You sometimes hear it mentioned that John Paul Pope II had a philosophical bent and was involved, in his earlier life, with Phenomenology. Well, it’s true. His book, written when he was still Karol Wojtyla, The Acting Person, is subtitled A Contribution to Phenomenological Anthropology. It is influenced by Max Scheler of all people. Anyway, this isn’t to apologize for the Pope. I’m rather more inclined toward the mood of one of my heroes, Czeslaw Milosz (my choice for coolest Polish Catholic), as it’s reflected in the title of his brilliant little essay; Essay in Which the Author Confesses That He Is on the Side of Man, for Lack of Anything Better.
But, whatever your view of the departed Pope, he was a complicated and interesting man. His writings are not the production of a person without thought. Some of them are surprisingly interesting and engaging. Maybe everybody already knows this. If not, his efforts can be read through this link. Here’s a smidgen from Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason).
1. In both East and West, we may trace a journey which has led humanity down the centuries to meet and engage truth more and more deeply. It is a journey which has unfolded—as it must—within the horizon of personal self-consciousness: the more human beings know reality and the world, the more they know themselves in their uniqueness, with the question of the meaning of things and of their very existence becoming ever more pressing. This is why all that is the object of our knowledge becomes a part of our life. The admonition Know yourself was carved on the temple portal at Delphi, as testimony to a basic truth to be adopted as a minimal norm by those who seek to set themselves apart from the rest of creation as “human beings”, that is as those who “know themselves”.
Moreover, a cursory glance at ancient history shows clearly how in different parts of the world, with their different cultures, there arise at the same time the fundamental questions which pervade human life: Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? Why is there evil? What is there after this life? These are the questions which we find in the sacred writings of Israel, as also in the Veda and the Avesta; we find them in the writings of Confucius and Lao-Tze, and in the preaching of Tirthankara and Buddha; they appear in the poetry of Homer and in the tragedies of Euripides and Sophocles, as they do in the philosophical writings of Plato and Aristotle. They are questions which have their common source in the quest for meaning which has always compelled the human heart. In fact, the answer given to these questions decides the direction which people seek to give to their lives.