Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel

(New York: HarperCollins, 1999), 960

I bought this back in June of 2015 when I was living in LA. I forget why I bought it then but it was perhaps after listening to John Paul II: A Personal Portrait of the Pope and the Man by Ray Flynn. Its great bulk sat on my shelf through three moves while I continued to read some other titles by John Paul II (Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way, Centesimus Annus, Theology of the Body, and The Jeweler's Shop) or about him (Lead Yourself First by Raymond Kethledge, John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father by Peggy Noonan and Saint John Paul the Great by Jason Evert). Then at the end of May 2021—with high recommendation from Fr. Dailey—I felt prompted to pick it up and dive in. What an adventure!

I spent 2018 through 2020 reading William Manchester's The Last Lion trilogy on Churchill1, and can now spend 2021 through 2023 reading Weigel's trilogy on John Paul II.

Reading biographies is perhaps the best way to learn history: you can best understand a person by understanding the world they inhabited. Witness to Hope is not only the story of John Paul II, but also a history of Poland's "double defeat" in World War II, the most lucid history of Vatican II and its implementation I have yet encountered, and a fascinating view into the workings of the Holy See.

Being an authorized biography, Weigel had impressive access to interview those close to Karol Wojtyła in Poland and John Paul II in Rome, as shown by the extensive notes to the volume. It's interesting that John Paul II chose Weigel, an American. There must be some bias associated with reading about John Paul II through an American lens, though of course this is the angle I'm most interested in as an American myself.

Karol Wojtyła was formed in the crucible of the two great evil regimes of the 20th century: Nazi fascism and Soviet communism. His perspective on suffering is born of personal experience and his call to "Be not afraid!" carries the moral authority of someone who has stood up to some of the worst evil the human heart has produced. And through his Carmelite spirituality, influenced by St. John of the Cross, he taught and lived the reality of the cross, that suffering is a central part of our human experience.

John Paul II is a great humanist, offering an integrated Christian anthropology to correct the twisted interpretations of the human person offered by modernity. To a world that so often reduces a person to a subject of state control, a consumer in a market economy, or an object of sexual pleasure, he proposes a view of the human person as a moral agent, created as man and woman in the image of God. And our true happiness and fulfillment as human persons is found ultimately in self-giving love.

Now that I am the father of a daughter, I am especially interested in the Christian feminism articulated by John Paul II, focused intensely on Mary as the Mother of the Church and echoing voices such as Edith Stein. This Christian feminism flows naturally from a Christian humanism.

John Paul II believed and taught the priority of culture in forming human societies and writing human history. Culture—not politics or economics—is the driving force of history. The truth of this position is seen in the survival of the Polish people despite the destruction of the Polish state, and has hopeful implications for our situation today: we may not be able to change political or social structures directly, but we most certainly can change the culture, starting with the most basic culture in our families.

Finally, John Paul II is a great inspirational figure. Witness to Hope shows how he inspired millions of people around the world—Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Some of the most holy priests I know point to him as a major figure in the discernment of their vocations. John Paul II has become an influential figure in my life, and Witness to Hope has been an adventure in getting to know him more.




  • Against modernity's pleasure seeking, he teaches that suffering is central and redemptive (34: redemptive suffering central to Polish self-understanding)
  • Against intellectual skepticism, he teaches that universal truths exist, are knowable, and impose moral duties (70)
  • Against plastic personality, he defends a universal human nature
  • Against a world that equates happiness with success, he teaches that happiness comes from obedient submission to truth and love
  • Against utility, he focuses on inherent human dignity
  • Some themes
    • Christian humanism and anthropology as a response to the dangers of modernity (95, 845)
    • Speaking truth to power, the power of hope, and how there is no fear if we are rooted in Christ: "Be not afraid!" (66)
    • Always propose, never impose: "You must decide" (13, 105, 636) ^5a5335
    • Priority of culture: history is driven by culture (7, 22, 296, 792)
    • The crisis of the modern world is a crisis of ideas, and a crisis of the idea of a human person (7)
    • The drama of life: we are moral agents, and Christ is the center of the cosmic drama (8)
    • The Law of the Gift (136)

