Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 209

Mater et Magistra is a letter by Pope John XXIII, whose real name is Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli. The text was first composed as an encyclical , which is a circular memo that is sent by bishops and other high-ranking members of the Church to other churches. The overall theme or...

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Mater et Magistra is a letter by Pope John XXIII, whose real name is Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli. The text was first composed as an encyclical, which is a circular memo that is sent by bishops and other high-ranking members of the Church to other churches. The overall theme or message of the contents is the documentation of social happenings during the time of Pope John XXIII, such as the usage of atomic energy and global economic disparity. The communique was also a way for the Pope to address how social issues affect the Roman Catholic Church at the time, and why it is important for Catholics to be engaged in social and economic discourse. This creates an intellectual culture within the Church that allows members to be open-minded towards advancements in science, technology, and economic theory.

Another theme of the communique is the Pope's emphasis on the importance of charity. The Pope stated that self-interest is anti-Catholic, and that the economic policy of the Church should always be generosity and helping the financially-disadvantaged. Social justice is another theme of Mater et Magistra. Pope John XXIII articulated how it is important for Catholics to remain aware about social issues afflicting the world, and that these issues should be addressed proactively.

Christian Themes

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 409

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 brotherhood.”

The Gospel is clear that people should use their gifts, whether spiritual, material, physical or intellectual, for the good of others. John emphasizes the importance of charity, as opposed to modern hedonism. He touches briefly on the question of environmental stewardship, noting that, while natural resources are virtually unlimited, it is wrong to abuse or simply destroy those resources.

The Church favors smaller social groups, such as families, small businesses, and farms. Therefore, John approves of modern grassroots organizations. Likewise, he calls for workers and managers to be given ownership stakes in their companies, something realized by contemporary profit-sharing and stock options. John also discusses Catholic morality in regard to marriage and family. He shows how Catholic teachings on divorce, artificial birth control, and parental rights are necessarily elements in both principles, subsidiarity and solidarity.

John talks about the importance of God in public life. He contends that morality is impossible without God, so that a religious component in education is necessary to protect human dignity. As his title would indicate, the teaching role of the Church in general and Christian laity in particular is emphasized throughout the document.

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