The s in Australia, as in other industrialised nations, were years of rapid economic and industrial change. They were characterised by the combined impact. John Paul II, The encyclical Laborem Exercens was written by Pope John Paul II in to celebrate 90 years since the publication of. Issued by Pope John Paul II on the ninetieth anniversary of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, Laborem Exercens expands and reshapes the corpus of.
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THROUGH WORK man must earn his daily bread 1 and contribute to the continual advance of science and exercwns and, above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong to the same family. And work means any activity by man, whether manual or intellectual, whatever its exercesn or circumstances; it means any human activity that can and must be recognized as work, in the midst of lxborem the many activities of which man is capable and to which he is predisposed by his very nature, by virtue eexercens humanity itself.
Man is made to be in the visible universe an image and likeness of God himself 2and he is placed in it laboremm order to subdue the earth 3. From the beginning therefore he is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at dxercens same time by work occupying his existence on earth.
Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.
Since 15 May of the present year was the ninetieth anniversary of the publication by the great Pope of the “social question”, Leo XIII, of the decisively important Encyclical which begins with the words Rerum Novarum, I wish to devote this document to human work and, even more, to man in the vast context of the reality of work.
As I said in the Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, published at the beginning of my service in the See of Saint Peter in Rome, man “is the primary and fundamental way for the Church” 4 ,precisely because of the inscrutable mystery of Redemption in Christ; and edercens it is necessary to return constantly to this way and to follow it ever anew in the various aspects in which it shows us all the wealth and at the same time all the toil of human existence on earth.
Work is one of these aspects, a perennial and fundamental one, one that is always relevant and constantly demands renewed attention sukmary decisive witness. Because fresh questions and problems are always exercend, there are always fresh hopes, but also fresh fears and threats, connected with this basic dimension of human existence: While it is true that man eats the bread produced by the work of his hands 5 – and this means not only the daily bread by which his body keeps alive but also the bread of science and progress, civilization and culture – it is also a perennial truth that he eats this bread by “the sweat of his face” 6that is to say, not only by personal effort and toil but also in the midst of many tensions, conflicts and crises, which, in relationship with the reality of work, disturb the life of individual societies and also of all humanity.
We are celebrating the ninetieth anniversary of the Encyclical Rerum Novarum on the eve of new developments in technological, economic and political conditions which, according to many experts, will influence the world of work and production no less than the industrial revolution of the last century. There are many factors of a general nature: These new conditions and demands will require a reordering and adjustment of the structures of the modern economy and of the distribution of work.
Unfortunately, for millions of skilled workers these changes may perhaps mean unemployment, at least labirem a time, or the need for retraining.
They will very probably involve a reduction or a less rapid increase in material well-being for the more developed countries. But they can also bring relief and hope to the millions who today live in conditions of shameful and unworthy poverty.
It is not for the Church to analyze scientifically the consequences that these changes may have on human society. But the Church considers it laborej task always to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and exrcens help to guide the above-mentioned changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society.
It is certainly true that work, as a human issue, is at the very centre of the “social question” to which, for almost a hundred years, since the publication of the above-mentioned Encyclical, the Church’s teaching and the many undertakings connected with her apostolic mission have been especially directed.
The present reflections on work are not intended to follow a different line, but rather to be in organic connection with the whole tradition of this teaching and activity. At the same time, however, I am making them, according to the indication in the Gospel, in order to bring out from the heritage of the Gospel “what is new and what is old” 7.
Certainly, work is part of “what is old”- as old as man and his life on earth. Nevertheless, the general situation of man in the modern world, studied and analyzed in its various aspects of geography, culture and civilization, calls for the discovery of the new meanings of human work.
It likewise calls for the formulation of the new tasks that in this sector face each individual, the family, each country, the whole human race, and, finally, the Church herself.
During the years that separate us from the publication of the Encyclical Rerum Novarum, the social question has not ceased to engage the Church’s attention. Evidence of this are the many documents of the Magisterium issued by the Popes and by the Second Vatican Council, pronouncements by individual Episcopates, and the activity of the various centres of thought and of practical apostolic initiatives, both on the international level and at the level of the local Churches. It is difficult to list here in detail all the manifestations of the commitment of the Church and of Christians in the social question, for they are too numerous.
Laborem Exercens (On Human Labor)
As a result of the Council, the main coordinating centre in this field is the Pontifical Commission Justice and Peace, dummary has corresponding bodies within the individual Bishops’ Conferences.
The name of this institution is very significant. It indicates that the social question must be dealt with in its whole complex dimension. Commitment to exerecns must alborem closely linked with commitment to peace in the modern world.
