John Paul II a Relativist?


On another thread I was frothing at the mouth and Contarini sat on me, one of his useful functions on this Forum. This particular froth contained the statement that JPII was a relativist, and Dr. C. replied that the assertion is mad, not in the sense of anger, but in the sense of insanity.

As that thread is closed, I thought to reply here, instead. Here is my response, insane though it is.

  1. Pfui.

  2. No, I have not read ANYTHING JPII wrote. I am, in fact, the most ignorant person on the planet in matters relating to his theology.

  3. My impressions of JPII are totally based on misinformation and newsarticles that present him in an unfavorable light. During his papacy I was at another church in another denomination that was more than a little biased against Catholicism.

  4. Isn’t he the Koran-kisser, the Dalai-Lama embracer, the “let’s all be friends of all religions” pope, who compromised any sense of the Church as standing against the world’s religions for an oozy kind of ecumenism that turned belief into mush?

Catholic friends, here is a chance to defend someone you fiercely love against a fool like me. Dr. C. is most welcome to join the discussion, as well as anyone who might both sympathize with my position and knows enough to speak knowledgeably re what he is talking about. I, on the other hand, will be under the sofa.


Not everything Pope John Paul II did was golden.

Kissing the Koran and inviting animistic, pagan religions to pray to their gods for peace are example of some *extremely *bad things, and I’m putting this as delicately as I can because I know how many love him.

He really did tread along the border of what is acceptable within the Catholic Church, and he crossed that line several times. I don’t think anything inherent to his theology was heretical, though.


What’s wrong with kissing the Koran? The Koran, like the Bible, is a sacred text, but by kissing it, it’s not like he’s converting to Islam. Besides, what’s wrong with acceptance of Islam?

That’s not relativism–that’s acknowledging that others have the right to their own religion.


Oh really, what kind of right is that?


Um…the same right that you and I have. We’re allowed to be Catholic. It’s not like someone in America can tell us we can’t be Catholic anymore.


Do you believe there is a divine right where a non-Catholic person can continue to be a follower of their false religion? Even so, what kind of temporal right is that which needs to be recognized? Are you sure the Catholic Church teaches something like that?


Because the Koran contains lies. Vile lies about our most holy faith, about the nature of God and the divinity of Christ.


And where does the Church say that we should condemn other religions?


You’re not being serious, are you? Through the centuries, the Church has condemned any faith that contradicts the faith of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. It has condemned them in the most explicit and damning terms, on many, many occassions.


What lies about the nature of God?

John Paul II was an amazing Pope. John Paul stood for everything the Church does and should. John Paul showed compassion and understanding towards other religions and people. By kissing the Koran, he didn’t say, “The Koran is the divine truth”; he was just showing he accepts and appreciates Islam, but he didn’t say what he appreciated or what he didn’t agree with.

Was John Paul II a relativist? No. He stood up for what was right. He called America out on our consumerism, he spoke out against Communism, he was against abortion.

I’m glad I was able to see John Paul as our Pope. He helped transition the Church into the 21st century. He acknowledged that we’re all in this together as a global community, and we have to be accepting of people, while not allowing evil to go on.


I’m not asking about history–I think we’re all very aware about how the Church has condemned other religions. I’m asking about documentation about condemnation’s justification.


Explicit denial of the Trinity

John Paul II was an amazing Pope. John Paul stood for everything the Church does and should. John Paul showed compassion and understanding towards other religions and people. By kissing the Koran, he didn’t say, “The Koran is the divine truth”; he was just showing he accepts and appreciates Islam, but he didn’t say what he appreciated or what he didn’t agree with.

The Pope confused the faithful and opened the doors to religious indifferentism. Even if his intent was good, some of his actions crossed the line - especially the “Day of prayer for peace” at Assisi. Pagans praying to their peculiar gods is not pleasing to God and will not bring peace. Period.


I think the justification is pretty simple. Unless one holds the Catholic faith (at least implicitly), one cannot be saved. Since the Church is on an evangelizing mission, it points out error and converts people to truth. Since other religions contain error, those religions should be condemned and discarded.

*“With our hearts we believe and with our lips we confess but one Church, not that of the heretics, but the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church, outside which we believe that no one is saved” *- Pope Innocent III


Well, let’s begin with the basics…

Athanasian Creed circa A.D. 420: “Quiscumque vult salvus esse, * ante omnia opus est, ut teneat catholicam fidem: quam nisi quisque integram inviolatamque servaverit, * absque dubio in aeternum peribit. …] Haec est fides catholica, * quam nisi quisque fideliter firmiterque crediderit, salvus esse non poterit.” (Roman Breviary, Sunday Prime, 1950) (D39):“Whoever wishes to be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith, which unless each one preserves whole and inviolate, without doubt he will perish everlastingly. …] This is the Catholic faith, which unless each one believes faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.”


