The Academic Career of Pope John Paul II

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After his ordination, the Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow recognized the intellectual character of the young priest Father Wojtyła, who would later become Pope John Paul II. The archbishop assigned Karol further studies in Rome and concentrated his academics in the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Spanish mystics like St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avila. In the summer of 1948, Father Wojtyła returned to Poland.

Karol’s academic career in Rome was much more than the classroom and library. He had the chance to see historic churches, catacombs, and shrines, and meet hosts of other students from all over the world. Rome, with its Catholic universities, was a center of international activity.

It was here that the future pope received a valuable education in the fine art of Roman diplomacy. With clergy, bishops, ambassadors, professors, students, and cardinals from all over the world, Father Wojtyła was able to practice the many languages he knew from his younger days. These interactions served as a basis for the future pope, who, some would argue, was the most diplomatic pontiff the Holy See ever had.

During this period, Father Wojtyła still wrote poetry, prose, and plays. His most famous drama was Brother of Our God. This play, in a theatrical way, outlined his beliefs in the social doctrines of the Church. Later these theological ideas would become more concise and articulate in the various encyclicals that he wrote and addressed to the Universal Church.

John Paul II’s doctoral degrees

At the conclusion of his postgraduate studies, Father Wojtyła had defended his thesis on “evaluation of the possibility of founding a Christian ethic on the ethical system of Max Scheler.” This he did at his alma mater, Jagiellonian University. His was the last doctoral defense before the Communists closed the institution. All the while, Father Karol continued his work with young students, choirs, study groups, and retreats. He earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1948 from the Roman University of the Angelicum and a doctorate in sacred theology in 1953 from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.

In 1951, Father Wojtyła took another sabbatical in which he continued to study philosophy and theology. At this time, he began to develop his philosophy of man. Along with help from such greats as Dietrich von Hildebrand and Edith Stein (20th-century philosophers who taught in Germany and Austria before World War II — Stein was born a Jew, converted to Catholicism, and became a Carmelite nun before being sent to a Nazi death camp, and von Hildebrand escaped to New York City in 1940), Father Wojtyła started a new school of thought that became known as Christian phenomenology (a method of inquiry based on the premise that reality consists of objects and events as they are perceived or understood in human consciousness and not anything independent of human consciousness).

Becoming a professor and faculty member

Later, Father Wojtyła became professor of moral philosophy and social ethics at a seminary in Krakow and a professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin. He assumed the Chair of Ethics and lectured for 25 years before his election as pope in 1978. He became a commuter, shuttling between Lublin and Krakow on the overnight train to teach and counsel in one city and study in the other.

In Lublin, Father Wojtyła endured the harshness of the Communist regime. The government had already arrested the university’s rector (equivalent to chancellor or president) and nine priests on the faculty. As during World War II and the Nazi occupation, which lead to underground movements, Father Wojtyła joined professors who met secretly and became a nucleus of academics who sought ways to undermine Communism peacefully and philosophically.

During this period, Father Wojtyła continued his work on marriage preparation. He composed his thoughts into a book titled Love and Responsibility. This book was not merely a set of instructions for marriage, but a study on the vocation of marriage and sexual love that marriage entails. By explaining marital love and chastity, it also proved to be a valuable tool to counter the sexual revolution that plagued the West after World War II.

In his book, Father Wojtyła explained that human sexuality was good because sexual desire leads men and women into marriage. Chastity was explained as a virtue to love others as persons, not objects. These personal concepts helped to pave the way for his general teachings on man and woman as persons and not as impersonal objects, a view that was adopted by secular society as a whole in the 20th century.