Archbishop LEFEBVRE and the VATICAN


Extract from Two Conferences
Preached by Cardinal Wojtyla
to Pope Paul VI in 1976

Important milestones on the theological journey of John Paul II to Assisi are the retreat conferences which Karol Wojtyla, in 1976, preached to Pope Paul VI and a few of his most intimate colleagues in the Vatican. They were published under the title of the original Italian work: Segno di contradizzione, Meditazoni (Milan, 1977). The English translation: Sign of Contradiction appeared in 1979 from the Seaburg Press,96 thus after the election of Karol Wojtyla as Pope. A commentary by Fr. Johannes Dörmann on these conferences in particular and the thinking of Pope John Paul II in general is available in English.97 The recommendation for the book makes an accurate observation: “Here one gets to know [the new Pope] most intimately.” Theology and spirituality are so mutually related that they make up a unified body.

The retreat conferences are no mere pious exhortations, but an extensive theological and spiritual meditation which opens with the very essence of religion, the encounter between God and man, and then strives to realize this encounter or, as the Cardinal puts it: “to get as close as possible to God and to be penetrated by his Spirit.”

I. A Natural Theology of Religions

“The itinerarium mentis in Deum (journey of the human spirit to God) emerges from the depths of created things and from a man's inmost being. The modern mentality as it makes its way finds its support in human experience, and in affirmation of the transcendence of the human person. Man goes beyond himself, man must go beyond himself. The tragedy of atheistic humanism—so brilliantly analyzed by Fr. de Lubac (Atheisme et sens de l'homme, Paris, 1969) is that it strips man of his transcendental character, destroying his ultimate significance as a person. Man goes beyond himself by reaching out towards God, and thus progresses beyond the limits imposed on him by created things, by space and time, by his own contingency. The transcendence of the person is closely bound up with responsiveness to the one who himself is the touchstone for all our judgments concerning being, goodness, truth and beauty. It is bound up with responsiveness to the one who is nevertheless totally Other, because He is infinite.

“The concept of infinity is not unknown to man. He makes use of it in his scientific work, in mathematics, for instance. So there certainly is room in him, in his intellectual understanding, for Him Who is infinite, the God of boundless majesty, the one to Whom Holy Scripture and the Church bear witness saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, God of the universe, heaven and earth are full of your glory.’ This God is professed in His silence by the Trappist or the Camaldolite. It is to him that the desert Bedouin turns at his hour for prayer. And perhaps the Buddhist, too, rapt in contemplation as he purifies his thought, preparing the way to Nirvana. God in His absolute transcendence, God who transcends absolutely the whole of creation, all that is visible and comprehensible.”98

Rev. Fr. Joannes Dörmann comments: “This is a natural theology of all religions in a nutshell.” This is a way of immanence which neglects the theodicy [i.e., that part of metaphysics by which through the natural light of human reason we can know with certitude attributes of God] recommended by the Church (Vatican I, Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, 1806), which starts from the mirror of the creatures to reach up to the Creator. It is akin to the vital immanence condemned by St. Pius X (Pascendi Gregis, Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, 2074). It presents itself as a common denominator between the revealed Faith and human false religions which are concocted by human minds.

II. The Theology of Redemption of Cardinal Wojtyla

Teaching of the Council on Redemption
and the Interpretation of the Cardinal

From the Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes, of Vatican II, Cardinal Wojtyla chooses a key text on Christ (§10) to base his thesis of universal redemption.

The conciliar text says: “The Church believes that Christ, who died and was risen for the sake of all (II Cor. 5:15), can show man the way and strengthen him through the Spirit in order to be worthy of his destiny:.…”

Cardinal Wojtyla says: “Thus the birth of the Church at the time of the messianic and redemptive death of Christ coincided with the birth of ‘the new man’—whether or not man was aware of such a rebirth and whether or not he accepted it. At that moment, man’s existence acquired a new dimension, very simply expressed by St. Paul as ‘in Christ’” (cf. Rom. 6:23; 8:39; 12:5; 15:17; 16:7 et al.).

“Man exists ‘in Christ,’ and he had so existed from the beginning in God's eternal plan; but it is by virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection that this ‘existence in Christ’ became historical fact, with roots in time and space” (p.91ff.).99

Fr. Dörmann comments: “Everything speaks in favor of the fact that the Cardinal teaches the objective and subjective universality of Redemption.”100] Does the Cardinal formulate a thesis of the objective and subjective universality of redemption?...that is, by the Cross of Christ all men are not only objectively redeemed101 but also subjectively justified.102

The answer to this question is found in the following passage from Cardinal Woytyla’s retreat to Pope Paul VI in which he dealt with the realization of the divine plan of salvation in history:

“This is the point of history when all men are, so to speak, ‘conceived’ afresh and follow a new course within God’s plan—the plan prepared by the Father in the truth of the Word and in the gift of Love. It is the point at which the history of mankind makes a fresh start, no longer dependent on human conditioning—if one may put it like that. This fresh starting point belongs in the divine order of things, in the divine perspective on man and the world. The finite, human categories of time and space are almost completely secondary. All men, from the beginning of the world until its end, have been redeemed and justified (giustificati) by Christ and His cross.”103

In the above passages, and in the talks on the meeting at Assisi, there is a confusion between the goal to which every man is called, and the actual realization of this goal. Our Lord taught this difference very clearly: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Mt. 22:14). At the beginning of his Gospel, St. John makes a clear distinction between souls which receive Christ and those which don’t. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in His name” (Jn. 1:11,12). One becomes a child of God by the grace of Christ. The human nature common to men is absolutely unable to give us such a dignity.


96. Karol Wojtyla, Sign of Contradiction (New York: The Seaburg Press, 1979), p.2.

97. Available from Angelus Press, currently in three volumes (Pope John Paul II’s Theologi¬cal Journey to the Prayer Meeting of Religions in Assisi).

98. Pope John Paul II’s Theological Journey to the Prayer Meeting of Religions in Assisi, Part I, pp.49-50.

99. Ibid., p.60.

100. Ibid., p.63.

101. Objectively, the sins of men are sufficiently paid for. Our Lord paid sufficiently for everyone.

102. Subjectively, the sins of men are cleansed by the infusion of grace, but not everyone accepts the grace of Our Lord so they remain uncleansed.

103. Ibid., p.64-65.

Courtesy of the Angelus Press, Regina Coeli House
2918 Tracy Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64109

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