4.4.1 Response to Exercise

As I read it, LE adds six new planks of constructive teaching about work that build on the foundation established by Rerum Novarum.  They’re listed below.  I am sure this is not the only way of distinguishing the main positive points in LE and perhaps you have come up with a different analysis.

1.  The person is a worker (4.3.2)

Work has a very wide definition, and it is by working that the human person, created “in the image of God”, participates in the exercise of dominion, or stewardship, in the world.  In this way, he or she “shares in the making of the world” (in Donal Dorr’s phrase).

Note: Unit 3 showed that Pope John Paul II interpreted ‘dominion’ as ‘stewardship’, but this is not explicitly evident from the texts of CST studied in this unit. See 3.3.5 and especially ‘God made man the steward of creation’, referenced in 4.3.2 n. 5..

2.  Work is for the person (4.3.3 and 4.3.5)

The activities of work “must all serve to realize [the person’s] humanity, to fulfil the calling to be a person” (#6).  In other words they must enable his or her participation in dominion – in governing creation “to make all its potential shine” (as that statement by John Paul puts it).  LE says:

[T]hrough work man not only transforms nature… but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and in a sense becomes ‘more a human being’ (#9, italics in original).

3.  Workers should unite in solidarity, not in class struggle (4.3.4)

Workers should join with others in unions, not for class struggle, but in solidarity that pursues the common good, even if conflict is necessary when opposing “flagrant injustices” (#8).

As explained in 4.3.4, the principle of solidarity has significance here in a way that takes John Paul’s understanding beyond what was in RN.

4.  Points 1 and 2 lead to the ‘principle of the priority of labour over capital’ (4.3.6 and 4.3.8)

The above points can be summed up in the principle of ‘the priority of labour over capital’, which fundamentally means that, because capital is only things, it always must be used in a way that benefits labour, i.e. people.

5.  ‘Indirect employers’ need to fulfil their responsibilities to workers (4.3.9)

To the very strong emphasis in RN that both employers and workers must fulfil their responsibilities, John Paul II adds a powerful new element: ‘indirect employers’ too must recognize their responsibilities for workers.  Only if this is done can the range of workers’ rights be upheld.

6.  We need to cultivate ‘a spirituality of work’ (4.3.10)

Finally, this vision of work implies that the whole human person, body and spirit, is involved in work.  We should see work in the context of God’s wider purposes for human history, at the centre of which is Jesus Christ.  These give the parameters of a ‘spirituality of work’ – in which both the working week and the ‘sabbath’ day of celebration are vital, and need to be kept in a good balance.

As well as these six constructive points, LE also makes an incisive critique of the two ideologies that dominated twentieth century debate.  Both economic liberalism and Marxism failed to understand the nature of the human person and in neither of them, therefore, is work for the person.  In economic liberalism the human person is treated as an instrument to the end of profit.  In Marxism, the human person is seen as an instrument in class struggle, with class identity held to be more significant than shared human personhood.

So in both these ideologies people are subjected to economic forces, to mere things.  Failing to uphold the principle of the priority of labour over capital, both make the ‘error of economism’.  This has had appalling consequences for workers. (4.3.8)

It is striking that John Paul II made such a sharply incisive critique of economic liberalism, even though he had lived his adult life under either Nazi or Communist regimes.  You can study this topic further in Unit 5, which will bring out that his critique of that economic ideology was constructive, rather than just negative, showing appreciation of strong points within it.



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