Rerum novarum EN
On Capital and Labor
Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII
May 15, 1891.
To Our Venerable Brethren the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and other Ordinaries of Places having Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See.
1 The spirit of revolutionary change, long predominant in the nations of the world, when once aroused, gradually passed beyond the bounds of politics and made itself felt in the cognate field of practical economy. The elements of a conflict are unmistakable. We perceive them in the growth of industry and the marvellous discoveries of science; in the changed relations of employers and workingmen; in the enormous fortunes of individuals and the poverty of the masses: in the increased self reliance and the closer natural combination of the labor population, and finally, in a general moral deterioration (1) .
The momentous seriousness of the present state of things, indeed, just now fills every mind with painful apprehension. Wise men discuss it; practical men propose schemes; popular meetings, legislatures, and sovereign princes are occupied with it. There is, in fact, nothing which has a deeper hold on public attention.
Hence, Venerable Brethren, as on former occasions, when it seemed opportune to refute false teaching, we addressed you in the interests of the Church and of the commonwealth, and issued letters on Government, Human Liberty, on the Christian Constitution of the State, and on similar subjects, so now We have deemed it well to speak on the Condition of the Workingmen.
It is a matter on which we have touched once or twice already. But in this letter the responsibility of the Apostolic Office urges Us to treat the question expressly and at length, in order that there may be no mistake as to the principles which truth and justice dictate for its settlement. The discussion is not easy, nor is it free from danger. It is not easy to define the relative rights and the mutual duties of the wealthy: and of the poor, of capital and of labour. And the danger lies in this, that crafty agitators constantly make use of these disputes to pervert men's judgements and to stir up the people to sedition.
2 But all agree, and there can be no question whatever, that some remedy must be found, and quickly found, for the misery and wretchedness which press so heavily at this moment on the large majority of the very poor. For the ancient workingmen's guilds were destroyed in this century, and no other organization took their place. Public institutions and the laws have repudiated the ancient religion (2) . Hence by degrees it has come to pass that workingmen have been given over, isolated and defenceless, to the callousness of employers and the greed of unrestrained competition. The evil has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different form but with the same guilt practised by avaricious and grasping men (3) . And to this must be added the custom of working by contract, and the concentration of so many branches of trade in the hands of a few individuals, so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the masses of the poor a yoke little better than slavery itself (4) .
3 To remedy these evils the Socialists, working on the poor man's envy of the rich, maintain that private possessions of goods (5) should be overturned, and that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies (6) . They hold that, by thus transferring property from private persons to the community, the present evil state of things will be set to rights, because each citizen will then have his equal share of whatever there is to enjoy. But their proposals are so clearly futile for all practical purposes, that if they were carried out the workingman himself would suffer. Moreover they are emphatically unjust, because they would rob the lawful possessor, bring the State into a sphere that is not its own, and cause complete confusion in the community.
4 It is surely undeniable that when a man engages in remunerative labor the very reason and motive of his work is to obtain property, and to hold it as his own private possession. If one man hires out to another his strength or his industry, he does this for the purpose of receiving in return what is necessary for food and living; he thereby expressly proposes to acquire a full and real right, not only to the remuneration, but also to the disposal of that remuneration as he pleases. Thus, if he lives sparingly, saves money, and invests his savings, for greater security, in land, the land in such a case is only his wages in another form; and, consequently, a workingman's little estate thus purchased should be as completely at his own disposal as the wages he receives for his labour. But it is precisely in this power of disposal that ownership consists, whether the property be movable or immovable goods. The Socialists, therefore, in endeavouring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community, strike at the interests of every wage-earner, for they deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages, and thus of all hope and possibility of increasing his stock and of bettering his condition in life (7) .
5 What is of still greater importance, however, is that the remedy they propose is manifestly against justice. For every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own.
