Publication of Encyclical Rerum Novarum
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Founder
Pope Leo XIII
Time Period
5/15/1891
Description
On May 15, 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical, Rerum Novarum, on the "Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor." Written in the midst of widespread industrialism, union organizing, tensions between workers and management, and the twin spread of capitalism and socialism, Rerum Novarum marked the Catholic Church’s most significant foray into 20th century social issues. The document itself decried the poverty condition of the working class as well as the dangers of runaway profiteering. However, it also denounced a state-controlled economy and attacks on private property. Leo argued that the state was obligated by the natural law to protect workers if they were not able to obtain living wages from private work for themselves and their families.

This forging of a middle way between the extremes of both capitalism and socialism eventually would serve as the foundation of more than a century of papal contributions to Catholic social teaching.
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Catholic Religious Events and People in American History
Narrative
On May 15, 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical, Rerum Novarum, on the "Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor." Written in the midst of widespread industrialism, union organizing, tensions between workers and management, and the twin spread of capitalism and socialism, Rerum Novarum marked the Catholic Church’s most significant foray into the “social question” at the turn of the 20th century. The document itself decried the poverty condition of the working class as well as the dangers of runaway profiteering. However, it also excoriated the tendency toward statism and attacks on private property. At the root of Leo’s thought was the notion that working men must be guaranteed the right to secure for themselves and their families a wage that would ensure their security and survival, and if this could not be brought about through private arrangements between management and workers’ associations, then the state was obligated by the natural law to protect workers. This forging of a middle way between the extremes of both capitalism and socialism eventually would serve as the foundation of more than a century of papal contributions to Catholic social teaching.

In the United States, Rerum Novarum initially gained the notice mainly of members of the church hierarchy. However, in this period, church leaders were concerned mostly with providing institutional and spiritual support to the country’s growing immigrant church. At first, many conservative bishops used the document in their battles against socialism. However, other leaders saw its potential for strengthening the country’s labor movement and for securing the rights of the working class. Priest and social theorist John A. Ryan was foremost in this category. After reading Rerum Novarum in 1894, Ryan worked to merge Leonine and American Progressive principles to bring about social reform, particularly directed toward the realization of a living wage for all American workers. Ryan’s philosophy, informed by Rerum Novarum, played a principal role in the formulation of the "Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction," which was released in 1919, just after the end of World War I.

Rerum Novarum was most notably followed by Pope Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, which argued even more forcefully for the necessity of unions and for industry councils, which included representatives of management and labor working cooperatively. Pope Leo’s document also influenced the work of several labor priests and union organizers in the interwar and post-World War II years and has continued to exercise an important, foundational role for encyclicals on similar subjects by Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II.
Religious Groups
Catholicism (Western Liturgical Family): Other Timeline Event Entries
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Catholicism (Western Liturgical Family): Other ARDA Links

Biographies
Gibbons, James
Ireland, John
Photographs

Rerum Novarum- Internet Archive

Pope Leo XIII portrait- Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-7498

Pope Leo XIII portrait- Internet Archive

John Ryan portrait- Library of Congress, LC-DIG-hec-20251
Source(s)
Dolan, Jay P., 1985. The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
McGreevy, John T., 2003. Catholicism and American Freedom: A History. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.
McShane, Joseph M., 1986. "Sufficiently Radical": Catholicism, Progressivism, and the Bishops' Program of 1919. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press.
Web Source(s)
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15051891_rerum-novarum_en.html
Rerum Novarum Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Capital and Labor
Web Page Contributor
William S. Cossen
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History

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