The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy by George Weigel

(New Work: Doubleday, 2010), 517

I spent 2018 through 2020 reading William Manchester's The Last Lion trilogy on Churchill, and am now for 2021 through 2023 reading Weigel's trilogy on John Paul II. The first installment, Witness to Hope was an epic journey. This second installment, The End and the Beginning, starts with a recap of Karol Wojtyła's life to date. But the primary focus is on the buildup to the Great Jubilee of 2000 and his last years, as well as a comprehensive look at the accomplishments and frustrations of his pontificate.

Weigel emphasizes the same themes of John Paul's pontificate: especially the "law of the gift" (48, 355), how the church proposes but never imposes (437), and the Christian humanism he so consistently preached (517).

Sitting here in 2022, there are many lessons we can draw from his life. The teachings of the Church are perennial and timeless. John Paul preached these unchanging truths in a way that addressed the particular challenges of his (and still our) time. Interpreting and implementing Vatican II is a massive work that John Paul II focused much of his energy on, but that work is not complete. We are the generation charged with implementing Vatican II1.

John Paul II also warns Europe about the consequences of abandoning its Christian roots (334). At stake is our entire culture, including especially the Christian tradition of human rights. Events since his death make this warning all the more important and all the more general: the challenge is certainly not isolated to Europe.

Finally, John Paul II always said that "You must decide!" (42, 412). And so it is with us: we must decide how to respond to Christ's call in our lives for this is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (cf Heb-13).



Prologue: The Millennial Pope

  • He described himself as a "Witness to Hope" to the UN in 1995 (2)
  • His friend/mentor Jan Tyranowski was "a lay mystic and autodidact specialist in the works of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Ávila" (6)
    • → not a bad goal to strive for!
  • John Paul II held the conviction that "the Enlightenment theories of ethics, which locked moral obligation inside human consciousness, were one source of the cultural, and ultimately political, crises of the late twentieth century." (10)
  • Under his leadership, the Diocese of Krakow published a summary of the documents of Vatican II: Sources of Renewal (11)
  • His first encyclical Redemptoris Hominis was the first first extensive papal exposition of Christian anthropology (13)

Part I: Karol Wojtyła vs. Communism

Chapter 1: Opening Gambits

Karol Wojtyła's worldview against communism.

  • Starts with the badass story of Witold Pilecki, who was intentionally arrested and sent to Auschwitz, built a radio and sent intelligence reports from there, and then escaped (24-26)
  • Poland played a critical role in 20th century world history: the "Miracle on the Vistula" (stopping the Red Army in 1920), offering the first armed resistance to Hitler, epicenter of the nonviolent revolution against communism (27)
  • Poland was also the most intensely Catholic country, and the Church suffered terribly but was a repository of the national identity and memory (28)
  • Poland showed how "cultural and spiritual sovereignty can resist, and eventually defeat, the harshest political regimes" (30)
    • → we need to preserve our culture and faith
  • ...unfortunate how "Uncle Joe" can refer to both Stalin and Joe Biden (31)
  • "Communism and Catholicism cannot peacefully coexist" (31)
  • John Paul II understood the priesthood as "a way of life in which he could resist the degradation of human dignity with spiritual and cultural weapons" (33)
  • One in every three Polish adults was a spy/listener/informant (36) (!!)
  • government waste is theft from its citizens: "Yet for all the pressure and the intense surveillance (which involved a vast expenditure of state resources, and thus constituted a form of theft from civil society)..."
  • you must understand the enemy on their terms, not yours: ..."Stalin-era Polish communism never quite "got" the Catholic Church. Raw intelligence is only as good as the analysis that filters and explains the data." (37)
  • Cardinal Wyszyński was a master of prudence and skillfully bought the Church time against the communist regime (38)
  • In his first rural assignment, Fr. Karol Wojtyła visited his five villages by horse cart (not unlike Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings)
  • Below quotes inspired from 2021-05-31 Article-In a World Gone Mad, What Would St. John Paul Do?
    • "He organized off-campus seminars where students could read St. Thomas Aquinas and the other greats of Catholic intellectual life as an antidote to the Marxists intellectual rubbish to which they were subjected at school." (41)
    • "Fr. Wojtyła created zones of freedom in which the students could live in opposition to the alternative construction of society and the alternative idea of human goods being relentlessly promoted by communist propaganda." (43)
  • Karol Wojtyła studied Max Scheler (phenomenological approach to ethics) for his 2nd doctorate, and concluded that you needed both/and: subjectivity and objective truth (46)
  • "The truth about the human person was thus the most powerful weapon of resistance that could be deployed." (47-48)
  • A demonstration of the will of the Catholic Polish resistance: they prefabricated their churches at home and then assembled them overnight since the regime denied them building permits (50) (!!)

