Pope Leo XIII wrote the encyclical Rerum Novarum as the industrial revolution and political change swept across Europe. The relationship between employers and employees was changing dramatically. Individuals had become wealthy, but most remained poor even though they worked hard. Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical spoke of the condition of the working classes during a time when many advocated revolution.
Quadragesimo Anno was written by Pope Pius XI in 1931 forty years after Pope Leo XIII’s Rerun Novarum on the Condition of Workers. He wrote this encyclical to address the ethical challenges facing workers, employers, the Church and the state as a result of end of the industrial revolution and the onset of the Great Depression.
Pope John XXIII wrote this encyclical in 1961 to continue the tradition of Rerum Novarum (1891) and Quadragesimo Anno (1931). The world had changed considerably in the previous 30 years both politically and economically. The Great Depression and World War II had ended, the cold war had begun, and technology allowed for increased productivity, but vast poverty remained across the globe.
Pope John XXIII wrote the encyclical Pacem in Terris in April of 1963 to address a world deeply engaged in the Cold War. The Berlin Wall had just gone up and the Cuban Missile Crisis frightened millions as nuclear weapons began to proliferate.
Pope Paul VI wrote the Apostolic letter “Octogesima Adveniens” in 1971 as a letter to Cardinal Maurice Roy, the President of the Council of Laity and of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace on the eightieth anniversary of the encyclical Rerum Novarum. His Holiness sought to highlight many social issues facing people at the time and to inspire renewed action for lay members to participate in social and political reform according to the Gospel.
The encyclical Laborem Exercens was written by Pope John Paul II in 1981 to celebrate 90 years since the publication of Rerum Novarum.
In those ninety years issues surrounding employment and labor have not ceased to remain of importance to the Church. Work has changed considerably since the industrial revolution and technological and innovative advances are accelerating that change. In this encyclical His Holiness focuses on the dignity of human work in the contemporary world.
In Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Pope John Paul II celebrates the twentieth anniversary of Populorum Progressio by updating the Church’s teaching on the “development of peoples” and changes that took place in the preceding two decades.
The encyclical Centesimus Annus was written in 1991 by Pope John Paul II on the one hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. It came on the heels of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. In it John Paul II seeks to conduct a “re-reading” of Pope Leo’s landmark encyclical to re-discover the richness of the fundamental principles in which Rerum Novarum dealt with the condition of workers and the economy as a whole.
Pope John Paul II released the encyclical Evangelium Vitae on March 25, 1995. It deals with the most basic of all principles – the value and sacredness of human life. Our duty to protect life is central to the Christian message. The encyclical is broken into four main chapters which discuss contemporary threats to life, the Gospel’s message regarding life, God’s law, and hope for a new culture of life.
The encyclical Fides Et Ratio was written by Pope John Paul II to his fellow bishops in 1998 to address the relationship between faith and reason. It was written to support and defend traditional Christian philosophy. His Holiness believed that faith and reason together allow people to know and love God.
Almost 115 years after the publication of Rerum Novarum the Church sought to compile and summarize its modern social teachings. In 2004 the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace published Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church to summarize and restate the Church’s social teachings to serve as a reference for all Catholics.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote the encyclical Deus Caritas Est in 2005 about God’s love for humanity. In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even hatred, Benedict seeks to speak of the limitless love that God lavishes on humanity.
Pope Benedict XVI, 2009
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Encyclical Letter On the Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth
1. Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth. Each person finds his good by adherence to God’s plan for him, in order to realize it fully: in this plan, he finds his truth, and through adherence to this truth he becomes free (cf. Jn 8:22).
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