John Paul II had a great love for St Thomas Aquinas. He named him the Doctor of Humanity. The young Wojtyla wrote a dissertation on John of the Cross, himself a careful student of St. Thomas.
In Fides et ratio John Paul II mentions five thinkers for special regard, among them Maritain and Gilson, great Thomists, as well as Edith Stein (Saint Benedicta of the Cross) a Thomist of sorts. (He also mentions Cardinal Newman, not a Thomist but a fellow traveler, and Rev Rosmini). But there is no great mystery as to his endorsement of St. Thomas.
He said: “Saint Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth. In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought, for he could defend the radical newness introduced by Revelation without ever demeaning the venture proper to reason." His was no tepid alliance of faith and reason, but rather the very "newness" of the gospel (e.g., the Beatitudes) challenged and raised up the work of reason to see the deep connection between the virtues and the gifts of the spirit. We find a true, "integral humanism."
Blessed John Paul II also said: “The philosophy of St. Thomas deserves to be attentively studied and accepted with conviction by the youth of our day, by reason of its spirit of openness and of universalism, characteristics which are hard to find in many trends of contemporary thought." Quite an understatement. In this era of the closing of the academic mind through ideology and the politically correct, Aquinas is a fresh breeze bringing in the exotic scent of truth and the balmy air of goodness and holiness. And in a era so torn by partisanship, and a culture so riven by the politics of gender, race, orientation, class, age, and so forth, the universalism and objectivity of Aquinas provide a forum for true dialogue and common understanding.
I think that John Paul II was himself a universal teacher as was Aquinas. Josef Pieper has a marvelous explanation of Aquinas as a great teacher in his book, Guide to Thomas Aquinas. Thomas was one of those who "teach as they grow and grow as they teach." So also Blessed John Paul II. Teaching, according to Aquinas, joins the vita contemplative and the vita active. This is the very hallmark of Blessed John Paul II, the mystic who travelled the world many times over. And in the most beautiful description of a teacher, Pieper (himself a great teacher) explains that "the teacher looks to the truth of things; that is the contemplative aspect of teaching." Without the silence and meditation and study -- the words of the teacher "would be empty talk, gesture, chatter, if not fraud." Indeed, how many professors have nothing to profess, for they have lost the scent of truth and have settled down comfortably into their sinecures to exchange high level chatter about nothing. But Saints Thomas Aquinas and John Paul II daily drank deeply at the springs of wisdom. That radical newness of the gospel opened their eyes and sharpened their ears to discern the truth of the world and human affairs. Then they turn towards their students and "look into the faces of live human beings," and thus "subject themself to the rigorously disciplined, wearisome labor of clarifying, of presenting, of communicating."
As Pieper concludes about Thomas Aquinas, so may we concerning John Paul II: "the more intensively and the more passionately a man in engages in these two activities, the more he is a teacher. On the one hand, there is his relationship with truth, the power of silent listening to reality; on the other hand, there is his affirmative concern for his audience and his pupils." (Guide to Thomas Aquinas, pp. 93-94)
Early in his teaching career, as he launched into his first great systematic work, the Summa Contra Gentiles, Thomas said: "I feel that I owe it to God to make this the foremost duty of my life: that all my thought and speech proclaim Him!" (SCG I.2) From first to last, John Paul II would say no less. What other purpose could sustain such generous work.
If the accolades of Doctor Communis (common teacher) and Doctor Humanitatis (teacher of humanity) were not already given to Saint Thomas Aquinas, we would have to give them Saint John Paul II. But I have no doubt he would be content to be known as a humble student of Saint Thomas Aquinas who went on to teach all of humanity at end of the second millennium, perhaps rising to his own special height through the gifts of his upbringing and education and the grace of his office. His bellowing shook down the Berlin wall and there Iron Curtain and was heard across all of the world and he will be heard into the deeps of the new millennium.