Appeared in Winter 1991, Vol. XVII, No. 4

Centesimus Annus exploded across the Roman sky on May 2, 1991, like a sonic boom. Even the first fleeting sight of this new encyclical of Pope John Paul II led commentators around the world to predict that it would lift the worldwide terms of debate to a new level. Immediately evoking praise from both left and right, this encyclical seemed to some to be the greatest in the series of which it is a part.1 In reply to questions raised about political economy and free social institutions by the events of 1989, it is a classic restatement of Christian anthropology.

As Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II had already done significant work in phenomenology, particularly in his book the Acting Person.2 The title of that book furnishes us a key to the nuanced approval that the Pope now gives to capitalism rightly understood – a capitalism he recommends to his native Poland, other formerly socialist nations, and the Third World. This approval surprised many commentators. The London Financial times, for example, had predicted a ringing endorsement of socialism more advanced than that of Neil Kinnock, Willy Brandt, and Jose Gonzalez.3 The Christian anthropology of Pope John Paul II, plus his acute observation of the way the world works, led him to other conclusions.

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