Gerard MANNION, editor, The Vision of John Paul II: Assessing His Thought and Influence. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, a Michael Glazer Book, 2008. pp.287, $37.95ppb. ISBN 978-0-8146-5309-8(pbk).
Reviewed by Loretta DEVOY, St. John’s University, Jamaica, NY 11439

In his Introduction, Gerard Mannion delineates both his purpose and the complexities of the task he has set himself: to provide some “account, explication, interpretation, and evaluation” of a major historical figure, Pope John Paul II. The complexities of the task include being true to the fundamental principles of hermeneutics while shunning the temptation to be swayed by accounts too formed by “deference, misplaced loyalty, polemics, or ecclesiastical politics of any wing.” To accomplish the task Mannion invited essays from thirteen scholars from various parts of the world and the theological spectrum who, along with his own essay, present an accessible analysis of elements of the thought of John Paul II. This collection accomplishes the Mannion’s purposes splendidly. Each of the fourteen essays is focused and insightful..

Michael Walsh offers a biographical account of the Pope’s life. While several biographies of the Pope’s life have appeared in print, Walsh manages to present a succinct, cohesive picture which touches on John Paul’s interest in poetry, culture, and the power of religion.

Ronald Modras addresses John Paul as a philosopher. Sketching briefly Wojtyla’s education, Modras presents a detailed analysis of the Pope’s philosophy so influenced by his education and life experiences. Theological anthropology and metaphysics form two consistent elements in the Pope’s philosophy as Modras explains. Modras contends that the conclusions Wojtyla reached in the dissertation for his doctorate in Philosophy on Max Scheler’s critique is key to understanding the entire corpus of the Pope’s later philosophical endeavors. A short summary of Modras’s essay cannot do it justice. It is a fine, balanced, analytic treatment which will be valuable to anyone interested in the Pope’s underlying philosophy.

Paul McPartland writes on John Paul II and Vatican II. He presents an outline of then Bishop Wojtyla’s interest in and work on both Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes while at the Second Vatican Council. McPartland explains Wojtyla’s admiration for the thought and work of Yves Congar, O.P. and Henri De Lubac, the latter of particular influence on his own thought. While the entire, detailed essay is excellent, of particular note is McPartland’s weaving in of the Orthodox perspective on several issues. In addition, he presents the spirituality of Pope John Paul II which, rooted in Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes, called for apology for past deeds as an essential part of self-abandonment to God.

“Understanding John Paul’s Vision of the Church,” by James Voiss, S.J. examines the fundamental tensions inherent in the Pope’s communio vision of the Church and its working out in practical Church life. Accepting that the communion of ecclesial life must reflect the dynamics of God’s own self-giving love (p.64), it is in the structure and dynamics of ecclesial communion that tensions arose. The Pope understood that for the Church to be an instrument of ecclesial communion the structure must operate in the ways appropriate to communion. Openness and dialogue are essential but dialogue must facilitate unity. For John Paul II there were limits which he saw as necessitated by grace and the Church’s mission. Voiss observes that the Curial structure often seemed to obstruct some Bishops’ communication between the College of Bishops and the head of their college. In his conclusion Voiss cautions that the topic needs future explication and evaluation. What Voiss has accomplished, however, is a good start for such a process.

Gerard Mannion remains true to his purposes as editor in a long, carefully nuanced essay, on “ ‘Defending the Faith’: The Changing Landscape of Church Teaching and Catholic Theology”. Mannion explores developments and events relating to the exercise of the magisterium during John Paul II’s papacy. He recalls the encouragement to theologians to do inquiry and to be innovative both during and after Vatican II and indicates some of the difficulties as Rome questioned, sometimes punished, several theologians when their inquiries led them to uncomfortable conclusions. For John Paul there were limits to inquiry and nothing which might be perceived as dissent was acceptable. In his concluding remarks Mannion refers the reader to two basic questions raised by Michael A. Fahey in his work on the magisterium and asks for a new, wide-ranging understanding of the magisterium in the church.

In her treatment of John Paul II and Justice Judith Merkle, SNDdeN, situates the Pope’s writings on justice within the economic and political culture of the late twentieth century. She presents an overview of how the changing economic attitudes within the developed nations affected their people and ultimately those of the developing and underdeveloped nations. At root of his justice theory is John Paul’s concern for the human person, especially for the human person acting. Thus, theological anthropology is the criterion behind the Pope’s concern for justice for all people which Merkle describes as a type of transcendental Thomism focused on the moral experience of justice, on the personal becoming of the individual whose full development is the guiding principle of justice. Merkle offers a coherent analysis of John Paul’s criticism of Liberation theology from what she perceives to be his perspective. Merkle’s essay implicitly suggests future study of the issues in the twenty-first century.

Charles E. Curran treats the sources of moral truth in the teaching of John Paul II. As Curran describes in the introductory section of the essay, there is an uneven treatment of the role of reason as a source for moral truth in some of the Pope’s encyclicals. Curran’s foci in the body of the essay are three sources: Scripture, church teaching, and natural law. Curran observes that John Paul’s use of Scripture and tradition often was more meditative than exegetical according to modern and contemporary standards. He observes that the meditative approach can produce distortions which may appear to buttress the point one is trying to make but which, in fact, are not true to the up-to-date exegesis of the passage. Curran points to two horizons in the Pope’s teachings: the horizon of the original text and the horizon of John Paul himself. This holds true for the Pope’s use of Scripture and of church teaching, as Curran sees it. He offers several examples of what the actual text says, for example in Paul VI’s Octogesima Adveniens, and how John Paul used the text to make his own case. In the essay Curran observes the same tendency in the Pope’s use of previous church teaching. The Pope’s understanding of natural law includes the notion of human self-determination as participation in the wisdom and providence of God. Curran notes that many moral theologians would have liked to have seen a more even-handed use of this theory along with discussion about its application to contemporary issues. Curran’s concluding paragraph invites thought, study, future response and perhaps some argument.

