Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Was John Paul II a Thomist or a Phenomenologist?

by Douglas Flippen


Dr. Douglas Flippen poses the question: Was Pope John Paul II familiar with and influenced by the works of St. Thomas Aquinas? Flippen answers in the affirmative, and provides a chronological review of the evidence, contained primarily in the works of John Paul II himself, but also in the evaluations others have offered about his thought, in order to evaluate the influence of Thomism on the thought of John Paul II.

Larger Work

Faith & Reason


65 – 106

Publisher & Date

Christendom College, Front Royal, VA, Spring 2006


Every person has to appropriate reality for himself; that is, every person has to make reality his own through his knowing of it. To the extent that reality is one and the same for all, the reality that is known by each and every human being should be one and the same. One reason why we do not all know reality in one and the same way is that it is not always that easy to come to understand the world that surrounds us. Another problem is that what we want to be true often gets in the way of our ability to clearly see what confronts us. And then there are always the problems of lack of time and ability.

Because of the difficulty of coming to know reality clearly and deeply, we often depend on those who have preceded us, especially if they have a reputation for depth and breadth of understanding. But to whom shall we go? The great thinkers often differ among themselves about the nature of reality. And just as we depend on one great thinker or another to guide us, so also they depended on those who preceded them. Here again, in their search for guides to understand reality, different thinkers did not agree on whom to choose. St. Augustine, for example, is known as a Platonist, whereas St. Thomas Aquinas is known as an Aristotelian.

It is somewhat easier for us at the present time to choose a guide to follow since the Catholic Church has, beginning some time after the death of St. Thomas Aquinas, urged men to study his thought in a special way. It is not because the Church thinks that the whole truth and nothing but the truth is to be found in the thought of St. Thomas and in no one else. That would be the equivalent of making Thomas divine in nature. Rather, among fallible guides to the truth about the nature of reality, St. Thomas is regarded as the safest, the surest, the deepest and the most comprehensive. The reason for choosing St. Thomas as the best guide to learn about the nature of reality is that he took the deepest and most basic aspect of reality, the act of existing, and made it the most basic aspect of his thought about the nature of reality.

Being the stubborn, willful and creative creatures that we are, relatively few persons have heeded the repeated call of the Church to diligently study the thought of St. Thomas. Many priests and bishops likely know little about his thought. Does this judgment apply also to the thought of Pope John Paul II? Such a question is important since the late pope was clearly a philosopher in his own right.

The question is fairly easily answered. It is not difficult to demonstrate, based on what is known about his life, that Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II, not only studied the thought of St. Thomas over an extended period of time, but also thought highly of Thomas and urged others to study him as well. He was particularly struck by Thomas' metaphysical view of reality.

What I intend to do in this essay is to review the evidence, contained primarily in the works of John Paul II himself, but also in the evaluations others have offered about his thought, in order to evaluate the influence of Thomism on the thought of John Paul II. The order I will follow is chronological. In this way we will be able to see the manner in which the Thomism of the pope begins, develops, and deepens. We will also be able to see the way in which he appropriated insights gained from others, especially from the phenomenology of Max Scheler, whose view of the overall nature of reality and of man John Paul II could not accept. A test of the way in which phenomenology and metaphysics are able to be combined in the thought of the pope will be what he comes to think of human consciousness. We will take an all too brief look at the place it ought to occupy in our view of man and will consider what accommodations, if any, need to be made to the traditional metaphysical view of Thomas in order to include consciousness within the being of man.

Early Encounters with the Thought of St. Thomas

Karol Wojtyla seems to have begun his study of Thomistic metaphysics, the influence of which remained with him for the rest of his life, in the fall of 1942, in the underground seminary in Nazi occupied Poland. The textbook in metaphysics had been written by a Father Kazimierz Wais.1 It is worth quoting the pope's comments on his initial encounter with Thomistic metaphysics. In response to questions put to him by a Polish confrere a few days after being made pope, Karol Wojtyla replied:

I would say that in my life I've had two great philosophical revelations — Thomism and Scheler. So it all really began with Wais's book . . .

It was Father Klosak who first gave me Wais and told me to study him for an exam. For a long time I couldn't cope with the book, and I actually wept over it. It was not until two months later, in December and January, that I began to make something of it, but in the end it opened up a whole new world to me. It showed me a new approach to reality, and made me aware of questions that I had only dimly perceived. St. Thomas gave me answers to many problems.2

After being ordained at the very beginning of November, 1946, Father Wojtyla left for Rome to study at the Pontifical Roman Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, which was also called simply the Angelicum, after St. Thomas, the Angelic Doctor. Father Wojtyla was in attendance from mid-November 1946 to June of 1948. He studied and wrote his first doctoral thesis under the guidance of the famous traditional Thomist Father Garrigou-Lagrange. What Pope John Paul II thought of the Angelicum and of Father Garrigou-Lagrange is contained in his determination that Father Malinski should study there as well:

I've made up my mind about this, and I think you should study at the Angelicum. It did me a lot of good and I think it will you, especially as you are a bit of a left-winger in theology. They'll give you the real St. Thomas there, not just Thomism. I'm sure you'll find it a good thing . . .

Unfortunately my old teacher Garrigou-Lagrange has gone, but the Dominicans are good at getting first-class people from all over the world.3

It seems likely that at this time Father Wojtyla would have become more aware of different approaches to the thought of St. Thomas. The reason for this is not only the fact that he was studying at the Angelicum with Father Garrigou-Lagrange, called a traditionalist Thomist for his approach to Thomas through the tradition of the commentaries of Cajetan and John of St. Thomas, but also because Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson, the two most famous Thomists of the twentieth century, had been active in promoting the thought of Thomas since the 1920s, and this would hardly have escaped notice at the Angelicum. Both Gilson and Maritain, but especially Gilson, could be called historic or existential Thomists because of their interest in recovering the authentic thought of Thomas and because of their conviction that the historic thought of Thomas centered itself on the act of existing as being at the heart of reality. In addition, Father Wojtyla lived at the Belgian college in Rome and the center for transcendental Thomism happened to be at Louvain in Belgium. Transcendental Thomism is so called because its approach to the thought of St. Thomas is influenced by the transcendental system of philosophy of Immanuel Kant.4

Back in Poland, Father Wojtyla's second assignment as a parish priest was at St. Florian's in Krakow. While at St. Florian's in 1949, Father Wojtyla formed a group of students from the Jagiellonian University to read the Summa of St. Thomas in Latin.5 After earning a second doctorate with a thesis on the ethics of the phenomenologist Max Scheler, Father Wojtyla was appointed in 1954 to the philosophy department of the Catholic University of Lublin.

The Catholic University of Lublin, known also as the KUL from the first initials of its Polish name, was founded in 1918, suspended during the Nazi occupation, and allowed to function with restrictions under Communist rule.6 The "Faculty of Philosophy was established in 1946."7 Father, and then Bishop, Wojtyla lectured at Lublin from 1954 until 1961. In this period of time his understanding and appreciation of the metaphysical approach of St. Thomas increased. This was due not only to his own continuing work on St. Thomas, but also to his interaction with a colleague named Stefan Swiezawski. As George Weigel notes in his biography of John Paul II, "Through faculty colleagues at KUL, and especially Stefan Swiezawski, Wojtyla had his first serious encounter with Etienne Gilson's historical rereading of Thomas Aquinas and with Jacques Maritain's modern Thomistic reading of Catholic social ethics."8 During this period, Father Wojtyla published a number of essays, many of them taking into account the thought of St. Thomas and comparing it favorably with modern thinkers. And yet there is a change of tone in his treatment of the thought of St. Thomas during this period. In the beginning, his praise of Thomas seems unqualified. Toward the end we find criticisms of a certain lack in the approach of Thomas and an emphasis on a positive contribution coming from the phenomenological movement.

