Michael Novak Recalls the Good-Humoured John XXIII and the Polish Pontiff Who Called Him a Friend

Tells ZENIT Why Joint Canonization Made Sense

Published by Deborah Castellano Lubov at Zenit.org (Vatican City) on April 27, 2014.


Michael Novak, former ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, theologian, and author of some 30 books, including "The Open Church" and "Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative" spoke with ZENIT in Rome days before this weekend's canonization. 

An eyewitness to Vatican II, who was both given one of the last wedding blessings by John XXIII and who was publicly called a friend by John Paul II, Novak shared with ZENIT his thoughts about the two popes and the canonization.


ZENIT: What is the reason behind having a joint canonization? It's said that Poles are unhappy with JPII being canonized on the same day as John XXIII.

Novak: The linking of the popes makes better sense of them both, than one by one.

At the end of John XXIII's time as pope, his work was left very undone. Some were even speculating about a Vatican III. Once Benedict XVI was asked: "What's the full meaning of Vatican II?" He responded: "We won't know, as the fruits of the council take time to develop."

This is very true and is evidenced by the fact that no other country or great organization has had a re-enactment of the council, in the sense that they took the initiative to reinvent themselves. We cannot name another institution that is or has effectively done this in the same way that the Catholic Church did through Vatican II.

The questions raised by the decisions reached by the decrees were incredibly far reaching and forward looking. It's true that 50 years were needed to come to a common understanding of what happened.


ZENIT: Many say the joint canonization could be seen as a sign of continuity between the Popes and the council. Could you explain your view on this?

Novak: Yes, as I said in my book "The Open Church," John XXIII 'opened the windows of the Church' when he announced there would be a Second Vatican Council. He knew better than to consult with the Roman Curia, which had been described in this way: "Popes come and go, but the Curia lives forever." He just announced the Church needed this council and will be having it, whether the Curia liked it or not.

Vatican II was a tremendous event which advanced the Council of Trent. It announced a new era of the Church which, after John Paul II, Benedict XVI was about to build on in a very scholarly way and Francis would build on in a very populist way.


ZENIT: In what ways did John Paul II himself carry out the fruits of the council?

Novak: John Paul II took the initiatives of John XXIII and 'rounded them out,' completing them and making them international. By 'rounded out,' I mean he did something unimaginable in the way he carried out the council's decrees. No one had any idea what he was thinking.

If someone would have predicted that the wall would come down, they would have locked him up. This is a testament to Wojtyla who, effectively did the impossible, in crumbling communism, in a roughly 11 year time frame.

He changed the contours of the world, traveling, more than any pope ever had. He showed the Church structure is not a pyramid, it's concentric rings, which were visible during his travels, at which he would be on an altar surrounded by bishops of the region and hemisphere. John Paul introduced this to the world.


ZENIT: Tell us about the "The Open Church." With your personal account of being present at Vatican II, could you give some insight to the persons who would like to know more about John XXIII?

Novak: John XXIII was so wonderful. He was known as the smiling pope. He was very easy-going, kind, warm, and friendly. He enjoyed a good joke and laughed often. He had that personal touch that people see in and love about Pope Francis today. He was not all puffed up about himself.


ZENIT: Can you please give an example of this humorous and playful side of the Italian pontiff?

Novak: Yes, once, when walking with a journalist in the Vatican gardens, he was asked whether he knew how many people worked at the Vatican. He joked saying, "about half."


ZENIT: How else were John XXIII and Pope Francis similar?

Novak: They were both pastors of the Church. They possessed that warmth. They fall into the category of someone with whom you would like to have a coffee or cigar with.

John XXIII had "opened the windows of the Church" with Vatican II and brought an "aggiornamento," meaning it brought the Church to today. Yet, he was aware, like how Francis is, that sometimes there are 'winds.' Not everything that comes in through the open window is good. There are noxious fumes. Likewise, not everything of today is good.


