Karol Wojtyła

From 1920
 to 2005

Long before he became Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla (b. 1920) had identified the center of his life's work: The Christian defense of the human person. His defense of human liberty, properly understood, led to the spread of that same liberty behind the Iron Curtain. And his defense of human dignity was part of the same Christian vision. Papal biographer George Weigel sums up Karol Wojtyla's defense of the person, that lies at the heart of the liberal tradition:

As he had written to Henri de Lubac in 1968, Wojtyla believed that the crisis of modernity involved a “degradation, indeed … a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person.” Communism was one obvious, dangerous, and powerful expression of this crisis, as Nazism and fascism had been. But the dehumanization of the human world took place in other ways, and it could happen in free societies. Whenever another human being was reduced to an object for manipulation—by a manager, a shop foreman, a scientific researcher, a politician, or a lover—“the pulverization of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person” was taking place. What Wojtyla used to describe to his social ethics classes as “utilitarianism,” making “usefulness to me” the sole criterion of human relationships, was another grave threat to the human future. It was not a threat with nuclear weapons, secret police, and a Gulag archipelago, but it was dangerous, and part of the reason was that it was less obvious.

Challenging whatever “pulverizes” the unique dignity of every human person is the leitmotif that runs like a bright thread through the pontificate of John Paul II and gives it singular coherence. His papacy has been a one-act drama, although different adversaries have taken center stage at different moments in the script. The dramatic tension remains the same throughout: the tension between various false humanisms that degrade the humanity they claim to defend and exalt, and the true humanism to which the biblical vision of the human person is a powerful witness.

(From Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, 1999)