Chapter 1: A Son of Freedom

Early life

  • The Battle of the Vistula (Miracle on the Vistula): August 1920 battle that saved Poland from the Soviets (17)
  • Poland was known for its religious toleration (19)
  • Mieszko was baptized Latin-rite Catholic in 966 (rather than Eastern) and anchored Poland in the West for 1000 years (20)
  • The Polish nation survived the destruction of the Polish state --> John Paul's theme of culture (not politics or economics) being the driving force in history (22)
  • Karol Wojtyła's father was the most influential figure to him: autodidact, a man of constant prayer, his example was a "domestic seminary" (2019-03-10-Lead Yourself First) (29+)
  • Daily Routine as a boy: rose early, pray, 7 am mass, 8 am school, evening walk (31)
  • Karol Wojtyła received a Classical Education: Latin, Greek, Polish (32)
  • Dignity of Work in the works of Norwid: "Work accepted with love is the highest manifestation of human freedom and is thus redemptive" (35)
  • Drama: the actor and the priest both open up, through the materials of the world, the realm of transcendent truth (37)
  • "Fatherhood meant rejecting the prison of selfishness; fatherhood meant being conquered by love." (42)

Chapter 2: From the Underground

The Third Reich

  • Spiritual Disciplines: confession on the first Friday of the month according to Catholic custom and Karol Wojtyła's personal habit (45)
  • WWII formed John Paul II (46)
    • "The wars horrors and an unexpected encounter during the Occupation with a lay mystic began to shape Karol Wojtyła's distinctively Carmelite spirituality, which focused on the cross as the center of the Christian life, and indeed the center of human history." (46)
    • This was his experience of manual labor and cultural activism: the defense of national cultural identity as a means of political resistance and liberation (46)
    • Poland was the only nation where the Nazis failed to establish a collaborationist regime (48)
  • Reading: Karol Wojtyła: "While others were dying of boredom I have surrounded myself with books, dug in with Arts and Sciences" (55). He also took the night shift since it was easier to read then (56).
    • True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort (57)
  • Work is a participation in God's creativity (57), and "We work because we love—our families, our children..." (58)
  • Jan Tyranowski (59+): self-taught, read broadly in Catholic spirituality, who acted as a lay leader to Karol Wojtyła and others after the Salesian fathers were rounded up by the Nazis
    • "It's not difficult to be a saint" --> led him to regularize his spiritual life in a systematic fashion
    • weekly hour-long meetings to learn the spiritual life
    • his lay ministry demonstrated to Karol Wojtyła the universal call to holiness
    • he introduced Karol Wojtyła to St. John of the Cross: Poetry, then The Ascent of mount Carmel, The Dark Night of the Soul, The Spiritual Canticle, The Living Flame of Love
      • Karol Wojtyła learned Spanish to read him in the original
  • Rhapsodic Theater: proclaim truth against the violent lies of the Occupation, speak truth to power (cf. 2021-07-15-"Live Not by Lies") (66)
  • Realism: Reading Metaphysics by Kazimierz Wais convinced him (along with Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas) that the world is intelligible (against the radical skepticism of the age) (70)
  • Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP (master of traditional neo-scholasticism) directed Karol Wojtyła's dissertation on St. John of the Cross's understanding of faith (85)

Chapter 3: "Call Me Wujek"

Early priesthood

  • The Polish Church "knew the transient nature of political regimes" (91)
  • Daily Routine: Karol Wojtyła worked 16-18 hour days (95)
  • Karol Wojtyła engaged students intellectually with Christian Humanism as a university chaplain to combat the militant atheist Marxism of the regime (95)
  • The "hardest-fought battle between Church and regime involved family life...all organized by the state to separate parents from their children as frequently as possible" (97)
  • Karol Wojtyła's line: "You have to decide." --> he gently forced judgment and choices (105)
  • Karol Wojtyła believed the goal of Confession was the sanctification of all life. The confessor is a "counselor in the practice of the virtues" (107)
  • Karol Wojtyła believed "Marriage is the beginning of our understanding of the interior life of God...the human experience that begins to make God comprehensible to human beings" (116)
  • Literature is a "supple instrument for delving into the hidden depths of the human condition" --> The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene and The Plague by Camus (117)
  • Poverty: Karol Wojtyła never had a bank account or personal money (119)
  • Karol Wojtyła was "almost always late for meetings and appointments, having gotten himself absorbed in his previous engagement or his voracious and incessant Reading" (119)
  • Resisting communism: Karol Wojtyła "was creating de facto networks of resistance to communism by helping to raise up a generation of Poles who could resist the communist culture of the lie with the truth of their religious and moral convictions" (120)

