6.3.6 SRS, chapter V on solidarity

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Unit 6 Contents



One thing is needed if ‘structures of sin’ are going to be overcome: the practice of solidarity.  This is the main point, indeed the single theme, of the rest of SRS chapter V.  Pope John Paul sums it up just before the end:

The “evil mechanisms” and “structures of sin” of which we have spoken can be overcome only through the exercise of the human and Christian solidarity to which the Church calls us. (#40)

Is this a convincing response to the problem?  It depends what solidarity means, in principle and in practice.  You can assess whether it is convincing after study of this and the next screen.

We should note at the outset that this point is not separate from that about the specific responsibility of governments on which we have just focused.  On the contrary: when people who hold political power use it to ensure there are good and just laws, this is their exercise of solidarity with those who would otherwise suffer injustice.  But what John Paul says about solidarity goes well beyond the responsibilities of those in political office.

In order to be able to understand and assess this, let us first review where solidarity has come up earlier in the module.  It has done so in Unit 1, in Unit 5 and earlier in Unit 6.  In Unit 1 solidarity was the focus in the conclusion to our initial study of the main principles of CST.  Quickly read this very short discussion again now. (Go straight to the second half of the page, after the Exercise.)


Re-reading (2pp)

VPlater Module B, 1.3.11: ‘Conclusion: solidarity and its absence’


Quoting SRS #38, this emphasised that the common good will not come to exist unless people act to bring it about – which means not only governments but people engaged at every level and in all areas of society.  This is what the practice of solidarity means.

In Unit 5, the focus was on how the principle of solidarity became part of CST.  This was in the 1930s, largely through Heinrich Pesch’s ‘solidarism’, and by 1961 Pope John XXIII could describe it as one of the principles of CST that people “know well enough” (Mater et Magistra, #17).

That screen also noted the increasing prominence of the term solidarity in CST documents, until its use more than 40 times by Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate (2009).  For what will follow here, take a few minutes to skim-read that page.


Re-reading (5pp)

VPlater Module B, 5.2.2: ‘The principle of solidarity’


As this brings out, for Pesch solidarity was hugely significant. Whereas both Marxism and economic liberalism were premised on dividing people from each other, in one case by class and in the other by economic competition, human wellbeing in fact depends on people being committed to acting for the goods they can create and enjoy in common – that is, on solidarity.

Later in Unit 5, we noted that solidarity had a prominent place in PP, where it is presented as vital in international development.  Under the title, ‘Towards the Solidary Development of Humanity’, the second half of PP addressed the duties that richer nations owe to those that are poorer.  In particular, the duty of ‘mutual solidarity’ should find expression generously in diverse forms of aid. (See

These points in PP are reiterated in the second Vatican ‘Instruction’ in response to liberation theology (ICFL, ##90-91).  But this document also affirms plainly for the first time in CST that it is right to speak of solidarity within and with certain social groups, not only across society as a whole.

The serious socio-economic problems which occur today cannot be solved unless new fronts of solidarity are created: solidarity of the poor among themselves, solidarity with the poor to which the rich are called, solidarity among the workers and with the workers. Institutions and social organizations at different levels, as well as the State, must share in a general movement of solidarity. (ICFL, #89, italics added).

With this short statement, major emphases of liberation theology are expressed within CST.

Nevertheless, there is no extended discussion of what solidarity means in those earlier documents.  Therefore by the time of SRS in 1987, the place of solidarity in CST was paradoxical.  On one hand, John XXIII had said way back in 1961 that people already knew it “well enough”.  On the other hand, no CST document included a substantive discussion of its meaning.

The way John Paul addresses it in SRS seems to recognize both sides of this paradox.  He was personally in a strong position to do so because philosophical work he had done in the 1960s long before he was pope had included close study of the concept – I shall quote from this later on this screen. Moreover solidarity has a prominent place in Laborem Exercens (1981).  But it is not until SRS that he speaks about it in a papal statement at some length.

As you read the part of SRS in which he does so, try to reflect on what new or additional points he is making, that is, how he is developing CST’s understanding of it.


Reading (5pp)

Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, chapter V(ii): ##38-40

The link will take you to the start of chapter V, so scroll to #38.

Note that in the fourth paragraph of #38 at the Intratext website, the word ‘Bible’ should be read for what there is given as ‘Rihle’.




Do you agree with what I said at the start of this screen, namely, that the single theme in this reading is that what is needed to overcome ‘structures of sin’ is solidarity?


In one obvious way, it was novel to connect solidarity and structural sin as John Paul did here – simply because no previous encyclical had addressed the latter more than in passing. However this aspect of what the passage says can be seen as less new than it might seem at first. John Paul is taking up the concept of structures of sin to talk about the great ideologies of Marxism and economic liberalism, which were then still represented by the blocs of East and West in the Cold War stand-off. Yet solidarity has the same place in relation to both of them as ‘solidarism’ had for Pesch.

It is as though ‘structures of sin’ gives a new terminology for speaking about the outcomes in practice of that conflict, while ‘solidarity’ represents the fundamental alternative to both of them.

While SRS here reflects the perspective given by those earlier sources, we can identify three ways in which what John Paul says about solidarity is new and takes CST forward.  We look at these on the next screen.



End of 6.3.6

Go to 6.3.7 Three ways in which John Paul II develops CST on solidarity

Module B outline

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