Quadragesimo anno

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Quadragesimo anno
Latin for 'In the 40th Year'
Encyclical of Pope Pius XI
Coat of arms of Pope Pius XI
Signature date15 May 1931
SubjectOn the reconstruction of the social order
Number19 of 31 of the pontificate

Quadragesimo anno[needs IPA] (Latin for "In the 40th Year") is an encyclical issued by Pope Pius XI on 15 May 1931, 40 years after Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum novarum, further developing Catholic social teaching. Unlike Leo XIII, who addressed the condition of workers, Pius XI discusses the ethical implications of the social and economic order. He describes the major dangers for human freedom and dignity arising from unrestrained capitalism, socialism, and totalitarian communism. He also calls for the reconstruction of the social order based on the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity.

Essential contributors to the formulation of the encyclical were the German Jesuits, Roman Catholic theologians and social philosophers Gustav Gundlach and the Königswinter Circle through one of its main authors Oswald von Nell-Breuning.

Changes since Rerum novarum[edit]

Pope Pius XI issued his encyclical exactly forty years after Rerum novarum. In the interim there were other papal statements from Leo XIII, and also the encyclical Singulari quadam of Pope Pius X. Pius XI subtitled his encyclical Reconstruction of the Social Order. In the first part he reviews and applauds the encyclical of his predecessor. The Church can be credited with participating in the progress made and contributing to it. It developed a new social conscience.[1]

Private property[edit]

The Church has a role in discussing these issues. Social and economic issues are vital to her not from a technical point of view but in terms of moral and ethical issues involved. Ethical considerations include the nature of private property[2] concerning which, within the Catholic Church, several conflicting views had developed. Pius XI proclaims private property to be essential for the development and freedom of the individual. Those who deny private property deny personal freedom and development. But, says Pius, private property has a social function as well. Private property loses its morality if it is not subordinated to the common good. Therefore, governments have a right to pursue redistribution policies. In extreme cases, the Pope recognizes that the State has a right to expropriate private property.[3]

Capital and labour[edit]

A related issue, says Pius, is the relation between capital and labour and the determination of fair wages.[4] Pius develops the following ethical mandate: The Church considers it a perversion of industrial society to have developed sharp opposite camps based on income. He welcomes all attempts to alleviate these cross differences. Three elements determine a fair wage: The worker's family responsibilities, the economic condition of the enterprise and the economy as a whole. The family has an innate right to development, but this is only possible within the framework of a functioning economy and sound enterprises. For this, Pius XI concludes that solidarity, not conflict, is a necessary condition given the mutual interdependence of the parties involved.[4]

Social order[edit]

Industrialization, says Pius XI, resulted in less freedom at the individual and communal level, because numerous free social entities got absorbed by larger ones. A society of individuals became a mass and class society. Today, people are much less interdependent than in ancient times and become egoistic or class-conscious in order to recover some freedom for themselves. The pope demands more solidarity, especially between employers and employees through new forms of cooperation and communication. Pius draws a negative view of capitalism, especially of the anonymous international finance markets.[5] He identifies here problems: dangers for small and medium-size enterprises who have insufficient access to capital markets and are squeezed or destroyed by the larger ones. He warns that capital interests can become a danger for states, who would be reduced to be "chained slaves of individual interests".[6] The encyclical has been an important inspiration to modern distributist thought on seeking greater solidarity and subsidiarity than present capitalism.

On gender, Pius reaffirms the importance of traditional gender roles with some exceptions, stating

That the rest of the family should also contribute to the common support, according to the capacity of each, is certainly right, as can be observed especially in the families of farmers, but also in the families of many craftsmen and small shopkeepers. But to abuse the years of childhood and the limited strength of women is grossly wrong. Mothers, concentrating on household duties, should work primarily in the home or in its immediate vicinity. It is an intolerable abuse, and to be abolished at all cost, for mothers on account of the father's low wage to be forced to engage in gainful occupations outside the home to the neglect of their proper cares and duties, especially the training of children. Every effort must therefore be made that fathers of families receive a wage large enough to meet ordinary family needs adequately. But if this cannot always be done under existing circumstances, social justice demands that changes be introduced as soon as possible whereby such a wage will be assured to every adult workingman.

— Pius XI[7]

Communism and socialism[edit]

Regarding communism and socialism, Pius XI notes increasing differences. He condemns communism but also the social conditions which nourish it. He wants moderate socialism to distance itself from totalitarian communism as a practical matter and also on principle, in light of the dignity of the human person.[8] Dignity and human freedom are ethical considerations, which cannot be solved by a hostile class confrontation. Ethics are based on religion and this is the realm where the Church meets industrial society.[9]

117 "Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, even after it has yielded to truth and justice on the points which we have mentioned, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth."[8]

118 "Socialism, on the other hand, wholly ignoring and indifferent to this sublime end of both man and society, affirms that human association has been instituted for the sake of material advantage alone."[8]


Ramsay MacDonald, the head of the British affiliate of the Socialist International, inquired to Cardinal Bourne, Archbishop of Westminster, on how the encyclical's statements on socialism applied to Catholics voting for or participating in socialist parties. The Cardinal stated "There is nothing in the encyclical which should deter Catholics from becoming members of the British Labour Party."[10]

Franklin D. Roosevelt had high praise for the encyclical and quoted it extensively on the evils of concentrated economic power.[11]


  1. ^ Quadragesimo anno, 16–40
  2. ^ Quadragesimo anno, 44–52
  3. ^ Quadragesimo anno, 114–115
  4. ^ a b Quadragesimo anno, 63–75
  5. ^ Quadragesimo anno, 99 ff
  6. ^ Quadragesimo anno, 109
  7. ^ Quadragesimo Anno, 71
  8. ^ a b c Quadragesimo anno, 115–118
  9. ^ Quadragesimo anno, 127–148
  10. ^ "The Greatest Priest". Time magazine. 3 December 1923
  11. ^ Dinunzio, Mario (2011). Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Third American Revolution. ABC-CLIO. p. 49.

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