MANILA, Philippines, 25 OCT. 2003 (ZENIT).
Here is an adapted excerpt of an address by Father Jose Vidamor B. Yu
given Sept. 29 at the theologians videoconference organized by the
Vatican Congregation for Clergy.
* * *
"Rerum Novarum" to "Mater et Magistra"
By Father Jose Vidamor B. Yu
The Church during the 19th century had seen the major shifts of how man
earned higher standards way of living. The Industrial Revolution had
increased population growth in the whole of Europe; technical advances
were made in industries like the steam engine for instance, which
brought about the increase of production. Cities expanded and the Church
experienced new births of cities in Europe. Capitalism has been the
economic system adopted that provided an unsupervised urban working
class, a proletariat that lived in subhuman conditions, exploited and
unprotected. The factory has replaced the agricultural field in the
daily cycle of human undertakings.
A great concern was to be focused on the poorer class of the society.
Evangelical groups like the Methodists became popular with the working
and lower class of people. They echoed one message: Their own liberation
and salvation from their misery and predicaments is through faith in the
passion and death of Christ. The evangelical movements focused on the
authority and the inspiration of the Bible for liberation in situations
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, took a stand and proclaimed its
reactions through the first social encyclical of the Church, "Rerum
Novarum." Pope Leo XIII's encyclical, issued May 15, 1891, was
written within the framework of St. Thomas Aquinas' understanding of the
social order. Two things surfaced in the teaching: first, the Church
denied support for class warfare while attacking socialism as proposed
by Karl Marx, and second, it spoke against the various presuppositions
of economic liberalism, that is, capitalism.
"Rerum Novarum" teaches:
First, the advancement of the industrialization period brought about
injustice in the society through the inhumanity of employers and the
unguided method of competition. "After the old trade guilds had
been destroyed in the last century, and no protection was substituted in
their place, and when public institutions and legislation had cast off
traditional religious teaching, it gradually came about that the present
age handed over the workers, each alone and defenseless, to the
inhumanity of employers and the unbridled greed of competitors"
("Rerum Novarum," No. 6).
Second, "Rerum Novarum" was deeply concerned with the
alienation of the workers from the Church as a result of the widening
gap between the social classes. Socialism attempted to solve this
increasing problem but was condemned by the Church, which proposed the
equitable relationship between capital and labor instead. Leo XIII
explained that the worsening situation due to the relationship between
socialism and the working class in fact [is worse] than the evils of the
The encyclical explains that "inasmuch as the socialists seek to
transfer the goods of private persons to the community at large, they
make the lot of all wage earners worse, because in abolishing the
freedom to dispose of wages they take away from them by this very act
the hope and the opportunity of increasing their property and of
securing advantages for themselves" (RN, 10).
Third, the social encyclical insists that the rich and poor, capital or
labor have equal rights and duties. Against the socialists, Leo XIII
defends the right of individuals to private property. It is the
prerogative of the individual to exercise his own right to possess
certain properties as a citizen of the country. However, Leo XIII warns
abuses of the right to private property. The encyclical laid down the
limits to its use to avoid abuse to both individuals and properties.
Private property is a vocation and a right. Leo XIII says that it
"is a right natural to man, and to exercise this right, especially
in life in society, is not only lawful, but clearly necessary. 'It is
lawful for man to own his own things. It is even necessary for human
life'" (RN, 36).
Fourth, the poor and the weak have to be defended by the state. The
state has the inalienable duty to defend their rights. These rights have
to be religiously protected it is because the weak and the poor rely on
the state for protection. The power of the state is manifested through
its service to the weak and underprivileged. The state should make the
poor under its "special care and foresight" (RN, 54).
Fifth, the relationship between employers and employees has to be
manifested through a just salary that would enable the workers to
support themselves individually and their own families. Leo XIII exhorts
that it is the state which has the duty to ensure the justice provided
by the employers to their laborers. If justice could not be maintained,
it would be detrimental to the employers, to the workers, trade and
commerce and most especially to the interests of the state which as well
as may stir up violence, riots, and civil disorder and thus jeopardize
public peace (see RN, 56).
