Pope John Paul II Criticism - Essay

J. M. Cameron (review date 3 May 1979)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Where the New Pope Stands,” in New York Review of Books, May 3, 1979, pp. 14-20.

[In the following review, Cameron examines John Paul's leadership, social vision, and thought in Sign of Contradiction.]

Interest in the Papacy has increased since the short pontificate of John XXIII. The good nature and charm of John were irresistible. As a personality Paul VI was less expansive; the task of presiding over the consequences of the second Vatican Council was something he did with great ability, but he found it tormenting, and this was evident in the tone of his later speeches, plaintive, passionate, mournful. John Paul I was an instant success: it seemed as...

(The entire section is 2988 words.)

Raymond A. Schroth (review date 24 June 1979)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Vicars of Christ on Earth,” in New York Times Book Review, June 24, 1979, pp. 11, 44-5.

[In the following review, Schroth discusses John Paul's theological views in Fruitful and Responsible Love and Sign of Contradiction.]

It is almost a plunge into nostalgia now, only nine months after the events themselves, to relive the three months of the three Popes; when the television camera peered benevolently down like the eye of God on the wooden box holding the discolored corpse of the sad, sensitive, loving but not well-loved Giovanni Montini; when Dan Rather struggled to pronounce Castel Gandolfo and announced that the funeral mass was coming to an...

(The entire section is 995 words.)

Andrzej Poltawski (review date 4 April 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Objectifying the Subjective,” in Times Literary Supplement, April 4, 1980, p. 397.

[In the following review, Poltawski examines John Paul's moral and philosophical perspective in The Acting Person.]

This is the present Pope, Karol Wojtyla's, main philosophical work, in which he tries to give an outline of his philosophical anthropology. The point of departure is man as he is given to himself in and through his actions.

The author's position may be described as phenomenological realism. But this is not the realism criticized by Heidegger for introducing ready-made external things into the sense-bestowing human subjectivity; nor does it...

(The entire section is 1139 words.)

Boleslaw Taborski (essay date 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The ‘Inner Theatre’ of Karol Wojtyla,” in Polish Perspectives, Vol. XXIV, No. 2, 1981, pp. 64-70.

[In the following essay, Taborski discusses the style and major themes of John Paul's dramatic works.]

The plays of Karol Wojtyla constitute an unusual, and even in certain respects, unique phenomenon. The reasons for it are certainly far more complex than the fact that this particular playwright became Pope. It would be best (though, perhaps, not now possible), if one could forget about the election to the highest office in the Church of the author of those plays. The fact that these plays have only now been revealed to the world at large is...

(The entire section is 2977 words.)

Kenneth Briggs (review date 9 September 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Rejoinder to the Sexual Revolution,” in New York Times Book Review, September 20, 1981, p. 13.

[In the following review, Briggs discusses John Paul's views on love and sexuality as delineated in Love and Responsibility.]

Pope John Paul II has often spoken about sex and marriage during his nearly three-year reign. The impression left by these utterances, portraying the Pontiff as simply a pillar of traditional Catholic moral theology, does an injustice to the wider scope of his thinking. When he makes public statements, the well-developed conceptual underpinnings for his views unfortunately get left behind.

Moreover, the Pope is often a...

(The entire section is 763 words.)

Jaroslav Pelikan (review date 22 April 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Conversations With the Pope,” in New York Times Book Review, April 22, 1984, p. 12.

[In the following review, Pelikan discusses John Paul's theological views in “Be Not Afraid!”;]

When the Pope speaks ex cathedra (literally, from the throne)—“that is, in carrying out his office as the pastor and teacher of all Christians,” as the First Vatican Council explained this phrase in 1870—he is believed to be preserved from any error in matters of faith and morals. But whatever someone's personal or theological views about this ex cathedra infallibility may be, it is in many ways more interesting and certainly more unusual when a pope elects to...

(The entire section is 1209 words.)

Stanislaw Baranczak (review date 14 December 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Praying and Playing,” in The New Republic, December 14, 1987, pp. 47-8.

[In the following review, Baranczak examines the style, central themes, and philosophical underpinnings of John Paul's plays.]

Two of the world's most powerful men were once actors. But only one of them was also smart enough to write his own lines. The appearance in English of The Collected Plays and Writings on Theater reminds us that before he became John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla's extraecclesiastic pastimes included not only philosophy, poetry, acting, skiing, and hiking, but also playwriting. To paraphrase Stalin, how many diversions does the pope have?

To be...

(The entire section is 1627 words.)

Richard Viladesau (essay date March 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Could Jesus Have Ordained Women? Reflections on Mulieris Dignitatem,” in Thought, Vol. 67, No. 264, March, 1992, pp. 5-20.