ZENIT: What aspect of John XXIII and John Paul II's relationship is important to this canonization?

Novak: The council that John XXIII proposed brought the Church together and nailed down clear, positive statements of faith built around prayers of the Church. This allowed for the evangelization, which John Paul II brought to fruition.


(April 27, 2014) © Innovative Media Inc.




A Vision for a Civilization of Love

In 2003, Michael Novak made observations on the essential role that caritas plays in a just civilization. These observations carry particular importance following the release of Caritas in Veritate, the Vatican’s latest social encyclical. “Michael Novak's Recipe for a Civilization of Love” / His "Caritapolis" as the City of the Future

KRAKOW, Poland, JULY 17, 2003 (Zenit.org) — John Paul II has called democratic nations to overcome materialism and consumerism and to erect a "civilization of love."

In response to this call, Michael Novak, the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute, has developed a series of lectures which he entitles, "The Caritapolis."

The lectures are a primary component of the curriculum for the "Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society," held every July in Krakow. The seminar brings American and Eastern European students together to discuss the challenges of building a global system of freedom and prosperity.

In an interview with ZENIT, Novak described some of the important features of the caritapolis.

Q: What role does charity, caritas, play in the caritapolis? How does it shape its institutions?

Novak: Caritas is to will the good of the other. If we imagine a civilization based upon caritas, we must be careful to think realistically. For caritas shows itself as mercy to sinners, and it is love aimed at the real, not the apparent, good of the other.

It must be based upon realistic judgments rather than illusions, appearances and sentimentality. With its real conception of human nature, a civilization of caritas is necessarily a civilization acutely aware of, and provident for, human sinfulness.

Caritas has an active role in shaping the institutions of a society. Let us consider the problem of wealth. Well into the modern period, wealth was defined in one of two basic ways: land -- which allowed the owner to draw upon the produce of many -- or gold, silver, precious stones and other treasures.

The rhythms of nature dictated whether local communities experienced famine or plenty; trade was relatively slight and the vast majority lived only at subsistence level. Money itself -- in the form of pieces of gold, silver or other metals -- was in relatively fixed supply. In these circumstances, economics seemed to be a zero-sum game often leading to war and anarchy.

However, the aim of the economic system today is the development of wealth that comes from commerce and industry. This requires peace, rather than war, and respect for law, where commercial and industrial contracts can be carried out and international trade can raise the standards of living of all.

The focus on the creation of wealth bridles human passions providing a new focal point. It has the advantage of bringing to the powerful and the passionate, in an orderly way, the very fruits that under the old system individuals had been seeking through anarchic and warlike means.

Q: Describe the economic system and ideals of the caritapolis. What are its aims?

Novak: First, caritas must direct economic systems to liberate the poor of the earth from the prison of poverty.

Second, it must have institutions that rest upon, and nourish, voluntary cooperation.

Third, an economy of caritas will respect the human person as the originating source of human action, the "imago Dei," "homo creator," the chief cause of the wealth of nations.

Fourth, it must provide the necessary cause for the polity of caritas, whose best approximation in history so far is democracy under the rule of law.

Fifth, the economy of caritas must take realistic precautions against the besetting economic sins of all eras and times, but particularly its own.

Sixth, it must be based upon the presupposition that humans often fail in love, and only rare ones among them base all their actions thoroughly upon realistic love. Caritas must guide institutions in a realistic, not utopian, aim of establishing a free society.

Q: What role does the concept of social justice play in the vision of the caritapolis?

Novak: Social justice rightly understood is a specific habit of justice that is "social" in two senses.

First, the specific skills that it calls into exercise are those of inspiring, working with, and organizing others to accomplish together a work of justice. These are the elementary skills of civil society, the primary skills of citizens of free societies, through which they exercise self-government by "doing for themselves" -- without turning over to government -- those things that need to be done.

