Quadragesimo Anno Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Pius XI begins Quadragesimo Anno by honoring and summarizing Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891). He recalls that Leo faced the Industrial Revolution, which contributed to inordinate wealth for a few and wretched working conditions for the majority. Leo critiqued both economic liberalism and socialism as found in the late nineteenth century, and he advised away from class struggle and toward recognition of mutual complementariness. Many applauded Leo’s reflections, but some remained critical. Before defending Leo from his critics, Pius first highlights the benefits that had flowed from Leo’s foundational encyclical.

Pius writes that Rerum Novarum had encouraged many Christian leaders to reflect on social issues within a Christian framework. He states that Leo’s encyclical had also won acceptance outside of the Catholic Church as evidenced by nations that instituted new labor laws. Further, Pius explains that although many were leery of worker associations prior to Rerum Novarum, many clergy and laypersons have since sacrificed much to provide organized support for underprivileged workers.

After summarizing Rerum Novarum, Pius clarifies and updates four issues that Leo had addressed: church authority, private property, just wages, and worker associations. First, Pius discusses the responsibility of the church to address social issues. Whereas Leo sought to defend the right of church leaders to speak on social issues, Pius’s writing style indicates that the church’s authority to speak on such issues is assumed rather then debated. Pius explains that while church leaders do not have authority to speak on matters of scientific technique, they do have authority to offer guidance on matters related to the moral law. Because economic issues overlap with the moral law, Pius writes that he has the responsibility to address the relevant issues.

Pius then discusses private property. Benefiting from the forty years of discussion that had followed Rerum Novarum, Pius writes that private property has a twofold character: individual and collective. Workers should have a right to attain private property, but the fruits of the land ought to be...

(The entire section is 911 words.)

Quadragesimo Anno Bibliography (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Himes, Kenneth R., O. F. M., ed. Modern Catholic Social Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2005. This scholarly collection includes four foundational essays and fourteen commentaries on influential church documents. Each essay includes thorough bibliographical information. Brief index.

Nell-Breuning, Oswald von, S.J. Reorganization of Social Economy: The Social Encyclical Developed and Explained. Translated by Bernard W. Dempsey, S.J. New York: Bruce, 1936. Extensive commentary on Quadragesimo Anno from an author who himself was central in the formation of the encyclical. Brief index.

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Translated by Vatican Press. Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005. This reference work provides a comprehensive synthesis of central concepts in Catholic social ethics. Includes thorough reference and analytical indexes.

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The Social Agenda: A Collection of Magisterial Texts. Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticano, 2000. This work is a concise compilation of official church statements thematically organized to discuss eleven issues central to Christian social ethics.