Karol Wojtyla: The Challenge of the Enlightenment & The Death of Kant

The vast majority of Catholics simply do not understand a very serious truth about their own faith:  it fell to the Church to take up the challenge posed by the Enlightenment, namely, the nature, authority and scope of reason.  After the Second Vatican Council, the Church possessed a rich intellectual reserve (Romano Guardini, Henri De Lubac, John Henry Cardinal Newman . . . ) from which to address a most profound challenge, which only She was capable of handling.

The challenge was pursued throughout the life of the Church in its own members and institutions, but it fell to Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) to shape the public display of such a reserve.

It is ironic that the thought pursued by the fathers of the Enlightenment ended up being resolved by the Church under the guide of John Paul II.

The Fathers of the Enlightenment violently advocated the embrace and autonomy of the universality of reason.  This challenge had a powerful vanguard through the advances of science along with political protection among the Monarchies of Europe.  A most intractable problem indeed!  Nevertheless, the limitations of such thought began to show in the French Enlightenment and its violent love affair with equality as demonstrated in the French Revolution.  With the arrival of both Napoleon, the shoring up of Divine Rights by the Congress of Vienna and the arrival of political nihilism, anarchism in France and Italy, the Church began its arduous journey to shape its own political autonomy.

With the arrival of World War I and World War II, the complete destruction of Europe by the false classicism so advocated by the Enlightenment thinkers, the Church after the Second Vatican Council began to construct a final appeal to vanquish the intellectual challenge poised by the Enlightenment.

It fell to Karol Wojtyla to give the public shape of such an encounter.  It should surprise no one that this Pope took up the challenge.  His graduate studies in Poland was preparation for the arduous challenge laid down by Kant.  Once Pope, he quickly noticed the intellectual weakness of German Idealism in terms of sexual ethics, the body and politics.

For those Catholics not accustomed to either the philosophical or intellectual high wire act of Hume, Kant, Spinoza, Mill, Freud, Fiche, Shelling or Hegel, know this about your Church:  what Karol Wojtyla sought in vanquishing the fathers of the Enlightenment and the demands falsely claimed about the autonomy of reason is the conviction that such universality is a unity of thought not divorced from the demands of conscience!

About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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