Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Because Catholic bishops are his main audience, John takes many Catholic principles for granted. For example, he declares that the Church is the “Mother and Teacher” of the entire world, and that he, as pope, is spiritual father to all people, not just Catholics. These ideas would be developed in later documents of Vatican II, including Lumen Gentium (1964; English translation, 1964) and Gaudium et Spes (1965; English translation, 1965).

The main themes are the principles of Catholic social teachings: human dignity, subsidiarity, and solidarity. Catholic social teachings are based on the idea that the human individual is made in the “image and likeness of God.” A good government secures human dignity by balancing individual liberty (subsidiarity) with the common good (solidarity). Under the concept of subsidarity, the government is to do only what lower level groups cannot. Therefore, the most important and active social group is the family, and giving too much power to the government endangers individual liberty. However, too much emphasis on property and liberty means that some individuals or groups deprive others of basic rights. John sees the main problem of modern societies as the competitive spirit as manifested in class warfare, corporate competition, and national rivalries. He calls people to trust one another and work together for the “common good.” This is the principle of “solidarity,” or “Christian...

(The entire section is 409 words.)