Fr. Schall on Pope John Paul II

Tomorrow morning I will fly to Washington, D.C. for a board meeting of the Review of Metaphysics. I hope to visit with my friend, Fr James Schall, S.J. He is one of the foremost interpreters of the thought of Pope John Paul II. He edited one of the very first (and still one of the best) collections of the Pope’s early talks (The Whole Truth about Man). He also wrote one of the first books on the social thought of the Pope. I reprint below my review of his book, from Theological Studies, 1983:

The Church, The State And Society In The Thought Of John Paul II. By James V. Schall, Chicago: Franciscan Herald, 1982. Pp. xi + 202. $7.50. Schall has written a very helpful and thought-provoking book about the social thought of John Paul II. He provides an excellent summary of his key ideas, ample quotations, and a most thoughtful commentary dealing with the coherence, implications, and limits of Catholic social doctrine as articulated by John Paul II. The central theme of Father Schall’s analysis is the truth of Christianity. By insisting on the “whole truth about man,” John Paul II counters all social ideologies that are based on a partial or distorted view of man. It is as the gift and revelation of supernatural life that Christianity challenges and inspires the social order. Thus the first right, and the basis for all others, is the right of religious freedom. Men must be free to hear the word of God and to practice the faith. Religious truth checks the absolutist claims of the modern state and thereby sets limits to its power and scope. By the same token, Christianity is not wed to anyone cultural or political order. Its very transcendence allows Christianity to challenge, penetrate, and transform a variety of cultures. Especially in the areas concerning the sacredness of human life, Christian doctrine of the Incarnation has a profound influence. As for global issues, Father Schall carefully probes the Pope’s statements on world hunger and the arms race. He shows how the Church’s valuable guidance to mankind must be complemented by the practical insight and prudence of experts and statesmen. In sum, Schall succeeds in showing how the truth of Christianity is the source and continued relevance of Catholic social doctrine. The transcendent truth — about God and man prevents the Church from being manipulated for political ends and gives the Church its power to challenge and inspire all men and social orders. For its keen analysis and its helpful appendices and bibliography, this book is an invaluable guide for any student of Catholic social thought..

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