The Legacy of John Paul II
What in the tumultuous history of the twentieth century could have led anyone to predict that the most visible of its extraordinary galaxy of leaders would be the two hundred and forty-sixth Bishop of Rome—that amidst the generals, presidents, monarchs, and dictators, a Catholic priest might emerge as the most influential of the century's leaders? It seems unlikely that even the College of Cardinals of the Roman Curia, who, on October 16, 1978, took the extraordinary step of electing Cardinal Karol Jozef Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow, to succeed John Paul I on the chair of Saint Peter, foresaw the full significance of their action.
None could mistake the daring of their choice: the first Slav ever to be elected to the papacy, and the first non-Italian in 455 years. But even those most familiar with Cardinal Wojtyla's special qualifications were unlikely to have imagined the extraordinary quality and impact of his papacy. Taking the name of John Paul II, the new pope inaugurated what George Weigel, in Witness to Hope, suggests may well rank as the most important papacy since the Catholic Reformation of the sixteenth century.
A longtime student of the Church and this pope, Weigel has given us what may fairly be viewed as the premier biography of Pope John Paul II for this generation. Although not an authorized biography in the strict sense, Witness to Hope has benefited from Weigel's unparalleled access to the Holy Father, his closest associates, his friends, and his papers. It is unlikely that Weigel would have enjoyed this extraordinary "access" had the Holy Father not had confidence in his project, especially since, in granting it, the Holy Father "retained no rights of approval."
That confidence was not misplaced. Notwithstanding the daunting length, this is a compellingly readable book. The long sections on the years of the papacy occasionally drag a little, primarily because of Weigel's admirable determination to provide a comprehensive account of John Paul II's activities and accomplishments and because he understandably returns throughout to fundamental themes, but the book as a whole is genuinely engrossing and frequently moving. As the finest biographers always do, Weigel conveys a strong sense of his subject as a flesh-and-blood human being. The reader comes away with a lively—and all the more appealing for being unexpected—appreciation of Karol Wojtyla's gifts as an actor and passion for the stage, of his love of hiking and kayaking, of his abiding friendship with the companions of his Polish youth and young manhood, and of his sense of humor and fun.
Witness to Hope:
The Biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel
992 pp.; $35
Weigel knows he is writing about one of the most important figures of the twentieth century and, indeed, of the millennium. What neither he nor we can know at this proximity is how to evaluate the abiding impact of this extraordinary pope. Weigel nonetheless focuses upon two central themes, one political, the other spiritual. On the political side, he consistently emphasizes the significance of John Paul II's role in fostering the collapse of communism in Poland and throughout Eastern Europe. On the spiritual side, he consistently depicts John Paul II as a man of deep personal piety: "His faith is not one facet of his personality or one dimension of his intellect. His faith is Karol Wojtyla, at the most profound level of his personhood." In exhorting Christians to put aside fear, he speaks from the foundational conviction "that Jesus Christ is the answer to the question that is every human life."
Wojtyla's life falls into three main, and roughly equal, parts: a youth that culminated in his ordination in 1946; his years in Krakow as priest, professor, archbishop, and cardinal; and, since 1978, his pontificate. Weigel devotes about a quarter of Witness to Hope to John Paul II's years in Poland, consistently emphasizing the importance of that background to John Paul II's vision of the Church and the world. Weigel's own knowledge of and palpable sympathy for Poland and Polish culture help to make these sections among the most engaging and informative in the book. Above all, they bring home the staggering significance of the simple fact that this pope is a Pole. It is not just that he came to the papacy as an "outsider," but that he came as a very special kind of outsider.
