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Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II Hardcover – October 6, 1999
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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.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Such a story and journey of a life it is! What a leader! Such clarity of philosophical thought! Such self-giving! Such prayer and vision and courage!
Well-researched. Well-organized. Insightful analysis and commentary. Well stated and written.
It is a large book but it provides a large education. Topics addressed include culture, philosophy, ethics, policy, strategy, tactics, history, prayer and theology.
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.
At some points, this book will probably be hard for the average reader to get through; Weigel's discussions about the extensive, impressive, grounding in philosophy that Karol Wojtyla had before he became Pope may be too technical for some people, for example. Those defects, however, pale in comparison to the truly inspiring narrative that Weigel has created here; for example, his telling of the rise, fall, and ultimate triumph of the Solidarity movement, and John Paul's undeniable role in the collapse of Soviet Communism, is truly fascinating.
This isn't a book just for Catholics, or Professors of theology, it is the story of a quite ordinary man from Krakow who, due largely to what he would consider the hand of God (though I would add that his intellect had alot to do with it as well), rose to become the answer to Josef Stalin's contemptuous, ultimately foolish, question "How many divisions has the Pope ?"
This book is a long read, but, in the end, well worth it.