Rerum Novarum

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Rerum Novarum


(literally, “of new things”), an encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII on May 15, 1891. Rerum novarum, which was directed against socialism and the working-class movement, reflected the adaptation of the Catholic Church and the papacy to capitalism and to the defense of the principles of bourgeois society, after centuries of defending and supporting feudal absolutist regimes. The encyclical took note of new phenomena in economics and social relations, including the development of industrialism, the concentration of capital in the hands of a few, the increasing poverty among the broad masses of the people, and the deepening of social conflicts. Although Rerum novarum expressed sympathy for the working people, it preached that private property and the class division of society would always exist. Moreover, the encyclical resolutely opposed socialism, and called for the repudiation of the class struggle and for class collaboration.

Attributing all the world’s misfortunes to original sin, Rerum novarum declared that suffering is the lot of mankind. To counteract class organizations of workers, the encyclical proposed the creation of workers’ organizations headed by the clergy and based on the principles of collaboration between labor and capital.

The basic principles enunciated in Rerum novarum regarding new world phenomena laid the foundation for other social encyclicals, including Quadragesimo anno (1931), which marked the 40th anniversary of Rerum novarum, and Mater et magistra (1961), which marked the 70th anniversary, as well as the apostolic letter “Octogesimo adveniens” (1971), which marked the 80th anniversary.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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