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Rerum Novarum Summary

Rerum Noverum is a foundational text of the Catholic religion. It is an encyclical that was issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1892. An encyclical is a letter intended for the bishops, archbishops and other leaders of the Catholic Church, and it states the position of the Church on matters of importance to the people. Rerum Noverum was issued in response to the class conflicts that arose in the wake of industrialism capitalism, and it addressed the conditions of the working class and the relationship between the capital and labor.

In Rerum Noverum, the Pope declared that while it is the government’s job promote social justice, it is the responsibility of the Church to promote social principles that prevent class conflict. He recognized the importance of a free market, but he warned that in practice, morals must be taken into consideration and workers must be treated with dignity and fairness. He stressed the plight of the urban poor and he condemned unrestricted capitalism, which he believed kept the poor marginalized and oppressed. He promoted dignity in the workplace and fair and safe working conditions for the laborers, and he advocated the formation of trade unions and the use of collective bargaining to ensure class harmony and prevent further abuse.

Summary

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Leo XIII addresses Rerum Novarum to the bishops of the Catholic Church. He introduces his reflections by highlighting the social difficulties of the day. With these difficulties in mind, he then discusses five key issues: private property, the right of the Church to speak on social issues, the role of the state, the worker’s right to a just wage, and the importance of worker associations. He ends by providing a short conclusion.

Leo explains that the Industrial Revolution has encouraged humankind to ask questions about a variety of social issues, such as the relationship between employers and employees, the just distribution of wealth, the growing isolation of workers, the role of worker associations, and the decline in moral values. More specifically, Leo informs the bishops of the wretched living conditions of the poor; he proposes that Catholic Church leaders must once again refute the errors that have led to such social evils. Leo states that workers are left unprotected because the workers’ guilds of old are no longer intact and political institutions have rejected religious teaching. Leo explains that the power of industry is controlled by a few factory owners who are becoming rich from the hard labor of the working class. The lower class suffers from poor working conditions and low wages, and their animosity toward the owning class is escalating.

Leo writes that socialists are seeking to eliminate class division by proposing that possessions be held in common and private property eliminated. In opposition to the socialist response, Leo argues for the right to own private property. He explains that people have the capacity to plan for the future. By possessing land, people can attain the security of owning something with stable value and can enjoy the yearly fruit of the land. Further, the prospect of owning property gives workers hope and a motivation for ingenuity. Without the possibility of owning land, workers often lack the desire to work diligently. As a result, production suffers, and the working class is reduced to a state of poverty even lower than had previously existed.

Leo proposes that the voice of the Church must be heard. He asserts that people should not blame suffering merely on class struggle but should also consider sin and disorder, both of which are never completely eliminated in this world. Leo posits that social classes are natural and ought to work in a complementary manner. Accordingly, he provides a list of duties for both the working and the owning classes. Workers should complete their work, honor the property of their employers, and refrain from rioting. Employers should respect the dignity of their workers by not reducing them to means of production,...

(The entire section is 1,224 words.)