Rev. Professor Tadeusz Styczen – about friendship building the civilisation of life

Fr Ireneusz Skubis

He could observe at close range the life and thought of Fr Karol Wojtyla. He was not ashamed of tears of happiness when his Teacher became Pope. He accompanied him throughout all his years spent in the Vatican, until the last moments of John Paul II’s life.

I remember Fr Tadeusz Styczen as a very noble man. As far as I can remember he was extremely well-mannered. It was good manners, behaviour towards others. He was extremely careful about his relationships with others. Talking to Fr Tadeusz was very pleasant. He was always cordial. He had a zest for conversation, showing great friendliness and great responsibility for his words. Naturally, one should recollect the figure of Rev Prof. Styczen in the context of his friendship with the Holy Father John Paul II, and earlier with Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. And one should always remember that Rev. Prof. Wojtyla was the Master for Fr Tadeusz Styczen, who assumed his Chair of Ethics at the Catholic University of Lublin, and was marked with the stigma, which he carried all his life.

Master and disciple

Fr Styczen very much appreciated the fact that Karol Wojtyla had great confidence in him. He was aware that he entered a big spiritual heritage, that it was some extreme depth of thought, which he got to know when Rev. Prof. Wojtyla was still his teacher and showed him the ways. He was one of those people who could touch those extraordinary areas of the thought of the great man, philosopher, ethicist and moralist; the man who loved the Church unlimitedly and was radiant with his remarkable love. Fr Tadeusz could observe at close range the life and thought of Fr Karol Wojtyla.
Rev. Prof. Styczen inherited the academic department after Cardinal Wojtyla. There are various ways of assuming scientific heritage. The usual practice is that professors make disciples before their retirements; they give them concrete instructions, introduced them into the academic environment, showed them perspectives of conducting further research. They do it very thoroughly, in a far-reaching, methodologically ordered way.
The moment of taking over the chair after Rev. Prof. Karol Wojtyla was unique. For the first time we dealt with the situation when a Pole became Pope. And all of us experienced the marvellous day of 16 October 1978 in a unique way. Those who knew him, worked with him and all the faithful of the Polish Church. As Fr Tadeusz Styczen recollected Rev. Prof. Stanislaw Kaminski, the well-know philosopher, phoned him and uttered three words, ‘Pope Karol Wojtyla!’ There was silence in both receivers. And then Fr Tadeusz confessed that he began crying, ‘I am not ashamed of these tears.’ There must have been millions of tears in Poland and then people made similar comments, ‘We are not ashamed of these tears.’ They were tears of the greatest joy and happiness; they expressed the closeness with the man who was to be called John Paul II from that day.
On that October evening Fr Tadeusz Styczen received the news that one should assume the great heritage, which was the Chair of Ethics at the Catholic University of Lublin. The successor of Cardinal Wojtyla faced an important challenge – to struggle to be like his Master. Moreover, he should not forget his great Master, who he should accompany. Since the thoughts that initiated the academic activities of Rev. Prof. Wojtyla were to be the tinder not only for the Polish environments and the Catholic University of Lublin but also for the universal Church.
The young priest, Prof. Styczen, realised that. He knew he had to undertake that big task. He did not lose contact with his Master but on the contrary, soon he was with him; he accompanied Pope John Paul II, and his task was big. He supported him and observed carefully all what John Paul II was doing, what was discussed, transmitted and analysed for some many years. The task was easy and difficult; easy since the thought of Karol Wojtyla was always legible, precisely ordered, very logical. But his students knew that if they had not listened to his lectures carefully they would have been at a loss quickly.

