Appeared in Winter 1991, Vol. XVII, No. 4

Whenever a new document expressing the social teaching of the Church is issued, the shorthand of common parlance tends to turn it into the document (encyclical, pastoral letter, exhortation, etc.) on economics or politics. This is not merely sloppy; it creates erroneous expectations and interpretations. The Church does not have anything to teach within the disciplines of economics or political science, any more than its teachings fall within the disciplines of biology or electrical engineering. The Church teaches theology. But theology is relevant to politics and economics because every political question, and every question of economic theory, is at root theological.

The most important thing to know about economics is that economics is not the most impor- tant thing. This truth has been affirmed, more or less explicitly, in every one of the magisterial documents touching on the moral dimension of social and economic life.

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