Interest in the Papacy has increased since the short pontificate of John XXIII. The good nature and charm of John were irresistible. As a personality Paul VI was less expansive; the task of presiding over the consequences of the second Vatican Council was something he did with great ability, but he found it tormenting, and this was evident in the tone of his later speeches, plaintive, passionate, mournful. John Paul I was an instant success: it seemed as though Don Camillo had become Pope (just as John XXIII, in his humanity and holiness, seemed to have come out of the pages of I Promessi Sposi); but we had scarcely begun to enjoy his gentle belletrist approach to spiritual problems when death took him. (Illustrissimi, with its letters to Dickens, Scott, Saint Bernard, Goldoni, Figaro, Luke the Evangelist, and others, has a distinctively nineteenth-century charm.)
Now, with John Paul II, we are presented with one who is altogether formidable: younger than his fifty-eight years, strong in body and mind, familiar with the political world of Eastern Europe, intensely masculine, a man of humble background and a former manual worker, well-educated, much better acquainted with modern philosophical thought than his immediate predecessors, a respectable poet,1 a weighty contributor to the Vatican II debates. The most immediately striking thing about him is that he is a Pole, a former archbishop of Krakow.
The Poles are a singular people in the contemporary world. Their national consciousness and their consciousness as Catholics are hard to prize apart. This is a fact so influential that the communist government finds itself, perhaps a little to its own surprise, giving the Church an amount of recognition without parallel in Eastern Europe or anywhere else under communist rule.2 Cardinal Wojtyla’s own vivid feeling as a Pole—what it would scarcely be too strong to call his romanticism—overflowed into his first sermon as Pope, when, at the end, he turned to those who had come from Krakow to the Mass of his inauguration.
What shall I say to you who come from my Krakow, from the see of St. Stanislaus of whom I was the unworthy successor for fourteen years…? Everything that I could say would fade into insignificance compared with what my heart feels at this moment…. I ask you: be with me at Jasna Gora and everywhere. Do not cease to be with the Pope who today prays with the words of the poet: “Mother of God, you who defend bright Czestochowa and shine at Ostrabrama.”3
Peter Hebblethwaite’s The Year of Three Popes is a brilliant—in this case the overused word isn’t too strong—piece of virtually instant history. It is judicious about Paul VI, emphasizing the two positive features of his reign, his openness to other Christians, especially to the Orthodox, and his perception of the signs of the times in the Third World (his encyclical Populorum Progressio had a deep political effect on Central and South America). The personality remains puzzling. When in 1975 he received an Orthodox prelate representing the Patriarch of Constantinople he impulsively knelt down and kissed his feet. Had this been done by John XXIII (or by John Paul II) it would have received immense publicity and generated many legends. One is almost tempted to make the usual stupid remarks about charisma, or the lack of it. Hebblethwaite adds a useful brief guide to what is known about the biography, policies, and personality of the present Pope.
Papal authority is today scrutinized in a new way. The authority of authorities is less compelling and less evidently justifiable than it used to be. The repudiation of authorities was a feature of the counterculture that spilled over into the thought of liberals in the opulent societies, reinforcing skeptical attitudes already firmly established. Not that those who challenge existing authorities, in the family, in school and university, in church and state, go naked into a world quite without authorities. Nothing is more curious than to observe, for example, one who attacks on grounds of general principle the censorship of erotic literature in the schoolroom, searching, with all the passion of an inquisitor, the same schoolroom for books infected with the heresies of racism and sexism. But that particular authorities stand in need of justification, that no claims on their part are to be taken as self-justifying, as we might think the authority of a musician or an actor is justified in the performance, these things are accepted, even by theologians.
In the past fifteen years Roman Catholic theologians have become increasingly nervous over their performances, especially where the question of authority has been touched upon. In part this is a consequence of the lateness of the reception among them of the full consequences of historical investigation as it bears upon the question of Christian origins. Catholic scholars—one thinks of Richard Simon, the French Oratorian and author of the Critical History of the Old Testament (1678), and the Maurists and Bollandists—had been among the first to raise questions about origins, and Newman’s Essay on Development is a foundation of modern critical study; but during the long pontificate of Pius IX and well into the twentieth century there was a resolute turning away from hard critical problems. Catholicism was less shaken by controversies over biological evolution than was Protestantism—the burning of fingers over Galileo remained as reminder and example—but many entered the second Vatican Council with views on historical matters that would not have disturbed Bossuet; few of them left the Council in the same state of mind.