Weigel's close attention to the life and culture of mid-twentieth-century Poland opens a startling and revealing new perspective on John Paul II's papacy. Born in Wadowice on May 18, 1920, the year that Poland regained its independence, Karol Jozef Wojtyla grew up at the crossroads of history. Poland, lying at the juncture of Eastern and Western Europe, had long endured conquest and partition at the hands of its more powerful neighbors, and the twentieth century contributed the dark new chapters of Nazi and then Communist domination, which shaped his and his contemporaries' adult political experience. Wojtyla nonetheless spent his first 19 years in an independent Poland, and, Weigel believes, the experience taught him that "the Polish experience was a metaphor for the human condition in the twentieth century: the quest for freedom was a universal aspiration."
As he evokes the Poland of Wojtyla's youth, Weigel emphasizes the extent to which culture rather than politics has grounded the Polish sense of national identity and, especially, the importance of Roman Catholicism to Polish culture and to the Polish understanding of freedom. The Catholic piety that nurtured Wojtyla was never a predominantly female affair. The death of his mother, Emilia, when he was nine bequeathed the primary responsibility for his education to his father, Karol, Sr., a retired army captain. Looking back, Pope John Paul II credited his father for his religious formation: "We never spoke about a vocation to the priesthood, but his example was in a way my first seminary, a kind of domestic seminary."1 From his father, Karol also learned an instinct for paternity, which he would subsequently understand theologically: the instinct for paternity and the responsibilities of fatherhood were a kind of icon of God and God's relationship to the world.
A gifted and successful student, the young Wojtyla demonstrated special talent for literature and for the theater, which he loved, and in 1938 he and his father moved to Krakow so that he could pursue his studies at the Jagiellonian University. Only a year later, the Nazi occupation implemented the campaign to "erase" Poland and the independent lives of the Polish people. Not content with political domination, the Nazis undertook the ruthless elimination of all traces of Polish culture, notably Catholicism. The Nazis imprisoned 3,646 Catholic priests in concentration camps where 2,647 of them died.
Weigel credits these and other clerical sacrifices with indelibly marking the Polish nation's view of the Church. Throughout the war, the Church sustained a vital, underground existence that intertwined, in the lives of young people like Wojtyla and his friends, with networks of education and culture. Weigel presents the war years as a watershed in Wojtyla's formation, and he especially emphasizes the influence of friendships during this period. Obliged to work throughout the war, mining limestone in the quarry of the Solvay chemical company, Wojtyla developed a theology of work grounded in the notion of work's sanctification. With other young Catholics, he participated in an underground organization, UNIA, devoted to the reconstruction of Polish civil and political society in conformity with the Catholic social teaching of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI.
Wojtyla's spiritual formation was significantly influenced by Jan Tyranowski, a lay tailor-mystic. Under Tyranowski's leadership, Wojtyla and other young men—organized into groups of 15—participated in a "Living Rosary," whose members pledged themselves to one another's service in the spiritual and practical aspects of their lives. In addition, he and a group of close friends sustained an active theatrical group and, in 1942, organized themselves as the Rhapsodic Theater. Wojtyla wrote plays for and acted in the group's underground productions.
Deep religious convictions informed all of these undertakings, and Wojtyla would later remember the war years as a gradual process of "interior illumination" that was imperceptibly shaping his vocation to the priesthood. Before the war, teachers and priests had frequently told the young Wojtyla that he was destined for the priesthood, but, notwithstanding deep personal piety, he had persisted in his secular path. The war years, however, introduced him to the "humiliation of totalitarian occupation" and the heroism of resistance "to the degradation of human dignity by brutal ideology." In February 1941, the death of Karol Sr., who had been ill, added a devastating blow.
During the succeeding 18 months, as Wojtyla pursued his underground activities, his sense of vocation gradually solidified, and, in the autumn of 1942, he was accepted as a candidate for the priesthood, thereby embarking on a double life as a member of the underground seminary. Weigel appropriately refrains from overdramatization of Wojtyla's sense of vocation, which he presents as a natural outgrowth of the specific path of his life in a specific historical situation. Neither predetermined from youth nor the result of a sensational flash of illumination, Wojtyla's vocation emerged as an integral aspect of the man he was becoming.