Chapter 2: Defensor Civitatis

Defender of the City, traditional role of the bishop of Krakow

  • Karol Wojtyła: "This battle runs through the heart of each of us." (55, cf. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago)
  • Pope John XXIII published Pacem in Terris in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis (61)
  • Ostpolitik: Pope John XXIII's Cold War diplomacy of "saving what could be saved" (62, 182)
  • Communist infiltration of the Catholic Church: "Nine of the fifteen Hungarian bishops, theologians, and journalists at the Council's second session were working for Hungarian intelligence." (64) (!!)
  • Vatican II divisions aid the Church's enemies: "Soviet-bloc intelligence exploited the widening ideological divisions in the Catholic Church for its own purposes." (65)
    • "Polish intelligence...[was] sowing the seeds of discord about the proper interpretation of the Council's documents" (66)
  • We have Zenon Kliszko to thank for making Karol Wojtyła a bishop! "I'm waiting for Wojtyła and I'll continue to veto names until I get him." (68)
    • Fr. Andrzej Bardecki: "The Holy Spirit can work his will by darkening as well as enlightening people's minds." (70)
  • The Sabbath is for us to "rest and rediscover within ourselves the image of the God who had rested on the seventh day." (86)

Chapter 3: Confrontation

Summary: John Paul II is elected Pope and confronts the communist regime, starting with his pilgrimage back home to Poland.

  • John Paul II: "There are no coincidences: what seems coincidence is actually a facet of God's providence that we don't understand yet." (97)
  • "Moscow would prefer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as Secretary-General of the United Nations than a Pole as Pope." (100)
  • Wojtyła's critique of communism in Person and Act bib: totalitarianism's denial of basic human rights is ultimately antihumanism because it diminishes personal moral responsibility (103)
  • John Paul II's first visit to Poland (June 2–10, 1979) was a turning point in the fight against communism: his theme was living in the truth
    • he defined Solidarity as a condition in which personal freedom serves the common good and the community supports individuals as they grow in true maturity
    • it's important to fight for something, not simply against something (126)
    • John Lewis Gaddis: "When John Paul II kissed the ground at the Warsaw airport on June 2, 1979, he began the process by which communism in Poland—and ultimately everywhere—would come to an end." (184)
  • Lit candles in windows became an international symbol of solidarity with Poland (143)

Chapter 4: Victory

Summary: John Paul II witnesses (and is a key part in) the downfall of communism in Europe.

  • "Tools of resistance can be forged from holiness and courage." (162)
  • Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko: people should live as if they were free, refusing to participate in the continuing culture of lies that was communism (165)
    • → for this he was beat to death
  • Karol Wojtyła deeply appreciated Orthodoxy and had read the modern Russian theologians; he spoke of Europe as a body with two lungs: Catholicism and Orthodoxy (176)
  • "The church is in the business of truth..." and not just another social service agency (178)
  • John Paul's test in measuring politicians: are they willing to risk power and position for the sake of what they believe in? (185)

Part II: The Last Years of Pope John Paul II

Chapter 5: The Great Jubilee of 2000: Up to Jerusalem

Summary: John Paul's experience as a Pole showed the importance of the immersion in anniversaries as a reclamation of the past as a platform from which to launch the future.

  • John Paul II's spirituality formed by the Carmelite tradition: kenosis, the outpouring of self in conformity to the self-sacrifice of the crucified Christ, is the key to the spiritual life (194)

Chapter 6: The Great Jubilee of 2000: Into the Deep

Summary: Evangelization in the great jubilee.

  • Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Benjamin of St. Petersburg: "The times have changed and it has become possible to suffer much for love of Christ." (232)
    • → the 20th Century had more martyrs than the previous 19 combined
  • #listen to Haydn's The Creation (241)
  • John Paul II launched a "Mission to the City" in Rome and gave away copies of the Gospel of Mark (254)
  • Dominus Iesus bib: there is no salvation in anyone else but Christ, this does not deny salvation to non-Christians, but points to its ultimate source in Christ, in whom God and man are united (251)

Chapter 7: The Turbulence of History: 2001-2002

Summary: Duc in altum—Put out into the deep! (cf. Lk-05) to move beyond institutional maintenance and into the new evangelization.

