The Vocation of the Philosopher according to JP2

Casina Pio IV, (1560) home of three Papal Academies
Conference room is dedicated to John Paul II
(see its history here)
 On June 30 I delivered a paper  on the Vocation of the Philosopher according to Blessed John Paul II to the XII Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. The session  was devoted to the theme of the Thomistic legacy in Blessed John Paul II and his refounding of the Pontifical Academy of St Thomas Aquinas. In the next few entries I shall share some of this paper.
In treating the question of the vocation of the Catholic philosopher according to Blessed John Paul II we have various sources to consider. Karol Wojtyla was himself a philosophy professor and author of numerous articles as well as significant books on philosophy. Pope John Paul II spoke frequently about philosophy and faith and reason, culminating in his thirteenth and penultimate encyclical, Fides et ratio.

In the latin text of Fides et ratio,  the term “vocationis” (call) is used 8 times and the term “munus” (duty) is used 22 times These terms are used to discuss the vocation and the tasks or responsibilities of philosophy, theology, and the human person as such. The vocations and tasks of philosopher, theologian, and person are interconnected in a dynamic way. The English translation uses various words to render these latin terms, sometimes interchanging them. In the first passage in which the terms are used (§6), the English translator uses the same term, vocation, to translate both vocationis and munus. In §6 Pope John Paul II s Fides et ratio and Veritatis splendor as addressing the crisis of truth. This crisis affects especially the young. Young people, he explains, have no “valid points of reference” (fundamental principles). They are unsure whether they can discover the real meaning of life. As a result they stumble through life to the edge of an abyss. John Paul II then criticizes those responsible for this confusion and exhorts philosophers to recover their original vocation:

this happens because those whose vocation [munus] it is to give cultural expression to their thinking no longer look to truth, preferring quick success to the toil of patient enquiry into what makes life worth living. With its enduring appeal to the search for truth, philosophy has the great responsibility of forming thought and culture; and now it must strive resolutely to recover its original vocation [vocationem].

Those whose task (munus) should be to give cultural expression to their thinking include philosophers as he indicates, but may also include writers, artists, and teachers. The goal of “quick success” suggests the careerism of academician and the commercial success and popularity of writers and artists. Absent is attention to truth and dedication to patient inquiry. Why has this occurred? It is more than moral disorder, although it is that too. Ideological and cultural trends are very much to blame, such as pragmatism, technicism, historicism and subjectivism. But at the root of the dereliction of duty there is the loss of vocation, the loss of calling. Self-promotion and political advocacy are more common traits of the professional philosopher today than divine calling or a Socratic way of life.

John Paul bids us to look to the “original” (pristine) vocation of philosophy, truth seeking. The love of truth provides the motivation for true philosophy. A sincere or true search is repeatedly mentioned by John Paul II in a manner worthy of Pascal. How does one generate or recover the passion for truth? This is a key question. There is a natural desire to know, a capacity for knowing truth; there is a natural desire for good, a capacity for love of what is good. But the original or pristine human capacities have been covered over, inhibited, suppressed. An abandonment of truth, a despairing or slothful attitude about truth constitutes the spiritual malaise of our time. 

Pope John Paul II explains that the crisis of our time is a “crisis of meaning,” §81. It arises from the fragmentation of knowledge (§81); specialization (§56); the “wilting” of reason under the weight of infinite tasks and mind-numbing details (§5); the constrictions of technological thinking (§15). So again we must ask, how does one generate or recover the passion for truth? How do we call forth the desire for truth, for the whole truth, to dare to rise to truth of being? How do we activate or re-activate the desire to know.

We find a variety of strategies in the work of Blessed John Paul II. These include (i) reconnecting philosophy to everyday life and common human issues; (ii) the appreciation of tradition, community, and dialogue in the exercise of intellectual inquiry; (iii) the understanding of the human person in action; (iv) exploration of the ethical challenges of modern technology and social organization; (v) the integration of faith and reason and the unity of faith and life. Throughout all of his work we find moments of dialectical confrontation with the “illusions” and “pretensions” and “idolatry” of the age in a style reminiscent of St. Augustine or Pascal.

In subsequent postings we shall explore these various strategies.

(NB: The Casina Pio IV  includes an Oval Courtyard of The Nymphaeum. This
was a 16th century monument to the mythological Muses and it was used
for discussion of arts and sciences. 

“Overlooking the courtyard is a loggia called “Museum”, or home of the Muses, where Ligorio reinterprets the iconography of the Muses with Apollo and Bacchus portrayed on ancient sarcophagi. The left panel of the façade features Thalia (muse of comedy), Urania (astronomy), Terpsichore (the epic muse), Mnemosyne (memory), Polyhymnia (agriculture). In the centre Ligorio places Calliope, the muse of epic poetry or music. In the right panel we find Clio (muse of history), Erato (love poetry), Melpomene (tragedy), and Euterpe (lyric song). The triangular pediment is completed by a round medallion containing Aurora, surrounded by the signs of the zodiac and the four mythical horses of the Sun (Helios): Pyrois, Aeos, Aethon and Phlegon. This medallion is flanked by two female figures: Flora, the ancient Italic goddess of Spring, and Pomona, the Roman nymph. Above them is the statue of Salus, personifying health and conservation. She holds a cup with a snake wrapped around her arm drinking from it.” from Vatican website

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