The Timeless Teachings of St. John Paul II
Summaries of His Papal Documents
By John E. Fagan
Scepter Publishers, 2017
227 pages, $19.95
The 26 years of Pope St. John Paul’s pontificate produced an array of papal writings — encyclicals, apostolic letters and exhortations, and other significant public documents — that remain important sources of knowledge on moral and social applications of eternal Church doctrine.
Scepter Press has issued a new edition of its immensely useful volume, now titled The Timeless Teachings of St. John Paul II: Summaries of His Papal Documents (with a foreword by Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz) — in time for the 12th anniversary of the Pope’s death. According to John Fagan: “I have relied heavily on the Holy Father’s own words and have attempted to keep my own commentary to a minimum. I hope that, after reading one of the summaries, the reader will then read and reflect on the entire document. If that is not possible, however, at least the reader will have had some exposure to the Pope’s message.”The 26 years of Pope St. John Paul’s pontificate produced an array of papal writings — encyclicals, apostolic letters and exhortations, and other significant public documents — that remain important sources of knowledge on moral and social applications of eternal Church doctrine.
Fagan works chronologically, first through the encyclicals and then through the apostolic exhortations and apostolic letters. He concludes with the “Letter to Families,” “Letter to Artists,” “Letter to the Elderly,” the bull of indiction for the jubilee of 2000, Incarnationis Mysterium, and the document that came out of John Paul’s pontifical council on the family, “The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality.”
Fagan’s treatment of the encyclical Redemptor Hominis (Redeemer of Man) opens: “In Redemptor Hominis, his first encyclical, Pope John Paul II provides an outline of the program for his pontificate. He makes it clear in the first paragraph that he believes his special mission is to prepare the Church to enter the Third Christian Millennium. He calls the years remaining before the year 2000 a ‘new Advent,’ a time of extended preparation for the Jubilee. He urges the faithful to direct themselves — mind, heart and will — towards Christ the Redeemer during this period” (7). Fagan also occasionally notes connections between a document and others on similar topics by St. John Paul or previous popes. For example, in his summary of Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), he notes that it was “the first encyclical on the relationship between faith and reason since Pope Leo XIII issued Aeterni Patris (Restoration of Christian Philosophy) in 1879” and also points out:
“Shortly after the encyclical was published, John Paul provided his own summary of some of its key elements in an address to a group of U.S. bishops who were visiting Rome.
“He said that he ‘wished to defend the capacity of human reason to know the truth. This confidence in reason is an integral part of the Catholic intellectual tradition, but it needs reaffirming today in the face of widespread and doctrinaire doubt about our ability to answer the fundamental questions …’”
I highly recommend this useful handbook. This book offers inspiration for Catholics living in challenging times.
Opus Dei Father C. John McCloskey, a Church historian, writes from Virginia.