George Weigel's "The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II -- The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy"



George Weigel's new book, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II -- The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy, which was published by Doubleday on September 14, is the fulfillment of a promise the author made to Pope John Paul II less than four months before the pope died. In "A Promise To Pope John Paul II" ("The Catholic Difference" 9/17/10), Weigel gives his account of his parting words to the late Pope before his death:

The conversation over dinner was wide-ranging, and at one point, after the usual papal kidding about my having written "a very big book," John Paul asked about the international reception of Witness to Hope, his biography, which I had published five years earlier. He was particularly happy when I told him that a Chinese edition was in the works, as he knew he would never get to that vast land himself. As that part of the conversation was winding down, I looked across the table and, referring to the fact that Witness to Hope had only taken the John Paul II story up to early 1999, I made the Pope a promise: "Holy Father," I said, "if you don't bury me, I want you to know that I'll finish your story."

It was the last time we saw each other, this side of the Kingdom of God.
According to Weigel, The End and the Beginning covers the last six years of John Paul II's life, including:
  • -- Karol Wojtyla's epic battle with communism through the prism of previously classified and top-secret communist files
  • -- the Great Jubilee of 2000 and his historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land
  • -- September 11th, and the Pope's efforts to frustrate Osama bin Laden's insistence that his war with the West was a religious crusade
  • -- the Long Lent of 2002, when the Church in America grappled with the twin crises of clerical sexual abuse and episcopal misgovernance;
  • -- John Paul's ongoing efforts to build bridges of dialogue and reconciliation with the Churches of the Christian East
  • -- his struggle with illness, "which brought him into at least one 'dark night' spiritually; and his heroic last months, in which his priestly death became, metaphorically, his last encyclical"


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George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Catholic theologian and one of America's leading public intellectuals.

Professional Experience

A native of Baltimore, he was educated at St. Mary's Seminary College in his native city, and at the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto. In 1975, Weigel moved to Seattle where he was Assistant Professor of Theology and Assistant (later Acting) Dean of Studies at the St. Thomas Seminary School of Theology in Kenmore. In 1977, Weigel became Scholar-in-Residence at the World Without War Council of Greater Seattle, a position he held until 1984. In 1984-85 Weigel was a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. There, he wrote Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace (Oxford University Press, 1987).

Weigel is the author or editor of nineteen other books, including The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism (Oxford, 1992); The Truth of Catholicism: Ten Controversies Explored (HarperCollins, 2001); The Courage To Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church (Basic Books, 2002); Letters to a Young Catholic (Basic, 2004); The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God (Basic, 2005); God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church (HarperCollins, 2005); Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism (Doubleday, 2007); and Against the Grain: Christianity and Democracy, War and Peace (Crossroad, 2008). Weigel has written essays, op-ed columns, and reviews for the major opinion journals and newspapers in the United States, and is a contributor to Newsweek. A frequent guest on television and radio, he is also Vatican analyst for NBC News. His weekly column, "The Catholic Difference," is syndicated to sixty newspapers around the United States. His scholarly work and his journalism are regularly translated into the major European languages.

From 1989 through June 1996, Weigel was president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he led a wide-ranging, ecumenical and inter-religious program of research and publication on foreign and domestic policy issues. From June 1996, as a Senior Fellow of the Center, Weigel prepared a major study of the life, thought, and action of Pope John Paul II. Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II was published to international acclaim in the Fall of 1999, in English, French, Italian, and Spanish editions. Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Czech, and Slovenian editions were published in 2000. A Russian edition was published in 2001, and a German edition in 2002; Chinese and Romanian editions are in preparation. A documentary film based on the book was released in the fall of 2001 and has won numerous prizes.

Weigel has been awarded ten honorary doctorates, the papal cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, and the Gloria Artis Gold Medal by the Republic of Poland. He serves on the boards of directors of several organizations dedicated to human rights and the cause of religious freedom and is a member of the editorial board of First Things.

George Weigel and his wife, Joan, have three children and one grandchild, and live in North Bethesda, Maryland.

Education

B.A., St. Mary's Seminary and University, Baltimore
M.A., University of St. Michael's College, Toronto

George Weigel: Interviews

Public Addresses by George Weigel

George Weigel on the Intersection of Faith and Politics (Selected Writings)

George Weigel on Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

George Weigel on Pope John Paul II

George Weigel on Iraq, "The War on Terror" and the Catholic Just War Tradition

George Weigel: "Against the Grain: Christianity and Democracy, War and Peace"

Against the Grain: Christianity and Democracy, War and Peace (2008)

Cutting against the grain of conventional wisdom, New York Times bestseller, George Weigel, offers a compelling look at the ways in which Catholic social teaching sheds light on the challenges of peace, the problem of pluralism, the quest for human rights, and the defense of liberty. In this major contribution one of America's most prominent intellectuals offers a meticulous analysis of the foundations of the free society as he makes a powerful case for the role of moral reasoning in meeting the threats to human dignity posed by debonair nihilism, jihadist violence, and the brave new world of manufactured men and women.

George Weigel: "Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism: A Call to Action"

Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism: A Call to Action (2007)

“History must be made to march in the direction of genuine human progress; world affairs have no intrinsic momentum that necessarily results in the victory of decency. Maintaining the morale necessary to achieving progress in history requires us to live our lives, today, against a moral horizon of responsibility that is wider and deeper than the quest for personal satisfactions. The future of our civilization does not rest merely on the advance of material wealth and technological prowess; the future of the West turns on the question of whether our spiritual aspirations are noble or base.” —from Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism

More than half a decade after 9/11, safe passage through a moment of history fraught with both peril and possibility requires Americans across the political spectrum to see things as they are.

