For most of the last 2,000 years virtually the entire world’s economy was based on agriculture. That changed with the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century bringing tremendous change to human life, including a vast increase in wealth and prosperity. But not everyone shared equally in these new developments. In the late 19th century, Pope Leo XIII saw that the Industrial Revolution and its later developments were inflicting tremendous pain and suffering on the poor workers in the urban centers of Europe and North America. He wrote his famous encyclical, Rerum Novarum which laid out a structure of responsibilities reminding employers of their responsibilities to be fair and just with their workers, and that those workers had the right to organize in order to defend their economic interests. In those days, that economy was mostly one of shops and small plants where workers and employers were often in face to face situations.
By the 1930’s, the world of the small plant by an individual or family gave way as nationwide industries developed and thus Pope Pius XI wrote the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno which built on the work of Leo XIII and dealt now with problems related to nation-wide economies.
After World War II with the decolonization of the people of Africa, the possibility of a one world economy expanded tremendously and as a result in 1963 that magnificent pope John XXIII wrote a document that had tremendous impact in the Church and on the world entitled Pacem in Terris, Peace on Earth. It dealt with this new worldwide economy many years before any of us were routinely referring to the reality of an integrated world economy. The document came out in 1963 and made a powerful impression on Church leaders all over world. Fifty years have passed since the encyclicals issued and in the next couple of days I will give you my opinion of the affect that it has had in this painful and agonizing half century.