John XXIII and John Paul II: Reading suggestions

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By Andrea Gagliarducci, CNA’s Vatican Analyst

There is a vast bibliography of John XXIII and John Paul II, who are to be canonized April 27, and the best way to understand their life and thought is by reading their works.

Nurtured in the Ecclesiastical Academy and a longtime diplomat, John XXIII wrote a couple historical books and also several letters to bishops in his capacity as an apostolic nuncio.

John Paul II, on the other hand, was a poet and play writer, as well as being a philosopher with dozen of article on ethics and personalism and the book “The Acting Person,” on phenomenology. A selection of his poems and books on philosophy, as well as the book-length interviews he granted during his pontificate, can provide a wider perspective of his personality.

Here is a selection of writings by and on the two Pope saints:

Writings by and on John XXIII

From the age of 14 until his death at the age of 82, John XXIII kept a diary, called “Journal of a Soul,” which is available in English and provides a very in-depth portrait of “the Good Pope.”

Interested in ecclesiastical history, John XXIII wrote a book on Cardinal Caesar Baronius, himself an ecclesiastical historian and Oratorian who lived in the 16th century who wrote a history of the Church and was involved in a revision of the Roman Martyrology.

He was also editor of the acts, in five books, of the apostolic visitation St. Charles Borromeo paid to the Diocese of Bergamo in 1575.

John XXII also wrote a biography, available only in Italian, of Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi, who was Bishop of Bergamo from 1905 to 1914. As a young priest, he had served as the bishop’s personal secretary.

When he was apostolic delegate in Bulgaria, the future Pope regularly wrote in a diary, collected in the books “La mia via in Oriente. Agende del delegato apostolico” and “Tener da conto. Le agendine di Bulgaria, 1926-1934.”

From 1934 to 1944 he was apostolic nuncio to Turkey, and his homilies and speeches from that time are collected in “La predicazione a Istanbul. Omelie, discorsi e note pastorali.”

He also kept a daily diary as apostolic nuncio to France, published as “Anni di Francia. Agende del nunzio Roncalli.”

For what concerns a comprehensive biography of the human side of John XXIII, noteworthy is the portrait written by his personal secretary, Cardinal Loris Capovilla. Among his several publications about John XXIII, of particular note is the book “Papa Giovanni XXIII. Gran sacerdote come lo ricordo.”

And Marco Roncalli, great-nephew of the late Pope, has published several books on John XXIII, the most comprehensive of which is “Giovanni XXIII. Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli. Una vita nella storia.”

Writings by and on John Paul II

Beyond his philosophical activity, Karol Wojtyla wrote several poems and plays, some of which are available in English.

His first publishing writing was “Apostol” (“The apostle”), an article about his friend and mentor in the life of prayer, Jan Tyranowski. It was first published in “Tygodnik Powszechny”, a weekly magazine, which also hosted his first published poetry, “Matka” (“Mother”).

While at the Angelicum, he wrote a thesis on the doctrine of the faith according to St. John of the Cross, and then wrote a habilitation shrift at the Jagiellonian University on the possibility of founding a Catholic ethics on the thought of Max Scheler.

Wojtyla’s first published book was “Love and Responsibility,” which is an outcome of his pastoral experience with young people. In the book, Wojtyla addressed “hot issues” such as attraction, desire, sentiment, sensuality, shame, friendship, and love.

His major philosophical work, published in 1969, is “The Acting Person,” a work of philosophical anthropology reflecting phenomenology, French personalism, and the thought St. Thomas Aquinas.

His book “Sources of Renewal. The implementation of Vatican II,” is a sort of introduction to the documents of the Second Vatican Council, to be used as a ‘vademecum’ for the pastoral synod of the Archdiocese of Krakow.

In 1976, Karol Wojtyla was called to preach the Lenten Spiritual Exercises to the Roman Curia. He chose the topic of “Christ, sign of contradiction,” which has been published as a short book.

The last of his poetic works was the “Trittico Romano,” a poem published in 2003 which recounted in poems his election as Pope.

Among his plays, the best known is “The Jeweler’s Shop,” a meditation on the sacrament of Matrimony.

There are numerous biographies of John Paul II; one of the most comprehensive is “Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II,” by George Weigel.

Also noteworthy is “Pope John Paul II: the biography,” by Tad Szulc. Very intimate and passionate is the portrait provided by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul II’s longtime secretary, in a book interview with the ‘vaticanista’ Giancarlo Svidercoschi, called “A life with Karol.”

During his pontificate, John Paul II gave book-length interviews which shed light on many aspects of his life.

“Crossing the Threshold of Hope” is probably the most popular of these. It is in Q&A format, in which John Paul II provides important information about what prayer is and why it is so important to the Christian life.

“Gift and Mystery, On the Fiftieth Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination Gift” is his spiritual testimony on his vocation to priesthood and on his first years as a priest.

“Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way” is another autobiographical book, which stretches back to the first years of John Paul II’s episcopate.

“Memory and Identity: Conversations at the Dawn of the Millennium” is the last book by John Paul II. In it, the late Pope analyzes the rise of the evil of Nazism and communism in Europe, discusses the ideas of state and nation, and speaks about spirituality and the inner sense of marriage.