Everything You Know About John Paul II's Early Lectures on CST Is Wrong

Amid discord God strikes
At an immense bell,
For a Slavic pope He opened the throne.
That one will not flee from the swords
Like that Italian.
Boldly like God, he will go against the swords;
For him the world is dust!
—Juliusz Słowacki

Peter Hebblethwaite, John Paul II’s bitter critic, once wondered in a National Catholic Reporter piece about the source of the Polish pope’s resistance to women’s ordination. He came to the conclusion that the source of his stubbornness is the sense of mission that he inherited from his intellectual formation in Polish Romanticism:

From childhood he had known by heart a poem of Roman Slowacki . . . which predicted that in the 20th century a Slav pope would arise, who . . . would stand up there on the battlements and heroically confront the world. He interpreted his election as pope . . . as the confirmation that through him Poland had a special mission . . . The first Slav pope believes that he has a special mission to teach the West about true values, especially about the redemptive and mystical value of suffering.[1]

Everything in the above is obviously one giant mess. First, the poem about the Slavic pope was not written by someone named Roman, but by Juliusz Słowacki. Second, nobody ever claimed that the young Karol Wojtyła memorized this poem; actually, the poem only became more widely known after John Paul II’s election to the papacy. Third, what matters in the poem is not that some Slav will become pope, but that the Slavic nations will stand at the head of a coming rebirth of Christianity.

Finally, it would be difficult to derive opposition to discussing women’s ordination merely from the sense of mission; after all, in an alternate reality, John Paul II might have felt a mission towards liberal reforms of the Church. Yet, it is undeniable that Hebblethwaite hit upon something essential that escaped many other commentators, both in Poland and beyond. The Polish cultural context, which immensely shaped the pope’s thinking is indispensable to understanding the pontificate of John Paul II. This is particularly the case with the understudied influence of the messianic Polish Romantic tradition, which is intimately bound with Poland’s complicated history, and, for this reason, misunderstood outside of Poland.

Polish messianism does not enjoy a good reputation. Its strange doctrines came into existence in the milieu of Polish emigres. They were an answer to successive national crises and combined a deep religiosity, an ardent patriotism, social engagement, and, one has to admit, a whole lot of resentment towards Western societies. Romantic messianism profoundly deepened Polish spirituality, developed national identity, and strengthened social solidarity. At the same time, it was accused of heresy, a lack of political realism, and striving towards a bloody social revolution. It inspired the most outstanding Polish poets and philosophers, but also justified historical failures, led to a cult of suffering, and elicited a perverse superiority complex. It gave the Church the Ressurectionist Congregation, but also inspired Andrzej Towiański’s sects.

Even Poles still have trouble understanding and accepting this ambivalent heritage. The word “messianism” has for many years functioned as an insult. Because of this even those who accept this heritage prefer not to mention the word. It is not difficult to understand why Polish commentators who champion John Paul II were quite unwilling to take up this connection with the tradition. For many years we were a little afraid what the world would say when it discovers that the Polish pope developed the ideas of suspect messianists. As a result, in the main, mostly foreign commentators, who were not involved in Polish identity debates,[2] spoke of John Paul II’s connection with the Polish Romantic tradition, and, of those many were critics of the pope, who saw his ties with messianism as compromising him.[3] Hebblethwaite was both one and the other.

In my book The Liturgy of History: John Paul II and Polish Messianism I attempt to go beyond these limited options. I attempt to show just how much the tradition of Polish messianism influenced Karol Wojtyła’s thought and simultaneously argued that we owe to it the most valuable elements of John Paul II’s pontificate. Hebblethwaite pointed out that Polish messianism influenced the personality and behavior of the pope, whereas I concentrated on how it influenced his thought. I tried to show how the most important intuitions of Polish messianism were developed and universalized by John Paul II.