In an essay published between 1955 and 1957 and belonging to what are called the Lublin lectures, Father Wojtyla writes: "[W]e should consider the view of the human act developed by Thomas Aquinas an adequate interpretation of ethical experience."9 In another article written close to the same time, "The Problem of the Separation of Experience from the Act in Ethics," the endorsement of Thomas is even stronger: "At this point I am convinced that the ethics of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas is based on a proper relation to experience and, moreover, that their view of the ethical act is the only proper and adequate description of ethical experience."10 In an essay also written in the same period of 1955-1957, Father Wojtyla contrasts the Thomistic approach to ethics with the approach of Kant and Scheler. Thomas approaches ethics by way of good understood as perfection in being. Hence the ethics of Thomas is seen as closely connected to that philosophy of being which so impressed Father Wojtyla about St. Thomas. Kant and Scheler consider man not as a being, but as a consciousness. The norms and values which play a prominent role in the ethics of Kant and Scheler respectively are seen merely as contents of consciousness and not as integrally related to real acting persons. He compares the two approaches as follows:

[B]oth the Kantian norm and the Schelerian value ended up being suspended in a vacuum, so to speak, because the complete human being is a being and not just a consciousness. The perfectionism that arises from the realistic assumptions of the philosophy of being allows us to perceive the very roots of both the norms and the values of the integral human being. And therein lies its inviolable position in ethics.11

In this essay, Father Wojtyla sides with the philosophy of being of St. Thomas, arguing that it provides a sound basis for ethics. The philosophy of consciousness, so characteristic of modern philosophy, is criticized. This same evaluation is expressed in an essay from 1959 comparing Thomas and Scheler with respect to how they provide a basis for the moral norm:

[I] n the light of my analysis of the views of these two thinkers, St. Thomas Aquinas and Max Scheler, I am led to conclude that the concept of a norm is justified in a system of moral philosophy that proceeds from an existential view of the good and is not really justified in a system of the philosophy of values.12

In 1960, Bishop Wojtyla published Love and Responsibility, a work on the love between man and woman that seems to have influenced Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae. While there are a number of references to particular points in the ethics of St. Thomas in the work, there is not in this work the same emphatic endorsement of St. Thomas combined with a rejection of the approach of Kant or Scheler. We do find, however, an endorsement of the approach of Aristotle and St. Thomas. Father Wojtyla will never turn his back on the soundness of the Thomistic approach: "In all that they wrote on ethics the standpoint of Aristotle and St. Thomas is one of unqualified perfectionism. In this they are at one with the fundamental trend of the Gospels . . ."13 And a little further on he adds: "We see clearly here how the moral order is bound up with the existential order, the order of nature. Sexual morality is deeply rooted in the laws of nature."14 But when phenomenology and the metaphysical approach of Thomas are compared in this work, they are presented as complementary methodologies. The phenomenological approach comes first, describing some aspect of human experience. The metaphysical approach is then needed to interpret and more deeply understand what has been described. The topic on which the two approaches are compared is sexual shame:

We see then that a proper understanding of sexual shame gives us certain guidelines for sexual morality generally. Mere description of the phenomenon, even if it is as perceptive as that of the phenomenologists, is not sufficient here — a metaphysical interpretation of it is also necessary. Sexual ethics may then find an experimental point of departure in the feeling of shame.15

The point is not that Bishop Wojtyla has suddenly decided that there is something of worth about the tendency of the phenomenologists to carefully describe what is given in human experience. He acknowledged that from the beginning of his essays. The point is that Bishop Wojtyla seems to have begun to employ the careful phenomenological description of human experience more extensively. He seems more concerned to see how far such description will carry us and less concerned to criticize the problems phenomenologists encounter from their lack of a metaphysics.

In an essay on "Thomistic Personalism" dating from 1961, we find a criticism both of the modern tendency to hypostatize consciousness, as if a person could be treated as pure consciousness, and also of the failure in the thought of St. Thomas to take consciousness seriously. It is not as if St. Thomas failed to recognize human consciousness and self-consciousness. Indeed, Bishop Wojtyla sees that St. Thomas has a more correct view of the place of consciousness in a human being than do most modern thinkers. Speaking initially of the modern hypostatizing or absolutizing of consciousness, he writes:

And this is perhaps the most characteristic feature of such philosophy: its subjectivism, its absolutizing of the subjective element, namely lived experience, together with consciousness as a permanent component of such experience . . . This is a completely different treatment from the one we find in St. Thomas. According to St. Thomas, consciousness and self-consciousness are something derivative, a kind of fruit of the rational nature that subsists in the person, a nature crystalized in a unitary rational and free being, and not something subsistent in themselves. If consciousness and self-consciousness characterize the person, then they do so only in the accidental order, as derived from the rational nature on the basis of which the person acts.16

But Thomas is then faulted for not seeing how much an analysis of consciousness can contribute to an understanding of the uniqueness of human beings:

We can see here how very objectivistic St. Thomas' view of the person is. It almost seems as though there is no place in it for an analysis of consciousness and self-consciousness as totally unique manifestations of the person as a subject. . . . Thus St. Thomas gives us an excellent view of the objective existence and activity of the person, but it would be difficult to speak in his view of the lived experiences of the person.18

What development or shift, if any, has occurred in Wojtyla's thought? There is no backing away from the validity of the metaphysical analysis of reality found in St. Thomas. If it is a matter of comparing the philosophy of being to be found in St. Thomas with the philosophy of consciousness to be found in modern philosophers, then the philosophy of being is handed the palm of victory as the more adequate analysis of reality and of human beings in general. Indeed, Thomas even has a more adequate analysis of the place of consciousness in a human being, since consciousness is always the consciousness of a person and is not something subsisting in its own right. A human being is not a subsistent consciousness. But now Bishop Wojtyla decides that something of value is to be found in the modern approach and is found to be lacking in the approach of St. Thomas. Consciousness is something unique about human beings and this unique element is heavily focused on in modern thought and receives scant attention in the thought of St. Thomas. What is the reason? It is as though the concern of St. Thomas is primarily to explain, whereas the concern of many moderns is primarily to describe. Describing comes naturally before explaining. Is it possible that if one is in a hurry to explain reality, one may miss one or more elements that can be had only by way of careful description? Without answering this question immediately, we can say that what is new in the thought of Bishop Wojtyla is an increased appreciation of what can be gained by a description, as opposed to an explanation, of what is immanently contained within human experience. The phenomenological approach excels in description; the metaphysical approach excels in explanation. Hence more attention for some time to come will be paid by Bishop Wojtyla to what can be had via the phenomenological approach.

From 1962 to 1965 Bishop Wojtyla attended the Second Vatican Council. In 1965 another article appeared in which there is another contrasting of the older Thomistic approach to ethics with the newer approach which pays closer attention to what can be taken out of what is immanently contained within moral experience by a descriptive or phenomenological method. In this article, entitled "The Problem of Catholic Sexual Ethics," we find the following contrast of the two approaches:

To this day, the teleological view has not lost any of its metaphysical value, especially as far as theology is concerned. It would be impossible, however, not to detect a certain withdrawal from it on the part of contemporary thought. This withdrawal is caused, on the one hand, by a new, more critical attitude toward metaphysics, and, on the other — and this, in my opinion, is the more important cause — by a more basic grasp of moral facts themselves, by a reestablished contact with moral experience. In connection with this, ethics is pursued more as normative speculation than as teleological speculation.19

Besides a consideration of how a careful description of consciousness can add to our understanding of human subjectivity and of what is unique about human beings, we find here a conviction that a more careful analysis of human experience, especially moral experience, can enrich ethics by enriching our understanding of how norms play a part in moral life.

