Jacques Maritain Center: Thomistic Institute

Karol Wojtyla's Integral Anthropology: An Invitation To Join Theology And Philosophy

Lluis Clavell

One of the principal characteristics of Karol Wojtyla's thought is its universality. His scripts encompass theology, philosophy, poetry, as well as spiritual and mystic literature. Furthermore, they transcend western culture by including several elements indigenous to the oriental European literature and theology. It could be said that his works, while always originating from the inner soul of the same subject, often proceed like the sounds of an organ during the course of a concert, depending on the registry.

The profound cohesion and harmony in these different facets of Wojtyla the thinker arouses great admiration amongst his readers. There are no contradictions, tensions, or stale arguments in his writings. In essence, we are not dealing with a man that has a vast cultural background, but rather with a man that is contemporarily a theologian, philosopher, poet, and mystic. He has arguably matured a vital assimilation of reality, an experiential reflection on God, mankind, and the universe.

His unique cultural and experiential background has enabled and empowered him to elaborate a rich, beautiful and fascinating cultural proposal. A proposal based on the most radical matter of modern and contemporary thought: who is man? Contrary to mainstream approaches, he has not limited himself to presenting a one-dimensional perspective, digging into one of the several dimensions of the individual. Rather, with courage and originality, he has tried to offer an integral anthropology.

Partial analysis cannot possibly resolve the complex and pressing questions regarding the meaning of existence and fullness of life that both men and women of our time pose to themselves in a very distressing way. The need for comprehensive answers on love, pain and death are self evident, and the truthfulness of these answers must be witnessed in our own lives.

The dominant contemporary culture, including the one in academic circles, without doubt has many merits, but has unfortunately been significantly fragmented and thus diluted by virtue of applying the various epistemological methods used in the different sciences; this fragmentation has been aggravated by the loss of the metaphysical and theological nuclei and their context, resulting in an inability to analyze problems from a holistic perspective. The persistent quest for ethic standards in different fields exposes the shortcomings of specialized methods with the consequent loss of anthropological context. Thus, many believe that the moral obligations should be entrusted only to simple norms and not to virtues.

Karol Wojtyla's anthropological proposal appears to be very contemporary because it goes beyond the limit of the fragmentary dispersion inherent in these specialize methods by leading the way back to the holistic philosophy, leading back to unity.(1) This is possible mainly by merging theology and philosophy, like I will try to explain. Furthermore, his anthropology, in whole or in part, presents itself like a response to that limitation, not as a conflict, but rather as a complement or evidence of some of the needs that have arisen in modern times. This puts it really close to the present sensibility, even if the fragmentation of the philosophy in academic circles, finds it difficult to break up the usual methodological and administrative barriers.

Faith and Reason

In the interview book edited by André Frossard entitled Don't be scared of fear!, John Paul II makes some very nice autobiographical declarations on how faith and reason coexist together in him. There is a great harmony and a reciprocal influence. There are no tensions, but a strong unity, still respecting their own distinctions. I see this as a very characteristic feature of his intellectual life that is highlighted in several places. Lets read some of these declarations. Speaking of his own faith, John Paul II states:

Continuing to search in the depth of my religious conscience - which I know is naturally the one of a believer - I verify that my faith does not spontaneously originate in me independently of the intellectual conviction that God exists, but together with it, and so to speak on its terms. [...] I know that "I believe" in God, but I also know that this "I believe" is correlated to an intellectual knowledge. (2)

You have only to remember the beautiful letter Salvifici doloris. In this one he faces the great mystery of pain with a rationality rooted in his own experience and contemporarily with the faith in Christ who enlightens his sufferance with His Cross. Pain helps us understand ourselves and contemporarily gives us the possibility to participate in that Cross. Reason certainly is not enough to give a meaning to various pains; faith in Christ is required. At the same time, faith reunites itself with a human experience which presents dark sides and fills it with light and joy.

The relation between faith and reason is concretely experienced by Wojtyla as a convergence between revelation and experience. For him, our human experience is, in some cases, a somewhat legitimate means towards the theological interpretation. (3)

We have thereby the right to speak of the relationship between experience and revelation; moreover, we have the right to put the problem of their reciprocal relationship, even though for many, there is a delimitation between one and another which is a line of complete antithesis and of radical antinomy. This line, according to them, must be necessarily drawn between faith and science, between theology and philosophy. Formulating this point of view, abstract concepts are taken into consideration instead of man as a living subject.(4)

All this is perhaps clearer when a not merely intellectual notion of faith is considered. On the subject, John Paul II says:

The entrustment to God by means of the faith (in obedience of the faith) penetrates to the inner core of the human existence, to the heart itself of the personal existence [...] When God reveals himself, and faith accepts him, it is man who sees himself revealed to himself and confirmed of his being a man and a person.

In this way, man already has an experience of and with himself, which is enlightened and enhanced through the obedience of his faith and the entrustment to God, accepting his communication.

Philosophy and Theology

Against this backdrop of union of faith and reason, of revelation and human experience, the way in which Karol Wojtyla experiences an existential thought takes form, which is simultaneously philosophical and theological, as part of his personal and intellectual life.

The famous statement from the Constitution Gaudium et spes is an essential point on which this approach to man is concentrated:

In fact only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man finds true light. [...] Christ, who is the new Adam, actually reveals the mystery of the Father and of his love and also unveils completely man to mankind and points out to him the highest vocation (n. 22)

As is widely known, Bishop Wojtyla, was part of the group which prepared the document that gave birth to the pastoral Constitution. The above paragraph is frequently found in his works as a fundamental point.

Wojtyla's integral anthropology can be nothing else but theological and philosophical. Hi has of course philosophical works such as Acting person or like many articles some of which are gathered under the title Person and Community. But even in these cases one feels the theological inspiration: man's experience has been elucidated by the encounter with Christ, true God and true Man.

Wojtyla has the merit of having adequately amplified the concept of experience. Transcending the positivistic mentality, he takes this experience beyond the world of sensitivity and into the trans-empirical dimension of sensitivity. Enriching the classical tradition, he does not stop at the intellectual and metaphysical aspects as usually done, but gives all the deserved importance to the moral and religious experience. About this he states:

From the philosophy of religion, results of enormous importance have been obtained towards the intellectual knowledge of God. This philosophy uses a different methodology from that of the philosophy of the being. It bases itself on the analysis of the religious experience, considering the human subjectivity. This type of analysis is particularly close to my reasoning. This deals directly with the knowledge of God and not only of the Absolute as in the purely metaphysical perspective typical of the philosophy of the being. This does not preclude my conviction that the opening towards the "being" and the "existence" (more precisely, of the being in the sense of existence) remains the essential basis towards the knowledge of God through reason.

In fact this represents a complementary path to the metaphysical one.

Man recognizes himself as an ethical being, capable of behaving according to the criteria of good and evil, and not only of profit and pleasure. He also recognizes himself as a religious being, capable of putting himself in contact with God. The prayer [...] is, in a certain way, the initial proof of such reality. (7)

These itineraries are complemented with metaphysics. So, after having considered the precious work by Mircea Eliade, Marian Jaworski's in Poland and the work of the school of Lublin, he states:

We are witnesses of a symptomatic return to metaphysics (philosophy of the being) through integral anthropology. You cannot adequately think about man without an essential reference to God. This is what St. Thomas defined as actus essendi with the language of the philosophy of the existence. The philosophy of religion expresses this with the categories of the anthropological experience.(8)

The light of faith is received through this anthropological philosophy, but faith itself is inherently indebted with Christianity. The rich basis of the integral human experience puts this approach in a particular situation of receptivity towards divine communication, which not only fully reveals the sense of the experience, but transcends it with supernatural abundance.

Many of John Paul II's writings are mostly theological anthropology. For example, the encyclical Redemptor hominis and the fundamental principles of the general audiences between Sept. 5th, 1979 and November 28th 1984 gathered under the title Man and woman He created them (Uomo e donna lo creò), or the more recent Veritatis splendor or Evangelium vitae. The characteristic way in which theological knowledge and anthropological experience are intertwined are clearly revealed in his meditations on the texts of the Sacred Scriptures.

According to the Holy Father "the biblical texts contain the essential elements of such anthropology which are manifested in the theological context of God's image".(9)

The fecundity of this methodology (10) reveals itself in the splendid and attractive image of man which emerges. The fundamental principle which enlightens and drives the whole is the imago Dei. Man is the image of God, who is not only a Being, but Love as well. Strengthened by the recent developments on Trinitarian theology, Karol Wojtyla constantly considers life's perfect communication of Wisdom and Love in the Trinitarian processions, the inscrutable communion of love between the three Persons.

The God of Love freely gives of himself by creating other images of himself, which are themselves created persons or beings. Because of imago Dei, man can understand that he is the result of a gift and correspond with love to Him, who is Love. If God communicates and expresses himself in man, albeit in an imperfect way, man is also first and foremost a loving being, a person, a free individual capable of giving of himself.

This image of God Uno and Trino is reflected in the human being, in its creation as man and woman. In this way, and more so in the family and in society, we have the consciousness of being a person, as a subject that realizes itself only existing "with someone" - and yet more profoundly and completely: existing "for somebody". (11) Man is image and semblance to God not only individually in its spirit or in its soul's and body's composition, but also in people's communion; most notably among these communions, the one that a man and a woman form since the very beginning.

I allow myself to express my joy when confronted with these reflections, inasmuch as they meet Blessed Josemaria Escriva whom has been a pioneer in the thorough search of personal freedom which he considered as the greatest gift from God at the natural level,(12) to the extent that Cornelio Fabro named him teacher of Christian freedom.(13) Also the philosopher Carlos Cardona, whom has introduced me to a way of philosophizing in connection with theology and with one's Christian existence, defined the person as someone in front of God for eternity, and saw the love of benevolence, elective love, and selfless generosity, as human freedom's most proper and meaningful act.(14)

Here we find ourselves entirely in the Christian environment, much beyond the Greek philosophy, which saw the will as a tendency and a desire. Only Christianity clearly saw that God is Love and so it could understand being human, as image of the Trinitarian God. This is not the time to dwell on the consequences of this philosophic and theologic gist, but I can point out to some of John Paul II's teachings: man's fundamental vocation to love, the body's nuptial meaning and in it, its sexuality, its doctrine on work in Laborem exercens, etc. (15)

In my opinion, this beautiful and profound anthropological doctrine is possible thanks to a non unilateral methodology, or better yet, to an intellectual life interwoven with man's existence and not merely restricted to a unique scientific and academic model. Respecting the rightful distinctions, I think that Karol Wojtyla, later John Paul II, exercises an analogous ascendance from man to God and simultaneously another one descendant from God to man, following the path of Christian tradition which is founded in the Fathers of the Church, and that virtually disappears after the XIII century due to separation between theology and philosophy.

Unity of the Philosophy

I would like to complete my analysis by demonstrating how philosophy itself is in some ways transformed and unified.

In my view, the transformation consists in the enrichment of the classical tradition thanks to a broader-based experience. Many years ago Gilson had already declared that Tommaso d'Aquino's ontology did not have the deserved phenomenology. In his own way, Wojtyla has given a response to this request by contemporarily trying to find the best in the subject's modern needs. He has developed a phenomenology of the subject which is complementary to the Thomistic personalism.

The philosophy of the conscience, particularly in the phenomenological version - Wojtyla writes - has certainly enriched our knowledge of the empiric phenomena of the human spirituality, but has never ventured to take the metaphysical step from the symptoms to the fundamentals, or as St. Thomas would have said, from the effects to the cause. The contemporary thought in fact seems to lean towards widening the field of direct intuition instead of arriving subsequently to metaphysical conclusions. In a certain sense this has its positive aspects, because it enables us to see the richness of the human spirit in a more immediate way, showing it as an accessible reality to our experiences, and rooted in them in an immanent way. In fact, any experience accepted as part of our concrete lives immediately exposes us to the subjectivity of man and permits us in some way to come directly in contact with man's spiritual side. In this way we become witnesses of man's spirituality without having first demonstrated the spirit's fundamental and absolute specificity in opposition to matter, of the soul in relation to the body. (16)