Weigel acknowledges that critics have seen Karol Wojtyla's life during the war as a retreat into religious quietism. Other young Poles engaged in armed resistance or in clandestine sabotage. Weigel counters with what emerges as one of the central themes of this book: Karol Wojtyla, he insists, "deliberately chose the power of resistance through culture, through the power of the word, in the conviction that the 'word' (and in Christian terms, the Word) is that on which the world turns. Those who question the choice he made are also questioning that judgment about the power of the Word and words."
Weigel's argument conflates two disparate issues. It is, or should be, possible to believe that Wojtyla made an entirely moral and honorable choice during the war, without agreeing that cultural resistance always and everywhere triumphs over force, or even that religion triumphs over secular culture. Here, however, Weigel is not simply justifying Wojtyla's actions during the war and occupation; he is setting up one of the central arguments of his book, namely that cultural and spiritual resistance ultimately caused the fall of communism.
With Catholic seminaries outlawed by the Nazis, Wojtyla pursued his training underground, largely under the direction of Adam Stefan Sapieha, Archbishop of Krakow, whose piety and courage made him Wojtyla's model of the priesthood, the embodiment of the ideal of "self-gift." The ideal of self-gift figures centrally in the Krakow "Litany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim," which grounded the piety of the seminary and "drove home to the seminarians that dying-to-self—self-gift or self-immolation—was the crux of any Christian vocation seriously lived, and most especially the vocation to the priesthood." The idea would figure at the center of Wojtyla's own work, notably in his philosophy of the human person and of human moral agency.
If Wojtyla's formative years were decisively shaped by the war, the next period of his life must be seen in the context of the Catholic renewal that followed that dark night of the soul. In 1945, after the conquest of Poland by the Red Army, the seminary and the Jagiellonian University resumed their public functions, and by the summer of 1946, Wojtyla had completed his studies and passed his exams. In November of the same year, he was ordained ahead of schedule so that he could pursue doctoral studies in Rome at the Angelicum—the Pontifical Athenaeum of Saint Thomas Aquinas. He completed his studies in June of 1948, but because he could not afford to have the dissertation printed, he did not receive his doctorate until after his re turn to Poland, where, upon appropriate re view, he received the degree of doctor of theology from the Jagiellonian University.
Weigel sees Wojtyla's dissertation, Doctrina de fide apud S. Ioannem a Cruce (The Doctrine of Faith According to Saint John of the Cross), as an exploration of themes that had figured prominently in the development of his spirituality and as the seedbed of his subsequent writings on the human person. Wojtyla had been introduced to the writings of Saint John of the Cross by Jan Tyranowski, and, in his dissertation, he argues that the person's encounter with the living God is not for mystics only, but is the center of every Christian life. Mysticism reveals that we come to know God not as an object, but "as we come to know another person, through mutual self-giving."
Wojtyla drew three other conclusions that shape his subsequent theology. First, since God cannot be known as we know an object, there are limits to natural reason, which can tell us that God exists but cannot reveal all of His attributes. Second, while faith "is a personal encounter with God," it cannot allow us to "grasp" who He is, since that would make us superior to Him. Finally, Wojtyla argues that faith, rather than a "high," mystical communion, is an "experience of 'being-with,' which utterly transcends the conventions of our creaturely existence." Wojtyla views the communion between the person and God as central to the human condition: "We cannot know others unless we know them as persons called to communion with God," which means that "whoever takes God away from human beings is taking what is deepest and most truly human in us." This theology, Weigel insists, contains the essential elements of Wojtyla's subsequent writings and "defined the line of battle on which, for forty years, he would contest with communism for the soul of Poland."
