Stanisław GRYGIEL. Discovering the Human Person: In Conversation with John Paul II. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2014. pp. 175. $24.00 pb. ISBN 978-0-8028-7154-1. Reviewed by Jason BERMENDER, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI 53233
Stanisław Grygiel is professor emeritus of philosophy at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Rome and was a long time friend and student of Pope St. John Paul II/Karol Wojtyła since the end of the 1950s. He was invited to give a series of lectures for the Catholic University of America’s McGivney Lectures and this book is an expanded version of those talks. The book is not simply a biography about the late pope or a detailed scholarly presentation on the human person but a combination of these two genres by using the pope’s life and teachings to deepen one’s understanding of the human person as a being who is fulfilled in communion with others. Grygiel offers a unique insight into the anthropology and personalism of Pope John Paul II especially in light of how the pope lived his philosophy in communion with God and other humans.
The first chapter, “Vir fortis”, begins with Grygiel answering the question, “Who was John Paul II?” Trying to answer who a person is cannot be determined by calculated reasoning and Grygiel constantly mentions that the pope did not value erudition very highly. Rather, a person is revealed in their acts and Grygiel says John Paul II revealed himself as someone who “built a ‘home’ together with others” (2) as exemplified in his homily as Archbishop of Krakow that a good pastor must be able to receive the contributions and burdens of others (4). Wojtyła saw the human person as someone who has their origin and end in God so that every human encounter with another provides an opportunity for salvation by recognizing the divine-human truth of the person where God is present in the other.
Grygiel’s second chapter, “Via pulchritudinis—via crucis,” explores the connection between beauty and suffering in the life of the person. He teaches that a “work of art is born in human suffering” (50) and the greatest work that a human can fashion is their humanity by co-creating beauty within themselves in dialogue with God (62). This rebirth of the human person in God and others can only come through suffering so that there is a necessary—indeed a paschal—link between cultivating the beauty of the person and suffering needed to be reborn in this beauty. The New Evangelization is a popular term in Catholic culture that often loses its true depth and meaning but Grygiel restores its profundity in the third chapter by teaching that the New Evangelization is the cultivation of the holiness of Christians. This cannot be achieved without a return to the cross so that a “paschal humanity that is oriented to God” (86) may be a witness to others.
The final two chapters, “Marriage and the Family” and “Nation and State,” discuss the communion of persons in the domestic and national spheres of human existence. The family is a place of encountering the other person in beauty and love where both parents and children educate each other because they are reborn in each other (124). Grygiel also recalls John Paul II’s teaching that the family has a missionary character to each other and others outside the family in love and this mission unites the family (115). The relationship between the State and the human person—including the family as the basic component of society—should be one where the State serves the human person and not subjugating the person to the State.
Grygiel’s book is an important complement to other works on the thought of John Paul II but its audience is limited to those with a solid grasp of the pope’s anthropology and personalism. Throughout the book Grygiel emphasizes that there is much that cannot be known through argumentation and calculation that pervades Western culture. He also argues in what appears to be a circular fashion by repeating the same arguments and stories throughout the book. While some may see these as weaknesses, it is actually quite strong as a contemplative investigation into the reality of the human person—as opposed to a merely empirical inquiry—and portraying St. John Paul II’s living out the human person’s call to be in communion with God and fellow human beings.