Chapter 4: Seeing Things as They Are

Wojtyła the Philosopher

  • Phenomenology: bring everyday things back into philosophy, see things whole and as they are, see Max Scheler, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Edith Stein (127)
    • cf. After Virtue (128): "If the choice was not between good and evil, but only between personal preferences, then all choices were ultimately indifferent and the real choice no longer existed" --> removes human freedom (129)
    • synthesized the metaphysical realism of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas with the human experience of Max Scheler (128)
  • Karol Wojtyła constantly re-read the Gospel of John, leading to his focus on people rather than texts (129-130)
  • Pursuit of philosophical anthropology at the KUL (Catholic University of Lublin) (132):
    • The root of our issues is a modern crisis in the understanding of the human person --> requires redirecting philosophy since the Enlightenment
    • Seek to merge metaphysics (reality, things as they are), anthropology (nature and destiny of human person), and ethics (What ought we do?)
  • Four principles that guided the KUL philosophers (133):
    1. Be realistic about the world and the human capacity to know it. "Human beings can only be free in the truth, and the measure of truth is reality."
    2. Philosophy should being with a reflection on the human person and human experience.
    3. Commitment to reason.
    4. Ecumenism of time: the past is not disposable to modernity
  • "Ideas have consequences, for good and for ill. The history of the twentieth century's various torments, proved that defective understandings of the human person, human community, and human destiny were responsible for mountains of corpses and oceans of blood." (134)
  • The Law of the Gift was central to Karol Wojtyła's personalism: responsible self-giving, not self-assertion, was the road to human fulfillment (136)
    • see ~Love and Responsibility (137)
      • our sexuality reveals our dependence on others (141)
      • Chastity is the integrity of love, the virtue that makes it possible to love the other as a person (142)
  • Wojtyła quirks: he could weirdly multi-task, thinks (and writes) in circles rather than linearly (making him hard to read at times), and made a point of learning from his students (138)

Chapter 5: A New Pentecost

Vatican II

  • Gaudiem et Spes: Karol Wojtyła's primary contribution to Vatican II
    • Working on Gaudium et spes began his special friendship with Henri de Lubac
    • To Karol Wojtyła, GS 22 (Christian humanism) was the theological linchpin and GS 24 (Law of the Gift) was the philosophical and moral of the entire Council (169)
  • I hypothesize that Vatican II also created Pope John Paul II out of Karol Wojtyła by giving him exposure to his fellow bishops (169)
  • Wojtyła viewed Vatican II as a "personalist" council: intense focus on the human person (171)
  • Person and Act is Wojtyła's public account of Vatican II's teaching on freedom and truth (172-3)

Chapter 6: Successor to St. Stanisław

Living the Council in Kraków

  • The communists naively pushed for Wojtyła's nomination as Archbishop of Kraków, and he proceeded to be a thorn in their side (184)
  • Bishop Wojtyła's approach to solving problems: (187-8)
    • What truth of faith sheds light on this problem?
    • Who can we get—or train—to help?
  • Bishop Wojtyła's Daily Routine: wake at 5-5:30, 1 hour of private prayer, Mass, breakfast, 9-11 two hours of writing in front of the Blessed Sacrament, 11-1 visitors, lunch at 2 (188, 201)
  • Bishop Wojtyła pursued 7 priorities (188+): Religious Freedom (building churches and making a public display of Catholicism), the Seminary (a priest's holiness is the secret of pastoral success), Youth Ministry, Family Ministry, Dialogue with Intellectuals, Charity
  • Karol Wojtyła's patron saint was Charles Borromeo (200)
  • Wojtyła implemented Vatican II with the Synod of Kraków
    • He formed 500 study groups to read the texts of Vatican II with Wojtyła's Sources of Renewal as a commentary (205)
  • Humanae Vitae (206)
    • Wojtyła set up the Kraków commission, which published a memorandum on HV, which "offered a more compelling explanation of why" the same conclusions reached make sense, rather than the tone deaf final product of HV
  • Confession: "When a man goes down on his knees in the confessional because he has sinned, at that very moment he adds to his own dignity as a man." (224)
  • Wojtyła was disturbed by the "insouciance in post-Vietnam American public live about the world situation, and the threats to the human hunger for freedom that were still being mounted by an aggressive atheistic ideology" (226)
    • --> noting this on 2021-08-16-Mon during the disaster in Afghanistan and the fall of Kabul: will America be tempted to this again in the ashes of its second Vietnam?

