Redeemer of Man, the end of the line

Redeemer of Man, the end of the line


The futility of creation may first appear to us as a malaise of spirit, concerning the fragility of life and the confusion or disappointment in the course of a single life, project, or community; and it can sharpen into a definite fear of harm, or general dread of death. Pope John Paul II describes the signs of crisis and probes the deeper causes. But he reaches the foundation with the idea from St. Paul concerning the futility of creation and he picks up a proper theological argument. Men have forgotten God. Christ returns us to God the father. John Paul puts it this way — we are subject to futility because we have lost the with “the original source of Wisdom and Love,” namely God. In our actions and projects we are without wisdom and devoid of love. “As this was broken in the man Adam, so in the man Christ it is reforged.” (Rom. 5:12-21)

In the twentieth century the broken with wisdom and love, the alienation from God and others, has become magnified because of the pace and the intensity of the projects of man. There is a very concrete point of reference for the rock bottom of futility, sin, and alienation. Its picture is show here, perhaps not recognizable, even though the roads or tracks of memory, especially for a Pole or a Jew, must return there to take stock of human existence. In Polish the place is called Oswiecim; in English, Auschwitz. It is the end of the line for man in his mastery of nature, now sweeping in all humans as potential objects; it is the end of the line for totalitarian rule and control; and it is the end of the line for ultimate degradation of the human in both prisoner and guard. Metaphorically, the tracks are still on the ground and box cars are still in service. Life without God is a life in hell.

In the Redeemer of Man, John Paul II does not directly reference it; but he speaks about the protection of rights against totalitarian degradation. One must read his homily (a here) given three months after the publication of Redeemer of Man when he returned to his native Poland and spoke at the Brzezinka Concentration Camp.

“I have come to pray with all of you who have come here today and with the whole of Poland and the whole of Europe. Christ wishes that I who have become the Successor of Peter should give witness before the world to what constitutes the greatness and the misery of contemporary man, to what is his defeat and his victory. I have come and I kneel on this Golgotha of the modern world.” (June 7, 1979)

At the very place where the human was destroyed in body and spirit, John Paul looks to Maximilian Mary Kolbe as a man who lived a life of service, a man who “reforged the ” with wisdom and love through faith. I can only ask you to read the homily. I cannot adequately summarize it; I am not in a position to even speak about this evil without glibness or unknowing — but the Polish Pope could do so. I would also recommend the first chapter of Rocco Buttiglione, Karol Wojtya: The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans,1997) in order to better understand the special role of Poland in the modern world of power, force and national identity.

At the very bottom then, the crisis is the age-old crisis of sin and redemption, but now intensified by the power unleashed in the last century. There is a two-fold progress of both good and evil in history. We need Christ to reforge the to the goodness and wisdom of God, broken by Adam and all men. John Paul II ends section 8 by recalling Col. 1:15, Christ as the “image of the invisible God,” who has “restored in the children of Adam that likeness to God which had been disfigured ever since the first sin.” (Gaudium et spes §22).

So yes, we need the restoration of philosophy and political moderation, but first of all we need the restoration of our humanity from the grace of God. We need the redeemer of man. Then we can see the victory rising out defeat. Even here, “love is greater than sin, than weakness, than the ‘futility of creation,’ it is stronger than death.” (§9) How often John Paul would repeat these lines throughout his pontificate. He would often look back to the life and deeds of Saint Maximilian Kolbe for testimony to the possibility of love: “The victory through faith and love was won by him in this place, which was built for the negation of faith—faith in God and faith in man—and to trample radically not only on love but on all signs of human dignity, of humanity.”

Even in the Gulag did Solzhenitsyn’s “Zek” discover the truth of the “ascent.” (Part II, “The Ascent) At he end of the day, Ivan Denisovich discovers Alyoska and the true meaning of prayer in the Our Father.

The ascent is possible for us all, personally and communally; we do need to have taken a true sounding of the depth of the crisis of our times as have Wojtyla and Solzhenitsyn.

And now we move on to understand this summons of love. Pope John Paul devotes the central portion of his encyclical Redeemer of Man to the philosophical and theological exposition of personalism and its central notions of freedom and love..

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