Wojtyla's return to Poland also marked the beginning of the clerical, professorial, and intellectual career that, in various forms, he pursued in Krakow until his permanent departure for Rome in 1978. For Poland, those years featured a continuing struggle between the communist regime and religious, intellectual, and cultural life, including the life of the universities and clerical appointments. Cardinal Wyszynski, the great primate of the Polish Church, earned three years of internment for his constant sparring with the regime over clerical independence. In 1956, Wys zynski, following his release, secured significantly improved conditions for the Polish Church and inaugurated a "Great Novena," or nine-year pastoral renewal.
In Krakow, Wojtyla was emerging as an increasingly significant and well-known figure although by all accounts he remained uninterested in politics. He developed a vigorous pastorate among young people and, after receiving his "docent" degree in theology, a strong presence as a teacher. Here, as in the section on World War II, Weigel defends Wojtyla against possible charges that he shrank from more activist forms of resistance, arguing that Wojtyla never needed to attack communism directly since his writings gave clear expression "to a vision of human life and human destiny utterly at cross-purposes with the official ideology." Witness to Hope does not include examples of direct criticism of Wojtyla's behavior, so we never know for sure what Weigel is defending him against. Here as elsewhere, the main emphasis falls upon the ultimate importance of Wojtyla's strategy of cultural—rather than political or armed—resistance.
During these years of pastorate, study, and teaching in Krakow, Wojtyla completed his second dissertation in theology, was appointed to the Chair of Ethics at the Catholic University of Lublin, a position he held for 22 years, and developed his distinct perspective on contemporary ethical, theological, and philosophical questions. Wojtyla's habilitation thesis for his second doctorate, An Evaluation of the Possibility of Constructing a Christian Ethics on the Basis of the System of Max Scheler, engaged Scheler's phenomenology with a view toward assessing its value for Catholic thought. Wojtyla appreciated the potential contribution of phenomenology to understanding the human experience, but he insisted that it would end in solipsism if not grounded in "a general theory of things-as-they-are." The study marked Wojtyla's attempt to link the objectivity of philosophy with the subjectivity of individual experience, and it manifested his characteristic tendency to reconcile or connect apparently opposing aspects of thought and experience, as in his book, Love and Responsibility, which appeared in 1960.
Wojtyla's installations as archbishop in 1964 and as a cardinal in 1967 testify to his growing reputation within the international Church. During the 1970s, Weigel affirms, "Karol Wojtyla became one of the best-known churchmen in the world—to his peers in the higher leadership of Roman Catholicism, if not to the international press." Throughout the 1960s and 1970s he published a number of books and articles on philosophical and ethical issues, as well as poetry and plays. In both his writing and pastoral work during these years, he also devoted growing attention to family issues, establishing the archdiocesan Institute of Family Studies in 1969.
If one thread bound these discrete efforts into a unified project, it was preeminently Wojtyla's commitment to the development of a Catholic humanism to counter the secular humanism of the postwar world. At the project's heart lay his experience of and commitment to the Second Vatican Council in which he enthusiastically participated. From the outset, Wojtyla's contributions to Vatican II emphasized the crisis of humanism, which he argued should be the organizational center of the Council's deliberations. Thus in the heated debates about religious freedom, he emphasized the relation between freedom and responsibility, insisting upon the importance of "freedom for" in contrast to the more defensive "freedom against." The job of the Council, he argued, was to teach divine truth, and if that truth were also clear to human reason, so much the better. But what the world needed of the Church was revealed doctrine—something more than the world already knew about itself.
The final text of Dignitatis Humanae, which, Weigel writes, "would help change the history of the twentieth century," embodies the essence of Wojtyla's thought. After declaring the right of the human person to religious freedom, the text continues, "The Council further declares that the right to religious freedom is based on the very dignity of the human person as known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself." Also following Wojtyla's prompting, Dignitatis Humanae further affirms that "man's response to God by faith ought to be free, and that therefore nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will. The act of faith is by its very nature a free act."
