Waldstein on Wojtyla’s Personalism

Dr Waldstein presented a talk at the University of St Thomas, for the John PAul II Forum, on the Personalism of Blessed John Paul II. Find it here. He compares the type of personalism developed by Blessed John Paul II, a “Trinitarian Personalism,” with the personalisms of Kant and Scheler.

Waldstein explains that Wojtyla first came upon a notion of subjectivity and personal experience through the mystic, St John of the Cross, and this was a vision of the human person formed by the thought of Thomas Aquinas. In the paper he states: “He first encountered the thought of St. Thomas in the writings of St. John of the Cross rather than in Neo-Thomist manuals. St. John of the Cross offers a profoundly experiential and in this sense Personalist rereading of St. Thomas, focused on the spousal gift of self and its ultimate roots in the Trinity.” (see PDF text, pp. 10-11, in above)

During the week long workshop, and in his magnificent manuscript, Logos and Glory, Waldstein elaborates extensively on the crucial role of St John of the Cross in providing an alternative to Cartesian subjectivity. A major point that he makes is that Wojtyla did not seek to “synthesize” Kant and Thomas, or consciousness and being, as suggested by Buttiglione, in his book on Wojtyla:

What is at stake here is the whole relationship between Christianity and modernity and between the philosophy of being and the philosophy of consciousness…The integration of the philosophy of being and the philosophy of consciousness into a complete anthropology of the person seems to be…the only way to recognize in depth the novelty of the conciliar teaching and at the same time its solid anchor hold in the tradition (which is not the same as traditionalism). . . . [by bringing these two strands of philosophy together, Wojtyła produces] a new synthesis in which modern elements and traditional elements are harmoniously fused…At the same time, the contrast between modernity and Christianity disappears.” Karol Wojtyla: The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II (Eerdmans 1997) pp. 180-184)

Waldstein counters — there is no “synthesis” of modern consciousness and being because Wojtyla already developed a notion of consciousness from within the mysticism of John of the Cross. It is a consciousness of love, a consciousness of relatedness to God and others in love.  Ken Schmitz made a very similar point in his book At the Center of the Human Drama (CUA, 1993):

This, then, is the genesis of the modern sense of subject as subjectivity. We might say that subjectivity is the self-defense by which consciousness fends off a world either hostile to its inhabitation or at least without companionate room for it, even while consciousness subverts the integrity of that world by its imperious demands. The modern shift gave to the human subject an absolute status precisely in its character qua consciousness; for human consciousness not only sets its own terms but the terms for reality itself.

Wojtyla begins with a different starting point for self-awareness. In a later document on John of the Cross, Blessed John Paul II said:

In it [that is, the dissertation on John of the Cross], I devoted special attention to an analytical discussion of the central affirmation of the Doctor Mysticus: Faith is the only proximate and proportionate means for communion with God. The Doctor Mysticus…through his example and doctrine, helps Christians to make their faith strong with the very basic qualities of an adult faith which the Second Vatican Council asks of us. This faith is to be personal, free and convinced, embraced with one’s entire being, an ecclesial faith, confessed and celebrated in communion with the Church, a praying and adoring faith, matured through the experience of communion with God.

Communion, with God and others, is fundamental to human consciousness and to the life of the person. How different from Kant and Scheler. Wojtyla came to modern philosophy of consciousness, Descartes and Kant, with a fully developed notion of the central role of personal existence and human subjectivity; but he did not leave being or God out of that experience. There was no need for him to “synthesize” two aspects of the life already joined together by way of the experience of love..

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