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168 of 168 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Portrait of a Colossus
I did not expect to find Weigel on the Pope so engrossing. I decided to buy it because I have come to realize just how significant a figure in both Christian and world affairs the Pope has been. Karol Wojtyla's biography has inspired me to look beyond the present. As I read I realized how deeply I had misunderstood the Pope. There is little doubt that he is one of...
Published on May 17, 2000 by Richard Kew

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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars eulogistic hagiography, full of ecclesiastic minutiae and too long
This is a monster of a book. The printed version is more than 1000 pages long. The ebook seemed even longer :) I struggled to finish it, but the subject matter was interesting enough that I persevered through it.

I was not as familiar with John Paul II and the Second Vatican council as many of the other reviewers here, and I wanted to learn more. In that...
Published on October 5, 2011 by Alberto Vargas


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168 of 168 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Portrait of a Colossus, May 17, 2000
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I did not expect to find Weigel on the Pope so engrossing. I decided to buy it because I have come to realize just how significant a figure in both Christian and world affairs the Pope has been. Karol Wojtyla's biography has inspired me to look beyond the present. As I read I realized how deeply I had misunderstood the Pope. There is little doubt that he is one of the greatest figures of our time. Some of my misconceptions of John Paul were due to my own personal discomfort as an Anglican with various facets of Roman Catholicism. However, our own limited perceptions should not distort our recognition of greatness.
Just as I brought my own preconceptions to the man, so have the media who have been covering him since that day in 1978 when he was elected. The press have distorted this man because they have read him through glasses tinted by their own secular conditioning. As a result there is a "good" John Paul who affirms some of their social agendas, and then there is the "bad" John Paul, who seems not to understand their progressive preferences. Weigel makes it clear that they have profoundly misunderstood him because will not measure him on his own Christian terms.
To grasp the significance of John Paul, we need to come to terms with the complexities of his personality and his origins in a family beset by tragedy in his early years. But that is not enough. From there we need to explore his own personal Christian journey, his theological formation, his philosophical studies, and the tough environment in which he grew to adulthood and exercised the first 30 years of his ministry. Furthermore, this man who cannot be understood unless we see him first and foremost as a priest, a pastor, and a man of mystical prayer. "The sheer drama of Karol Wojtyla's life would defy the imagination of the most fanciful screenwriter," says Weigel.
The Poland in which Wojtyla grew up briefly emerged from Nazi tyranny, only to be swept into the Russian sphere of influence and be subjected to a different kind of totalitarian repression as a result of the unfortunate dealings at Yalta. In the brief twilight between these two oppressions, he was ordained and sent to Rome to study. If we are to understand the Pope's perception of world affairs, we have to realize the significant part Yalta plays in his grasp of global realities.
An actor, playwright, priest, philosopher, pastor, and athlete, John Paul II seems almost too good to be true. "Given the expectations of contemporary biography, a writer almost regrets the absence of detractors and critics of his subject. Perhaps even more striking is the fact that Karol Woytyla's intelligence, creativity, and pastoral success did not attract clerical jealousies... He lived a singularly integrated priestly and personal life."
The opening 250 pages focus on Wojtyla's life prior to the papacy. The remainder deals life since. In the years before his election, Wojtyla had become a major player in world Catholicism, having been appointed Archbishop of Krakow and then a cardinal at an exceedingly early age. Only after he was installed as archbishop did the authorities realize the sort of man they were up against. What they seemed not to have understood is that Wojtyla's approach was not direct confrontation of authorities who only seemed to understand the language of power, but the longer term task of undermining them through Christian "cultural resistance." He was not going to roll over and play dead before his oppressors, but would gradually pull the rug out from beneath their credibility, revealing their spiritual, moral, social, political, and cultural bankruptcy.
Because of his Polish heritage in a country trapped between totalitarian Germany and Russia, the Pope has had a lifelong passion for human freedom. His two doctorates in philosophy were built around this topic, and it has been the subject of his most significant pronouncements. However, he is misunderstood if interpreted through the lenses of secular liberalism. His perception of freedom is that ultimately it is focused in obedience and self-giving to the One who died upon the Cross.
In the middle is a chapter entitled "In the Eye of the Storm." It is pivotal. The honeymoon was over, and the principalities and powers were out to neutralize his papacy. His approach had literally put him in the eye of political, social, and theological storms. This chapter deals with his response to and encouragement of the Gdansk shipyard strike in August 1980, and the rise of Solidarity in Poland. His affirmation of such activities put him on a collision course with the Soviet empire, and led to the unsuccessful assassination attempt of 1981. Weigel suggests that his constant challenge eroded the ability of an undemocratic Communism to survive. The Pope was a catalyst for world-shattering change. While all this was going on, the Pope was proceeding against what he perceived to be error within the church. It would seem that the policies he had outlined in the first years of his primacy were now taking on a shape and form that would have a profound impact upon the future -- these were an affirmation of human dignity, a passion for prayer and truth, the yearning for unity among Christians and peoples, and the evangelization of the world.
