The Three Essential Elements of the Common Good

In Catholic social teaching you will read and hear a lot about “the common good.” I think many misunderstand what this term means. Let me try to clarify.

Turning to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), you will find this definition: “By the common good is to be understood ‘the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily’ (Gaudium et Spes 26) The common good concerns the life of all….” (CCC 1906)

Thus, the common good are all those conditions of life necessary for individuals and communities to reach their natural fulfillment. You could probably fill in the blanks as to what those conditions may be, given your own experiences in living in our contemporary world. What we as individuals may need as “goods” can only be known in relationship with the “goods”  common to all people, and the common good of all people must be defined in reference to the human person. (CCC 1905)

The Catechism teaches us that there are three essential elements of the common good.

The first is respect for the human person. Those in authority and society in general must respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person, and should permit each of us to fulfill our vocations in life, including the right to act in conformity with one’s well formed conscience. It is here, in the area of respect for the human person, that those of us in the Americas and in Europe and other 1st world countries are especially challenged.

The second is the social well-being and development of the group. Those in authority are called to arbitrate in the name of the common good, between various interests, but always making accessible to each person what is truly needed for a human life. It is here where many third world countries most especially struggle.

The third is peace. By this, those in authority have the obligation to obtain and sustain stability and security found in justice, protecting society as a whole and the individual person.

As the Catechism tells us, “The common good is always oriented towards the progress of persons. ‘The order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other way around.’ This order is founded on truth, built up in justice, and animated by love.” (CCC 1912)

The last sentence regarding truth, justice and love will be the topic of future posts.

About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
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