Pope Leo XIII (1878–1903)

Owen Chadwick

in A History of the Popes 1830-1914

Published in print April 1998 | ISBN: 9780198269229
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191600456 | DOI:

Series: Oxford History of the Christian Church

Pope Leo XIII (1878–1903)

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Elected by the cardinals of Pius IX, Leo XIII was a conservative but with a greater knowledge of history and capable of using moderate language. The encyclical Aeterni Patris (1879) declared the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas the truest philosophy for the modern age, and Leo persisted in claims for the restoration of the Papal State. The Kulturkampf in Germany was ended by compromise on both sides. In France Leo XIII's slow acceptance of the Republic declared for the first time that Catholics could rally to a democracy, but in the short term the policy was a failure. In Italy the pope's language was more urbane than that of Pius IX, though his policy was little different. Catholics did, however, begin to take part in political life on a local level. With industrialization more Catholics were industrial workers, and Catholic trade unions and people calling themselves Christian socialists had appeared in several countries. The encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891) condemned socialism and communism, but recognized the necessity for state intervention to ensure social peace and justice and used the term ‘Christian democracy’ for the first time. It earned Leo XIII a reputation as ‘a workers’ pope’. Catholic leaders still condemned freedom of the press, but Catholic organs of opinion were needed and tended to be most influential when most extreme, most notably Louis Veuillot's Univers in France.

Keywords: France, Church and State conflict; Italy, political life; Kulturkampf; Leo XIII; press; Rerum Novarum; socialism; trade unions; Veuillot, Louis

Chapter.  25050 words. 

Subjects: History of Christianity

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