Pope John Paul II was born Karol Jósef Wojtylstroka in Wadowice, Poland, on May 18, 1920. He died on April 2, 2005. Wojtylstroka was an avid soccer player and skier, as well as a theologian, philosopher, poet, actor, and playwright. He studied Polish literature and philology at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. When the Nazis invaded Poland, Wojtylstroka engaged in peaceful cultural resistance through his clandestine outlawed theater group. After his ordination to the Catholic priesthood, Wojtylstroka proceeded to earn two doctoral degrees, one in theology, the second in philosophy. After years working as a parish priest, Wojtylstroka became a university professor, teaching philosophy and moral theology at the Catholic University of Lublin in Poland. He later became the youngest bishop in Poland. At the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) Wojtylstroka participated in every session, and significantly helped shape the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, as well as the Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae. During the council, Wojtylstroka became archbishop of Kraków.
Pope Paul VI named Wojtylstroka a cardinal, and in 1978 Wojtylstroka was elected pope, taking the name John Paul II. As pope, John Paul II transformed the papacy into a visibly international office, traveling to more countries than any previous pope. He was also the most televised pope in history. He played an integral role in the collapse of communism in Europe, particularly through the inspiration, guidance, and assistance he gave the Solidarity trade union in Poland. Fluent in over a dozen languages, John Paul II was also one of the most prolific popes. Before his election as pope he had already published a number of books and over 100 academic philosophy articles. He had also written plays and poetry. As pope he would write 14 lengthy and theologically astute papal encyclicals. Much of his work was an attempt to ground the understanding of morality in Scripture, but also in the divinely revealed dignity of the human person. His philosophical studies in phenomenology assisted him in this task.
Many of John Paul II's poems and plays are explicitly based on biblical texts, including his play Job, a meditation on human suffering. Probably his best known play is The Jeweler's Shop, which he wrote in 1960. This play was inspired by his young friends in Poland to whom he ministered, and with whom he spent time as they fell in love, got married, and raised families. The Jeweler's Shop is about family life, especially marriage. John Paul II's decades of experience in the confessional and as a mentor to young married couples, in addition to his studies in phenomenology, helped him produce what he would call a theology of the body, dealing with human sexuality and human relationships.
In John Paul II's works, the place of Jesus is central. John Paul II set the stage for his papacy with his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis (1979), which considered Jesus’ role in the world today. It is precisely his focus on Jesus that made Mary, Jesus’ mother, so important in John Paul II's spirituality and intellectual thought, as he described in his encyclical on Mary, Redemptoris Mater (1987). In John Paul II's view, philosophy should always be intimately connected to theology. He makes this especially clear in his penultimate encyclical dealing with the relationship between faith and reason, Fides et Ratio (1998). Much of John Paul II's literary output deals in some way with the dignity of the human person. This was the focus of his work at the Second Vatican Council, and in his opposition to communism in Poland, as well as in his challenges to modern states and to individuals on issues concerning war, poverty, abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, the death penalty, contraception, and religious freedom.
SEE ALSO: Catholic ecclesiastical law [sp. ecclesiastical, uc Catholic]; Faith and Reason; Philosophy, Christian; Polish Christianity; Priesthood; Theology of the Body; Virgin Mary.
John Paul II, 1979. Credit:Lochon-Francolon-Simon/Gamma Liaison (born May 18, 1920, Wadowice, Pol.—died April 2, 2005, Vatican City; beatified M
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