Reconsidering the See Judge Act in Populorum Progressio

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Pope Paul VI’s landmark encyclical “On the development of peoples,” commonly known by its Latin title, Populorum Progressio.

Cardijn does not seem to have had any personal involvement in the drafting of  the encyclical, which was published just four months before his death on 24 July 1967. Nevertheless, he was in close contact with Pope Paul during the drafting period, in particular, lobbying in favour of the structuring of Caritas International as an international and not just diocesan or national organisation.

Moreover, as we will see here, the fingerprints of the Cardijn method are deeply embedded in the encyclical.

Thus, Part I of the French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and German versions, which is entitled in English “Man’s Complete Development,” is divided into a See Judge Act that I strongly suspect was developed for the French version and copied into the other language versions.

Interestingly, however, the Latin text does not have any structural headings (as was customary at the time). Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that the English version does not even divide Part I into a See, Judge, Act. Why would that be?

Let’s start by looking at the “French” structure:

1. Les données du problème (The data on the problem) §6 – 11 (See), which clearly starts with the “real,” pointing to “the effects of colonialism,” “the widening gap” between rich and poor, “signs of social unrest,” etc.

2. L’Eglise et le développement (The Church and development) §12 – 21. (Judge), which offers a series of reflections on “authentic development,” “personal responsibility,” “man’s supernatural destiny,” etc.

3. L’action à entreprendre (The action to be taken) §22 – 42. (Act). Here is where things get interesting.

Despite the title referring to action, the various paragraphs seem to be more of a list of principles. Indeed, the English title of §22 is “Issues and principles.”

Moreover, in French, §22 is entitled “The universal destiny of goods” and is followed by §23 on “Property,” §24 “The use of income,” §25 “Industrialisation,” §27 “Work,” §31 “Revolution,” §32 “Reform,” and finishes in §41 with a reflection on “Towards full humanism” (Vers un humanisme plénier).

On the other hand, in French, the titles vary somewhat: §22 “Issues and principles,” §23 “The use of private property,” §24 “The common good,” §25 “The value of industrialisation,” etc.

If nothing else, this appears to indicate that the titles were added by the translators and/or the publishers of the various language versions.

Thus, in my opinion, it is clear that §22 – 42 does not really comprise an “act” section but is actually an extension of the “judge,” or to put it another way a longer spelling out of the “ideal” that the Church proposes.

In other words, Part I is structured as a real – ideal dialectic, contrasting the experiences of people in the world (see) with what the Gospel preaches (judge).

What about Part II of the document?

In French Part II is entitled “Vers le développement solidaire de l’humanité” (Towards the development in solidarity of humanity).

In English, it is entitled “The common development of mankind.” In other words, it spells out what is to done.

And as the paragraph headings make clear, this is the real “act” section of the document.

In French, Part II also has a series of subsections as follows:

1. L’assistance aux faibles (Assistance to the weak), “Lutte contre la faim” (Battle against hunger) §45, “Devoir de solidarité” (Duty of solidarity) §47, “Dialogue à instaurer” (Dialogue to be developed) §54

2. L’équité dans les relations commerciales (Fairness in trade relations – a very significant notion now known as “fair trade”).

3. La charité universelle (Universal charity) including “Devoir d’accueil” (Duty to welcome migrants) §67, a call to youth §74, etc.

This is followed by an unnumbered section entitled:

Le développement est le nouveau nom pour la paix” (Development is the new name for peace) based on Paul VI’s famous talk to the United Nations in 1965 during the Fourth Session of Vatican II. (Indeed, as I learned last week, Pope Paul’s speech is in fact included as an official act of the Council.)

And finally there is an “Appel final” (Final call) to action by Catholics, People of good will, statesmen, “the wise,” and indeed to all.

None of these subheadings appear in the Latin or English versions. Moreover, the lack of consistency in the headings is a clear sign that they were added by the publisher, probably at a very late stage of the publication process.

Interestingly again, other language versions on the Vatican website all follow the same structure, which is a further indication that they were translated from the French version. (Why from the French? Because the first draft of the future encyclical was written in French by Louis-Joseph Lebret. Stay tuned for more on this.)

Part II of the English version further reinforces the conclusion that this that is really the “act” section of the document. It makes no attempt at further subdivisions, contenting itself with giving headings to each individual section, beginning with “Three major duties” of “mutual solidarity,” “social justice,” and “universal charity” (§44).

This is followed by “Aid to developing nations” §45, “Concerted planning,” §50, “A World Fund” §51, etc. finishing with the calls to youth, Catholics, people of good will, etc.

All of these paragraphs clearly set out proposed actions to be taken for the achievement of the common development of humankind.

What is also clear is that Part II moves progressively from more general principles for action towards more particular action proposals at the end.

Based on all of this, I propose a new analysis of the structure of the document:

In any event, this simply highlights the extent to which the document is in fact based on an SJA framework. Thus, although Mater et Magistra had recommended the SJA in §236 and Pacem in Terris had also pointed to the need to look at the Signs of the Times (albeit in headings not the text itself), Populorum Progressio was actually the first encyclical to apply the SJA in its analysis.

This may also help explain why inexperienced and unfamiliar editors and publishers did not get their headings right!

Having said that, it still amazes me, or amazes me once again, to see how a faulty framework has been literally copied from one language to the other in a document as important as a papal encyclical! And is now reproduced on the Vatican website itself!

Fortunately, none of these faults detract from what is an amazing document by Paul VI that retains all its timeliness today. Well worth another read!

Stefan Gigacz


by