Sixth, the state has the right to intervene into the labor problem of
its citizens to guarantee justice to all. However, Leo XIII warns that
the state cannot absorb individuals. Every worker has the right to form
unions with the condition that these associations should ensure its
functions in favor of the laborer.
Leo XIII adds that "man is permitted by a right of nature to form
private societies; the state, on the other hand, has been instituted to
protect and not to destroy natural right, and if it should forbid its
citizens to enter into associations, it would clearly do something
contradictory to itself because both the state itself and private
associations are begotten of one and the same principle, namely, that
men are by nature inclined to associate" (RN, 72). Trade unions
have the right also to uphold the legitimate rights of the workers.
Seventh, the state has the primary duty of saving the soul of the
individual worker. The protection of the individual is not an end in
itself "but a road only and a means for perfecting, through
knowledge of truth and love of good, the life of the soul" (RN,
57). It should be the vocation of the state and the Church to ensure the
salvation of every citizen of the country, especially among the working
class, which constitutes the weak and poor of the society. Any social
organization likewise has the duty to lead the workers toward religious
and moral perfection (see RN, 77).
The encyclical "Rerum Novarum" of Leo XIII indicated the
Church's awareness and response to the signs of the times. It was the
task of the Pope to provide principles about the rights of workers and
the duty of the state based on eternal truths.
"Rerum Novarum" was a giant step of the Church toward making
an alliance with the workers and the poor while resisting the Church's
temptation to ally with the bourgeois. The central theme of the
encyclical was focused on the conditions of workers as effects of the
Industrial Revolution. Relationship between employees and employers
should be based on truth, justice, love, and respect to the individual's
The impact of Leo XIII's "Rerum Novarum" is assessed in Pius
XI's encyclical "Quadragesimo Anno" on May 15, 1931. Pius XI
focused on the principle of subsidiarity as an alternative to class
struggles, socialism and capitalism. Following the social foundations
and principles of "Rerum Novarum," Pius XI pursued social
justice based on the Gospel principles. The Catholic Church desires to
take up justice among the working class and the needs of the poor
through social concern and charity. The encyclical was issued amidst the
depression of social order, the rise of communist totalitarianism on the
one hand, and extreme capitalism on the other.
Pius XI highlights these following points in his encyclical:
First, he reaffirms the principles set out by Leo XIII gaining foothold
in the midst of the great Depression, in the age of dictators and
ruthless totalitarian systems of the right and the left. "Quadragesimo
Anno" develops Catholic social doctrines along the lines of the
Gospel's great principles of love manifested through peace and justice,
solidarity, the common good, subsidiarity, the right to property, the
right to associate and the fundamental role of the family in society.
By affirming basic human rights, "Quadragesimo Anno" paved the
way this courageous papal attacks on Nazism ("Mit Brennender Sorge,"
1937), Soviet communism ("Divini Redemptoris," 1937), Italian
fascism ("Non Abbiamo Bisogno," 1931) and Masonic
anti-clericalism in Mexico ("Nos Es Muy Conocida," 1937)
Second, "Quadragesimo Anno" affirms once more the magisterial
vocation of the Church through the "Christian reform of
morals" (No. 15). The Church has the duty to educate the faithful
with regard to the basic social principles founded on sacred Scriptures.
Responding to the current signs of the times, the Church has to exercise
its duty of leading the society toward its highest ideals by fulfilling
its duty to restore the dignity of the workers.
It says that, "it is the Church, again, that strives not only to
instruct the mind, but to regulate by her precepts the life and morals
of individuals, and that ameliorates the condition of the workers
through her numerous and beneficent institutions" (QA, 17).
Third, Pius XI attacks socialism as a system of societal affairs which
may oppress human freedom through harmful collectivism. It is a system
of political and economic state of affairs based on common ownership
that overrides the right to private ownership. Pius XI mentioned two
objectives of communism, namely "unrelenting class warfare and
absolute extermination of private ownership" (QA, 112).
