Sign of Contradiction: threat to man’s inner freedom and truth

Pope John Paul II, in his Lenten retreat to Pope Paul VI, indicated already that his view of the Church in the Modern World did not include anything of the so-called liberal optimism or spirit of accommodation to the world; indeed, it would be a continual battle against the powers. As Cardinal Wyszynski wrote in the forward, “The world does battle with the Son and with his Mother.” This passage in chapter six reveals a theme that John Paul II would take up during his pontificate:

Nowadays there are so many attempts to reduce everything in human life to statistics, to mathematical formulae. In some places, under some political systems, man himself seems lost in a forest of figures which are used as tools to regulate his existence. And man cannot remain oblivious of the great threat posed by this gigantic machine at the disposal of material power, or rather the many powers, the veritable imperialisms which vie endlessly with one another but which cannot ultimately claim to have at heart the good or the real happiness of mankind. Indeed, the reverse is true: for those powers, those imperialisms, see in man — in man’s freedom and inner and truth  — the biggest of all threats to themselves. (p. 50)

This passage is very good because it identifies the threat to human existence not simply in one political system, such as communism, but in the very basis of modern existence. The “machines” of progress indicate not modern equipment or technology as such but the new attitude towards man — the reduction to an object of manipulation or use. And the fall of the Berlin Wall did not banish it. Corporate business, based upon free enterprise, for all of its benefits, develops with great intensity the reduction of man to numbers and seeks a certain regulation of consumer behavior and reduction to consumer identity. JP2 scores this attitude in Centesimus annus.

The passage is in the context of an explanation of Christ as the Redeemer of Man; Redemptor hominis, the first encyclical, was said to be already in his head and heart when he wrote it. Well, here it is in part. The economy of redemption is that Christ appears as a poor man; a defenseless man; a weak man. Christ lives for truth, he is the truth; hence Pilate asks what is truth: “Present day political economy has mastered the techniques of buttressing the power of this world. By contrast Christ could say in all truth — not just once before Pilate but again before every power or political system in existence today — ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ (Jn 18:36).”

And the Christian “economy” extends throughout the world. “It is a divine economy, with its source in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. From this source gush the waters of the great river that extends over the entire surface of the earth and permeates the whole of history. ‘Out of the heart of him who believes in me — as scripture says — shall flow rivers of living water’ (JN 7:38).” This is a statement of Christian faith and hope. The theme of “the permeation of the whole of history by Christ” would become central to Pope John Paul II’s account of Catholic education.  Here is the first line of Redeemer of Man: “THE REDEEMER OF MAN, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history.” And of course, there is this from Ex corde §16 “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 faith in Christ, the Logos, as the center of creation and of human history.” IS there any other way to avoid the reduction of man, the abolition of man, but the recovery of the Christ centered life and Christ centered education?

This ideal for education is rarely found today as many Catholic universities still allow themselves to be directed by the various “imperialisms” of modern society; at the very least, we could say that most have succumbed to the temptation of rule by “formulae” and the reduction of students and faculty to the demands of marketing and management techniques. But true education is the least susceptible to the “machine” technique or “factory” model. The “inner freedom and truth” must be carefully nurtured and the truth of Christ must be the true center of all disciplines and all teaching. It must be the fruit of the Christian humanism or personalism espoused by Karol Wojtyla..

Join us!

* indicates required