[In the following essay, Viladesau examines John Paul's historical and anthropological arguments against the ordination of women as delineated in Mulieris Dignitatem. According to Viladesau, Mulieris Dignitatem, “suffers from weaknesses of questionable theological presumptions and faulty logic.”]

A priest of my acquaintance tells a story of his visit to the home of parishioners in rural Ireland. During the conversation the man of the house broached the subject of women in the church and asked why they could not...

(The entire section is 6644 words.)

Avery Dulles (essay date 23 October 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Prophetic Humanism of John Paul II,” in America, October 23, 1993, pp. 6-11.

[In the following essay, Dulles examines John Paul's humanist view of individual conscience, communalism, political participation, and transcendent order. According to Dulles, “John Paul II evidently sees himself and the church as divinely commissioned to be the advocates of authentic humanity.”]

For some time I have been asking myself whether there is a single rubric under which it might be possible to summarize the message of the present pontificate. I have thought about the Pope's concern for the inner unity of the Catholic Church, the new evangelization, the dialogue...

(The entire section is 4874 words.)

Douglas Johnston (review date 6 November 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Asking the Really Big Questions,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 6, 1994, pp. 1, 11.

[In the following review, Johnston offers favorable analysis of Crossing the Threshold of Hope.]

One wonders what the College of Cardinals though it was getting when it elected Karol Wojtyla the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. That will remain an eternal secret, but there can be little doubt that Pope John Paul II has surprised everyone with his vitality and political shrewdness.

Now he surprises again with this book—the first ever written by a sitting pope for a general audience. Reading what may be the last testament of this...

(The entire section is 1694 words.)

Peter Hebblethwaite (review date 11 November 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Professor in Slippers,” in Times Literary Supplement, November 11, 1994, p. 32.

[In the following review, Hebblethwaite examines John Paul's religious and political views in Crossing the Threshold of Hope.]

Librarians will have problems cataloguing this work. The author appears on the title-page as “His Holiness Pope John Paul II”. Perhaps the easiest thing would be to put it under Messori, Vittorio, ed. Then it would join the celebrated interviewer's other books like The Ratzinger Report—which had their fifteen minutes of fame.

Pope John Paul has been interviewed before. In 1984, André Frossard (author of God Exists,...

(The entire section is 1630 words.)

Garry Wills (review date 22 December 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Tragic Pope?,” in New York Review of Books, December 22, 1994, pp. 4, 6-7.

[In the following review, Wills discusses John Paul's Christian theology in Crossing the Threshold of Hope. Though noting contradictions and evasions, Wills writes, “It is a relief to see the Pope talk of the truths of faith with the excitement they deserve (whether true or false).”]

Was the Pope subjecting us to a Great Wu routine? It seemed so. Let Orson Welles, always a bit of a Wu himself, explain:

Mister Wu is a classic example [of theatrical hype]—I've played it once myself. All the other actors boil around the stage...

(The entire section is 2976 words.)

Paul Gray (essay date 26 December 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Empire of the Spirit,” in Time, December 26, 1994, pp. 48-57.

[In the following essay, Gray discusses John Paul's significance as an international moral leader.]

People who see him—and countless millions have—do not forget him. His appearances generate an electricity unmatched by anyone else on earth. That explains, for instance, why in rural Kenyan villages thousands of children, plus many cats and roosters and even hotels, are named John Paul. Charisma is the only conceivable reason why a CD featuring him saying the rosary—in Latin—against a background of Bach and Handel is currently ascending the charts in Europe. It also accounts for the dazed...

(The entire section is 2649 words.)

Camille Paglia (review date 26 December 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Pope Fiction,” in New Republic, December 24, 1994, pp. 24-5.

[In the following review, Paglia offers positive evaluation of Crossing the Threshold of Hope. According to Paglia, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope comes as a stunning display not of Catholic autocracy but of the ideological flexibility and rueful insight of the modern mind.”]

The pope speaks. But Crossing the Threshold of Hope is a peculiar document. Each chapter opens with the journalist Vittorio Messori's questions, sometimes bold and querulous, sometimes obsequious and honorific in the Italian way—“Allow me to play, although respectfully, the gadfly.” The pope...

(The entire section is 1379 words.)

Kevin Wildes (essay date 26 December 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “In the Name of the Father,” in New Republic, December 26, 1994, pp. 21-5.

[In the following essay, Wildes examines the importance of phenomenology as the philosophical framework of John Paul's Christian theology and teachings. According to Wildes, “Pope John Paul II has grounded the authority of Karol Wojtyla's modern phenomenology in the ancient authority of God.”]

Since the close of the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church has struggled, in public, about how it should move: forward into the modern world or backward to the austere certitude of the past. In 1979, when an obscure Polish cardinal was elected pope, it seemed as if a decision...

