Witness To Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II
by George Weigel is as comprehensive a biography of its subject as can be hoped for while the Pope still lives. Weigel, a journalist who came to the Pope's attention after the publication of his book, The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism
, wrote Witness To Hope
with his subject's encouragement and assistance. Weigel had unprecedented access to the Pope's correspondence (with, among others, world leaders including Mikhail Gorbachev). He reports lengthy conversations with many members of the Pope's inner circle, and he occasionally reveals vivid details of the Pope's daily life (for example, at the beginning of each day, the Pope's adviser's hear moans and groaning from John Paul's solitary prayers in his private chapel).
According to Weigel, the Pope told him that other biographies "try to understand me from outside. But I can only be understood from inside." Unfortunately, Weigel's method for understanding the Pope "from inside" depends on psychological conjecture ("It may help to begin by thinking of Karol Wojtyla as a man who grew up very fast") and is weakened by his extreme eagerness to praise his subject ("the man with arguably the most coherent and comprehensive vision of the human possibility in the world ahead"). More troubling, Weigel does not ask some of the really difficult questions about this Pope--regarding his involvement with sects such as Opus Dei, for example, or the relationship between his innovative "theology of the body" and his conservative stance on homosexuality, or even the vicissitudes of prayer life. Witness To Hope is a valuable book because it reports many facts that others have not reported. But for incisive analysis of this Pope's theological and political significance, or for insight into his spiritual life, readers will have to wait until the principals in his life story are free to speak more frankly with some future biographer. --Michael Joseph Gross
From Publishers Weekly
Weigel's massive work aspires to be definitive: it is subtitled "the," not "a," biography of John Paul II. Weigel, a Catholic layman and a fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., enjoyed the cooperation of the pope and access to top Vatican officials, so the book is rich in new detail. Determined to explain this papacy from the "inside out," Weigel successfully focuses on John Paul's trademark ideas: Christian humanism, the inner connection between freedom and truth, and culture as the driving force of history. As a guide to the pope's thought, Witness to Hope is invaluable. Yet as biography, it is often defective. Weigel frequently dismisses John Paul's critics rather than debating their ideas. The author's strong pro-Americanism leads him to misrepresent the pope as opposing a "third way" between capitalism and socialism and to treat his criticism of the Gulf War as a rare misjudgment. Though John Paul is a towering 20th-century figure, the assertion that his papacy is the most important since the Counter Reformation seems overblown. The book is well written (if somewhat repetitive, perhaps inevitably so with more than 900 pages) and Weigel's command of the material is impressive, but Witness to Hope reads more like a valedictory hagiography than a sober work of journalism. (Oct.)
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