Pope Leo XIII—Rerum Novarum | Pt. 1
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“Hence, it is clear that the main tenet of socialism—community of goods—must be utterly rejected, since it only injures those whom it would seem meant to benefit, is directly contrary to the natural rights of mankind, and would introduce confusion and disorder into the commonweal.”
Rerum Novarum—literally meaning “Of New Things,” but more accurately translated, “Of Revolutionary Change,”—was Pope Leo XIII’s response to the political upheaval of the 19th century. Issued on May 15, 1891, Rerum Novarum set forth a definitive word on these “new things”, and laid the groundwork for much of the development of the Church’s social thought through the 20th century. Today, Rerum Novarum is considered a foundational text of Catholic social teaching.
Covering everything from property rights to trade unions, to questions of wages and the relationship of man to the State; it’s a sweeping document that is at once comprehensive and accessible. There’s no need to be a political philosopher or economist here. Leo XIII develops his arguments in a methodical and straightforward way, and states plainly that human society can be healed in no other way than in a return to Christian life and Christian institutions.
In this first half, Pope Leo XIII lays out the problems, rejects socialism’s call for the abolition of private property, and identifies those rights and duties of the person and family that are prior to and independent of the State. He outlines the respective rights and duties of the worker and of the employer, affirming their mutual need for one another and calling them not only to cooperation, but to love.
Today, when so many of the same social ills have reared their ugly head, Rerum Novarum is required reading for anyone looking to address the political and economic questions of today.
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