His concern for evangelization is a key component of this man. He believes that for a human being to be truly free and whole, that person must surrender to the One who died for us. The Pope's faith is utterly Christ and Cross centered. He sees mission, unity, and truth belonging together, and that if truth or unity are compromised then mission suffers. Put simply, John Paul wants the world to know the good news about Jesus Christ that has led him throughout his own life to be utterly self-surrendering in order that the one to whom he surrenders may have the whole of him. This book is a winner.
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107 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb and deeply serious book., October 14, 1999
For this Presbyterian, George Weigel's book about Pope John Paul II was a revelation not only about a remarkable figure in history, but also about Catholic thought and practice. Weigel has written far more than a conventional biography. "Witness to Hope" is also a sweeping history of John Paul's times and his papacy, a trenchant observer's comments on politics in the '70s and '80s, and a sharp-minded theologian's explication of John Paul's voluminous writings. A couple of critics have sniped that Weigel's book lacks "incisive criticisms" of John Paul. In fact, Weigel does speak critically at many points; he simply does so with such civility and respect that bloodthirsty adversaries of the Pope and his church are likely to be disappointed. Far more valuable is Weigel's fidelity to a principle that he states at the outset: that John Paul's life and papacy can only be understood "from the inside." Weigel's vantage point is as "inside" as any author is likely to get; footnote after footnote reveals that information provided by Weigel comes directly from conversation with John Paul II. Weigel's own credentials as a religious thinker and writer, his access to the Pope and to senior officials of the Holy See, the dramatic life of his subject--- all these make the nearly 900 pages of this immense book richly rewarding for the serious reader. Consistently throughout "Witness to Hope," George Weigel paints a fervently evangelical and intellectual Pope who presents Christianity as demanding, but exciting and fulfilling. One might say the same about George Weigel's book: it makes greater demands upon the reader than would a more superficial, sentimental biography--- but it richly rewards the reader with its account of an important life.
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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive scholarship, yet readable, December 12, 1999
By A Customer
This is a comprehensive biography of Pope John Paul II, based on extensive interviews and a thorough study of writings by the Pope covering more than 50 years. Despite the size of the book, it is very readable. The author places emphasis on the significance of John Paul's contributions to philosophy, theology, evangelism, and the Catholic Church over the long run. Hence the book is more than journalism, a common fault of most treatments of the life of this Pope. While the author has made a strong case elsewhere (in the magazine First Things) for Pope John Paul II as the most important person of the 20th century, this book leaves one with the clear impression that of all the leaders of the 20th century, John Paul is the most likely to have the greatest influence on the course of the 21st century. I cannot think of a better book to read as the new millenium approaches.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent work of historical biography., October 18, 1999
By A Customer
This is a solid, traditional biography that well chronicles the life and times of John Paul II. The work is rich in detail and, on the whole, sound in its analysis of the significance of John Paul's Pontificate. The author does an excellent job, moreover, of describing the theological ideas and works of Karol Wojtyla pre-1978. The work has two relatively minor flaws. First, there are places where catalogues of information -- e.g., the topics of each of Karol Wojtyla's addresses on Vatican radio during the early 1960s, a list of the subjects of each of series of seminars given by Fr. Wojtyla during a certain period -- are inartfully inserted into the text. This leaves one with the impression that the author felt compelled to include all information discovered even when it did not contribute to the portrait being painted. The second is a lack of spiritual depth and sensitivity. Decisions and actions that are essentially religious in nature are analyzed primarily for their worldly consequences and/or presentation. The discussions of "Humanae Vitae" and "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis," for example, are the standard secular analyses one would read from the likes of a Michael Novak. This leaves the reader feeling that the portrait of the man fails to reveal his full spiritual dimension. Overall, however, this is an excellent work of historical biography and Mr. Weigel is to be highly commended.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Changed my mind about the Pope, May 26, 2000
I came to this book with an interest in John Paul and the changes he has effected, but with little regard for him, primarily because of his conservative religious views. I came away with a profound respect for this man, gained through Weigel's penetrating analysis of Karol Wojytla's life and soul. I now understand why the Pope holds his positions, and I have changed the adverb modifying "disagree" from "scornfully" to "respectfully" when describing how I feel about them.
On top of that, it's a very well-written and interesting book about this man whose giant shadow has been cast over the last 20+ years.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intense Study of John Paul II, April 10, 2005
By 
Arthem "arthem" (Knoxville, TN USA) - See all my reviews
I don't normally write reviews for books I haven't completed, but I have to confess that in the wake of the Pope's death, I picked up Weigel's biography to trudge through the last two chapters.

