The Pope's Divisions

The Peope who proved Stalin wrong.

Issue: Spring 2000

George Weigel, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (New York: Cliff Street Books, 1999).

Amidst all the ink spilled over the coming of a new Christian millennium, remarkably little has been written in the mainstream media about the leading Christian spokesman of our era. Pope John Paul II's life and thoughts have, however, now been fully chronicled in George Weigel's magisterial and well-written biography, a work that will both broaden and deepen our understanding of the man he calls a "witness to hope."

Weigel describes this "Pope from a far country" as "the man seen by more people than any man who ever lived", yet who remains "the least understood major figure of the twentieth century." Weigel rejects the political categories of liberal and conservative usually relied on in characterizing John Paul II. In a brilliant prologue he sets the stage for his own more nuanced and theology-centered exposition by laying out a series of paradoxes. The Pope is both a simple, pious Pole and a sophisticated, intellectual polyglot; both a mystic and a sportsman. He is "a celibate with a remarkable insight into human sexuality, especially as viewed from the perspective and experience of women." He is "arguably the most well informed man in the world, yet he rarely reads newspapers."

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