8.2.1 ‘Introduction’ and Chap. 1: ‘Characteristics of Rerum Novarum’

Back to 8.1.4

Unit 8 Contents

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The material you have just been looking at, both on the development of CST and on different kinds of historical explanation, should form a good introduction to the centrepiece of this unit, which is study of Centesimus Annus.

As you know well by now, different sorts of readings from the primary texts of CST have been set during this module.  Until this point, it is only in Unit 4 that you were asked to read a whole encyclical, namely Laborem Exercens.  In other units, shorter extracts from a number of different documents have been set.  Throughout, the readings have been carefully chosen to enable you to gain a clear understanding of what CST has said on the topic of each unit.

As this unit brings your study of the whole module together by way of a historical overview, it makes sense to read the whole of Centesimus Annus here.  But quite apart from this reason, Centesimus Annus is, I think, an outstanding statement that is worth reading in full.  In an intellectually compelling way, it presents both an incisive critique of the main visions of social and economic life that dominated the twentieth century (especially Communism) and a constructive vision of what CST stands for.

After that billing, you are bound to be disappointed!  You certainly need to be aware that, like Laborem Exercens, Centesimus Annus is not an easy read.  But given all that you have learned from study of the module to this point, you’re in an immeasurably better position to understand what it is saying and why than you would be if coming to it cold.

I shall make fairly brief remarks introducing each of CA’s six chapters.

Chapter 1 presents what John Paul refers to as a “re-reading” of Rerum Novarum (RN).  He begins (#4) by referring to the historical context in which RN was published in 1891, namely the increasingly intense conflict of capitalism and socialism.

He goes on to highlight some of the main points which RN makes.  We looked at these in Unit 4.  As preparation for the reading, do the following Exercise.

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EXERCISE

I gave quite a detailed exposition of Rerum Novarum in Unit 4.  This identified ‘five planks’ that formed the remedy which RN advocated for the crisis of workers’ conditions.

What were these five planks?  Spend a few minutes trying to recall them.  No doubt some are easier to bring to mind than others.

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RESPONSE TO EXERCISE: Click here

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Reflection

In CA #5, John Paul II describes Rerum Novarum as a “proclamation of the fundamental conditions for justice in the economic and social situation of the time”.

Reflecting on those five planks and the overall view they represent, do you think this is a justified assessment?

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I hope this reminder of your study of Rerum Novarum will make the first part of Centisimus Annus relatively easy to get into.  If you wish to recall RN more fully before looking at John Paul II’s “re-reading” of it, you could skim-read some of the screens in Unit 4, from 4.2.2 to 4.2.7.

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Reading (c.10pp)

Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, ‘Introduction’ and

Chapter 1, ‘Characteristics of Rerum Novarum

Note

These links are to CA at Intratext Digital Library (not at www.vatican.va, though the text is exactly the same).

Tip to ease reading: magnify the text to, say, 200% – it will adjust to the screen.

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Reflection

Much in this reading will have been familiar to you.  What was new?

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Here are a couple of further comments about CA chapter 1:

  • In #5, John Paul insists strongly that CST arises from the Christian gospel, and that proclaiming it and living in accordance with it is part of the Church’s ‘evangelization’ in the world.  As you will recall, we looked at the way CST is inherently a part of the message of the gospel in Unit 1.  On 1.2.4 there is a quotation from this section of CA.
  • It is striking, in ##6-9, that John Paul’s “re-reading” of RN is presented to a very large extent in terms of rights, mainly the rights of workers.  This gives his “re-reading” a particular flavour, and one that is somewhat different from RN itself, do you agree?  Some of what RN said was put by way of insistence on rights, but much was put in terms of responsibilities. The latter emphasis is less evident in John Paul’s “re-reading”.  Yet he does make clear that the points from RN to which he refers are “certainly not the only ones in the encyclical” (#11).

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End of 8.2.1

Go to 8.2.2 Chapter 2:  ‘Towards the “New Things” of Today’

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