(The entire section is 3126 words.)

Peter Steinfels (review date 13 January 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Surprising, Demanding, Impressive,” in Commonweal, January 13, 1995, pp. 21-2.

[In the following review, Steinfels offers positive assessment of Crossing the Threshold of Hope.]

Millions of people scarcely able to understand this book will purchase and peruse it. Other millions who could appreciate and benefit from its insights will spurn it out of hand. The reason is the same in both cases: the author is the pope.

Behind the widespread interest and best-seller status of Crossing the Threshold of Hope is the belief that it will reveal a “real pope” behind the official Vicar of Christ, a down-home Karol Wojtyla who will relax,...

(The entire section is 1517 words.)

Leo D. Lefebure (essay date 15 February 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “John Paul II: The Philosopher Pope,” in Christian Century, February 15, 1995, pp. 170-6.

[In the following essay, Lefebure examines John Paul's intellectual development and the philosophical underpinnings of his Christian theology. Lefebure contends that John Paul's rigid demand for Catholic obedience is tempered by his affinity for modern philosophical thought and belief in the sanctity of individual conscience.]

During World War, Karol Wojtyla was a member of the underground Rhapsodic Theater. He was in the middle of performing one of the most patriotic plays in Polish literature when the sound of the Nazi radio interrupted with news of a German victory...

(The entire section is 4049 words.)

J. Bryan Hehir (essay date 19 May 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Get a (Culture of) Life,” in Commonweal, May 19, 1995, pp. 8-9.

[In the following essay, Hehir offers analysis of John Paul's The Gospel of Life encyclical.]

John Paul II's eleventh encyclical, The Gospel of Life (March 25, 1995) is yet another testimony to a central conviction of this papacy, namely, that words and ideas are the crucial determinants of history. The reception accorded the most recent text demonstrates John Paul II's continuing ability to gain a hearing for his ideas, however different they are from prevailing cultural convictions. The New York Times devoted almost a quarter of the front page to a photo and story about...

(The entire section is 1354 words.)

John O'Neill (essay date June 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Intrinsic Evil, Truth, and Authority,” in Religious Studies, Vol. 31, No. 2, June, 1995, pp. 209-19.

[In the following essay, O'Neill examines the argument for intrinsic evil and moral authority in Veritatis Splendor. Though supporting John Paul's view that some acts are intrinsically evil, O'Neill objects to the pope's claim to “epistemological authority.”]

Pope John Paul's recent encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, addresses itself beyond its immediate audience in the Catholic Church to ‘all people of good will’. While my Catholic friends assure me that the Catholic Church is one club that once entered can't be left, I assume myself to...

(The entire section is 4814 words.)

Desmond Sullivan (essay date September 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Pope and Christian Unity,” in Contemporary Review, Vol. 269, No. 1568, September, 1996, pp. 135-8

[In the following essay, Sullivan examines John Paul's advocacy for reconciliation within the Christian Church. “While proclaiming, fearlessly, his office as successor of Peter,” writes Sullivan, “John Paul II has personally … shattered most of the post-Reformation arguments and obstacles to Christian unity.”]

There was considerable disappointment among many ecumenical Christians that the Pope did not use the occasion of his visit to Germany—where the Reformation began—to make any memorable pronouncement on Christian unity. Yet three letters...

(The entire section is 2296 words.)

Jonathan Kwitny (essay date 10 October 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Neither Capitalist Nor Marxist: Karol Wojtyla's Social Ethics,” in Commonweal, October 10, 1997, pp. 17-21.

[In the following essay, Kwitny examines John Paul's contradictory affinity for Marxist revolution and free market principles as delineated in Catholic Social Ethics. According to Kwitny, John Paul endorses “class-conscious revolution,” though objects to “Marxism's subjugation of the individual human spirit … after the revolution.”]

Romuald Kukolowicz, now in his seventies, is the son of Polish Catholic intellectuals. In 1953, he was working as a clerk. At the time, Poland was firmly part of Stalin's Soviet empire. During World War...

(The entire section is 2707 words.)

Michael Sean Winters (essay date 9 February 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Old Faithful: John Paul v. Modernity,” in New Republic, February 9, 1998, pp. 16, 18.

[In the following essay, Winters discusses John Paul's opposition to Marxism, capitalism, and modern technological societies.]

In a country accustomed to one message and one messenger, the Pope's visit to Cuba is the stuff of high political drama, certainly a more provocative threat to Castro's regime than the Helms-Burton Act. For weeks now, the U.S. press has been buzzing with speculation as to whether the Pope may precipitate the fall of communism in Cuba—finally succeeding where generations of U.S. policy-makers have failed. After all, as Newsweek cheerfully...

(The entire section is 1033 words.)