Leo XIII, Kuyper, and the foundations of modern Christian social thought
Religion & Liberty Online

Leo XIII, Kuyper, and the foundations of modern Christian social thought

“For Christians who wish to restore our society,” says Acton senior research fellow Jordan Ballor, “the writings of Leo XIII and Abraham Kuyper can provide a set of guiding principles.”

“When a society is perishing,” wrote Pope Leo XIII in 1891, “those who would restore it . . . [should] call it to the principles from which it sprang.” These words are as true today as they were 125 years ago. In our own time of social upheaval, insecurity, and anxiety, we ought to take Leo’s guidance to heart. To help us remember the principles on which Christian social reflection has been founded in the modern age, it is worth returning to two texts that appeared in 1891: Leo XIII’s encyclical on the relationship between labor and capital, and Abraham Kuyper’s speech to the first Christian Social Congress in Amsterdam,“The Social Question and the Christian Religion.”

These two works are foundational sources for twentieth-century Christian social thought in their respective traditions—Roman Catholic and Reformed. Although many of the particular circumstances and the dynamics at play are different today from what they were more than a century ago, the thought of these two theologians—one an Italian scholar-pope and the other a Dutch Reformed pastor, professor, and politician—provide enduring wisdom for developing and articulating a Christian witness in the modern world.

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).