Rerum Novarum: Papal Encyclical on Economic Justice, 1891 [summary]

Reference: California Catholic Conference

Pope Leo XIII, 1891

Pope Leo XIII wrote the encyclical Rerum Novarum as the industrial revolution and political change swept across Europe. The relationship between employers and employees was changing dramatically. Individuals had become wealthy, but most remained poor even though they worked hard. Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical spoke of the condition of the working classes during a time when many advocated revolution.

The Church recognizes that the lack of workers union contributed to an unjust situation where many work in conditions little better than slavery. One solution proposed by socialists was to eliminate private property altogether. Pope Leo XIII dismisses this solution because “every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own.”[1] He also notes that “the impelling reason and motive of his work is to obtain property.”[2] Instead of helping the working class, the elimination of private property would only hurt those it was intended to benefit…

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