Written Documents on Social Consciences

(Subject) Compare and Contrast John Ryan’s 1919 with Rerum Novarum

Written Documents on Social Consciences

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                        The apostolic letter “Rerum Novarum” is written in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII which pertains to the conditions of the working class entitled Encyclical of the Pope on Capital and Labor.  These encyclicals were later followed through by three other Popes and the last one is the “Centisimus Annus” written in 1991 by Pope John Paul II.

In relation to the apostolic writing earlier mentioned, an economist who is also a catholic priest drafted several documents regarding social reforms for which even the President Roosevelt named him the New Dealer.  Reverend Father John Augustine Ryan wrote his papers in twenty years between 1925 and 1945.  He authored his first published book in 1906 entitled “A Living Wage” then seconded by the book called “Distributive Justice”.

Ryan’s work also left a deep imprint to his young colleague Bishop Haas who made a published dissertation on the Study of Wage Determination in the Men’s Garment Industry in 1922 (Turrini, 2002). The entire work of Ryan is guided by the principles of the Rerum Novarum to which this short paper will be discussing below in terms of the three specific issues that is very relevant today.  Being born with the consciousness of the need for social reforms, Monsignor Ryan answered the calling of Pope Leo XIII through his ministry both liberally and radical.  His thoughts like what is written below have stirred the minds of many which began to answers many social questions that can aid in the solutions to many social problems that ail society of today.

“In the solution of this question is involved to a great degree the future of religion, of morality, of true civilization. Where then should the priest be, if not in the midst of this movement, restraining the destructionist, encouraging the true reformer and applying the ethics of the Gospel everywhere? This is his paramount duty, to apply Christ’s teaching to the practical aspects of the problems that confront us. The priest must be able and anxious to point what in the present system is wrong, and to what extent the Brotherhood of Man means social equality (part of the Ryan’s November 17, 1894 Journal) (Calo).”

While the Rerum Novarum points out that:

“.. the spirit of revolutionary change, which has long been disturbing the nations of the world, should have passed beyond the sphere of politics and made its influence felt in the cognate sphere of practical economics is not surprising. The elements of the conflict now raging are unmistakable, in the vast expansion of industrial pursuits and the marvelous discoveries of science; in the changed relations between masters and workmen; in the enormous fortunes of some few individuals, and the utter poverty of the masses; the increased self reliance and closer mutual combination of the working classes; .. (XIII, 1891)”

Living wage, Rights of workers, and Education

            The writings of Monsignor Ryan and other social reformists found in the CUA Archives are strong influences that brought about social activities in the Catholic Church and organization of labor groups in the United States.

The reformist of the 19th Century believes that poverty and unequal distribution of wealth is not caused by one’s moral failings but instead advocated for social justice that would provide for the improvement on the social and economic conditions of the working class.  They believed that the Living Wage for workers is required to maintain a lifestyle that is on the level of reasonable degree of comfort (Dolan). The reformist advocated for Justice that is beyond charity by providing a safer working environment, shorter period of work, and a decent income to thrive on.

            Though Ryan was acclaimed as an American ecclesiastical champion in the field of human work against capital he believed that capital institutions if properly ordered can promote human development (Calo).  Though viewed as a revolutionary he did not opposed the coming of modern enterprise.  Similarly, the Rerum Novarum defended the rights of private ownership but at the same time defended also the plight of the workmen which can be directly understood in the title itself “on the Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor (XIII, 1891).”  Paragraph 5 of the encyclical clearly illustrate that the poor and the rich can work hand in hand, and totally disdain any socialist mentality that is to deprive ones liberty in owning a property as stated:

“5. It is surely undeniable that, when a man engages in remunerative labor, the impelling reason and motive of his work is to obtain property … Socialists, therefore, by endeavoring to transfer the possessions of individuals to the community at large, strike at the interests of every wage-earner, since they would deprive him of the liberty of disposing of his wages, (XIII, 1891).”

                Ryan’s documents calls the American Capitalism as “Well night bankrupt, an industrial feudalism and immoral leading an economic order that is independent of justice that is on a pursuit of personal and private gain towards unlimited greed.”1   To Ryan, private ownership is valid but rejects the capitalist system that prevents worker from obtaining it.  He continued in his writings that a system that permits the lowest possible wage to exact an unlimited profit for the accumulation of limitless amounts of wealth “ought not to endure” and should have not begun.”2

            Dr. Ryan repeated in his writings about the rights of workers, the obligations of employers towards employees that are being fired or retrenched, the payment of workers insurances that it should not alone be relegated to the State and his will that the Church should not just be dealing with individual but to the system or institutions itself because its rules and policies determines the obligations and duties of every working man.  It is the same way that the Rerum Novarum defended human labor in paragraph 29 regarding the relief of poverty when it stated the message in Acts 4:24 “neither was there any one needy among them.”  Ryan’s document though radical in his time is in parallel with the writings of the Rerum Novarum with regards to the rights of workers.