Even though there is here an emphasis on a more careful grasp of the moral facts contained in our experience, Wojtyla remains convinced that norms cannot be understood if the person is seen as a pure consciousness: "This whole norm-generating aspect disappears when we conceive the person in a totally subjectivistic way as pure consciousness."20 This is because norms can only be justified in and through a philosophy of being that grasps "the order that governs the world."21 This order itself is understood only in and through a grasp of the essences or natures of things and how they are related.22

In an essay entitled "Ethics and Moral Theology," dating from 1967, we find Bishop Wojtyla again noting with appreciation what can be gained from a closer look at the modern philosophy of consciousness. The two elements already noted — namely an approach to ethics based on norms and an enhanced understanding of what it is to be human based on an emphasis on consciousness — are presented together:

a) 'Getting to the bottom' of morality by explaining it on the basis of the ultimate end has given way to explaining and justifying morality on the basis of values and norms. We are concerned today not so much with determining the ultimate end of moral conduct as with giving an ultimate justification of the norms of morality.23

b) The second element is anthropology. Together with the emergence of the philosophy of consciousness and the development of the cognitive tools proper to it (e.g. the phenomenological method), new conditions are taking shape for enriching the concept of the human person in terms of the whole subjective, 'conscious' aspect, which had in some ways been leveled in metaphysical 'naturalism'.24

It is not at all clear that he has changed his mind about how norms are to be justified. Indeed, he admits that "a search for the ultimate justification of moral norms may lead us straight to the ultimate end."25 And from what he has written elsewhere, it seems he thinks an appeal to man's ultimate end is needed in order to justify moral norms. The point is simply that ethics can be approached by way of an emphasis on the norms that can be drawn from an analysis of moral experience itself. The matter is one of a change of method, or, rather, of the supplementation of a traditional method with a more modern approach, for the sake of a more adequate presentation of moral theology. He sees the "need to supplement the 'theology of ultimate realities,' which corresponds more to the teleological treatment of moral theology, with the moral aspect of a 'theology of earthly realities,' which corresponds more to the normative treatment of moral theology."26 There is here no question of supplanting the metaphysical approach with a phenomenological approach. The goal being aimed at is a deeper understanding of the contents of moral experience. If supplementing the traditional goal of explaining morality in terms of ultimate ends by a modern goal of a more complete explicating of the contents of moral experience itself will give us that deeper understanding, then the Bishop is in favor of it.

The Acting Person

In 1969 The Acting Person appeared in its Polish version. Little seems to have changed in Cardinal Wojtyla's thinking on the relative merits of the metaphysical versus the phenomenological ways of doing philosophy. What seems new and distinctive is a deepened understanding of consciousness and the role it plays in trying to understand man. Consider how phenomenology and metaphysics are related to one another in the following parenthetical statement: "(At this point phenomenology seems to infringe boldly upon metaphysics, and it is here that its reliance upon metaphysics is most needed; for phenomena themselves can visualize a thing clearly enough, but they are incapable of a sufficient explanation of themselves.)"27 Once again, phenomenology is intent on seeing or intuiting what is immediately given to one to know. Consequent on that, it describes what is seen. But reasoning, especially of the metaphysical sort, is needed if one is to arrive at any complete account of the causes of a thing. Phenomenology is not to be despised since, if pursued with some diligence, it enables one to provide a more complete foundation for reasoning by giving a more complete account of what is immediately given in experience. That this is Cardinal Wojtyla's position comes out in the following:

[I]t seems however that we have gone much farther than traditional philosophy in its conception of man, inasmuch as in our analyses we have accumulated sufficient evidence of the spirituality of man in the descriptive phenomenological sense which also led, even if only indirectly, to the ontological level. In the course of gaining an insight into the transcendence of the person, we saw how the spirituality of the human being is manifested.28

And yet there are aspects of human nature that do not seem attainable and able to be elucidated by the phenomenological method alone. One example is the relation between soul and body: "Intuition indeed appears to pave the way for, and lead us near to, an understanding of the soul-body relation, but as we have mentioned, it does not allow us to grasp this relation. We may approach it solely in terms of metaphysical categories."29 From this we can see that there is little change in Cardinal Wojtyla's evaluation of the relative importance of the descriptive and metaphysical approaches in philosophy. They are not in opposition to one another because they complement one another. The phenomenological-descriptive method naturally comes first. He uses it more than he thinks it was used in the ancient and medieval periods. But it does no more than carefully prepare the way for the causal-metaphysical method so heavily used by the older tradition, especially by St. Thomas.

And yet there is a growing conviction on the Cardinal's part that the subjectivity so characteristic of man, so definitive of his interior life, can only be grasped and appreciated by way of the modern phenomenological approach. He begins The Acting Person by saying that:

The inspiration to embark upon this study came from the need to objectivize that great cognitive process which at its origin may be defined as the experience of man; this experience, which man has of himself, is the richest and apparently the most complex of all experiences accessible to him. Man's experience of anything outside himself is always associated with the experience of himself, and he never experiences anything external without having at the same time the experience of himself.30

No matter what we know, we are also concomitantly aware of ourselves as knowing it. This is what is unique about our experience of ourselves. We may know other persons and we may know ourselves in the same objective way that we know other persons, but our concomitant awareness of object known, act of knowing, and the subject in whom the knowing occurs only focuses on ourselves. Ancient and medieval philosophy, which Cardinal Wojtyla consistently calls the philosophy of being, focused on the objective knowing of things and of the self. Modern philosophy, which he calls the philosophy of consciousness, has been very concerned with that concomitant awareness of the self as knowing things. The term "philosophy of consciousness" comes from the fact that the concomitant awareness of self as knowing something is also called consciousness or self-consciousness.

Consciousness or self-awareness is oriented to what is within. Objective acts of knowing, on the other hand, even when focused on the self, treat their objects as though independent and outer. What happens if objective acts of knowing are treated as if they are the same as acts of awareness? One possibility is that cognitive acts of awareness of things will be taken to focus on actual interior objects treated as if they were external. Even if this is not an actual explanation for the idealistic tendencies of modern philosophy, it is worth considering. Are acts of awareness or consciousness the same as acts of knowing things, with the only difference being that the objects of awareness always seem to be internal insofar as they always seem focused on the self? Is one of the reasons for the great divide between the philosophy of being and the philosophy of consciousness that consciousness and regular acts of cognition have not been correctly understood in their interrelations? A conviction that this is so seems to be one of the motivating factors of The Acting Person.31

If, as Cardinal Wojtyla thinks, inward facing consciousness and outward facing object-oriented cognitive acts have not been rightly related to one another, then we must ask how he understands the relation between the two. Since his understanding of normal object-oriented acts of knowing is not unusual, but his understanding of consciousness is, we must focus more on his understanding of consciousness. He contrasts the two functions of objective knowing and consciousness when he asks himself in what sense consciousness is to be understood:

It lies in the essence of cognitive acts performed by man to investigate a thing, to objectivize it intentionally, and in this way to comprehend it. In this sense cognitive acts have an intentional character, since they are directed toward the cognitive object; for they find in it the reason for their existence as acts of comprehension and knowledge.32

The intentionality of cognitive acts simply refers to the way they tend toward, or intend, their objects. This is the object-oriented character of acts of knowing. He then continues:

The same does not seem to apply to consciousness. In opposition to the classic phenomenological view, we propose that the cognitive reason for the existence of consciousness and of the acts proper to it does not consist in the penetrative apprehension of the constitutive elements of the object, in its objectivation leading to the constitution of the object. Hence the intentionality that is characteristic for cognitive acts — to which we owe the formation, and an understanding, of the objective reality on any of its levels — does not seem to be derived from acts of consciousness. These are not essentially intentional by nature, even though all that is the object of our cognition, comprehension, and knowledge is also the object of our consciousness. But while comprehension and knowledge contribute in an intentional way to the formation of the object — it is in this that consists the inherent dynamism of cognizing — consciousness as such is restricted to mirroring what has already been cognized. Consciousness is, so to speak, the understanding of what has been constituted and comprehended. The purport of the preceding remarks is that the intrinsic cognitive dynamism, the very operation of cognition, does not belong to consciousness.33

The point here is somewhat difficult to understand. What is clear is that Cardinal Wojtyla is taking the unusual position that consciousness, or acts of awareness of what is being known and of our knowing it, is not intentional in the way cognitive acts are. What is difficult is that he admits that consciousness is in one sense as object-oriented as are acts of knowing. Yet he claims that there is enough of a difference in the way that acts of knowing and acts of consciousness are object-oriented to say that the one is intentional and the other really is not. What is the difference? The difference seems to consist in the dynamic, object forming or constituting nature of acts of knowing versus the passive, object mirroring or reflecting nature of acts of conscious awareness of what is being known.

