, and Pesch already dealt with his free market advocacy as "neo-Manchesterism." (Lehrbuch V,bk 1, p.v).10  The movement was advanced by American Presidents, both Democratic (Carter and Clinton), and Republican (Reagan and Bush I and II).

10) What is your impression of the Acton Institute?  Is it aligned with the tradition of von Ketteler and Pesch or some other school of philosophy and economics?

The Acton Institute is more of the same.  It is a "think tank" headed by a Catholic priest, well financed by business interests which fit perfectly the papal designation -- neo-liberalism -- therefore another advocate of free markets.11  It is my understanding that there are Calvinist roots, but I cannot substantiate this.

11) How would you distinguish between the concepts of "solidarism" and "personalism"?

Solidarism is the ideology underlying Heinrich Pesch's outline for an economic system.  Its underlying philosophy is personalistic in that it emphasizes man, the human person, not merely “labor” - the factor of production - as both the driving force behind, and as the reason for which economic activity takes place.  No other economic textbook anywhere in the world begins as Pesch's Lehrbuch does: "Man as Lord of the World According to God's Ordinance." (Vol. I, Bk.1, # 1) He uses the German word Mensch which translates best as human person.  The English "man" is inadequate for the translation of Mensch.12

12) What are your impressions of Caritas in Veritate, the recent social encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI?

I have an article coming out, and also a new chapter to a forth-coming revised edition of my book - Economics as if God Matters.  Stay tuned.  I am proud of my fellow Bavarian Pope Benedict XVI.  God is good!

13) Can solidarity be sustained within a "dictatorship of relativism" or in a climate of militant secularism?


14) Is there a natural tension between solidarity and subsidiarity and how can this be managed or balanced?

No.  If you mean by solidarity - social charity, which along with social justice according to the Catholic Church's approach to reconstructing the social order are the twin virtues in that process.  Subsidiarity has always been included in that schema as its leading principle of organization.

15) Does the phenomenon of globalization present an opportunity or a threat?

Yes.  It does present an opportunity for the application of the principle of solidarity - again, social charity.  Without that, it could simply lead to more exploitation on a grander scale, i.e. worldwide.

16) In order to balance an "exclusively binary model of market-plus-State" Pope Benedict XVI suggests new "economic forms based on solidarity" and speaks of the need for "forms of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion".  Can you shed some light on this and what the Holy Father calls the "logic of the unconditional gift"? (CV, 39) 

I deal with this also in the forthcoming book, but in the meantime also in a forthcoming article in Culture Wars that covers the same ground.  In Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II pointed out how successive popes since Leo XIII have offered different names for the principle of solidarity (10).  In my opinion, Pope Benedict too is presenting a new word for it - gratuitousness.  What people at various levels of society contribute to the common good of those societies appears to me to reflect what Pope Benedict is talking about here.  That can range from the efforts of a volunteer fireman in a small town, to the efforts of a Peace Corps volunteer in some poor developing nation, or a foreign aid program to which all tax payers in a rich nation contribute in some degree.   

17) In addition to the spirit and logic of gift, Pope Benedict XVI also mentions the need for "forms of redistribution".  Some have been critical of Caritas in Veritate on the basis that this notion runs counter to justice and sound principles of economics.  Are such criticisms well founded?

No.  They are founded in the stingy, myopic viewpoint that reflects the stodgy free market (really free-for-all) economy which has now once again collapsed with ruin for many, specifically also the wealthy countries.

18) Does the social teaching of Pope Benedict XVI reflect any influence from the works of Bishop Ketteler or Fr. Pesch?  

Since it builds on and continues the social teachings of Leo XIII ( Ketteler) and Pius XI and John Paul II (Pesch), the answer is, Yes.

19) What advice would you give to young people interested in Catholic social teaching and the social sciences?

