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Memory and Identity: Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium Hardcover – March 22, 2005

4.6 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When the world remembers Pope John Paul II, what themes from his papacy will come to mind? In this philosophical meditation, the Holy Father reflects on values he deems critical to the destiny of humankind, with freedom and the value of life underlying all others. Pope John Paul II’s theological understanding of evil and suffering was forged in the crucible of Nazism and communism in his native Poland, as was his belief in the importance of cultural identity. He points out that "evil, in a realist sense, can only exist in relation to good, and in particular, in relation to God, the supreme Good," which underlies even the darkest moments in history with the promise of redemption and hope. His encounters with those dark moments lend credibility when he writes, "All human suffering, all pain, all infirmity contains within itself a promise of salvation, a promise of joy…"

He champions freedom, yet cautions the faithful that when freedom in no longer linked with the truth, it sets the premise for "dangerous moral consequences." The West must overcome its moral permissiveness, he exhorts, listing divorce, free love, abortion, contraception, euthanasia, and genetic engineering as evidence of its degeneration. He also issues a plea for the church, a repository of historical memory, to remember its primary mission: to proclaim the Gospel.

The world will remember Pope John Paul II for espousing many of the convictions he expresses here: that good is ultimately victorious, life conquers death, and love triumphs over hate. --Cindy Crosby

From Publishers Weekly

The pope's 1994 book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, sold some 20 million copies in more than 30 languages. Both that book and this one grew out of interviews conducted in the early 1990s, but the differences between them are significant. The interviewer for Threshold was an Italian journalist who focused on questions Catholic laypersons might ask; the interviewers for Memory were Polish professors of philosophy. Though advance publicity has focused on the pope's description of the 1981 attempt on his life and on several comments on abortion and homosexuality, most of the book is devoted to rigorous discussion—laced with quotations from the Bible, documents of Vatican II and his own poetry—about the nature of evil, especially as seen in Nazi and Communist regimes; the nature of freedom, with its concomitant responsibilities; and the challenges facing post-Enlightenment, secular Europe. Praising the medieval church and Thomist philosophy, condemning Cartesian self-sufficiency and modern "unbridled capitalism," the pope upholds tradition (memory) as the basis for individual, religious and national identity. His conclusion is characteristically optimistic: "The evil of the 20th century was... an evil of gigantic proportions, an evil which availed itself of state structures in order to accomplish its wicked work." But "there is no evil from which God cannot draw forth a greater good. There is no suffering which he cannot transform into a path leading to him." (Mar. 27)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Rizzoli; 2d ptg. edition (March 22, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0847827615
  • ISBN-13: 978-0847827619
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #589,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mark D. Merlino on March 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Memory and Identity is a very easy and thoroughly enjoyable read. In this book, the Pope forcefully outlines his views on the themes of evil, freedom, nationalism, contemporary Europe, democracy.

Memory and Identity begins with John Paul II's view on evil, which he explains is overcome by Christ's redemption. In this discussion, he argues that modern evil ideologies have their roots in Enlightenment philosophical thought. Particular emphasis is placed on the fascist and Marxist worldviews. He expresses concern that there may now be a new subtle and hidden ideology of evil intent exploiting human rights against man and the family.

The next few chapters beautifully define freedom and express how the principle of freedom should be applied in practice.

The Pope's then goes on to discuss the themes of nationality, patriotism, and nationalism. In this discussion, he consistently uses Poland and Polish national history to articulate his views. He then touches on topics such as Poland's role in contemporary Europe, and Europe's relationship with the rest of the Catholic world.

The Pope also analyzes modern views of democracy and church-state relations. In doing so he praises Enlightenment contributions to contemporary thought, pointing out the Gospel origins of Enlightenment the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity.

The book ends with a transcript of the Pope's discussion on his assassination attempt. Most interesting is the Pope's recollection of his 1983 conversation with Ali Agca, who couldn't understand why the attempt failed.

After reading this book, I felt as if I got to know the man on a personal level, just as if I was having with a conversation with him. A good read.
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Format: Hardcover
In the wake of John Paul II's exemplary death, the media is filled with many accounts of people who had some brief, but memorable, personal contact with this great Pope; invariably people who have had contact with the late Pope report its enduring impact on their lives. But we can all have a meaningful personal encounter with this great man and servant of God: his biographer George Weigel delivered himself of the opinion some time ago that John Paul II's greatest legacy may be writings. Weigel had in mind, I believe, John Paul II's outstanding book THE THEOLOGY OF THE BODY, but it is true of his last book MEMORY AND IDENTITY, as well.

John Paul was not just a man of action and a great leader--although he was one of the greatest in those respects--but a profound thinker. I am extremely tempted to set out the thesis of MEMORY AND IDENTITY in this review, but the book is only 190 pages, and I have no right to further condense the very brief, and profound, last work of this great man.

I will only say that he begins the work by dealing directly with the problem of good and evil--and as always with this Pope, he does so from a fresh and optimistic perspective which is grounded in deep learning and reflection. It is only in Chapter 23, interestingly a chapter that addresses issues relating to modern Europe, that he reveals the meaning of the title MEMORY AND IDENTITY and shows its profound significance.

One last comment: the book is presented in the form of a conversation, and it is easy to read. But don't be misled into thinking that MEMORY AND IDENTITY is a superficial interview. Every sentence is lapidary, almost scriptural in the density with which meaning has been packed into the words.
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Format: Hardcover
I took a college class many years ago offered in the philosophy department, ethics. It was a much more fun class than I expected it to be, even though it required reading some pretty heavy writing. The whole of ethics boiled down to "what is happiness"? Seems simple enough, and I was suprised by the great number of writers the past 2000 years who had their own ideas for a "good life".

I wish I had Pope John Paul II Memeory and Identity back then. It is almost like a cliff notes, I was very suprised to see the Pope quote so many highly regarded philosophers such as Kant and Descarte and Mill. He offered his thoughts on their works.

In this book you will get more than "You need Faith". You will get more than "How to". You will get anwsers to why the Church believes things they do. In an hour with this book, I felt refreshed. It made me feel happy, it is a wonderful book. It satisfies both the mind and the heart.
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Format: Hardcover
"The limit imposed upon evil is ultimately `Divine Mercy'."

"In sacrificing himself for us all, Christ gave a new meaning to suffering, opening up a new dimension, a new order, the order of love...It is this suffering which burns and consumes evil with the flame of love and draws forth even from sin a great flowering of good."

"And from the mother he learned to conform himself to Christ."

My fellow readers, of all faiths, when and if you get what I believe to be the deepest, albeit the most profound, of the "message" of Christ, only then will you transcend to the true understanding of Christ, consequently, God the Father. Only then will the world, as we "know" it, make sense, and only then, will you understand, why PJP not only gave his life totally to Mother Mary, but why she is the ladder, or the "easiest way" to understand and know Christ. And only then, will you understand how the evil and suffering of this world can not only transcend us, but bring us peace!

In case you haven't made the connection, the most important message of Memory and Identity was also the most important message of the Homily of PJP's funeral. In both, PJP is pleading with us, "Follow me, I understand and know the way."

Coincidence? Hardly, especially knowing that PJP was famous as well for telling us that nothing in life is a coincidence. If you google Peggy Noonan's recent article "We want God", this will make even more sense.
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