Notwithstanding the importance of Wojtyla's contributions to the treatment of religious freedom, his main contribution to Vatican II lay in his work on the document that eventually became the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, known as Schema XIII during the Council's first three sessions and eventually as Gaudium et Spes (from the joy and hope of its first two words). The Dominican theologian, Yves Congar, who shared many of Wojtyla's concerns, left a striking ac count of his participation. First, Congar noted Wojtyla's observations about the Church's relations to the world. The Council participants had been focusing on the problems and questions "that have arisen from the new situation of the world. … However, the contemporary world also gives some answers to these questions, and it is necessary for us to consider these answers because they conflict with the Church's answers." The working text made no reference to the world's answers and did not discuss the problems that resulted from the conflict between the respective answers of the world and the Church. Congar then noted, "Wojtyla made a remarkable impression. His personality dominates. Some kind of animation is present in this person, a magnetic power, prophetic strength, full of peace, and impossible to resist."2
On September 28, 1965, in a memorable address to the entire Council, Archbishop Wojtyla suggested that the Pastoral Constitution was more of a meditation than a statement of doctrine, which is what it should be, since "its principal concern is the human person," considered in himself, in relation with others, and in the entire scheme of things. Wojtyla especially focused upon the relation of the world and the Church, which are not external or foreign to one another. "The story of creation and redemption is the world's story, properly understood. Telling the world's story as that kind of story, and thus bringing the world to conversion, was the greatest service that the Church could do for the world."
For Wojtyla, the theological core of the Council lay in Gaudium et Spes 22: "It is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man becomes truly clear." In the spirit that would consistently inform his ecumenism as pope, Wojtyla insisted that this truth obtains for all men of good will in whose hearts grace is active. Complementing the Christ-centered anthropology of section 22, Gaudium et Spes 24 provides the philosophical and moral core of the Council in the claim "Man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself."
In calling the Council, Pope John XXIII had intended an unprecedented initiative, namely to inaugurate an open conversation with the world's bishops that "would relive the experience of Christ's disciples at Pentecost." He wanted a council that would be pastoral and evangelical rather than juridical and dogmatic as previous councils had been. First as archbishop of Krakow and subsequently as Bishop of Rome, Karol Wojtyla has insisted that the Council must primarily be understood as a "spiritual experience—an 'act of love' amid the hatreds of the age, an effort to 'enrich' the faith of the Church so that Christians might live an 'increasingly full participation in divine truth.'"3
Never naive about the political intrigues that accompany any such undertaking, Wojtyla nonetheless insisted that through the Council "the Holy Spirit was preparing the Church for a renewal of its mission in the third millennium." Above all, Wojtyla insisted, the Council embodied the Church's response to the crisis in humanism that was wracking the late twentieth century.
He devoted his free moments during the Council to working on the first draft of his book, Person and Act (published in 1969), which engages the same crisis from a philosophical perspective. The debate, he wrote to Father Henri de Lubac, is being played out at the level of the human person. "The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person. This evil is even much more of the metaphysical order than of the moral order." The only appropriate response, he believed, lay in a renewed insistence upon the "inviolable mystery of the person."4
Person and Act argues that the true center of the human person lies neither in the psyche nor the body, but in the moral act in which "the mind, the spirit, and the body come into the unity of a person," who finds his purpose and fulfillment through his "self-gift" to others. Wojtyla thus counters the arguments for both radical individualism and collectivism with a vision of human relations modeled on the Holy Trinity as a community of "self-giving" persons.
Vatican II, alas, rapidly spun loose from its conciliar moorings, provoking heated reactions throughout the Church from both conservatives and radicals, and the dust has not yet settled. Weigel nonetheless argues that Wojtyla has consistently viewed it as a necessary and fundamental renewal of the Church's relation to the faithful and mission to the world.
