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Wojtyla’s Athenian catechesis: An antidote to the culture of veriphobia

Archbishop Karol Wojtyla’s newly discovered 1965 reflections on St. Paul’s discourse at the Areopagus (Acts 17: 16-32), Mars Hill, is the starting point for Wojtyla’s cycle of catecheses in this book, Teachings for an Unbelieving World (Ave Maria Press, 2020). In my judgment, this catechesis adumbrates Sign of Contradiction,Cardinal Wojtyla’s Lenten spiritual exercises for Pope Paul VI at the Vatican, March 5-12, 1976. In the following, I lay out Wojtyla’s teachings for an unbelieving world by considering his reflections on St. Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus.

Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Fulfillment

Wojtyla considers the Christian faith to be a total world and life view, and it embodies the objective truth about the whole of human life, including the full spectrum of culture. At the core of this world and life view is an interlocking set of life-orienting beliefs regarding the Creation, the Fall into sin, Redemption in Christ, and the eschatological fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.

What is the nature of faith, according to Wojtyla? “Believing means accepting the truth expressed in the Word of God and therefore, opening the human mind to the Truth which is divine in its essence. Faith involves the participation of the human mind in the knowledge which God’s own.” Traditionally put, faith involves both the fides qua creditur (“the faith with which one believes”) and the fides quae creditur “the faith which one believes”). Wojtyla makes clear the question how both asserted truth and lived truth, the fides quae creditur, the beliefs which one holds to be true, affirms, and asserts, and the fides qua creditur, experiential, living, active faith, belong to faith as a whole. Minimally, therefore, faith involves belief, and to have a belief means that one is intellectually committed to the whole truth that God has revealed.

Among the fides quae creditur there are certain truths of natural reason, of history, and of man. Regarding the former, we have “the truth about the creator of all things.” Wojtyla adds, “[I]n the Pauline sermon at the Areopagus, [it] is organically connected to the truth about creation, and in particular to the truth about the human person who is able to know the creator from the creatures.” Regarding the truths of history, which is revelation in history of the Incarnation, of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Wojtyla states, “The acceptance of this truth opened up a completely new horizon in human consciousness. It brought about a profound transformation of human existence: a saving transformation.” Regarding man, indeed, his self-knowledge, Wojtyla cites Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes 22: “The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light.”

In sum, adds Wojtyla, “Christ fully reveals man to himself. . . . [Christ] indicated that his human existence is the foundation for every human being to resolve questions about the meaning of his own existence and the direction of his calling. In Christ, this sense, as well as the truth about the human person and his dignity, ‘find their root’ and at the same time attain their crown’.”

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