Christian History Home > Issue 65 > Globalism: John Paul II
Globalism: John Paul II
In issuing more significant encyclicals and visiting more nations than any other pope, he's shown that Christianity remains a world force.
John Paul's focus on future redemption, as well as his deep hostility to communism, place him in opposition to liberation theology, which gained popularity in the 1960s and 1970s. He saw too much of a Marxist agenda in this school of thought. However, he also criticized Western capitalism on the grounds of the "fundamental defect, or rather a series of defects, indeed a defective machinery" that allows some to prosper while others starve. The pope's other stances that have created controversy include vehement opposition to abortion and birth control, a refusal to even discuss women's ordination, and forceful support for theological orthodoxy, even to the point of intervening in the affairs of Catholic educators and the Society of Jesus.
In more than 90 pastoral visits around the world, in World Youth Day events that have rallied millions of young people, and in thousands of homilies, speeches, and official documents, the role of John Paul has been chiefly that of teacher. His is possibly the most energetic teaching pontificate in 2,000 years of Christian History. Especially influential are the 13 encyclical letters to date, five of which deserve special attention:
- Centesimus Annus (The Hundredth Year, 1991) set out the biblical and moral basis of a free and just social order.
- Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth, 1993) contends for the objectivity of moral truth, in opposition to all forms of relativism and nihilism.
- Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life, 1995) explains why protecting unborn children and other imperiled human lives is necessary for the defense of human dignity against "the culture of death."
- Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One, 1995) echoed the prayer of Christ in John 17, calling for unity among Christians, especially reconciliation with Eastern Orthodoxy and the healing of the sixteenth-century breach between Rome and the Reformation.
- Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason, 1998) explains that all truth is God's truth and therefore all truth is one, which requires a renewed conversation between science, philosophy, and revelation.
Christians of all communions will for many years into the future, I am confident, be studying the teaching and pastoral initiatives of the one who will be known, I am also confident, as John Paul the Great. As George Weigel, in his Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II, noted, John Paul II, for the first time in centuries, has effectively placed the papacy in the service of the entire Christian community and its mission to the world.
Richard John Neuhaus is editor of First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life.
1920 Karol Wojtyla is born in Poland
1938 Begins studies at Jagiellonian University
1939 Germany invades Poland
1942 Wojtyla begins studying for the priesthood at an underground seminary
1945 Russia assumes control of Poland
1948 Wojytla obtains doctorate in mystical theology; serves as parish priest
1956 Becomes professor of ethics at Krakow Seminary
1960 Publishes the influential book Love and Responsibility
1962-65 Actively participates in Vatican II
1963 Becomes archbishop of Krakow
1978 Elected pope, as John Paul II
1979 Journeys to Mexico and Poland
1981 Shot and seriously wounded
1983 Visits his would-be assassin in prison and extends forgiveness
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