Review: The Encyclicals of John Paul II: An Introduction and Commentary

A couple of weeks ago I finished The Encyclicals of John Paul II: An Introduction and Commentary by Richard A. Spinello. I was all set to review the book when then-Pope Benedict XVI resigned. I just couldn’t write a review of this book at that time since I was a bit depressed over the fact that we were limited to only three encyclicals from him. It was hard to write about a book on the plethora of Blessed John Paul II’s encyclicals in comparison at that time.

So my BXVI funk is over for the most part and I will try to give a review this book deserves. I had previously read and reviewed his previous book The Genius of John Paul II: The Great Pope’s Moral Wisdom and found it quite worthwhile. It also is a good companion to this current book.

I came in to the Catholic Church in the last years of Blessed John Paul II’s papacy and so am only partially familiar with the breadth of his writings and encyclicals. This book really explores his writings and the consistent vision behind them. It helps to provide a better understanding of his underlying philosophy and how to get the most out of them and his other works.

The book starts with a short biography which mainly concentrates on Blessed John Paul II’s development as priest, philosopher and theologian. Focusing on his influences for his personalist metaphysics that took much from St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John of the Cross along with a phenomenological viewpoint. The following chapter deals with his writings before he was pope and how they were a basis for what he wrote after. This was an in depth chapter with plenty of insights and more than just a quick summary. I also appreciated the chapter just dealing with encyclicals as I learned there is much more to the subject than I had thought.

The rest of the book focuses on Blessed John Paul II’s encyclicals and the chapters are ordered basically chronologically from the year they were released or grouped together by topic. These chapters really go into analyzing the contents while connecting them both to the late pope’s philosophy and to his other writings. Much more than just a quick summary and really a insightful guide into understanding these encyclicals. You definitely require at least a passing knowledge of some philosophical terms to get the most out of this often scholarly work. The fact that I mostly understood it means that the bar is not that high.

One thing this book made me realize is that I really do need to go back and read the encyclicals of Blessed John Paul II I have not read and really to reread some I have. Blessed John Paul II is not always the easiest writer to take in and I think I can draw a bit more out of him now. It is rather amazing to live in this age of giants. From the relatively long papacy of Blessed John Paul II to a short but packed papacy of Pope Benedict XVI. We really were quite blessed to have these two great men and more blessed to be able to access their writings.

The only downside to this book is that it is priced like a textbook. Although considering the content I guess that follows.

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