Wednesday, April 29, 2009

John Paul II: More Thoughts

I learned a lot from John Paul II’s writings, despite their length and density. While I was ciphering on the prior post, I got a request for some brief reviews. Here’s my best effort to do so, but please keep in mind my standard disclaimers. I’m not a cleric, theologian, or philosopher. Just a regular guy.

As a matter of introduction, it’s probably a good thing to remember the times in which JPII was working. The Church was in a horrible shambles after the post-conciliar/post-Humanae Vitae upheaval. Communism with all its attending crap was reaching its apex. I think that this explains a lot of why JPII’s stuff reads the way it does. He gets a lot of criticism for being too man-centered, with a lesser emphasis on grace and the supernatural. I submit that the whole project he was working on required a look back on certain basic concepts of humanity that had been forgotten. People are valuable as people. Why? Because they are made in the image a likeness of God. Then he builds from that from the perspective of the person. How does this relate to the problems of the day? Communism, sexual license, abortion, contraception, etc. begin with a diminution of God and the exaltation of man from the get-go. The point was to make people understand that people are important but not for the degrading reasons asserted by these contrary world-views. They aren’t instruments of the Party, or a means of gratification, or entities less important than myself because I happen to have been born already.

Anyways, keep that in mind as you read these.


1. Veritatis Splendor- Freaking awesome. Catholic moral theology and its perpetual relevance presented in a way that those rejecting the supernatural should (if they are honest) respect. Right now, fundmental option morality lies at the core of our modern descent in to Pelagianism. Those views get condemned here.

2. Evangelium Vitae- Sets out the Church's view on life and why it is sacred. The more "speculative" (or whatever) part about the death penalty causes some folks problems, but I'm not sure why. Also contains what some would argue is an ex cathedra statement on the immorality of abortion.

3. Ecclesia de Eucharistia- A beautiful meditation on the Eucharist and Christ's place in the Church. If you read this, I suggest prefacing it with Paul VI's Mysterium Fidei.

4. Dominum et Viveficantum- This one is on the Holy Spirit and is good reading if for no other reason than the Holy Spirit gets ignored a lot by many Catholics. Check Leo XIII's workDivinum Illud Munus first in order to get some background.

5. Centessimus Annus- JPII's social justice Greatest Hits. This is very important these days when you have lots of people claiming that massive federalization of everything and a sprawling welfare state are somehow Catholic views of society.

6. Redemptoris Mater- You've probably heard a lot about JPII's Marian devotion. In fact, he puts a Marian "capstone" of sorts to all his encyclicals. This is his devotion put to paper.

7. Redemptoris Missio- Indifferentism condemned. That by itself makes this worth reading.


1. Redemptor Hominis- God made man. Man is for God. I have no idea what he is talking about for the other 80-whatever pages of this. For those who think he's teaching universalism, if that was realistic, Amerio would have mentioned it in Iota Unum. If he didn't catch it, I don't think it's there.

2. Ut Unum Sint- Another weird one for me. This is on the list just because Protestants latch on to the parts about re-thinking the Petrine office and then try to spin it into something that it isn't. This is more of an appeal than doctrinal teaching, I think, and so didn't really do much except confuse me.

3. Fides et Ratio- If you are a philosopher, you'll probably love this one. There are some highly quotable bits, but they are buried under a load of other stuff that I get headaches about.

4. Laborens Exercens- If you are Opus Dei, you'll probably love this one. I think I kept missing the point. Work seemed to aid sanctification, especially if viewed as a manner of suffering. As sanctifying in and of itself? I just didn't get it.

Ok but not necessary stuff. These are all worth reading, but I'd skip them in favor of the ones in the first section above:

1. Dives in Misericordia- The mercy of God the Father. I'll admit it. I go to sleep reading this one.

2. Slavorum Apostoli- Wonderful recollection of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Most people don't know who these guys are or how their actions radically affected the course of civilization.

3. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis- Centessimus Annus lite. Not much new here.

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