But the nervousness still shows itself in the tone of writing. Professor Nicholas Lash is the author of the best modern study of Newman’s Essay on Development; his distinction has been recognized by his appointment to the Norris-Hulse Chair of Divinity in the University of Cambridge (the first Catholic since the Reformation to be appointed to a theological Chair in the ancient universities); and yet the tone of his writing in Voices of Authority strikes me as hesitant and worried. The tone shows itself in a sad jargon into which he falls at crucial moments: for example, reform is said to be “a process of creative innovation.”
More serious is a way of talking that really comes from Schleiermacher, a way of talking the purely philosophical difficulties of which Lash must know about—“the community of the church lives, and prays, and suffers, and worships, before it expresses its experience [my italics] in those linguistic or ritual forms which constitute the data of the scholar’s field of inquiry.” “Experience” is a trump in the language-game of Protestant theology, at least in the tradition of Schleiermacher and Rudolf Otto; but Catholic theology is a different game, or so it has been thought by both parties.
All the same, Lash’s study is valuable in itself—much of the time he is elucidating the thesis of Bernard Lonergan, the Catholic philosopher and theologian, that “theology was a deductive, and…has become largely an empirical science,” and attempting to justify what he, surely with justice, calls Christianity’s “central, structuring conviction that a uniquely and universally authoritative word has been definitely and irrevocably spoken, at one time and in one place in the past, in the life, words, deeds and death of one man.”
John Paul II shows no signs of doubting his own authority, both that primacy of teaching and jurisdiction thought to be connected with Peter’s leading role among the apostles and that practical authority which a centralized, bureaucratic mode of government puts at the disposal of a vigorous pontiff. This method of government does not, theologically speaking, exist at the same level as the primacy of teaching and jurisdiction, something which (it is believed) is among the data of revelation (see the dogmatic constitutions “On Revelation” and “On the Church” of Vatican II).4 The centralized mode of government could be changed—has already been changed in connection with marriage cases before church courts, where the diocese now does much that was formerly done in Rome.
But papal authority is faced with fresh varieties of theory and practice that have followed the shock of Vatican II. These are consequences of the imposition of new ways of worship, new styles of education, new ways of confronting social and political powers, especially in the nominally Catholic societies of Central and South America. Some of the problems offered will no doubt solve themselves, given enough time. Others are severe. Some are common to all the world religions and spring out of the character of modern society (these problems are discussed with great penetration by David Martin in The Dilemmas of Contemporary Religion); others are peculiar to the Catholicism of particular societies. Not all such problems can be, or will be, left to the hand of time, to be healed, or put aside.
There will be common agreement on some of the matters to be placed on the agenda of the new Pope. Some are of domestic interest to Catholics, others are of interest and importance to mankind in general. All of them are inter-connected, parts of a single complex problem: how to express, in such a way as to be comprehensible in the circumstances of modern society, what is rooted in a long tradition and in the particularities of history. (John XXIII saw this and expressed it in his speech before the first session of the Council.) 5
For some of those who don’t believe, the Catholic Church may be a nuisance that inexplicably will not go away, and a close discussion of its problems may seem otiose. But for most, believers or unbelievers half-believers, the long history of the Church, its vicissitudes, its triumphs and degradations, its being intertwined with the history of Europe and of Central and South America, its daring forays into China, Japan, and India, its energetic presence, now, in the countries of the Reformation, its successes in the new countries of Africa, all these constitute at least a drama, whether mere chronicle, or comedy, or tragedy, or dark comedy, history will show. Since it seems certain we shall all leave before the play is over, and since there are no reliable programs on sale, it is a matter of logic that we can’t know if we are still witnessing the first act (or even the prologue), or are well into the play, close to the moment of peripeteia and recognition.