One thing that makes this position somewhat difficult to maintain is that in some sense consciousness is obviously cognitive in nature, i.e. it is a knowing of knowable objects. And yet, even as he admits this, he emphasizes the passive character of consciousness:

Although it is true to say that in the ultimate analysis the function of consciousness is cognitive, this statement describes its nature only in a very general way; for in this function consciousness seems to be only a reflection, or rather a mirroring, of what happens in man and of his acting, of what he does and how he does it.34

And yet consciousness is not purely passive, for to it the Cardinal attributes also "the specific quality of penetrating and illuminating whatever becomes in any way man's cognitive possession."35 And then, lest we should think this penetrating and illuminating is like regular acts of knowing, he quickly adds:

(But such penetrative illumination is not tantamount to the active understanding of objects and, subsequently, to the constituting of their meanings.) If we are to keep to this description, the penetrative illumination is rather like keeping objects and their cognitive meanings "in the light," or "in the actual field of consciousness.36

At this point one might wonder whether consciousness is a separate power of knowing within human beings, since it is and is not like the knowing of objects according to Cardinal Wojtyla. He hastens to assure us that consciousness is "not a separate and self-contained reality,"37 but rather is "the subjective content of the being and acting that is conscious, the being and acting proper to man."38 Not only is consciousness "not the 'substantive' subject of the acts of consciousness," neither is it a faculty or a power.39 Then what is it? It is nothing other than acts of awareness: " . . . from what was already said of the nature of the consciousness it is clear that it is entirely dissolved in its own acts and in their specific character of 'being aware.'"40 Consciousness, then, is a collection of acts of awareness. These acts of awareness are cognitive in nature in that they are of objects. But they are not like normal acts of knowing insofar as they are not actively intending and constituting knowable things as objects known. Instead of seeming to pass out of the knower into a world of objects known, acts of consciousness seem to passively receive the things known as well as our acts of knowing them into ourselves as the knowing subject, thus emphasizing our subjectivity, our interior life, our experience of reality:

. . . [I]t is not only cognitively that man enters into the world of other men and objects and even discovers himself there as one of them: he has also as his possession all this world in the image mirrored by consciousness, which is a factor in his innermost, most personal life. For consciousness not only reflects but also interiorizes in its own specific manner what it mirrors, thus encapsulating or capturing it in the person's ego.41

This interiorizing function of consciousness, by which what is mirrored or reflected is bound up with the one who is experiencing himself as the one knowing and the one reflecting what he knows, is given a new name. It is called the reflexive function of consciousness.

The reflexive function of consciousness makes consciousness like regular acts of knowing in another way. While consciousness in its passive mirroring or reflecting function is not said to actively constitute anything, in the way acts of knowing constitute objects as known, the reflexive function of consciousness does constitute something. It constitutes experience as something uniquely subjective. The difference between the reflective and reflexive functions of consciousness, understood as a collection of acts of awareness, is laid out as follows:

. . . [R]eflection and reflectiveness are of themselves insufficient when it comes to constituting an experience. This necessitates a special turning back upon the subject, and it is to this turn that we owe, along with experience, the emphasized subjectiveness of the experiencing ego. It is this particular mode of the constitutive function as proper to consciousness that we define as 'reflexive,' whereby we mean that it directs everything back upon the subject.42

It is by means of his analysis of consciousness and its two functions that Cardinal Wojtyla tries to solve a problem that has plagued a number of modern philosophers, namely, how can I ever grasp myself as a knowing subject, which I seem to do, if I turn myself into the object known every time I try to know myself? Cardinal Wojtyla allows the normal intentional acts of knowing to know the self or subject as object. At the same time, consciousness is doing two things: it is mirroring or reflecting my knowing myself as object and it is also somehow referring my knowing myself as object back to myself as the knowing subject. In this way, via consciousness functioning reflexively, I experience myself as subject knowing myself as an object. He lays out the elements involved and the importance of the distinctions involved when he writes:

. . . [I]t is one thing to be the subject, another to be cognized (that is, objectivized) as the subject, and a still different thing to experience one's self as the subject of one's own acts and experiences. (The last distinction we owe to the reflexive function of consciousness.) This discrimination is of tremendous import for all our further analyses, which we shall have to make in our efforts to grasp the whole dynamic reality of the acting person and to account for the subjectiveness that is given to us in experience.43

It seems that it is this matter of experiencing oneself as the subject of one's own acts and experiences that will be referred to as "lived experience." References to lived experience will become more frequent and its nature will become a crucial question in a short period of time in Cardinal Wojtyla's work.

In the same year as The Acting Person was published, namely 1969, Cardinal Wojtyla delivered a short paper entitled "The Human Person and Natural Law." It was published in 1970. In this essay Cardinal Wojtyla is investigating a supposed conflict between the person and the natural law. This leads him to examine two different meanings of nature. According to one meaning of nature, which he attributes first to the phenomenalists and tentatively, but later more clearly, to the phenomenologists, there is a conflict between the person and the natural law. According to the other meaning of nature, which is called the metaphysical one, and which he attributes to the Thomistic school, there is no conflict between person and natural law. He clearly identifies himself with the Thomistic school when he writes: "We in the Thomistic school, the school of 'perennial philosophy,' are accustomed to primarily or exclusively one meaning — nature in the metaphysical sense . . . "44 Of course this entails separating himself from what he presented as the phenomenological interpretation of nature.

In 1974 an article entitled "The Personal Structure of Self-Determination" appeared. In it Cardinal Wojtyla is again combining the phenomenological and metaphysical approaches to arrive at a deeper understanding of man. In this essay his love of St. Thomas is very much in evidence, since it is clear that he is interested in uncovering the sources in human experience from which St. Thomas derived a deep understanding of how the will functions in human beings:

I believe, however, that, with the aid of the comprehensive experience of the human being and human action, we can more fully apprehend the dynamism of the will and in this way come closer to the complete view handed down by St. Thomas. It is precisely the reality of self-determination that brings this to light.45

Even though the descriptive approach proper to phenomenology will help to uncover the contents of our experience of our own willing, yet the explanation of the act of will and what it does to the human being who performs acts of willing can only be had via the metaphysical method:

By virtue of self-determination, I experience in the relatively most immediate way that I am a person. Of course, the path from this experience to an understanding that would qualify as a complete theory of the person must lead through metaphysical analysis. Still, experience is the indispensable beginning of this path, and the lived experience of self-determination seems to be the nucleus of this beginning.46

The complementary relation of the two methods, called phenomenological and metaphysical, and the overall aim of a deeper understanding of the thought of St. Thomas comes out strongly at the end of the essay:

I have attempted . . . in this short presentation, to stress the very real need for a confrontation of the metaphysical view of the person that we find in St. Thomas and in the traditions of Thomistic philosophy with the comprehensive experience of the human being. Such a confrontation will throw more light on the cognitive sources from which the Angelic Doctor derived his metaphysical view.47

Subjectivity, Phenomenology, and Thomism

Up to this point, we have not encountered any clear evidence that would enable one to argue that Cardinal Wojtyla at some point ceased to be a Thomist. He has gone from a strong defense of the adequacy of the thought of Aristotle and St. Thomas to a supplementing of their thought with what can be gained from the descriptive and intuitive approach to human experience characteristic of phenomenology. He has come to emphasize the value of an exploration of consciousness for a deeper understanding of the subjectivity of the human person. This is something he did not find in Thomas. He was stimulated to investigate by his reading of modern thinkers, especially Kant and Scheler. But this is by way of supplementing, not disagreeing with, what he found in Aristotle and Thomas. In 1975, however, he published an article which seems to bring him into conflict in a minor way with the metaphysics of Aristotle and Thomas. The article is entitled "Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being." The point to the article is that the subjectivity, or consciousness, or lived experience, of the human person cannot be explained by the ten categories of Aristotle and St. Thomas. To explain consciousness by the ten categories would be to reduce it to something other than itself. The Cardinal thinks that human subjectivity is sui generis, that is, it is something so of its own kind that it cannot be explained by some other aspect of being. This would mean that the ten categories of being would not be adequate to explain human beings. It would also mean that the explanation St. Thomas gave of human knowledge, and especially of self-knowledge, was not adequate. One question worth pursuing in this essay is, even if Cardinal Wojtyla is right (and I am convinced that he is not), would he be a non-Thomist for holding such a position? Before answering, let us consider his argument.

