Sunday, August 28, 2005
Kevin Lee asked me to post his reaction to Alison Sulentic's reaction to my question about the use of the Compenium as a teaching tool. (Sorry for the delay in posting - I just returned from picking up my daughter from summer camp.) Kevin does not share Alison's sense that the Compendium overemphasizes the writings of Pope John Paul II, given the length of his tenure during a time of "radical development" in the Church's social teaching. He observes:
"It may be that students will have difficulty grasping the accomplishments of this soon-to-be-canonized pope, but I think rather than presenting his thought against other less authoritative voices, it might be more productive to attempt to locate his thought in the fullness of the Catholic intellectual heritage by clearly articulating his reading of that tradition with as much hermeneutical good will as can be brought to the task. This is a very demanding task, indeed, because he was a complex thinker and the text tradition of his work is in a nascent stage. But, I would encourage all of us to read deeply of John Paul II’s thought in order to make a cogent critique of it, rather than to risk allowing the students to dismiss it without fully appreciating what it has to offer.
"I understand all too well the problems involved in trying to come to terms with the complexity of John Paul’s thought. I’ve been working for several years on my doctorial dissertation, which attempts to unfold the meaning of his conception of the human person for the Rule of Law. What I have found is that to understand his thought it is vital to get into the primary sources from his early life as a scholar of philosophical ethics. Here you can find a number of helpful works. In addition to the standard ones, Acting Person, Love and Responsibility, etc., what I have found most important for understanding his assessment of moral philosophy in the Catholic intellectual heritage is his collection of essays known as the “Lublin Lectures.” It is here that he takes up Aquinas, Kant, Scheler and several others in a robust discussion of the nature of the moral good and justice in the context of a magnificent discussion of the phenomenology of moral action. This is heady stuff, but well worth reading. That’s the rub. For all its value, there is no reliable and authoritative English translation of the Lublin Lectures on the market today. If you read German, they are available in Lubliner Vorlesungen, ed. Juliusz Stroynowki (Stuttgart-Degerloch: Seewald Verlag, 1981). This translation seems very good, but my German is very bad. Kenneth Schmitz relied on this translation in his very useful book, At the Center of the Human Drama (CUA Press). This text, along with Rocco Buttiglione’s Karol Wojtyla, The Thought of the Man Who Because John Paul II, are excellent background sources on John Paul’s thought and its relation to twentieth century Neo-Scholastic thought and phenomenological ethics. I think, given the relative innocence of most students of the Catholic intellectual tradition in general and Catholic moral philosophy, let alone secular moral philosophy, that picking and choosing among texts is quite difficult. Unfortunately, there is no single work on the market today with a sustained analysis of his Lublin Lectures, although I plan to have one out soon."
I don't disagree with the importance of John Paul II to the development of Catholic Social Thought (and did not read Alison as doing so either). That does not mean, however, that having students read other sources in addition to his teachings risks the students dismissing his thought without fully appreciating it. Certainly it can't be said that no other voices are worthwhile and important to the development of the Church's thought. It is this that leads Alison (and several others whom I have read) to hesitate about overreliance on the Compendium.