Pope Leo XIII wrote the encyclical Rerum Novarum as the industrial revolution and political change swept across Europe. The relationship between employers and employees was changing dramatically. Individuals had become wealthy, but most remained poor even though they worked hard. Pope Leo XIII's encyclical spoke of the condition of the working classes during a time when many advocated revolution.
Quadragesimo Anno was written by Pope Pius XI in 1931 forty years after Pope Leo XIII's Rerun Novarum on the Condition of Workers. He wrote this encyclical to address the ethical challenges facing workers, employers, the Church and the state as a result of end of the industrial revolution and the onset of the Great Depression.
Pope John XXII, 1961
Pope John XXIII wrote this encyclical in 1961 to continue the tradition of Rerum Novarum (1891) and Quadragesimo Anno (1931). The world had changed considerably in the previous 30 years both politically and economically. The Great Depression and World War II had ended, the cold war had begun, and technology allowed for increased productivity, but vast poverty remained across the globe.
Pope John XXIII wrote the encyclical Pacem in Terris in April of 1963 to address a world deeply engaged in the Cold War. The Berlin Wall had just gone up and the Cuban Missile Crisis frightened millions as nuclear weapons began to proliferate.
At a time in world history marked by powerful new weapons, rivalry, and fear His Holiness sought to reassure not only the Catholic World, but also all people, that peace on earth is possible through the divinely established order.
Gaudium et Spes was issued when the Second Vatican Council ended in 1965. The document summarizes the council and gives an outline of the Church’s social teachings in a changing world.
The world has seen enormous development and progress that has amazed humanity, he says, but it has also caused many to worry about the social implications of a quickly changing society as advances in technology and power threaten people. Never before has there been so much wealth simultaneous with so much hunger and poverty.
Pope Paul VI wrote the encyclical Populorum Progressio in 1967 to address the world economy and its effect on peoples around the world. At this time many nations saw their economic development stall, while others continued to grow at a record pace. In the document he talks about the rights of workers to a just wage, job security, reasonable working conditions, and to join a worker's association.
Pope Paul VI wrote the Apostolic letter “Octogesima Adveniens” in 1971 as a letter to Cardinal Maurice Roy, the President of the Council of Laity and of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace on the eightieth anniversary of the encyclical Rerum Novarum. His Holiness sought to highlight many social issues facing people at the time and to inspire renewed action for lay members to participate in social and political reform according to the Gospel.
The encyclical Laborem Exercens was written by Pope John Paul II in 1981 to celebrate 90 years since the publication of Rerum Novarum.
In those ninety years issues surrounding employment and labor have not ceased to remain of importance to the Church. Work has changed considerably since the industrial revolution and technological and innovative advances are accelerating that change. In this encyclical His Holiness focuses on the dignity of human work in the contemporary world.
In Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Pope John Paul II celebrates the twentieth anniversary of Populorum Progressio by updating the Church’s teaching on the “development of peoples” and changes that took place in the preceding two decades.
Populorum Progressio was inspired by the Church’s desire to help the millions of people who lived in a state of poverty and underdevelopment. The document concluded by noting that “development is the new name for peace,” (Paragraph 10) another mission of the Church.
The encyclical Centesimus Annus was written in 1991 by Pope John Paul II on the one hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. It came on the heels of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. In it John Paul II seeks to conduct a “re-reading” of Pope Leo’s landmark encyclical to re-discover the richness of the fundamental principles in which Rerum Novarum dealt with the condition of workers and the economy as a whole.