to rule was not connected with any specific form of government, all must rule with 'even-handed justice'. Catholics were exhorted to 'take a role in the conduct of public affairs', but to remember that 'the origin of the public power is to be sought for in God Himself, and not in the multitude'. This stricture was not necessarily anti-democratic: Leo was simply restatingthe fundamental principle of the divine origin of power, rather than denying its earthly source. In 1890 he returned to these themes with Sapientiae Christianae and restated the principle that it was not the province of the church to decide on which is 'the best amongst many diverse forms of government', but that Catholic citizens must love and defend their nation as they do the church. In undertaking these tasks he asked them to avoid two 'criminal excesses' - 'so-called prudence and false courage'. In Plurimis (1888) and Catholicae Ecclesiae (1890) both insisted that slavery was a system contrary to 'religion and human dignity' as well as wholly opposed to that freedom which was 'originally ordained by God and nature'. Leo rejoiced that the slaves had been set free in Brazil to honour the golden jubilee of his priesthood in 1888 and asked for common action to end slavery in Africa.9
Leo's principal encyclical before Rerum Novarum (1891) was Libertas (1888) which dealt with the nature of human freedom. Although he held that 'natural freedom is the fountainhead from which liberty of any kind whatsoever flows', he denied the alleged principle of liberalism that 'man is the law to himself' and insisted that law, in particular the natural law 'engraved in us all', commands us to do right and avoid sin. To Leo the natural law was the eternal law, and even human law had its origin in God, which meant that civil society had to be deeply rooted in the transcendent. He made one concession to the contemporary scene by saying that freedom of speech and of the press were both valid provided they remained 'true and honourable'.10
Meanwhile some laymen and bishops had begun to raise their voices on the problems of the toiling masses. Vast numbers of men, women and children bartered their labour for a wage and toiled in grimy factories, mines and other workplaces. Control of their working conditions was minimal, and the concept of a just wage was a mere ideal. Grinding poverty was everywhere apparent, while the owners of capital accumulated riches, often immense riches based on capital rather than on land. Gradually, workers realised their potential strength when united in organisations of their own, and signs of upheaval increasingly caused alarm among the self-satisfied and comfortable, and in government circles.
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