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Chapter 10: Work, Subhuman Realities, and Property

Prologue to the Chapter

While dealing at length with responsibilities regarding property, classical moral theology paid little or no attention to responsibilities regarding work and subpersonal creation in general. The Church’s modern social teaching richly develops this subject matter. In doing so, it greatly clarifies the moral conditions and requirements of property, which presupposes God’s gift of the material world to humankind and people’s work in response to that gift, as John Paul II teaches:

 The original source of all that is good is the very act of God, who created both the earth and man, and who gave the earth to man so that he might have dominion over it by his work and enjoy its fruits (Gn 1.28). God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone. This is the foundation of the universal destination of the earth’s goods. The earth, by reason of its fruitfulness and its capacity to satisfy human needs, is God’s first gift for the sustenance of human life. But the earth does not yield its fruits without a particular human response to God’s gift, that is to say, without work. It is through work that man, using his intelligence and exercising his freedom, succeeds in dominating the earth and making it a fitting home. In this way, he makes part of the earth his own, precisely the part which he has acquired through work; this is the origin of individual property. Obviously, he also has the responsibility not to hinder others from having their own part of God’s gift; indeed, he must cooperate with others so that together all can dominate the earth.1
This succinct statement articulates and organizes all the topics which will be developed and treated in this chapter.

1. John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 31, AAS 83 (1991) 831–32, OR, 6 May 1991, 10.