Philosophic Legacy of Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II

Collected by Mexican Philosopher Rodrigo Guerra López

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MEXICO CITY, APRIL 13, 2005 ( Mexican philosopher Rodrigo Guerra López is regarded as one of the major experts on Karol Wojtyla’s thought.

Guerra López holds a doctorate in philosophy from the International Academy of Philosophy of Liechtenstein. He is coordinator of the Bioethics Interdisciplinary Group of the Pan-American University in Mexico City, and director of the Social Observatory of the Latin American bishops’ council.

He became known in Latin America with his works on John Paul II’s philosophy: «Return to the Person» (Caparros, Madrid, 2002) and «Affirm the Person for Himself» (CNDH, Mexico, 2003).

In this interview with ZENIT, Guerra López speaks about Wojtyla’s intellectual legacy.

Q: Is there continuity or discontinuity between the philosophy of Karol Wojtyla and the magisterium of John Paul II?

Guerra López: Before being elected Pontiff of the Church, Karol Wojtyla was archbishop of Krakow and, at the same time, professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin. This double role was for him, in reality, only one role.

The same love of Truth led him to live his priestly and episcopal ministry with fidelity and also to develop with the greatest speculative rigor an original philosophy which, in regard to the method, may be described as «realistic phenomenology» and, in regard to the final proposal, as a form of «personalism.»

His peculiar thought would not have a single-minded and direct continuation in the papal magisterium. The Pope’s official teaching is not one more philosophy or theology but a service of custody and deepening of the deposit of faith.

However, we cannot deny the providential formation he had in the area of thought, which served for the magisterium itself to incorporate some of his most cherished personalist intuitions. Just as is the case in Thomas Aquinas’ theological works, in which an implicit philosophy exists, I think that in John Paul II’s magisterium there are also important philosophical intuitions that are impossible to hide.

Q: Which original intuitions of Karol Wojtyla’s philosophy are included in his magisterium as Pope?

Guerra López: One of Karol Wojtyla’s most original contributions in the area of morality consists in the rereading he does of Kant’s ethics in several articles and in the book «Love and Responsibility.»

In these texts we are able to appreciate how Wojtyla holds that there is a concrete and primary categorical imperative for the conscience of every human being: The person must be affirmed for himself! He must never be treated as a mere means! This idea has been explicitly formulated in the encyclical «Veritatis Splendor.»

Another philosophical contribution is the way Wojtyla expresses that action gives a special moment of knowledge of the truth in his book entitled «Person and Act.»

This idea, which in part takes up a concern typical of Marxist thought, allows the Pope in the encyclical «Laborem Exercens» to value all human action and especially all human work as a moment of revelation of the person as person.

Human work, in this way, is the natural way through which the person is called to build himself, and to build a world to the measure of his dignity. Moreover, he himself, when very young, conceived the person as a subject of communion, which was impressive in the way that the magisterium explained the «relational uni-duality» between man and woman, basis of the image and likeness that man has with God, etc.

Q: John Paul II has left an enormous quantity of teachings in the social and bioethical area. Yet, aren’t these teachings only theoretical? It would seem that the Pope is not much listened to on these topics?

Guerra López: John Paul II put together a new synthesis of the social doctrine of the Church [SDC], which deepens its basis in the Christian event and in the concrete ways for its effective realization.

Methodologically, the SDC was not born in Vatican offices but in the concrete action of Christians in a movement that gradually becomes, through their experiences, a practical wisdom that is then formally discerned and recognized by the bishops and eventually by the Pope.

Therefore, the teaching of the Church on social matters and even on bioethics is never only theoretical.

My beloved teacher Rocco Buttiglione used to say that the SDC is the «theoretical conscience of a practical movement.» If at times the Pope’s thought is not verified in practice it is due to a complex but not important phenomenon: We, lay faithful, need to re-learn to live our public commitments according to our constitutive secularity so as to be able to offer a new historical expressiveness to Christianity in the context of present society.

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