I wish that I could direct them to some Catholic colleges or universities where there is a solid program of Catholic social teachings.  Unfortunately we have not yet fully recovered from the tumult following Vatican II.  Young university age and older people should study - not read, and above all not speed-read papal social teachings.  Some of them, like Caritas in Veritate, are not always easy reading.  They require study and thought.

20) Finally, is there any other message that you would like to leave us with?

Pray and do not give up hope.  Popes since Pius XII have predicted a new springtime for the Church and for our world.  Where I live, even springtime can bring some unpleasant weather.  But the signs are already present.  As the late great Pope John Paul II always told us: "Do not be afraid."

Thank You and God Bless!


1 "Dr. Rupert J. Ederer, perhaps America's premier Catholic economist and recipient of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists' Pope Pius XI Award for contributions to the building up of a true Catholic social science, has devoted much of his retirement from college teaching to translating and writing about the massive works of the great -- but regrettably unsung and ignored -- Catholic economist and economic system builder, Fr. Heinrich Pesch, S.J.  In many respects, and equally unfortunately, Ederer is unsung and a voice in the wilderness as was his intellectual mentor." (Stephen M. Krason, Professor of Political Science; Taken from the Preface of "Liberalism, Socialism and Christian Social Order," Book 4, The Edwin Mellen Press, 2001, p. vii)

2 Dr. Ederer was born on September 25, 1923.

3 Bishop Ketteler's major works were translated into English by Dr. Ederer and published in 1981 by University Press of America as "The Social Teachings of Wilhelm Emmanuel Von Ketteler".  Unfortunately, this volume remains out of print and difficult to find.  Therefore, I have been working on a project to publish a new edition of Ketteler's 1862 classic "Freedom, Authority and the Church" based on Dr. Ederer's translation.    

4 Prof. Franz Mueller was an early disciple of Fr. Pesch as noted by Michael Novak in the introduction to one of Mueller's works: "An immmigrant to the United States, from Germany, Professor Mueller had come in his earliest days under the influence of one of the greatest philosophers of economics in Catholic history, the esteemed Jesuit, Heinrich Pesch (1854-1926)...He became part of an active circle of German scholars whose formative influence on papal social thought has been immense and unrivaled...Professor Mueller took part in the famous 'Koenigswinter Study Circle,' two of whose members were summoned to Rome to help draft Quadragessimo Anno.  Then in 1934, he was fired from his post at the University of Cologne by the Nazis.  After a year in Britain he accepted a professorship in the United States, where he has dwelt ever since." (Cf. The Church and the Social Question, AEI, 1984, pp. 9-10)  Prof. Edward J. O'Boyle notes that Dr. Ederer was "greatly influenced and supported by Mueller." (Lehrbuch, Vol. 1, Bk 1., p. xvi)  

5 On the topic of usury, Keynes remarked as follows: "I was brought up to believe that the attitude of the Medieval Church to the rate of interest was inherently absurd, and that the subtle discussions aimed at distinguishing the return on money-loans from the return to active investment were merely jesuitical attempts to find a practical escape from a foolish theory.  But I now read these discussions as an honest intellectual effort to keep separate what the classical theory has inextricably confused together, namely, the rate of interest and the marginal efficiency of capital.  For it now seems clear that the disquisitions of the schoolmen were directed towards the elucidation of a formula which should allow the schedule of the marginal efficiency of capital to be high, whilst using rule and custom and the moral law to keep down the rate of interest." (Keynes, op. cit.)  Of course, Fr. Pesch had already addressed all of this in detail in the Lehrbuch (Cf. Vol. 5, Bk 2).

6 Dr. Ederer does give credit to Keynes for helping to save capitalism from itself during a time of economic crisis, however, he is not a Keynesian economist.  Rather, Dr. Ederer identifies himself as a "solararist economist." 

