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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Sunday, April 13, 2008
    The Rerum Novarum and International Workers' Day
     
    "... we clearly see, and on this there is general agreement, that some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class: for the ancient workingmen's guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other protective organization took their place. Public institutions and the laws set aside the ancient religion. Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the labouring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself."
    Researching Ascension (and realising how little theological work has been done or liturgy created to mark that occasion) I was fascinated to discover that Belgium uses Ascension Day to commemorate the Rerum Novarum, an encyclical of Leo XIII which addressed the condition of the working classes in terms of 'the rights and duties of Capital and Labour'. It was composed in 1891, as suggested by the language of the above quotation, but look again at the situation it describes: it could have been written today. 

    As this year Ascension Day falls on May 1st, International Workers' Day, these festivals might be celebrated together worldwide. I like the possibilities suggested by this connection, around the 'lifting up of the lowly' (to quote another very human heavenly body, God's mum), about the labouring poor now being able to state (with the Heidelberg Catechism) that 'we have our flesh in heaven'...