This is one of the chief points of distinction between man and the animal creation. For the brute has no power of self-direction, but is governed by two chief instincts which keep his powers alert, move him to use his strength, and determine him to action without the power of choice. The instincts are self-preservation and the propagation of the species. Both can attain their purpose by means of things which are close at hand. Beyond the appeal of their instincts the brute creation cannot go, for they are moved to action by sensibility alone, and by the things which sense perceives. But vastly different is the nature of man. He possesses, on the one hand, the full perfection of animal nature, and therefore he enjoys, at least, as much as the rest of the animal race, the fruition of the things of the body. But animality, however perfect, is far from being the whole of humanity and is indeed humanity's humble handmaid, made to serve and obey. It is the mind, or the reason, which is the chief thing in us who are human beings. It is this which makes a human being human, and distinguishes him essentially and completely from the brute. And on this account - namely, that man alone among animals possesses reason - it must be within his right to have things not merely for temporary and momentary use, as other living beings have them, but in stable and permanent possession; he must have not only things which perish in the using, but also those which, though used, remain for use in the future (8) .
6 This becomes still more clearly evident if we consider man's nature a little more deeply. For man comprehends by the power of his reason things innumerable, and joins the future with the present. Being, moreover, the master of his own acts, he governs himself by the foresight of his counsel, under the eternal law and the power of God, whose Providence governs all things. Wherefore it is in his power to exercise his choice not only on things which regard his present welfare, but also on those which will be for his advantage in time to come. Hence man not only can possess the fruits of the earth, but also the earth itself; for of the products of the earth he can make provision for the future. Man's needs do not die out, but recur; satisfied today, they demand new supplies tomorrow. Nature, therefore, owes to man a storehouse that shall never fail, the daily supply of his daily wants. And this he finds only in the inexhaustible fertility of the earth.
Nor must we, at this stage, have recourse to the State. Man is older than the State and he holds the right of providing for the life of his body prior to the formation of any State.
7 To say that God has given the earth to the use and enjoyment of the universal human race is not to deny that there can be private property. For God has granted the earth to mankind in general; not in the sense that all without distinction can deal with it as they please, but rather that no part of it has been assigned to any one in particular, and that the limits of private possession have been left to be fixed by man's own industry and the laws of individual peoples (9) .
Moreover, the earth, though divided among private owners, ceases not thereby to minister to the needs of all; for there is no one who does not live on what the land brings forth. Those who do not possess the soil, contribute their labour; so that it may be truly said that all human subsistence is derived either from labour on one's own land, or from some laborious industry which is paid either in the produce of the land itself or in that which is exchanged for what the land brings forth (10) .
Here, again, we have another proof that private ownership is according to nature's law. For that which is required for the preservation of life and for life's well-being is produced in great abundance by the earth, but not until man has brought it into cultivation and lavished upon it his care and skill. Now, when man thus spends the industry of his mind and the strength of his body in procuring the fruits of nature, by that act he makes his own that portion of nature's field which he cultivates - that portion on which he leaves, as it were, the impress of his own personality; and it cannot but be just that he should possess that portion as his own, and should have a right to keep it without molestation.
8 These arguments are so strong and convincing that it seems surprising that certain obsolete opinions should now be revived in opposition to what is here laid down. We are told that it is right for private persons to have the use of the soil and the fruits of their land, but that it is unjust for any one to possess as owner either the land on which he has built or the estate which he has cultivated. But those who assert this do not perceive that they are robbing man of what his own labour has produced. For the soil which is tilled and cultivated with toil and skill utterly changes its condition. It was wild before, it is now fruitful; it was barren, and now it brings forth in abundance. That which has thus altered and improved it becomes so truly part of the land itself as to be in a great measure indistinguishable, inseparable from it. Is it just that the fruit of a man's sweat and labour should be enjoyed by another? As effects follow their cause, so it is just and right that the results of labour should belong to him who has laboured.
With reason, therefore, the common opinions of mankind, little affected by the few dissentients who have maintained the opposite view, has by the study of nature found in the law of nature herself the foundations of the division of property, and has consecrated by the practice of all ages the principle of private ownership, as being pre-eminently in conformity with human nature, and as conducing in the most unmistakable manner to the peace and tranquillity of human life.