The second characteristic of social justice is that it aims at the good of the City, not at the good of one agent only. If we hold that free persons are self-governing, that is, able to live by internalized rules or good habits, they need only a fair and open system of rules in order to live well. In the free society, these rules enable them to act more creatively, intelligently and productively than in any other form of society.

While the free society will never be able to guarantee the outcomes desired by those who speak of "social justice," it does bring more rewards to all, on all reward levels, than any known system.

The aim of justice ought never to be a particular individual but the City, the society, at large. To recapitulate: Social justice rightly understood is that specific habit of justice, which entails two or more persons acting, one, in association and, two, for the good of the City. Understood in this way, social justice can be practiced in caritapolis to great effect.

Q: Can a caritapolis be constructed at the global level or is it only achievable at a local or national level?

Novak: Caritapolis can be constructed at the global level. Central to its development is the agreement upon universal human rights that respect the dignity of the individual person. If in fact the nations of the world ever come to a universal culture of respect for human rights, it will be a world that is much closer to respecting the dignity of the individual person, and at least in that way demonstrating solidarity among all peoples.

The forces of globalization -- political, economic and moral-cultural -- confront us with the need to think through an adequate human ecology.

What are the common habits that are practiced in free societies across the globe and that contribute to human flourishing? Many have not yet been fully imagined, and there is not even a catalogue of the ones we know, but I would offer four cardinal virtues of human ecology.

First, we must possess cultural humility, that is, an awareness that one needs the help of other cultures to see events and circumstances more clearly; for while no one culture possesses the truth completely, all of us stand under the judgment of the truth.

Second, we must have respect for the regulative idea of truth, for within this framework people respect one another's fairness in reasoning and judgment and may submit opposing judgments to the light of evidence.

Third, we must recognize the dignity of the human person, that each person is worthy of respect because he or she lives from the activities proper to God.

Fourth, we must uphold human solidarity, the special virtue of social charity that makes each individual aware of belonging to the whole human race, of being brother or sister to all, and of living in "communio" with all other humans in God.

These four pillars of caritapolis -- cultural humility, the regulative idea of truth, the dignity of the human person, and human solidarity -- guide both the global and the local community.

Q: What does it mean that culture is prior to economics in the caritapolis?

Novak: The dynamic force moving economies forward toward prosperity is the human mind, heart, and will; the Holy Father made precisely this point in "Centesimus Annus."

Economic success depends upon sound habits of initiative, risk taking, creative imagination, and a practical talent for turning dreams into realities. Culture develops these habits -- trustworthiness, courtesy, reliability and cooperativeness -- that are the marks of successful business activities, generating bonds of trust and loyalty among co-workers in the same firm, and between the firm and its suppliers, customers and pensioners.

Capitalism is not a set of neutral economic techniques oriented toward efficiency. Its practice implies certain moral and cultural attitudes, requirements and demands. Cultures that fail to develop the required habits cannot expect to eat broadly of capitalism's fruits.

Economic prosperity, especially in the developing world, depends on the subjective commitment of millions of individuals to a new way of life: They must look around, see what needs to be done, and take the initiative to do it themselves; they must work, invest, take risks, solve day-to-day difficulties, and bring new realities into being. That is, they must practice economic creativity.

The concepts of self-government and human freedom, inherent in a healthy culture, develop in us the moral character to act well in the economic sphere of society.

Q: Do the ideals of caritapolis have precedent in the Catholic theological and social tradition?

Novak: Yes, they do. Let us take social justice as an example. When Leo XIII described in "Rerum Novarum" the tumultuous changes then churning through the formerly agrarian and feudal world of pre-modern Europe, he saw the need for a new sort of virtue -- a reliable habit of soul -- among Christian peoples. He wavered between calling it justice or charity, social justice or social charity.

By the time of "Centesimus Annus," 100 years later, John Paul II had brought that nascent intuition into focus in the one term "solidarity." What is meant by solidarity, then, is the special virtue of social charity that makes each individual aware of belonging to the whole human race, of being brother or sister to all others, of living in communion with all other humans in God.

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