Skip to content

The Christian Sense of Progress

Interview With Father Thomas D. Williams

ROME, FEB. 9, 2007 (Zenit) - A key point of Pope Paul VI's social encyclical, "Populorum Progressio," emphasized that the measure of human progress cannot be limited to just the material or technological.

So observes Legionary of Christ Father Thomas D. Williams, professor of Catholic social doctrine and dean of theology at Rome's Regina Apostolorum university.

In this interview with us, Father Williams talked about the significance of "Populorum Progressio," which marks its 40th anniversary next month.

Q: Why was "Populorum Progressio" so important?

Father Williams: Not only was "Populorum Progressio" the first social encyclical promulgated after the Second Vatican Council, it was also the first ever to address head-on the topic of human progress and development.

Paul VI drew on many of the insights of the Council to distinguish an authentically Christian idea of progress from other ideologies.

Q: What ideologies?

Father Williams: The Enlightenment had taken the idea of progress as its leitmotiv, preaching a secular humanism that would usher in an age of reason, where religion would be replaced by science.

Along with the positive contributions of the Enlightenment, such as a healthy separation of church and state, the balance of political powers and the promotion of the natural sciences, it also had a marked materialistic and anti-religious dimension as well. Man became his own savior, able to resolve his own problems, and no longer needful of a transcendent and personal God.

Nineteenth-century ideologies built on many of the aspects of the Enlightenment, and came to see progress as a necessary and inexorable phenomenon, an expression of Darwinian evolutionism. This existential optimism held that things were necessarily getting better as human beings gained dominion over the natural world through the application of the natural sciences.

Add to the mix Hegel's philosophy of dialectical progress, whereby society necessarily progresses through conflict -- thesis, antithesis and synthesis -- and we had the perfect setup for the tragic totalitarian experiments of the 20th century, which sought to bring about an earthly paradise without God. By excluding God, they also wound up trampling on the human person as well.

Q: How does the Christian idea of progress differ from these ideologies?

Father Williams: First, as Paul VI taught in "Populorum Progressio," the Christian idea of progress is not merely material or technological. It necessarily embraces the whole human person in his social, moral, cultural and spiritual dimensions as well.

Paul VI wrote: "The development we speak of here cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man." If a society doesn't advance in goodness, in justice and in love, it doesn't truly advance.

Second, Christians do not see human progress as a necessary phenomenon. Just because we now have iPods and microwave ovens doesn't mean that we are morally or culturally superior to previous generations. Moving forward in time doesn't guarantee that we are moving forward in virtue. Not all change is an improvement, and regression is just as possible as progress.

Third, because progress isn't automatic, all of us must take responsibility for the direction our society takes. We are not simply swept along by the winds of change; each of us also influences the direction our culture takes. Our choices for good or evil have a bearing on all of mankind.

As Christians we believe that each of us has a specific vocation and a mission to fulfill. In this context, progress means doing our part to bring about the Kingdom of Christ in human society.

Finally, the progress of the earthly city does not exhaust the human condition. No matter how much human society progresses, our temporal existence will come to an end. We are called to eternal life in Christ. True progress must take into account man's spiritual dimension and transcendent vocation as a child of God destined for heaven.

Q: But isn't there a danger of over "spiritualizing" development and forgetting about man's real material needs?

Father Williams: Thankfully Paul VI didn't fall into this trap. Though he warned against a reductive materialism that understands progress and development in an exclusively material way, he likewise insisted on the importance of economic development, especially for the poorer nations.

He emphasized the need for a concerted effort on the part of all to lift underdeveloped nations and peoples out of their poverty as an essential part of their integral development.

Q: How can one gauge the real progress of a given culture or society?

Father Williams: A society progresses by becoming more human. Paul VI spoke often of a new Christian humanism, which focuses on the dignity of the human person.

The real progress of a culture can be measured by its achievement of the common good, that is, the conditions of social life that allows persons, families and groups to attain their true and integral good. Material prosperity is one element of this true progress, but it is not the only one, nor the most important.

Q: You have recently published a book entitled "Spiritual Progress." Where does the idea of spiritual progress fit into the picture of human development?

Father Williams: Spiritual underdevelopment is even more common that economic underdevelopment in the contemporary world. Many find that while their material, intellectual and social lives have grown continually over the years, their spiritual lives are still very much where they were as children.

The purpose of this book is not to offer a theoretical treatise on the spiritual life, but a more practical, hands-on text for growing in one's personal relationship with Christ.

It lays out the ABC's of the spiritual life: where we are going and, perhaps more importantly, how to get there. Many concepts such as holiness, God's will, faith and humility seem very ethereal to people today, and this book aims to bring them down to earth and make them tangible and attainable.

For years I had been looking for a book that combines meaty spiritual content with accessible language. I wanted to be able to offer good material to people who are starting to take their spiritual lives more seriously. Since I couldn't find what I was looking for, I decided to write it. I hope it fits the bill.


Catholic Online CA, US
Catholic Online - Publisher, 661 869-1000



Christian, Williams, Populorum Progressio, Theology, Social, Doctrine

More Catholic PRWire

Showing 1 - 50 of 4,718

A Recession Antidote
Randy Hain

Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

The Why of Jesus' Death: A Pauline Perspective
Jerom Paul

A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell

My Dad
JoMarie Grinkiewicz

Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell

Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Catholic Online

Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Catholic Online

Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
Catholic Online

State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Catholic Online

Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
Catholic Online

2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Catholic Online

Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Catholic Online

Franchising to Evangelize
Catholic Online

Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Catholic Online

Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Catholic Online

Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Catholic Online

Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Catholic Online

Full Circle
Robert Gieb

Three words to a deeper faith
Paul Sposite

Relections for Lent 2009
chris anthony

Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell

World Food Program Director on Lent
Catholic Online

Moral Clarity

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Catholic Online

A Prayer for Monaco: Remembering the Faith Legacy of Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace and Contemplating the Moral Challenges of Prince Albert II
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe

Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Sally Connolly

Glimpse of Me
Sarah Reinhard

The 3 stages of life
Michele Szekely

Sex and the Married Woman
Cheryl Dickow

A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Cheryl Dickow

Modernity & Morality
Dan Shea

Just a Minute
Sarah Reinhard

Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Hugh McNichol

Edging God Out
Paul Sposite

Burying a St. Joseph Statue
Cheryl Dickow

George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Catholic Online

Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell

Action Changes Things: Teaching our Kids about Community Service
Lisa Hendey

Easter... A Way of Life
Paul Spoisite

Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Hugh McNichol

Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Hugh McNichol

Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Catholic Online

Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Catholic Online

Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Catholic Online

Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Catholic Online

Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Catholic Online

Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
Catholic Online

Holy Saturday...anticipation!
Hugh McNichol

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.