To work for the proper implementation of canon law is to play an extraordinarily
constructive role in continuing the redemptive mission of Christ. Pope John Paul II
1152 x 864
10 jan 2013
Review of James Schall, Church State and Society in ... John Paul II (Franciscan, 1982) 232 pp.
Edward Peters, Review of J. Schall, Church State and Society in the Thought of John Paul II (1982), in Fidelity (Feb 1983) 27-28.
The Church, the state, and society are subjects of tremendous import,
even more so when filtered through the mind of Pope John Paul II, but are they
to remain distant ideas, accessible only to graduate students and professors?
Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., member of the government
department at Georgetown University, thinks not. In this slim volume (the text
itself runs only 150 pages, with appendices bringing the total to some 200) Father Schall presents clearly and perceptively the Holy Father's views of the Church,
state, and society.
This is the second of three volumes to be published as a result of
"The John Paul Synthesis: A Trinity College Symposium II," the intent
of which was to analyze and promote the thought of Pope John Paul in several
different fields. As one scans the book reviews, one frequently sees statements
to the effect that such and such a book is written for novice and expert alike;
however, to write in a manner understandable to the novice, yet substantial
enough for the expert is a very difficult task indeed. Nevertheless Father
Schall's study of The Church,
the State and Society in the Thought of John Paul II has,
I believe, fulfilled both criteria.
The body of CSS reads much like an
essay, even a speech, unencumbered by detailed
footnotes and references. This makes it a genuine joy for the beleaguered
beginner in political or cultural studies. However, supplemented by three
excellent appendices and a very helpful bibliography, this book will give the
expert more than enough material to ponder. Stylistically, Father Schall's prose
leads the reader easily through the main points being addressed. He is,
moreover, quite able to delve into nuance or detail, should such be helpful to
Father Schall, a rigorously-thinking political scientist and - so often
overlooked today - a consecrated priest of God, builds his study on the same
bedrock upon which the Pope builds his pontificate: that of truth. Schall's
training in politics and theology permits him to approach this truth from the
perspective of both faith and reason.
The Holy Father knows who he is. He is the Pope, the Vicar of Christ,
the successor to St. Peter in unbroken line. As such, he knows what the Church
is, and knows that by the power of the Holy Spirit, her doctrines are true,
always and everywhere. Whether these truths be demonstrated by reason, or known
sublimely by faith, is secondary to the fact of their
existence. John Paul II, as Father Schall repeatedly shows, calls these truths
constantly to our attention, presents them as true, and instructs us to live by
In an early letter to Wormwood, Screwtape writes (with no little sense of relief at their passing) that in the Middle Ages, a man pretty well knew when something was true and when it was not. If it was true, says the avuncular senior tempter, a man would often try to put his life in accord with it. Now, that is no longer the case. As Schall points out, "Our times are not unique because we have more sinners or evil doers per capita than did other times. They are confused because we have an extraordinary number of things now called good in public life which in fact are not so." The Holy Father, clearly, has set out to deprive Screwtape of one of his choicest tools - the lie - and, as Schall notes, this represents the key to understanding the opposition to John Paul.
This spirit of truth also animates the Pope's reflections on the state.
He is firmly grounded in the basic tenets of Catholic social thought: the
limited role of the state, the principle of subsidiarity, and the obligations to
the common good, tempered by recognition of the transcendence of the individual.
Most importantly, the Holy Father grasps the primary importance of religious
liberty in any considerations of the state.
In some areas of human endeavor, the Pope reminds us, the state is
vested with authority and commands our respect. We are indeed to render to
Caesar what is Caesar's. But in other fields, most notably in the area of
religious beliefs, the state is not competent to direct our hearts and minds.
Moreover this right to religious freedom should not be construed as the right to
believe whatever one wants. For Pope John Paul, religious freedom means the
freedom of the individual to respond to the dictates of religious truth. It is
this genuine response to the Word of God with which the state must not
interfere. Religious freedom is not license; it is liberation.
Recognizing the role the state plays in various cultures, and ever recalling the truth on which the Catholic Church is based, the Pope has gone on to develop "an emphasis which is rather new in Christian social thought, the idea that nations and cultures ought to be positive elements in the missionary and religious activity of the various peoples of this earth." This Pope who sings folk songs in Poland, jokes with American youth in Shea Stadium, and dons tribal headgear in Africa knows that by winning the world to himself as Pope, he wins it for Christ.
As he guides the reader through the Pope's view of the Church, state, and society, Schall periodically takes time to develop some finer points in papal thought, points which if not crucial to an understanding of John Paul, deserve at least some attention. For example, until the bishop's recent foray into the field of nuclear weapons, much current Catholic thought was devoted to examining the Holy Father's statements' on economics. Increasingly, one heard the suggestion that now it was conservatives who were dissenting from papal teaching. Father Schall succinctly points out that the Pope's use of economic terminology frequently differs from our own, and that his statements are, in the Pope's own words, marked by a certain "abstractness." These two points alone should be sufficient to lay to rest the claim that the Pope's statements on, say, ecology, are exercises of his teaching authority, and consequently that a differing position is necessarily at odds with the Church.
Before closing, two last comments are in order - one pleasant, the other not so. First, the appendices, as mentioned above, are very well done, especially the first two essays on "Background to the Social thought of the Church." So well done are they, that the reader may well wish to begin with them, and then turn to the text itself. In any event, they are not to be overlooked as mere appendices. Second, it must be noted that CSS is hampered, at times seriously, by numerous typographical errors.
Father Schall is one of the most prolific Catholic authors in America today; he is, moreover, one of the best. The Church, the State and Society in the Thought of John Paul II is a worthy addition to his collection of valuable publications, and a welcome addition to our reflections on the Polish Pope.