Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka and her friendship with Pope John Paul II
Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka (1923- 2014), the woman who gained posthumous fame for having had a friendship with Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) for more than thirty years, was a Polish American phenomenologist philosopher. In this essay I try to show that although it was Tymieniecka’s friendship with Pope John Paul II that has caught the interest of the greater media, she was an accomplished individual in her own right.
At the time of Tymieniecka’s death in 2014, age 91, she was still active in the World Phenomenology Institute (WPI), the institution that she founded in 1968, in Hanover, New Hampshire. She served WPI for many years, as its president and as the editor of its official publications: Analecta Husserliana and of Phenomenological Inquiry. A search of her books in Amazon shows her name as editor until close to her death. Tymieniecka’s biography provide many clues to her motivation as well as to her personality.
According with Marek Jerzy Minakowski, a Polish genealogist who has an extensive blog in the internet (https://minakowski.pl/), the biography of Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka (1923- 2014) that appears in Wikipedia is not completely accurate. The version in Wikipedia states that “she was born into an aristocratic Polish-French family,” but although she comes from an aristocratic family, it was a Polish-Jewish one, for her connections to French aristocrats are too remote to count. Minakowski states that was the great-granddaughter of Abraham Loewenstein, from the Jewish commune in Kazimierz, and a descendant of Szmul Niederkowir, the richest Polish Jew of early ‘9th century. The version in Wikipedia also states that Anna-Teresa’s mother, Maria-Ludwika de Lanval Tymieniecka, introduced her to philosophy of Henri Bergson (1859-1941). To that, Minakowski makes two points. The first is that Tymieniecka’s mother probably had a proper Jewish name at birth, inferring that she was the daughter of Jews who converted to Catholicism. The second is that she would know the French philosopher Henri Bergson, because he too was a descendant of Szmul Niederkowir.
Tymieniecka was born on an estate in Masovia, Poland, in a well to do family. As a young woman, she was drawn to the Lvov–Warsaw Philosophical School, the most important movement in the history of Polish philosophy, established by Kazimierz Twardowski (1866-1938) at the end of the 19th century in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, capital of the province of Galicia, which at that time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She was especially interested in Twardowski’s most important book Zur Lehre vom Inhalt und Gegenstand der Vorstellungen (On the content and object of presentations). As far as her formal higher education is concerned, Tymieniecka studied simultaneously and the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts. At the Jagiellonian University she began systematic studies of philosophy under the guidance of Roman Ingarden (1893-1970), who himself had studied with Kazimierz Twardowski and Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). At the end of her undergraduate studies, she moved to Switzerland to continue studies under another important Polish philosopher and logician, Józef Maria Bocheński (1902-1995), at the University of Fribourg. Her doctoral study, dedicated to explorations of the fundamentals of phenomenology in Nicolai Hartmann and Roman Ingarden’s philosophies, was later published as Essence and Existence (1957). From Fribourg, Tymieniecka moved to Paris, where she enrolled herself at the Sorbonne, to study French philosophy and literature, obtaining her second Ph.D. from this institution in 1951. In the years 1952-1953 she did postdoctoral researches in the field of social and political sciences at the College d’Europe in Brugge, Belgium. According to her main biographer, from that moment on, Tymieniecka started her own way in philosophy, by developing a special phenomenological attitude that was neither entirely Husserlian, nor entirely Ingardenian.
Tymieniecka imigrated to the United States in 1954. Upon her arrival she held two short term academic appointments, the first to teach philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley, and the second to teach mathematics at Oregon State University, in Corvallis. According to her biography, after these she did postdoctoral research at Yale, and after that, in 1957, she became an assistant professor of philosophy at Pennsylvania State University, lecturing also at Bryn Mawr College, also in Pennsylvania. From 1961 to 1966 she taught at the Institute for Independent Study at Radcliffe College, a women’s liberal arts college in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her last academic post was as a professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University, New York city, from 1972-1973.
In 1956 Tymieniecka married Hendrik S. Houthakker (1924-2008), Professor of Economy at Stanford University (1954-1960) and Harvard University (from 1960) and member of President Nixon’s Council of Economic Advisers from 1969 to 1971. The couple had three children: Isabella Houthakker, Louis Houthakker and Jan-Nicolas Houthakker. Although Tymieniecka’s biography does not provide any details of her married life, one could make an educated guess that she must have endured the usual hardships of trying to find a job somewhere near that of her husband’s. However, Tymieniecka had the courage and the determination to carve her own working niche, founding the WPI and locating it somewhere accessible to her family home, first in Lebanon (NH) and then in Pomfret (VT). This is the kind of compromising that spouses do for the sake of their relationship and their family. We cant’t know for sure that the married of Tymieniecka and Houthakker was a happy one, but the evidence points to that.
The WPI that Tymieniecka founded soon made its mark through its various activities and publications. Many of its meetings were conducted in rooms rented at Harvard University. Tymieniecka herself was well respected in the academic circles. About the time Tymieniecka was founding the WPI, she became acquainted with two books by the Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, after which she developed an interest in meeting Wojtyla in person. These books were Miłość i Odpowiedzialność (Love and Responsibility; 1960) and Osoba i czyn (Person and act or The acting person; 1967). Love and Responsibility is about the complexity of sexual feeling and response, and an extension of the Thomist view that all sexuality must be generative. The Acting Person stresses that man must ceaselessly unravel his mysteries and strive for a new and more mature expression of his nature, which includes his struggle to live with dignity.
The opportunity for Tymieniecka to meet Wojtyla appeared in 1973, when she was invited by the Seventh Centennial International Thomas Aquinas Congress to represent American scholarship on its Scientific Committee. She decided to invite the Cardinal Wojtyla to present a paper in the phenomenology section, of which she was the moderator, and to travel to Poland to deliver the invitation in person. Their first meeting must have been as momentous as one would expect of a meeting of two kindred spirits with sharing interests. After their first meeting, Tymieniecka and Cardinal Wojtyla became friends.
A friendship between a priest and a married woman is bound to raise eyebrows, especially so with the priest happens to be a Cardinal or a Pope. There is no evidence of impropriety in the friendship between Tymieniecka and Cardinal Wojtyla. On the contrary, their friendship served to show that it is possible for a spiritual leader to cultivate the life of the spirit and be engaged with the world. Tymieniecka’s husband, Houthakker, who was intelligent and cosmopolitan did not object to hi wife’s friendship with Cardinal Wojtyla. In fact, he too became a friend of the Cardinal according to biographers Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi in their book His Holiness (1997). We learn from their book that Cardinal Wojtyla and his private secretary, Father Stanislaw Dziwisz, visited Tymieniecka and her husband in their Vermont country home in the summer of 1976. According to them, the cardinal celebrated mass each morning at a picnic table in the backyard; he borrowed her husband’s shorts to wear beneath his swimming trunks when they swam in a neighbour’s pond; and they took long walks (usually in the company of Dziwisz) to discuss philosophy and their work. After Wojtyla was elected to the papacy in October 1978, he insisted in carrying on meeting with Tymieniecka. Their friendship lasted until the death of Wojtyla in 2005.
There are two important things about Tymieniecka that her biographers agree. The first is that she was intellectually equal to her kindred spirited friend, the late Pope John Paul II. The second is that their friendship was platonic. We can go further to say that their friendship was of the ‘complete’ (teleion) type described by Aristotle, which is only possible between those who are sensible and virtuous.
Tymieniecka’s exceptional intelect can be infered both from her academic qualifications and her books. As shown in her selected bibliography, below, Tymieniecka is the author of seven books of great significance. She was the editor of Analecta Husserliana and of Phenomenological Inquiry, the two main publications of The World Phenomenology Institute. In addition to that, she was also a co-Editor of the Springer (formerly Kluwer Academic Publishers) book series: Islamic Philosophy and Occidental Phenomenology in Dialogue, with Gholamreza Aavani and Nader El-Bizri. Tymieniecka’s editorial signature can be deduced from the various titles she helped to put into print, which included the aforementioned books by Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II.