HA. Good gravy, how arrogant are you? Listen, I’m willing to listen to what you have to say. I don’t have to believe it, but I’m willing to listen. However, I just feel that you lose a little credibility when you say the Pope is wrong. I’m sure John Paul knew about the dangers of relativism and all that; however, he spent his life studying theology and praying and working for God.


Alpha Omega, that just says you have to be Catholic to be saved, not that we should condemn other people for not believing in Catholicism.


The Church doesn’t claim that Popes are impeccable. A Catholic is perfectly entitled to criticize the actions of a Pope if he feels they were imprudent.

For example, I think it was wrong of Pope Innocent III to decree at the Fourth Lateran Council that Jews cannot hold public office. Does saying this make me arrogant?


Wow! Where has the Catholic Church “condemned others”? It has condemned the mistruths of other faiths, but it has no authority to judge a person’s salvation or to call them essentially bad.


I don’t think Pope John Paul II quite qualified as a relativist, but I’m beginning to think our friend Tick here might be. John Paul was aware of the fact that every religion, no matter how otherwise deranged it is, contains at least a grain of truth. He worked very hard trying to use those grains to reach people in other religions, which is the only way to evangelize. I believe he was a little too soft on Islam and pagan religions, but he was a tremendously peaceful man.

Tick Dawk, you, on the other hand, aren’t just accepting, but downright accommodating of other religions. Yes, people have the God-given right to exercise their free will in choosing a religion, but that does not mean that we are excused from our responsibility to hold the line and remain adamant on the falsehood of those other religions, and to try and help those people come to the truth. We cannot do that by refusing to say that there’s anything wrong with another religion. Accepting the existence of a false religion and accepting the religion itself are two completely different things, and you are perilously close to the latter. Acknowledge that grain of truth, but remain firm on the falsehoods. There is a legal term regarding such a thing, I believe it’s Consent by Omission. By refusing to denounce the falsehoods of a false religion you are effectively agreeing with them. That is pretty close to relativism.


I think that a discussion about whether JPII was right to kiss the Qur’an (or even whether he actually did so–I have heard it claimed that he was actually kissing a Gospel Book in Arabic, although that may be spin) misses the point. If JPII kissed the Qur’an, it is absolutely clear from his writings that this cannot be interpreted as a statement that the Qur’an was just as true as the Bible or that there is no absolute truth. If he did it, and if he intended more than courtesy by it, then what he was saying symbolically was that the Qur’an was a real (though imperfect) embodiment of the divine truth fully revealed in Jesus Christ. Now we can argue all day about whether that is correct (I don’t see how one can reasonably deny that the Qur’an contains truth, but we would get into the whole “all falsehood is perverted truth” business if we took up that question), and whether kissing the Qur’an is a good way of conveying that message. But we would not be arguing about relativism.

The same is true of Assisi. Even if what JPII allowed to happen there was wrong, it wasn’t an expression of relativism. It was an expression of inclusivism–the belief that all truth points toward Christ and that we should honor the truth and goodness found in other religions (and particularly the ways in which all religions can work together toward moral goals such as peace) even as we disagree with some parts of those religions. “Relativism” is misused when it becomes simply a term for any attitude toward other religions/ideologies which you consider too generous. Relativism normally denotes the denial that there is any standard of truth and goodness outside ourselves. Clearly JPII never said that–he frequently said the exact opposite. Indeed, I would argue that JPII’s interfaith initiatives were precisely the result of his belief in objective truth. At Duke Divinity School, I’ve been exposed to a particular kind of postmodern dogmatism that is completely uninterested in dialogue with other religions precisely because it doesn’t believe that there’s any objective standard by which we could have such a dialogue. The Christian “story” is understood to be the necessary starting point. Since we can’t get beyond this, there’s no ground on which to have a rational dialogue with people who don’t accept the story. All we can do is proclaim the story and let the Holy Spirit convert people. (Stanley Hauerwas is the theologian I have in mind primarily in this description, though he’s not alone. Hauerwas actually likes JPII 's work a lot, but I think this is one of the major differences between them.) One of JPII’s last encyclicals called the postmodern world back to reason–back to a conviction that God has implanted within us the love of and capacity for the truth. This is the opposite of relativism.

I find these sorts of criticisms of JPII ironic, because in the academic world I much more often hear him criticized from the other direction. I’m reminded of Chesterton’s comments on the contradictory criticisms of Christianity he encountered in early-20th-century Britain:

Suppose we heard an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One explanation (as has been already admitted) would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape.

By the way, I admire Truthstalker’s courteous (and humorous) response to my cranky post. You’re a Christian gentleman, Truthstalker!


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