HOMILETIC & PASTORAL REVIEW
OF INQUISITORS AND PONTIFFS: CRITICIZING JOHN PAUL II
By James V. Schall
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John Paul II has stirred up a great deal of hostility because he does not
allow Christianity to be treated as anything less than a claim to truth.
OF INQUISITORS AND PONTIFFS: CRITICIZING JOHN PAUL II
By James V. Schall
It is the wisdom of this world to conceal the heart with
strategems, to veil one's thoughts with words, to make what is
false appear true and what is true appear false. On the other
hand, it is the wisdom of the just never to pretend anything for
show, always to use words to express one's thoughts, to love the
truth as it is and to avoid what is false, to do what is right
without reward and to be more willing to put up with evil than
to perpetuate it, not to seek revenge for wrong, and to consider
as gain any insult for truth's sake. --Gregory the Great. Pope.
1604 AD, from his "Moral Reflections on Job."
What John Paul II might make of the various efforts to interpret him, often
to interpret him away, is kept pretty much private. That he has received so
much criticism from within the Church especially may have surprised him,
but he was too close to Paul VI not to have realized what was in store for
a clear, firm, and intelligent pope, when it came time to make decisions,
define points of controversy, or appoint fellow bishops or advisors. We
thus begin even to hear hints from some sources that the Pope may be a
brooding "Torquemada" (T. Sheehan, "New York Review of Books," February 7,
1980). In the popular Sunday Supplement, "Parade," Lloyd Shearer assessed
the Holy Father in this way, an assessment that reveals perhaps more about
the critics than about the Pope:
"It's been two years since Karol Wojtyla, a Polish priest,
became Pope John Paul II--enough time for theologians to study
his performance and pass judgment in print. To date much of the
Pope's assessment has been made by Peter Hebblethwaite . . . a
former Jesuit, now married, the author of "The New Inquisition.
. . ." According to the author, this Pope is a rigid,
charismatic conservative .
(Others say) that the Vatican incumbent is not particularly
interested in modern ideas and problems--such as women priests,
marriage for priests, and birth control--or in any force
remotely threatening the authority of the Papacy. They say he is
no intellectual innovator, no imaginative adapter-- but
essentially an impatient energetic conservative determined to
reinforce traditional dogma and hoping somehow to stay the tide
of Soviet Marxism by infecting it with the virtues and values of
the Catholic Church. ("San Jose Mercury," July 27, 1980)"
Of course, by almost any definition of the office, any "pope" who would do
the things suggested in such an analysis simply would not be a pope. In any
case, Karol Wojtyla would do well to recall Pope Gregory's wise words about
"considering as gain any insult for truth's sake," while he reflects on how
he is seen.
IT IS THE CONTENT THAT THREATENS
Yet, there seems to be a growing awareness that the problem of properly
evaluating John Paul II may lie mostly with the evaluators. John Roche has
noted that "a number of American right-wingers" see the Pope as
"undermining the structure of authority which can only aid the communists"
("The Communist Cardinal," "San Francisco Examiner," July 21, 1980).
Roche's own view is that the Pope stands for a kind of democratic center in
politics and economics that should have been in place long ago. Likewise,
"The Washington Post," which has never been particularly sympathetic
towards the Holy Father, showed signs in its editorial on the Pope's
Brazilian visit of realizing more clearly the uniqueness of the man.
"The more we see of this pope, however, the less certain we are
that he can be made to march to any drum beat but his own. He
has been making clear in Brazil his passion for social
justice.... But he has also been making clear his aversion to
the clergy's involving itself in secular movements, especially
Marxist movements, which, he believes, in the name of social
idealism violate human dignity and nourish a 'sterile and
destructive' class war. One does not have to share John Paul's
religion in order to respect his determination to keep it vital
"as a faith," not simply as a social gospel.
One does not have to be a Catholic, of course, to fight poverty.
But one does not have to be a Marxist or a revolutionary either.
That is what we take to be the burden of the pope's creed:
peaceful change is the urgent need. (July 8, 1980)"
John Paul's specific rejection of ideological solutions to contemporary
problems, his insistence on an independent "Catholic" doctrine which is not
merely a pale imitation of marxist or liberal categories, is thus beginning
to be understood.
George Will, I think, has sensed that opposition to this Pope raises issues
in a way much deeper than those of the proper developmental forms. Feeling
the Chestertonian point that what is behind the opposition to John Paul II
is really his position that there is a truth, that modern humility of
intellect is really a skepticism about truth, Will suggests that the Pope
is mostly attacked because he directly challenges the presumed first truth
of our era, the idea that there really is no norm, no truth, so the Pope
ought to be able to conform the Church to "any" set of contemporary values
"The Roman Catholic Church's claim that its teaching in matters
of faith and morals is providentially guaranteed against error
is not really what rankles many people about today's Pope. The
reason this Pope stirs uneasiness, and the reason his example is
of political as well as theological interest, is that he makes
vivid a timeless and awkward truth about communities, political
or religious. That truth is that any community determined to
endure must charge some authority with the task of nurturing,
defending and transmitting those convictions. ("A Pope with
Authority," "Newsweek," June 23, 1980, p. 92)."
Almost invariably, the deepest opposition to John Paul II is not merely
against the principle of authority in any cohesive organization that wants
to survive in time, but rather against the content of specifically
Christian truth. The reason why the Vatican is "not particularly interested
in modern ideas and problems"--to use Lloyd Shearer's biased phrase again--
is not because such ideas, taken as examples of modernity, are really
"modern" but because they are wrong ideas. Truth and falsity are not
questions of time. Something that is an "idea" does not, like a tree, grow
from an acorn of falsity into a full bloom of truth. The critics of John
Paul II do not arise because of the particular "era" in which he lives but
because of his affirmation--found constantly in his already long and
profound list of papal writings--about the "truth" of the traditional faith
in its very essentials. His first Encyclical in particular, "Redemptor
Hominis," means nothing if it does not mean this. The theoretical "untruth"
of Christianity has been one of the foundations of the "modern" mind. Those
still dogmatically committed to this theoretical untruth are right to see
in John Paul II a real threat.
And so, there is a kind of "new inquisition" about in the world, but not
the kind Peter Hebblethwaite might fancy to exist. Perhaps there is nothing
John Paul II has more insisted upon than the true value of religious and
intellectual freedom, that freedom is the only atmosphere of faith (Cf. R.
Heckel, "Religious Freedom: Texts of John Paul II," Rome, Pontifical
Commission on Justice and Peace, 1980). Inquisitors, I think, do not say
what John Paul II said to the Intellectuals in Rio de Janeiro:
"True 'cultura animi' is a culture of freedom, which springs up
from the depth of the spirit, from lucidity of thought and from
the generous disinterestedness of love. Apart from freedom,
there can be no culture.... Culture must not be subjected to
any coercion of power, either political or economic, but must be
helped by both.... Culture which is born free should also spread
in a free system. Now man cannot be fully himself, he cannot
fulfill his humanity completely, if he does not recognize and
does not love the transcendence of his own being over the world,
and his relationship with God. (July 1, 1980)"
And so this freedom means a relationship to truth, means that not
everything is now equally valid. There is, then, an effort within
Christianity, largely liberal or socialist in origin, that seeks to obscure
or interpret away the Christian originality of this Pope by making his
freshness and wisdom seem to be merely "conservative" and slightly alien.
Joseph Sobran, who has been greatly influenced by this Pope, has summed up
the situation rather accurately: "Liberal Catholics have ceased believing
the Church has any real mission in the world, any right to demand the
world's submission to her message, and instead regard themselves as the
world's missionaries to the Church" ("Less Catholic than the Pope?" New
York, 1979, p. 12). This means in practice that classical Christianity,
judged largely impossible to live, is obscured in favor of a Christianity
whose stressed doctrines and practices come from secular society as the
criterion of truth rather than from any abiding deposit of faith to which
an authoritative papacy is itself responsible.
THEY'VE SEEN THEIR MATCH
As an example of this, to return to Lloyd Shearer's three instances by
which theologians judge John Paul II to be "uninterested in modern ideas
and problems," it will be recalled that the first, about women priests, is,
as C. S. Lewis pointed out in his essay "Priestesses in the Church?," older
than Christianity itself, while married clergy is a question older than
celibate clergy. And birth control is indeed a modern "problem" because, as
"World Business Weekly" recently remarked, "declining birthrates and aging
populations now foreseen will have far-reaching political, social, and
economic consequences" (July 28, 1980, p. 7). Few of the recent rash of
articles on "immigration" ever mention that, in reality, immigrants are
people not birth controlled or aborted out of existence coming to replace
those who were. No wonder Colin Clark recently told a graduating class in
Southern California that the most important thing they could do would be to
marry and have children. So much for "modern" examples. Still, Professor
James Hitchcock seems quite right that it is very difficult for the
ordinary Christian ever to hear from press or pulpit what this Pope
actually teaches or what the Church doctrinally holds. "The blunt truth is
that there is a well-organized and widespread process of liberal repression
in this country. Orthodox Catholics are denied in effect the right to
exist" ("National Catholic Register," May 25, 1980).
Thus, the often frenetic enterprise of reducing John Paul II to manageable
size--that is, to terms compatible with current socialist or liberal
theories--is of some importance to follow. Aside from the sheer energy of
his foreign and Italian travels, John Paul II, in 1979, for instance, wrote
a total of 2329 pages in their Italian version, pages of astonishing
profundity. And with Turin, Turkey, Africa, Paris, and Brazil, this is a
pace that shows no sign of letting up. John Paul II, in the name of the
presumably "surpassed, unmodern" Christian faith, has thus challenged the
very intellectual integrity and political orientations of the dominant
media, the political and university organs of the modern world. We are only
just beginning to grasp that this Pope of Rome is easily the match on his
own terms and grounds of any philosopher or theologian in our time, or
perhaps any time. The loaded accusation "inquisitor" used of him strikes
one as a sort of desperate admission of his strength, rather than any valid
analysis of his character and understanding of his office.
"HOLD ON TO THE FAITH"
The Holy Father is, then, very prolific and very comprehensive. Even his
most devoted followers have a difficult time in keeping up with him and
assimilating all he says and writes. The journalist's temptation, too often
shared by academics, is merely to give up, to neglect the effort to come to
terms with what is being said. In this connection, furthermore, "The
Economist" of London (April 5, 1980), emphasized, rather sharply, the
general incapacity of such American journals as "The New York Times" and
"The Washington Post" to understand the power and nature of the religious
revival that is presently going on in the United States (Cf. also J.
Kaufman, "Old-Time Religion," "The Wall Street Journal," July 11, 1980). As
a result, religion is mostly ignored or explained--wrongly--in terms
comfortably suitable to socialist or liberal categories, but ones that fail
to come to grips with the religious reality itself, a reality John Paul
himself frequently stresses. This same bias in key places prevents a good
part of the western world from understanding the meaning of religious
motivations of any sort, whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Jewish. The
result, then, is either a political policy that seeks to transcend
religion, seeing religion as a threat to politics, or a policy that
analyzes all human motivations in economic terms, usually those of poverty,
which assume that such motivations are the only ones that move the vast
majority of existing humanity. This narrows or reduces actually existing
human beings to but one level by making "facts" conform to the ideological
projections of dominant western secular theories. It is remarkable how
frequently Pope Wojtyla keeps returning to the dangers of these ideological
restrictions on the openness of man to a higher value and presence. The
Pope symbolically demonstrates this point when, as in Upper Volta to
victims of poverty and drought, he speaks of the most profound spiritual
truths, not just about social conditions (May 10, 1980). The Pope
recognizes the most profound depths of spirit in the least and most
disadvantaged to which he is primarily called.
Writing in "L'Avvenire" from Paris on the eve of the papal visit to France,
Angelo Bertani interviewed several people about the conditions of French
Catholicism. It seemed clear at the time that "Le Monde," the leading
journal, and segments of the French government did not want the visit to be
the success it turned out to be. Among those interviewed was an Uruguayan
priest officially stationed in Paris for several years. He felt that there
was much more popular faith in France than was often admitted. In a
reflection pertinent to the theme here, Father Paolo Dabezias went on:
"If one reads Le Monde, for example, he has an image (of faith)
that is rather false. The same is true of the visit of the Pope.
There is a preconceived polemic, a lack of comprehension. But
all French journals fail to understand the popularity of the
Pope. They have a "superiority complex." And even certain French
Catholic circles have a sort of fear of the multitudes. (May 30,
This strikes rather close to the heart of the matter. What indeed is the
cause of the opposition to this Pontiff, both within the Church and in
western intellectual establishments? No doubt, one of the favorite tactics
is to make of John Paul II a simple Polish cleric still blinking under the
bright lights of western sophistication. Needless to say, there is not a
little prejudice in this. A critical friend said, "How could this man from
Poland go to Zaire and presume to speak to a different culture?" How
indeed? It seems useless to argue that some of John Paul II's most
brilliant discourses--in Warsaw, to UNESCO, in Rio--have been on precisely
the nature of culture. But if there is nothing in Christianity or in reason
that transcends all cultures, something graspable, explainable, even by a
Pope, then Karol Wojtyla should certainly return to Krakow and bless
babies. But we should all then drop our universalist pretentions. We should
admit that our philosophy does not allow any cultural transcendence .
But no one who saw or heard John Paul II speak in clear, vigorous French at
Notre Dame de Paris, in perhaps one of the most elegant and symbolic scenes
of contemporary history, can ever quite buy the doctrine that here we have
a culture-bound peasant from behind the Iron Curtain. This Pope speaks to a
good part of the world in its own language, and he speaks to most of the
disciplines in terms of their own competence. So is there no cause for
complaint? Is the Pope not acting too fast, with too much assurance? Is he
not giving too many definitive answers? What is he preparing us for? Some
say, of course, he is preparing us for what it is like when we are all
behind the Iron Curtain. But others will maintain that Pope Wojtyla is too
used to dealing with tough marxist bureaucrats, so he cannot grasp the ways
of freedom, of democracy. Others argue that he sees it his duty to confront
a problem--in Holland, in Latin America, in Philadelphia--head on, to hear
all sides patiently, to know the debate, but then to decide and to expect
his faithful to follow him. And generally, especially among those who
insist that his reemphasized position on birth control and abortion must be
wrong, there is a fear that the Pope will indeed close off all debate on
the subject. This would mean that the Church means what it says it means,
so we can act on this basis. Still others protest, "Enough of this
Catholicism that keeps saying one thing and doing another, with such
theologians who keep telling us the very opposite of what the Pope
John Paul II, for his part, however, seems to have a basic message for
Catholicism. Thus, in doctrine and in administration and in discipline, the
themes he keeps coming back to, without in the least denying our sinful
heritage, the Pope urges the keeping of the faith held. He is not about to
be tempted by the socialist-type mistake of looking for a kind of heaven
here on Earth. Nor does he doubt that the Gospel has a positive effect
among men, even in their social and public lives. But why the Pope raises
so much dust wherever he fires is probably because he does not allow
Christianity to be treated as anything less than a claim to truth. Without
this particular faith, man cannot understand the "whole truth about
himself." Such is the Holy Father's basic doctrine. He will no longer
permit the comfort of a Christianity serving as a kind of established
veneer to the dominant ideologies that run our societies. "Beloved
Brothers," he told some Bishops from Columbia, "I wish to repeat here
something . . . (I said) in Puebla. As Pastors of the Church, let us be
aware of being teachers of truth: this is what the faithful look for in us
. . ." (September 25, 1979). This is how John Paul II reacts to the
substance of much of the criticism:
"There will be people who, with an attitude of facile criticism,
think that this community of faith in Christ lives quite
bewildered, in the midst of a society actuated by purely earthly
motives and geared to profit and enjoyment, including what is
just and honest, of material goods. They claim to reduce the
Gospel to one doctrine among so many others of a humanitarian
nature, which can serve very well as an alibi to escape from the
pressing human and social problems of our time. The pastors
themselves . . . are considered foolish people for preaching a
hope which is not easily reconciled with worldly gain.
Consequently, it would be viewed with pleasure if Christian
communities would undertake other ways of salvation and give
priority to alignment in favor of sociopolitical commitment, in
the name of an alleged authentic interpretation of the
evangelical doctrines which in addition 'to passing over in
silence and divinity of Christ, claims to show him as
politically committed, as one who fought against Roman
oppression and the authorities, and also as one involved in the
class struggle.' (Ibid. Cf. also R. Heckel, General Aspects of
the Social Catechesis of John Paul 11 and The Theme of
Liberation, both Rome, Pontifical Commission on Justice and
Thus, this Pope will "suppress" no one, but neither will he pretend that
everything said or practiced is equally Christian.
Consequently, when we examine the orderly and methodological way that John
Paul II has gone about the world in his travels, made episcopal
appointments, zeroed in on key issues, answered basic doubts and
confusions--he clearly conceives his task to "strengthen" his brother
bishops--we cannot help but recognize that here is no Grand Inquisitor.
When John Paul II was in Paris, a French journal accused him of "scolding"
the French instead of listening to them. To this, the American journalist
Louis Fleming responded:
"There have been common threads through his discourses to the
bishops: appeals for their unity, for them to live exemplary
lives. He has noted his support of justice and human rights, and
his opposition to priests playing a direct role in politics. He
has appealed for Christians to speak out on issues of morality,
justice, and peace.
There is, for all of this, little about him that is a scold.
There is much that seems dedicated to discouraging
permissiveness and encouraging respect for doctrine and
discipline, as written and interpreted over two millennia of the
Church's experience. He would like to leave no doubt about where
he and the Church stand. ("Herald Tribune, Zurich, June 10,
The Pope, then, is not going to allow us the comfort of presenting
Christianity to our contemporaries or to ourselves as if somehow its
primary purpose were to achieve certain goals or ends set forth by the
John Paul II is himself a philosopher, a Thomist in his intellectual
approach, a Thomist who knows the currents and tendencies of classic and
contemporary philosophy. In fact, one of the most significant events in
recent Thomism was John Paul II's Discourse on the subject at the Angelicum
University in Rome, (November 17, 1979). There he redirected and deepened
the philosophic connection of faith and reason by virtue of the realism of
St. Thomas (Cf. A. McNicholl, "A Chant in Praise of What Is," "Angelicum,"
2, 1980; V. Possenti, 'Giovanni Paolo II e Tomiso," "Rassegna di Teologia,"
Gennaio, 1980; A. Woznicki, "A Christian Humanism: Karol Wojtyla's
Existential Personalism," New Britain, CT., Mariel, 1980). "Wojtyla's
primary concern as a philosopher," Professor Guido Kung of the University
of Freiburg wrote, "is clearly to infuse new life into Aristotelian
Thomistic metaphysics by always confronting it afresh with a wealth of
concrete experience" ("Universitas," Stuttgart, #2, 1979). This Pope,
moreover, seems quite aware that the old opposition of science and religion
has had its day. He seems to grasp what Stanislaus Jaki has been arguing
that the issues posed by faith to science, by the authentic Christian
dogmas, to be exact, enable science to be itself (Cf. S. Jaki, "The Road of
Science and the Ways of God," Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1978;
cf. John Paul II's Address at Einstein Commemoration, November 10, 1979).
The worldview expressed in and envisioned by orthodox Christianity seems
the best preparation to why we can have science in the first place (Cf.
Professor Hodgson, "Third World Science," "The Tablet," London, January 6,
WHO IS SPEAKING TO MAN?
In this connection, it is of interest to compare Mortimer Adler's arguments
in his new and brilliant book, "How to Think about God: A Guide for the
20th Century Pagan" (New York, Macmillan, 1980), wherein he seeks to
establish a purely philosophical proof for the existence of God over
against the classic Christian proofs, which, in Adler's view, presuppose
faith. For Adler, the final proof, one not based on any faith, concerns the
fact that the cosmos, this cosmos, could be otherwise, so that if it
exists, as it obviously does, some reason outside itself with a capacity to
cause it, must be posited. This is of significance in the light of John
Paul II's remarks to an Italian scientific Study Group. The Pope's words
are in line with those of Professor Adler, both of whom acknowledge their
debt to St. Thomas. And the Pope addressed himself to the very "bridge," as
Adler called it, between faith and reason:
"Cosmology, a science of the totality of what exists as
experimentally observable being, is therefore endowed with a
special epistomological status of its own, which sets it more
than any other perhaps at the borders of philosophy and
religion, since the science of totality leads spontaneously to
the question about totality itself, a question which does not
find its answers within this totality....
Is it not a question, fundamentally, of the great mystery: one
that is at the root of all things, of the cosmos and its
origins, as well as of man who is capable of studying it and
understanding it? If the universe is, as it were, an immense
word which, though with difficulty and slowly, can at last be
deciphered and understood, who is it who says this word to man?
(September 28, 1979)"
It is at this point that Mortimer Adler, the philosopher and the "Pagan,"
contrasts so much with Karol Wojtyla, the philosopher and the Pope. The
latter, rightly, announces how faith looks at this evidence; the former,
again rightly, acknowledges that pure reason cannot go so very far.
DISAGREE BUT DO NOT CONFUSE
The Pope, in any case, is the last person to demand conformity or "blind
obedience." His position on religious liberty, which is the first right for
him, and intellectual honesty is of another spirit (Cf. R. Heckel,
"Religious Freedom: Texts of John Paul II," Rome, Pontifical Commission on
Justice and Peace, 1980). What he does demand is honesty about argument,
evidence, the taking of ideas seriously, and, perhaps more importantly, the
taking the real consequences of ideas seriously. He will not, furthermore,
allow the faithful to be confused. If he ever shows signs of real anger, it
is probably when he sees simple people confounded in their beliefs or
practices by sophisticated academics. And I have the impression that it is
quite all right to disagree with John Paul II. If one should do so, he
should have his evidence clear, arguments marshalled. But no one should
expect this very intelligent man to be impressed with disagreement just for
In this connection, Michael Novak seems largely correct when he argued that
John Paul II does not fully understand the dynamics of democratic
capitalism and the contributions it can make to the proper alleviation of
the world's poor, a theme dear to the Pope ("The Politics of John Paul II,"
"Commentary," December, 1979). Mr. Novak senses the essential openness of
John Paul II as well as the obligation to analyze the Holy Father's own
ideas in a serious fashion. French socialist clerics have been quick to
pick up on those marxist phrases that have sometimes appeared in the Pope's
writings--"the poor are getting poorer, the rich richer," for example (Cf.
V. Cosmao, "A distance de Puebla," "Lumen Vitae," Brussels, #3, 1979). Such
passages come to be used to embrace a very different kind of social
position from the one suggested by John Paul II. The Holy Father would be
quite open to the evidence that, in fact, everyone is getting richer, but
at different rates, that the "gap" between rich and poor is not as
important as general growth itself. This does not mean that things are just
fine, but it does emphasize the direction taken by Roger Heckel in his
important essay, "Self-reliance" (Rome, Pontifical Commission on Justice
and Peace. 1978). Romano Rossi has remarked that John Paul II has already
developed this idea of self-reliance into a broader and more valuable idea,
that of a reciprocal need of exchange, both material and cultural, for
self-reliance itself to grow ("L'Osservatore Romano," 12 Giugno 1980).
The Pope, then, does not mind disagreement, provided it does not become an
instrument to confuse the faithful (Cf. Pope's Discourse to Gregorian
University, December 15, 1979). He does care enormously about what we claim
the faith to contain. If what is taught about it turns out to be not what
is handed down, especially if this is taught in some semi-official manner,
he will react vigorously. This is why he really complimented Hans Kung. He
held that Professor Kung did "mean" what he said, and that what he said had
"meaning." On this basis, he concluded, after long patient investigation,
that on certain definite points Hans Kung did not mean what Catholic
Christianity means. This is a service to the truth, to the faithful, and to
Hans Kung. Inquisition it is not. In exercising his judgment, the Pope does
not pretend to do anything more than to state the intelligence and sense of
the faith to which he himself is obliged. He never gives the slightest
impression that what he stands for is his, that he had a direct hand in
"making" the norms he preaches and teaches. And significantly, the Pope
does not forbid anyone from writing or speaking--a trait not always shared
by the secular and Christian left, as Professor Hitchcock, alas, pointed
out. He only forbids us from confusing the faith for the simple faithful.
This way is not only the more preferred way, but the one that most
effectively puts everyone on guard that it is the truth that obliges us,
the truth to which we, along with the Pope himself, are obliged (UN
Address, October 2, 1979).
This is indeed an extra-ordinary Pope. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote of
"I have given him my heart, and the reader should know why. He
is the first Pope with a wholly 20th Century intellectual
formation, and perhaps the first person in this century to come
to institutional eminence having grappled with, possibly
mastered, the principle philosophical question of our time,
which is the question of totalitarianism. ("The Pope and the
Modern Mind," "The Washington Post," Supplement, October 7,
1979, p. 29)"
John Paul II's trouble is that he is ahead, not behind most of the
intellectuals of his time. And in an odd way, John Paul 11 has been rather
forced to be more of a teaching bishop in every diocese than he would want
to be. There are not a few who hold that his trouble with the Church is
rooted in the lethargic performance of the episcopates.
THE PERSPECTIVE IS ETERNITY
John Paul II is, above all, a teacher. "Man has a profound need to know if
it is worth being born," he told the Italian Solidarity Center,
"if it is worthwhile living, struggling, suffering, and dying;
if it is important to commit himself to some ideal, superior to
material and contingent interests; if, in a word, there is a
reason that justifies earthly existence.
This, then, remains the central question: to give meaning to
man, to his choices, to his life in history....
Jesus points out that the real meaning of our earthly existence
lies in eternity and that the whole of human history with its
dramas and its joys must be seen in the perspective of eternity.
(August 5, 1979)"
"The Washington Post" was correct, it is vitally important for mankind that
Christianity be kept "as a faith," and not merely as a social gospel. Men
may not all believe in Christianity, but it is essential that Christians
believe in it, that its particular answers to the "whole truth about man"
be not obscured or distorted, that religious freedom include the freedom to
be also, in James Hitchcock's phrase, an "orthodox Catholic" in the manner
of John Paul II.
But when John Paul II stresses the perspective of eternity in which
Christians do live their lives, he immediately turns to the accusation he
knows is waiting in the wings, that accusation
that Christians are not concerned about this world. John Paul II, as we
have seen, thus does not wait until the United Nations or UNESCO or Notre
Dame de Paris to say the most profound things. At an ordinary parish at
Spinaceto one Sunday afternoon, he said:
"The accusation is often leveled at Christianity that, directing
man to ultimate and eternal realities, it diverts his attention
from temporal matters. This reproof is based on a mistaken
understanding of Christ's admonition to 'watch.' It is spoken in
an eschatological perspective, but at the same time, it is open
to all the fullness of the problems and tasks of man living on
this Earth. Temporal existence brings forth a series of duties
which constitute precisely the content of that 'watch,'
according to the Gospel. (November 18, 1979)"
Thus, there is insistence on this world and the next, because it is exactly
the same person involved in both. Revelation does also instruct us about
this world. And we are reasonable beings. John Paul II has his own ways of
transforming the Church. In a real sense, he is the true "liberal," against
whom something very much like an "inquisition" must be launched by anyone
who thinks that Christianity has no private or public right to be what it
is, no authentic intelligence to call its own.
Thus, the words of Pope Gregory the Great still apply: "It is the wisdom of
this world to conceal the heart with strategems, to veil one ' s heart with
words, to make what is false appear true and what is true appear false." In
a way, it is too bad the splendid word, "inquisition," has had such a bad
name. For in the light of its basic sense of an "inquiry" and a "search"
into something quite real, a persistence of effort until the truth appear,
we might indeed call John Paul II a Pontiff who "inquires," a Pope who is
free enough to make what is true appear true, what is false appear false.
"God entered man's history by becoming Man," he told a General Audience in
Rome. "This is the central context of the Gospel, and the mission of the
Church" (April 25, 1979). Who else but this inquisitive Pontiff tells us
such things? And who really would object if he "could stay the tide of
Soviet Marxism by infecting it with the virtues and values of the Catholic
Church?" Perhaps, as Joseph Sobran said, only those who "regard themselves
as the world's missionaries to the Church." Such are the implications of
criticizing John Paul II.