First on the agenda is the question of the shape to be given to the Church’s central administration. The Roman congregations, and perhaps the new secretariats set up after Vatican II, transact much business that could be taken over without loss of efficiency—conceivably with some gain—by local bodies. Particular congregations, perhaps all congregations on occasion, have earned a reputation for being pettifogging and tyrannical. But the chief problem is how to determine where the proper limits of authority lie, what subject matters belong to the central authority, what to the local. It has long been maintained in the Catholic schools that what can be done well by a subordinate authority ought not to be the concern of a higher authority; but the Roman authorities have not much heeded this maxim and have often claimed for relatively trivial matters the personal authority of the Pope.
The roughness of the Roman bureaucracy may be brought out by one instance: a decision of the Sacred Oriental Congregation—the office concerned with the affairs of those churches in communion with Rome but of Byzantine or other non-Latin rite.
In 1976 three married men, Catholics of the Ukrainian Rite, were ordained to the priesthood in the Eparchy of Toronto. The Ukrainians have been in communion with Rome since the Union of Brest in 1596; it was then agreed that the Ukrainian traditions, including the practice of ordaining married men to the priesthood, should be respected and preserved. Nevertheless, the Vatican’s Oriental Congregation condemned the Toronto ordinations on the ground that they required papal permission, which had not been solicited or given. On the Roman side it was argued that the provisions of the Union of Brest apply only to the territory of the Ukraine, in which Ukrainian Catholics now have no public existence, having been compelled after the war to return to Orthodoxy. The public existence of Ukrainian Catholics is only possible in the diaspora. One conjectures that a reason for the decision is the general dislike among Latin bishops of having married priests exercising their ministries alongside celibates.
The decision strikes one as unjust, small-minded, and, as it concerns the long-term interests of Catholicism, foolish. There is constant pressure on Ukrainian Catholics from their Orthodox brethren in exile, who are able to argue that despite all the Roman talk about respect for the traditions of Eastern-rite Catholics the real intention of Rome is to Latinize them, the enforcement of celibacy being an apt case of this. A wider consideration is that it has been the policy of all modern popes, at least since Leo XIII, to establish good relations, and unity if possible, with the Orthodox churches; this policy was emphasized in a spectacular way when Paul VI visited Constantinople and he and the Patriarch withdrew their thousand-year-old censures of each other’s communion. Whatever can be construed as an attempt to Latinize the Eastern churches in communion with Rome is a chillingly evident example of what the Orthodox often suspect (with memories that stretch back to the desecration of Santa Sophia by crusaders) to be Rome’s hidden intention.
The case of the Ukrainians has been worth looking at in some detail for two reasons. It raises a question about the ecclesiastical horizons John Paul II will have in mind in making his policy; and it raises—here perhaps the instinct of the Oriental Congregation is right—indirectly the question of priestly celibacy among the vast majority of Catholics, those of the Latin Rite. (Although “Latin” Rite is now, with the coming of the vernacular liturgies, a slighty misleading term, it is the most convenient, since the new liturgies are all derived from Latin originals.)
Polish Catholics of the generation before that of Karol Wojtyla, the generation that came to maturity after the First World War, have a bad record in their dealings with the Ukrainian Catholics then living in eastern Poland. There were strong, even savage attempts to Latinize them. This is in part a consequence of what has already been noted—the equation of being a Pole with being a Catholic (of the Latin Rite); and the mad logic of nationalism bred the inference that to be a real Catholic is to be a Latin. One expects educated Poles of the Pope’s generation to have overcome the anti-Semitic prejudices that disfigured public policy under Pilsudski and his successors; but a passionate commitment to Catholicism in its Latin form may make it hard not to see Catholics of other rites as curiosities on the periphery of serious concerns. It seems evident from his public pronouncements that John Paul II is committed to the ecumenical policy of Paul VI. His attitude to the Oriental Congregation and its policies will tell us something about how he sees the ecumenical task.
The thousand-year-old Latin policy of clerical celibacy was in its beginning an attempt to separate the clergy from their connections with the vested interests of a feudal society. It was designed to turn them into quasi monks, subjects of the vow of chastity if not of poverty. Particular times and places have seen great irregularities; these have not edified the faithful, though perhaps they haven’t been too scandalized. What is not in doubt is that the rule of celibacy is a requirement of positive law and could be ended by decree. No one seriously expects the Pope to permit the marriage of those already ordained—this even the Orthodox don’t allow—just as no one seriously expects him to sanction the ordination of women to the priesthood. The interesting question is whether he will sanction—or let local authorities sanction—in at least some circumstances, the ordination of married men. The pastoral case for it is strong in many regions. It would be a break with a Latin, not a universal, tradition. In recent years there have been occasional exceptions among convert Protestant clergymen. Some former Lutheran ministers, married men, were ordained with papal approval under Pius XII and there may have been a few such cases since then.
