[#] on the passing of Karol Wojtyla

You knew him as John Paul II, as did all of the world. I have a friend who is today saying -- rightly so -- that the passing of JPII is a great moment in the history of Protestantism in that it demonstrates the assumptions of the leaders of the Protestant world pretty clearly.

Let's make sure that I say this as clearly as possible: Wojtyla was a player in world politics. He had the ear (and in some cases, the consciences) of major world leaders, and the hearts of hundreds of millions -- and perhaps billions -- of people of all faiths. He campaigned against materialistic excesses, denouncing both the totalitarian effacement of human rights under communism and the libertarian effacement of human dignity under capitalism. He was instrumental (even before he was Pope) in political dissent against Soviet Russia, and was an ally of Ronald Reagan in the end of the Cold War.

Wojtyla was also a voice of moral reasoning who commanded the most-bully pulpit of them all. He split no hairs, and gave no quarter. There was no one who didn't know where he stood on the matters of the sanctity of life, marriage and human sexuality, the morality of war, and the authority of his church. Wojtyla never shied away from controversy when he believed a critical moral principle was at stake.

But what is the Protestant "stake" in this event? Doug Wilson, in his brief blog entry on the subject, issued what I would call his "standard challenge" to Roman Catholics -- which is that if the Jews could be cut off (even with some hope of being grafted back in), then the church of Rome must look critically at itself and ask if it is in danger of being separated from the one vine. That is, of course, part-and-parcel of Wilson's covenantial view of baptism -- so there is nothing new there, but it is the right call to be made in this time when Catholics take a moment to view the foundations of their church and faith.

The death of Karol Wojtyla is an historic event because this was a historic man -- someone who wrote himself into the pages of history boldly. It would be false to say otherwise. But the question we must answer -- the critical question for ourselves and for those who today wonder about the way God is handling the passing of a man of historical importance -- is "what does Jesus Christ think about Karol Wojtyla?"

Does Jesus Christ care that Wojtyla was Pope? If so, what does He think about being a Pope? Is being a Pope a "free pass" to salvation, a result of being saved, or a different scale of measure along the lines of "to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more"? (ESV, Mt 12:48)

There is a somewhat funny acedote that anyone living in NY or NJ (and some parts of PA) has undoubtedly encountered. Two men can be talking, and one might say something about the other's family which may or may not be true, and may or may not be funny. The other, in very serious objection, says, "Don't say anything about my mother. My mother's a saint." Was Karol Wojtyla a saint in this sense -- that he was sinless, in a state of virtue which excludes any sinful actions, beyond reproach in the matter of character? There is talk already around the media and on the internet that Wojtyla was a saint -- that he was in perfect communion with God through virtue and now by the fact of his entrance into heaven. Is this really true? For example, does Pope John Paul II bear any responsibility for the white-washing of the sins of priests in the American Catholic Church?

And what about doctrine? Wojtyla was devoted to Mary, and added mysteries to the Rosary for the sake of the faithful to follow in practice. He also advocated celibacy not merely as a matter of canon law -- that is, for order in the church, as a matter of obedience for the priesthood -- but as a matter of divine revelation (cf. Mulieris Dignitatem, 15 Aug 1988, section 20), stopping short only of calling it a mandatory doctrine of the faith, but plainly calling it "a sign of eschatological hope." He venerated the Koran. His catechism says that the Jews and the Muslims adore the same God the Christian sees in Jesus Christ.

In all of that, this is the context of the greatness of this moment in the history of Protestantism. How are the leaders of Protestantism responding to the death of Karol Wojtyla? Are they admitting his historical importance but challenging his position on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or are they simply ready to forsake the Gospel to praise a man who himself preached a gospel different than the one preached by the apostles as they went to their death?