The Featured Image
This large photograph portrays Pope Leo XIII in a formal setting seated in a throne-like chair. Note the pillows at his feet used as an ottoman: Pope Leo was extremely short. His shoes also resemble some of those in the Papal Artifacts’ Collection.
The photo is very large, measuring 330 X 230 mm.
At the bottom of the photo is a blessing, which is then signed by him.
It is important to note that signed blessings with photographs of him are nearly unheard of, which makes this a rare and valuable addition to this Collection.
The Rerum Novarum Encyclical
Pope Leo XIII, a scholar and bishop who had founded many hospitals, orphanages and other social institutions, had vowed to become ‘the workers’ Pope” upon his papal election in 1878.
A self-professed pacifist, he worked to bring the Church into the modern world. He promoted disarmament, and wrote several encyclicals that promoted the Church’s role as moral leader in modern society, declared democracy was compatible with Catholic teaching, supported people’s right to self-determination, and condemned slavery and racism.
Rerum Novarum came at a time when many new social, political and economic movements seemed opposed to the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church. The encyclical outlined the principles of the rights of workers, employers, and the state. It promoted the dignity of the worker and the right to organize into unions.
The face of the modern Church took shape under Leo XIII. He expanded the role of nuncios, giving them precedence over local bishops. He exercised tight control over bishops’ conferences. Most importantly he came to be seen as the chief teacher of Catholicism, publishing eighty-six encyclicals, eleven alone on Mary and the rosary which lead him to be known as the rosary pope. The most famous of his encyclicals, Rerum Novarum in 1891, established him as the worker’s pope as he examined the evils of capitalism and insisted upon a just wage, dignity for workers and families and workers’ rights to organize. Rerum Novarum was considered to be the best Catholic social teaching of its time, a serious effort to articulate a Christian ethic for an industrial era, (becoming and remaining) the starting point for all Catholic social teaching.
Equally impressive was Leo’s renewal of Catholic theology with the study of St. Thomas Aquinas. He insisted there was no conflict between true science and true religion. He encouraged astronomy, natural sciences and Biblical research and opened the Vatican archives for research for serious scholars. He extended an invitation to orthodox Christians and Protestants to reunite with Rome.
In 1899 he suppressed attempts in America by liberal US Catholics to accommodate their culturally democratic heritage with their Church’s authoritarianism. However, the United States also attracted his attention and admiration and he confirmed the decrees of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884. He made Archbishop James Gibbons cardinal in 1886.
The centrality of the papacy and renewed prestige were firmly in place by the time of Leo’s death in 1903. He had restored intellectual, spiritual, diplomatic and secular guidance to the papacy during a pontificate spanning twenty-five years. To his successor, St. Pius X (1903-1914) he left an institution that had endured revolutions, loss of temporal power and increased industrialization. The papacy was traditionally fearful of modernism and democracy and would continue to deal with these issues throughout the reign of the future pope.
Leo XIII died in the summer of 1903. He was ninety-three years of age and was buried in the Vatican but transferred in 1923 to the basilica of St. John Lateran.