I haven’t been paying much attention to the recent Pope John Paul II media craze, but a message from LitKicks member Tomcat (Penn Jacobs) is making me wonder if I shouldn’t take more of an interest.
Karol Wojtyla of Wadowice, Poland was a secular poet, playwright and essayist before he entered the priesthood. After leaving his hometown to study literature and philosophy at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, he fell in with a theatrical crowd and established himself as a key member of an acting company.
These were difficult times for an idealistic young man; he was 18 when Nazi Germany invaded his nation from the west, with the complicity of Joseph Stalin’s Russia to the east.
Theater companies and literary publishers had to go underground during the Nazi years, and had to remain undergound during the Soviet-dominated years that followed. Karol Wojtyla acted and wrote plays, and by all accounts had notable talent. But the experience of living in the center of World War II’s European heartland undoubtedly gave this young intellectual a special depth and wisdom, and he gradually began to replace his theatrical and literary connections with spiritual ones inside Poland’s newly supressed Catholic Church.
I’m not a Catholic (not even close), but I am intrigued at the idea of a truly literary pope, and I hope I will get a chance to read some of his original writings soon. I’m particularly interested in a philosophical quote Tomcat sent, remarking that it could just as well have been written by a Marx or Sartre or Camus:
The man of today seems ever to be under threat from what he produces, that is to say from the result of the work of his hands and, even more so, of the work of his intellect and the tendencies of his will. All too soon, and often in an unforeseeable way, what this manifold activity of man yields is not only subjected to ‘alienation’, in the sense that it is simply taken away from the person who produces it, but rather it turns against man himself, at least in part, through the indirect consequences of its effects returning on himself. It is or can be directed against him. This seems to make up the main chapter of the drama of present-day human existence in its broadest and universal dimension. Man therefore lives increasingly in fear. He is afraid that what he produces — not all of it, of course, or even most of it, but part of it and precisely that part that contains a special share of his genius and initiative — can radically turn against himself; he is afraid that it can become the means and instrument for an unimaginable self-destruction, compared with which all the cataclysms and catastrophes of history known to us seem to fade away. This gives rise to a question: Why is it that the power given to man from the beginning by which he was to subdue the earth turns against himself, producing an understandable state of disquiet, of conscious or unconscious fear and of menace, which in various ways is being communicated to the whole of the present-day human family and is manifesting itself under various aspects?
It’s a good question, and I’d like to hear your answers.