Lex orandi, lex credendi. What is believed and what is thought important are betrayed in the style and content of public worship. The liturgical changes, with their consequences, that followed Vatican II are matters certain to have a place on the Pope’s agenda. It is evident that the change in modes of worship, from Latin to the modern vernaculars, was of vast importance, resembling in its effect on the Catholic masses the introduction of modern technology to a people familiar only with handicraft and the use of animals for traction. The thing was done bureaucratically, even brutally, from above, without, generally speaking, adequate preparation or explanation. In a moment, the immemorial practice of Catholic worship was changed; and the Liturgy passed from being a mysterious transaction, marked by silence and the use of a hieratic language, to being something much more like a public meeting.
The change had to come in some form, just as in Rome Greek gave way to Latin, as the Greek of the Byzantine rite gave way to the Slav languages in Eastern Europe. But it happened at a moment when, in the English-speaking countries, it was thought, for a variety of good or bad reasons, the language of public worship should be flat and vulgar. This seems to be the view of the International Committee for English in the Liturgy whose versions (it would be a mistake to call them translations: there is often a striking divergence from the sense of the Latin originals) are general in the English-speaking world. It would be excessive to claim that the results of liturgical change have been catastrophic. Those of the faithful who haven’t been altogether repelled by the new rites are good-natured and anxious to understand the points of the changes. Catholic morale is poor, for many reasons, and liturgical practice is one of them. But we ought to understand that dissatisfaction with the practice, if not the theory, of liturgical reform is not peculiar to Archbishop Lefebvre and other fantastics.6
The deep, underlying question for Christianity, a fortiori for Catholicism, has little to do with the issues so far discussed. It may be put thus: Is an understanding of human life in the light of a religion tied to the particularities of history—“Jesus of Nazareth, crucified under Pontius Pilate”—any longer defensible in the world given to us by the development of the human and natural sciences? (A similar question can be put about Judaism and Islam.) The energy of mind released by a strong faith in Christian premises is portrayed in the third volume of Professor Pelikan’s magnificent history of doctrine. We see here the steady development from the seventh century of an intellectual scheme of things culminating in that relation between reason and faith which is represented by the preparatory role given to Virgil and the revelatory role given to Beatrice in the Divine Comedy. And culminating as well in the view of reality as an interconnected hierarchical system, in which the natural and social hierarchies mirror the celestial—a remarkable achievement. So unified a vision is no longer possible. Since the time when the devout—in a sense “reactionary”—Pascal cried out that the silence of the infinite spaces terrified him, the unified picture could no longer be taken seriously; the music of the spheres had become only a wild poetry.
It has been commonly accepted since Vatican II that the task of Catholic theologians is to render in idioms and linguistic forms that belong to our own culture what has been received from tradition. It isn’t altogether clear what is here being proposed or, granted what is proposed can be made clear, how it is to be done. Doubt over this task, over its meaning and how to execute it, has produced a clamor of discord. Some think that substantially the work was done at the Council of Trent; others—Karl Rahner is the most eminent—have been enchanted by Heideggerian themes; still others have adopted positions hard to distinguish from liberal Protestantism—Hans Kung is the best-known instance; still others, especially in North America, have come under the influence of such mystagogues as Teilhard de Chardin or such purveyors of dark and perhaps vacuous doctrine as Tillich. It is plain enough that there is no agreement about how the task is to be understood. It is as though all the elements of the problem are present, but no one knows how to put them together.
To know the elements of the problem is something. And of course the speculative problems are connected in a thousand ways to problems in morals and politics, and over these Catholics are divided, both in their analysis and their solution. It is therefore a matter of some interest to see what the new Pope has to say about his own standpoint. It is a mistake to think of the Papacy as the hinge upon which everything of importance in Catholicism, as cult and system of belief, turns; but the views of a strong Pope must count for a great deal in the Church. Personal style is highly infectious.