Witness To Hope is a profound, serious attempt to understand Pope John Paul II by understanding Karol Wojtyla. As a contrast to Edmund Morris' execrable "Dutch" (biography of Ronald Reagan), Weigel's "Witness To Hope" refuses to accept or gloss over the seeming contradictions embodied by John Paul II. In its intense analysis, it provides a plausible mechanism for understanding the Pope and his corresponding impact on the world.

Unfortunately, there's also an awful lot of material. The potential for seeing John Paul II's hand in every Vatican action means analyzing every Vatican action - an insurmountable task, but one which the latter stages of the book seem to be engaged in.

Weigel does an excellent job maintaining the many threads of John Paul II's papacy - the timeline of his life (most engaging!), the course of his papacy, the evolution of his philosophy and theology, John Paul II as post Vatican II pope, the global impact of his papacy, and various spheres of impact. Weigel can't keep all these balls in the air, but he does a remarkable job considering the task.

After I've read a few books on personalism, reviewed the archives of the second Vatican council, and read all of John Paul II's encyclicals myself, I'd like to come back to Witness To Hope again. This book is not the simple biography I expected, but a thorough and scholarly work, surely setting the bar for the massive future interest in St. John Paul the Great.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Now This Is A True Biography Based On Open Access!, October 14, 1999
By A Customer
This author did not waste his time and was not lazy in writing about this Pope of Hope. If you are a Roman Catholic you will enjoy the insight and may cringe about the foresight of what is revealed. If you are Jewish you will see the opportunity that is available now in coming to grips with reconciliation based on truth of history known only to sons and daughters of Abraham. The book is easy to read, follows in details and reveals as much as one can know about this man of honor, spiritual healing and forgiveness to those who hate him, tried to kill him and disdain his faith. Communists will see just how puny their ideas and philosophy are compared to what motivates and guides this man of God. In the end, like all good biographies you will learn more than you came to know about a simple but powerful example of a man called John Paul II. Excellent superb excellence.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Spiritual Biography, June 21, 2000
Weigel's biography of Pope John Paul II is a must read for anyone wanting to gain insight about the current "culture wars" that are raging in the Western world. What makes this book so outstanding is the author's lack of embarassment in presenting his subject from a spiritual and Catholic viewpoint. Unlike the secular media, who have already decided that truth is limited to the material world, Weigel examines the life of John Paul II in an integrated way, showing how the exterior life of the pontiff is motivated by his deep, interior spirituality. Prior to this book, the world knew the Pope as either a "conservative" or a "liberal" depending on what issue was being debated. Now the world knows the Pope as a renowed philosopher and theologian with something to say to all of us.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars John Paul II, "From The Inside", February 15, 2005
By 
Penn Jacobs (Rutherford, NJ USA) - See all my reviews
In his novel "The Magic Mountain", Thomas Mann wrote that only the truly exhaustive is interesting. George Weigel may have taken Mann's maxim to heart when writing this massive biography of Pope John Paul II. Extensively researched and meticulously cross-referenced, this 900-plus page book seems to approach its subject by subtly appropriating methods and styles associated with the Pope, viz.,