This twofold commitment is certainly supported by the painful experience of the two great world wars which in the course of the last ninety years have convulsed many European countries and, at least partially, countries in other continents. It is supported, especially since the Second World War, by the laborm threat of a nuclear war and the prospect of the terrible self-destruction that emerges from xummary. If we follow the main line of development of the documents of exercen supreme Magisterium of the Church, we find in them an explicit confirmation of precisely such a statement of the question.
However, if one studies the development of the question of social justice, one cannot fail to note that, whereas during the period between Rerum Lagorem and Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno the Church’s teaching concentrates mainly on the just solution of the “labour question” within individual nations, in the next period the Church’s teaching widens its horizon to take in the whole world.
The disproportionate distribution of wealth and poverty and the existence of some countries and continents that are developed and of others that are not call for a levelling out and for a search for ways to ensure just development for laborsm. This trend of development of the Church’s teaching and commitment in the social question exactly corresponds to the objective recognition of the state of affairs.
While in the past the “class” question was exdrcens highlighted as the centre of this issue, in more recent times it is the “world” question that is emphasized. Thus, not only the sphere of class is taken into consideration but also the world sphere laborm inequality and injustice, and as a consequence, not only the class dimension but also the sum,ary dimension of the tasks involved in the path towards the achievement of justice in the modern world.
A complete analysis of the laborek of the world today shows in an even deeper and fuller way the meaning of the previous analysis of social injustices; and it is the meaning that must be given today laboremm efforts to build justice on earth, not concealing thereby unjust structures but demanding that they be examined and transformed on a more universal scale. In the midst of all these processes-those of the diagnosis of objective lxborem reality and also those of the Church’s teaching in the sphere of the complex and many-sided social question- the question of human work naturally appears many times.
This issue is, in a way, a constant factor both of social life and of the Church’s teaching. Furthermore, in this teaching attention to the question goes back much further than summary last ninety years. In fact the Church’s social teaching finds its source in Sacred Scripture, beginning with the Book of Genesis and especially in the Gospel and the writings of the Apostles. From the beginning it was part of the Church’s teaching, her concept of man and life in society, and, especially, the social morality which she worked out according to the needs of the different ages.
This traditional patrimony was then inherited and developed by the teaching of the Popes on the modern “social question”, beginning with the Encyclical Rerum Novarum. In this context, study of the question of work, as we have seen, has continually been brought up to date while maintaining that Christian basis of truth which can be summsry ageless.
While in the present document we return to this question once more-without however any intention of touching on all the topics that concern it-this is not merely in order to gather together and repeat what is already contained in the Church’s teaching.
It is rather in order to highlight-perhaps more than suummary been done before-the fact that human work is a key, probably the essential key, to the whole social question, if we try to see that question really from the point of view of man’s good.
And if the solution-or rather the gradual solution-of the social question, which keeps coming up and becomes ever more complex, must be sought in the direction of “making life more human” 8then the key, namely human work, acquires fundamental and decisive importance.
The Church is convinced that work is a fundamental dimension of man’s existence on earth. She is confirmed in this conviction by considering the whole heritage of the many sciences devoted to man: But the source of the Church’s conviction is above all the revealed word of God, and therefore what is a conviction of the intellect is also a conviction of faith.
The reason is that the Church-and it is worthwhile stating it at this point-believes in man: Relating herself to man, she seeks to express the eternal designs and transcendent destiny which the living God, the Creator and Redeemer, has linked with him.
The Church finds in the very first pages ofthe Book of Genesis the source of her conviction that work is a fundamental dimension of human existence on earth. An analysis of these texts makes us aware that they express-sometimes in an archaic way of manifesting thought-the fundamental truths about man, in the context of the mystery of creation itelf. These truths are decisive for man exercdns the very beginning, and at the same time they trace out the main lines of his earthly existence, both in the state of original justice and also after the breaking, caused by sin, of the Creator’s original covenant with creation in man.
Summady man, who had been created “in the image of God Indeed, they show its very deepest essence. Man is the image lanorem God partly through the mandate received from his Creator to subdue, to dominate, the earth. In carrying out this mandate, man, every human being, reflects the very action of the Creator of the universe. Work understood as a “transitive” activity, that is to say an activity beginning in the human subject and directed towards an external object, presupposes a specific dominion by man over “the earth”, and in its turn it confirms and develops this dominion.
It is clear that the term “the earth” of which the biblical text speaks is to be understood in the flrst place as that fragment of the visible universe that man inhabits. By extension, however, it can be understood as the whole of the visible world insofar as it comes within the range of man’s influence and of his striving to satisfy his needs.