Sign of Contradiction appeared first in Italian in 1977. It is a set of discourses given during a retreat held for the Pope (Paul VI) and some of his collaborators. As Cardinal Wyszynski noted in his foreword to the Italian edition, it is free from professional jargon. The stand-point is solidly traditional, the way of handling problems fresh and direct. The range of reference is what distinguishes it from other works of this genre. As well as the references one would expect to Scripture, Augustine, Thomas, there are many references to the early Fathers. Irenaeus is clearly a favorite; his “The glory of God is man alive” is one of the sayings to which he returns often. Of modern theologians the one he seems to find most sympathetic is Henri de Lubac, the leading figure among the Jesuits of the Lyon school; it is ironical that this group of men had a rough time under Pius XII. Then, there are references to Shakespeare and Goethe, to Feuerbach and to Rahner, Heidegger, Camus, Kolakowski, Ricoeur, and other contemporary thinkers. He has read much, and widely, and profited from his reading.
The following points in Sign of Contradiction seem of interest, as indicating John Paul II’s style of thought.
He doesn’t think that to be poor or to be oppressed by a dictatorship is the worst thing that can happen to a man. It is worse still to be “caught in the toils of consumerism and a prey to the hunger for status symbols that divides both the world and the hearts of men.” He is anxious to avoid any kind of clericalism (this also came out in his Mexican speeches). In social and political matters the leading role should in principle be that of the laity. He seems to stress, as the great human evils of our time, first, totalitarianism, “the age of the concentration camp and the oven,” then, the confusions and frustrations of men living in opulence in the liberal societies, lastly, the conditions of life in the Third World. Finally, there is an analysis of the policies of nominally Christian societies.
The great poverty of many peoples, first and foremost the poverty of the peoples of the Third World, hunger, economic exploitation, colonialism—which is not confined to the Third World—all this is a form of opposition to Christ on the part of the powerful, irrespective of political regimes and cultural traditions. This form of contradiction of Christ often goes hand-in-hand with a partial acceptance of religion, of Christianity and the Church, an acceptance of Christ as an element present in culture, morality and even education.
The man who has no illusions about the nature of the people’s democracies has no illusions about Western Europe and North America.
Judgments on the Pope and his policy must necessarily be tentative and provisional. His striking personality, as it moves the masses on the television screen, in the images of the press, in St. Peter’s Square or in Mexico, is something that hasn’t been seen, in such an office, for a very long time. The image—the figure in a Mexican hat carrying a small child, the pastor who breaks the protocol of centuries to bless the marriage of the daughter of a Roman garbage collector, the Pope who says “I,” not “We,” all the time and eschews the bland, obfuscating rhetoric of the curial speechwriters—is not so much a creation of the media as a gift to them. It is certainly not fabricated by Vatican image-makers, who, as working journalists will testify, have no skill in public relations and almost always make a botch of important occasions. No doubt some of the force of Wojtyla’s effect springs from his being the first non-Italian Pope for so long and from his being, as it were, a veteran of famous wars in Eastern Europe. The expectations are so great that some are certain to be disappointed from time to time and in connection with this issue or that.
The visit to the conference of Latin American bishops at Puebla, in Mexico, was the first major test of his sagacity. What he had to say baffled much of the press and no final verdicts have as yet come in. The early reporting seemed intent upon deciding whether or not the Pope was “for” or “against” Liberation Theology. It wasn’t made clear what this theology might be or if indeed there is a single school to which the label rightly belongs. It was generally known that under many of the military regimes in Latin America the Church had become a major factor in opposing the repressive policies of these regimes, a refuge for those hunted by the secret police, a defender of the collective enterprises of peasants, a protector of the rights of the native Indians. And it was also known that a considerable number of priests and religious, and even an occasional bishop, had been arrested, imprisoned, roughed up, tortured, killed by the police of the military dictators. It was also known that Latin American Catholics, especially the bishops, were divided about the wisdom of the policies that had led to such confrontations between the Church and the military rulers.
What isn’t known and what even close students of the region are not agreed upon is how the socio-political situation of the Latin American countries is to be analyzed and what the remedy for the social and economic evils may be. There is a large amount of what looks like paranoia. External forces are sometimes blamed almost exclusively for the horrors, though of course the actual interventions of the CIA and of Castro are indisputable. Middle-class groups, where they exist in strength (notably in Chile), seem to lack basic skills in sustaining parliamentary regimes, and, terrified of “communism,” place their liberties in the hands of soldiers and policemen. In some areas industrial and large-scale agricultural development is advancing at a great rate—Brazil is the obvious example—with all the suffering and social dislocation and inequality such development brings with it. The most evident sign of the dislocation caused by these changes and of the ineptitude of existing social elites is the growth, around all the great cities, of shanty towns, bidonvilles, with populations drawn from a countryside that has been neglected or given over to large-scale farming.
The Puebla conference came ten years after the Medellin conference of the Latin American bishops. The Medellin conference, the conclusions of which were approved by Paul VI, though not by some of his Vatican advisers, has been described as “a decisive milestone in contemporary theology, inasmuch as it situated the full and integral liberation of mankind squarely at the center of Christian reflection and practice, not only in Latin America but in much of the rest of the world.”7 From Medellin came the confrontation of the Church with the regimes, deep changes in the structure of religious communities, a variety of impressive personalities who seemed to incarnate the plight of Latin America (Dom Helder Camara is the best known in North America and Europe), and a great many new theological tendencies all brought under the umbrella-term Liberation Theology.
Nothing could have saved Puebla from being anticlimactic after Medellin; progress was disappointing and patchy, bishops were still divided, there was a savage backlash from sections of the Catholic bourgeoisie who patronize terrorist movements dedicated to the rescue of property, family, country. Some liberation themes seemed to have run into the sand; and, as so often in the contemporary climate of thought, the discovery that the overcoming of great evils is a slow process provoked rage in some. John Paul II’s decision to go to Puebla didn’t save the conference from all its difficulties, but it gave it the world’s attention.
The Pope’s speech to the Puebla conference is a complex but not an evasive statement. It has to be taken as a whole, but to stress the following points will, I hope, reflect without too much distortion the emphases of the speech. Against the type of liberation theology that tries to bring Catholicism close to Marxism, treating the moment of revolution as a surrogate for the day of judgment, he urges that the “idea of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive man from Nazareth” has no connection with the Church’s tradition and goes against the evidence of the New Testament. At the center of preaching is the truth that (he argues) is peculiar to Christianity:
The truth that we owe to man is…a truth about man. As witnesses of Jesus Christ we are heralds, spokesmen and servants of this truth. We cannot reduce it to the principles of a system of philosophy or to pure political activity. We cannot forget it or betray it.
(One remembers his moving Christmas Day sermon in which he invited us to attend, in the darkness of the first Christmas night, to “the wailing of the child,” as to the cry of suffering humanity taken into the mystery of God’s love; and one recalls his picking out of Irenaeus’s aphorism, “The glory of God is man alive.”)
He has, at the same time, a strong statement against the violation of human rights under all regimes. He links—doesn’t divide—evangelization and social advancement and reaffirms what was said at Medellin about this. He argues that the Church has no business linking her mission to “ideological systems,” and should “stay free with regard to the competing systems, in order to opt only for man.”
Whatever the miseries or sufferings that afflict man, it is not through violence, the interplay of power and political systems, but through the truth concerning man that he journeys towards a better future.
He attacks the “mechanisms that…produce on the international level rich people ever more rich at the expense of poor people ever more poor”; and argues that no theoretical device for changing this situation is likely to be effective unless there is a passion for justice.
Finally, we sense in John Paul II, here as in other of his speeches and writings, a strong feeling against clericalism in any form—it seems he sees an incipient clericalism in some radical trends among the clergy. Priests are not as such political leaders, nor are they servants of the state. “It is necessary to avoid supplanting the laity…. Is it not the laity who are called, by reason of their vocation in the Church, to make their contribution in the political and economic dimensions, and to be effectively present in the safeguarding and advancement of human rights?” Here the Pope is surely endorsing the policy of forming basic lay communities able to function largely without clerical leadership and concerning themselves with giving actual help to the poor and raising questions of social justice. Such communities have flourished in Brazil and it is perhaps not an accident that some of the most resourceful bishops (notably Cardinal Lortscheider) come from that country.8
There was one startling omission from the Puebla speech, and from the other speeches in Mexico. Nothing was said about the many Christians who have suffered in the prisons and torture chambers of Latin America, and have died in defense of human rights and their Christian faith. To compare, perhaps, small things with great, though here comparisons are hateful, this is like talking about Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia without referring to the martyrs of the death camps. One can only conclude that in this matter the Pope was badly advised.
