Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 328

Themes of Rerum Novarum include the roles of church and state, the rights of people, and the place of familial and societal units.

The roles of church and state as pertains to economics, social responsibility, and the rights of workers are a major theme in Rerum Novarum . Leo XIII...

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Themes of Rerum Novarum include the roles of church and state, the rights of people, and the place of familial and societal units.

The roles of church and state as pertains to economics, social responsibility, and the rights of workers are a major theme in Rerum Novarum. Leo XIII doesn't believe that the state should hold ownership of all property. He thinks that to do so—as he claims the socialists want—would distort the purpose of the state. The state, he says, exists to protect the common good of all men living within it. He also believes that the church should have some authority and say in social matters.

The rights of people are another major theme. Pope Leo XIII says that socialists are trying to abolish private property, but that he advocates for the right of people to own property. He says that the concentration of power and property in the hands of a few rich people has put the working poor into something not much better than slavery. He says that people work to receive money and property and that to take that from them would be denying them their rights. Pope Leo XIII says that people should be fairly compensated for their work and that their working conditions should be safe for their bodies and souls.

The place of familial and societal units to help people and manage society is another theme. The author is focused on the family as the most important unit for maintaining health, happiness, and success. However, he also believes that society has a role to play in helping people when a family isn't able to function without hardship. One thing that Pope Leo XIII points out is that workingmen's guilds were abolished and that nothing took their places. He says that this contributes to the unhappiness of the working class; it also is a call for the role of social and economic units like unions that protect the workers.

Christian Themes

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 366

In the years preceding the papacy of Leo XIII, Church and state relations were often polemical. For his part, Leo engages the state in a manner that affirms the important role of political leadership but still manages to have a critical edge. He is concerned with both the poverty that has resulted from the Industrial Revolution and the socialism that is being proposed as a solution. He explains that humans are tainted with sin and therefore proposes that political theories promising the removal of all suffering can only be misleading. Despite these and other critiques, Leo acknowledges the need for state leadership and therefore encourages reform rather then revolution.

Leo indicates how the Church can contribute to social issues. He writes that the equality of persons comes not from similarity in talent but from redemption in Christ. Different members of society have different talents, all of which should be used for the eternal glory of God. Leo explains that a Christian framework also qualifies the condition of poverty. Because Christians view poverty as a virtue, the focus concerning material goods is on the use rather than the accumulation of goods. Nonetheless, despite the fact that the removal of material poverty is not the final end of Christian faith, Christians are called to assist the poor by living in accordance with the virtues of mercy and charity.

Leo discusses principles that remain central to Christian social ethics, such as the right of workers to associate and the right to private property. He argues that worker organizations can advocate and provide personal assistance for workers in a manner that the state is unable to do. Leo’s affirmation of the right to private property is a central claim of his work. If workers have the incentive of private property and the allotment of a just wage, they can live frugally and seek to acquire the stability that comes with owning land. Such a context provides an environment of ingenuity and diligence, which in turn is good for workers, employers, and the state. Leo’s reflections provide fundamental principles that still speak to contemporary Christian leaders who can apply Leo’s general insights in their own specific diocesan contexts.

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