7 Dr. Ederer indicates that the solution to problems of distributive justice in our time is to be found in the consistent application of the just wage principle.  On the other hand, the answer to modern economic problems is not to be found, according to Dr. Ederer, in a simple restoration of the "cottage form" of economy nor in the ideological rejection (more or less) of various areas of human development and legitimate progress (Cf. Caritas in Veritate, 14).

8 Dr. Ederer provides a more detailed analysis of the Austrian school of economics in his critical review of "The Church and the Market" by Thomas E. Woods. (http://www.culturewars.com/2005/Ederer.html)
At the heart of the debate is the question whether economics is a positive value-free science (such as chemistry, astronomy or mathematics) or a practical social science ultimately dependent upon the laws of morality.  According to Dr. Ederer, the answer lies in the "ancient and classical Scholastic distinction between the actus humanus and the actus hominis."

9 "More and more, in many countries of America, a system known as “neoliberalism” prevails; based on a purely economic conception of man, this system considers profit and the law of the market as its only parameters, to the detriment of the dignity of and the respect due to individuals and peoples. At times this system has become the ideological justification for certain attitudes and behavior in the social and political spheres leading to the neglect of the weaker members of society. Indeed, the poor are becoming ever more numerous, victims of specific policies and structures which are often unjust." (Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in America, 56)

10 For example, Pesch remarks: "Mises is on the wrong track when he attributes the terrible conditions in English factory regions where Manchesterianism prevailed, not to that phenomenon, but to other circumstances.  The historical development of industry among the various nations, and also a proper understanding of human nature pass judgment on individualistic freedom." (Cf. Pesch, op. cit.)

11 The notion of "free markets" is here taken in the unrestricted sense.  Dr. Ederer provides additional perspective on this point in an earlier commentary to Volume II of Pesch's Lehrbuch: "For Pesch, the essence of capitalism lay in the metaphysical perversion, where 'capital', a material factor of production and an instrumental cause of national wealth, assumed primacy over man, the worker, who stands at the center in the solidaristic system of human work.  Thus, in historical capitalism, those who owned capital and their administrators took charge of the system and operated it in their own exclusive profit-making interests.  Since economists in our time prefer in increasing numbers to juxtapose the 'market economy' to socialism, it is worth noting that Pesch allowed that the market economy does not rule out the possibility of providing for peoples' wants in an orderly manner. In other words, rid of the 'capitalistic spirit', that ontological perversions of right order in economic life, a market economy could be established which is in reasonable harmony with right order.  Perhaps significantly, the notion of a 'socially guided market economy' as proposed by the German economist Arthur Spienthoff (d. 1957) is mentioned by Pesch in this section.  The contemporary German economy, a quarter of a century after Pesch died, began to be identified as the 'social market economy'.  (Cf. Rupert Ederer, Heinrich Pesch on Solidarist Economics, University Press of America, 1998, pp. 104-105) 

12 "However, man alone is always and everywhere the lord over natural energy and the world of material goods; and he is never to be placed on the same level as these, even though he may be the most humble worker, and even if the physical effectiveness of the machine may far surpass him in the volume of its material output.  He is never merely an object or a tool, but always and everywhere the subject and goal of the economy and of economic activity -- in continuous subordination to the law of Him who rules the world which He created not by some derivative right, but by an original, full, sovereign right." (Pesch, Lehrbuch, Vol. 1, Bk. 1, p. 18)  This "teleological" and personalistic approach that places the human person at the center of social and economic life -- as its subject and goal -- was subsequently articulated in Papal teaching: "If, then, on this feast day which commemorates both the benignity of the Incarnate Word and the dignity of man (both in its personal and social aspects), We direct our attention to the problem of democracy, examining the forms by which it should be directed if it is to be a true, healthy democracy answering the needs of the moment, our action shows clearly that the interest and solicitude of the Church looks not so much to its external structure and organization -- which depend on the special aspirations of each people -- as to the individual himself, who, so far from being the object and, as it were, a merely passive element in the social order, is in fact, and must be and continue to be, its subject, its foundation and its end." (Pope Pius XII, Christmas Message, 1944)  Therefore, the personalistic approach to social sciences can be considered as "anthropocentic" in the sense that their subject and goal is the human person.  At the same time, however, personalism, understood in this sense, does not contradict the "theocentric" conception of Christian humanism as indicated by Pope Benedict XVI: "All this is of man, because man is the subject of his own existence; and at the same time it is of God, because God is at the beginning and end of all that is good, all that leads to salvation: ‘the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's’ (1 Cor 3:22-23)”. (CV, 79)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pope Benedict On Solidarity and Subsidiarity

Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences to contribute to the development of the Church’s social doctrine by examining the interrelationships between human dignity, common good, solidarity and subsidiarity.  Pope Benedict reflected on this theme during his May 2008 Address to the Participants in the 14th Session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences

The Holy Father posed the question to the Pontifical Academy in the following terms: "How can solidarity and subsidiarity work together in the pursuit of the common good in a way that not only respects human dignity, but allows it to flourish?  This is the heart of the matter which concerns you."  The Holy Father begins with a definition of terms:
Human dignity is the intrinsic value of a person created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by Christ.  The totality of social conditions allowing persons to achieve their communal and individual fulfilment is known as the common goodSolidarity refers to the virtue enabling the human family to share fully the treasure of material and spiritual goods, and subsidiarity is the coordination of society’s activities in a way that supports the internal life of the local communities.
Pope Benedict then gives a subtle warning that “definitions are only the beginning.  What is more, these definitions are adequately grasped only when linked organically1 to one another and seen as mutually supportive of one another."  In other words, these concepts must not be viewed in isolation to one another but are mutually supportive and interdependent.  The Holy Father then describes how these related concepts can be visualized in graphical form:
We can initially sketch the interconnections between these four principles by placing the dignity of the person2at the intersection of two axes: one horizontal, representing "solidarity" and "subsidiarity", and one vertical, representing the "common good".  This creates a field upon which we can plot the various points of Catholic social teaching that give shape to the common good.


Then comes another subtle warning regarding the limitations of graphic analogies that attempt to represent a "reality that is much more complex."

Indeed, the unfathomable depths of the human person and mankind’s marvellous capacity for spiritual communion – realities which are fully disclosed only through divine revelation – far exceed the capacity of schematic representation.  The solidarity that binds the human family, and the subsidiary levels reinforcing it from within, must however always be placed within the horizon of the mysterious life of the Triune God (cf. Jn 5:26; 6:57), in whom we perceive an ineffable love shared by equal, though nonetheless distinct, persons (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 42).

Horizontal and Vertical

The horizontal dimension of solidarity and subsidiarity is related to the temporal plane and is primarily concerned with the right ordering of society in view of “civil peace” and “concord among citizens”.  On one hand the subsidiarity principle seeks to ensure a sufficient autonomy for individuals and lower social units.  To deny this autonomy and private initiative is to stifle authentic human development and slide into unjust modes of authoritarianism.  Yet this proper autonomy is not an absolute autonomy since there are reciprocal duties toward others and the common good of all.  It is the fraternal bonds of solidarity that binds together all men as in a “human family” – ensuring that the needs of the “other” and the entire community are kept clearly in view.  In this sense, the horizontal view of solidarity and subsidiarity strives for that proper balance between the needs of the human person as well as the needs of the community – while providing an effective safeguard against the opposite extremes of individualism or collectivism.  In this sense, Pope Benedict affirms that the "principle of subsidiarity must remain closely linked to the principle of solidarity and vice versa, since the former without the latter gives way to social privatism, while the latter without the former gives way to paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need." (CV, 58) 


