Kirk Kramer sent me this. You know Kirk, right? No? I thought everyone did. But, it occurs to me, younger people may not know him as he, a sort of Catholic quasi-luddite, abstains from social media and rarely visits blogs. What he does is post things to a Yahoo Group. By this quaint means of communication his friends are treated to choice readings on a variety of topics. I had not read Rerum Novarum in a really long time, and was struck by how relevant it is to our day. Once, when economic inequality was not so great and unions were more powerful, this encyclical appeared a little dated. No more. Here are excerpts, as ordered and subtitled by Fr Vincent McNabb, OP, and printed by Douglas Peplar at Ditchling, Sussex, in 1919:
Pope Leo XIII on the condition of the working classes: from RERUM NOVARUM:
The condition of the working people is the pressing question of the
hour; and nothing can be of higher interest to all classes of the
State than that it should be rightly and reasonably adjusted.
All agree, and there can be no question whatever, that some remedy
must be found, and found quickly, for the misery and wretchedness
pressing so heavily and so unjustly on the vast majority of the
NATURE OF THE EVIL –
A FEW RICH AND MANY POOR
The result of civil change and revolution has been to divide society
into two widely differing castes.
On the one hand is the party which holds power because it holds
wealth; which has in its grasp the whole of labor and trade; which
manipulates for its own benefit and its own purposes all the sources
of supply, and which is even represented in the councils of the State
On the other side are the needy and powerless multitude, broken down
THE CAUSES OF POVERTY
It has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, all
isolated and helpless, to the hard-heartedness of employers and the
greed of unchecked competition.
The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although
more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless under a
different guise, but with the like injustice, still practiced by
covetous and grasping men. To this must be added the custom of
working by contract and the concentration of so many branches of trade
in the hands of a few individuals; so that a small number of very rich
men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor
a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.
THE CHURCH WISHES THE EVIL TO END
Neither must it be supposed that the solicitude of the Church is so
preoccupied with the spiritual concerns of her children as to neglect
their temporal and earthly interests.
Her desire is that the poor shall rise above poverty and wretchedness
in life; and for this she makes a strong endeavor.
WORK MAKES WEALTH
All human existence is derived either from labor on one’s own land, or
from some toil.
It may be truly said that it is only by the labor of working men that
states grow rich.
RIGHTS MUST BE SAFEGUARDED BY STATE
Rights must be religiously respected wherever they exist. It is the
duty of the public authority to prevent and to punish injury and to
protect everyone in the possession of his own.
THE RIGHT NOT TO BE SWEATED
Religion teaches the wealthy owner and the employer that their
workpeople are not be accounted their bondsmen; . . . that it is
shameful and inhuman to treat men like chattels to make money by, or
to look upon them merely as so much muscle or physical labor.
The rich must religiously refrain from cutting down the workmen’s
earnings, whether by force or fraud or by usurious dealings; and with
all the greater reason because the laboring man is, as a rule, weak
and unprotected, and because his slender means should, in proportion
to their slenderness, be accounted sacred.
THE RIGHT TO LIVE BY WORK
The preservation of life is the bounden duty of all.
It follows that each one has a right to procure what is required in
order to live; and the poor can procure it in no other way than
through work and wages.
THE RIGHT TO A LIVING WAGE
A workman’s wages should be sufficient to enable him to maintain
himself, his wife, and his children in reasonable comfort.
THE RIGHT TO THE FULL RESULT OF LABOR
It is just and right that the results of labor should belong to those
who have bestowed their labor.
THE RIGHT TO ASSOCIATION [that is LABOR UNIONS]
The State is bound to protect natural rights, not to destroy them.
And if it forbid its citizens to form associations, it contradicts the
very principle of its own existence, for both they and it exist in
virtue of the like principle, namely the natural tendency of man to
dwell in society.
THE WORK-FOLK’S SPECIAL RIGHT TO PROTECTION
When there is a question of defending the rights of individuals, the
poor and helpless have a claim to special consideration.
The richer class have many ways of shielding themselves, and stand
less in need of help from the State; whereas those who are badly off
have no resources of their own to fall back upon, and must chiefly
depend upon the assistance of the State. And it is for this reason
that wage-earners, who are undoubtedly among the weak and necessitous,
should be especially cared for and protected by government.
BAD LAWS ARE NO LAWS
Human law is law only by virtue of its accordance with right reason.
Thus it is manifest that it flows from eternal law.
Insofar as it deviates from right reason it is called an unjust law.
In such a case it is no law at all; but rather a species of violence.
OWNERSHIP IS STEWARDSHIP
Man should not consider his outward possessions as his own, but as
common to all; so as to share them without hesitation when others are
Whoever has received from the Divine Bounty a large share of temporal
blessings, whether they be external and corporeal or gifts of the
mind, has received them for the purpose of using them for the
perfecting of his own nature and, at the same time, that he may employ
them as the steward of God’s Providence for the benefit of others.
THE STATE CAN CONTROL PROPERTY
The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from
man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests
of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether.
WHAT GOD HAS DONE –
WHAT THE STATE MUST DO
God has granted the earth to mankind in general, not in the sense that
all without distinction can deal with it as they like, but rather that
no part of it has been assigned to anyone in particular, and that the
limits of private possession have been left to be fixed by man’s own
industry, and by the laws of individual races.
The law therefore should favor ownership; and its policy should be to
induce as many as possible of the humbler classes to become owners.
THE DUTY OF THE CHURCH
Every minister of holy religion must bring to the struggle the full
energy of his mind and all his power of endurance. . . . They should
never cease to urge upon men of every class, upon the high-placed as
well as the lowly, the Gospel doctrines of Christian life; by every
means in their power they must strive to secure the good of the
people; and above all must earnestly cherish in themselves, and try to
arouse in others, charity, the mistress and queen of virtues.