Polish messianism focused upon three independent but interrelated ideas: a vision of humanity’s cooperation with God in the work of building up the Kingdom of God on Earth, a theological interpretation of the existence of nations, and a religious explanation of collective suffering’s meaning in history. I argued in my book that the first of these ideas was developed in John Paul II’s social teaching, especially in his theology of work; the second became the backbone of the papal theology of the nation; and, the third was developed in his theology of suffering. In this manner the main elements of Polish messianism were included unexpectedly, after many years, in the universal heritage of Christianity.

I would like to take yet another look at John Paul II’s messianism. The occasion for this is the centenary of his birth in 2020 and the recent much-anticipated publication of his legendary early lectures on Catholic Social Teaching, entitled The Catholic Social Ethic.[4] Wojtyła gave these lectures as a young priest in the 1950s—at first in the Theological Department of the Jagiellonian University, and later, after the department was closed down by the communist authorities, at the Krakow Seminary. Happily, a hand-written version of the lectures survived, dated to 1957. One part of it was found by Professor Fr. Tadeusz Styczeń among other papers in Cardinal Wojtyła’s former private apartment, another copy was found abandoned in the dining room of a home where he lived. A few typed manuscripts also survived, and one of them even reached the United States. Nobody was particularly interested in these lectures for many years.

Interest returned in 1989, when the investigative journalist Jonathan Kwtiny told the world that these writings witness to the sympathies of the young Wojtyła for the Marxist critique of capitalism.[5] Several years later, shortly after the death of John Paul II, the British weekly The Tablet featured a piece by Jonathan Luxmoore and Jolanta Babiuch with the sensationalist title “John Paul’s Debt to Marxism.”[6] The authors suggested that the Polish bishops blocked the publication of the lectures so that they would not interfere with the beatification of John Paul II. The editors of the weekly really ratcheted up the pressure by putting on the front cover a drawing of the pope writing something with a bust of Marx and a copy of Das Kapital on his desk. This was a bit too much.

George Weigel, who earlier criticized Kwitny’s earlier “revelation,” reacted with a letter to the editors of The Tablet in which he tried to convince them that Wojtyła was not the author of the text.[7] Subsequently, the media in Poland became interested in the sensationalized topic. The matter became even more piquant, because the co-author of the text was Jolanta Babiuch. She was the daughter of a high ranking former member of the Polish Communist Party, Edward Babiuch, who had served as the Prime Minister of People’s Poland. Archbishop Józef Życiński, at a meeting of representatives of the John Paul II Institute, wondered how to counteract such a “false interpretation of the pope’s views from various stages of his life.” Several statements were issued and an announcement was made about the imminent publication of the lectures. This finally came to fruition only after 12 years. 

It seems to me that the controversy between leftist British Catholics and American conservative Catholics about the unknown notes of a young Karol Wojtyła is a great illustration of the problems inherent to the heritage of John Paul II. Everyone has a tendency to find in the saint's writings only the traces of conceptions that are familiar to them. For some this is Marxism, for others "democratic" capitalism. To be honest, it is the same in Poland. We have a mountain of works that analyze John Paul II in comparison to scholastic philosophy, Spanish mysticism, German phenomenology, French humanism, Italian personalism, and the Jewish philosophy of dialogue. Each one of these approaches no doubt can contribute something to the understanding of the former pope. Yet, it seems to me that what is still lacking in these analyses is an understanding of John Paul II in the most natural context for him—the context of Polish Romantic messianism. Therefore, instead of adjudicating the winner of the debate between Luxmoore and Weigel, I would prefer to use this more natural point of view to consider the recently published lecture notes.

1. The Meaning of Collective Suffering

The religious interpretation of collective suffering is probably the most characteristic element of Polish messianism. In my book I called this element “passionist.” Every Polish child studies the moving vision in Adam Mickiewicz’s Forefather’s Eve in which the sufferings of Poland are compared to the sufferings of Christ; just as the passion of Christ brought salvation to the people, so also the sufferings of Poland were supposed to bring salvation to the nations. From the very beginning, this metaphor seemed blasphemous to many. The most doubt was cast upon the suggestion that Poland was an innocent and voluntary victim. Despite this, the vision of a nation suffering for higher purposes became a lasting element of the Polish collective imagination. And history did not spare us Poles opportunities to contemplate it repeatedly.

