‘The worker’s human dignity … must be recognized’

Papal reflections about labor

Photo: SeventyFour/iStock

This Labor Day ponder these reflections about work.

Pope Leo XIII. Photo: Public Domain

Pope Leo XIII

Each needs the other: Capital cannot do without labor, nor labor without capital. Mutual agreement results in the beauty of good order.

Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labor), May 15, 1891


Now, for the provision of such commodities, the labor of the working class — the exercise of their skill, and the employment of their strength, in the cultivation of the land, and in the workshops of trade — is especially responsible and quite indispensable. Indeed, their co-operation is in this respect so important that it may be truly said that it is only by the labor of working men that states grow rich.

Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labor), May 15, 1891

Pope Pius XI. Photo: Public Domain

Pope Pius XI

Labor, as our predecessor explained well in his encyclical, is not a mere commodity. On the contrary, the worker’s human dignity in it must be recognized.

Quadragesimo Anno (On Reconstruction of the Social Order), May 15, 1931


St. John XXIII. Image courtesy of Gedoughty02/Public Domain.

St. John XIII

Work, which is the immediate expression of a human personality, must always be rated higher than the possession of external goods which of their very nature are merely instrumental.

Mater et Magistra (On Christianity and Social Progress), May 15, 1961


In the economic sphere, it is evident that a man has the inherent right not only to be given the opportunity to work, but also to be allowed the exercise of personal initiative in the work he does.

Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), April 11, 1963

St. John Paul II, 1979. Photo: L’Osservatore Romano

St. John Paul II 

Through work man must earn his daily bread and contribute to the continual advance of science and technology and, above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong to the same family.

Laborem Exercens (Through Work), Sept. 14, 1981


In our time, the role of human work is becoming increasingly important as the productive factor both of non-material and of material wealth. Moreover, it is becoming clearer how a person’s work is naturally interrelated with the work of others. More than ever, work is work with others and work for others: It is a matter of doing something for someone else.

Centesimus Annus (On the Hundreth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum), May 1, 1991

Pope Benedict XVI at the end of the First Vespers Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul, Dec. 1, 2007. Photo: Giancarlo Giuliani/CPP/CIRIC

Pope Benedict XVI

As I have had occasion to say, “work is of fundamental importance to the fulfilment of the human being and to the development of society. Thus, it must always be organized and carried out with full respect for human dignity and must always serve the common good.”

Sacramentum Caritatis (The Sacrament of Charity), Feb. 22, 2007

Pope Francis during his 2014 visit to South Korea. Photo: Korea.net/ Korean Culture and Information Service (Jeon Han)

Pope Francis

Underlying every form of work is a concept of the relationship which we can and must have with what is other than ourselves.

Laudato Si’ (Praise Be to You), May 24, 2015


Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development, and personal fulfilment.

Laudato Si’ (Praise Be to You), May 24, 2015

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