The Teachings of Modern Christianity on Law, Politics, and Human Nature - Vol. 1

By John Witte Jr.; Frank S. Alexander | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Pope John Paul II (1920–2005)

ROBERT P. GEORGE AND GERARD V. BRADLEY

“The sheer drama of Karol Wojtyla's life would defy the imagination of the most fanciful screenwriter,”1 writes his admiring biographer George Weigel about the man who would become Pope John Paul II. Born just months after Poland regained its independence, Wojtyla came of age—as student, actor, athlete, seminarian, and manual laborer—during the Nazi occupation. As a young priest he studied in Rome, earned two doctoral degrees, and served twenty years as a professor of ethics. Pope Pius XII made Wojtyla an auxiliary bishop in 1957. As Archbishop of Krakow, he actively participated in all the sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), making significant interventions during discussions of Dignitatis humanae and Gaudium et spes—the documents on religious liberty and the church in the modern world.2

When Cardinal Wojtyla was consecrated as Pope John Paul II in 1978, he became the first non-Italian pontiff in centuries. He has also become the most traveled and the most prolific writer of all the popes. John Paul II promulgated a new Code of Canon Law in 1983, issued a much-debated constitution on Catholic universities, Ex corde Ecclesiae, in 1990, and promulgated a universal Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1997, the first since the Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566).

As part of his unblinking engagement with modern secularism, and in the face of widespread dissent by some theologians and others, John Paul II initiated an unprecedented systematic investigation of the foundations of Catholic moral theology. Veritatis splendor, the 1993 encyclical on moral theology, is the main fruit of this effort so far, an effort to bring forth an integral Christian humanism.

John Paul II is surely among the twentieth century's most significant persons, a world historical figure of the first rank. He played a critical role

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