The Dignity of the Human Worker


In his encyclical “Rerum Novarum,” Pope Leo XIII discussed the issues concerning rights and duties of capital and labor. He was writing this letter during a time of great revolutionary changes in the industrial world as well as the new political changes in Europe and America. Pope Leo states that civil society exists for the common good, and hence is concerned with the interests of all in general, albeit with individual interests also in their due place and degree. He was also safeguarding the Church from advocating any specific form of government, because man’s salvation comes through Christ and not through the political power of men.

Socialist forms of government especially inhibit the rights of people to fulfill their ends towards the right to work, private property and free worship of God. In the beginning, God created man and woman to be co-equal partners, to be fruitful, multiply, fill and subdue the earth. Men and women have been given gifts and talents to be used in order to fulfill God’s plan and thus imitate Him in the great act of creation.

There will always be people who have great ideas and provide work, and then there will be those who become workers to make these ideas possible. Pope Leo goes on to write concerning the duties of owners towards their workers saying, “not to look upon their work people as their bondsmen, but to respect in every man his dignity as a person ennobled by Christian character.” The end of work is meant to allow the worker to exercise his creative abilities and enable him to earn an honorable livelihood, thus allowing him to provide for his family as well as taking time away from work, for the good of his soul, in order to worship God in thanksgiving.