Prague, 16 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- On the eve of the 20th anniversary of his pontificate, Pope John Paul yesterday released his 13th encyclical, "Faith and Reason" ("Fides et Ratio"). Western press commentary assesses both the new encyclical and John Paul's achievements since 1978.
DAILY TELEGRAPH: 'Fides et Ratio' is a signpost
In an editorial today, Britain's Daily Telegraph says that "20 years on the throne of St. Peter have left John Paul frail and careworn, but his intellectual energies are undiminished." The paper writes: "Only a philosopher-pope could have written 'Fides et Ratio.' It is the work of man tormented by philosophy's betrayal of its true vocation --a plea for it to return from marginality."
The DT goes on to say: "John Paul has never hesitated to condemn intellectual and doctrinal errors, and here he takes on the zeitgeist vigorously. He denies that we are living in a post-metaphysical age; without metaphysics we are left with nihilism; and that way lies despair."
The editorial also says: "John Paul's letter is addressed to the curious of all faiths and none, the children of darkness as well as the children of light....The Pope's travels," the paper concludes, "have led him all over the globe, but he has always been bound for the same destination: restoring the dignity of many transfigured by Christ to proclaim the glory of God. 'Fides et Ratio' is a signpost on that extraordinary journey."
IRISH TIMES: Pope John Paul believes mankind has gone down a cultural impasse
Writing from Rome for the Irish Times today, Paddy Agnew says that because the papal letter has been "released in this anniversary week, commentators have tended to see it as the 'definitive' encyclical, summing up much of what has gone before both in the previous 12 encyclicals and in the whole thrust of Pope John Paul's teachings."
Agnew's analysis continues: "Central to the encyclical is Pope John Paul's belief that, on the eve of the new millennium, mankind has gone down a cultural impasse in which faith and reason, theology and philosophy have been separated....By the end of the encyclical, the Pope warns that, 'at the end of this century, one of our greatest temptations is to despair.'"
The analysis also says: "The Pope cites Confucius and Lao Tze, Tirthankara and Buddha, Homer, Euripides and Sophocles, Plato and Aristotle as men united in "the quest for meaning which has always compelled the human heart."
NEW YORK TIMES: 'Fides et Ratio' also signals some paradoxes
In her news analysis for the New York Times, Alessandra Stanley notes that "'Fides et Ratio' took 12 years to complete and is one of the 78-year-old Pope's most personal pronouncements to date: a crystallization of his own philosophical and theological thinking over a lifetime."
She writes further: "The encyclical, which argues that faith and reason are not incompatible, is one of the most ambitious of John Paul's pontificate, a sweeping philosophical treatise that condemns both atheism and its opposite extreme, 'fideism,' or exclusive reliance on faith. The Pope laments that the pursuit of truth through reason has been abandoned by modern philosophers, who question humanity's ability to know anything for sure, and by some theologians, who fear that reason leads to doubt."
The analysis continues: "'Fides et Ratio' also signals some of the paradoxes that define the papacy of John Paul, the longest of this century. A fervent anti-Communist who used his pulpit to help topple the Soviet Union, John Paul II has gone further than any other pope in calling for social justice and railing against the inequities of the capitalist system ."
LE MONDE: Karol Wojtyla succeeded in unhinging the communist bloc
In a commentary in the French daily Le Monde yesterday, Henri Tincq discusses the Pope's role in the collapse of European communism nine years ago. Tincq writes: "Armed with the uncompromising faith of the Polish people, this Pope succeeded, through the sheer force of his discourse, to unhinge the communist bloc. Sooner or later, the system in place behind the Iron Curtain would have collapsed, but Karol Wojtyla accelerated the process."
The Pope's effect on Central Eastern Europe was multiple, Tincq suggests: "He brought the 'Churches of Silence' (in the East) back into the concert of free and democratic voices. He rehabilitated history in the countries that had been deprived of it, speaking truth to regimes that falsified words and made lying a governing art."
The commentary adds: "After 1989, this man showed the same determination in fighting against resurgent nationalism in the former Yugoslavia....He condemned the 'idolatry' of ethnic or party origin...He spoke out, too, against (what he called) the 'culture of death' --which, for him, was an amalgam of war, terrorism and racist violence."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The Pope has exerted extraordinary influence on the course of the world
In a commentary in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Klaus Brill credits the Pope with having what he calls "the authority of a moral superpower." He writes: "He is a media star, one of the few personalities who has overcome all cultural barriers and is known throughout the world. Perhaps no pope before John Paul has reached so many people with his message..."
The commentary continues: "(The Pope) has exerted (extraordinary) influence on the course of a world that has experienced remarkable changes during his pontificate. ... Today the former General Wojciech Jaruzelski as well as the trade-union leader Lech Walesa credit him with preventing (an anti-Communist) revolution from turning into a blood-bath.....But his delight with the fall of Communism did not prevent the Pope from warning, soon after 1989, against the dangers of neo-liberal globalization, the inhuman consequences of 'savage capitalism' and the 'veneration of the market.' He is (also) deeply disappointed by the decline of Christian morality in his native Poland."
WIEZ: The Pope is the Moses of our day
The current issue of the Polish Catholic monthly Wiez pays tribute to the Pope by calling him "the Moses of our day for the Polish nation." But the magazine adds: "This Pope has in common with Moses that he is loved in Poland, he is listened to, but not necessarily obeyed."
Wiez explains that this rubric applies not only to "the religious who, having been freed from Communism, are in ever greater numbers dancing around the Golden Calf instead of moving on to a more profound Christianity....In fact, a large segment of religious and traditional circles in the Polish Church always regarded the Pope as a national hero, but overlooked all his other dimensions."
FINANCIAL TIMES: John Paul promulgates conservatism with repressive intolerance
A dissenting view on the Pope is provided today by Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens, who describes himself "as one brought up in the Church but now detached from its rituals." In a commentary entitled "A Tragic Saint," Stephens asks: "How is it...that a priest who commands such admiration can also provoke such despair among Catholic communicants? How is that one who speaks eloquently of human frailty can be so utterly convinced of his own righteousness?"
Stephens praises the Pope as "a tireless opponent to capital punishment and champion of human rights....But," he says, "what most troubles me about John Paul is not the instinctive conservatism of his pronouncements. It is the repressive intolerance with which he promulgates them."
The commentary also says: "Papal hostility toward contraception, sexual relations outside of marriage, divorce, homosexuality, abortion and a married priesthood is implacable. In John Paul's faith, these rules are absolutes. The more complicated realities of human relationships cannot intrude."
"Such attitudes," Stephens concludes, "have devastated support for the Church in Western Europe and North America. Its sorry state in once-Catholic countries --the Irish Republic, Portugal or Austria-- testifies to the tide of disillusion. Millions have simply walked away."