The temper of the Pope’s mind and his intellectual and social concerns are amplified in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis. The style is personal and direct; “I” is generally employed; good will toward the non-Christian religions and toward unbelievers is strongly marked; and there are many pungent statements. For example, after remarking that the pattern of world development represents a “gigantic development of the parable in the Bible of the rich banqueter and the poor man Lazarus,” he adds:
by submitting man to tensions created by himself, dilapidating at an accelerated pace material and energy resources, and compromising the geophysical environment, [men] unceasingly make the areas of misery spread, accompanied by anguish, frustration and bitterness. We have before us here a great drama that can leave nobody indifferent…. The drama is made still worse by the presence close at hand of the privileged social classes and of the rich countries, which accumulate goods to an excessive degree and the misuse of whose riches very often becomes the cause of various ills.
The central concerns of John Paul II are far from those of “progressive” Catholicism in North America and in such European countries as Holland. These groups are concerned to transform Catholic tradition in such matters as sexual morality, to change the role of women in the Church, to temper or abandon what they take to be the unseemly claims of Catholicism to any kind of exclusive connection with the truths of faith, and to move the ethos of Christianity away from what is harsh, exacting, and ascetical (what Hume called “the monkish virtues”) to an ethos of self-fulfillment and self-realization. Hebblethwaite notes that a professor of theology at Boston College took the view (before the conclave that elected John Paul I) that a Pope who emphasized continuity with the pontificate of Paul VI would “only intensify the frustrations of both left and right alike.”
There is in effect already a right-wing schism, or rather several schisms, with Archbishop Lefebvre’s group the best known internationally. The same possibilities exist on the (ecclesiastical) left, though one suspects the left will cling as long as possible to the main body of the Church; they have, after all, captured many positions of strength, in the Catholic press and in publishing, in the religious orders, and in Catholic universities and colleges. In any case, the “left” covers very diverse groups of people, some of whom will rally to a strong and credible ecclesiastical leadership, even if it is conservative by their standards. Others would be happier, perhaps, in the now very relaxed atmosphere of mainstream Anglicanism or of other liberal Protestant groups. But these are the problems of middle-class Catholics in the rich societies and are not, could not be, serious problems for the man from Krakow. “The glory of God is man alive”: I suspect that for John Paul II man is man as we encounter him in the sobriety and realism of the Biblical tradition and in the classic tradition of the Gentile epic and drama. “The abdication of belief / Makes the behavior small,” wrote Emily Dickinson.
Karol Wojtyla, like the passionate Pole he is, sees man as large, heroic, with great pains and great joys. Some sense of the vastness of man’s inner kingdom may pass from the Pope to many Catholics now dispirited by the times. The older among them were dispirited by Pius XII’s great refusal when confronted with the Antichrist of National Socialism; John XXIII raised their spirits; John Paul II has the natural endowments and the intellectual formation to cheer and enliven them. May he prove to all men, believers and unbelievers, a point of light in the darkness of a naughty world.
May 3, 1979
It is hard for one who does not know Polish to judge the literary value of the poems. They seem straightforward expressions of religious thought and feeling, and they have the same sharp personal flavor as the prose writings. ↩
For a useful discussion of the political role of the Church in Poland and of the policies of the present Pope as Archbishop of Krakow, see Abraham Brumberg, “The Open Political Struggle in Poland,” NYR, February 8, 1979. ↩
The Tablet, October 28, 1978. ↩
In The Documents of Vatican II, edited and translated by Walter M. Abbott and Joseph Gallagher (Herder and Herder, 1966). ↩
The Documents of Vatican II, p. 715. ↩
A judicious comment on the principles and practice of the rendering into the vernacular of liturgical texts is Richard Toporoski, “The Language of Worship,” Communio, Fall 1977. ↩
Alfred T. Hennelly in America, May 27, 1978, p. 418. ↩
I use the text of the Pope’s address provided by the National Catholic Documentary Service, February 8, 1979. On the basic lay communities in Brazil. see Harry Maurer, “Is Brazil on the Brink of Democracy?” NYR, September 28, 1978. ↩