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Poet, Priest, Philosopher

by Professor David Carey, Philosophy

* Witness to Hope by George Weigel (Cliff Street Books, 1999). This authoritative biography of Pope John Paul II provides a fascinating lens through which to look back on the 20th century and some of its most significant currents: the rise and fall of massively destructive totalitarian movements (National Socialism, Stalinism, and Maoism); countervailing liberal democracies (with their often toxic levels of consumerism and individualism); the emergence of a global economy; widespread environmental degradation; and high-tech big-bucks manipulation of nuclear weapons, silicon circuits, genes, stem cells, and embryos.
How does this elderly churchman, who experienced both Nazi and Communist oppression and survived a would-be assassin’s bullets, remain so ebulliently hopeful, resonating so powerfully with millions of young people throughout the world? How does this scholar so steeped in tradition come to see his life work as preparing his billion-member church for the third millenium? This compelling life story takes the reader inside the mind and heart of this poet-priest-philosopher.

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To see an American parallel of Pope John Paul’s approach to ethics and culture, I recommend Healing the Culture: A Commonsense Philosophy of Happiness, Freedom and the Life Issue by Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., president of Gonzaga University (Ignatius Press, 2000).

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For a first-hand, though demanding, sample of the pope’s philosophical writing, read his Love and Responsibility (Ignatius Press, 1994).

* Although the book was originally published in 1929, Sophia Institute has published an attractive recent edition of Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love (reprint, Sophia Institute Press, 1997). This early antecedent of Love and Responsibility, although rich in philosophical and theological content, can easily be read in one sitting. The son of a renowned 19th century artist, von Hildebrand, like the pope, brings a poet’s sensibility and expressiveness to his philosophizing.

* A good example of the philosopher-pope as playwright-poet is Pope John Paul’s The Jeweler’s Shop (Ignatius Press, 1992). The “sacramental” vision poetically dramatized in The Jeweler’s Shop also has deep resonances in contemporary American literature. For example, Thomas Grady and Paula Huston have edited a fine collection of intimately personal essays by American writers known for their fiction, such as Patricia Hampl, Mary Gordon, and Murray Bodo in Signatures of Grace: Catholic Writers on the Sacraments, (reissue ed., Plume, 2001).

 
David Carey, Associate Professor of Philosophy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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