The other element of the encyclical that heralded the future development of the relations between the church and the world was the acceptance of the absolute necessity of the direct involvement of the state for any genuine resolution of the worker question. That this acceptance took place in Italy, where the curia still looked out across the Tiber with resentment at the new Italian state, was a further tribute to the leadership of Leo XIII, who saw far beyond the Vatican in his determination to make the voice of the church heard among the world's working masses. It was no longer a question of concentrating on the problems of the old European heartland of the church, but one of also facing the situation in America and Australia. That the masses of Asia and Africa were not addressed in the contemporary context of the worker question is explained by the lack of industrial development among them, as well as their subservience to the colonial powers.
It would be as naive to imagine that Leo and Liberatore were not conscious of the intimate link between free trade unions and a democratic state, as it would be to imagine that they were unaware of the danger to which the church would expose the workers were she to promote the intervention of totalitarian states on their behalf. To this extent it could be said that Rerum Novarum speaks of democracies when it speaks of the state. This opening to a positive relationship between the church and the democratic state made possible the use of terminology such as Christian Democracy which, a decade after Rerum Novarum, had brought about a strong reaction in parts of Europe. Leo was forced to issue his Graves de Communi Re in 1901 in which he said that there were two objections to the use of the title 'Christian Democracy'. It seemed, first, to disparage other methods of political administration and, second, to belittle religion by restricting its scope to the care of the poor. The pope warned that it would be a crime to apply Christian Democracy to political action and asked that it be used 'to mean nothing else than beneficent Christian action in behalf of the people'. Yet he castigated those 'who criticise Christian Democrats [for] wanting to better the lot of the worker' and asserted that such action was 'in keeping with the spirit of the Church'. Finally, he insisted that the rich also have a 'strict duty' to engage in the task of helping the disadvantaged, because 'no one lives only for his personal advantage in a community, he lives for the common good as well'.25
By 1919 the way was clear in Italy for a political party imbued with the ideals of Rerum Novarum, but its founder, Luigi Sturzo, carefully avoided the title
25 Graves de Communi Re (1901) in Carlen, The papal encyclicals 1878-1903, pp. 480-3.
Was this article helpful?