By IHE Fellow Maximilian B. Torres
On the centenary of Pope Saint John Paul II’s birth, I would like to offer a brief reflection on his magisterial gifts to the Church and to articulate why I consider him the greatest person to grace the public stage during my lifetime. With Pope Saint John Paul II raised to the glory of the altars, we could see what God had made of His instrument. The life and work of John Paul II remind us of the constitution of our nature: persons are made to be in relationship with God and others in truth.
Saint John Paul II entered papal service after the shock of Pope John Paul I’s untimely death. The new pope began by teaching and lifting our spirits during a time of uncertainty: exhorting us, as Christ did, not to be afraid. Throughout his papacy, he reoriented our sights on the Trinity, reminding us that God himself, while One, is at the same time a relationship of love between persons.
His continual focus was on the person, the subject in relation to Christ, without whom we cannot know ourselves. In all he taught, Saint John Paul II focused on the “subject,” yet in an objective way, as a person endowed with dignity who is called to live in accordance with the truth embedded in knowable reality and in relation with the One who is Truth. In doing so — learnedly, relentlessly, inexorably — he freed us from the vicissitudes of doubt, skepticism, and despair, as well as their root intellectual missteps in subjectivism, relativism, solipsism, nominalism, and more. “My truth” may very well be the person’s most evident and pressing reality, but it is paltry thing considered in the light of the subject’s relation to God.
Pope Saint John Paul’s articulation of who we are as persons objectively orients us towards God, because we are wed to the transcendent order in which God “is.” He taught in the name of the Church that philosophical, social, cultural, legal, political, and economic spheres must attend to and respect the nature of persons as made in the image and likeness of God. In a remarkable series of encyclicals, Saint John Paul II taught that the personal subject is bound to truth. Without binding ourselves to truth, he exhorted, we can never fulfill the capacities of human nature. For example, in Centessimus annus, he addressed the subject of society who lives the truth in economic, political and cultural circumstances. In Veritatis splendor, he addressed the subject of free choice who adheres to the truth gleaned in law by conscience. In Fides et ratio he dealt with the subject of knowledge who knows the truth through reflection on natural and supernatural realities.
Pope Saint John Paul II reminded us of who we were when we floundered in devices of our own making. Beyond the restoration of morale and reinvigoration of evangelical zeal grounded in reality rather than mere exuberance, he left us a corpus worthy of prayerful reflection, study, and promulgation, for which I am eternally grateful and upon which I am professionally indebted as a professor of business. I wish to express my thanks as a gift on his 100th birthday.
Maximilian B. Torres is a professor of business ethics at The Catholic University of America.