In this respect, Wojtyla's commitment to the work of Vatican II very much resembles his longstanding attitude towards the confrontation between democracy and communism. Weigel repeatedly underscores the pope's hostility to communism, but notes that Wojtyla would never have narrowed the great confrontation of the age to one between communism and democracy. A visit to the United States in 1976 left Cardinal Wojtyla "disappointed by American culture and its tendency to dissipate freedom into shallow license." He wondered at the failure of Americans and their leaders to understand that the world was facing "the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through between the Church and the anti-Church, the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel."
Wojtyla's work as archbishop of Krakow intertwined with his work for and subsequent implementation of Vatican II in what might be viewed as his apprenticeship for the papacy. Weigel acknowledges that Wojtyla's administrative work was open to the criticism it apparently received in some quarters, but he insists upon Wojtyla talent for accomplishing his main goals. He also insists upon the singular force of Wojtyla's personality—his ability to inspire and lead others. By the time Wojtyla left Krakow for Rome, he had some experience with most of the causes and initiatives that he would especially champion as pope: the mind and character and soul of Pope John Paul II bore the firm imprint of Poland. Yet more important, as many of those who encountered him would note, the Polish pope bore the imprint of the Holy Spirit.
The news of Wojtyla's election evoked widespread excitement, not least be cause many welcomed the prospect of a Polish pope. Weigel quotes the response of the French journalist, Andre Frossard, who thought the world was "devoid of any solid moral or rational base, a time of collapsing values and ideologies in which he who wishes to go forward has only one choice left … to walk on water." In the new pope, Frossard sensed the power of a witness, and he wired his paper in Paris, "This is not a Pope from Poland; this is a Pope from Galilee."5
People throughout the world have responded to Pope John Paul II in the same spirit as Frossard, as they testify by the unprecedented numbers in which they flock to see and hear him. And, as Weigel underscores, in strictly numerical terms, he has spoken to more people in more different cultural contexts than any other person in the history of the world. During the first 20 years of his pontificate, he has also reshaped the papacy itself, establishing ambassadorial level diplomatic relations with 64 countries and restoring relations with 6 others; creating 159 new cardinals and naming some 2,650 of the Church's more than 4,000 bishops; and reorganizing the Roman Curia. He has been responsible for promulgating two new codes of canon law and the best-selling Catechism of the Catholic Church. And in the midst of it all, he has continued a steady stream of publications. If one considers that he has also been the victim of an attempted assassination and has increasingly coped with weakening health, the quantitative record alone seems almost unimaginable.
The true marvel nonetheless derives from the spirit in which it has all been effected. Weigel understands the dangers of attempting to evaluate a papacy before its conclusion, but few are likely to quarrel with his assessment that the pontificate of John Paul II ranks as one of the most important in the history of the church. Weigel credits John Paul II with eight main achievements: "the renovated papacy, the full implementation of Vatican II, the collapse of communism, the clarification of the moral challenges facing the free society, the insertion of ecumenism into the heart of Catholicism, the new dialogue with Judaism, the redefinition of interreligious dialogue, and the personal inspiration that has changed countless lives."
One of the great beauties of this engrossing book lies in Weigel's ability to communicate something of the Holy Father's devotion and discipleship as the source of his inspiration to others. Many will concur with Weigel's claim that the pontificate of John Paul II has fostered a fundamental transformation of Roman Catholicism as a church, as a faith, and as a force in the world. Even some of the pope's greatest admirers may nonetheless be surprised, as am I, to see him credited with responsibility for the collapse of communism.
In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul II warns us in this regard "to be wary of oversimplification."6 Noting that communism has its own history as "protest in the face of injustice," he reminds his readers that through Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891) and his own Laborem Exercens (1981), "this protest has also become part of the teaching of the Church."7 It would even, the Pope cautions, "be simplistic to say that Divine Providence caused the fall of Communism," which, in his view, fell because of its own mistakes and inherent weaknesses.8
The more important problem with Weigel's implicit analysis, however, lies elsewhere. Although Weigel discusses Pope John Paul II's cutting criticisms of the nihilistic tendencies in Western culture, he does not emphasize the extent to which the pope sees the unleashing of radical individualism as another face of the same crisis of humanism embodied in communism. Both, from the pope's perspective, embody a betrayal of the true nature of the individual and of individual freedom, which emerge from the individual's relation to God and to others.
