By Carmen Elena Villa
ROME, APRIL 7, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Thirty years after the publication of Pope John Paul II’s first encyclical, “Redemptor Hominis,” the Church is still deepening in its understanding of the document’s importance, says a philosophy professor.
Angela Ales Bello, a professor of history of contemporary philosophy at the Pontifical Lateran University, took part in a congress last month titled “30 Years After ‘Redemptor Hominis’: Memory and Prophecy.” At the event held at the university, she spoke on “Reasons and Specificities of Wojtylan Personalism.”
In this interview with ZENIT, Bello reflects on John Paul II’s encyclical, and his understanding that Christ is the key to understanding the human person.
Q: What are the foundations of “Redemptor Hominis”?
Bello: Undoubtedly, the whole tradition of the Catholic Church is behind this encyclical, beginning with the Fathers of the Church. However, the Second Vatican Council in particular paid great attention to the people of God, for example. It gave a considerable function to the community and this is an important element that appears again in this encyclical.
Q: What contribution does this encyclical make to Christology?
Bello: It is of fundamental importance because, essentially, it continues to reflect on the figure of Christ and on his unity as human and Divine. In terms of this unity a great appreciation of mankind is possible — of the human being that is included and elucidated in the light of Christ.
Already in the title “Redeemer of Man” one sees the specific function [of the Redeemer], which is that of redemption and of giving a fundamental answer to the profound desires of all human beings, but it is an answer that does not refer only to Christians. It is directed to all human beings because Christ has saved them all. Christ’s redeeming function extends to all of humanity.
Q: What is this encyclical’s importance for the Church and her constant concern for the human being?
Bello: To follow the thought of this encyclical means to bring to light the presence of Christ in the actions of the Church, whether from the doctrinal, intellectual or pastoral point of view. The Church has meaning because those who belong to it are those who are united to Christ and want to imitate him. This must be the message of the Catholic Church.
Q: What is the anthropological basis for this encyclical in terms of defending life and human dignity?
Bello: The anthropological basis was already found in the work John Paul II had written as a philosopher, which also justifies this theological position. In those works one sees the great value he gives the human person; in fact, the human person is presented precisely as a unique, singular and unrepeatable being who cannot be manipulated, or subjected to transformations that alter his nature.
Q: How is Wojtylan thought developed in this encyclical?
Bello: I believe that it is precisely in this encyclical that John Paul II succeeds in integrating — both in an organic and pastoral way — all his knowledge from the point of view of philosophical anthropology, of theological anthropology and, as “Fides et Ratio” says, from a general observation on the relationship of theology and philosophy in this text, because these encounter a precise application and strong correlation.
Q: How does the Pope present Christ in this text as the model of a psychological, spiritual and biological integrity?
Bello: The imitation of Christ signifies exactly what the human being has a point of reference for his values. The actions of an existing historical person must be carried out based on this person, that is, Christ. Anything that has to do with the body and the mind, as well as the feelings we have, which can be good or bad, must not be ignored. Instead they must be directed to an action that is positive and that has value.
For example: If I see a person who bothers me, I cannot control this spontaneous, natural reaction, but I can ask myself: Is it right for me to behave negatively if this person bothers me? What would Jesus do? In this way I can also control my physical and emotional urges.
Q: What contribution does this encyclical make to the person as a social being?
Bello: It is necessary to understand what is meant by community. For example, it means that, in the Christian aspect, we must be friends with the persons we know.
There are spontaneous emotional movements toward those who are nice, whom we like. We must also make a further effort as a community, that is, we must build a reciprocal community between persons and we have a great example in the community that Jesus built with his disciples. This is a fundamental point of reference for us.
Q: Thirty years later, how do you think the Church has received the message of this encyclical?
Bello: I think some elements have been embraced. It is not necessary to be pessimistic because even though some seeds were lost, others were gathered.
Perhaps not everyone has succeeded in receiving it properly; however, some basic things represent points that one can look back on in the process of understanding the Christian message because, in fact, the human endeavor is to understand the Christian message better and better.