Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 279

Illustration of PDF document

Download Rerum Novarum Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Rerum novarum is a text that attempts to offer guidance on social issues through specific tenets. It was written by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 in response to the discord that had arisen between the wealthy and the working class. When it was written, working conditions for the lower classes were atrocious. Hours were long and grueling, leaving little time to to spend with one's family or to do anything at all besides work and sleep. Pope Leo XIII believed that both laborers and employers had certain duties and rights. He wrote the text in an effort to create a common framework to be followed by both the wealthy and the poor. He believed that employers could benefit from capitalism while still providing laborers with a dignified existence.

An important facet of Rerum novarum is that it recommends the government should have limited power when it comes to personal issues. Pope Leo XIII believes the role of the State is to provide for the common good and little else.

The text explicitly mentions the right to own private property. The Pope believed personal ownership was part of "natural law." This right would protect all citizens from government seizure of private property, except for in cases where the seizure was for the common good.

Ultimately, Rerum novarum sets out guidelines that provide the poor and lower classes with protections so that they may live full and dignified lives. By informing the wealthy business owners and the government of their duties and responsibilities, Pope Leo XIII hoped to ameliorate the relationships between the working class and the employers. He hoped this would, in turn, create a more peaceful society as a whole.