I am convinced that the line of demarcation between the subjectivistic (idealistic) and objectivistic (realistic) views in anthropology and ethics must break down and is in fact breaking down on the basis of the experience of the human being. This experience automatically frees us from pure consciousness as the subject conceived and assumed a priori and leads us to the full concrete existence of the human being, to the reality of the conscious subject. With all the phenomenological analyses in the realm of that assumed subject (pure consciousness) now at our disposal, we can no longer go on treating the human being exclusively as an objective being, but we must also somehow treat the human being as a subject in the dimension in which the specifically human subjectivity of the human being is determined by consciousness.48

Even though he thinks that modern thinkers erred in treating consciousness as if it were a subject or agent in its own right, yet he thinks that their investigations into consciousness itself brought valuable contributions to our understanding of human beings. The ancient and medieval thinkers did not deny this aspect of the person; they simply left this area of investigation in an undeveloped state. He articulates his claim as follows:

Traditional Aristotelian anthropology was based, as we know, on the definition . . . homo est animal rationale . . . [T]he definition is constructed in such a way that it excludes — when taken simply and directly — the possibility of accentuating the irreducible in the human being. It implies — at least at first glance — a belief in the reducibility of the human being to the world. The reason for maintaining such reducibility has always been the need to understand the human being. This type of understanding could be defined as cosmological.49

It could also be defined as objectivistic since it treats the human being as an objective being.

Subjectivity, on the other hand, is, as it were, a term proclaiming that the human being's proper essence cannot be totally reduced to and explained by the proximate genus and specific difference. Subjectivity is, then, a kind of synonym for the irreducible in the human being. If there is an opposition here, it is not between objectivism and subjectivism, but only between two philosophical . . . methods of treating the human being: as an object and as a subject. At the same time, we must not forget that the subjectivity of the human person is also something objective.50

But even though the philosophical tradition that grew out of the Aristotelian approach may have approached the human being as an object, the Cardinal does not think that Aristotle's definition of man as a rational animal demands that we treat man as an object, i.e., as a being lacking in subjectivity:

I should also emphasize that the method of treating the human being as an object does not result directly from the Aristotelian definition itself, nor does it belong to the metaphysical conception of the human being in the Aristotelian tradition . . . Still, the traditional view of the human being as a person . . . expressed the individuality of the human being as a substantial being with a rational . . . nature, rather than the uniqueness of the subjectivity essential to the human being as a person. Thus the Boethian definition mainly marked out the 'metaphysical terrain' — the dimension of being — in which personal human subjectivity is realized, creating, in a sense, a condition for 'building upon' this terrain on the basis of experience.51

So the Aristotelian and Boethian, and, by implication, the Thomistic, definition provides a metaphysical foundation for understanding human subjectivity, but it does not build on it.

If modern investigations into consciousness enable us to build on the Aristotelian foundation, the question remains whether the building brings us into any conflict with the foundation. How do we construct the building of human subjectivity on the foundation of man as a rational animal?

The category to which we must go in order to do this 'building' seems to be that of lived experience. This is a category foreign to Aristotle's metaphysics . . . [W]hen the dynamic reality of the human being is interpreted in Aristotelian categories, there is in each case (including in the case of agere [acting] and pati [being acted on]) an aspect not directly apprehended by such a metaphysical interpretation or reduction, namely, the aspect of lived experience as the irreducible, as the element that defies reduction.52

His point is that lived experience, or, in other words, human subjectivity and the interior life of consciousness, cannot be explained in terms of the traditional metaphysical categories of acting and being acted upon. It is precisely the mirroring and reflexive functions of consciousness, which interiorize my actions in a unique way, which cannot themselves be interpreted as actions and thus explained by the ten categories of being of Aristotle. This is made somewhat clearer when he continues:

[T]he issue is not just the metaphysical objectification of the human being as an acting subject, as the agent of acts, but the revelation of the person as a subject experiencing its acts and inner happenings, and with them its own subjectivity. From the moment the need to interpret the acting human being is expressed, the category of lived experience must have a place in anthropology and ethics — and even somehow be at the center of their respective interpretations.53

The worth of the ten categories to interpret reality is not being denied, but it is being qualified. The claim is being made that they are not adequate to interpret human beings, specifically human subjectivity. In addition, the claim is being made that if we do not include human subjectivity in our account of the human person, we are missing something important. And in order to understand human subjectivity, we must understand consciousness and how it functions:

In order to interpret the human being in the context of lived experience, the aspect of consciousness must be introduced into the analysis of human existence. The human being is then given to us not merely as a being defined according to species, but as a concrete self, a self-experiencing subject. Our own subjective being and the existence proper to it . . . appear to us in experience precisely as a self-experiencing subjects.54

The approach of Aristotle and St. Thomas may be called cosmological because it seems to lead (even if it does not) in the direction of reducing and restricting human beings to the material cosmos, to a world of beings lacking a deep interior life made possible by consciousness. The approach Cardinal Wojtyla would use to supplement the traditional approach is called personalistic precisely because he thinks it captures what is unique about human persons.

We should pause in the process of reduction, which leads us in the direction of understanding the human being in the world (a cosmological type of understanding), in order to understand the human being inwardly. This latter type of understanding may be called personalistic. The personalistic type of understanding the human being is not the antinomy of the cosmological type but its complement. As I mentioned earlier, the definition of the person formulated by Boethius only marks out the "metaphysical terrain" for interpreting the personal subjectivity of the human being."55

The use of the phenomenological method is demanded, according to the Cardinal, precisely because consciousness and human subjectivity cannot be explained by being traced back to a set of categories more basic than itself. Its essence or nature and its relations to other aspects of the human being can only be carefully intuited and then described:

The irreducible . . . can only be disclosed or revealed. Lived experience essentially defies reduction. This does not mean, however, that it eludes our knowledge; it only means that we must arrive at the knowledge of it differently, namely, by a method or means of analysis that merely reveals and discloses its essence. The method of phenomenological analysis allows us to pause at lived experience as the irreducible. This method is not just a descriptive cataloging of individual phenomena . . . When we pause at the lived experience of the irreducible, we attempt to permeate cognitively the whole essence of this experience. We thus apprehend both the essentially subjective structure of lived experience and its structural relation to the subjectivity of the human being. Phenomenological analysis thus contributes to trans-phenomenal understanding; it also contributes to a disclosure of the richness proper to human existence in the whole complex compositum humanum.56

The phenomenological method does not bring us into conflict with the traditional approach of St. Thomas, although it may add to what he had to say. The reason is simple according to Cardinal Wojtyla. All our attempts to explain reality must begin with what is given to us in experience. Phenomenology, when practiced correctly, simply focuses very carefully on the contents of what is given to us in experience.

In 1976, Cardinal Wojtyla published the essay, "The Person: Subject and Community." In it he continues to hold fast to the fundamental correctness of what had been discovered by St. Thomas by way of the philosophy of being while supplementing it with what can be drawn from the modern tradition of the philosophy of consciousness. He continues to maintain that the philosophy of being, even though it did not develop an understanding of consciousness, yet gives us a better foundation for understanding the nature of consciousness than we find in the modern philosophy of consciousness itself. At the same time, he continues to hold that consciousness itself cannot be reduced to the ten categories of Aristotle, and specifically not to the categories of acting and being acted upon, to which we are tempted to reduce it.