  • Phrases to use: "new world disorder" (264, 280)
  • Sanctity must be lived in history (265)
  • John Paul II's humility and generosity helped heal some historical wounds (in this case, in Greece) (271)
  • John Paul II in the US: "America continues to measure herself by the nobility of her founding vision in building a society of liberty, equality, and justice under the law" (279)
  • John Paul II hoped that 9/11 "might be an occasion for the 'international community' to become a concrete political reality rather than an ephemeral ideal." (281)
    • → he supports international government?
  • A great accomplishment of the Church since the French Revolution is control over the appointment of bishops (283)
  • Familiaris Consortio was one of John Paul's favorite documents of his pontificate (286)
    • he was the first to beatify a married couple: Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi

Chapter 8: Darkening Valley: 2003-2004

Summary: The dark days of world and personal suffering.

  • John Paul II saw poetry as a way to ponder some of the deepest mysteries of life (315)
    • he wrote Roman Triptych as a way of exploring the path of beauty to God
    • Hans Urs von Balthasar formed his understanding that to lose touch with the beautiful is to lose touch with God himself
    • The recovery of beauty leads to the recovery of authentic humanism
  • John Paul II's devotion to the Liturgy of the Hours: his first question on waking up after being shot was "Have we said Compline yet?" (318)
  • The Eucharist was the center of John Paul II's life, and from this came Ecclesia de Eucharistia (319)
    • Great discussion of Eucharistic admission on 321+: the Eucharist is apostolic and full communion with the apostolic community of the Church is required for a true and valid Eucharist
    • "those who receive holy communion are time travelers": the Eucharist takes us out of time into eternity, it unites heaven and earth (322)
  • Ecclesia in Europa is analysis of the issues of modern secularism in Europe and a call to return to its Christian roots (337)
    • having lots of kids: Not having children shows something "awry in the realm of the human spirit", a loss of hope in the future (338)
    • Ideas have consequences, and "atheistic humanism" has lethal consequences (cf. The Drama of Atheist Humanism bib) (338)
    • "It is from the biblical conception of man [that] Europe drew the best of its humanistic culture" (339)
    • "If the Europe of the future were to prosper in a genuinely humane way, it had to be, not simply a free society, but a free and virtuous society—a society in which the moral structure of freedom was well understood, such that European culture and society were safeguarded both from the totalitarian Utopia of freedom without truth which goes hand in hand with a false concept of tolerance." (340)
    • "Europe is not guaranteed a future. Europe must choose to have a future. That would mean choosing to have children. That would mean choosing a firmer foundation for Europe's human rights commitments than pragmatism or utilitarianism." (341)
  • Salvifici Doloris bib: "Suffering seems to be particularly essential to the nature of man" (343)
    • Ratzinger: "One draws nearer to the Lord's radiance by sharing his darkness." (344)
  • Regarding The Passion of the Christ bib: "It is as it was." (351)
  • St. Gianna Beretta Molla was the last of the 482 saints John Paul II canonized (355)
  • Cardinal Wyszyński: "lack of courage in a bishop is the beginning of disaster" (358)

Chapter 9: The Last Encyclical: January–April 2005

Summary: John Paul II lived his mission to the end, even at the cost of embarrassment as his health failed.

  • Ratzinger wrote meditations for the 2005 Stations of the Cross: Colosseum - Way of the Cross 2005
  • John Paul II published Memory and Identity bib, showing that deficiencies of Enlightenment theory were one root of the crisis of Western thought and culture. His intellectual project was to put morality on a firmer philosophical base. (375)
    • Critiqued Kantian and utilitarian ethics as insufficient to provide a secure cultural foundation for the exercise of freedom; rather Freedom is a gift that is to be used to seek what we can know, objectively, to be good (376)
    • History has a vertical dimension because "it is not only we who write our history—God writes it with us." (377)
  • As John Paul II was dying, Father Styczeń read aloud to him from the Gospel of John (he had read one chapter a day during his graduate student days in Rome, 385, cf A Life with Karol bib, 257)
  • After John Paul II died, they sang the Te Deum in gratitude for his life (386)
  • Woodworking: John Paul II was buried in a cypress casket, placed inside a zinc coffin, placed inside a walnut casket, lowered in a marble-lined grave (393, 395)
  • John Paul II's funeral was seen on TV by 2 billion people (!) the largest broadcast audience ever (396)

Part III: A Disciple's Life Explored

Chapter 10: From Inside

Summary: A view of the life of John Paul II through the lens of the virtues he lived.

