Teachings of Pope John Paul II

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As Pope, John Paul II's most important role was to teach people about Roman Catholic Christianity. He wrote a number of important documents that many observers believe will have long-lasting influence on the Church.

A great achievement of John Paul II was the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which became an international best-seller. Its purpose, according to the Pope's Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum was to be "a statement of the Church's faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium." He declared "it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith" to "serve the renewal" of the Church.[1]

His first encyclical letters focused on the Triune God; the very first was on Jesus the Redeemer ("Redemptor Hominis"). He maintained this focus on God throughout his pontificate. Right after being elected as Pope, he told the cardinals who elected him that he saw that his main work was to implement the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, an important centrepiece of which is a universal call to holiness. This is the basis for his canonization of saints from all walks of life, as well as for establishing and supporting the personal prelature of Opus Dei, whose mission is to spread this call to laity and to secular priests through its association the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross.

Coat of Arms of Pope John Paul IIThe letter M is for Mary, Jesus' mother.
Coat of Arms of Pope John Paul II
The letter M is for Mary, Jesus' mother.

In his master plan for the new millennium, the Apostolic Letter At the beginning of the third millennium, ("Novo Millennio Ineunte") a "program for all times", he emphasised the importance of "starting afresh from Christ": "No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person." Thus, the first priority for the Church is holiness: "All Christian faithful...are called to the fullness of the Christian life." Christians, he writes, contradict this when they "settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity." He highlighted "the radical message of the gospels," whose demands should not be watered down. The "training in holiness calls for a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer." His last Encyclical is on the Holy Eucharist, which he says "contains the Church's entire spiritual wealth: Christ himself." Building on his master plan further, he emphasised the need to "rekindle amazement" on the Eucharist and to "contemplate the face of Christ."

In The Splendour of the Truth ("Veritatis Splendor"), a crucial papal encyclical on morality, he emphasised the dependence of man on God and his law ("Without the Creator, the creature disappears") and the "dependence of freedom on the truth." He warned that man "giving himself over to relativism and scepticism, goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself."

John Paul II also wrote extensively about workers and the social doctrine of the Church, which he discussed in three encyclicals and which the Vatican brought to the fore through the recently published Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Through his encyclicals, John Paul also talked about the dignity of women and the importance of the family for the future of humanity.

Other important documents include The Gospel of Life ("Evangelium Vitae"), Faith and Reason ("Fides et Ratio"), and Orientale Lumen ("Light of the East").

John Paul II was also considered to have halted the progressive efforts of Vatican II, becoming a standard-bearer for the conservative side of the Catholic Church. He continued his staunch opposition to contraceptive methods, abortion and homosexuality. His book Memory and Identity claimed that the push for same-sex marriage might be part of a "new ideology of evil which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man." However, he laid the groundwork to end the priestly celibacy requirement by welcoming many married Episcopal priests into the Church, who join those in the Eastern Rite already married.

John Paul II, as a writer of philosophical and theological thought, was characterised by his explorations in phenomenology. He is also known for his development of the theology of the body.

Pope John Paul II Pope John Paul II

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