Tymieniecka sold her archive to the National Library of Poland in 2008, but the letters she reveived from Pope John Paul II were handed to them only after her death, on June 7, 2014, in Pomfret, Vermont, United States.
When in The World Phenomenology Institute held its 39th Annual Cambridge Conference, in June 4-6, 2015, one of its Session was entitled ‘Homage to Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka. Its plenary session was conducted by Daniela Verducci, WPI CoPresident (European/Asian Division), who spoke on The Subject/Object Relationship According to the Phenomenology of Life of Anna Teresa Tymieniecka.
As a long admirer of Karol Wojtyla, the late Pope John Paul II, when I learned about his long lasting friendship with the philosopher Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, I simply dismissed any innuendos of wrong doing. My recent interest in the philosophy of friendship drove me do this brief inquire into the life of his friend Tymieniecka, and not to my surprise, I discovered another exceptional person. The friendship between Tymieniecka and Wojtyla was of the complete type that Aristotle described. This type of friendship only happens between very exceptional people. Complete friendships are the diamonds of humanity: tough, beautiful and extremely rare. They are morsels of meaning that fill the void of existence.
Selected bibliography of Tymieniecka
Tymieniecka, A.-T. Essence et existence: Étude à propos de la philosophie de Roman Ingarden et Nicolai Hartmann (Paris: Aubier, Editions Montaigne, 1957).
—. For Roman Ingarden; nine essays in phenomenology (’s-Gravenhage: M.Nijhoff, 1959), viii + 179 p.
—. Phenomenology and science in contemporary European thought. With a foreword by I. M. Bochenski ([New York]: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1962), xxii + 198 p.
—. Leibniz’ cosmological synthesis (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1964), 207 p.
—. Why is there something rather than nothing? Prolegomena to the phenomenology of cosmic creation (Assen: Van Gorcum & Comp., 1966), 168 p.
—. Eros et Logos (Paris: Beatrice-Nauwelaerts, 1972), 127 p.
—. Logos and Life (Dordrecht; Boston: Kluwer Academic, 1987–2000, 4 vols.).
Bernstein, Carl and Politi, Marco. His Holiness. 1997.
Minakowski, Marek Jerzy. The next friend of the Pope was a descendant of Jewish bankers. https://minakowski.pl/najblizsza-przyjaciolka-papieza-byla-potomkini-zydowskich-bankierow/ . Consulted on 09.04.2019.
Stourton, Ed. The secret letters of Pope John Paul II. BBC News, 15 February 2016. Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35552997
Verducci, Daniela. The ‘Sacred River’ Toward God: Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka’s Phenomenology of Religious Experience. Open Theology 4:630-639, 2018.
Wikipedia. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka (February 28, 1923 – June 7, 2014). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna-Teresa_Tymieniecka
Joaquina (Jo) Pires-O’Brien is the editor of PortVitoria, a magazine of the Iberian culture, being published since July 2010.
Key words: Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka; Pope John Paul II; Cardinal Karol Wojtyla; Analecta Husserliana; The World Phenomenology Institute; Aristotle; Henri Bergson; complete friendship; Daniela Verducci;
 Bergson was a Jew who regarded Catholicism with sympathy, as shown in his book Les deux sources de la morale et la religion (1932), which was very influential to a number of Catholic thinkers. During World War II, when France was occupied by the Germans, Vichy regime issued a decree ordering the Jews to register themselves, but in a separate decree it exempted those Jews who had achieved distinction in the areas of science, literature, art, etc. Although the 80 year old Bergson fitted the latter category he opted to register in solidarity to other Jews. He died soon after that, on January 3, 1941.
 Its other members included Tadeusz Kotarbiński, Stanisław Leśniewski, Jan Łukasiewicz and Alfred Tarski.
 Verducci is the author of La fenomenologia della vita di Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka. Prova di sistema (Italian) Paperback, 1 Jan 2012. Verducci’s more recent paper about Tymieniecka appeared in 2018 in the journal Open Theology.