Describing her as “a distinguished Anglican writer,” the Catholic Herald asked the mystery novelist and playwright Dorothy Sayers to contribute to a forum on the fiftieth anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclicalRerumNovarum. A note at the end warned readers that the article had been taken over the telephone and might include “deviations from Miss Sayers’ exact wording.”
Loath as I am to appear in the role of a public critic of Rerum Novarum, particularly as until quite recently I belonged to the too large body of people who knew of it but had never read it, there is one point I should like very much to make.
It seems to me that Pope Leo, preoccupied with the then paramount question of the relation of workers to employers and employers to the workers, does not sufficiently emphasise the relation of the worker to the work, as the exercise of that creative faculty through which even in its meanest manifestations man properly gives honour and glory to God and fulfils the part of his nature made in the image and likeness of the Creator.
The sense of vocation in work has so far departed under capitalistic industrialism which brought in its train such grievous problems in justice that this essential aspect of love of God is lost sight of.
Medieval Guilds Had the Truth
We must reaffirm the truth which was so fully understood by the medieval guilds.
The guilds protected not only the worker but the work, not only the work but also the employer, producer, and the buyer or consumer as well. endeavouring to assure that the whole cycle’ was lit and worthy to be counted service of God, The practical difficulties of assuring the place of the principle laborare est orare in a modern highly sub-divided mechanical production process must not deter us from fearlessly establishing it.
Until we consciously and articulately aim at killing the fallacy which underlies the terms of everyday speech “making a living,” “means of livelihood,” “in business,” ”at work,” “occupation,” and substitute in principle and fact vocation, living work, service, we cannot live integral Christian lives.
Nothing to do with hours and wages is so important as to get rid of the vicious circle — “work-for-money-to-buy-food-to-be-ableto-live-to-work-for-money,” etc., and set up in its place again the true Christian ideal which unifies Life: Living Work and all the happiness which comes from the exercise of human functions as being to the greater Glory of God.
The great Encyclicals, the publication of which you are celebrating, do imply all this, and indeed touch explicitly on the problem, but they do not, to my mind, sufficiently emphasise it.