Centesimus Annus Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Cenetisimus Annus (on the hundredth anniversary), the ninth encyclical of John Paul II’s pontificate and his third social encyclical, was written on the one hundredth anniversary of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891). It examines the role of the state and the economy from the perspective of Catholic moral theology.

In the brief introduction, John Paul II indicates he will look back to Rerum Novarum and forward to prospects for the future. In the first chapter of six, John Paul affirms Leo XIII’s teachings that there should be rights for people who work, including the right to private property and the right to a family-supporting wage, and that individuals and families should be served by the economy rather than the reverse.

The second chapter examines the “new things of today,” by which John Paul means emerging economic arrangements. He strongly rejects that idea that socialism is the proper response to current economic conditions. He then argues that the state should assist workers as they participate in economic life. The state should adopt measures to help those who become unemployed and encourage proper wage levels. However, the state’s role should not be so extensive as to discourage individual initiative in the economy. The state can play a positive role by encouraging authentic development of human beings.

The third chapter, entitled “1989,” considers the remarkable events of that year, when many totalitarian governments toppled in a wave across eastern and central Europe. John Paul argues that communism failed not only because it was an inefficient economic system and could not produce sufficient consumer goods but also because it neglected to regard the spiritual nature of humans. The pope states that prospering nations have a...

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Centesimus Annus Bibliography (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Cochran, Clarke, and David Carroll Cochran. Catholics, Politics, and Policy: Beyond Right and Left. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2003. Includes a chapter that examines a just economic life and therein discusses Centesimus Annus and relates it to other encyclicals.

Mott, W. King, Jr. The Third Way: Economic Justice According to John Paul II. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1999. Argues that John Paul’s views of economics are best understood in light of his philosophic anthropology.

Novak, Michael. The Universal Hunger for Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations Is Not Inevitable. New York: Basic Books, 2004. Contains chapters that consider the relationship between Catholicism and capitalism as well as a lengthy chapter on how the Catholic Church came to embrace democracy.

Pham, John-Peter, ed. Centesimus Annus: Assessment and Perspectives for the Future of Catholic Doctrine. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1998. This work includes twenty essays dedicated to Centesimus Annus and includes discussions of themes and how the work was received around the world.

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Washington, D.C.: USCCB, 2005. This work attempts to systematize and synthesize the many documents, including Centesimus Annus, that are part of Catholic social teachings.

Weigel, George, and Robert Royal. Building the Free Society: Democracy, Capitalism, and Catholic Social Teaching. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993. This work includes eleven essays, each examining a different document. One examines the place of Centesimus Annus in the tradition of Catholic social teachings.