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Title: The Social Mission of the Church
Subtitle: Its Changing Contexts
Author(s): HOWLAND SANKS, T.
Journal: Louvain Studies
Volume: 25    Issue: 1   Date: spring 2000   
Pages: 23-48
DOI: 10.2143/LS.25.1.583421

Abstract :
When the Roman Catholic Church in solemn council declared that the Church was in solidarity with and in service to all humanity (Gaudium et Spes, 3), it was the culmination of almost one hundred years of teaching about the social mission of the church. This is frequently noted as beginning with Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum, 1891, but the roots of the self-understanding of the Church as having a mission in the social, political, and economic spheres to pursue justice and peace can be found very early in the Christian tradition, including the scriptures, both Hebrew and Christian. In this article, I will briefly review those roots, look at the modern development of this social mission, then examine some current examples. I will argue, with J. Bryan Hehir, that “‘the right and competence' of the church to address political, legal, social, and economic issues is rooted in the nature of the church.” Finally, I will suggest that the social mission of the church is always specified by its local social and historical context but that this contextualization is now complicated by the phenomenon of globalization.

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