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...
(The entire section is 740 words.)