The same principle is confirmed and enforced by the civil laws - laws which, as long as they are just, derive their binding force from the law of nature. To this the authority of the divine law adds its sanction, forbidding us in the gravest terms even to covet that which is another's: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife; nor his house, nor his field, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything which is his" (Dt 5,21).
9 The rights here spoken of as belonging to each individual man, are seen in a much stronger light if they are considered in relation to man's social and domestic obligations.
In choosing a state of life, it is indisputable that all are at full liberty either to follow the counsel of Jesus Christ as to virginity, or to enter into the bonds of marriage. No human law can abolish the natural and primitive right of marriage, or in any way limit the chief and principal purpose of marriage, ordained by God's authority from the beginning. "Increase and multiply" (Gn 1,28). Thus we have the family - the "society" of a man's own household; a society limited indeed in numbers, but a true "society", anterior to every kind of State or nation, with rights and duties of its own, totally independent of the commonwealth. Hence, the right of property, which has been proved to belong naturally to individual persons, must also belong to a man in his capacity of head of a family. Nay, such a person must possess this right so much the more clearly in proportion as his position multiplies his duties.
10 For it is a most sacred law of nature that a father must provide food and all necessaries for those whom he has begotten. And, similarly, nature dictates that a man's children, who carry on, as it were, and continue his own personality, should be provided by him with all that is needful to enable them honourably to keep themselves from want and misery in the uncertainties of this mortal life. Now, in no other way can a father effect this except by the ownership of profitable property (fructuosarum possesione rerum), which he can transmit to his children by inheritance. A family, no less than a State, as we have said, is a true society, governed by a power within itself, that is to say, by the father. Wherefore, provided the limits be not transgressed which are prescribed by the very purposes for which it exists, the family has, at least, equal rights with the State in the choice and pursuit of those things which are needful to its preservation and its just liberty.
We say, at least equal rights; for since the domestic household is anterior both in idea and in fact to the gathering of men into a commonwealth, the former must necessarily have rights and duties which are prior to those of the latter, and which rest more immediately on nature. If the citizens of a State, if the families, on entering into association and fellowship, experienced at the hands of the State hindrance instead of help, and found their rights attacked instead of being protected, such association were rather to be repudiated than sought after (11) .
11 The idea, then, that the civil government should, at its own discretion, penetrate and pervade the family and the household, is a great and pernicious mistake. True, if a family finds itself in great difficulty, utterly friendless, and without prospect of help, it is right that extreme necessity be met by public aid; for each family is a part of the commonwealth. In like manner, if within the walls of the household there occur grave disturbance of mutual rights, the public power must intervene to force each party to give the other what is due; for this is not to rob citizens of their rights, but justly and properly to safeguard and strengthen them. But the rulers of the State must go no further: nature bids them stop here.
Paternal authority can neither be abolished by the State nor absorbed; for it has the same source as human life itself. "Children are in some way part of the father," and as it were, the continuation of the father's personality. Strictly speaking, the child takes its place in civil society not in its own right, but in its quality as a member of the family in which it is begotten. And it is precisely because "the child belongs to the father," that "before it attains the use of free will, it is in the power and care of its parents" (St. Thomas, II-II 10,12). The Socialists, therefore, in setting aside the parent and introducing the providence of the State, act against natural justice, and threaten the very existence of family life (12) .
12 And such interference is not only unjust, but is quite certain to harass and disturb all classes of citizens, and to subject them to odious and intolerable slavery. It would open the door to envy, to evil speaking, and to quarrelling. The sources of wealth would themselves run dry, for no one would have any interest in exerting his talents or his industry. That ideal equality of which so much is said would, in reality, be the leveling down of all to the same condition of misery and dishonour. Thus it is clear that the main tenet of Socialism, the community of goods, must be utterly rejected; for it would injure those whom it is intended to benefit, it would be contrary to the natural rights of mankind, and it would introduce confusion, and disorder into the commonwealth. Our first and most fundamental principle, therefore, when we undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses, must be the inviolability of private property. This laid down, We go on to show where we must find the remedy that we seek.
