2.1.5 The publication of Rerum Novarum

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Unit 2 Contents

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It was against this background, industrial capitalism, and both the liberalism that favoured it and the socialism that critiqued it, that Pope Leo XIII published Rerum Novarum.

The document is known by this name because of its first words in Latin, but Pope Leo gave it the title ‘On Capital and Labour’, and it has the subtitle ‘Rights and Duties of Capital and Labour’.  (Just to confuse matters, the encyclical is also sometimes referred to in English by another name: ‘On the Condition of the Working Classes’.)

Here is a quotation from near the beginning of Rerum Novarum:

[W]e clearly see… that some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class… [I]t has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition… To this must be added that the hiring of labour and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the labouring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.”  (#3)

In the light of your study of Unit 1 of the module, it will be clear immediately that this sort of statement seems to fit with the prophetic tradition of Scripture and the Church’s witness.

You are bound to ask: what position did the Pope favour – liberal support for industrial capitalism, or socialist rejection of it?  The answer is that he favoured neither – and critiqued both strongly.  Later parts of the module, especially Unit 4 on working life, will set out the position he favoured.  In the briefest possible summary, the Pope strongly argued for private property (therefore with economic liberalism but against socialism) and he strongly argued that what is done in industry should, by employers and government fulfilling their responsibilities, be made deliberately to serve the good of working people (therefore with socialism but against economic liberalism).

To get a fuller flavour of Rerum Novarum, read the following seven paragraphs.

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Reading (4pp)

Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, ##1-5 and 20-22

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What are your first impressions of this nineteenth century papal statement?

Historical outline: conclusion

We are now at the end of the historical outline of the background to the emergence of modern CST.  Before we move on to some of the main principles in CST, it will be beneficial to bring to mind the really major historical events of the period since Rerum Novarum.  These give the context for the development of CST during the twentieth century.

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EXERCISE

You have probably studied at least some parts of the history of the twentieth century previously – at school or in your current course.  Make a list, in chronological order, of what you think are the major events and developments in world history since 1900.

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RESPONSE TO EXERCISE: Click here

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End of 2.1.5

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