Why John Paul II has been the authentic interpreter of Vatican II
JOHN PAUL THE GREAT
Edited by William Oddie
(CTS and The Catholic Herald, London, 2003, 186pp, hardback, $39.00. Available from AD Books)
Last year the Perth Catholic Record referred to the late Pope John Paul II as "the Great". Now the Catholic Truth Society and Catholic Herald, London, have released nine essays collected by the former editor of the Herald, Dr William Oddie. The writers successfully demonstrate that the Pope has been the shaper of the post- conciliar Church, which is the subtitle of the book.
William Oddie shows how the predictions of the former Jesuit and well-known commentator on Vatican affairs, the late Peter Hebblethwaite, that the Pope would be a "heroic failure on a cosmic scale" and that nothing would outlast him as "the new man will put aside everything John Paul has done," is most likely to be proven wrong.
Dr Tracey Rowland, Dean of the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne, demonstrates how the Pope is the authentic interpreter of Vatican II. She is bold enough to suggest that for this and for his radical application of a theological anthropology to sexual ethics and his defence of the priesthood and the Church against all deconstructions, he may one day be declared a Doctor of the Church.
The Church and the world are groaning under a media-driven misunderstanding of sexuality, therefore the Pope's Theology of the Body, as suggested by Christopher West, provides the answer to the main crisis of our times. Very few of the commentators since his death have picked-up on this fundamental point.
Agneta Sutton, a British moral theologian, complements Rowland's brief consideration of the Theology of the Body.
She concludes that the Pope "tells us that, while the relationship with God of those who devote their lives to Him in virginity or celibacy is a more transparent sign of our future union with God in Heaven, no human relationship better reflects divine love than that founded on love between husband and wife."
Ian Ker, an Oxford academic and a world expert on Newman, provides evidence of another aspect of the Pope's radicalism, his support for the many ecclesial movements in the Church. Immediately after Vatican II, Hans KŸng's viewed the concept of charisms as "describing all ecclesial services and functions". These, he claimed, posed a threat to the hierarchical structure of the Church.
The Pope's teaching in Christifideles Laici shows that charisms need hierarchy if they are not to run wild (one author has claimed that the opposite of hierarchy is not democracy but anarchy) and hierarchy needs charisms if they are not to fossilise.
Brendan Leahy, an Irish lecturer in theology, outlines the influence of de Montfort's Mariology on the Pope's Totus Tuus.
The Pope's vibrant perspective on the role of the laity is provided by the bi-polarity of the Marian and Petrine profiles of the Church. Leahy also refers to the new movements in the Church.
John Saward, a Professor of Theology, describes the Pope's interest in the making of saints to help us reach Heaven by fearing Hell, being ready for purgatory and to walk humbly in faith, hope and love. Many of the new saints, of course, are not founders of religious orders but ordinary people.
Leonie Caldecott, renowned British writer, by particular reference to Edith Stein and Adrienne von Speyr, explains the Pope's new feminism from which the world's cultural recovery is assured. She stresses that "the new feminism must lie in the exegesis of the marriage covenant as one of mutual subjection, out against the simple subjection of wife to husband."
Roger Charles SJ, from the Theology Faculty in Oxford and a leading expert on the modern social encyclicals of the Popes, beginning with Rerum Novarum (1891) claims that a teaching based on 3,000 years of human experience could make a major contribution to world peace and development.
Aidan Nichols OP provides the final essay covering all the Pope's encyclicals which followed the plan enunciated in the first one - Redemptor Hominis (1979) - and were aimed at the "doctrinal and spiritual weaknesses of contemporary Catholicism." Fr Nichols is particularly impressed by the Pope's clear teaching: "The Church is not UNESCO. She values cultures when they mediate truth, goodness, and beauty. But her mission is to be their converter, not their curator."
All in all this book is a breath of fresh air which should re-invigorate one's Catholicism in a period of depressing spiritual crisis. Calls by leading Jews to have the Pope given the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously and the present calls of "Santo, Santo" in Rome would support the title of this book.
John Barich is WA State President of the Australian Family Association (AFA).