13 We approach the subject with confidence, and in the exercise of the rights which belong to Us. For no practical solution of this question (i.e., the alleviation of the condition of the masses) will ever be found without the assistance of religion and the Church. It is We who are the chief guardian of religion, and the chief dispenser of what belongs to the Church, and we must not by silence neglect the duty which lies upon Us. Doubtless this most serious question demands the attention and the efforts of others besides Ourselves - of the rulers of States, of employers of labour, of the wealthy, and of the working population themselves for whom We plead. But We affirm without hesitation that all the striving of men will be vain if they leave out the Church. It is the Church that proclaims from the Gospel those teachings by which the conflict can be brought to an end, or at least made far less bitter. The Church uses her efforts not only to enlighten the mind, but to direct by her precepts the life and conduct of men. The Church improves and ameliorates the condition of the workingman by numerous useful organizations. She, moreover, does her best to enlist the services of all ranks in discussing and endeavouring to meet, in the most practical way, the claims of the working classes; and she acts on the decided view that for these purposes recourse should be had, in due measure and degree, to the help of the law and of State authority.
14 Let it be laid down, in the first place, that humanity must remain as it is. It is impossible to reduce human society to a level (13) . The Socialists may do their utmost, but all striving against nature is vain. There naturally exist among mankind innumerable differences of the most important kind. People differ in capability, in diligence, in health, and in strength; and thus inequality in fortune is a necessary result of inequality in condition. Such inequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community. Social and public life can only go on by the help of various kinds of capacity and the playing of many parts, and each man, as a rule, chooses the part which peculiarly suits his case.
As regards bodily labour, man, even had he never fallen from the state of innocence, would not have been wholly unoccupied. But that which would then have been his free choice, his delight, became afterwards compulsory, and the painful expiation of his sin. "Cursed be the earth in thy work; in thy labour thou shalt eat of it all the days of thy life" (Gn 3,17). In like manner, the other pains and hardships of life will have no end or cessation on this earth; for the consequences of sin are bitter and hard to bear, and they must be with man as long as life lasts. To suffer and to endure, therefore, is the lot of humanity. Let men try as they may, no strength and no artifice will ever succeed in banishing from human life the ills and troubles which beset it. If any there are who pretend differently - who hold out to a hardpressed people freedom from pain and trouble, undisturbed repose, and constant enjoyment - they cheat the people and impose upon them, and their lying promises will only make the evil worse than before. There is nothing more useful than to look at the world as it really is - and at the same time look elsewhere for a remedy to its troubles.
15 The great mistake that is made in the matter now under consideration, is to possess oneself of the idea that class is naturally hostile to class; that rich and poor are intended by nature to live at war with one another. So irrational and so false is this view, that the exact contrary is the truth. Just as the symmetry of the human body is the result of the disposition of the members of the body, so in a State it is ordained by nature that these two classes should exist in harmony and agreement, and should, as it were, fit into one another, so as to maintain the equilibrium of the body politic. Each requires the other; capital cannot do without labour, nor labour without capital. Mutual agreement results in pleasantness and good order; perpetual conflict necessarily produces confusion and outrage. Now, in preventing such strife as this, and in making it impossible, the efficacy of Christianity is marvellous and manifold.
16 First of all religion, whereof the Church is the interpreter and guardian, is exceedingly powerful in drawing rich and poor together, by reminding each class of its duties to the other, and especially of the duties of justice. Thus religion teaches the labouring man and the workman to carry out honestly and well all equitable agreements freely made, never to injure capital, nor to outrage the person of an employer; never to employ violence in representing his own cause, nor to engage in riot and disorder; and to have nothing to do with men of evil principles, who work upon the people with artful promises, and raise foolish hopes which usually end in disaster and in repentance when too late.