So in this method there is the advantage of a greater alignment with the contemporary sensibility. But Wojtyla does not see it in antithesis with metaphysics. Referring to Gaudium et spes, he states that this pastoral constitution:

speaks with a comprehensible language and close to modern man, even for non-Christians or non- believers. But this does not mean that this renounces the philosophical tradition which, even in the pre-Christian patrimony, has clear proofs of the human soul's spiritual specificity and of its immortality. Rather, it seems that in the very empiric background of modern mentality, we tend to discover the human spirituality and its inner part in the complexity of human experiences, rather than demonstrating metaphysically the soul's spiritual substance. It is clear that the first approach does not preclude the second one. (17)

Besides this advantage, Wojtyla sustains that the human person, not as an object but as a subject, is adequately known with the lived experience. In this way the person has access to himself as a subject in his activity and irreducibility. The "unique and unrepeatable" man (Wojtyla) is understood by means of this method.

My own experience not only discloses my acts, but also my inside events in their deepest dependence on my ego. It also discloses my personal self-determining structure, in which I discover my ego as that which I possess and control myself - or in any case I should possess and control myself. [...] In my living experience of self possession and self control, I prove that I am a person and that I am a subject. (18)

With this method he intends to break the barrier between a subjectivist (idealist) and objective (realistic) point of view. In no way do we find ourselves in the subjectivism. It is also clear that personal comprehension of human experience is not in contradiction with metaphysics, but complementary to it. In an article written in 1961 entitled Thomistic personalism these thoughts are already expressed. On one side he offers a beautiful and suggestive presentation of Thomas' personalism, especially if one considers the usual scholastic characteristic of the time. Wojtyla finds in Thomas an excellent point of view of the objective existence of the person, but believes that it would be difficult to speak in this case of lived experiences, even if his judgment is rather vague, because the subjectivity of the person "is presented by St. Thomas in an exclusive, or nearly exclusive, objective way".(19) This nearly is important.

In Wojtyla's works the complement between metaphysics and his personal experience is always present. The fascination of metaphysics permanently lives within him. He himself tells the impact he received from the first metaphysics basic manual which was given to him for his studies:

Immediately, an obstacle. My literary education, centered on humanistic sciences, had not absolutely prepared me for the thesis and the scholastic formulas that the manual proposed from the beginning to the end. I had to open my way through close knit tangle of concepts, of analysis of axioms without so much as being able to identify the subject matter. After having wandered for two months, cutting out my way through this tangled vegetation, I cleared my thoughts, discovering the profound reasons for all that, until then, had been only experienced or perceived by intuition. Having passed the exam I told my professor that according to me the new vision of the world which I had conquered in this face to face combat with the metaphysics manual was more precious than the grade I had obtained. I did not exaggerate. Everything that intuition and sensibility had taught me about the world until that moment had found a solid confirmation.(20)

On the 10th of June of 1996, in a very affectionate and rather informal meeting reserved for a few people, some professors were received by John Paul II in audience. During the conversation, speaking of the present situation and the attraction that many young people feel towards philosophy, the Pope expressed with conviction in Latin: metaphysica utilis ad omnia. He then explained that this was an expression that one of his philosophy and theology professors repeated frequently.

For me it was a confirmation of what I had understood from studying his most important speeches regarding St. Thomas of Aquino during his entire pontificate. In fact, metaphysics is always present in them, together with the characteristic anthropological aspects.

In short, one can say that Wojtyla has enriched metaphysics on the basis of a wider anthropological experience. Therefore I believe that his phenomenology, although necessary to reach the subject as such, is not intended as an ultimate foundational method. This aspect which is almost absent in Thomas Aquinas as stated before, has been evidenced in a convergent way in some recent Thomists who have tried to enhance the act of being personal with a more metaphysical facet, underlining and developing some of Aquino's statements on the subject in its concrete individuality, on freedom (I understand because I want, I want because I want, says Thomas), on the indirect intellectual understanding but immediate of singular realities, to the reflexion concomitant to every thought and desire, the love of friendship, on the relationship with God etc. I particularly think of Cornelio Fabro and Carlos Cardona, because of the strong influence they had on me for the meditation on Thomas's writings.

