In a letter by pope John Paul II I found the following quote where he talks about God as 'the Other'. I know this term is used in phenomenology and by Levinas, Lacan and perhaps others, but I was wondering to which thinker, theologian or area of philosophy or theology he was referring to when he uses 'the Other' instead of God. Does he (or other prominent catholics) use this term in other letters or books?

We must confess that we all have need of this silence, filled with the presence of him who is adored: in theology, so as to exploit fully its own sapiential and spiritual soul; in prayer, so that we may never forget that seeing God means coming down the mountain with a face so radiant that we are obliged to cover it with a veil (cf. Ex 34:33), and that our gatherings may make room for God's presence and avoid self - celebration; in preaching, so as not to delude ourselves that it is enough to heap word upon word to attract people to the experience of God; in commitment, so that we will refuse to be locked in a struggle without love and forgiveness. This is what man needs today; he is often unable to be silent for fear of meeting himself, of feeling the emptiness that asks itself about meaning; man who deafens himself with noise. All, believers and non - believers alike, need to learn a silence that allows the Other to speak when and how he wishes, and allows us to understand his words.

-- John Paul II, Orientale Lumen 16 (1996)

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  • The idea is quite popular in philosophy/phenomenology, largely Hegelian. In addition to Hegel, see also Fichte, Husserl, Sartre, Buber, then of course Lacan, Levinas, Derrida, etc. But answering this is essentially to explain phenomenology and Hegel and Husserl. See this article. See also Hegel and the Other
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 16:23

3 Answers 3


OP quoting John Paul II "All, believers and non - believers alike, need to learn a silence that allows the Other to speak when and how he wishes, and allows us to understand his words."

The meaning of "the Other" in context would refer to a believer's or non-believer's God.

  • This is a the best answer that makes sense. +1.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jan 28, 2021 at 17:31
  • It makes sense that this is what is meant in context. Why would he encourage a non-believer to learn a silence where the non-believer's "God" would speak? Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 0:54

Levinas was a big influence on John Paul II who called his thought the "Testimony of our age". And they had a substantial dialogue and friendship. So I think Levinas. Certainly not Lacan.

Sorry I can't find any better quotes or references as I am on my iPad.


This formulation may refer to the heart to heart relationships theology. It advocates the personal relationships and communication with Triune God as true sense of life. Not an isichasm nor contemplation but rather understanding and feeling God as Person, as the Other, and diving into the personal relationships with Him.

You can read Schmemann and Anthony Bloom to find out more about it.

  • Can a non-believer access this relationship? It seems like access is Christ, the door, and the new birth. Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 0:58

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