Karol Wojtyła, in his lectures on CST that now make up theThe Catholic Social Ethic, did not devote much space to the theological interpretation of collective suffering. But there is in them a remarkably fascinating remark on this topic. But to understand it one has to explain what the published text is in essence.

Wojtyła began delivering his lectures on Catholic Social Teaching in the autumn of 1953. The course was taught earlier by Fr. Jan Piwowarczyk, the former rector of the seminary, an outstanding expert on this topic, who was removed from teaching for political reasons. Wojtyła taught the course essentially like a substitute teacher. That is probably why he took over his predecessor’s content. It was Piwowarczyk’s notes that became the basis of the young priest’s work. As a result, the question arises how much of the remaining text is Wojtyła’s? According to Weigel in Witness to Hope:

Wojtyła added the emendations he thought appropriate, but substantively, the course remained essentially as Piwowarczyk had taught it. As a very junior faculty member who had not done extensive work in social ethics, Wojtyła saw no need to reinvent material that had been developed by one of Poland’s leading scholars in the field (130-131).

Wojtyła introduced corrections that he considered appropriate, but the lecture basically remained as taught by Piwowarczyk. As a much younger researcher, who did not have a long history of working on social ethics, Wojtyla saw no need to reinvent the material developed by one of the leading Polish researchers in the field.

Additionally, as John Grondelski has noted, Wojtyła was then beginning his work on his habilitation and simply had no time to further explore the topic of the lectures handed over to him.[8] I would only add that keeping to the notes of Piwowarczyk’s lectures might have been a sign of solidarity with the censured lecturer. Rafał Łętocha, a scholar at the Jagiellonian University who has commented on Wojtyła’s hand-written notes, argues that even though the text was “in large part inspired” by Piwowarczyk, that “does not mean that we are dealing with . . . an entirely derivative work, that contains no original thought.”[9]

Doubtlessly Karol Wojtyła, by that time already an experienced scholar and pastor, put his personal imprint upon this work. In many places we are dealing with differently distributed accents, the highlighting of different issues, or presenting matters differently.[10] To determine what was Wojtyła’s contribution to this text Weigel asked Cardinal Stefan Ryłko, who in turn asked John Paul II. Ryłko reported that Wojtyła said that he, “had elaborated [Piwowarczyk’s text] but the material was not his [Wojtyła’s own].” That is why Weigel warned against considering the lectures as Wojtyła’s original work in Witness to Hope (898). On the other hand, Jonathan Luxmoore claimed that he asked the same question of the priest-professors Andrzej Szostek and Tadeusz Styczen who were said to confirm the authenticity of Wojtyła’s text.[11] He used this as his basis for regarding the lectures as Wojtyła’s own work.

Yet, there is a much simpler and effective method of establishing how much Wojtyła’s lectures differed from Piwowarczyk’s. It is enough to . . .  compare the two texts in Polish. It just so happens that Piwowarczyk’s lectures were published not long after his death by an emigre press in London.[12] Now that we also have a published edition of Wojtyła’s lectures it is enough to put them side-by-side. I am under the impression that this simple fact often escapes foreign commentators. Even at first glance it becomes obvious that Wojtyła nearly literally repeats Piwowarczyk’s formulations. However, the text frequently contains substantial changes, plus, meaningful omissions and additions. They give, it seems to me, an invaluable look into the heart and mind of the young lecturer.

