Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 650
Rerum Novarum is not a work of fiction, but a letter written by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. It was addressed to the upper Christian clergy concerning the dignity, rights, and conditions of the working class at the time. It does not have individual characters in the way a novel...
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Rerum Novarum is not a work of fiction, but a letter written by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. It was addressed to the upper Christian clergy concerning the dignity, rights, and conditions of the working class at the time. It does not have individual characters in the way a novel would.
However Rerum Novarum's main focus is on three parties we could call characters: the working class, the State and the Church. It describes ways that these parties are currently treating each other/being treated, and suggestions for improvements.
The working class is "in every city very largely in the majority" and has the same rights as the rich, upper classes. Despite this, many employers take advantage of these workers and strip them of their dignity and basic human right to own property. Rerum Novarum suggests a number of changes to society in order to better the lives of the working class, such as limiting their number of work hours, allowing them to own private property and giving them a right to rest from their work. It is also outlined that it is very important that different classes like the working class remain, instead of having all classes merge together as the socialists wish.
In 1891, The State had intentions to equalize all social classes and to redistribute property and possessions evenly. Rerum Novarum condemns the involvement of the State in the citizens' lives:
Man precedes the State, and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the substance of his body.
To neutralize social classes by stripping citizens of private property would be to "rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community" and so according to Pope Leo XIII, the State should concern itself with regulating the rights of the working class just as much as it concerns itself with the workings of the upper classes; all classes of society deserve equal care and attention from the State. In fact, it could be said that the State should be more concerned with the working class than anything else, since
it is only by the labor of working men that States grow rich" and "the richer class have many ways of shielding themselves, and stand less in need of help.
While it is the State's responsibility to regulate working conditions and labour unions, it is the responsibility of the Church to "provide aid for the needy." While many at the time believed in "a system of relief organized by the State," Rerum Novarum insists that "no human expedients will ever make up for the devotedness and self sacrifice of Christian charity." It is in fact the Church that betters the lives of the working class more than the State:
the Church uses her efforts not only to enlighten the mind, but to direct by her precepts the life and conduct of each and all; the Church improves and betters the condition of the working man by means of numerous organizations; does her best to enlist the services of all classes in discussing and endeavoring to further in the most practical way, the interests of the working classes; and considers that for this purpose recourse should be had, in due measure and degree, to the intervention of the law and of State authority.
The Church believes that every citizen has a right to private property, and she is concerned with both the "spiritual concerns" and the "earthly interests" of all her children. She aids the poor not by intervening directly, but by establishing "many associations which she knows to be efficient for the relief of poverty."
Although the working class, the State and the Church are not conventional characters at first glance, however they have conflicts, relationships and developments with one another. In this way, we can imagine them as three different characters in constant interaction with one another.