While the social scientist may be primarily concerned with the horizontal dimension, the theologian brings to light the necessary importance of the vertical dimension: “When we examine the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity in the light of the Gospel, we realize that they are not simply ‘horizontal’: they both have an essentially vertical dimension… I encourage you to survey both the ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’ dimensions of solidarity and subsidiarity.”  The vertical dimension helps us to see the connection between the temporal and the spiritual realms – between the natural and the supernatural: 

In this regard, the tranquillitas ordinis of which Saint Augustine speaks refers to "all things": that is to say both "civil peace", which is a "concord among citizens", and the "peace of the heavenly city", which is the "perfectly ordered and harmonious enjoyment of God, and of one another in God" (De Civitate Dei, XIX, 13)…The eyes of faith permit us to see that the heavenly and earthly cities interpenetrate and are intrinsically ordered to one another, inasmuch as they both belong to God the Father, who is "above all and through all and in all" (Eph 4:6).  At the same time, faith places into sharper focus the due autonomy of earthly affairs, insofar as they are "endowed with their own stability, truth, goodness, proper laws and order"  (Gaudium et Spes, 36).

Nature and Grace

The horizontal and vertical dimensions are mutually supportive and analogous to how grace builds on nature.  In this sense, the twin principles of solidarity and subsidiarity “have the potential to place men and women on the path to discovering their definitive, supernatural destiny.  The natural human inclination to live in community is confirmed and transformed by the ‘oneness of Spirit’ which God has bestowed upon his adopted sons and daughters (cf. Eph 4:3; 1 Pet 3:8).”

Therefore, the natural virtue of solidarity – based on friendship and the recognition of the essential equality and intrinsic worth of the other – is oriented towards the perfection of fraternal and supernatural charity.

In this sense, true solidarity – though it begins with an acknowledgment of the equal worth of the other – comes to fulfillment only when I willingly place my life at the service of the other (cf. Eph 6:21). Herein lies the "vertical" dimension of solidarity: I am moved to make myself less than the other so as to minister to his or her needs (cf. Jn 13:14-15), just as Jesus "humbled himself" so as to give men and women a share in his divine life with the Father and the Spirit (cf. Phil 2:8; Mat 23:12). 

Subsidiarity also has a vertical dimension insofar as the natural inclination towards family life and private associations – that “demands of higher authorities respect for these relationships” – points “toward the Creator of the social order (cf. Rom 12:16, 18).”  Additionally, the natural inclinations and respect for individual responsibility and private initiative “leave space for love (cf. Rom 13:8; Deus Caritas Est, 28), which always remains ‘the most excellent way’ (cf. 1 Cor 12:31).”


We can summarize by highlighting the essential interrelationship between solidarity and subsidiarity in promoting and supporting integral human development.  This perspective helps us to keep in view both the horizontal and vertical dimensions of solidarity and subsidiarity – as these are related analogous to how grace builds on nature.  In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict goes further by recalling the reality of "original sin" and man’s wounded nature that leaves him inclined to evil.  In this sense, man is not able to build and sustain solidarity and a fraternal community by his own efforts:

Because it is a gift received by everyone, charity in truth is a force that builds community, it brings all people together without imposing barriers or limits.  The human community that we build by ourselves can never, purely by its own strength, be a fully fraternal community, nor can it overcome every division and become a truly universal community.  The unity of the human race, a fraternal communion transcending every barrier, is called into being by the word of God-who-is-Love.  In addressing this key question, we must make it clear, on the one hand, that the logic of gift does not exclude justice, nor does it merely sit alongside it as a second element added from without; on the other hand, economic, social and political development, if it is to be authentically human, needs to make room for the principle of gratuitousness as an expression of fraternity. (Cf. CV, 34)    



1 In this sense, the personalist principle, solidarity and subsidiarity together form an integral part of a just social order.

2 This centrality and primacy of the human person in politics and economics is commonly referred to as the personalist principle (personalism) that is founded on integral or Christian humanism.  In this sense, the concept of "integral human development" is dependent upon the organically linked principles of personalism, solidarity and subsidiarity.