The role of human creativity in the theological anthropology of Centesimus Annus and its implications for Christian economic practices

Kari-Shane Davis, Marquette University


In 1991, Pope John Paul II became the first post-Cold War pope to issue a social encyclical marking an anniversary of Rerum Novarum . The anthropological claims made by Pope John Paul in Centesimus Annus drew the attention of early commentators and sparked significant debate among U.S. Catholics. In his well-known book The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: The Free Press, 1993), for instance, Catholic "neo-conservative" commentator Michael Novak argues that Centesimus Annus provides its reader with a "classic restatement of Christian anthropology" that successfully responds to questions raised about both the political economy and free social institutions post-1989. Michael Novak's interpretation of Pope John Paul II's theological anthropology in Centesimus Annus has been challenged by a number of other U.S. Catholic scholars. This dissertation will focus on one aspect of Novak's interpretation and the challenges that follow, namely the issue of human creativity in the context of theological anthropology, giving special attention to the critique of Novak offered by theologian David L. Schindler. The dissertation seeks to lay groundwork for a more fruitful reception of Centesimus Annus regarding human participation in the economic order by lifting up and developing two key issues: (1) the anthropological/ontological grounding for Catholic social teaching that underlies Centesimus Annus and its implications for the creation, use, and possession of material goods, and (2) the sorts of concrete practices, virtues, and communities that can respond to this teaching. Part One of the dissertation provides an overview of Centesimus Annus ' important themes, followed by an extended presentation of Michael Novak's analysis of Centesimus Annus and David L. Schindler's cogent critique of neo-conservative theology and the social-economic practices that flow from it. Part Two assesses both Novak's and Schindler's anthropological claims, and argues that in order to move toward a more effective reception of Centesimus Annus ' treatment of human creativity, and a more fruitful reception of Catholic social teaching on economic justice, persons and communities must be shaped by local and structural practices that embody the teachings, and help reconfigure persons' moral imaginations and ways of seeing, judging, and acting. In so doing, the dissertation seeks a perspective that is distinct from the typical "liberal" versus "conservative" way in which debates about Centesimus Annus , and Catholic economic ethics in general, are typically framed.

Recommended Citation

Davis, Kari-Shane, "The role of human creativity in the theological anthropology of Centesimus Annus and its implications for Christian economic practices" (2007). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3298496.