1 John A. Ryan, “The New Industrial Revolution,” address, January 1934, Ryan Papers, Writings 1909-1935, File:

1930-1934, pp. 1-2, ACUA; “Dr. Ryan for Fundamental Reform of Existing System,” Unidentified newspaper clippings, Ryan Papers, Ryan Writings Miscellaneous, Box 24, File: Addresses, ACUA.

2 John A. Ryan, “The Encyclical’s Indictment,” Ryan Papers, Ryan Writings Miscellaneous, Box 24, File

Addresses, pp. 1, ACUA; John A. Ryan, “Tentative Statement of s Social Program,” address, Ryan Papers, Writings.

            With regards to education, the Church and Ryan’s connect the material and social man to his end which is ordained by God to live forever in heaven.  Man is both body and soul and his mind must be fed to nourish it.  Decent living is necessary to Christian life for this reason why Ryan dug deeper into the access of economic prosperity and the reasonable minimum education which is essential for the saving mission of the Church in encouraging men to know and love and to serve which he wrote in 1908 entitled “The Cost of Christian Living”.

            Rerum Novarum specifically teaches in paragraph 28 the practice of Christian morality as the way to temporal prosperity in same way as Ryan educate people in his writings about economic justice.  Both documents reject the idea of the pagan materialism 3 .The documents both focused on the relationship between the Church and State, institutions and systems and defended that its laws are governed by natural law of which is derived from God’s law.  Ryan’s writing is well ordered in accordance with the apostolic letter of Pope Leo XIII which at that time has been ordered by the Church but was not yet well accepted by the public at that time especially during the medieval era that to lead a holy life is to voluntarily deprived self of the goods of the earth.

            Associations have been formed, religious and non-religious in the formation of work ethics, a realization that some are called to voluntary poverty but many are called to raise children and support a family.  These are institutions are educating people in the formation of good and upright consciences which are not necessarily be called as radicals but just a continuation of the voices re-echoed in the Rerum Novarum and in the writings of Ryan.  Or by just applying the simple belief that man can live in the world, enjoying it, loving it but not becoming worldly.

3 John A. Ryan, “Industrial Paganism in the Black Hills,” The Survey (November 1, 1913): 141.


            Today, the world faces a threat not only to life itself but towards the attainment of its end.  The short vision of the greedy looks vehemently mad towards the attainment of material wealth at the expense of the dignity of the whole human race, man’s dignity to sanctify human labor.  It is no longer a question of the right distribution of wealth but on the callousness of consciences which are the sins of all, a conglomeration on the omissions and actions of the poor and the rich to carry on what is just and to eradicate whatever that oppresses.

            Social consciousness on the reforms of justice should reincarnate in every soul especially now that even ecology is threatened by globalization.  Development is far reaching but it excludes many of the poor and the middle classes. Many farmers and fishermen of developing and underdeveloped nations are in the brink of loosing their livelihood. When technology poses as a grave threat to the environment, and seas and lands becomes unproductive, traditional endeavor like farming and fishing may no longer exist that may create an irreparable imbalance and may be irreversible if not immediately restored.

If the attainment of earthly goods does not keep up with the pace of morality, then it could be said that the human race has failed.  Technology would be a threat instead a tool to improve the well being of man.  It will only serve a few who think they can live alone.  This self sufficiency can be disastrous and may lead to destruction because man is not intended to be alone but is ordained to live with the rest of men.

            The written documents about social consciences can educate men in the attainment of his goals and happiness.  These are guiding principles that will shed light to every actions and values.  It is the defense towards the loss of virtues.    The Rerum Novarum has not just guided Father Ryan defense for moral consciousness but it made up the reason for his entire existence especially during the last remaining twenty years of his lifetime.  His writings could have nurtured other systems or institutions to educate men the value of educating social consciences as believed and re-echoed in the world by Escriva that “this world crisis are crisis of saints. 4”

4 Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, “The Way”. Founder and  Prelate of the Sacerdotal Society of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei.

Works Cited

Calo, Z. R. Business and the Development of Human Personality:  A Theme in the Thought of John A. Ryan [Electronic Version]. Retrieved 24 March 2008, from http://www.stthomas.edu/cathstudies/CST/conferences/bilbao/papers/Calo.pdf

Dolan, J. P. From Charity to Justice: The Emergence of a Catholic Social Gospel [Electronic Version]. Retrieved 23 March 2008, from http://www.stthomas.edu/cathstudies/cst/conferences/LE/papers/dolan.pdf

Turrini, J. M. (2002). Catholic Social Reform and the New Deal: The Papers of Monsignor John A. Ryan and Bishop Francis J. Haas [Electronic Version]. Retrieved 23 March 2008, from http://www.archives.gov/nhprc/annotation/march-2002/catholic-social-reform.html

XIII, P. L. (1891). Rerum Novarum [Electronic Version]. Retrieved 23 March 2008, from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15051891_rerum-novarum_en.html


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