Work & Human Flourishing

The Working Life: Rerum Novarum, 1891

by Pope Leo XIII

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 out very specific mandates for worker justice, including a living wage and the right to organize. Instead of pitting worker against employer, the pope offers a new model for achieving social justice where the worker is empowered to identify needed change in the workplace or society. The theological theme of “Subsidiarity” describes the new relationship between capital and labor. The employer, or those not among the working poor, have a religious obligation to empower the worker to identify injustices in the system and to offer their skills and expertise to assist workers in bringing about social change.

by Pope Leo XIII

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