The gnosiological attitude in philosophy has replaced the metaphysical attitude: being is constituted in and somehow through consciousness. The reality of the person, however, demands the restoration of the notion of conscious being, a being that is not constituted in and through consciousness but that instead somehow constitutes consciousness. This also applies to the reality of action as conscious activity. While it may be granted that the person and action — or, to put it another way, my own existing and acting self — is constituted in consciousness to the extent that consciousness always reflects the existence (esse) and activity (operari) of that self, still the experience of the human being (and especially the experience of my own self) clearly reveals that consciousness is always subjectified in the self and that its roots are always the suppositum humanum. Consciousness is not an independent subject, although by means of a certain abstraction, or rather exclusion, which in Husserlian terminology is called epoche, consciousness could be treated as though it were a subject. This way of treating consciousness forms the basis of all transcendental philosophy, which investigates acts of cognition as intentional acts of consciousness, that is, as acts directed toward extra-subjective, objective contents (phenomena). As long as this type of analysis of consciousness retains the character of a cognitive method, it can and does bear excellent fruit. And yet because this method is based on the exclusion (epoche) of consciousness from reality, from really existing being, it cannot be regarded as a philosophy of that reality, and it certainly cannot be regarded as a philosophy of the human being, the human person. At the same time, however, there can be no doubt that this method should be used extensively in the philosophy of the human beings.57

According to Cardinal Wojtyla, it is I, the real substantial being, who am at the basis of the activity of knowing. Through knowing I give being within myself to the objects known, even when I myself am an object. In addition, through acts of awareness or consciousness, I give an additional degree of interiority to the whole world as known and to myself as knowing it. The being given to the things known by acts of knowing seems to constitute them as a world of objects, even if they are objects known within a knower. But consciousness, by passively reflecting and then actively relating all that is known and reflected back to the ego as subject of knowing and of awareness, interiorizes the world and the ego and enables me to grasp myself uniquely as subject and not as object.

It is because he wants to hold fast to this conclusion that Cardinal Wojtyla disagrees with Husserl's position that consciousness itself is intentional and object-oriented. And it is because he wants to hold fast to this conclusion that he maintains that acts of awareness or consciousness, even though they seem like acts of knowing, must be distinguished from acts of knowing.

Consciousness is not an independent subject, but it does play a key role in understanding the personal subjectivity of the human being. It is impossible to grasp and objectify the relation between the suppositum humanum and the human self without taking into consideration consciousness and its function. The function of consciousness is not purely cognitive in the sense that this may be said of acts of human knowledge or even self-knowledge. While I can agree with Husserl that these acts are in consciousness, it is quite another thing to say that they are proper to consciousness and correspond genetically to its proper function. Consciousness, insofar as it undoubtedly reflects whatever is objectified cognitively by the human being, at the same time and above all endows this objectified content with the subjective dimension proper to the human being as a subject. Consciousness interiorizes all the human being cognizes, including everything that the individual cognizes from within in acts of self-knowledge, and makes it all a content of the subject's lived experience.58

It may sound odd that we give the world being within ourselves in two separate stages and in two separate ways, first through acts of knowing, and secondly through acts of awareness, which give being not only to all the things known through acts of knowing, but also to the acts of knowing themselves. The acts of knowing, which can take not only external things as their objects, but also I myself and my own acts of knowing, can be explained by the Aristotelian category of acting. The acts of awareness, which passively reflect and reflexively refer to myself as subject all that I know in the first way, cannot be explained by the Aristotelian category of acting despite the strong temptation to call them acts of awareness or of consciousness. Now it is certainly true that I am concomitantly aware of all that I know when I am knowing it. In this way there is a distinction between knowing and awareness of knowing. But does it not seem odd, when awareness or self-consciousness is naturally described as acts of awareness, to hold that they are not really acts at all? Does it not seem odd, seeing that awareness seems to be a form of knowing, to say that awareness is generally cognitive but does not consist of acts of knowing? Something seems amiss here. In 1977 The Acting Person came out in English translation. For that edition some changes were made. Notes were added which were not present in the Polish edition. Also, two prefaces, one a draft and the other the definitive version, both supposedly dating from March, 1977, were added to the book. Among the notes added to the back of the English edition, there is one on consciousness which repeats the author's rejection of the intentional character of consciousness. Consciousness is always of something yet it is not intentional in the way cognitive acts are intentional. Consciousness seems to be intentional apparently because it reflects cognitive acts which are intentional. In addition, we speak of acts of awareness or of consciousness, yet we are told that this is just a manner of speaking. Acts of consciousness are not acts in the strict sense of the word.

In this connection it seems proper to adopt a different, dynamic concept of the act — the concept associated with the Aristotelian tradition — and consequently also a different concept of intentionality. We thus regard as acts in the strict sense of the word only the manifestations of the real powers of the person. Thus when following the manner of speaking widely accepted in phenomenology we refer to 'acts of consciousness,' the reader has to remember that we are using the phrase only figuratively, for its convenience and not its adequacy. Similarly we understand 'intention' as an active directing upon the object; thus strictly speaking consciousness, as here conceived, has no intentionality and so the term, as we use it, has only a secondary and derived meaning owing to the intentional acts of knowledge or self-knowledge as real faculties.59

Why are acts of consciousness not real acts? Because they seem more passive than ordinary acts directed at things as at objects. And yet it is part of our experience to speak of being actively aware of what is going on or aware of what we are doing or thinking about. Are acts of awareness not manifestations of real powers of a person? As being generally cognitive, they would seem to be acts of our powers of knowing. And if consciousness consists of no more than a collection of acts that are not really acts but are more passive reflections of acts, then consciousness begins to seem more mysterious. In what is the reflecting going on? And why is consciousness not intentional? Because it is not an active directing upon an object. And yet it does seem active and it does seem directed upon the objects of which we are aware, including ourselves as subjects of acts. The Cardinal's attempt to set himself apart from both the Aristotelian and the Phenomenological traditions in the way he relates consciousness to cognitive acts seems neither adequate nor convincing.

Does the Cardinal still think of himself as a Thomist at this point? In the rough draft of his preface it is clear that he does. Even though he holds himself in this particular work to be indebted especially to Scheler, he continues to think of himself as a student of St. Thomas. Having in mind his current presentation of the problem of the human being as a person, seen especially through the light of consciousness, he writes:

This presentation of the problem, completely new in relation to the traditional philosophy (and by traditional philosophy we understand here the pre-Cartesian philosophy and above all the heritage of Aristotle, and, among the Catholic schools of thought, of St. Thomas Aquinas) has provoked me to undertake an attempt at reinterpreting certain formulations proper to this whole philosophy. The first question which was born in the mind of the present student of St. Thomas (certainly a very poor student) was the question: What is the relationship between action as interpreted by the traditional ethic as actus humanus, and the action as an experience. This and other similar questions led me gradually to a more synthetic formulation in the form of the present study The Acting Person.60

It is consciousness that constitutes our actions and ourselves as part of our experience, strictly speaking. Hence, in trying, in The Acting Person, to pin down the relationship between a specifically human act, as traditionally understood, and action as an experience, i.e. action as interiorized by consciousness or acts of awareness, what the Cardinal thinks of himself as doing is enlarging what has been received from the Aristotelian and Thomistic understanding of the person with what can be taken from the modern philosophy of consciousness when it is purged of its erroneous way of looking at man.

John Paul II as a Student of St. Thomas

That the Cardinal was thinking of himself in earnest as a student of St. Thomas comes out very clearly just over a year after he is elected pope and takes the name John Paul II. In November of 1979 he returns to the Angelicum and speaks on the "Perennial Philosophy of St. Thomas for the Youth of Our Times." He praises the philosophy of St. Thomas for "its spirit of openness and of universalism."61 He finds the basis of its openness and universalism in its being a philosophy of the act of existing which enables us "to rise to the knowledge of subsisting Being," that is, to God.62 It is on the same basis that Thomas' philosophy is able to grasp "all that shows itself to the human intellect,"63 and in particular the being of man himself.