Religion teaches the rich man and the employer that their work people are not their slaves; that they must respect in every man his dignity as a man and as a Christian; that labour is nothing to be ashamed of, if we listen to right reason and to Christian philosophy, but is an honourable employment, enabling a man to sustain his life in an upright and creditable way; and that it is shameful and inhuman to treat men like chattels to make money by, or to look upon them merely as so much muscle or physical power. Thus, again, religion teaches that, as among the workmen's concerns are religion herself, and things spiritual and mental, the employer is bound to see that his employee has time for the duties of piety; that he be not exposed to corrupting influences and dangerous occasions; and that he be not led away to neglect his home and family or to squander his wages. Furthermore, the employer must never tax his workpeople beyond their strength, nor employ them in work unsuited to their sex or age.
17 The employer's great and principal obligation is to give to every one that which is just. Doubtless before we can decide whether wages are equitable many things have to be considered; but rich men and masters should remember this - that to exercise pressure for the sake of gain upon the indigent and destitute, and to make one's profit out of the need of another, is condemned by all laws, human and divine. To defraud any one of wages that are his due is a crime which cries to the avenging anger of heaven. "Behold, the hire of the labourers ... which by fraud has been kept back by you, crieth; and the cry of them hath entered the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth" (Jc 5,4). Finally, the rich must religiously refrain from cutting down the workman's earnings, either by force, fraud, or by usurious dealing; and that with the more reason because the poor man is weak and unprotected, and because his slender means should be sacred in proportion to their scantiness. Were these precepts carefully obeyed and followed would not strife die out and cease?
18 But the Church, with Jesus Christ for her Master and Guide, aims higher still. She lays down precepts yet more perfect, and tries to bind class to class in friendliness and good understanding.
The things of this earth cannot be understood or valued rightly without taking into consideration the life to come, the life that will last forever. Exclude the idea of futurity, and the very notion of what is good and right would perish; nay, the whole system of the universe would become a dark and unfathomable mystery. The great truth which we learn from nature herself is also the grand Christian dogma on which religion rests as on its base - that when we have done with this present life then we shall really begin to live. God has not created us for the perishable and transitory things of earth, but for things heavenly and everlasting; He has given us this world as a place of exile, and not as our true country. Money and the other things which men call good and desirable - we may have them in abundance or we may want them altogether; as far as eternal happiness is concerned, it is no matter. The only thing that is important is to use them rightly.
Jesus Christ, when He redeemed us with plentiful redemption, took not away the pains and sorrows which in such large proportion make up the texture of our mortal life. He transformed them into motives of virtue and occasions of merit; and no man can hope for eternal reward unless he follow in the blood-stained footprints of his Saviour. "If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him"(2Tm 2,12). His labours and His sufferings accepted by His own free will, have marvellously sweetened all suffering and all labour. And not only by His example, but by His grace and by the hope of everlasting recompense, He has made pain and grief more easy to endure; "for that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory" (2Co 4,7).
Therefore, those whom fortune favours are warned that freedom from sorrow and abundance of earthly riches, are no guarantee of that beatitude that shall never end, but rather the contrary (Mt 19,23-24); that the rich should tremble at the threatenings of Jesus Christ, threatenings so strange in the mouth of our Lord (Lc 6,24-25); and that a most strict account must be given to the Supreme Judge for all that we possess.
19 The chief and most excellent rule for the right use of money is one which the heathen philosophers indicated, but which the Church has traced out clearly, and has not only made known to men's minds, but has impressed upon their lives. It rests on the principle that it is one thing to have a right to the possession of money, and another to have a right to use money as one pleases.
Private ownership, as we have seen, is the natural right of man; and to exercise that right, especially as members of society, is not only lawful but absolutely necessary. "It is lawful," says St. Thomas of Aquin, "for a man to hold private property; and it is also necessary for the carrying on of human life" (14).