Mario I. Aguilar presents an analysis of John Paul II’s critique of Liberation Theology which, he contends, was highly influenced by then Cardinal Ratzinger. Aguilar’s central argument is that the theological disputes about doctrine were not only about the social role of the Catholic Church in Latin America, nor the use of Marxism as a heuristic device, but were related to a slightly different interpretation of Vatican II. He contends that the Liberation theologians created a new relation between Latin American churches and the more traditional European construction familiar to Ratzinger and the Pope. Pointing to the early work of Juan Luis Segundo, S.J. and Gustavo Gutierrez, Aguilar quotes Gutierrez’s statement that there were two kinds of Liberation theologies, one arose from the experiences of the poor, while the other was a product of study and reflection by Catholic-educated elites. Aguilar lists the attacks on Liberation theology during the 1980’s and the Latin American Bishops’ attempts to work with Rome. In the end, Aguilar concludes, while the Pope did not fully agree with the centrality of context and politics, he eventually accepted the hope found in Liberation theology.

From South Africa, Susan Rakoczy, IHM, analyzes John Paul II’s writings on women. She concludes that his anthropology with its emphasis on the biological differences between men and women eclipsed his own firm belief that all people are made in the image and likeness of God. Rakoczy indicates that while John Paul did hold “biology is destiny,” and a romantic sense of the feminine, the Pope’s conviction that women are fully equal human beings with men represents a new and official teaching in the Catholic tradition. She notes the influence of von Balthasar’s work and discusses the Pope’s writings on the female body which brought him to a focus on motherhood as the ideal for women The relationship between men and women, women’s role in society and the Church, and finally, the Pope’s conclusion that women could not be considered as eligible for ordination to the Priesthood form a section of her essay. Rakoczy concludes with an appreciation of the Pope’s admission of the dignity and equality of women but a disappointment that he did not see or admit the full implications of his own position for women in society and in the church.

Collegiality and John Paul II is the topic of Paul Lakeland’s essay. He notes that this issue, from Lumen Gentium, is still a controversial one. Lakeland describes the attitude of both John XXIII and Paul VI towards collegiality, the former not as sure-footed on the topic while the latter embraced the concept. Indicating that collegiality in Lumen Gentium is not always perfectly clear, Lakeland asks: Is collegiality an instrument in shared governance of the church or a symbol of unity among the world’s Bishop’s? Lakeland sees that the lack of clarity in the document itself influenced John Paul’s interpretation of collegiality. The Pope consistently made a distinction between affective and effective collegiality. Lakeland presents multiple examples of the difficulties which stemmed from the Pope’s interpretation. In addition, he points out times when the Pope’s interpretation was not fully consonant with history. Under John Paul, Lakeland concludes, governance of the church became more and more centralized which may have been partially a product of the Pope’s own life experiences. Perhaps, Lakeland opines, if the Pope had been the product of a different world he would have had a place for a more effective rather than affective collegiality.

Exactly why Gemma Simmonds, CJ’s essay on John Paul and the consecrated life is not closer to the essay on women is unclear. Women and men in Religious life are lay persons with public vows which do give them a more public appearance but they remain lay persons. The essay focuses largely on women Religious although the difficulties the male Religious communities had with the Pope are included. Simmonds captures John Paul’s preference for symbol in her discussion of attire for Religious and his error in calling a Synod of Bishops in 1994 to discuss Religious life without meaningful representation from Religious men and women. The essay attends to the global aspect of consecrated life and the difficulty in seeking uniformity among consecrated Religious in social context. The author sees John Paul’s calling attention to Religious life as a positive legacy. That conclusion is open to future discussion.

In his essay concerning John Paul and ecumenism, Raymond G. Helmick, S.J. presents a history of the movement in the twentieth century Helmick points to the Pope’s warm relationship with the Orthodox and his efforts to foster unity with them. Noting that the Pope had called for charity and humility in ecumenical discussions, Helmick’s analysis raises questions about the attitude of the CDF in the 1998 request for further clarifications on the joint declaration between Lutherans and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity on justification. He also explains the misunderstandings with the churches of the East, particularly with the Russian Orthodox church. The new millennium was a time of hope for unity in John Paul’s thought and he truly believed early on that the new millenium would be the moment of reconciliation among the Christian churches. This was not to be but Helmick sees John Paul’s contributions to ecumenism and future unity as seeds for future growth.

Peter Phan discusses John Paul II and interreligious dialogue and promise. Phan makes clear that he is talking about dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and other religions not among Christian groups themselves. He points to the Pope’s sense of theater and his skillful use of it in various meetings, such as the prayer meetings at Assisi in 1986 and 2002; the Pope’s historic efforts to offer friendship to the Jews; and his meetings with various groups of Muslims. Phan indicates that the Pope’s interreligious efforts were rooted in Vatican II but he had to negotiate some of the ambiguities in Vatican II documents. John Paul saw interreligious dialogue as an aspect of evangelization, as Phan interprets him, and requires spiritual discipline to achieve good by peaceful means. The power and action of the Holy Spirit affects people in all aspects of their lives including religion. The faith of the Pope included belief that the Holy Spirit would accomplish unity of heart though perhaps not of faith. Phan sees that John Paul’s focus on the Kingdom of God was an inestimable gift to humankind and to interreligious dialogue.

Gerard Mannion and his contributors have presented insightful, accessible analyses which hold promise of generating dispassionate, non-polemic discussion of the complex work of a multi-faceted Pope, John Paul II.

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