It is also from this affirmation of being that the philosophy of St. Thomas draws its power to justify itself from the methodological point of view, as a branch of knowledge that cannot be reduced to any other science whatever, and as one that transcends them all by establishing itself as independent of them and at the same time as bringing them to completion in regard to their true nature.64

He then raises a question that bears directly on his own efforts to enlarge the thought of Thomas in order to arrive at a more complete understanding of man himself. Can one be a Thomist and yet be open to other philosophies or ways of thinking?

Is it to be feared that by favoring the philosophy of St. Thomas one will undermine the right to exist that is enjoyed by different cultures or hinder the progress of human thought? Such a fear would clearly be groundless because the methodological principle invoked above implies that whatever is real has its source in the "act of existing" . . . and because the perennial philosophy, by reason of that principle, can claim in advance, so to speak, all that is true in regard to reality. By the same token, every understanding of reality — which does in fact correspond to reality — has every right to be accepted by the "philosophy of being," no matter who is to be credited with such progress in understanding or to what philosophical school that person belongs. Hence, the other trends in philosophy, if regarded from this point of view, can and indeed should be treated as natural allies of the philosophy of St. Thomas, and as partners worthy of attention and respect in the dialogue that is carried on in the presence of reality.65

In short, it is precisely because Pope John Paul II sees the philosophy of St. Thomas as did Maritain and Gilson, namely, as a philosophy based on the primacy of the act of existing, that he sees it as open to being enlarged or supplemented by insights taken from other schools of thought. Even when the pope thinks it necessary to somehow unite insights taken from Thomas with insights taken from the philosophers of consciousness, it is clear which is basic and which is supplemental. He refuses to see man as a consciousness who constitutes being. He holds fast to the Thomistic understanding of man as a being of a kind that has a consciousness. The world view remains that of St. Thomas. The supplemental insights are drawn from the philosophers of consciousness while their erroneous world view is left behind. From his struggles with Wais' Ontology in the underground seminary to his address to the Angelicum after becoming pope, it is clear that the philosophy of being of St. Thomas, a world view which he appreciated more deeply as time went on, remained the foundation of his philosophical thought. In this sense, Pope John Paul II was a Thomist in a more basic way than St. Thomas was an Aristotelian since St. Thomas deepened the foundation of Aristotle's view of reality. The departure from the Aristotelian and Thomistic doctrine of the ten categories of being appears rather minor. No category is being denied. The only question is whether the ten categories are adequate to understand the being of man. With Heidegger, John Paul II questions the adequacy of the ten categories. There seems to be something about man which escapes the traditional list of ten limited ways of having being. Even if he were right about the need to enlarge the categories to accommodate consciousness, it would not constitute a significant alteration of the Thomistic doctrine of being.

Throughout his pontificate, John Paul II gave no evidence of departing from the metaphysical view of reality of St. Thomas. In the 1994 work, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, he echoed his conviction, dating from the Angelicum talk of 1979, that the thought of St. Thomas enjoys a universal character:

St. Thomas celebrates all the richness and complexity of each created being, and especially of the human being. It is not good that his thought has been set aside in the postconciliar period; he continues, in fact, to be the master of philosophical and theological universalism.66

In his rather philosophical encyclical, Fides et Ratio, released October 15, 1998, he echoed his long-standing conviction that use of the phenomenological method may be a good way to begin philosophizing but it is no way to end it. From an analysis of experience, which is well suited to reveal the interiority of the human being, we must proceed to metaphysics, that is, an explanation of things understood precisely as beings.67 Finally, at the end of his career, in Memory and Identity: Personal Reflections, he compared the metaphysical approach, specifically that of St. Thomas, with the phenomenological approach and related them in the same way he had done in the past. The metaphysical approach is the more basic and must be presupposed as if it were a foundation. The phenomenological approach is useful for enriching our knowledge, yet it is clear its role is subsidiary. Since this comes at the end of his career, it is worth repeating his words:

If we wish to speak rationally about good and evil, we have to return to Saint Thomas Aquinas, that is, to the philosophy of being. With the phenomenological method, for example, we can study experiences of morality, religion or simply what it is to be human, and draw from them a significant enrichment of our knowledge. Yet we must not forget that all these analyses implicitly presuppose the reality of the Absolute Being and also the reality of being human, that is, of being a creature. If we do not set out from such 'realist' presuppositions, we end up in a vacuum.68

When we use the phenomenological method, we are not clearly focusing on beings as such but on experiences of beings, or on beings as experienced by us in one way or another. But such experience cannot and does not exist by itself in a vacuum or as if it were a substantial reality in its own right. It exists within the being who is having such experiences. And I cannot have experiences of things in the world about me without presupposing the reality of those beings in themselves. This is why he writes that such a method presupposes the reality of the things experienced and of the one experiencing. And because any contingent reality presupposes a non-contingent reality, called an absolute reality, which upholds it in being, we are presupposing the reality of the Absolute Being, even though we must prove the need for such a being by an analysis of the structure of contingent beings.

If we turn from the words of John Paul II himself to what others thought of his philosophical outlook, we tend to find the same picture. Metaphysics is essential and phenomenology is supplemental. Metaphysics supplies the worldview and phenomenology supplies a method which can supplement that view. Even though she has been accused of watering down the Thomism of Cardinal Wojtyla in the English version of The Acting Person in order to emphasize him as a phenomenologist, Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka acknowledged two ways in which Cardinal Wojtyla was not your typical phenomenologist. In her editorial introduction to the English version of The Acting Person she said that the author was tracing "the inspiration of phenomenological intuition back through Brentano all the way to Aristotle."69 In addition, "the purely descriptive analysis of the given" proper to a phenomenologist differs in Cardinal Wojtyla both because the given consists not of appearances but of things in themselves and because such an analysis of the given is rejoined to an "explanation of their causal-existential network."70

In his early biography of Pope John Paul II, Mieczyslaw Malinski draws attention both to the personal synthesis which characterizes the pope's thought, but also to its basically Thomistic character: "In Wojtyla's philosophy one recognized echoes of Gabriel Marcel's Etre et avoir, Heidegger's Sein and Sendung, Jaspers and Max Scheler; but all these are integrated in terms of Thomist philosophy, not in an eclectic fashion but so as to form a highly personal outlook of his own."71 The same point is expressed in a work regarding Pope John Paul II as a Christian personalist. In the conclusion to his 1980 work on the pope, Andrew Woznicki wrote:

Reflecting on Wojtyla's anthropology, we can describe it as an existential personalism, which is metaphysically explained and phenomenologically described. By consciously using these two philosophical disciplines, Wojtyla sheds a new light on man. He enriches St. Thomas Aquinas' classical philosophy of man by availing himself of the contemporary phenomenological method.72

Stefan Swiezawski, an existential Thomist and older colleague of Bishop at the Catholic University at Lublin, held to the same interpretation. In 1987 he contributed an introductory essay to the collection of mainly philosophical essays by Pope John Paul II entitled Person and Community. In that essay Swiezawski argued as follows:

Personally, I believe Wojtyla was trying to disclose the basis in concrete lived experience for theoretical — and especially for metaphysical — ethical considerations, and he found the phenomenological method particularly suited to this end. His aim was not to replace metaphysics with phenomenology, but to supplement metaphysical refection with phenomenological description as a way of gaining access to the processes of knowing and acting. I do not believe Wojtyla ever rejected the primary and fundamental role of the realistic philosophy of being in anthropology and ethics, but he did see phenomenology as a useful tool for describing the experiential base, and he tended to view phenomenological language as more communicative than scholastic terminology.73

In 1991 Kenneth Schmitz delivered the Michael J. McGivney Lectures at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. Two years later, his essays were printed in book form by the Catholic University of America Press. In the book he said that the pope was neither forging a hybrid metaphysics nor coming up with a new metaphysics. What he was doing was allowing the two different methods of phenomenology and the metaphysics of being of Thomas to mutually fructify one another so as to come up with "a new and integral account of personal reality as the latter is disclosed in human action."74 Even though Schmitz emphasizes the importance of the insights gained by using the phenomenological method, yet the basic metaphysics of the person remains that of St. Thomas.