But if the question be asked, How must one's possessions be used? the Church replies without hesitation in the words of the same holy Doctor: "Man should not consider his outward possessions as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without difficulty when others are in need. Whence the Apostle saith, command the rich of this world ... to give with ease, to communicate" (15). True, no one is commanded to distribute to others that which is required for his own necessities and those of his household; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly his condition in life; "for no one ought to live unbecomingly" (16). But when necessity has been supplied, and one's position fairly considered, it is a duty to give to the indigent out of that which is over. "That which remaineth, give alms" (Lc 11,41). It is a duty, not of justice (except in extreme cases), but of Christian charity - a duty which is not enforced by human law. But the laws and judgment of men must give place to the laws and judgement of Christ, the true God, who in many ways urges on His followers the practice of almsgiving, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Ac 20,35), and who will count a kindness done or refused to the poor as done or refused to Himself - "As long as you did it to one of my least brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25,40).
Thus to sum up what has been said: Whoever has received from the divine bounty a large share of blessings, whether they be external and corporal, or gifts of the mind, has received them for the purpose of using them for perfecting his own nature, and, at the same time, that he may employ them, as in the minister of God's Providence, for the benefit of others. "He that hath a talent," says St. Gregory the Great, "let him see that he hideth it not; he that hath abundance, let him arouse himself to mercy and generosity; he that hath art and skill, let him do his best to share the use and utility thereof with his neighbour" (17) .
14. II-II 66,2.
15. Ibid., II-II 65,2.
16. Ibid., II-II 32,6.
20 As for those who do not possess the gifts of fortune, 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 seeking one's bread by labour. This is strengthened by what we see in Christ Himself, "who whereas he was rich, for our sakes became poor" (2Co 8,9); and who, being the Son of God, and God Himself, chose to seem and to be considered the son of a carpenter Himself. "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?" (Mc 6,3) From the contemplation of this divine example, it is easy to understand that the true dignity and excellence of man lies in his moral qualities, that is, in virtue; that virtue is the common inheritance of all, equally within the reach of high and low, rich and poor; and that virtue, and virtue alone, wherever found, will be followed by the rewards of everlasting happiness. Nay, God Himself seems to incline more to those who suffer evil: for Jesus Christ calls the poor blessed; (18) He lovingly invites those in labour and grief to come to Him for solace; (19) and He displays the tenderest charity to the lowly and oppressed. These reflections cannot fail to keep down the pride of those who are well off, and to cheer the spirit of the afflicted; to incline the former to generosity, and the latter to tranquil resignation. Thus the separation which pride would make tends to disappear, nor will it be difficult to make rich and poor join hands in friendly concord.
18. "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Mt 5,3).
19. "Come to me all ye that labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you" (ibid., Mt 11,28).
21 But, if Christian precepts prevail, the two classes will not only be united in the bonds of friendship, but also in those of brotherly love. For they will understand and feel that all men are the children of the common father, that is, of God; that all have the same end, which is God Himself, who alone can make either men or angels absolutely and perfectly happy; that all and each are redeemed by Jesus Christ, and raised to the dignity of children of God, and are thus united in brotherly ties both with each other and with Jesus Christ, "the first born among many brethren"; that the blessing of nature and the gifts of grace belong in common to the whole human race, and that to all, except to those who are unworthy, is promised the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven. "If sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ" (Rm 8,17).
Such is the scheme of duties and of rights which is put forth to the world by the Gospel. Would it not seem that strife must quickly cease were society penetrated with ideas like these?
22 But the Church is not content with pointing out the remedy. She also applies it. For the Church does her utmost to teach and train men, and to educate them; and by means of her bishops and clergy, she diffuses her salutary teachings far and wide. She strives to influence the mind and heart so that all may willingly yield themselves to be formed and guided by the commandments of God. It is precisely in this fundamental and principal matter, on which everything depends, that the Church has a power peculiar to herself. The agencies which she employs are given her by Jesus Christ Himself for the very purpose of reaching the hearts of men, and they derive their efficiency from God. They alone can touch the innnermost heart and conscience, and can bring men to act from a motive of duty, so as to resist their passions and appetities, to love God and their fellow men with love that is unique and supreme, and courageously to break down every barrier which stands in the way of a virtuous life.