On the other hand, Pius XI exposed the evils of capitalism that leads
toward extreme individualism, which may leave the rights of workers
unprotected. One of the thrusts of the state is to defend the rights of
the weak and the poor. Pius XI reiterated Leo XIII's call for reform
saying, "the function of the rulers of the state, moreover, is to
watch over the community and its parts; but in protecting private
individuals in their rights, chief consideration ought to be given to
the weak and the poor" (QA, 25).
Fourth, Pius XI emphasized on the "principle of subsidiarity"
which gives the freedom of various small economic and social groups to
handle matters of lesser importance. The state should not intervene in
any affair that smaller groups, business and institutions can do by
their own. The encyclical says that "the supreme authority of the
state ought, therefore, to let subordinate groups handle matters and
concerns of lesser importance, which would otherwise dissipate its
efforts greatly. Thereby the state will more freely, powerfully and
effectively do all those things that belong to it alone because it alone
can do them: directing, watching, urging, restraining, as occasion
requires and necessity demands" (QA, 80).
Mater et Magistra
To carry out the mission of Christ in the transformation of the social
environment, John XXIII interpreted the signs of the times from the
perspective of the Gospel.
First, the Church being a mother and a teacher, John XXIII [in the 1960
encyclical "Mater et Magistra"] mentions the changes
transpiring in the society. On the technological level, the advancement
of science and technology was upbeat, the discovery of the atomic energy
was an advancement, the modernization of agriculture was a sign of
protection and promotion of the agricultural sector, and the means of
communication and transportations had manifested the interconnectedness
of peoples around the world.
On the social level, workers become aware of their rights to insurance,
education, the awareness of being members of unions, and the desire for
convenient life. On the area of political life, the Church has been
aware of the decline of colonialism allowing the emergence of the
nation-state. The postwar situation had provided a major step toward
affirming the uniqueness of cultures and nations. Peoples now govern
themselves and establish their own laws and institutions. The
independence of peoples and cultures was affirmed by the Church to
pursue its task of inculturation, dialogue, and other forms of
Second, John XIII has developed the principle of subsidiarity to the
interdependence of peoples and nations. The growing economic and
technological age had turned the world into a global village by means of
communications and transportation. The increasing complexity of the
socioeconomic life has made people desire for interdependence through
associations, thus "a daily more complex interdependence of
citizens, introducing into their lives and activities many and varied
forms of association" (MM, 59).
Third, John XXIII used the human person as the criterion for evaluating
socioeconomic situations. The dignity of the human person remains
central to the any political, economic and social progress. It
highlights that, "consequently, if the organization and structure
of economic life be such that the human dignity of workers is
compromised, or their sense of responsibility is weakened, or their
freedom of action is removed, then we judge such an economic order to be
unjust, even though it produces a vast amount of goods, whose
distribution conforms to the norms of justice and equity" (MM, 83).
John XXIII made it a point that a just economy does not only mean the
abundance and the distribution of the production of goods and services.
It also includes the process of the individual as a human person who is
the subject and object of these goods and services.
Fourth, it is the vocation of the state to pursue and promote common
good. "Mater et Magistra" pursued dialogue between the Church
and the international community with regard to human rights. It is the
vocation of the Church to protect and defend with full clarity. Human
rights promotion is an indispensable mission of the Church. John XXIII
used the expression of his predecessor Pius XII "signs of the
times" as a positive opportunity for the Church to proclaim and
respond to the needs of the times in the light of the Gospel.
Fifth, it is the vocation of the Church and the individual Christian to
overcome the excessive inequality among the various sectors of society.
John XXIII says that the human person is responsible for his acts and
has a capacity for self-mastery (see MM, 55). The ordering of the
material and social world is respecting the dignity of the human person.
The human person created is in God's image and is rooted in a nature
that is physical and spiritual exercising the gift of freedom (see MM,
208). It was the concern of the Church for the dignity of the human
person that makes it strive to resist economic and political changes
that would compromise human dignity and freedom. ZE03102502