1) Weigel places the focus of the book on the person of Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), rather than on abstract questions of ecclesiology, theology, or politics;

2) he approaches his subject discursively and from as many different perspectives and backgrounds as possible, taking the reader through fascinating presentations of Polish culture, World War II realities, Cold War geopolitics, Marxist socialism, the turbulence of the Second Vatican Council, the history of post-Revolution church-state relations in France, etc.;

3) he adopts a motto of John Paul II's phenomenology and attempts to understand his subjects "from the inside," to try to arrive at a sympathetic and experiential depth view of his subject; and

4) he presents the action of the book as a drama that unfolds, as poetic, and as prophetic vision.

A demanding read, not that it is exceedingly obscure or technical but due to the encyclopedic breadth of its narrative and its digressions, it is nonetheless a compelling read, particularly in the initial chapters and through most of the chapters on the pontificate. (The later chapters lose a bit of their edge, largely, one would think, because it becomes most difficult to frame contemporaneous events, absent the perspective that the passage of at least a few years.) The first quarter of the book concerns Karol Wojtyla before his election. This launches the book forward, since he is depicted so distinct and vividly in spiritually heroic and charismatic terms that, although the reader may be very familiar with John Paul II's pontificate, the reader will be pulled forward in the book by the strong desire to see how this man, the "Lolek" of this book, rises to the challenges of the papacy.

Weigel's writing is at all times respectful of the Pontiff -- he obviously admires John Paul II greatly. Weigel, an orthodox American Catholic, does not shrink from pointing out instances where he believes this papacy has stumbled or failed, such as His Holiness's (at least for the time being) frustrated initiatives to restore unity with the Orthodox Churches.

This biography also points down further avenues for understanding a slice of 20th century history -- works by phenomenologists such as Husserl and Scheler, the writings of Edith Stein, the documents of the Second Vatican Council, and Wojtyla's plays, philosophical treatises, and religious writing. It's always a particular reward when a book points to further areas to explore.

The College of Cardinals elected Wojtyla pope when I was still a teenager. Most of the import of it was lost on me, sadly -- adolescence has its own priorities. Weigel's book allows a chance to view that time through a new lens, to see movement and patterns in current history to which may have been missed the first time around.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No. 3 on my list of best books, November 24, 2001
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At least one seminary requires those in spiritual formation to read this biography of Pope John Paul II. I rank the book just below the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in my list of books that are important to read. I can usually summarize a book in a page or two, but not this one. The book offers so much that I filled thirteen pages with terse notes written in paragraph form.

The first 250 pages of the book inspire the reader, who realizes the great hardships the Pope endured from his early life through his priesthood under Nazi and Communist rule. His work with the Church's intellectuals and performing artists developed the cultural base that succeeded in combating these totalitarian regimes. His discussion groups tolerated all ideas, provided that all were striving for truth. His development of a new Christian Humanism was, and still is, effective in combating social and spiritual ills everywhere.
The remaining 600 pages show how the Pope dealt with specific problems in the Church and in the world. He approaches all as a sincerely holy, humble, and reverent pilgrim, full of hope for humanity. He apologizes for the failures of Catholics. He invites those who oppose him to join him in dialog, yet he never compromises Church principles. The book covers each such case, including each encyclical, with sufficient detail that the reader learns from the Pope throughout the book.
Because I have read probably every encyclical and many of the apostolic letters written by the Pope, much was familiar to me -- after the book jarred my memory. The most important new point that I learned from the book pertained to a question I have asked many a philosopher: Can every philosophy describe all of the truths of the Catholic faith? The Pope answered that some philosophies are so poor or so closed as to make any real dialog impossible.
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Witness to Hope : The Biography of Pope John Paul II
Witness to Hope : The Biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel (Paperback - March 31, 2005)
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