Chapter 7: A Pope From a Far Country

The Election of John Paul II

  • Cardinal Karol Wojtyła first met Joseph Ratzinger at the conclave to elect John Paul I (244)

Chapter 8: Be Not Afraid!

A Pope for the World

  • Wojtyła declined the papal coat of arms proposed by Bruno Heim (author of Heraldry in the Catholic Church) and kept his current ones (265)
  • John Paul II's priorities as pope (268):
    • Complete the implementation of Vatican II
    • Conversion of the culture, religious freedom as litmus test of a just society
  • John Paul II's Daily Routine: wake at 5:30, hour of prayer, 7:30 mass, 8:30 breakfast, 9:30-11 writing before the Blessed Sacrament, 11 appointments, 1:30 lunch, 3 nap and walk, 3 meetings, 7:30 dinner; his "entire daily routine was punctuated by prayer" (274-6)
  • John Paul II's response to Liberation Theology:
    • re-reading of the Gospel through ideological lenses was impossible (285)
    • Marxism was incompatible with Christianity due to its materialist reduction of humanism (285)
  • John Paul II's first encyclical Redemptor Hominis: Christian anthropology (288)
    • the Incarnation tells us something about God, and something about ourselves
    • Religious freedom is the first right and can be engaged publicly by every thoughtful person

Chapter 9: "How Many Divisions Has the Pope?"

Confronting an Empire of Lies

  • To John Paul II the Polish case was not unique, but a window into the universal crisis of modernity (311)
  • John Paul II visited St. Maximilian Kolbe's starvation bunker at Auschwitz, and met Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man Kolbe had sacrificed himself for (314)
  • A result of John Paul II's Poland pilgrimage was that people decided: "Let's stop lying....moral renewal among 'us' had to be the basis for any serious challenge to 'them'" (321, cf 2021-07-15-"Live Not by Lies")
    • mentions Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on how communist lies and violence are closely linked in his 1970 Nobel lecture (325)

Chapter 10: The Ways of Freedom

Truths Personal and Public

  • Theme of John Paul II's papacy: challenging the pulverization of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person, which was the crisis of modernity (334)
  • Theology of the Body as a response to the failure of Humanae Vitae (334+)
    • start with Adam in the garden to recapture the wonder of philosophy like Aristotle (336-7)
    • Our creation as embodied persons and as male and female is a sacramental reality and an icon of the life of God (337)
    • The Christian sexual ethic redeems sexuality from lust (339)
    • Sexual love is an act of worship (341)
    • The human person is an intelligent creature called to maturity through self-mastery (342)
    • Sexuality is a way for us to grasp the essence of the human and come to understand the divine (343)
  • Peace: to John Paull II the Church contributed the most to peace when it relentlessly defended and promoted human rights, particularly religious freedom (350)

Chapter 11: Peter Among Us

The Universal Pastor as Apostolic Witness

  • Familiaris Consortio was one of John Paul II's personal favorites (385)
    • True freedom: the demands and obligations of family life are liberating, not confining (385)
    • Fatherhood: men are called to live their fatherhood as an icon of "the very fatherhood of God" (385)
  • John Paul II made the bold appointment of Aron Lustiger in Paris with important consequences for French Catholicism; he saw the vulnerability to secular modernity in the Church's marriage with power, and the evangelical option as the only alternative (388)

Chapter 12: In the Eye of the Storm

Months of Violence and Dissent

  • John Paul II shot by Mehmet Ali Agca (Dziwisz administered last rites to him) (412)
    • Spiritual Disciplines: his commitment to the Liturgy of the Hours demonstrated by asking if they had said Compline already while regaining consciousness when in fact it was the next day after he was shot (414)
    • After his first solid meal, he said the Te Deum (the Church's traditional hymn of praise) with Dziwisz (415)
    • John Paul II was an active patient and a model for one undergoing medical treatment (415, 418, )
  • John Paul II intervened in the Jesuits
    • The temptations of various spiritualities: Franciscan to sentimentality, Dominican to arid intellectualism, Benedictine replacement of stability with complacency, Jesuit to becoming elite that no longer respects Church's authority (425)

