Catholic Social Encyclicals


Social Justice – List of Social Encyclicals


Pope Leo XIII

  • Rerum Novarum: On the Condition of Workers

Issued on the fifteenth of May 1891. Literally “Of New Things,” on capital and labor and the condition of the working class. This was the most significant of all the encyclicals before or since.

            Rerum Novarum broke down the barriers that separated the church from the worker. Never                 before had the church spoken on social matters in such an official and comprehensive                       fashion**.

Pope Pius XI

  • Quadragesimo Anno: On the Reconstruction of the Social Order 

Issued May 15, 1931. Literally “In forty Years,” commemorating the fortieth anniversary of

Rerum Novarum

. This encyclical repeated many of the themes of

Rerum Novarum: 

the dignity of labor, the rights of workers to organize, etc.

Quadragesimo anno 

also emphasized the immorality of keeping economic control in the hands of a few. It recognized the principle of


, which held that higher levels of authority should act only when lower levels cannot deal with a problem. **

Pope John XXIII

  •  Mater et Magistra: Mother and Teacher 

Issued May 15, 1961. Literally “Mother and Teacher,” on Christianity and Social progress. This encyclical gave an updated interpretation of the classic theme of private property and introduced the notion of private initiative as an extension of private property. While Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno left responsibility for social justice with the individual, Mater et Magistra placed some in the hands of the state. (this encyclical needs to be read in conjunction with Pacem in Terris, literally “Peace on Earth,” Pope John XXIII’s other great encyclical.) **

Pope Paul VI

  • Populorum Progressio: On the Development of People

Issued March 26, 1967. Literally “On the Progress of Peoples.” A vigorous endorsement of Mater et Magistra, Populorum Progressio presented Catholicism as no longer tied to a social system based on natural law, but rather as a proponent of a pluralistic, decentralized approach to economic problems. 


Pope John Paul II  Laborem Exercens: On Human Work

Issued on September 14, 1981. Literally “On Human Work.” Laborem Exercens focused on the themes that work is central to the social question and that work has potential not only to dehumanize but also to be the means whereby the human person cooperates in God’s ongoing creation.


  •  Sollicitudo Rei Socialis: On the Twentieth Anniversary of Populorum Progressio

Issued on December 30, 1987. Literally “On Social Concerns,” commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Populorum Progressio. Solicitudo Rei Socialis presented an overview of modern social problems with some guidelines for action. It dealt with authentic human development and adopted a critical attitude toward both capitalism and communism. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis warned that economic development alone may not set people free but only enslave them more. **

  •  Centesimus Annus: The Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum

Issued on May 1, 1991. Literally, “The Hundredth Year,” commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. Centesimus Annus brought Rerum Novarum up to date and tied it to “the preferential option for the poor.” done in the context of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Centesimus Annus still criticized both capitalism and communism. 


 Pope Benedict XVI

  • Caritas in Veritatae: Charity in Truth
  • Pope Benedict’s third encyclical, is a call to see the relationship between human and environmental ecologies and to link charity and truth in the pursuit of justice, the common good, and authentic human development. In doing so, the pope points out the responsibilities and limitations of government and the private market, challenges traditional ideologies of right and left, and calls all men and women to think and act anew.

Pope Francis: