Sunday, February 25, 2007

Forty Years After

Monday, May. 25, 1931
from Time Magazine

Return Novarum. Forty years ago last week, the long-headed little old man in the Vatican peered out into the revolutionized industrial world and saw that all was not going to be peaceful. To 81-year-old Gioacchino Vincenzo Pecci, His Holiness Pope Leo XIII, who had been Civil Governor of Benevento and Governor of Perugia and far more a man-of-the-world than his dogmatist predecessor Pius IX, it seemed a good moment for Mother Church to say her say about social and industrial reform.' So he composed and issued a great encyclical entitled Rerum Novarum ("Concerning New Things"). Firmly rejecting the new Socialism and its "community of goods" as "directly contrary to the natural rights of mankind," he enunciated a platform which he was later to expand so as to put Mother Church on record for trades unionism, the eight-hour day, minimum wage laws, old age pensions and much else that was "radical" then, commonplace now.

"There is no intermediary," he said, "more powerful than Religion (whereof the Church is the interpreter and guardian) in drawing the rich and the working class together, by reminding each of its duties to the other, and especially of the obligations of justice." He recognized the occasional justification for strikes, the necessity for labor unions and decent wage standards, but he made clear that Mother Church could go no further. "As for those who possess not the gifts of fortune," he said, "they are taught by the Church that in God's sight poverty is no disgrace, and that there is nothing to be ashamed of in earning their bread by labor."

Quadragesimo Anno. As last week's 40th anniversary of Rerum Novarum approached, the roundheaded, 73-year-old man in the Vatican who 40 years ago was an energetic priest fond of mountain-climbing, and who since has shown himself one of the great Statesman-Popes, beheld the industrial and financial worlds again seething with a great unrest. In Russia the overturn had come, violently, and Mother Church had suffered there with Capitalism. Throughout the world, even Capitalists were saying, "Capitalism is not perfect. It must mend itself and mankind." Achille Ambrogio Damiano Ratti, His Holiness Pope Pius XI, perceived that the appropriate moment again had come for Mother Church to announce her attitude towards the social scheme.

To the Vatican printshop last fortnight went a long document entitled Quadragesima Anno ("In the 40th Year"). To the world Press and to a throng of the faithful assembled last week at the Vatican for the occasion was handed another long document, an official resume of Quadragesima Anno, Pius XI's encyclical on the social and industrial world of today, amplifying and interpreting Leo XIII's. Finally, a throne and microphone of gold and silver were set up in the Courtyard of St. Damascus and the Pope came forth in person to address the workers and employers of the world.

John Jacob Raskob, member of the finance committee of General Motors, sitting with Mrs. Raskob and their daughter Elizabeth in a reserved seat near His Holiness, may well have wondered what would happen to Capitalism if Mother Church should move her great weight leftward from the position taken by Leo XIII. But the official resume of Quadragesima Anno dispelled all fear. It said that Rerum Novarum was still "the Magna Charta of all Catholic activity in the social sphere. . . . "It is ... absolutely necessary to reconstruct the whole economic system by bringing it back to the requirements of social justice so as to insure a more able distribution of the united proceeds of capital and labor. Thus will be achieved that uplifting of the proletariat which Leo XIII so ardently desired. ... In the present order this can be accomplished only by a fair and just wage. . . ." Extempore To the world's surprise. Pius XI did not read his official resume into his world-reaching microphone. Instead he extemporized for over an hour in three languages, repeating each sentence in Italian, German, French. His keynote: "Prayer, action and sacrifice—there is what is necessary for you, the children of our predilection. That is what you need, you, the workers; you, the financiers; you who finance all industry, labor in justice and charity, in fraternity and in peaceful cooperation. . . . May the Holy Spirit descend upon you. . . ."

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