Redeemer of Man – introductory sections

Redeemer of Man - introductory sections

Today I wish to begin some comments about Pope John Paul II’s first encyclical, The Redeemer of Man (Redemptor hominis). Visit our website under upcoming events for the text of the encyclical. The systematic thinking about the redemption begins in section 7, so it is easy to skip through the introductory sections. But these sections set the context and tone for the work. In fact, we can get so use to fundamental statements about the faith and profound statements that flow from the pen of the pope that we may not realize the drift of the thing.
Take the first line: “THE REDEEMER OF MAN, Jesus Christ, is the centre of the universe and of history.” It is hard to get past that line. It violates too many modern assumptions. He refuses to knuckle under to the dictatorship of relativism – the center of history. (period) He refuses to be bullied by scientism and retreat to emotivism and symbolism of faith – a fact, a reality, the redeemer liveth. And this fact, this reality, this man, Jesus Christ is the key to human existence. The philosopher pope is going to start out grand, occupying the stage that is his. A very fine opening intellectual gambit — he will defend it strongly and explain it ably.

But now that he has our attention, that he will make a serious intellectual mark, he then shows us his heart. “To Him go my thoughts and my heart in this solemn moment.” The moment is solemn because of the impending date of 2000, the celebration of the 2nd millennial birth of Christ. John Paul II steps into the papacy following that of John Paul I, who served 33 days; and now this bold man looks confidently ahead to a point twenty one years in the future. He knows he has a mission. He understands the connection spanning near 20 centuries going back to Peter, but now he must carry on the work of Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI. They have brought the Church to a “threshold” and he will continue on.
Next he speaks about the Holy Spirit; as we have heard many of these passages during the last week, it is very interesting to see John Paul II go right to the Gospel of John and find the three passages on the “spirit of truth.” (Jn. 16:7; 15:26-27; 16:13). So he proclaims “I entrust myself fully to the Spirit of Truth.” The significance of these opening passages escaped me for years. The Pope of Fides et ratio, the Pope of Ex corde, will boldly proclaim the Truth because he is empowered from on high. He will later say that Catholic witness will match the “parrhesia of faith” [candid or forthright speech] with the boldness of reason (Fides et ratio §48). So here he is enacting the role right at the start.
I also cannot help and jump over to Ex corde to find the central intellectual concern he posed in the opening line: “Aided by the specific contributions of philosophy and theology, university scholars will be engaged in a constant effort to determine the relative place and meaning of each of the various disciplines within the context of a vision of the human person and the world that is enlightened by the Gospel, and therefore by a faith in Christ, the Logos, as the center of creation and of human history.” §16 This passage sets up a very bold vision of the university, Newmanesque to be sure, but a revolution yet to be seriously attempted. This is not a recipe for tepid efforts at “integration” and soft or vague interdisciplinary studies. Christ must stand out at the center of creation (scientism is not an option) and history (relativism is not an option).
Well there is more in the introductory sections, but I shall make one more point here, because again it is easily lost in the shuffle. The task of renewal must revolve around the deepening of “consciousness” of the Church and her members. yes, consciousness. Awareness of oneself in relating oneself to God and the world. The Church must “fathom more and more deeply both her divine mystery and her human mission, and even her human weaknesses.” §3
In his first systematic reflection on Vatican II, Cardinal Wojtyla developed the theme of “consciousness” or the development of the self-awareness of the Church and the Christian, not in some self-centered revery but in the discovery of our love for God and man, in the Spirit. [See Sources of renewal : the implementation of the Second Vatican Council / Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) ; translated by P. S. Falla (Harper and Row, 1980) Translation of U podstaw odnowy.]
I see this as the mission of the Pope John Paul II Forum — the raising of consciousness (to take a sixties term) about the role of the laity in their quest for holiness and in evangelization. We must become aware of the universal call to holiness (unity of faith and life) and the tasks of evangelization (unity of faith and culture). There is no better place to start than by turning our thought and hearts to the Redeemer of Man, Jesus Christ, the center of the cosmos and history. We begin with his first encyclical.


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