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Pope Leo XIII-Rerum Novarum Essay

Encyclical is a letter from a Christian leader, particularly the pope, which is intended for general distribution among churches. The tern originally applied to some of the letters written by Saint Paul and early church writers called Apostolic Fathers that were sent to many churches. After the time of the Apostolic Fathers, bishops wrote encyclicals to the churches in their care. In modern times, encyclical has come to mean a letter written by the pope to Roman Catholic churches throughout the world.

These letters have addressed such topics as church teachings, church discipline, current social and moral issues, peace, the rights of workers, and the plight of people living under oppression. Pope Leo XIII With the election to papacy by Leo XII in 1878 comes a new age in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. His reign was the second longest in papal history. Only Pius IX served longer. Leo wrote many encyclicals. One of the most famous was Rerum Novarum which he wrote in May 15, 1891. The aforementioned encyclical upheld the rights of labor.

Pope Leo XIII sought to convince liberal administrations that it is possible for the church and the state to live in harmony. During his papacy, particularly intense anti-church feelings were expressed by Italy, France, and Germany. The pope was successful in reducing the liberal administrations limitations against the church. However he was a failure in Italy and France. If truth be told, in 1880, new anti-church laws were submitted by the French government. Such laws eliminated the church from several other areas of French lifestyle, prohibited religious education in academic institutions, and banished religious orders from the country.

On the other hand, in Italy, oppositions against the church were expressed by both the government and its citizens. The pope started a new policy of maintaining an open communication between the church government and the daily life of the Catholics. To achieve this end, he authored several writings addressed to the Catholic community. His pronouncements covered different subjects ranging from the relationship between the state and the working class, theology and church decrees, Bible teachings, and philosophy. Rerum Novarum was his most important statement on social questions.

Leo was open to new forms of government, but he still remained suspicious of democracy. In a letter to United States Catholics in 1895, he warned against seeing the American separation of church and state as an ideal for all nations. In 1899, he addressed another letter to the American church condemning Americanism, a movement that had many followers in France and Italy. It was an adaptation of such American concepts as religious liberty and the need to adjust the presentation of Catholic teachings to modern ideas and practices.

Leo was born in Carpineto, Italy, near Rome. His given and family name was Giocchino Vincenzo Pecci. Rerum Novarum The expansion of factories and industry in the nineteenth century created a class of wealthy owners, a class of industrial workers, and a host of new social problems. The socialists proposed that the state should take over the factories from private ownership. In this official papal statement, Pope Leo XIII sought a middle ground, recognizing the oppression workers could suffer but rejecting the abolition of private property as a solution.

In the Catholic tradition, Pope Leo XIII thinks of a job primarily as a way to support one’s family, not as a calling in itself – and this may be a more realistic approach to factory work. Rerum Novarum is conservative on issues of the father’s place in the family, but it was and is radical on issues of labor and capital. Rerum Novarum is the magna carta of Catholic social endeavor. Subtitled as “On Capital and Labor,” this encyclical expressed the Roman Catholic Church’s response to the labor tensions and social instability which have emerged in the advent of industrialization and ultimately marked the beginning of socialism.

The Pope articulated that the function of the state is to maintain social justice by upholding the rights of the citizens, while the church must make a stand on social concerns to demonstrate proper social principles as well as to guarantee class harmony. Leo XIII reiterated the church’s ancient teaching concerning the central value of the rights to private property, but acknowledged, in one of the most popular passages of the encyclical that moral considerations must temper the free operation of market forces.

Even while Rerum Novarum adheres to position of the conventional teaching regarding the duties and rights of property and the employee-employer relationship, it employs the ancient teachings particularly to current conditions. Describing the plight of the working class as an introduction, the encyclical then disputes the false Socialist philosophies and protects the right of private ownership. The real solution, as prescribed by the pope may be obtained through the united action between the employee, the employer, the state, and the church.

The church as it should be is concerned in the social matter because of its moral and religious outlooks. The state, on its part has both the duty and right to interfere in the name of individual and social welfare and justice. Moreover, the workers and their employers should coordinate in separate and joint relations for their common protection. All of these were laid out with substantial details to address the main issues and interactions of social and industrial life. Further identifying the Catholic Church with labor, while vehemently criticizing socialism, Pope Leo XIII released the first of the social encyclicals.

In 1891, eight years after the death of Karl Marx, Pope Leo XIII begins this encyclical by describing the industrialization in terms consistent with socialist analysis. In describing this process of industrialization, Pope Leo XIII clearly sympathizes with the plight of the common laborers who must sell their labor in exchange for less than a just wage to owners of the means of production who are not equally compelled to enter this contractual relationship. He recognizes that workers must unite and organize if they are to restore the power imbalances between laborers and the owners of the means of production.

He clearly rejects a socialist revolution; instead, he calls for reforms that would mitigate the negative effects of the free market. He argues that socialism is misguided for at least two reasons. First, he states that the socialist cure, eliminating private property, is unjust for those owners of the means of production who have acquired their property through legitimate means. Second, workers would actually be worse off, he argues, if in the name of justice they lost their freedom to use the fruits of their labor as they pleased.

Perhaps, no other proclamation on social concerns reached a wide audience or enjoyed broad influence. Rerum Novarum inspired an extensive Catholic social writings, as many non-Catholics regarded it as one of the most sensible and explicit pronouncements ever made concerning the issue in question. At times dismissed as vague, this encyclical is as precise as any text could be written for a number of nations in varying levels of industrial progress. Even while Rerum Novarum had formed a part of the established Catholic teachings for several years now in no way had it ever been expressed with distinct articulation and authority.

Over the years, humanity has come towards a realization of how hard it is to describe the complete requirements of justice in terms of wages, a continuously growing number of persons turn to the message sent by the pope as the most successful and valuable principle of industrial justice that has ever been expressed in recorded history. The significance of Rerum Novarum lies in its clear depiction of the troubles confronting the urban poor during the 19th century. Also, this encyclical was remarkable for its condemning open capitalism.

One of the solutions it recommended were the creation of trade unions as well as the introduction of collective bargaining, chiefly as a substitute to state intervention. It also acknowledged that the poor deserves to be considered when addressing social concerns. Such consideration is stressed by the concept of “preferential option for the poor” which is a contemporary Catholic principle. God’s special preference for the poor was initially expressed in Pope Leo’s Rerum Novarum.


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