Catholicism`s Developing Social Teaching
Reflections on Rerum Novarum and Centesimus Annus
Автор(и) : Robert A. Sirico
Издател : Action Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
Място на издаване : New York, USA
Година на издаване : 1992
ISBN : 1-880595-21-4
Брой страници : 47
Език : английски
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The latter part of the 19th century saw momentous changes brought on by the industrial Revolution. In an attempt to bring to bear the insights of transcendent faith on real-world matters, Pope Leo XIII, who reigned from 1878 to 1903, penned an encyclical letter that would become known as the Magna Carta of Catholic social teaching. The revolutionary changes Leo witnessed had transformed the social and technological patterns of European life and were the immediate occasion for his letter Rerum Novarum in May 1891.
Rerum Novarum was the first of the modern social encyclicals. While certain foundational moral teachings are expressed in these documents, much of what they deal with are matters of a contingent and prudential nature.
The student of Catholic social teaching will therefore note that it is dynamic and always subject to development. In honor of the centenary of Leo’s encyclical, Pope John Paul II declared 1991 a Year of Church Social Teaching and issued a ground-breaking new encyclical, Centesimus Annus (The Hundredth Year), which represents a dramatic development in the encyclical tradition in favor of the free economy.
I set out to examine Rerum Novarum with a somewhat focused intention, in order to provide a backdrop for understanding how momentous the appearance of Centesimus Annus is. It is not so much my goal to write here as a theologian, but rather as a student of what Ludwig von Mises called “the forces that bring society into existence,” namely the activities of the free market. There will, of course, be a theological dimension to these remarks, and to that extent I write with an awareness of the ecumenical setting of today’s religious dialogue, and the desire of all people of goodwill to learn how to build a society that is just, free, and prosperous.
“The events of the late 18th and the 19th century form the immediate historical context of this encyclical, especially the two great revolutions which defined and marked the era: the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. The philosophical backdrop for these revolutions was, of course, the Enlightenment, which spawned thephilosophical, religious, political, and economic reflection that formed Continental liberalism.
Freedom from authority was the axiom upon which this liberalism was based, and decades would pass before a distinction between the legitimate and illegitimate exercise of authority would emerge, for example, in the way Lord Acton in the last century and Robert Nisbet in this century would later demarcate power from authority.
For many Continental liberals, this meant opposition to the authority of the dominant religious force: the Roman Catholic Church, in both its moral and its civil manifestations. The French Revolution destroyed the ancien régime, which had determined the course of Western civilization from the early Middle Ages. The result sent shock waves through a church that had long-standing social and political links with the deposed old order. Thus, the French Revolution led to a direct assault on the church’s authority, not solely in the spiritual realm; it rebelled against the traditional temporal authority the Catholic Church enjoyed at that time as well.
This last factor, especially the attack on the church’s property, is what led Leo into his defense of private property in Rerum Novarum, arguably the most concise and solid defense of the right to private property offered by the magisterium of the Catholic Church until the promulgation ofCentesimus Annus. The seething anti-clerical hatred generated by the French Revolution, however, caused the church to be very leery of liberal ideas. The history of Catholic social thought in this area might have been very different had the church encountered liberalism in its British, rather than its Continental, manifestation.
In the meantime, Karl Marx had midwifed socialist thought and offered a complete philosophical analysis of the industrial situation with his own doctrine of economics, anthropology, and eschatology in his attempt to respond to the laissez faire of liberalism.”
Robert A. Sirico
Robert A. Sirico (1951) is an American Roman Catholic priest and founder of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.
In 1990, Sirico founded the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting "a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles."
That same year, Sirico was inducted into the Mont Pelerin Society. He served on the Michigan Civil Rights Commission from 1994 to 1998. The Franciscan University of Steubenville awarded Sirico an honorary doctoral degree in Christian Ethics in 1999. The Universidad Francisco Marroquín in 2001 granted him an honorary doctorate in social sciences. He is a member of the American Academy of Religion and of the board of advisors for the Civic Institute in Prague.
Sirico's writings have appeared in
First Things, Crisis, Journal of Markets and Morality, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Financial Times, Washington Times, National Catholic Reporter, and National Review. In his writing, he addresses such topics as the ethics of political/social freedom, business ethics, the history of the civil rights movement, and bio-ethics.