What does solidarity mean, how can it be interpreted, or how it is used in context? Is solidarity simple and straightforward? Is it a feeling? Does it relate to anything else like compassion? What does it produce? What does it require? Does it exist alone? Is there an end game, how long does it last? Is solidarity is a farfetched dream, maybe a way of life, or perhaps it is something deeper? Does one have to be a person of faith in order to understand it?
I pondered questions like these and others as I wrestled with how to approach this paper.
Out of the six principles of Catholic Social Ethics, solidarity spoke to me the most. It seems that all other principles are connected through solidarity. That only through the discipline and practice of standing with (and for) others is one able to connect with human dignity, common good, universal destination of the goods of creation, subsidiarity, and participation. I would argue that even the Option for the Poor can only be accomplished through solidarity as one could never truly understand or help without relationship.
According to the Meriam Webster online dictionary, “solidarity is unity (as of a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards”. This is the essence of the word but it lacks any real significance since it does not seem to require much action. A dictionary definition only gets one so far, one has to dig deeper to find any real gravity of meaning.
Thankfully through this course, I’ve come to a different understanding of the virtue and principle of solidarity. Through reading the Compendium , the Clark book , Papal encyclicals, and class notes/participation, I’ve been challenged to widen my worldview.
Deep at the root of solidarity is a human component, you cannot have oneness without others. It is only with others (community) can we truly experience unity/solidarity as God intended it. However, how one views this human component will deeply affect the outcome of solidarity. Seeing others as divinely made with meaning and purpose is the only way to achieve true solidarity. For only seeing others as made in the image of God (Imago Dei), divinely created, imbued with godly characteristics, for God’s glory, and bearing the Trinity in mind can solidarity truly exist (Genesis 1:26) .
Catholic Social Teaching (CST) guides one to live in relationship with God through relationship with others…it helps one to understand that humans are made for community, that human beings are interdependent beings, that at their core humans are essentially social beings. It is a multilayered action that requires one to live as Jesus would…to lay down one’s life for others (John 10:14-15). The principle of Solidarity teaches one to live out the commandments of love God and love people (Matthew 22:36-40) by showing us that we need to put our ego/selfishness aside for Christian brotherhood/family. “To love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it. Besides the good of the individual, there is a good that is linked to living in society: the common good. It is the good of “all of us”, made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society” . It is this transformative process which brings one in align with God’s purposes…It’s messy, sacrificial, rewarding, exhausting, loving, and honoring. That is the basis for the principle and virtue of Solidarity.
While solidarity as a principle in CST is relatively new (not 100 years yet) as it is first mentioned in an official document in 1939 in Summi Pontificatus by Pope Pius XII. Solidarity is mentioned four times in this encyclical all in reference to the Catholic family standing together as World War II had just started. It is a call for Christian unity in the face of great trials ahead. Solidarity has been around for much longer perhaps not as identified principle but more as an idea. It dates back all the way to Rerum Novarum as Pope Leo XIII uses the terms friendship and brotherly love for solidarity. Here the Pope is highlighting the social issues of the day and how the church has the right to speak into them. Directly speaking into the issues of workers’ wages, forming unions, class divisions and how industrial revolution changed the culture. Here you see a setting of the stage for solidarity though not explicitly mentioned.
Over time the definition of solidarity has morphed into what it is today. You can trace changes through the encyclical works of the Popes and other official documents of Catholic Bishops. There is not enough time to trace the changes through all official documents and for the sake of this paper, I studied and compared three encyclicals; 1961s Mater Et Magistra , 1987s Sollicitudo Rei Socialis , and 2009’s Caritas in Veritate . Each written as expansions/celebrations of previous encyclical works and as commentary on the changing social climate.
Take Mater Et Magistra where Pope John XXIII urges the church to work towards authentic community in order to promote human dignity. He asserts that solidarity is for the common good as the world had changed significantly; Cold War began, more productivity due to technology, vast suffering and poverty. The Pope was urging the people of God to (the church) to engage in justice by reminding them that the church is the “Mother and Teacher”. Criticizing the rising economic inequality between nations, the challenge being to share resources. There is an emphasis on solidarity and cooperation to benefit and protect as the Pope talks of farming and rural workers and the need to “proper voice in political circles and in public administration”. He is showing care to equal the playing field with professional classes for the common good. He calls us “members of a common family ” and as family we are not able to abide the great poverty and suffering of our clan whether that member be local or international (especially in regards to rich & poor nations). Though conditions had improved since Rerum Novarum, there was still gross disparity for many countries and individuals.
Jumping ahead to 1987s Sollicitud Rei Socialis, Pope John Paul II expands on his work in Populorum Progressio which he wrote twenty years earlier. The emphasis here being the spirit of solidarity as universal interdependence. “True development cannot consist in the simple accumulation of wealth and in the greater availability of goods and services, if this is gained at the expense of the development of the masses, and without due consideration for the social, cultural and spiritual dimensions of the human being” . Development must include the poor, disenfranchised, and marginalized in order for Solidarity to exist. We have a moral obligation to see to the least of these and be mindful of the goods disparity that exists between nations. Equality must be an aspect of Solidarity according to this encyclical…equal rights of all to be at the table. “Both peoples and individual must enjoy the fundamental equality which is the basis, for example, of the Charter of the United Nations Organization: the equality which is the basis of the right of all to share in the process of full development.” This encyclical was written with unfair housing regulations, high levels of unemployment and global debt all structural sins (stemming from personal sin) that were threatening humanity. That these structural sins grow in intensity and are difficult to extrapolate if not addressed impede solidarity. So, He poses that authentic solidarity must be the basis for development, that equality, freedom, and commitment to the common good are the foundation for solidarity.
So we have moved from solidarity being called common members of one family to solidarity as equality and freedom. Now in the last encyclical examined, Veritas in Veritate written by Pope Benedict XVI.