This can be seen very well in the instance of the already-mentioned fragment about the sense of collective suffering. Piwowarczyk, in the margins of his considerations about the nation, referred to the idea of Poland as a Christ of Nations. He referred to it very critically, much like many other typical Catholic commentators. He wrote: “All nations are equal before God. The views of Polish messianists are at odds with this. They talk as if Poland was supposed to be a Christ of Nations, which through its suffering of slavery, was supposed to merit grace for other nations.”[13] An analogous fragment can be found in Wojtyła who says, “We cannot agree with the so-called ‘Polish messianism,’ according to which Poland was supposed to be the Christ of Nations, and merited grace through its suffering of slavery.”[14] As we can see, we are dealing with only a paraphrase of Piwowarczyk’s text. But then, immediately after it, Wojtyła adds an important caveat that cannot be found in Piwowarczyk:

It would be difficult to deny that the idea of serving God’s grace through suffering is Christian. What’s more, we cannot agree with the view that the suffering of the Polish nation during the time of the Partitions had only this meaning, since we know that suffering also fulfills the role of punishment for crimes, and as a form of purification.[15]

This fragment is of capital importance, because it significantly changes the meaning of the note repeated after Piwowarczyk. Above all, it is evident that Wojtyła allowed for a religious interpretation of collective suffering. However, he pointed out, in accordance with a centuries old tradition, that it should be taken primarily as a just punishment for sins. However, at the same time, he also saw the possibility of a higher meaning for innocent suffering. He wrote about this earlier in his life, during the time of the World War II German occupation, in the drama Job. According to that text, innocent suffering, both individual and collective, can participate in the salvific suffering of Christ.

The trope was later extensively developed by John Paul II in his numerous writings about suffering, but especially in the apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris. Obviously, the meaning of collective suffering concerns not only Poles but all people. Wojtyła said during a homily in Warsaw’s Victory Square in 1979 that, “It is impossible without Christ to understand this nation [Poland].” He also later explained in Memory and Identity that essentially, “It is not possible to separate him [Christ] from any other country's history” (18). Every person and every nation is called to fulfill Christ’s priestly duty. As we can see, this small observation in the lectures from the 1950s is a link in the development of a theology of collective suffering of the future pope.

2. Theology of the Nation

The second basic idea of Polish messianism is the belief that individual nations have certain missions in the history of the world. Following Andrzej Walicki, I have proposed calling this “missionism.” This belief in the mission of nations was particularly concerned with the mission of Poland. According to Poles, their country's mission was supposed to be the proclamation and realization of the Christian transformation of the world. Witnessing through suffering was supposed to play a special role in this, thus missionism was tied to passionism. However, it was almost always thought that Poland’s task has a universal meaning. Furthermore, many authors joined the mission of Poland with the missions of other countries, above all France, but also Russia.

The condition for the possibility of missionism is the existence of nations as subjects of history. This leads to the difficult issue of the ontology of the nation, which is the condition for developing an adequate theology of the nation. It just so happens that Wojtyła took up this topic in The Catholic Social Ethic. In my book The Liturgy of History I cited second-hand a fragment of the as yet unpublished lectures in which the future pope said, “the nation exists through persons, through individuals, and therefore also exists for them.”[16] It has now become apparent that the statement was part of a wider discussion that deals with the ontology of the nation:

Like every society, the nation is not a substantial and self-sufficient being, that is, it does not by itself constitute a subject of existence and action. The subject here is precisely those individuals who make it up. However, these individuals remain in particular ties and relationships with each other, and these relationships and ties determine the accidental unity through which these individuals form a nation . . . the nation exists through these persons, through individuals, and therefore also exists for them.[17]

Unfortunately, it turns out that this whole fragment is nearly a literal repetition of Piwowarczyk’s argument.[18] Thus, Wojtyła is not the direct author of this interesting analysis. However, these sentiments certainly marked his way of thinking about the nation forever. On the one hand, the existence of the nation is based upon particular individuals. The nation is not some higher being to whom one might impute personhood. The relational character of the nation excludes its substantialization or hypostatization. On the other hand, the relations upon which the reality of the nation bases itself, not infrequently have a constitutive character for individuals. After all, people are always born within a certain nation. Furthermore, it is the relations within a national community that have a deciding influence upon shaping their identity.

