POPE JOHN PAUL has flexed his intellectual muscles in an encyclical on work — the third of his reign — which tackles the problems of Marxism. capitalism. unemployment, multinationals, and workers' rights and calls for a new spirituality of work to be implemented urgently.
The 100-page encyclical, called Laborem Exercens, and in English. Human Work, was written for the 90th anniversary of the first major encyclical on social questions. Rerum Norarum of Leo XIII. which fell on May 15.
Two days before, the Pope was shot. "It is only after my stay in hospital that I have been able to revise it definitively," the Pope writes.
He sees work as the very key to the whole social question, and after an introductory survey of the Church's social action, attacks human work from four main angles: work and man; the conflict between labour and capital in the present phase of history; the rights of workers and elements for a spirituality of work.
The encyclical is addressed to all men and women of good will as well as members of the Church. and contains some surprisingly strong claims. The Pope's social attitude should do much to destroy his image as a conservative, with denunciations of capitalism. multi-nationals. unemployment, lack of social security. and profiteering.
Polish Solidarity will clearly find much to chew over. especially in the section on workers' rights. Much of what the Pope says can be seen as a reflection of his own experience (he refers for example to the dangers to which mine workers are exposed) but it would be foolish to regard the encyclical as particularly directed towards the current situation in Poland.
But the Pope does defend the right to form trade unions and the right to strike. though he warns this must be used responsibly. "However," he adds. "the role of unions is not to 'play politics' in the sense that the expression is commonly understood today. Unions do not have the character of political parties struggling for power: they should not be subjected to the decision of political parties. or have too close links with them." That could be applied equally to Britain and Poland.
Pope John Paul bases his charter of workers' rights on the concept of human rights and puts responsibility for the respecting of these rights on to 'indirect' employers, such as the state, as well as on to direct employers.
His whole treatment of the historical conflict between capital and labour (in which he has to take on the twin enemies of Marxist dialectic materialism and classical liberalism or 'economise) derives from his idea of man as the subject. or performer of work. and therefore its master, not its slave.
In the first page he stresses that man "is the primary and fundamental way for the Church. precisely because of the inscrutable mystery of Redemption in Christ". He applies to work the ideas he outlined in his first encyclical Redemptor Hominis.
Holding on to the concept of the person as central to work and its products, he condemns equally the possession of goods without regard of the needs of others. and any rejection of the right to private property. He also upholds the dignity of the disabled in work.
The Pope's most original contribution comes at the end of what by any standards musr be regarded as an intellectual tour de force. The Church, he says, "sees it as her.particular duty to form a spirituality of work which will. help all people come closer, through work, to God. the Creator and Redeemer."
Work, he says, is a participation in God's activity as Creator. Since the Redemption.
and Christ's years on earth as a worker, work has been elevated into a means of sanctification. By its toil we share in Christ's cross . and come to the joy of the Resurrection.
Father Jan Schotte, Secretary of the Vatican Justice and Peace Commission commented: "The encyclical goes beyond class distinctions based on work. It goes beyond divisions between workers based on different kinds of work. Beyond divisions between work and capital. It goes beyond solidarity for a particular group of workers to solidarity for all workers It goes beyond regional views of the social issue
to a worldwide vision.
"Pope John Paul is not trying to produce an original statement. He stresses the organic link with the church's previous social teaching. However, he has an original way of approaching social questions. Rerutn Novarunt defended workers from being treated like slaves in the industrial system. The Pope develops this teaching but he deals not only with industrial workers but with all workers including intellectual workers artists, manual workers and management."
The encyclical is to be published by the C.T.S.. price £1.