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April 11, 2005

Paul Johnson on JP2

johnpaui.jpgBritish historian Paul Johnson (author of "Modern Times," "History of the Jews," "History of Christianity," "A History of the American People," and his more recent "Art, A New History," among others) is one of my favorites. In Modern Times, one of his dominant themes is the development in the 20th century of huge governments and their exponential capacity to do evil, particularly to human life.

In this insightful Opinion Journal op-ed on Pope John Paul II, Mr. Johnson notes that the world has lost one of its staunchest supporters of the sanctity of human life:

This great pontiff was essentially a defender, promoter, protector and enhancer of life: life in all its forms, as God created them, but especially human life.

He sought to limit, almost to vanishing point, the occasions on which the state, let alone individuals, might legitimately extinguish or frustrate life. He had spent his manhood largely under the tyranny of the two vilest anti-life systems the world had ever seen: Nazism and Communism, together responsible for the unnatural deaths of over 120 million people in Europe and Asia. He had seen at close quarters the appalling consequences which inexorably follow when authority is directed by philosophy contemptuous of life.

John Paul was, perhaps, most vehement in his condemnation of abortion, especially when practiced under the sanction of law and on a huge scientific scale, in the clinics specially created to smother the spark of life before birth, which he compared to the death camps erected by Nazi and Soviet mass murderers. It was a sharp sword in his heart which filled him with righteous indignation that, after the world had been scourged for more than 50 years by the mass killings of totalitarianism, anti-life politicians, above all in the democracies, should have set up a holocaust of the unborn which has already--as he often asserted with awe and anger--ended the existence of more tiny human creatures than all the efforts of Hitler, Stalin and Mao combined.

But it should not be thought that John Paul's defense of life was conducted on principles seen as conservative. He was an absolute and implacable opponent of capital punishment, an issue on which he parted sorrowfully from many of his warmest admirers. He was most reluctant to admit the admissibility of war in almost any circumstances. He was wary of giving any kind of approval to President Bush's active war on terror, and plainly opposed the invasion of Iraq. It was his view that a righteous ruler, however tempted by the urge to end wicked regimes, should not set in motion events which would soon move out of control and perhaps cause evils far worse than those it was designed to end.

Not that the pope condoned terrorism in any form. He was never among those clergy in the West who mitigated their disapproval by pointing to legitimate grievances.

Indeed it would be hard to imagine a greater contrast between Pope John Paul, who spent his entire existence searching perpetually to prolong and preserve life, and that evil caricature of a spiritual leader Osama bin Laden, who from the moment he awakes, throughout the day, until he falls into a troubled sleep, directs his agents to end as many lives as possible, including their own (but never his). In their cataclysmic duality, these two men came as close as ever human beings do to embodying the principles of Good and Evil.

Read the entire piece.

Posted by Tom at April 11, 2005 6:12 AM |


Not that the pope condoned terrorism in any form. He was never among those clergy in the West who mitigated their disapproval by pointing to legitimate grievances.

Did the words "John Cornyn" go through anyone else's mind while reading this paragraph?

Posted by: Steve Casburn at April 12, 2005 8:54 PM

Tom: In case you're interested, I note that Johnson wrote a book about Pope John Paul II in 1981, called Pope John Paul II And The Catholic Restoration.

Posted by: Steve Casburn at April 12, 2005 8:58 PM

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