Wojtyła, like Piwowarczyk earlier, relied for this insight on the Polish Dominican, Jacek Woroniecki, the author of a Scholastic work on the state and nation.[19] Woroniecki argued that the nation is the most important educator of people, because human potentialities are actualized under the influence of a national culture. In this way a structure created by individuals influences them in turn. For example, John Paul II, during his famous 1979 homily in Warsaw’s Victory Square said that:

It is right to understand the history of the nation through man, namely through each human being of this nation . . . [yet] man cannot be understood apart from this community that is constituted by the nation . . . [for] it is a special community . . . the most important for the spiritual history of man.

But nations not only exist; they are also remarkably diverse. Wojtyła pointed out, again closely following Piwowarczyk, that national differences are something desirable from the perspective of the whole of humanity.

For every nation creates values that only it as a nation is capable of producing in its uniqueness. If its uniqueness would disappear, then these values would perish as well. However, these values indirectly enrich the whole of humanity, all the inhabitants of the world, and, therefore, without nations humanity would necessarily become spiritually impoverished.[20]  

This is a very characteristic claim for the whole nineteenth century Romantic teaching about the nation. Besides, it still remains in general intellectual circulation as the basis for thinking about cultural diversity (multiculturalism). The novelty that Wojtyła introduces into Piwowarczyk’s interpretation is his indication of the religious sense of this diversity: “The diversity of nations flows from the order of nature and serves not only the temporal good of humanity, but also its supernatural destiny.”[21].

This leads directly to the question about the existence of the mission of individual nations in history. Wojtyła, again following Piwowarczyk, wrote:

This question should be answered affirmatively. The mission of a given nation marks a certain historical task that flows from the objective conditions of its existence, both geographic and political, as well as cultural and religious. The concept of a nation’s mission is in accord with the doctrine of Providence, which uses a variety of tools to realize its purposes.[22]

But, at the same time, much like Piwowarczyk, Wojtyła immediately warned that there are no foundations for speaking of “a particular election of individual nations,” meaning, some “special priority given to this or that nation by God.”[23] All nations are equal, although each of them can have a unique mission in the salvation of the world.

I do not think that Piwowarczyk’s lectures were the source of Wojtyła’s conviction about the existence of missions for nations. As I demonstrated in The Liturgy of History, even Wojtyła’s earliest youthful poems were permeated by a strong faith in the particular mission of the Slavs. This faith became even stronger after 1978. During his first pilgrimage to Poland the Pope asked, “Have we not the right . . . to think that Poland has become nowadays the land of a particularly responsible witness?” Much indicates that he believed to the end that Eastern Europe can play a role in the process of Christianity’s rebirth in the West.[24] Therefore, the mission of the nation does not limit itself to Poland alone. As John Paul II wrote in the encyclical Slavorum Apostoli, “all individuals, all nations, cultures and civilizations have their own part to play and their own place in God’s mysterious plan and in the universal history of salvation* (§19). It appears to me that the theology of the nation remains one of the most original contributions of John Paul II to Catholic Social Teaching.

3. The Kingdom of God on Earth

Finally, I will address the most important idea of Polish messianism: the vision of a radical Christian transformation of temporal social, political, and economic reality. In the 1830s, when Polish messianism was born, such a vision was anything but obvious. Those times were still dominated by thinking, adopted by the Church in modern times, that salvation has an exclusively individual and otherworldly character, rather than also a communal and temporal character. Therefore, the ideal was personal sanctity and not social change. Polish messianism aimed at restoring the communal and temporal dimension of Christianity. This is why its main postulate was changing the forms of collective life to conform to Christian principles. Polish messianists described this transformation as the realization of God's Kingdom on Earth. That is the reason why I propose to call this element “millenarianist,” even though the term has many dangerous connotations.          

