Appeared in Autumn 2001, Vol. XXVI, No. 3
Probably no Pope of the nineteenth century is more relevant to twenty-first century theology than Leo XIII, whose papacy bridged the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. John Paul II often cites Leo in his own social encyclicals, especially, of course, in Centesimus Annus, which celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of the beginning of “Catholic Social Thought” with Leo’s Rerum Novarum. Among the more important aspects of Leo’s thought that John Paul points out is the remarkable prescience of Rerum Novarum, as well as the encyclical’s continued relevance for theological consideration. While Leo could not have predicted the ignominy that Marxist socialism would ultimately suffer (just as he could not have predicted its remarkable political success for much of the twentieth century), his trenchant criticism of socialism as being inconsistent with the nature of the human person is still pertinent more than 100 years later.
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