  • Recall Lincoln's second inaugural address bib
  • "Churchill ranks as one of the few men in history who can be called saviors of civilizations as well as of countries" (402)
  • Karol Wojtyła's life is well captured by the Greek term metanoia: conversion (403)
  • "John Paul II lived beyond optimism and pessimism, in a world of Christian realism infused with Christian hope." (408)
  • "You can decide because you are capable of understanding the truth." (412)
  • Fatherhood: "~The Collected Plays and Writings on Theater" in The Collected Plays and Writings on Theater by Karol Wojtyła (Berkeley: UC Press, 1987), pg 368 (412)
  • "He was a man of disciplined personal habits, who cared little for food (except dessert)" (414)
  • Bob Dylan performed before the Pope spoke at the 1997 Italian National Eucharistic Congress (416)
  • St. Gregory of Nyssa: "The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God." (417)
  • Then a reflection on the Virtues:
    • Aquinas followed Aristotle in defining the virtue of Prudence as "right reason in action", it is the "charioteer of the virtues" for applying principle and moral judgment to particular cases and actions (417)
    • Justice is to give their due to God and neighbor (421)
    • Morris West on courage: "The man who wore the Fisherman's ring...carried...the sins of the world like a leaden cope on his shoulders." (432, cf. #wishlist The Devil's Advocate bib)
    • The temperate man has mastered his passions, found a balance in the use of created goods, and kept desires within the limits of what is honorable (424, cf. CCC bib)
  • Karol Wojtyła believed that "the Problem of Evil...comes into clear focus only by contemplating the face of Christ, the conqueror of evil who reveals the superabundance of God's grace, a grace that can thwart the designs of the Evil One and shake his grip on fragile human souls." (428)
    • CCC: "There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil." (428)

Chapter 11: The Measure of a Pontificate

Summary: An evaluation of the accomplishments and shortcomings of John Paul II's pontificate.

  • John Paul II's magisterium fills 56 volumes in Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II (434)
    • 14 encyclicals
    • 15 apostolic exhortations
    • 12 apostolic constitutions
    • 45 apostolic letters
  • Wojtyła was seen in person by more human beings than any man in history (435)
  • Evangelical Papacy: culture-first approach to the Church's public role
  • Vatican II:
    • it did not provide the keys to its own interpretation, and required full implementation
    • John Paul II was the "greatest vocation director the Church has ever had" (444, cf. Cardinal William Baum)
  • 1989: John Paul II played a critical role in the collapse of communism
  • Free and Virtuous Society: requires a democratic process, market economy, and robust public moral culture (451)
  • Ecumenical Imperative: doctrine of justification was no longer a dividing issue
  • Culture of life: democracy can only sustain itself over time if it is built on a culture of life (465)
  • Christian Feminism: the "feminine genius" as told in Redemptoris Mater and Mulieris Dignitatem (471)
  • Ratzinger: "Redemptor Hominis is really a synthesis of John Paul II's thinking" (548
  • John Paul II "trusted his own instincts because those instincts had been refined by prayer" (481)
  • Themes (481):

The understanding of the third millennium as a privileged moment of grace in which the Church could reexperience itself as a communion of disciples called to a new evangelization of the world; the personalist Christology according to which Jesus Christ reveals both the face of the merciful Father and the truth about our humanity; the notion of a Law of the Gift, built into the structure of moral choice and action, as the royal road to human fulfillment; solidarity as the key to living freedom nobly in free and virtuous societies; the revelatory iconography of our embodied ness and complementarity as male and female—these signature themes of the pontificate reflected a uniquely Wojtylan synthesis of Catholic thought and practice, and a crucial set of keys for interpreting the event at which the twentieth-century Catholic renewal reached its dramatic watershed, the Second Vatican Council.

Topic: John Paul II

Source: UA Library, Witness to Hope


file:(2022-07-01-The End and the Beginning)
  • read soon: Gift and Mystery (33)

New Words

  • suzerian: A nation that controls another nation in international affairs but allows it domestic sovereignty. (32)
  • simulacrum: A likeness; a semblance; a mock appearance; a sham (80, also in Ficciones)
  • Stasi: the East German secret intelligence service (98)
  • abattoir: A public slaughterhouse for cattle, sheep, etc. (196, 472)
  • peregrination: A traveling from one country to another; a wandering (365)
  • sartorial: of or pertaining to a tailor or his work (387)
  • bonhomie: A pleasant and affable disposition; geniality (461)
  • lacunae: An empty space or a missing part; a gap (462)
  • anodyne: Capable of soothing or eliminating pain (510)

Created: 2021-05-31-Mon
Updated: 2023-11-02-Thu