Karol Wojtyła was also shaped by this element of the tradition of Polish messianism. Let me remind you that, from an early age, he was fascinated by Romantic literature, which eventually led him to study Polish literature under the guidance of eminent experts on Romanticism such as Stanisław Pigoń. During the wartime Nazi occupation, he wrote dramas embedded in the messianic tradition, performed in Mieczysław Kotlarczyk’s theater, which continued the Romantic traditions, and, finally, joined the underground organization Unia, led by the self-professed messianist Jerzy Braun. His lectures from the 1950s can be regarded as evidence of the slow process of translating these Romantic categories into the language of Catholic Social Teaching.

When presenting the aims of Catholic Social Teaching, Wojtyła quite clearly departed from Piwowarczyk's lecture. Although the structure of the lectures is similar, Wojtyła's text is not just a paraphrase of Piwowarczyk's text. It seems to me that Wojtyła also significantly changed the accents of Piwowarczyk's lectures. “The main task of Catholic social ethics,” he says, “is to introduce the principles of justice and love into social life.” [25] Accordingly, while Piwowarczyk dealt mainly with justice, Wojtyla placed more emphasis on the perspective of love. At the beginning, following Piwowarczyk's lectures, Wojtyła very clearly emphasized that social justice is a necessary condition for social love:

There can be no talk of social love as long as all the requirements of social justice are not met. Catholic ethics stands here, as one can see, firmly in the position of sober realism, and stays away from the fantasy of various thinkers who, in ignoring the actual structure of social reality, too easily imagine the ideal of love is present in social intercourse.[26]

Wojtyła then presents a perspective that is clearly not present in Piwowarczyk's lecture. Justice is for Wojtyła only a prerequisite for love:

Love is the ultimate manifestation of a person's moral life and of communal life, and therefore social love, in Catholic social ethics, should be promoted as the ideal that the social coexistence of people should strive for. [27]

A just society is therefore merely the starting point for building a society of love. As Wojtyła writes, “from these forms of social coexistence achieved by human relations based on the principle of justice, a new arrangement can develop on the basis of social love.” It is this re-emphasis that is the ultimate goal of Catholic Social Teaching. Here, at this point, there appears a statement that is crucial for the interpretation of Wojtyła’s thought as we have been developing it here:

Social love conceived in this way, supernatural love, is really the ideal towards which the Church wants to lead humanity. The realization of such social love is synonymous with the realization of the Kingdom of God that Jesus Christ proclaims.[28]

Thus, the goal of Catholic Social Teaching is ultimately to realize God's Kingdom on Earth. Such a radical formulation does not appear in Piwowarczyk, nor was it (as far as I know) more widely used in contemporary approaches to Catholic Social Teaching. The term is, however, crucial for the messianic tradition. It seems to me that this is where Wojtyła recognized the social teaching of the Church as the realization of the aspirations of the Polish messianists.

This should not be surprising at all. Let me remind you that the Polish messianists spoke about the Christian vision of social, economic, and political life several dozen years before the first social encyclicals. Among other things, this is the reason why they were treated suspiciously by the Church hierarchy. Many of them later saw the rise of the Church's social teaching as fulfilling many of their postulates. One of the later Polish messianists, Wojciech Dzieduszycki, in the 1901 book Polish Messianism and the Truth of History, said that after Leo XIII Polish messianism should simply consist in implementing the social teaching of the Church.

Unfortunately, Wojtyła does not develop in detail what the implementation of social love is about. However, he gives an example that indicates the direction of his thinking. As he says, a just wage still only falls within the scope of justice, “while employee participation in the ownership of the enterprise in which they work” already bears the mark of some social love.”[29] Wojtyla explains it thus:

For if the aim is that the other person, the neighbor, should participate more fully in economic goods, and with their help also in cultural goods, then the aim is certainly the good of his very person, and of course, the good of many people belonging to a given society. Love has as its object a person and a community.[30]

I think it follows that, according to Wojtyla, the ideal of social love is not less realistic than the demand for justice. Social love is to be gradually realized by specific institutions, even as inconspicuous as employee shareholding. The principles of love can therefore be institutionalized. The postulate of God's Kingdom on Earth is not only an idealistic call to individual consciences, but also a realistic program for transforming social structures. In this respect, Wojtyla's intuitions seem to be surprisingly close to the social and economic projects of the Polish Hegelian, August Cieszkowski, who also wrote about shareholding.