This development of the lived experience in Wojtyla's thought suggests a greater unity of philosophy. It is a classical statement that theology is a unitarian knowledge, even though in practice in recent centuries this unity has been broken up into many fields of specialization and even methodologies. On the other hand, philosophy has been seen since Aristotle's times, at least in theory, as composed of different disciplines. But paradoxically, in practice philosophers in many cases have lived in a more unitarian way the philosophical knowledge itself.

In Karol Wojtyla's case I find a strong affinity to both philosophy and theology, and also a considerable union of both disciplines. As far as philosophy is concerned, the method of lived experience more closely approximates anthropology and ethics. In fact the human being cannot be enriched without meditating about ethic and religious experience, because man's highest manifestations are always in these fields. I would also add that metaphysics itself is more explicitly linked with anthropology, ethics and philosophy of the religion. Metaphysics is almost experienced in these fields and it is implicitly present in them as the ultimate foundation, coming to light in an explicit way thanks to foundational meditation. In this regard, the specific questions of every metaphysics is seen also in the personal matured experience. Furthermore, the act of being personal becomes a particularly rich starting point towards the knowledge of God, fullness of the personal Being and therefore to a Life of Wisdom and Love.

In closing I wish to return to the initial matter and say that if we want to overcome the dispersion and fragmentation of knowledge proper of our times, and respond to the expectations and the new sensibility that emerges in many sides of the present culture, Karol Wojtyla's proposal seems healthily provocative for those of us who work in academia in order to break the inherited academic restraints and to be in greater communion with the profound desires of every man and woman.


1. Cfr. A. Rigobello, Introduction to Persona e atto, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Cittê del Vaticano 1982, p. 8.

2. A. Frossard, Non abbiate paura!, Rusconi, Milano 1983, pp. 59-60

3. Giovanni Paolo II, Uomo e donna lo creò. Catechesi sull'amore umano, Citta Nuova Editrice - Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Roma 1987(2) (following UD), p. 42.

4. UD, p. 43 in nota.

5. Non abbiate paura!, cit., p. 81.

6. Non abbiate paura!, cit., pp. 64-65.

7. Giovanni Paolo II, Varcare la soglia della speranza, Mondadori, Milano 1995, p. 36.

8. Ibid., p. 37.

9. UD, p. 72.

10. About this methodology, cfr. A. Rodriguez Lu-o, In mysterio Verbi incarnati mysterium hominis vere clarescit; (Gaudium et spes, n.22) Riflessioni metodologiche sulla grande catechesi del mercoledi' di Giovanni Paolo II in Anthropotes (1992), pp. II-25.

11. UD, p. 74.

12. Cfr. Blessed J. Escriva, La libertê, dono di Dio, in Amici di Dio, Ares, Milano 1982.

13. C. Fabro, Un maestro di libertê cristiana Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, L'Osservatore romano, 2-7-1977, p. 5.

14. Cfr. C. Cardona, Metafisica del bene e del male, Ares, Milano 1991.

15. Cfr. the summary of John Paul II's antropology by R.T. Caldeera, Visiòn del Hombre. La ensenanza de Juan Pablo II, Centauro, Caracas 1986.

16. K. Wojtyla, L'evangelizzazione e l'uomo interiore, Documenti CRIS, n. 19, Roma 1975, pp. 7-8

17. Ibid., p. 8.

18. K. Wojtyla, Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being (1975), in Person and Community, Peter Lang, New York, p. 214.

19. K. Wojtyla, Thomistic Personalism (1961), in Person and Community, cit., pp. 170-171.

20. Non abbiate Paura!, cit., pp. 16-17.

21. Cfr. L'attualitê della filosofia dell'essere: l'invito di Giovanni Paolo II a studiare Tommaso d'Aquino, in L. Clavell, Metafisica e libertê, Armando, Roma 1996.