All encyclicals have great importance in their time but some transcend time because the root of the problem they remedy are a constant and fundamental threat to the physical, moral and supernatural wellbeing of man. Rerum Novarum is one such encyclical. And as you will see, many of the basic rights we take for granted, have their origin in this encyclical.
Of new things Is quite an apt title. Leo XIII was the first pope to address matters of economics and politics in an authoritative, papal document.
“But Religion has nothing to do with politics or economics!”shouted his critics in protest. WRONG! It is the soul and compass of all
political and economic systems. The King is not dead, the King does not sleep. It is YOU who are dead, for you have separated the Church from the State, like the soul passing from the body.
Pope Leo XIII rubber-stamped Christ back into the heart of public life: “We affirm that if the Church is disregarded, human striving will be in vain”.
His Holiness could no longer remain silent. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing and the fruits were rotten. Work conditions were unhealthy, wages low. There was a lot of cruelty against women and children, and a growing gap between the rich and the poor. For the majority of businessmen, money was their only aim. Predictably, the working class rebelled with riots and machine wrecking.
How was society to resolve this increasing polarity between the rich and the poor? Socialism became fashionable. It proposed to divest the wealthy of their riches and evenly divide the spoils to all. A very attractive proposal to the “Lazarus” class of this world, daily feeding off the crumbs of the rich.
NO, said the Pope. Socialism is pernicious. It strips man of the fundamental right to provide for his own on his own (land). It strips work of its individual character, creating monolithic movements of men’s minds and bodies, cogs in the great socialist machine without a face.
So if Socialism is out, Capitalism must be the Catholic Church’s choice? Firstly, the Catholic Church does not have a preference of
societal governance, just as long as the moral precepts are upheld, the common good is served and the Church is given its freedom to guide her children to God.
So, does Capitalism live up to all these things? And if not, why didn’t Pope Leo XIII strongly condemn it like Socialism? In short, Capitalism does all of these things (maintain moral rectitude and the common good, support the Church), but very poorly. Man was born with original sin. He has strong tendencies to evil. Without the cleansing of baptism and a strong injection of the Holy Ghost, he will naturally gravitate to sin and commit evil. This is Capitalism. It is reformable with the help of its mother the Church, but without an infusion of Christian principles and laws, it is doomed to destruction, self-destruction.
So though Capitalism isn’t intrinsically evil, it was not purpose-built for the job. Its origins are simply not Catholic, but Protestant
(with and unhealthy injection of Jewish backing and money).
In the next posting, I’ll explore the principles laid out by Pope Leo XIII, principles we need in the quest for a Christian State.