As I showed in The Liturgy of History, this way of thinking about God's Kingdom on Earth can be found in Wojtyła's later writings and in the papal teaching of John Paul II. However, the term "Kingdom of God" itself appears rarely in his writings. The Pope clearly preferred to use less burdened and more familiar phrase from Paul VI: "civilization of love."

4. Conclusion

The long-awaited publication of The Catholic Social Ethic in 2018 became the occasion for resurrecting heated debates from at least a decade ago. Jonathan Luxmoore in The Tablet triumphantly announced that the forgotten Wojtyła lectures show him as a sharp critic of capitalism:

Katolicka Etyka Spoleczna (The Catholic Social Ethic) could significantly change our understanding of some key threads in the late pope’s life and work. It will certainly require the revision of the standard biographies, and will be a serious rebuff to those who have sought to portray him as a life-long true believer in liberal capitalism.[31]

As one would expect, just a few days later, George Weigel, writing in First Things, once again sharply opposed "conspiracy theories about non-existent networks of influence determined to distort the teaching of John Paul II."[32] He stated that Wojtyła's additions:

Represent [his] early and rather undeveloped thought . . . Anyone who imagines that this text represents the settled, mature thinking of John Paul II on Marxism, capitalism, and economics must also imagine that his thought got frozen in amber in the mid-1950s. And that is another insult to the memory of the most intellectually consequential pope in centuries.[33].

Obviously, in Weigel’s opinion, the final form of John Paul II's thought would be the relatively free-market friendly encyclical Centesimus Annus from 1991. But, Rafał Łętocha, an expert on Wojtyla's lectures, whom I cited earlier, warns that we should be very cautious about all attempts at ideological interpretations of The Catholic Social Ethic:

It seems to me that we are dealing here with gross oversimplifications, both from people who want to present Karol Wojtyła as having a favorable relationship with Marxism, or at least some of its elements, as well as those who defend him against such accusations, and in turn present him as an apostle of the free market who unconditionally accepts and supports capitalism in all its forms.

Catholic Social Teaching in general is simply the proclamation of the Gospel in the social, economic, and political realms. It is a measure that can be used to assess all socio-economic models. Although it may contain elements close to both the left and the right, it ultimately goes beyond this shallow division. This is evidenced by its widespread criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.

In this essay I attempted to explore a different, lesser-known, and closer to Wojtyla, context for his lectures on Catholic Social Teaching. I tried to show that Wojtyla's minor notes added to Piwowarczyk's lectures could be considered an attempt to express the intuitions of Polish messianism in the language of the Church's Social Teaching. To put it another way, under the crust of a dry lecture on Catholic social ethics lies a Polish romantic lava. As I argued in The Liturgy of History, the same holds for the later writings of Karol Wojtyła and John Paul II. The threads of Polish messianism were grounded by him in the doctrine of Christ's triple messianic function, recalled by the Second Vatican Council, and then developed in the theology of suffering, the theology of the nation, and a theology of work.

If I am right, it is all the more impossible to reduce the heritage of John Paul II to any secular political doctrine. The vision of God's Kingdom on Earth goes far beyond the ideal of both social justice and democratic capitalism. Perhaps this means that we should indeed revise all the standard biographies of the Polish Pope to clearly emphasize his relationship to the heritage of Polish messianism. Maybe that effort would lead to a cover story in the Catholic press with a picture of the pope alongside the busts and writings of the Polish Romantics?

EDITORIAL NOTE: The author would like to thank his neighbor, Mr. Jacek, for generously providing him with a room in which he could write this essay in peace during the quarantine.

This essay was translated by our Editor-in-Chief, Artur Sebastian Rosman, on a very tight deadline; he apologizes for any textual issues that could not be worked out yet.

