A Review Article -- By: Jonathan Armstrong

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 10:1 (Winter 2001)
Article: A Review Article
Author: Jonathan Armstrong

A Review Article

John H. Armstrong

Witness To Hope: The Biography Of Pope John Paul II, George Weigel. New York: HarperCollins (1999). 992 pages, cloth, $35.00

There is no real doubt that when the history of church in the twentieth century is written by scholars, and some have already undertaken this daunting task, one of the foremost figures of the century has to be the Pole Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II. His papacy has left a mark on the world that will impact people and nations for decades to come. Till now several notable biographies have been written about John Paul II. Witness to Hope is surely the best of them. And it is especially important to evangelicals, as I will attempt to show.

George Weigel, a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D. C., is an astute commentator on American public life as well as a formidable Roman Catholic ethicist and theologian. He is also a clear thinker and an extraordinary writer. In this present volume he has plainly written the finest book to date on the life of Karol Wojtyla, the Polish pope, John Paul II.

This is a weighty book. It is also a highly readable one. Weigel is experienced in giving the background to a story, and it shows, especially in the first third of his book. Here

he tells the story of Karol Wojtyla’s (pronounced Voy-tee-wah) life up to his election to the papacy. He demonstrates, especially in this portion of the book, that a good biography of a living person is still possible. Weigel addresses, with profound and even entertaining insight, twentieth-century Polish society, the doctrinal development of modern Roman Catholicism, the growth of the Vatican’s foreign policy, and, in general, the truly important issues that touched the entire world in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

The life of John Paul II is deeply intertwined with the religious, philosophical and political concerns of the past three decades. Weigel approaches his subject from every conceivable angle, and does so superbly. But all of this is only the tip of a huge iceberg, a tour de force in modern biography! I have only one major complaint with Weigel’s work. I had trouble putting the book aside for any period of time and thus had to forego other pressing interests for several days.

Karol Jósef Wojtyla was born in Wadowice (Poland) May 18, 1920, just months before the Red Army invaded Europe and was repelled at Vistula, a battle Poles collectively remember to this day. Thus began the Second Polish Republic, a period of some fifteen years, during which an entire generation was profoundly altered. Becaus...

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