Resources on Faith, Ethics and Public Life

Rerum Novarum (The Condition of Labor)

May 15, 1891

Rerum Novarum is a foundational text in the history of Catholic social thought, establishing the position of the Church on issues pertaining to the proper relationship between capital and labor. The vision expounded by the encyclical emphasizes the duties and obligations that bind owners of capital and workers to each other. Throughout the encyclical, Pope Leo XIII articulates the inherent dignity of both labor and laborer, themes which will be taken up by successive popes in later encyclicals, notably Pacem in Terris and Centesimus Annus. Repudiating both radical socialism and unrestrained capitalism, Rerum Novarum provides a vigorous defense of both private property and the right of workers to form unions, among other things. The document is considered the first of the Church's modern social canon, as it represented a newfound understanding of the need for the Church to offer its critical reflection on the social issues of the day.

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