[1] P. Hebblethwaite, “Slav pope gripped by messianic mission,” National Catholic Reporter”, 17 June 1994, 8.

[2] See: G. H. Williams, The Mind of John Paul II: Origins of His Thought and Action; R. Buttiglione, Karol Wojtyla: The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II; A. Ricardi, Jan Paweł II: Biografia.

[3] See: H. Herrmann, Papst Wojtyla: Der Heilige Narr; T. Bartoś, Jan Paweł II: Analiza krytyczna.

[4] K. Wojtyła, Katolicka etyka społeczna (Lublin: Wydawnictwo KUL 2018).

[5] J. Kwitny, Man of the Century: The Life and Times of Pope John Paul II, 135-142.

[6] J. Luxmoore, J. Babiuch, “John Paul's Debt to Marxism,” The Tablet, 14 January 2016.

[7] G. Weigel, “Fr Wojtyla on Marx,” The Tablet, 21 January 2006, 23.

[8] J. M. Grondelski, “Social Ethics in the Young Karol Wojtyła: A Study-in-Progress,” Faith and

Reason 22 (1996): 31-43.

[9] R. Łętocha, “Myśl społeczna Karola Wojtyły w kontekście nauczania św. Jana Pawła II,” in: K. Wojtyła, Katolicka etyka społeczna, op. cit., 522.

[10] Ibid 524.

[11] J. Luxmoore, “John Paul II: Capitalism Trenchant Critic,” The Tablet, 31 January 2019.

[12] J. Piwowarczyk, Katolicka etyka społeczna 2 vols. (London: Veritas 1960-1963).

[13] J. Piwowarczyk, Katolicka etyka społeczna, v. 1, 274-275.

[14] K. Wojtyła, Katolicka etyka społeczna, 168-169.

[15] Ibid., 169.

[16] P. Rojek, Liturgia dziejów, 143.

[17] K. Wojtyła, Katolicka etyka społeczna, 163-164, see also: 98.

[18] J. Piwowarczyk, Katolicka etyka społeczna, v. 1, 247, see also: 59.

[19] Ibid., 272; K. Wojtyła, Katolicka etyka społeczna, 165-166; J. Woroniecki, O narodzie i państwie, (Lublin: Fundacja Servire Veritati, 2004).

[20] K. Wojtyła, Katolicka etyka społeczna, 167; see, parallel text: J. Piwowarczyk, Katolicka etyka społeczna, v. 1, 273.

[21] Ibid., 167-168.

[22] Ibid., 168; see parallel text: J. Piwowarczyk, Katolicka etyka społeczna, 275.

[23] K. Wojtyła, Katolicka etyka społeczna, s. 168, zob. także 176; tekst paralelny: J. Piwowarczyk, Katolicka etyka społeczna, s. 275, zob. także s. 292.

[24] Jan Paweł II, Jan Paweł II, Memory and Identity, 148.

[25] K. Wojtyła, Katolicka etyka społeczna, 62.

[26] Ibid., 70; for a similar fragment see: J. Piwowarczyk, Katolicka etyka społeczna, v. 1, 68-69.

[27] Ibid., 69 .

[28] Ibid., 72.

[29] K. Wojtyła, Katolicka etyka społeczna, s. 71.

[30] K. Wojtyła, Katolicka etyka społeczna, s. 71

[31] J. Luxmoore, John Paul II: Capitalism Trenchant Critic, “The Tablet”, January 31, 2019.

[32] G. Weigel, Wojtyłan Fantasies, Revisited, “First Things”, February 7, 2019.

[33] Ibid.

Featured Image: Stahlkocher, Blast of the gas storage at steel work Henrichshütte in Hattingen, 1994, Germany; Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.


Paweł Rojek

Paweł Rojek is a philosopher, sociologist, and professor at the Institute of Philosophy of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. He is the former editor-in-chief of Pressje. His academic and journalistic work explores metaphysics, cultural anthropology, and Russian philosophy.

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