You might be surprised to discover that the term ‘social justice’ comes not from the United States or from Marxism, but from a Catholic priest.

Luigi Taparelli, a Jesuit, coined it in 1840.  Living in Italy in the 19th century, he was concerned about the socio-economic effects of the Industrial Revolution on the new working class.

To that end, he revived the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas — Thomism — in order to help resolve these problems, on which the Church had taken no defined position.

Taparelli’s scholarship played a part in Pope Leo XIII‘s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of the Working Classes).

Social justice has since influenced Catholic and Protestant teaching, despite its Modernist and Pelagian tendencies. It includes Taparelli’s concept of subsidiarity, which ties in with communitarianism.  Like it or not, subsidiarity is part of today’s Church — Catholic and Protestant.

Subsidiarity relies on church programmes, small groups, volunteering in the community via the church and developing ties with community organisers, which the CCHD collections fund in the United States.

Many orthodox Christians shun these more populist programmes, and they are right to do so. Pope Pius X and John Gresham Machen both spoke out against making the Gospel into a social mantra and ignoring its message of salvation.

However, a number of Anglican parishes in the UK are helping David Cameron’s communitarian Big Society programme by getting members of church congregations ‘involved’ in volunteer work for national charities and community-based programmes.

Is that making ‘disciples of all men’? Traditionalists are right in saying that it does not. Modernists and postmodernists would counter that it doesn’t matter — the perceived social benefits trump Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for our sins and His promise of eternal life.

Unfortunately, recent Popes have openly supported social justice concerns as have ‘liberal’ Protestant churches.

A Gospel message of eternal life has gone by the wayside.

Tomorrow: More on communitarianism