The Common Good
Do not live entirely isolated, having retreated into yourselves, as if you were already justified, but gather instead to seek the common good together. Epistle of Barnabus, 4.10
The common good is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily.” CCC 1906Christianity is a social religion. Christ commands His disciples to not only love God but also love their neighbour, and these two commands are inextricably united. Furthermore we believe that every human being is made in the image of God who is Trinity, a perfect communion of divine Persons, and that in the division of sexes and the diversity of humankind we are called to seek that perfect communion which the Holy Trinity enjoy eternally.
So we call the "common good" the conditions which foster and promote the good of people, as groups and individuals; meaning that they reach their fulfilment that God wills for them. The common good concerns the life of all and calls for prudence from each person, including those vested with authority.
The common good consists of 3 elements:
- Respect for persons: this is a presupposition for the common good. So authorities are bound to respect these fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person. Each person should be permitted to fulfil their calling. It includes right to act according to a sound norm of conscience, to safeguard privacy, and rightful freedom in matters of religion.
- Social well-being and development of the group: development is a core social duty. Authorities should make accessible to each, that which is needed for a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education, and culture, suitable information, the right to establish family etc.
- Peace: the stability and security of a just order is a basic requirement of the common good. Only morally acceptable means may be used to ensure the security of the state and its members. This is the basis of the right to legitimate personal and collective defence.
It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society, its citizens and intermediate bodies.
International common good: increased human interdependence spreading throughout the world implies an international common good - a unity of the human family.
Avoiding distortions and injustice: The common good is always ordered to persons and not things. Things must always be sub-ordinate to persons. The ordering of the common good is founded on truth, built up in justice, and animated by love.
Participation: It is necessary that each voluntarily and with generosity engage in social interchange according to one’s position and role in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person. One must assume personal responsibility, take an active part in public life, the call to the conversion of social partners, and promote education and culture.
Note: The Epistle of Barnabus, was most likely written c.AD 130 (and not by St Barnabus). The text gives us no clue to who wrote it. It was included as extra-Biblical material in an early codex. It is quoted by other Fathers of the Church including St Clement of Alexandria and Origen. It is regarded as one of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers.