Saint John Paul II the Great Patron of Europe and the Doctor of the Church

Rok: 2019
Autor: Kardynał Stanisław Dziwisz

The current cultural crisis is a powerful historical call for a wise return to the common historical heritage. The Renaissance, for which we are all waiting, as usual can only be achieved as a new reconsideration and adoption of the classical vision of the man and of the world. There is no doubt that in such a context, the legacy of St. Pope John Paul II the Great has a remarkable culture-making value. Karol Wojtyla has left us with a huge material to think about. His spiritual and intellectual world – as one of this scholar, who was praised by Jesus in the Gospel (cf. Mt 13, 52) – is marked with skilful reconciliation of tradition and novelty. Pope Wojtyla’s legacy is a rich, versatile and creative synthesis of multiple paths of human thinking. There is no doubt that it still remains, and will for a long time remain, an important and comprehensive cultural renewal project on a global scale. This project is not a call to a simple return to the past. The thought of John Paul II is in fact thoroughly modern, original and creative, whilst remaining nobly classical. This Wojtyła’s difficult balancing act between tradition and modernity, has contributed a huge breath of fresh air to the life of the Church, and through it to the wider universal spaces of broadly understood culture, politics and science. In this regard, the Holy Pope became a real teacher and Doctor of the Church and in it an important guardian of European values, which are the indelible foundation of modern civilization. In this speech, I would like to draw your attention to the three dimensions of St. John Paul II’s heritage in which it is most creative. These are also at the same time, in my opinion, the most important reasons why John Paul II should be declared Doctor of the Church and co-patron of our European home.


  1. John Paul II’s vision of the Church: a doctorate in ecclesiology

The Polish Pope was a very hard-working individual. A huge amount of public speeches, audiences, foreign trips and documents that are rich in content proves not only his diligence, but true love to the Bride of Christ, whose guardian and shepherd he was appointed by the risen Lord. The size of this heritage, however, should not be measured only quantitatively. We must not forget that the life of Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II is a great testimony to the primacy of God in personal and social life. The greatness of the Pope is the amount of grace given to him by God, which Christ’s disciple faithfully responded to, guarded and passed to others. The grace of which he became an apostle, preacher, witness[1] and an icon. Wojtyla’s legacy is his testimony: Pope’s greatest strength did not rest on holding the keys of power, but on being humble and clear witness to beauty, goodness and love of God in the midst of the suffering world. Call to papacy for him was primarily a matter of internal vocation to an even greater solidarity with God and man. Institutional and legal dimensions of the papal testament – even if expressed for example in the form of a renewed Code of Canon Law of 1983 – were always subordinated to building relationships, expanding the space of the Church understood as „a kind of sacrament of intimate union with God”.[2] It is the Church awakening in souls, to use the expression of Romano Guardini, that was in the centre of the life and ministry of John Paul II.

I see the importance of the Pope’s testimony mainly in how Wojtyła understands the Church. Even before he was elected to the Holy See of Peter and Paul, the Apostles , he wrote in Stanislaus that the Church sets for him the most intimate space of his own inner self and is the „bottom of his being”.[3] As a consequence of his encounter with Christ, Pope Wojtyla admitted the Church to the very centre of his personal life. The Church has become a home for him, and he became a home for the Church. Anyone who has even once met him personally and remembers his look and the feel of his hands will know how to understand these words. In them there was no strangeness and distance. As a man devoted to God and to the Church he gave himself to the people and found a place for them in his inner self. External warmth flowed from the innermost layers of his inner self that was made a hospitable home for all. The most important lesson given by Wojtyla is the one about acceptance of the Church to your inner self, about identification with people who believe, love and have hope in God.

Let’s say this definitely and clearly: in a world that is fragmented, broken, in a world where more and more people experience homelessness of diverse nature, John Paul II has consistently preached the mystery of the Church as a home for everyone. Pope Wojtyla was the Pope that was taken from amongst the people and ordained for the people. This is evidenced by his will to be close to people, by masses open to so many in his private chapel, by meetings at his table, by overcoming barriers during audiences, by stacks of sheets with prayer intentions that remained constantly in the recesses of his prie-dieu. It can be stated without exaggeration that during the pontificate of John Paul II, the Church again and definitely showed its human face and has become a home again. This is evidenced not only by the specific events whose scale matches the challenges of the modern times, events that often exceed social restraints, but also by a number of papal documents and by content they contain. Let’s mention, for example, the ground-breaking nature of Familiaris Consortio, wherein de facto small excommunication of divorced people is lifted and they are invited to more deeply integrate with the Church. It is a beautiful expression of heartfelt concern for the human being, the expression of consociation and at the same time the proof of vast pastoral courage in the epochal scale. In this regard, John Paul II will always remain a true Doctor of the Church teaching that in order to understand him one must let him enter their inner self.

This novel ecclesiology expressed more in practical life than on paper deserves to be called cordial ecclesiology. A missionary opening of the Church, pastoral tenor of Petrine ministry, showing the friendly face of the Church are all the fruits of such a cordial vision of the Church rooted deeply in the heart of John Paul II. There is no doubt that in the field of ecclesiology, and especially in the understanding of the papal office, John Paul II counts among such great popes as the great Leo and Gregory, to whom we largely owe the concept of papacy. As already mentioned those ancient popes built the doctrine of papal authority based on the power of the keys, Wojtyla complements their theology and practice with a strong pastoral dimension. The Pope becomes a priest, a witness, a preacher, and the closeness with the man becomes a form of exercise of the power endowed with him. We are dealing with a totally renewed concept of papal authority.

In the context of cordial ecclesiology, I would like to draw your attention to yet another dimension of the Church’s witness of Pope Wojtyla. Now, in the era of postmodernism, Wojtyla remains a staunch advocate of reason. Late modernity rejects reason and its ability to explore and discover the truth. This era has announced the death of truth as its manifesto and with it the death of a man. When truth is gone we only remain with equivalent and ephemeral opinions, whose task is to create a world according to one’s own subjective projectors. Such an approach can be seen today unfortunately in some areas of pastoral activity. This refers to such initiatives that divide the order of the faith and truth-seeking, reduce the rational dimension of the faith to be replaced by empty emotivism. And here Pope Wojtyla turns out to be an important witness to the true nature of the Church. As a man of the spirit he is also a brilliant intellectual, and as a philosopher he is also a practicing theologian. His cordial service to offer people a home in the Church is naturally combined with and flows from the life of the intellect fascinated by God and still exceeding its limits, in order to better preach the mystery of His closeness in the world. Hence also the reason is expected to believe, to love and to trust. There is no faith that does not seek understanding.

In this regard, Pope Wojtyla, not only reminds us of the Church’s tradition and embodies it in life, but especially in Fides et Ratio, builds a comprehensive and coherent vision of the relationship between reason and faith. This encyclical is undoubtedly one of the most important texts of his pontificate. This is because it diagnoses the direct causes of the contemporary crises of humanity and creatively shows the way to overcome them by a renewed alliance between faith and reason. In this encyclical the Pope describes in an original way the synthesis of faith and reason and first of all defends the reason and truth from the standpoint of the doctrine of the faith. This paradoxical defense of reason through faith is in epochal terms significant, and its weight goes beyond the contemporary context. In this case we are dealing with a theological and magisterial study of the truth about reason and its inclusion in the world of the truths of faith. Wojtyla’s Church serves the truth and at the same time serves the reason. In this light we should interpret the submitted Pope’s teachings about sciences and their major achievements, for example evolution, which Pope Wojtyla considered „more than a hypothesis”.[4]

  1. Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II and a deeper understanding of man: a doctorate in anthropology

Karol Wojtyla – as is rightly put in the title of his filmed biography – went down in history as „the man who became the Pope and the Pope who remained a Man”. This concise and neat title expresses an important moment in the life and activities of the Polish pope. The Pope, endowed with an exceptionally rich human experience (loneliness, suffering, poetry, work, priesthood, philosophy), understands intuitively conciliar words that „Christ has somehow united himself with every man”.[5] They motivate him to accept humanity as the way of the Church.[6] John Paul II, mystically united with God, becomes under this union an admirer of man. It’s the one and only love, in which „human affairs combine with divine matters” which makes him not only serve the man but try to understand him increasingly better.

All scholarly activities of Karol Wojtyla revolved around the mystery of man, of his person and of his personal actions in the world. In the centre of this reflection there has always been – and it is shown already in his early poetry – the truth about the destiny to responsible love which culminates in fatherhood and motherhood.

Wojtyla’s thought had gradually developed in the vortex of academic life and pastoral ministry. Theoretical motifs flowed directly from the practice of life, from being with a man, from conversations and moments spent together, from accompanying spouses and families. This long and complex process of reaching understanding of the man and the search for the most adequate way to express the discovered the truth reaches its fullness in the theology of the body. This theology is undoubtedly the most mature expression of Wojtyla’s thoughts and at the same time is his most original contribution to the history of theology, and, more broadly, to the history of understanding man. It is that short presentation to which I will limit the description the Pope’s contribution to anthropology here, which otherwise is very is rich and multi-faceted.

John Paul II is certainly not the first to tackle the subjects of the body, marriage and the history of the Church. However, in view of horizons of the vision he presented, their brevity and given the way those realities are tackled and described, John Paul II deserves to be called a creator of an integrally conceived theology of the body. His vision in this regard remains an outstanding synthesis of theological, philosophical, psychological and scientific threads. Reason, experience and faith allow him to acutely develop questions that practically have never before been examined by theologians. The body, sexuality, love of a man and woman, their biological, psychological and sociological complementarity are framed in the perspective of the gospel message. The key to understanding the adventures of the body becomes a mysterious gift from self, without which a man cannot become himself. In this way, the theology of the body is built on the sacrifice of Christ, in which He becomes a master of using the body. In the interpretation of Wojtyla, the body becomes a carrier of the most evangelical rules of human existence not in the abstract but in the concrete of daily experience of a man wanting to love and waiting for love.

In Wojtyla’s theology of the body we should see the development and fulfilment of the old intuition shown by an early Christian writer Tertullian who claimed that the body is the hinge of salvation. Tertullian did not develop his intuition in detail. It seems that its development was only possible in our time, and that it was waiting for the Pope from the Polish nation. His philosophical, phenomenological academic workshop, sacerdotal and actor’s sensitivity, pastoral experience enabled him to tackle the issue of human corporeality from more than one perspective. The fruit of the work is delightful. The theology of the body allows you to penetrate into the depths of the mystery of man, whose inner self becomes evident in the sign of the body. This theology responds to the deepest questions of the modern man, it protects him against the objectification and points to the beauty of his mystery, which God himself has made his image and the synthesis of the entire creation. And in this regard, especially in this regard, Pope Wojtyla will remain an outstanding teacher of the Church.

  1. Patron of Europe

Authentic pastoral work is never limited only to building the Church itself. It goes beyond its visible structures and touches on worldly affairs in their central moments. Thanks to strange roads of Divine Providence, this truth was confirmed in the life and works of John Paul II. His personality, thoughts and work left a huge footprint not only in the life of the Church, but also in the entire community of the world. In this regard, Pope Wojtyla represents the noblest ideal of a European. I see especially his contribution to the life of our continent in the perspective of the two cases, which strengthen my conviction about the still current role of John Paul II in the life of our continent.

First of all, the life of Karol Wojtyla/Pope John Paul II is a reminder about the Christian roots of Europe and of the entire Western civilization. The Pope proves with his life, that being a European and being a disciple of Christ is are not mutually exclusive but are radically overlapping. Christianity is embedded in the European foundations and is an indelible genetic code of being European. In this regard, Pope Wojtyla and his legacy can be considered a great apologia for Christianity, Europeanism and their mutual relationship. If European modernity grew together with strengthening of the suspicion that religion weakens social bonds and depresses the integral development of humanity the shape of humanity professed by John Paul II is also the best example of proving that the opposite is the case. It is a beautiful manifestation of the beauty of the Christian vision of man, its openness and integrity. Wojtyla was and remains a European, he was one and remains one as a son of the Church and a believer in Christ. The integrity of his humanity, expressed not only in the practice of everyday life, but also in the legacy of his writings, is an outstanding example and model of truly European values.

Secondly, we must highlight the contribution of John Paul II to the recent history of Europe. Many historians, politicians and commentators claim that the Pope played a central role in the overthrow of communism and in the continental integration of the community. It was his ministry that was a cornerstone in Polish, national awakening of hope. It was instrumental and contributed massively to the consolidation of social and political movements aimed at creating a free, equal and historically fair Europe.

For all these reasons, it must be said that Pope Wojtyla is not only a great contemporary Doctor of the Church, but also a prominent patron of Europe, who has very much to say to everybody, both believers and unbelievers. In such difficult and complex times like ours, his intercession with God, which was so beautifully assured by Cardinal. Ratzinger at the funeral homily, constitutes a strong support to all the people of good will, and the legacy that he left behind in his writings is the full roadmap outlining good directions for our common journey towards a better world, to the final encounter with the coming Lord.

                              Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz


[1] Cf. G. Weigel Witness to hope , Znak, Kraków 2002. The intuition of a biographer that an important dimension of Wojtyła’s heritage is his testament still demands a broader reception and an in-depth understanding.

[2] Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, I.

[3] K. Wojtyla, Stanislaw (Stanislaus), In: idem, Poetry and Drama, Znak, Kraków 2004.

[4] Pope John Paul II, Messages of the Holy Father to the Members of Pontifical Academy of Sciences , 22.10.1996.

[5] Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 22.

[6] Pope John Paul II, Redemptor hominis 14.

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