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Pope John Paul II


Saint Edith Stein    

Taken from:

"The Transposition of Edith Stein: Her Contributions to Philosophy, Feminism &

The Theology of the Body."

 Karol Wojtyla wrote his doctoral dissertation The Acting Person on another important early figure in the history of phenomenology, of whom Edith Stein was very familiar with, Max Scheler.[i]

Wojtyla is most likely the one person who has done the most to make the word “phenomenology” a household one (at least in some households). As a matter of fact one might say quite accurately that he was the most famous phenomenologist of the twentieth century.

However, his career as a philosopher was interrupted in 1978 in a quite unexpected and life changing way. It was such a big event that it actually involved a change of name. That is why most people now think of Karol Wojtyla the phenomenologist as John Paul II the pope.

Pope John Paul II not only knew of Edith Stein but actually had a fairly strong connection with her. This is because he was highly influenced as a phenomenologist by her great friend, who later became his teacher and friend, Roman Ingarden. Stein’s place of birth Breslau is now located in Poland and Pope John Paul II and Roman Ingarden are of course two of the most celebrated figures in the history of that land.

Yet these were not friendships and connections simply based upon proximity but rather upon a deep and abiding shared thought about the nature of phenomenology. We have seen some of the letters that Edith Stein exchanged with Roman Ingarden and they were certainly not your average pen pals. For these letters delve into many deep and technical philosophical subjects and show evidence of two people who held an abiding sense of intellectual agreement.

Yet what can we say about the connection between Wojtyla and Stein that might have developed through his friendship with Roman Ingarden? It is highly plausible that Wojtyla, through his friendship and intellectual agreement with Ingarden, came to have a great deal of knowledge of and intellectual agreement with Edith Stein. Yet in a certain sense this is more conjecture than hard fact.

So just what are the facts? What can we say for sure about Wojtyla’s opinion of Edith Stein and her philosophy? Let us look at an act he did as Pope John Paul II in 1998. In that noteworthy year, which was also the year of Edith Stein’s canonization, he wrote an encyclical letter entitled Fides et Ratio. This first of its kind letter by a pope about philosophy is an extremely interesting topic in itself. In it Pope John Paul II writes about the relationship between faith and reason. He begins with a line more worthy of a poem than a papal encyclical: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of Truth.”[ii]  

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