Chapter 13: Liberating Liberations

The Limits of Politics and the Promise of Redemption

  • John Paul II: "In the designs of Providence there are no mere coincidences." (440)
  • Joseph Ratzinger appointment as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith the most important of John Paul II's papacy (442)
  • Liberation theology as "good spaghetti" (Church's work with the poor) with "poor sauce" (Marxist analysis leading to violence in the name of the Gospel) (451, 906)
  • Synod on penance and reconciliation
    • "A true humanism must recognize that sin is an integral part of the truth about man because human beings are moral actors...To take sin seriously is to take human freedom seriously" (473)
    • Tradition: "John Paul II's stress on the imperative of individual confession was not a mulish insistence on a traditional practice simply because it was traditional. It was a recognition that that traditional practice embodied deep truths about the nature of the moral life and about human freedom." (474)

Chapter 14: Reliving the Council

Religion and the Renewal of a World Still Young

  • "Solidarity is at the other extreme from ideologies [i.e. CRT] that divide human beings into groups of irreconcilable enemies and that seek the extermination of the adversary" (486)
  • John Paul II: "Do not be afraid of the love that places clear demands on people." (494)
  • The 1985 Extraordinary Synod (previewed by The Ratzinger Report) gave an authoritative interpretation of Vatican II and commissioned the Catechism of the Catholic Church (505)
  • Leadership: even subordinates you disagree with can be put to good use by understanding their skills (example of sending Cardinal Etchegaray on special diplomatic missions) (506)
  • The Philippine 1986 Revolution and the important role Cardinal Sin and Philippine Catholics played in massive peaceful demonstrations to remove the regime (509). This was an example of a legitimate Liberation Theology: a broad non-violent movement against a violent regime not exercised in class struggle that was religious and moral rather than ideological and political led by pastors united to the hierarchy (510)
  • John Paul II engaged in important ecumenical conversations with Jews, Orthodox (Dominum et Vivificantem mediation on the Holy Spirit to move toward the end of schism), and the Anglican Communities (who moved farther away from Rome by allowing the ordination of women) (514-522)

Chapter 15: Forward to Basics

Freedom Ordered to the Dignity of Duty

  • Truth: (1) The reconstruction of society through culture is the prerequisite for economic and political change. (2) Information is the key to effective resistance through culture. (3) The Church is a sanctuary of truth telling in a world dominated by lies. (529)
  • Beatification of Edith Stein, and how she read ~Autobiography of St. Teresa of Ávila one night and pronounced: "This is the truth." (538)
    • Edith Stein was a "paradigmatic figure": modern women and proto-feminist, intellectual and converted skeptic, contemplative with an active life, defied force with faith (540)
  • Did John Paul II pass through (or more likely fly over) Paso Robles, CA while traveling from LA to Monterey in 1987
  • John Paul II on the American experiment: "An experience of ordered freedom is truly a cherished part of the history of this land...The only true freedom, the only freedom that can truly satisfy is...the freedom to live the truth of what we are and who we are before God." (551)
  • Synod on the Laity (1987) and Christifideles Laici, which launched the concept of the New Evangelization: being a Christian is a full-time occupation (553-5)
  • Lefebvre: "he was a twentieth-century victim of the French Revolution. When the final choice had to be made, he hated modernity more than he loved Rome." (564)
  • Hans Urs von Balthasar died two days before the consistory. At his funeral Joseph Ratzinger recalled Henri de Lubac's description of Balthasar as the "most cultured man in the contemporary world." (565)
  • John Paul II reimagined the ad limina (every 5 year) visit of bishops to Rome and focused intensely on the bishops and the situations in their diocese (566)
  • John Paul II took great interest in Russia and read many Russians, including the philosopher and theologian Vladimir Soloviev (568)
  • Marian year of 1987: "Mary is Queen of the Apostles without any pretensions to apostolic power: she has other and greater powers." (577)
    • Redemptoris Mater: Mary united the two great moments of the Holy Spirit: the annunciation and Pentecost (578)
    • Mulieris Dignitatem as a development of the distinctive Feminism of John Paul II; the root of the domination of women is not culture but sin, which fractures the equality of men and women as images of God (578-9)