Enriching continuation

It was him that could understand the thoughts of John Paul II best. The Holy Father could regard Fr Tadeusz as a friend and man of the highest intellectual horizons. How much did Fr Styczen care for the precision of thought of his Master! By visiting him and collaborating with him he listened to all words of the Pope very carefully. That’s why he conceived the idea to study the great pontificate. Fr Tadeusz Styczen realised that he was dealing with a great man. And he reflected on the thought of the Holy Father in a careful and subtle way. He did not impose his way of thinking on the Pope. He listened to the statements of the Holy Father very thoroughly and he also tried to understand the depth of his Master’s thought.
This situation continued for many years. Fr Tadeusz was constantly present in Rome, in the Vatican, even during his vacations he offered his intellectual services to the Holy Father. He realised that he participated in a big matter of God – he had no doubts about it. He observed the activities of the Holy Father with uttermost admiration. One day he quoted the words of the famous Italian publicist, saying, ‘Pope – enigma. Pope – riddle.’ John Paul II was the one who had some great powers in him, great inspirations and who was a shepherd and a poet and a thinker.
Once Fr Styczen noticed a very tired face of the Holy Father Paul VI. When John Paul II came and was full of vigour, everything became extremely vivid and flourishing. However, Fr Styczen saw how hard and unique this effort was.
Time and suffering left marks on the face of John Paul II. With some emotional note Fr Tadeusz spoke about the resemblance of the weary faces of Paul VI and John Paul II. This comparison was interesting. It was made after he had observed carefully the course of events and development of the pontificate of John Paul II…
It is also worth noticing John Paul II’s activities concerning the defence of life. As Fr Styczen emphasised it was his attitude towards the smallest and weakest human beings. Fr Tadeusz carefully watched the intentions of the Holy Father and did his best to strengthen and promote his thinking. John Paul II, the defender of life, taught the Church the civilisation of life and warned against the civilisation of death.
He knew that the Pope had to take up ethic and moral subjects in a multiple and multisided way. They belonged to his very important tasks. Fr Tadeusz was aware of that. That’s why he served this great pontificate all the time, the pontificate that defended the unborn, the old and elderly facing the threat of euthanasia, i.e. constantly opposing the civilisation of death. Therefore, the Pope was not alone. His disciples, eminent philosophers and theologians, stood by him. The wonderful Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then his successor as Benedict XVI, supported him. But first of all, he had spiritual supporters, knowing his way of thinking, people like Rev. Prof. Tadeusz Styczen, who deepened the thinking of his Master both at the University in Lublin, in the Chair of Ethics of the John Paul Institute, and then in the Eternal City, helping the Pope to understand all that today is one of the elements of the studies of the great pontificate. If we look at the thoughts of John Paul II we will surely notice the calm, humble and kind figure of Rev. Prof. Tadeusz Styczen.
Certainly there will be many people, including first of all Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who could give their testimonies about how much Rev. Prof. Styczen accompanied the Pope. As Cardinal Stanislaw Nagy says, ‘He was the key-witness of the pontificate of John Paul II.’ And one must admit that it is the most accurate term. Since he was truly a man who adhered to the thinking of John Paul II in an extraordinary way. He focused on the Pope’s thought. Only great spirits understand each other. Only they have this subtle and deepest contact of thought and they know almost everything about each other.

Friendship until death

Rev. Prof. Tadeusz Styczen was with his Master till the end of his life. It was him that read the Gospel passage, helped him pray when his earthy life, full of suffering, was ending. He touched the hands of the dying Pope with his rosary. He confessed that in his interview for ‘Niedziela.’ It was him that recollected the meaningful words of the Pope who was leaving to the Father’s house, ‘I have looked for you and you have come to me.’ He said that when the Pope passed away his face became mild and beautiful. Naturally, Fr Styczen was at the side of the dying Pope with other priests and nuns. But his presence had a special dimension. It was the presence of the one who was a companion and witness of the thinking of the great Pope.
Rev. Prof. Styczen did not talk a lot about his contacts with the Holy Father. We know that he used to spend holiday with him; they used to go to the mountains where the Pope felt very well and where he could contemplate in silence. Fr Tadeusz Styczen was with him, showing him the highest respect. One could see that in the texts of his lectures in which he selected very carefully, precisely and accurately all his words concerning the Pope. This is the way we should look at the whole output of Fr Tadeusz Styczen. It must be seen as his testimony of the greatest respect and love for every man, and especially for John Paul II.
A disciple will not exceed his master – Fr Tadeusz Styczen knew about it very well. He was a humble disciple but what characterised him was his love for the truth and sincerity in his scientific research. It was the principle of Prof. Styczen’s life.
We can remember the scene of the Gospel when Lord Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’
Many a time people repeat Jesus’ question with a slightly different reference. And one could ask Rev. Prof. Styczen, ‘Who do you think John Paul II is?’ Prof. Styczen tried to answer this question in 1998 in his interview for the Catholic weekly ‘Niedziela’, in the article entitles ‘Who is John Paul II?’ In the first paragraph of the article we can read, ‘Pope – enigma. Pope – riddle.’ It was the quotation of the Italian journalist who uttered those words about John Paul II. Fr Styczen continued, ‘The answer is astonishing because it means giving up an attempt to answer the question. It may mean a desire to withdraw the answer that has already been given as given too early. And it must have been the case of that journalist. It may also mean suspending – at least for some time – the attempt to give some answer.’ And the Professor referred to a certain priest from Krakow who had collaborated with Cardinal Wojtyla in Krakow until hic election to the papacy. After the election the priest was asked who John Paul II was. The answer was, ‘He is a mystery to me.’ Rev. Prof. Styczen stated that the description was not far from the previous one, ‘Pope – riddle. Papa – enigma.’
Fr Styczen ordered us to look at the Pope about whom he said ‘Pope – riddle’ as the one who understood theologically the truth about man, called to greatness, i.e. by immersing the truth in the theology of the Incarnation.
One should notice that Rev. Prof. Styczen posed the question, ‘Who is John Paul II’ in the 20th year of his pontificate. Therefore, he was observing the achievements of the Pope long enough; he read his encyclicals, got to know the documentation of his apostolic visits. Those 20 years of the pontificate showed a great Pope, the Pope of great achievements.
But Fr Tadeusz Styczen was convinced about it already during the first days of John Paul II’s ministry and the conviction did not stop his increasingly vivid and revealing fascination of the person of his Master, and together with him the fascination of the beauty of the world created by Love and called to Love.

"Niedziela" 43/2010

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: