Work & Human Flourishing


The Working Life: Rerum Novarum, 1891

by Ann Heekin

The first of the Catholic Church’s social encyclicals, Rerum novarum (The Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor) was issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. The document is a response to the early Industrial Revolution and its effects on the inhumane treatment of the working poor, and the looming threat of Marxist revolution. Leo rejects Marxism for a non-violent social reform to insure worker’s rights based on the dignity of the worker and his share in the economic and social progress of the modern industrialized world. Rerun novarum lays …

  • The Capabilities Approach holds that the key question to ask, when comparing societies and assessing them for their basic decency or justice is, “What is each person able to do and to be?”’

    ---Martha C. Nussbaum, Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach. 2011
  • Humanity’s manufacture of new things is a slight matter compared with the new ideas and new feelings that the invention may give rise to in every direction.”

    --Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, 1906
  • Slowly but surely medieval religious society’s perception of work changed … it was no longer simply for survival, self-sufficiency, or repentance, now it was for happiness, eternal happiness.”

    --Patricia Ranft, The Theology of Work: Peter Damian and the Medieval Religious Renewal Movement, 2006.
  • Those citizens with good jobs, those with everyday steady income, and those who are truly engaged at work are at the top of the well-being ladder.”

    --Jim Clifton, The Coming Jobs War: What Every Leader Must Know About the Future of Job Creation, 2011.
  •  “Human work is a transformative activity essentially consisting of dynamically interrelated instrumental, relational and ontological dimensions.”

    --Darrell Cosden, A Theology of Work: Work and the New Creation, 2004
  • “The only measure for properly evaluating an age is to ask to what extent it fosters the development and attainment of a full and authentically meaningful human existence.”  

    --Romano Guardini, The End of the Modern World, 2001
  • A theological interpretation of work is only valid if it facilitates transformation of work toward ever-greater correspondence with the coming new creation."

    --Miroslav Volf, Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work, 2001
  • “Biblical law was concerned with workers’ welfare and dignity. Prophets preached in the marketplace, not from the podium in the Temple in Jerusalem.”

    --Jeffrey K. Salkin, Being God’s Partner: How to Find the Hidden Link Between Spirituality and Your Work, 1994
  • “Our work does not bestow on us our humanity, but it is the way we can express in a useful manner our likeness to God as creators, sustainers, redeemers.”

    --Ben Witherington III, Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor, 2011
  • “A new work philosophy would seem to entail certain things as minimum elements… the norm of individualism in economic life would have to yield to a broader vision of the role of the person in society.”

    --Dennis Clark, Work & The Human Spirit, 1967
  • “The human being – in the splendid rabbinic phrase – is a partner with God in the work of creation. The human being’s place in creation is to preserve the world but also to transform it.”

    --Seymour Siegel, “A Jewish View of Economic Justice.” in Contemporary Jewish Ethics and Morality, 1995
  • A critical and self-reflective theology of work understands the meaning of human work within the context of a theory of society, in which transcendent values of love and justice should become immanent and prevail."

    --Francis Schussler Fiorenza, “Religious Beliefs and Praxis: Reflections on Catholic Theological Views of Work” in Work and Religion, 1980.
  • “The dignity of the human person, realized in community with others, is the criterion against which all aspects of human life must be measured.”

    --U.S. Catholic Bishops, Economic Justice for All, 1986
  • “What sustains the good of society is not the endless growth of purchasing power, but the relationships made possible in the good work of the community.”

    --David H. Jensen, Responsive Labor: A Theology of Work, 2006
  • I believe that one of the new possibilities of demonstrating the qualitative difference between a free and unfree society lies precisely in our ability to discover the the realm of freedom in labor and not merely beyond it.”

    --Herbert Marcuse, The End of Utopia, 1967, p.20.
  • “Play as world symbol goes beyond the categories of doing, having, and achieving and leads us to the categories of being, of authentic human existence and demonstrative rejoicing in it.”

    --Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Play, 1972, p. 23
  • The integral development of the human person through work does not impede but rather promotes the greater productivity and efficiency of work itself, even though it may weaken consolidated power structures.”

    --Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, May 1, 1991, No. 43
  • It is through labor that people create their world, and it is through the same labor that in a certain sense they also create themselves.”

    --Gregory Baum, The Priority of Labor: A Commentary on Laborem exercens Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul I, 1982
  • Through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed in a sense becomes more of a human being.”

    --Pope John Paul II, Laborem exercens, 1981, No. 6
  • We need a vision of work that recognizes and honors the precept that, minimally, work must do two things – maintain life and add to it.”

    --Al Gini, My Job, My Self: Work And The Creation Of The Modern Individual, 2001.