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April 12, 2005

Why Catholics and non-Catholics alike should be thankful for Pope John Paul the Great

Posted by Peter Mullen

Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen - the Anglican Rector of St Michael's, Cornhill & Chaplain to the Stock Exchange - explains why Catholics and non-Catholics alike should be thankful for Pope John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II has been laid to rest under the basilica of St Peter's in Rome. What manner of man was he, and what is his legacy to us?

Here was a young man who studied theology, risking death under Nazi persecution. He was an intellectual schooled in the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas. He also made himself expert in the philosophical currents of the 20th century. He was on a canoeing trip with his friends when summoned to become a bishop. He walked miles through the rain to his first synod as an Archbishop, entered the chamber, took off his socks and hung them over the radiator to dry. He was not a cloistered monk with no worldly experience. He was a sportsman, a playwright, actor and poet.

The Catholic Church was running wild when he was elected – after the destructive innovations of the Second Vatican Council. Of course, he couldn't actually say aloud that Pope John XXIII was a disaster. The catholic doctrine of authority doesn't allow popes to speak critically of their predecessors. But John Paul II set about reasserting traditional doctrine. He restored Christian truth to the corridors of the Vatican which before he arrived were echoing to the theological and moral relativism of a materialistic, atheistic age.

He was Christ-like. Could anybody doubt it – seeing his origins in Poland, the country that suffered more than most in the 20th century? First under the Nazis and then the Communists. God gave the world a sign when he raised up this peasant from Poland to be a prince in his Kingdom. John Paul went back to Poland when the trade union Solidarity was being threatened by the totalitarians and used the word solidarity in a sermon in the dockyards of Gdansk – and 250,000 people started chanting, We want God!

No wonder the Communists tried to have him assassinated. In the depths of the Communist terror and genocide it was put to Stalin that his savagery would not play well with the Catholic Church. And Stalin, the military dictator second to none, replied with a sneer, "How many divisions does the Pope have?"

Well now they know.

One of the visions of the children at Fatima was of a bishop in a white cassock being threatened. The details of this vision were sealed in an envelope and not opened until recently. The Pope was shot on the anniversary of the appearance of the Virgin Mary to the three children. The Pope encouraged devotion to the Virgin as an encouragement in the struggle for freedom from the Communist tyranny. You know what Mary sang in her song:

He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek…
You know of course that in those children's visions Our Lady had asked that they pray for Russia.

Those achievements by themselves, so to speak, were momentous. But even more important than his religiously-motivated political interventions was his restoration of Christian orthodoxy. For three hundred years following what is misleadingly called the Enlightenment, philosophers in the western world had made thought and speculation the foundation of all knowledge. Pope John Paul II – aided I must admit first by Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas and then by the unlikely character Martin Heidegger – stopped this suicidal nonsense. He proclaimed that more important than thought is Being – because thought must be about something. And all being is derivative – a gift from the Being of God.

Let me remind you what the errors were which John Paul sought to correct. First there was the error of Rousseau who said:

Man is naturally good, loving justice and order. There is absolutely no original perversity in the human heart, and the first movements of nature are always right.

How can anyone who has paused to look even for a minute into his own heart believe a lie like that? And yet the so called progressive morality of our modern world is based on that lie. It is not progressive: it is destructive because it is satanic, a lie.

The next lie and slander was that of Voltaire who said:

Religion must be destroyed among respectable people and left to the mob for whom it was made.

This is the Voltaire who is renowned for his egalitarianism. Do you hear how he slanders the ordinary people – calling them the mob?

The dominant philosophy of the last 300 years has taught that morality is only relative, a matter of opinion – and anybody's opinion is as good as anyone else's. What's good and what's bad – we can make it up for ourselves. But John Paul said:

If man can decide by himself without God what is good and what is bad, he can also determine that a group of people is to be annihilated.
Which is what the Nazis and the Communists did and they did it in the name of atheism. And not only the Nazis and the Communists. The Pope issued this warning also:
We cannot remain silent regarding a tragic question that is more pressing today than ever. The fall of the regimes built on ideologies of evil put an end to the forms of extermination in the countries concerned. There remains the legal extermination of human beings conceived but unborn. And this extermination is decreed by democratically elected parliaments which invoke the notion of civil progress for society and for all humanity.
But this week we have heard also criticism of the Pope. It is said that he had no policy to help prevent the spread of AIDS. Well, the Pope did not dole out condoms – not even to those most reluctant to use them. He simply repeated the ancient commandments about faithfulness in marriage and chastity outside it. And this turns out to be the best possible policy against the spread of AIDS.

The question arises: if we are persuaded by the moral relativists to go in for wholesale birth control, mass abortion and euthanasia on demand – who is it that is actually in favour of human life and who against? If these secularists have their way, you wonder what human life will be left.

This Pope was no backwoodsman, no romantic religionist with his head in the sand. He was one of the most accomplished philosophers of the century. He regularly hosted seminars for the leading physicists and biological scientists of our age. His greatest achievement was to go to the centre of the secular, materialistic, and atheistic argument and to show beyond any doubt and in words of one syllable that it doesn't hold water. He showed that the Christian faith is not a disease to be eradicated as Rousseau and Voltaire and all their followers today believe. He showed that the Christian faith is in fact the answer to our problems. And it is the answer for one reason only – because it is true

This is at once a Reformation and a Restoration more significant than anything that happened in the 16th and 17th centuries. It will turn out – please God – to be the single event which saves mankind from the abyss. This is why he should be Pope John Paul the Great – by the public acclamation not just of Catholics but of all humanity.

Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen is Rector of St Michael's, Cornhill & Chaplain to the Stock Exchange.


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To add a bit of balance, should it not be said that the old boy would never have countenanced priests who were married, let alone those who, like me, and I believe Father Mullen, have been divorced.

Posted by: David Williams at April 12, 2005 04:30 PM
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To readdress that balancing, is David Williams suggesting sinners shouldn't speak out against sin?

Posted by: Timothy the Tortoise at April 12, 2005 05:10 PM
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To apply a balance David Williams is merely pointing out the exclusive nature of the church in its effort to exclude priests through its definition of 'sin'. The 'sin' is the homosexual priest under the protection of celibacy.

Posted by: Elisabeth Wheeler at April 13, 2005 09:58 AM
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A muscular, vigorous, and well-argued piece. I had not sufficiently appreciated the pope's opposition to the Enlightenment, which the author so sensibly says is misnamed. Well done.

Posted by: s j masty at April 13, 2005 01:02 PM
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No, I am simply pointing out, for the sake of balance, that Father Mullan is selective, if not partial, in listing the errors that John Paul sought to correct.

Posted by: David Williams at April 13, 2005 02:34 PM
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I was doing some research for my classes when I happened upon your piece for the Social Affairs Unit about why we should all be grateful for the recently deceased Pope. It just reinforced my own beliefs and experiences of just how out of touch smoe people are with reality, and in terms of academic writing just how selective some people can be when writing about recent events.

I noticed there was no mention of the horrors that the Catholic Church has inflicted upon unsuspecting and innocent people throughout the centuries, nor its medieval views on women, or how it glady takes from the poor to give to the rich [itself!]. Nor, indeed, about the horrors of modern capitalism, which as probably inflicted more damage than Catholicism, Communism and Naziism together. But then again, that's hardly surprising given your current flock, I suppose!

I will be encouraging my students to read your article, and other from the site, to see how they respond to such hypocritical writing.

Les Clensy
ACCESS Course Tutor
Tower Hamlets College

Posted by: Les Clensy at April 14, 2005 05:53 PM
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Dear Dr Clensy,

Thank you very much for your appreciative and courteous note - in which however you omit to address me by my name - and for the generous offering of invective and ad hominem which it contains. It is just the sort of thing that I used to show to my first year philosophy undergraduates and promise to fail anyone unable to find at least ten deliberate mistakes. (I realise, of course, that the mistakes may not be deliberate in your case). I do hope that you will not seek to limit your students' access to my article alone, but that you will set beside it your letter which is a far richer source of solecisms and non sequiturs than I could ever hope to manufacture in a single piece.

I would not presume to instruct you, Sir, save on one point: you accuse me of hypocrisy. Now I am guilty of many sins, negligences and ignorances, but hypocrisy is not one of them. In that article of mine which you pretend to criticise, I mean every word.

Verb sap

Peter Mullen

Posted by: Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen at April 14, 2005 05:58 PM
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Pope John Paul II was I believe acting in good faith in 'holding ground' during his pontificate while matters of great importance are being discussed by men and women around the globe. I think that is his legacy.
'The Enlightenment' is ever in a searching frame of mind and will not go away and it must be understood that ethical matters are seriously taken into account and declared upon by personal experience which may or not be in accord with the apostolic faith.
It was precisely because of the AD 33 decision in setting up the Christian Church that the period of Enlightment then appeared - to put into perspective the churches sole right to exclusionism and total authority.
Pope John Paul II was sensitive to the spiritual aspiration of women to be priests. He realised it would be a matter of time before many problems could be sorted out to everyone's satisfaction.

Posted by: Elisabeth Wheeler at April 15, 2005 09:27 PM
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May I ask Elisabeth Wheeler whose AD 33 decision she is referring to?

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at April 16, 2005 09:13 AM
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Query from Robert H. Olley in regard to 'AD 33 decision'. I admit a loose date referred to - signifyng the time after Christ's death. The British Church had steadfastly refused to recognise the recently instituted authority of the Pope, A.D. 610, flatly denying the worship of Mary or the use of the term 'Mother of God', proclaimed by the Roman Church AD 431, at the Council of Ephesus; or the doctrine of Purgatory, established by Gregory the Great about the year AD 593. One could say the Enlightenment was even then operating in this country. God is ever speaking through thought as well as through the heart.

Posted by: Elisabeth Wheeler at April 16, 2005 02:32 PM
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Firstly, thanks to Elisabeth Wheeler for her informative reply, though I would say that Christ instituted the church himself at the Last Supper (Pentecost was the launch day).

Now down to brass tacks. I must admit I was alarmed to hear Les Clensy suggest that Capitalism has (up to now, at least) done more harm than the other three combined. Perhaps the damage done by Stalin and Mao hasn't really sunk in yet. What sort of history is he teaching his students?

But it is the Rev. Mullen's reply that really has me worried. There seems to be more ad hominem and non sequitur there than in Les Clensy's posting. Doesn't he know that "the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Perhaps having taught the subject he has, to some extent, been "taken captive by vain and empty philosophy". Just as Babylonian astrology was the "nursemaid" for astronomy but still hangs on, and magic for chemistry, so philosophy held on to many areas of human knowledge. Martin Luther liberated religion, and Galileo physics, from the clutches of Aristotle. More recently, Durkheim acknowledged the usefulness of philosophy in times past, but with him Sociology outgrew its nursery and became a proper science.

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at April 17, 2005 04:25 PM
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