In his first encyclical Pope John Paul II has placed Christ and his redemption of man at the centre of his ministry, the Church's mission and the historical development of mankind.
The encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, the Redeemer of Man, is not a programme of what he intends to do in his pontificate nor a policy document but an inspirational blueprint of how he sees Christ in today's world. The tone is heavily theological and escatalogical.
But the Pope does make an analysis of the world today and touches on a number of themes which affect both mankind and the Church. The main ones are: Continuity, he stresses how closely he is following Pope John, Pope Paul, Pope John Paul 1 and the Second Vatican Council.
Unity, he says there is no going back on the road to unity but nothing must be given away.
Human rights and freedom, he questions whether governments give lip service to human rights without actually allowing human rights to exist.
Human progress, he asks whether technology is really used for the benefit of all mankind.
The Eucharist, he says this is the summit of the sacramental life of the Church.
He also touches on a number of other topics, aetheism, criticism of the Church, Penance, pluralism in the Church, the role of theologians, priesthood and marrriage and speaks out on a number of specific issues which affect all mankind; arms sales, poverty, technology and pollution.
But each of these topics is not simply dealt with in a broad christian framework, he speaks of Christ as the centre of each subject and the driving force behind all Christian commitment. Each of the four parts of the encyclical begins with a section on Christ and the centrality of Christ is followed through with biblical quotes and philosophical and theological underpinning at every stage.
The tone of the document is heavily assertive and didactic.
Essential Christian truths are stated without apology or accommodation. In style the encyclical makes an interesting contrast to the first encyclical of Pope Paul, Ecclesiam Suam, which Pope Paul described as conversational and informal. He made a plea for dialogue with the modern world and saw the Church as a partner in that dialogue.
There is little of this from Pope Wojtyla. His tone is tough, confident and headmasterly. He stresses the missionary aspect of the christian approach to the modern world.
He admonishes the modern world in no uncertain terms. He picks on no particular political or ,economic system but he questions whether man lives under the menance of his own creations, attacks societies for exploiting the earth for industrial and military purposes, calls unemployment a plague and inflation a fever and draws attention to the gap which separates the rich and poor.
His analysis is bleak and
uncompromising but at the same time he is optimistic. The principle of solidarity in a wide sense must be adopted he says, either through healthy cornpetition in trade or the redistribution of wealth. This needs a conversion of individuals in their hearts and minds he says.
On matters of Church discipline he does not involve himself with any of the current disputes but deals with some of them by implication. On the Eucharist he says that it is not simply an 'occasion of remembrance' and spells out the traditional teaching of the Church -on the real presence.
On Penance however he issues a warning to those who want general absolution and says that everyone must be able to have individual confession. At the same time he leaves the door open to dialogue on how to put this into practice by bishops' in local circumstances.
This is the first encyclical since Humanae Vitae in 1968 in which Pope Paul forbade artificial methods of birth control.
There is another change of style in the use of 'I' instead of the 'We' which previous Pope's have used and this adds to its immediacy and impact. The document was signed on March 4 but no reason has been given for the 1 I day delay in releasing it.