Thursday, July 14, 2005

M&I: JPII the Intellectual and History

Last semester I took an intellectual history course and when it came time to submit ideas for our final paper, I developed a proposal to look at the writings of Pope John Paul II as an Eastern European intellectual and compare his work with other Polish thinkers we had studied. My professor said that JPII's writing was not yet the subject of scholarly research and so moved my paper in another direction (it ended up being about Konrad Adenauer). But I think the time will come very soon when the academic world and all who use their minds in the quest for truth will have to admit that our beloved late Holy Father was really an intellectual giant of the 20th century. Memory and Identity should be proof of that. As the boys of CT have pointed out, it gives you a crash course in theology and philosophy as well as up close look at Nazism and Communism. Crossing the Threshold of Hope is also a great aide, addressing some of humanity's greatest questions in an honest, simple Q&A format.

What sticks out to me about M&I (and Threshold) is the unity it describes between salvation history and our own personal (or national) histories, for as JPII repeatedly points out, they are utterly intangled in each other. The problem with much modern philosophy and the theories it describes for history is that it fails to appreciate the complete picture. Something always has to be severed when Enlightenment or Post-Enlightenment philosphers theorize on our human identity, history and future - there is always a gap between theory and reality because they bind themselves by placing limit on the love and mercy of God and His plans for our destiny. But as JPII ably demonstrates in M&I, our human identity and human history is wrapped up in Christ and it is only in Him that we can ever become fully ourselves:
Human history obviously unfolds in a horizontal dimension within space and time. Yet it also has a vertical dimension. It is not only we who write our history: God writes it with us. This dimension of history, which we might label "transcendent," the Enlightenment decisively rejected. The Church,
however, returns to it repeatedly.

And later:
The deepest meaning of history goes beyond history and finds its full explanation in Christ, the God-man. Christian hope projects itself beyond the limit of time. The Kingdom of God is grafted onto human history, adn there it grows, but its goal is the life to come. Humanity is called to advance beyond death, even beyond time, toward the definitive onset of eternity alongside the glorious Christ in the communion of the Trinity.

It is here that I'll note what I consider an important element of all of JPII's works that I've read, but particularly M&I: His use of the Book of Genesis. The late Holy Father uses the story of creation and the first human families as a context and lens through which to examine our own identities today and his analyses of that book woven in and out of his own works are startling in the depth they provide as insights into ourselves. This again is evidence of that unity between our own history and salvation history.