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This encyclical, written in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, put the Catholic Church squarely in the middle of the great debate on industrial-era economics. Beginning in paragraph 25, Leo XIII lays out his beliefs on the divisions between capital and labor -- and the moral duties and responsibilities of each.

Even today, as industrialized economies feel the effects of globalization on their workforces, Leo's words are relevant -- at times almost uncannily so.

This was an extremely liberal and progressive document. It would be decades before workers won many of the rights that Leo sets forth. Among the subjects he touches on are: public aid, length of work weeks, length of work days, minimum wages, child labor, sweatshops, and the right of workers to organize.

Of course some of his views we today find oppressively sexist. And some seem patently self-serving on behalf of the church. But as always it's necessary to look at historical figures and writings in the context of the thought prevalent in their own era. In this light rerum novarum stands as one of the great progressive documents of the 19th century.

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