Centesimus annus

Centesimus annus
(Latin: Hundredth Year)
Encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II
Redemptoris missio Veritatis splendor
Date 1 May 1991
Argument Centenary of the Encyclical Rerum novarum
Encyclical number 9 of 14 of the pontificate
Text in Latin
in English

Centesimus annus (Latin for "hundredth year") is an encyclical which was written by Pope John Paul II in 1991 on the hundredth anniversary of Rerum novarum, an encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. It is part of a larger body of writings, known as Catholic social teaching, that trace their origin to Rerum novarum and ultimately the New Testament.

It was one of fourteen encyclicals issued by John Paul II. Cardinal Georges Cottier, Theologian emeritus of the Pontifical Household and Cardinal-Deacon of Santi Domenico e Sisto, the University Church of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum,[1][2] was influential in drafting the encyclical.[3]


Written in 1991, during the last days of the Cold War, Centesimus annus specifically examines contemporaneous political and economic issues. The encyclical is partially a refutation of Marxist/communist ideology and a condemnation of the dictatorial regimes that practiced it. The particular historical context in which it was written prompted Pope John Paul II to condemn the horrors of the communist regimes throughout the world. However, the Pope also reserved condemnation for reactionary regimes that persecuted their populations, ostensibly to combat Marxism/communism.

The encyclical expounds on issues of social and economic justice. The encyclical includes a defense of private property rights and the right to form private associations, including labor unions. It compares socialism to consumerism, identifying atheism as the source of their common denial, the dignity of the human person.

The reoccurring themes of social and economic justice mentioned in Centesimus annus articulate foundational beliefs in the social teaching of the Catholic Church. Throughout the encyclical the Pope calls on the State to be the agent of justice for the poor and to protect human rights of all its citizens, repeating a theme from Pope Leo XIII's Rerum novarum.[4] Addressing the question of the State's obligation to defend human rights, Pope Leo XIII states:

When there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the defenceless and the poor have a claim to special consideration. The richer class has many ways of shielding itself, and stands less in need of help from the State; whereas the mass of the poor have no resources of their own to fall back on, and must chiefly depend on the assistance of the State. It is for this reason that wage-earners, since they mostly belong to the latter class, should be specially cared for and protected by the Government[5]

But Pope John Paul II also defends private property, markets, and honorable business as necessary elements of a system of political economy that respects the dignity of the individual and allows the individual to express his full humanity. He formulates an Adam Smithian "invisible hand" argument:

Man fulfills himself by using his intelligence and freedom. In so doing he utilizes the things of this world as objects and instruments and makes them his own. The foundation of the right to private initiative and ownership is to be found in this activity. By means of his work man commits himself, not only for his own sake but also for others and with others. Each person collaborates in the work of others and for their good. Man works in order to provide for the needs of his family, his community, his nation, and ultimately all humanity.







Characteristics of Rerum novarum

Toward the "New Things" of Today

End of the Cold War

Private property and the universal destination of material goods

State and culture

Humans as the way of the Church


Unlike Pope Leo XIII, Pope John Paul II writes to all people of good will.

The Document begins by pointing out various events that happened in the year of 1989 but more importantly how it embraced a longer period of the 1800s with dictatorial and oppressive regimes. This chapter expresses the importance of using moral, peaceful and visibility of the truth to diminish dictatorship or whatever they may have had which was negative to society as a whole. This approach was opposite of what the Marxists thought ought to be followed. Marxist believed that only by social conflict would such matters be able to be resolved. The inefficiency of the economic system in different dimensions was greatly looked down upon as well. It was made clear that "no political society should ever be confused with the kingdom of God" because many firms because of the industrial developments had a sense of possibly obtaining a "kingdom" due to the wealth and the financial level that they were placed made them feel at a certain stage of perfection. Overall this chapter is an overview of how the events of 1989 had a worldwide importance because of the negative and positive outcomes that it brought upon the whole human society.

See also


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