Jane Ziolkowski, Contributing Writer
On Friday, April 11, University of Dallas students filled Lynch Auditorium to hear George Weigel speak about the pontificates of Benedict XVI and John Paul II.
His lecture centered on the efforts of these two popes to communicate the teachings of the Second Vatican Council to the rest of the Church. Weigel is uniquely qualified to speak on the subject: He is author of John Paul II’s official biography, “Witness to Hope,” and he has spoken with Pope Benedict XVI on multiple occasions.
The Second Vatican Council took place from October 1962 to December 1965. It was only the 22nd ecumenical council, or gathering of all of the bishops to discuss important doctrine, in Church history. The two councils before it, the Council of Trent and Vatican I, convened in 1545 and 1868, respectively.
While most councils were convened to combat heresies or to further articulate dogmas of the Church, Pope John XXIII summoned the bishops in 1962 in order to “preserve the deposit of the faith while finding ways to communicate those perennial truths in an idiom … that modernity can hear and engage,” according to Weigel.
Both future popes, Karol Wojtyla and Joseph Ratzinger, were present at the council. Weigel pointed out that Ratzinger was the original Catholic, independent thinker of his time:
“As a young theologian, Ratzinger was striking for his dissatisfaction with the neoscholastic cast of mind that dominated Catholic theology. And he and others were proposing [the return] of Catholic theology to its deepest tap roots, in Sacred Scripture and the Fathers of the Church.”
Wojtyla, then the 40-year-old auxiliary bishop of Krakow, had also discerned the need for revitalization in the Church. In response to Pope John XXIII’s letter asking the bishops to propose topics for discussion at the upcoming council, Wojtyla wrote a philosophical essay centered on the question, “What happened?”
Weigel summarized Wojtyla’s essay thus:
“What happened to a century that had begun with such high hopes for the human future, and yet had produced, within its first five decades, two world wars, the Cold War, Auschwitz, the Gulag, the Ukrainian terror famine, oceans of blood, mountains of corpses and the greatest persecution of the Church in human history?”
“[Wojtyla] suggested an answer that should ring true here at the University of Dallas,” explained Weigel. “What had happened, he suggested, is that the great project of Western humanism had gone off the rails, because for the past 300-some years, defective ideas of the human person, human community, art and the human destiny had made a terrible mess out of the project of Western humanism.”
In answer to this crisis, the future pope suggested the council should “propose Jesus Christ as the truth about the human race.”
Both Wojtyla and Ratzinger contributed much to the success of Vatican II. During the second session, Wojtyla helped argue that “the lay apostolate is a baptismal obligation of every lay person.” In other words, lay Catholics are just as responsible for spreading the Gospel as Catholic clergy and religious.
Wojtyla’s most important work at Vatican II, though, was his work on “The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” known as “Gaudium et Spes” (“Hope and Faith”). Working with other theologians on the first draft of the document, Wojtyla “emphasized the liberating power of faith against the modern problem of atheism,” Weigel said. Even more significant for Weigel was Wojtyla’s role in crafting Paragraphs 22 and 23 of the document.
“‘Gaudium et Spes’ 22: On the holy face of Christ, we see both the truth of God and the truth of us. We meet the merciful Father; we meet the truth of our humanity. ‘Gaudium et Spes’ 24: It is only in the sincere giving of ourselves that we reach the fullness of our human destiny … Our lives must be made into gifts for others,” Weigel summarized.
After Vatican II, Ratzinger and Wojtyla became friends through their mutual acquaintance, philosopher Josef Pieper. Yes, that Josef Pieper, whose work, “Leisure: The Basis of Culture,” is a Philosophy and Ethical Life staple. Wojtyla and Ratzinger found that they had “a remarkably common view of the challenges of the moment … They agreed that the achievements of the Second Vatican Council were being lost in acrimony and power struggle.”
Those points of agreement, according to Weigel, were the basis for Ratzinger and Wojtyla’s remarkable friendship and their collaborative efforts to communicate Vatican II through the 26 years of John Paul II’s papacy and the eight years of Benedict XVI’s. Weigel called their friendship “one of the most extraordinary collaborations in the history of the papacy.”
Weigel noted a few of their biggest collaborations during John Paul II’s pontificate. One of the most important, he observed, was the 1985 synod on the 20th anniversary of Vatican II. This was a special gathering of bishops to “determine what had gone right, and what had gone not-so-right, in the implementation of Vatican II.” Ratzinger gave an interview that was widely read a few months before the synod’s start, and it ultimately gave the structure for the synod’s deliberations. The synod ended by crystallizing as the uniting idea of Vatican II’s 16 documents, “the idea of the Church as a communion of disciples in mission.”
Weigel ended by connecting these 16 documents of Vatican II, and Wojtyla and Ratzinger’s efforts to communicate them, into one simple concept: the New Evangelization, which Weigel described as “the power of the Holy Spirit summoning each of us to live out the Great Commission, summoning each of us to be missionaries.”
Weigel will also speak at Commencement in May.