John Paul also followed the example of Pope Leo XIII, whose ground-breaking 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum (New Developments) was the first papal document to deal with the place of the worker in the capitalist system. Leo had been influenced by the sometimes hopeless plight of workers in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, and he placed the church firmly on the side of the laborer.
John Paul first updated Leo's seminal work in 1981 in his encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), written to mark the 90th anniversary of Rerum Novarum. A decade later, he returned to the subject in Centesimus Annus (The Hundredth Year), marking the 100th anniversary.
Even a century after Leo broached the subject, John Paul wrote in 1991, "it is still possible today . . . to speak of inhuman exploitation" of workers.
"The human inadequacies of capitalism," John Paul went on, "and the resulting domination of things over people are far from disappearing. In fact, for the poor, to the lack of material goods has been added a lack of knowledge and training." This "prevents them from escaping their state of humiliating subjection."
John Paul, like Leo, endorsed the "fundamental right" to own private property, but also said that moral considerations place significant limits on this right. It is immoral, he said, for the wealthy to tie up private assets that could be used to help poorer people improve their lots.
This reflected a broader concept that is fundamental to all of John Paul's theology: the seemingly paradoxical notion that genuine personal freedom can be realized only by adhering to limits -- the limits set by moral rules.
Freedom that is detached "from obedience to the truth, and consequently from the duty to respect the rights of others . . . becomes self-love," the pope said in "The Hundredth Year." Only by recognizing the limits required by justice and morality "can man live and use his freedom to the full, and at the same time respect the freedom of every other person," he said in the 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life).
"The pope argued that genuine freedom requires a sense of discipline," Weinandy said. "He said that you may be well-intentioned, but to achieve anything of value, you have to stick to the basic rules that God has laid down."
This admiration for discipline, Weinandy said, explains another striking aspect of John Paul's theology: his drive to expand the number of saints. During his 26-year pontificate, he named 482 new saints, more than had been created in the previous 400 years.
"The saints were examples of people who lived disciplined lives and achieved tremendous amounts of good," Weinandy said.
"To John Paul II, that was the real point of personal freedom. And this became a central element of everything the pope taught us."