Chapter 16: After the Empire of Lies

Miracles and the Mandates of Justice

  • "Do not be afraid to be saints!" (593)
  • Henri de Lubac observed the rise of "atheistic humanism" preaching a new worldview by the likes of Compte, Feuerbach, Marx, and Nietzsche (600)
  • John Paul II saw Mikhail Gorbachev as a man of principle who, though false in his belief that he could "save communism with a human face", could be understood and reasoned with (602)
  • Centesimus Annus as an encyclical that dealt with economics from the bottom up rather than top down (612)
    • Pope Leo XIII (Rerum Novarum) and John Paul II both saw the collapse of Socialism as inevitable because of its fundamental error about the nature of the human person (614)
    • Marxism held that only by exacerbating social conflicts was it possible to resolve them through violent confrontation (614)
    • Centesimus Annus was the CST abandonment of a "third way" between capitalism and socialism (615)
    • Prophetic: "Atheistic humanism may have been a dead letter, jut John Paul II detected on the horizon a new secularist ideology that posed a serious threat to the future of freedom." (617)
    • "A democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism" (618, cf. ~Democracy in America). A new form of tyranny, all the more dangerous for not recognizing itself as such, was encoded in those secularist ideologies that sought to banish transcendent moral standards from public life. The danger was not all that difficult to imagine. If a democracy did not recognize such a transcendent moral standard, the only way to resolve conflict within it was the exercise of raw force by one faction (imposing its will through legislation or by more violent means) over another. The aggrieved faction, in turn, would regard the imposition of a solution as a violation of its basic rights. The net result would be the dissolution of the democratic political community. (618)
  • Ex Corde Ecclesiae as correction of the way Catholic universities in the US "cut themselves loose form their intellectual moorings in the midst of a major cultural crisis" (cf. Land O'Lakes): to John Paul II the crucial question for free societies old and new was the relationship between freedom and truth. (627)

Chapter 17: To the Ends of the Earth

Reconciling an Unreconciled World

  • Against Scientism: "Science was not simply a matter of empirical facts. In describing the data of experience and drawing conclusions from it, scientists made use of concepts that were beyond the empirical. Scientists needed philosophers, just as philosophers had come to recognize that they needed scientists." (630)
  • Redemptoris Missio: the Church is missionary by her very nature (634)
    • "Christian mission is one form of obedience to the great commandment of love for one's neighbor...Christ has saved us, and our willingness to share his Gospel with others is an index of the degree to which we have truly understood and grasped the import of that." (635)
    • "The Church proposes; she imposes nothing" (636)
  • Pastores Dabo Vobis as a response to the crisis of the priesthood (654)
    • "Every great reform movement in the history of the Catholic Church has required a reform of the priesthood" (654)
    • Studying theology is "a means of fostering a deeper personal and communal relationship with Jesus Christ" (657)
  • John Paul II promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992 (committee with Joseph Ratzinger as chair and Dominican Christoph Schönborn as secretary):
    • One of the few times John Paul II gave direct comments on the draft was the section on capital punishment; interesting to see Pope Francis's subsequent revision of this section to describe the death penalty as "inadmissible" (2267 revision, article) (661)
    • Four-part organization of the Catechism follows the format of the Council of Trent: (1) Apostles' Creed, (2) the Sacraments, (3) The Ten Commandments, (4) Prayer
    • The Catechism as a whole is, according to Schönborn, "a beautiful, coherent expression of the unity of faith" in which the truth of particular doctrines becomes clearer because of their relationship to the entire structure" (663)
    • The Catechism asserts against Postmodernism the accessibility, unity, and coherence of Truth (663)
  • John Paul II's dogged pursuit of unity with Eastern Orthodoxy, including those that entered into full communion with Rome while keeping their Byzantine liturgy and internal governance such as the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine (672)

