(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The eleventh of John Paul II’s fourteen encyclicals, Evangelium Vitae (gospel of life) begins with a short introduction that states the essential premise of the entire work: The gospel of life is an extension of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. John Paul II says that “the Gospel of God’s love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person, and the Gospel of Life are a single and indivisible Gospel.” The introduction makes reference to what the Church perceives as new threats to human life and human dignity and then briefly notes that the decision to write this encyclical came from a 1991 meeting of bishops from around the world.

The first of the four chapters examines what the Church has identified as threats to human life. John Paul II begins by discussing the biblical story of Cain and Abel. In the story, Cain killed Abel in a fit of envy, and when God asks Cain about Abel, Cain states that he is not his brother’s keeper. God then punishes Cain, but even in punishment shows him mercy by not killing him. John Paul II uses the story to assert that God cares for all human life and that human beings are called to care for the lives of others.

In the second part of chapter 1, John Paul II outlines how human dignity and human life are being attacked in the modern world. He notes that the state not only permits some destruction of human life but also sometimes supports the destruction of human life. John Paul II briefly mentions that medical research is working to make abortion easier and more widely available. He then notes that abortion is more widely acceptable when contraception is widely accepted, and while they are different, they both cheapen the value of human life. John Paul II then catalogs some other developments such as artificial reproduction and prenatal diagnosis that lead to what he sees as assaults on human life. There is a brief discussion of the practice of expediting death in the incurably ill and dying, rather than caring for those in that state. John Paul II says that these threats arise because some individuals believe they should be radically free and separate from all others. This modern view of autonomy is distinct from the Catholic...

(The entire section is 900 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Cochran, Clarke, and David Carroll Cochran. Catholics, Politics, and Public Policy: Beyond Right and Left. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2003. The work includes a discussion of the policy implications of Evangelium Vitae entitled, “Consistently Defending the Sanctity of Human Life.”

George, Robert. The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis. Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2001. This collection of essays by a political theorist sympathetic to Catholic moral teaching examines themes from Evangelium Vitae, especially the relationship between law and religion.

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 Evangelium Vitae, that are part of Catholic social teaching.

Weigel, George. Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II. New York: Cliff Street Books, 2001. This extensive biography provides discussions of all of John Paul II’s encyclicals, including Evangelium Vitae.