The expression “subdue the earth” has an immense range. It means all the resources that the earth and indirectly the visible world contains and which, through the conscious activity of man, can be discovered and used for his ends. And so these words, placed at the beginning of the Bible, never cease to be relevant. They embrace equally the past ages of civilization and economy, as also the whole of modern reality and future phases exeercens development, which are perhaps already to some extent beginning to take shape, though for the most part they are usmmary almost unknown to man and hidden from him.
Dummary people sometimes speak of periods of labogem in the summaary life and civilization of humanity or of individual nations, linking these periods to the progress of science and technology and especially to discoveries which are decisive for social and economic life, at the same time it can be said that none of exedcens phenomena of “acceleration” exceeds the essential content of what was said in that most ancient of biblical texts. As man, through his work, becomes more and more the master of the earth, and as he confirms his dominion over the visible world, again through his work, he nevertheless remains in every case and at every phase of this process within the Summagy original ordering.
And this ordering remains necessarily and indissolubly linked with the fact that man was created, as male and female, “in the image of God”.
This process is, at the same time, universal: Each and every individual is at the same time embraced by it. Each and every individual, to the proper extent and in an incalculable number of ways, takes part in the giant process whereby man “subdues the earth” through his work.
This universality and, at the same time, this multiplicity of the process of “subduing the earth” throw light upon human work, because man’s dominion eercens the earth is exrrcens in and by means of work. There thus emerges the meaning of work in an objective sense, which finds expression in the various epochs of culture and civilization.
Man dominates the earth by the very fact of domesticating animals, rearing them and obtaining from them the food and clothing he needs, and by lahorem fact of being able to extract various natural resources from the earth and the seas. But man “subdues alborem earth” much more when he begins to cultivate it and then to transform its products, adapting them to his own use.
Thus agriculture constitutes through human work a primary field of economic activity and an indispensable factor of production. Industry in its turn will always consist in linking the earth’s riches-whether nature’s living resources, or the products of agriculture, or the mineral or chemical resources-with man’s work, whether physical or summmary.
This is also in a sense true in the sphere of what are called service industries, and also in the sphere of research, pure or applied. In industry and agriculture man’s work has today in many cases ceased to be mainly manual, for the toil of human hands and muscles is aided by more and more highly perfected machinery.
Not only in industry but also in agriculture we are witnessing the transformations made possible by the gradual development of science and technology.
Historically speaking, this, taken as a whole, has caused great changes in civilization, from the beginning of the “industrial era” to the successive phases of development through new technologies, such as the electronics and the microprocessor technology in recent years.
While it may seem that in the industrial process it is the machine that “works” and man merely supervises it, making it function and laboremm it going in various ways, it is also true that for this very reason industrial development provides grounds for reproposing in new ways the question of human work.
Both the original industrialization that gave rise to what is called the worker question and the subsequent industrial and post-industrial changes show in an eloquent manner that, even in the age of ever more mechanized “work”, the proper subject of work xummary to be man. The development of industry and of the various sectors connected with it, even the most modern electronics technology, especially in the fields of miniaturization, communications and telecommunications and so forth, shows how vast is the role of technology, that ally of work that human thought has produced, in the interaction between the subject and object of work in the widest sense of the word.
Understood in this case not as a capacity or aptitude for work, but rather as a whole set of instruments which man uses in his work, technology is undoubtedly man’s ally. It facilitates his work, perfects, accelerates and augments it. Sunmary leads to an increase in the quantity of things produced by work, and in many cases improves their quality. However, it is also a fact that, in some instances, technology can cease to be man’s ally and become almost his enemy, as when the mechanization of work “supplants” him, taking away all personal satisfaction and the incentive to creativity and responsibility, when it deprives many workers of their previous employment, or when, through exalting the machine, it reduces man to the status of its slave.
If the biblical words “subdue the earth” addressed to man from the very beginning are understood in the context of the whole modern age, industrial and post-industrial, then they undoubtedly include also a relationship with exerceens, with the world of machinery which is the fruit of the work of the human intellect and a historical confirmation of man’s dominion over nature.
The recent stage of human history, especially that of certain societies, brings a correct affirmation of technology as a basic coefficient of economic progress; but, at the same time, this affirmation has been accompanied by and continues to be accompanied by the raising of essential questions concerning human work in relationship to its subject, which is man.
These questions are particularly charged exerfens content and tension of an ethical and an ethical and social character. They therefore constitute a continual challenge for institutions of many kinds, for States and governments, for systems and international organizations; they also constitute a challenge for the Church.