Rerum Novarum

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Rerum Novarum is an encyclical issued by Roman Catholic Pope Leo XIII on May 15, 1891. It was an open letter to all the bishops that addressed the condition of the working classes. Leo supported the rights of labor to form unions, but rejected socialism and affirmed private property rights. He discussed the relationships between government, business, labor, and the church proposing a social and economic structure that was later called corporatist.

While individual positions or statements have been debated, the work was remarkable as a summary of many issues raised by the industrial revolution and modern democratic societies. Leo began by describing many of the grievances of the working class. But he refuted as false the theories of Marxist socialists and defended private ownership. He believed that solutions would come from the combined actions of the Church, the State, the employer and the employee. He set out principles that should be used in seeking justice in industrial, social, and economic life.

Coupled with Leo's other work and his long reign as Pope (18781903), one profound effect was to push the Catholic Church and its hierarchy into the modern world. At the time his support for unions and a living wage were viewed as radically liberal. Yet other statements seem to be opposed to capitalism as well. Many of the positions in Rerum Novarum were supplemented by later encyclicals, especially Pius XI's Quadragesimo Anno (1931), John XXIII's Mater et Magistra (1961), and John Paul II's Centesimus Annus (1991). The Archbishop of Westminster, Henry Edward Cardinal Manning was most influential in the composition of the encyclical. He was formerly an Anglican clergyman with evangelical leanings, and brought a sensibility to the modern Catholic Church that had its origins in the work of John Wesley.

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