In contrast, Weigel presents the second half of the twentieth century as a Manichaean struggle between communism and Christianity, and his reluctance to emphasize the cultural corruption of the democracies leads him to underestimate the contribution of the worst aspects of Western culture—materialism, consumerism, sexual "liberation"—to the collapse of communism. The "culture of death" that the pope so often deplores is the monopoly of no single political system, although some are decidedly worse than others. Ironically, by minimizing the trenchancy of the pope's criticism of the excesses of Western individualism and the potential brutalities of capitalism, Weigel risks undercutting his own understanding of Karol Wojtyla as, preeminently, a man of faith—a disciple who lives and believes his own injunction to Catholics upon his ascension to the papacy, "Be not afraid!"
The twentieth century ranks as the bloodiest and perhaps the most eventful in history. Torn by wars, hot and cold, local and global, it has witnessed an unprecedented slaughter of combatants and noncombatants alike. The wars have, in turn, resulted in the massive displacement of peoples and in the drawing and redrawing of national boundaries. In their accelerating indifference to the distinction between military and civilian targets, they have encouraged a proliferation of brutality and terror. Countless human beings have demonstrated the ability to survive "theoretically intolerable conditions," but their very endurance has deadened the rest of us to our "accelerating return to what our nineteenth-century ancestors would have called the standards of barbarism."9
Arguably, our century has witnessed the horrors that Moses promised to the children of Israel should they turn away from their God. Throughout the proliferation of atrocities, the twentieth century has persisted in its inexorable progress toward an increasingly interdependent global economy that is drawing new lines both within and among nations between the affluent and the dispossessed. The same developments that have imposed unimaginable destruction and hardship on some have offered others previously unimaginable material prosperity. In the words of Eric Hobsbawm, the last century of the millennium has been "the age of extremes." And the most striking characteristic of the century's close, Hobsbawm notes, may well be the tension between the "accelerating process of globalization and the inability of both public institutions and the collective behaviour of human beings to come to terms with it."10
These words, written by a great Marxist historian, might well have come from a Christian. Privately, individuals may cope well, but mediating institutions, notably families and churches, are in disarray. These forces have not spared the Roman Catholic Church, which has been buffeted by all of the dominant tendencies that have swept through the century, revolutionizing attitudes and practices.
No pope has more poignantly embodied the history of his time than John Paul II. No pope has more faithfully represented and defended the eternal truth of the Cross and of the gospel. In Witness to Hope, George Weigel opens to us the rare privilege of feeling ourselves in this remarkable man's presence. To read this book is to glimpse the promise he embodies of the power and persistence of faith, hope, and love.
Elizabeth Fox-Genovese teaches history, literature, and women's studies at Emory University.
1. Adam Boniecki, Kalendarium zycia Karola Wojtyly (Krakow: Znak, 1979), trans. Irena and Thaddeus Mirecki et al., cited by Weigel, Witness, p. 16.
2. Quoted from the unpublished diary of Cardinal Yves Congar, op, Journal du Concile, in Ut Unum Sint, Bulletin de liaison de la Province de France, 575, November 1994, pp. 180-1.
3. Quoted from Karol Wojtyla, Sources of Renewal: The Implementation of Vatican II (Harper and Row, 1980), p. 15.
4. Cited by Weigel from Henri de Lubac, At the Service of the Church (Ignatius Press, 1993), pp. 171-2.
5. Quoted from Andre Frossard and John Paul II, Be Not Afraid! (St. Martin's, 1984), p. 8.
6. Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, ed. Vittorio Messori (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), p. 130.
7. Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 131.
8. Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 132.
9. Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991 (Pantheon, 1994), p. 13.
10. The Age of Extremes, p. 15.
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