Chapter 18: The Threshold of Hope

Appealing to Our Better Angels

  • Veritas Splendor (686)
    • "Freedom, detached from truth, becomes license, and license becomes freedom's undoing." (688)
    • VS asserts that "there is a universal moral law built into the human condition—a law that provides the 'grammar' for serious moral conversation among people of different cultures and life experiences" (689)
    • VS works to implement Vatican II through Ressourcement: the recovery of foundational theological themes from the Bible, the theology of the first Christian centuries ,and medieval scholarship (694)
  • Interesting that the Holy See and the Vatican City State are distinct: the Holy See is the international legal embodiment of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome as universal pastor of the Catholic Church, and it is this entity that receives ambassadors and participates in international affairs (705)
  • Interesting discussion of the negotiations leading to the agreement with Israel in 697-713
  • Abortion: not an issue of sexual morality but of human rights, and for John Paul II "was not one issue, but the issue for the emerging world culture that would sustain, or corrupt, the free societies of the future" (716-7)

Chapter 19: Only One World

Human Solidarity and the Gospel of Life

  • Tertio Millennio Adveniente for the new Millennium (743)
    • The Incarnation showed the world the face of God the Father and the true face of humanity. The Incarnation of Christ is the axial point of human history (cf. 2021-06-22-Antonin Scalia On Faith 49) (743)
  • Evangelium Vitae against the "culture of death" (756)
    • Joseph Ratzinger lecture: "If moral relativism was legally absolutized in the name of tolerance, basic rights were also relativized and the door was open to totalitarianism." (756)
    • Allowed for proposals to limit the harm done by an evil law and lessening its negative consequences (e.g. the Hyde Amendment) (759)
    • Centralized his stature as the "only true global leader left" as a result of his staunch adherence to moral principles supporting human flourishing (760)
  • John Paul II further developed his "distinctive Feminism" in fifteen Sunday Angelus addresses starting in February 1995
  • Te Deum by Haydn (recording) (787)

Chapter 20: A Reasonable Faith

Beyond a Century of Delusions

  • "John Paul II had an influence greater than the church because he articulated universal values in a way that moves beyond the borders of the Catholic Church." (805)
  • John Paul II reformed the procedures around electing a new pope, including provision for the resignation of a Pope which would be needed with Benedict XVI (831)
  • Dies Domini (836) on keeping the Lord's day holy
  • John Paul II canonized Edith Stein, a woman who was a "synthesis of the twentieth century in its troubled quest for a genuine humanism"..she said to us: "Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth!" (839)
  • Fides et Ratio: philosophy's "false modesty" precluded its asking the large questions; recovering confidence is essential to reconstituting a true humanism for the third millennium (841)

Epilogue: The Third Millennium

To See the Sun Rise

  • Historic accomplishments of John Paul II's papacy (854):
    1. Recast the papacy and returned it to its evangelical roots
    2. Secured the legacy of Vatican II, especially Gaudium et spes 22 and 24 how Jesus reveals both God and the true meaning of human existence, and how meaning is found in self-giving
    3. Spoke truth to power and witnessed the collapse of communism
    4. Reconfigured Catholic social doctrine, free societies are built upon a vibrant public moral culture and the dignity of the human person
    5. Ecumenical work for Christian unity and with Judaism and other world religions
    6. Personally inspired millions: "Be not afraid!"
  • John Paul II's Christian Feminism anchored in the Bible and the Marian Church (852)
  • John Paul II remained a Carmelite at heart: "The joy a Christian experiences from knowing christ's ultimate victory over evil intensifies one's awareness of evil's enduring power in the world. Life, and the daily papal duty of bringing the world's suffering before the Lord in prayer, had deepened his Carmelite intuition that all roads to the truth eventually wind their way to Calvary, to the cross. And Calvary was, and remains, a lonely place." (862)
  • Weigel makes the case that John Paul II is MacIntyre's "new St. Benedict" (cf. 2020-11-18-After Virtue, 863)
    • "The antidote to despair amid the sundry madnesses of late modernity, the Pope had long proposed, was the experience of a community of self-giving love in which we learn the destiny that awaits us on the far side of loneliness—life within the community of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." (863)
  • If John Paul II becomes "John Paul the Great" it will be because he met the barbarian threat and proposed an alternative (863):
    • Leo the Great against Attila the Hun
    • Gregory the Great against the Lombards
    • John Paul II against the defective humanisms
  • John Paul II resembled G. K. Chesterton's description of Thomas More: "he was above all things, historic: he represented at once a type, a turning-point, and an ultimate destiny. If there had not been that particular man at that particular moment, the whole of history would have been different." (864)