On this subject We need only recall for one moment the examples written down in history. Of these things there cannot be the shadow of doubt; for instance, that civil society was renovated in every part by the teachings of Christianity; that in the strength of that renewal the human race was lifted up to better things - nay, that it was brought back from death to life, and to so excellent a life that nothing more perfect had been known before or will come to pass in the ages that are yet to be. Of this beneficent transformation, Jesus Christ was at once the first cause and the final purpose. As from Him all came, so to Him all was to be referred. For from the time when, by the light of the Gospel message, the human race came to know the grand mystery of the Incarnation of the Word and the redemption of man, the life of Jesus Christ, God and Man, penetrated every race and nation, and impregnated them with His faith, His precepts, and His laws.
If, then, society is to be cured now, in no other way can it be cured but by a return to Christian life and Christian institutions. When a society is perishing, the true advice to give to those who would restore it is to recall it to the principles from which it sprang. For the purpose and perfection of an association is to aim at and to attain that for which it was formed; and its operation should be put in motion and inspired by the end and object which originally gave it its being. So that to fall away from its primal constitution is disease; to go back to it is recovery. And this may be asserted with the utmost truth both of the State in general and of that body of its citizens - by far the greatest number - who sustain life by labour.
23 Neither must it be supposed that the solicitude of the Church is so preoccupied with the spiritual concerns of her children as to neglect their interests, temporal and earthly. Her desire is that the poor, for example, should rise above poverty and wretchedness, and should better their condition in life; and for this she strives. By the very fact that she calls men to virtue and forms them to its practice, she promotes this purpose in no slight degree. Christian morality, when it is adequately and completely practised, conduces of itself to temporal prosperity, for it merits the blessing of that God who is the source of all blessings, while it powerfully restrains the lust of possession and the lust of pleasure - twin plagues, which too often cause a man without self-restraint to be miserable in the midst of abundance (20) . Further, it makes men supply by economy for the want of means, content with frugal living, and keeps out of reach of those vices which eat up not merely small incomes, but large fortunes, and dissipate many a goodly inheritance.
20. "The root of all evils is cupidity" (1Tm 6,10).
24 Moreover, the Church intervenes directly in behalf of the poor, by setting on foot and maintaining many things which she sees to be efficacious in the relief of poverty. Here, again, she has always succeeded so well that she has even extorted the praise of her enemies. Such was the ardour of brotherly love among the earliest Christians that numbers of those who were better off deprived themselves of their possessions in order to relieve their brethren; whence "neither was there any one needy among them" (Ac 4,34). To the order of deacons, instituted for that very purpose, was committed by the Apostles the charge of the daily distributions; and the Apostle Paul, though burdened with the solicitude of all the churches, hesitated not to undertake laborious journeys in order to carry the alms of the faithful to the poorer Christians. Tertullian calls these contributions, given voluntarily by Christians in their assemblies, Ğdeposits of piety," because, to cite his words, they were employed Ğin feeding the needy, in burying them, in the support of boys and girls destitute of means and deprived of their parents, in the care of the aged, and in the relief of the shipwrecked" (Apologia Secunda, xxxix).
Thus by degrees came into existence the patrimony which the Church has guarded with jealous care as the inheritance of the poor. Nay, to spare them the shame of begging, the common Mother of the rich and poor has exerted herself to gather together funds for the support of the needy. The Church has stirred up everywhere the heroism of charity, and has established congregations of religious and many other useful institutions for help and mercy, so that there might be hardly any kind of suffering which was not visited and relieved.
At the present day there are many who, like the heathen of old, blame and condemn the Church for this beautiful charity. They would substitute in its place a system of State-organized relief (21) . But no human methods will ever supply for the devotion and self-sacrifice of Christian charity. Charity, as a virtue, belongs to the Church; for it is no virtue unless it is drawn from the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ; and he who turns his back on the Church cannot be near to Christ (22) .
Rerum novarum EN