Mater et Magistra
"Mother and teacher"

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Mater et Magistra (Christianity and Social Progress)
Pope John XX III, May 15, 1961

This work affirmed the role of the Church as a teacher distinguishing good and evil, and as a nurturing mother to the poor and oppressed, John XXIII calls for a greater awareness of the need for all peoples to live as one community with a common good. Special attention is focused on the plight of the farmers and farm workers in depressed rural, agricultural economies. The title means "mother and teacher", referring to the role of the church. It describes a necessity to work towards authentic community in order to promote human dignity. It taught that the state must sometimes intervene in matters of health care, education, and housing.


Pope John XXIII wrote this encyclical in 1961 to continue the tradition of Rerum Novarum (1891) and Quadragesimo Anno (1931). The world had changed considerably in the previous 30 years both politically and economically. The Great Depression and World War II had ended, the cold war had begun, and technology allowed for increased productivity, but vast poverty remained across the globe.

Mater Et Magistra explores the role the Church in efforts to acheive social progress and justice in the world. Since the writings on economics by previous Popes, the world had seen tremendous changes such as the discovery of nuclear energy, advanced communications, and political independence movements.

The Church’s role has long been to teach while guiding individuals and nations toward salvation. Her main concern is to care for souls and lead them to heaven, but the Church is also concerned with the livelihood, education, and wellbeing of humanity. Just as Jesus’ primary mission was humankind’s eternal salvation, He too fed the hungry and was concerned for worldly needs.

John XXIII continues by restating the teachings of earlier encyclical and emphasizing their lessons including the recognition of work as a human activity, the right to private property and the right of workers to enter into association. Most importantly he reaffirms the belief that all of these activities must be undertaken in accordance with the idea of Christian brotherhood.

Individual enterprise remains key to economic progress and the state must be careful not to interfere with one’s ability to support his or her family. Yet with the increased social relationships made possible by the latest technologies, workers should not be viewed as cogs in a machine. One’s wages ought to reflect one’s contribution to a company. A just wage should be determined in accordance with justice and equity, not simply the marketplace.

A nation should balance economic development with social progress and not sacrifice the welfare of its people for monetary gain. Economic and social policies should be pursued that will increase the distribution of property and ownership in business enterprises. With this in mind, people and nations must never forget that property and wealth are not real “treasures” – the Kingdom of God is!

John XXIII also wrote extensively on the relationship between workers and managers, whose relationship ought to be “re-established” based on justice and equity. Workers should let their actions be guided by moral principles and respect for civil law in accordance with the common good. Likewise, employers should also keep the common good in mind when pursuing economic activity.

The wealthiest nations of the world should act to help those countries who are less developed and whose people struggle for the life’s basic necessities. Aid from the developed world should come in the form of food for the hungry, but also technology and infrastructure to help other nations develop themselves.

International aid must be given in a fashion that respects each nation’s individuality and the dignity of each person. Human life is sacred and is created through the family which must be maintained and strengthened. Future generations are secured through education which allows for a sound cultural and religious formation.

Above all, all human activity reveals an innate human desire for truth. St. Augustine stated "Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts can find no rest until they rest in you.” No matter how far humanity progresses technologically and economically, it will still seek out the truth of God. There cannot be peace or justice on earth until all of humanity recognizes the dignity of humans as creations of God.

A worker or an employer should always consider the greater good in determining his or her actions. If the worker gains the whole world, but loses his or her soul – what profit is left? Every human should work to lead to the perfection of their own soul; society can only be transformed with the ferment of the Gospel.


A Creation of Free Men. "Mother and Teacher of all nations," it begins, "the Universal Church has been instituted by Jesus Christ so that all who in the long course of centuries come to her for loving embrace may find fullness of higher life and a guarantee of salvation." What follows sets forth "new aspects of the social question," and recommends means for the "reconstruction of social relationships in truth, justice and love."

Mater et Magistra takes careful measure of the massive power that science and technology have given the state to raise living standards and increase social welfare. It also warns the state of the danger this power carries to restrict the freedom of the individual. The state must therefore be careful to protect "the right that individual persons possess of being always primarily responsible for their own upkeep and that of their own family, which implies that in the economic systems the free development of productive activities should be permitted and facilitated.

A worker or an employer should always consider the greater good in determining his or her actions. If the worker gains the whole world, but loses his or her soul – what profit is left? Every human should work to lead to the perfection of their own soul; society can only be transformed with the ferment of the Gospel.


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Pope John XXIII, "(1961)Mater et Magistra", Lent 2011,

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