  • Polish joke: "Should Poland be invaded simultaneously by Germans and Russians, the Polish army should shoot the Germans first, on the ancient principle of business before pleasure." (21)
  • WWII is the war Poland lost twice (46)
  • "It's a good draft. Perhaps it could be translated first from Polish into Polish." –Styczeń's reaction to Wojtyła when asked about his Person and Act (174)
  • Cardinal Wojtyła disciplined a young priest, then went to his chapel and asked, "Would you please hear my confession now?" (194)
  • Vatican Curia: "We think in centuries here." (266)
  • Someone asked about the cost of the swimming pool John Paul II was putting in, and he replied that he needed exercise and it was less expensive than holding another conclave. (332)
  • After being shot, he referred to his physicians as "the Sanhedrin" (414)
  • John Henry Newman when asked what the clergy should think of the laity: "we would look rather silly without them" (553)
  • One bishop, who had put on weight since he had last seen the Pope, as awsked by John Paul II, "Is your diocese growing?" The bishop replied, yes, parishes were expanding. "So is the bishop," said the Pope. (567)
  • "Press coverage of the encyclical predictably stressed the Pope's reaffirmation of classic Catholic sexual morality, although in fact these issues were barely referenced in Veritas Splendor, it was not clear why reporters thought it newsworthy that the Pope continued to think that fornication was wrong." (692)

Topic: John Paul II


By John Paul II:

  • Crossing the Threshold of Hope
  • Gift and Mystery
  • Love and Responsibility (137, 140)
  • Person and Act (172)
  • Sources of Renewal (tour of the texts of Vatican II, 204)
  • Theology of the Body (334)
  • Spiritual Pilgrimage: Texts on Jews & Judaism, 1979-1995 (see Homily at the Beatification of Edith Stein, 540, 915)
  • The Pope Speaks to the American Church: John Paul's Homilies, Speeches, and Letters to Catholics in America (551)

Encyclicals & Apostolic Exhortations of John Paul II:

  • Redemptor Hominis (288)
  • Familiaris Consortio (385)
  • Laborem Exercens (419, 618)
  • Salvifici Doloris (475)
  • Christifideles Laici (553)
  • Redemptoris Mater and Mulieris Dignitatem (578)
  • Centesimus Annus (612)
  • Ex Corde Ecclesiae (625)
  • Redemptoris Missio (634)
  • Pastores Dabo Vobis (654)
  • Veritas Splendor (686)
  • Tertio Millennio Adveniente (743)
  • Evangelium Vitae (756)
  • Ut Unum Sint (760)
  • Dies Domini (836)
  • Fides et Ratio (841)


New Words

  • sycophancy: obsequious flattery; servility (20)
  • chancel: The space around the altar of a church for the clergy and sometimes the choir, often enclosed by a lattice or railing. (25)
  • samizdat ("self-publishing"): was a form of dissident activity across the socialist Eastern Bloc in which individuals reproduced censored and underground makeshift publications, often by hand, and passed the documents from reader to reader (95) ^ee20f8
  • insouciance: Carelessness; heedlessness; thoughtlessness (226)
  • codicil: Appendix, supplement (312)
  • saccharine: Excessively sentimental (425)


  • 156: "spot when Jesus had died" to "spot where Jesus had died"

Created: 2021-07-20-Tue
Updated: 2024-03-31-Sun

  1. Churchill, by the way, is perhaps the one figure other than John Paul II who could make a claim on the title of "greatest figure of the 20th century", a thought I had while finishing 2021-08-02-Team of Rivals which suggests Lincoln as the greatest figure of the 19th century.

    Ryan Holiday's Reading List Email for September 26, 2021 suggests, after he read A Certain Idea of France: The Life of Charles de Gaulle by Julian Jackson, that "de Gaulle is probably a better example of the "great man of history" theory than any other person of the 20th century...One guy managed to essentially will France back into existence." (personal email link)

    Peter Kreeft calls John Paul II "the greatest man in the worst century in history" (2021-10-23 Presentation-How to Save Western Civilization by Kreeft and Socrates' Children - The Great Debates of Philosophy - Peter Kreeft).

    Weigel and Kissinger discuss this in 2023-09-03-Lessons in Hope