Pope John Paul II, speaking of the "signs and symptoms of death" stalking the world as the second Christian millennium draws to a close, today issued the fifth encyclical of his seven-year reign.
In the 141-page encyclical to his church's 800 million worshipers, written in his native Polish, the pope denounced materialism, atheism and Marxism as contradicting the teachings of Jesus Christ and warned of the current "death signs" in the world, such as the arms race, "death-dealing poverty and famine," abortion, war and international terrorism.
Although the encyclical, titled "The Lord, the Giver of Life," dealt in part with the pope's concern with the state of man and the world, the document was primarily a theological treatise on the meaning, relevance and force of "The Holy Spirit in the life of the church in the world."
In seeking to reexamine and define the Holy Spirit as "the giver of life" in the world, the encyclical explored the struggle between good and evil that has been a major subject of Christian theology and blamed the Devil, the "Father of Lies," for the "constant pressure on man to reject God."
"We see this confirmed in the modern age, when the atheistic ideologies seek to root out religion on the grounds that religion causes the radical 'alienation' of man," he wrote.
As a man whose formative years as a priest and bishop were lived in Poland under postwar communist rule, the pope made clear his distaste for the "dialectical and historical materialism which is still recognized as the essential core of Marxism."
This materialism, "in principle and fact," the pope wrote, "radically excludes the presence and action of God, who is spirit, in the world and above all in man.
"Fundamentally this is because it does not accept God's existence . . . in a system that is essentially and systematically atheistic."
The need to open oneself to the message of the Holy Spirit, the pope argued, is all the more urgent because, despite major progress in science and technology, "the signs and symptoms of death have become particularly present and frequent" in the world.
"One has only to think of the arms race and of its inherent danger of nuclear self-destruction," he said, also citing "death-dealing poverty and famine," the "widely established custom . . . of taking lives of human beings even before they are born," "new wars" and "attacks against human life by terrorism, organized even on an international scale."