Rocco Buttiglione's assessment of the balance between the Thomism and the phenomenology of John Paul II also sees the pope using phenomenology as a method by which to confirm the "ontology of the person" stemming from St. Thomas." As did Schmitz, he emphasizes the importance of the insights gained from work on Scheler as a phenomenologist. And yet what we find in the main works of Wojtyla, according to Buttiglione, "are attempts to philosophize from experience, with a phenomenological method and the light of St. Thomas Aquinas."76 Jaroslaw Kupczak, in a work published in 2000, argues in much the same vein. Focusing on the two books, Love and Responsibility and The Acting Person, he writes:

Wojtyla's method consists of two steps: phenomenological description and metaphysical synthesis. Phenomenology is useful as a starting point for anthropology and ethics, Wojtyla holds, because of its ability to discover and describe many aspects of the human phenomenon which otherwise would be unknown to a metaphysician. As we saw, however, in The Acting Person's analyses . . . any phenomenological description is in need of a synthesis, since it considers the human person under many aspects. Such a synthesis can be obtained only through a metaphysical analysis which is able to describe the ultimate roots of all the phenomenological aspects of the human phenomenon.77


The fact remains that consciousness had not been explored by the ancient and medieval thinkers. The question then arises, how do we include consciousness within the Thomistic analysis of human nature? John Paul II thought we could do so only if we expanded the traditional list of ten categories of being. The reason was simply because he could not explain consciousness in terms of the category of acting as he understood it. Does this amending of the ten categories make Karol Wojtyla a non-Thomist? Certainly not, especially if we continue to think of Thomas himself as an Aristotelian and St. Augustine as a Platonist, despite the differences between these two pairs of men.

While some may disagree, then, it seems fairly evident, both from an analysis of his own writings and from the evaluations of others, that the philosophical view of reality of Pope John Paul II was firmly rooted in the metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas. He acquired the rudiments of it in the underground seminary, deepened it over the years, due at first to his studies at the Angelicum, and then from interaction with his colleagues, especially Swiezawski, at the Catholic University of Lublin, and then reaffirmed it and held fast to it during his time as the vicar of Christ on earth. He was always a voracious reader and open to truth wherever he found it. After his acquaintance with the phenomenology of Max Scheler and his discovery of the usefulness of phenomenology's focus on intuition and description to carefully explore the contents of our experience, he began to use it increasingly as a method to try to uncover the whole truth about man. Even though the intuitive and descriptive approach of phenomenology remained subordinate to the method of reasoning to the source of the being of things proper to metaphysics, yet he thought that there was something about man, namely consciousness, which had been uncovered by the modern approach, despite its often erroneous views of the nature of man and of reality. The consciousness of man had been neglected by the traditional metaphysical approach. Because intuition and description and a focus on the interior life of man had consistently been a part of the method of many traditional thinkers, the phenomenological method as a method was not radically new. Hence consciousness could have been explored more deeply by the traditional thinkers than it was. There is no serious problem, then, with including insights about human consciousness into the traditional Aristotelian and Thomistic view of man.


  1. Cf. Mieczyslaw Malinski, Pope John Paul II: The Life of Karol Wojtyla (New York: Seabury Press, 1979), 159; George Huntston Williams, The Mind of John Paul II: Origins of His Thought and Action (New York: Seabury Press, 1981), 86-87.
  2. Malinski, 159.
  3. Ibid., 150.
  4. Cf. Williams, 94-103, and Pope John Paul II, "Method and Doctrine of St. Thomas in Dialogue with Modern Culture," in James V. Schall, S.J., ed., The Whole Truth About Man: John Paul II to University Faculties and Students (Boston, MA: St. Paul Editions, 1981), 262-280, at 277.
  5. Adam Boniecki, MIC, The Making of the Pope of the Millenium: Kalendarium of the Life of Karol Wojtyla (Stockbridge, MA:Marian Press, 2000), 123.
  6. George Weigel, Witness to Hope: the Biography of Pope John Paul II (New York: Cliff Street Books, 1999), 130-131.
  7. Ibid., 131.
  8. Ibid., 139, cf. also 134.
  9. Karol Wojtyla, "The Problem of the Will in the Analysis of the Ethical Act," in Karol Wojtyla, Person and Community: Selected Essays, trans. Theresa Sandok, OSM (New York: Peter Lang, 1993), 3-21, at 20 (Person and Community will hereafter be abbreviated PC).
  10. Wojtyla, PC, 23-43, at 42-43.
  11. Wojtyla, "In Search of the Basis of Perfectionism in Ethics," PC, 45-55, at 55.
  12. Wojtyla, "On the Metaphysical and Phenomenological Basis of the Moral Norm in the Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and Max Scheler," PC, 73-93, at 93.
  13. Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, trans. H. T Willetts (London: Collins, 1981), 168.
  14. Ibid., 179.
  15. Ibid., 178.
  16. Wojtyla, "Thomistic Personalism," PC, 165-175, at 170.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid., 171.
  19. Wojtyla, "The Problem of Catholic Sexual Ethics," PC, 279-299 at 280.
  20. Ibid., 287.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid., and see "On the Metaphysical and Phenomenological Basis of the Moral Norm in the Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and Max Scheler," PC, 77-79.
  23. Wojtyla, "Ethics and Moral Theology," PC, 101-106, at 103.
  24. Ibid., 104.
  25. Ibid., 103.
  26. Ibid., 106.
  27. Wojtyla, The Acting Person, ed. by Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, trans. by Andrzej Potocki (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1979), 70. Hereafter The Acting Person will be AP.
  28. Ibid., 182.
  29. Ibid., 257.
  30. Ibid., 3.
  31. Ibid., 19.
  32. Ibid., 32.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Ibid., 31. See also 32.
  35. Ibid., 33.
  36. Ibid.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Ibid.
  39. Ibid., 34.
  40. Ibid.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Ibid., 44.
  43. Ibid.
  44. Wojtyla, "The Human Person and Natural Law," PC, 181-185, 181-182. See also 184-5.
  45. Wojtyla, "The Personal Structure of Self-Determination," PC, 187-195, at 191.
  46. Ibid., 193.
  47. Ibid., 195.
  48. Wojtyla, "Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being," PC, 209-217, at 210.
  49. Ibid., 210-211.
  50. Ibid., 211.
  51. Ibid., 211-212.
  52. Ibid., 212.
  53. Ibid., 213.
  54. Ibid.
  55. Ibid.
  56. Ibid., 215-216.
  57. Wojtyla, "The Person: Subject and Community," PC, 219-261, 226.
  58. Ibid., 226-227.
  59. Wojtyla, AP, 304, n. 16.
  60. Ibid., xiii-xiv.
  61. Wojtyla, "Perennial Philosophy of St. Thomas for the Youth of Our Times," in Schall, 209-227, at 218.
  62. Ibid.
  63. Ibid., 219.
  64. Ibid.
  65. Ibid., 221.
  66. Wojtyla, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, ed. Vittorio Messori (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), 31.
  67. Wojtyla, Fides et Ratio (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1998), section 83, 105.
  68. John Paul II, Memory and Identity: Personal Reflections (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005), 13.
  69. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, "Editorial Introduction," in Wojtyla, AP, xx.
  70. Ibid.
  71. Malinski, 230.
  72. Andrew Woznicki, A Christian Humanism: Karol Wojtyla's Existential Personalism (New Britain, Ct.: Mariel Publications, 1980), 59.
  73. Stefan Swiezawski, "Karol Wojtyla at the Catholic University of Lublin," in PC, ix-xvi, at xiv.
  74. Kenneth L. Schmitz, At the Center of the Human Drama: The Philosophical Anthropology of Karol Wojtyla/Pope John Paul II (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1993), 64.
  75. Rocco Buttiglione, Karol Wojtyla: The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II, trans. Paolo Guietti and Francesca Murphy (Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 82.
  76. Ibid.
  77. Jaroslaw Kupczak, O.P, Destined For Liberty: The Human Person in the Philosophy of Karol Wojtyla / John Paul II (Washington, D.C.: CUA Press, 2000), 146-147.

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