In this incisive, engaging study of the present danger and what we must do to prevail against it, George Weigel, one of America’s foremost public intellectuals, does precisely that: he sees, and describes, things as they are—and as they might be. Drawing on a quarter century of experience at the intersection of moral argument and public policy, he describes rigorously and clearly the threat posed by global jihadism: the religiously inspired ideology which teaches that it is the moral obligation of all Muslims to employ whatever means are necessary to compel the world’s submission to Islam. Exploring that ideology’s theological, social, cultural, and political roots, Weigel points a new direction for both public policy and interreligious dialogue, one that meets the challenge of jihadism forthrightly while creating the conditions for a less threatening, more mutually enriching encounter between Islam and the West.

Essential reading in a time of momentous political decisions, Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism is a clarion call for a new seriousness of debate and a new clarity of purpose in American public life.

George Weigel: "God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church"

God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church (2005)

Publisher's Weekly The biographer of Pope John Paul II (Witness to Hope) chronicles the transition between John Paul's papacy and that of his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, in this blend of history, biography, analysis and forecasting. Readers familiar with John Paul's papacy will be tempted to skip over the first three chapters summarizing the late pope's life, plunging instead into what Weigel has to say about the new pontiff and how he was elected in one of the shortest conclaves in papal history. Of particular interest is Weigel's diary of the conclave, which combines his own observations with those of journalists, Vatican officials and cardinal-electors, none of whom, he attests, violated the oath of confidentiality in talking with him. His insights into Benedict are compelling and defy the caricature of the former cardinal as "God's Rottweiler." In a look toward the future church Benedict has the potential to shape, Weigel suggests the new pope is not likely to bring about revolutionary change in the area of liturgy and theological dissent, but could introduce reforms in such areas as Vatican diplomacy, the curial structure and the selection of bishops. The author's access to sources in and around the Vatican paired with his accessible writing style make this good reading for a broad audience.

George Weigel: "The Cube and the Cathedral"

The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God (2005)

Why do Europeans and Americans see the world so differently? Why do Europeans and Americans have such different understandings of democracy in the twenty-first century? Why is Europe dying, demographically? In The Cube and the Cathedral, George Weigel offers a penetrating critique of "Europe's problem" and draws out its lessons for the rest of the democratic world. Contrasting the civilization that produced the starkly modernist "cube" of the Great Arch of La Defense in Paris with the civilization that produced the "cathedral," Notre-Dame, Weigel argues that Europe's embrace of a narrow and cramped secularism has led to a crisis of civilizational morale that is eroding Europe's soul and failing to create the European future. Even as thoughtful Europeans and Americans wrestle with these grave issues, many European political leaders continue to insist-most recently, during the debate over a new European constitution-that only a public square shorn of religiously informed moral argument is safe for human rights and democracy. The most profound question raised by The Cube and the Cathedral is whether there can be any true "politics"-any true deliberation about the common good, and any robust defense of freedom-without God. George Weigel makes a powerful case that the answer is "No"-because, in the final analysis, societies and cultures can only be as great as their spiritual aspirations.

Reviews


See Also:

George Weigel: "Letters to a Young Catholic"

Letters to a Young Catholic (2004)

In this remarkable tour of the Catholic world, George Weigel helps us understand how Catholicism fosters what Flannery O'Connor called "the habit of being." Taking the reader by the hand, Weigel embarks on a journey to Catholic landmarks as diverse as Chartres Cathedral and St. Mary's Church in Greenville, South Carolina; the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and G.K. Chesterton's favorite pub; the grave of a modern martyr in Warsaw, and the Sistine Chapel. Weaving together insights from history, literature, theology, and music, Weigel uses these touchstones to illuminate the beliefs that have shaped Catholicism for two thousand years. With clarity and conviction, Weigel examines the foundations of Catholic faith and explores the topics of grace, prayer, vocation, sin and forgiveness, suffering, and-most importantly-love. Putting a dramatic face on this invitation to Catholicism, Weigel introduces some of the figures who have shaped his faith and thought-Michelangelo and Fra Angelico; Evelyn Waugh and Cardinal John Henry Newman; Father Jerzy Popieuszko and Pope John Paul II; Edith Stein and Mother Teresa-as he also shares anecdotes from his own Catholic life. To a world that sometimes seems closed and claustrophobic, he suggests, Christian humanism offers a world with windows and doors-and a skylight. In these letters, George Weigel conveys the power of a faith that is at once personal and universal, timely and eternal. His book will inspire not only the young generation of Catholics whose World Youth Day celebrations have launched an era of renewal for the Church, but also the faithful, the doubtful, and the searchers of every age.

George Weigel: "The Courage to be Catholic"

The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform and the Future of the Church (2002)

When sexual scandals rocked the American Catholic Church, many observers and faithful alike called on the church to abandon its tenets on the vocation of the priesthood and sexuality outside marriage-to, in effect, become more Protestant. Acclaimed theologian and best-selling author George Weigel saw the crisis differently: as a crisis of fidelity to the true essence of Catholicism. In this well-reviewed book that touched a chord with so many practicing Catholics, Weigel examines the scandal in the context of church history, and exposes the patterns of dissent and self-deception that became entrenched in seminaries, among priests, and ultimately among the bishops who failed their flock by thinking like managers instead of apostles. But, Weigel reminds us, in the Biblical world a "crisis" is also a time of great opportunity, an invitation to deeper faith. With honesty and critical rigor, Weigel sets forth an agenda for genuine reform that challenges clergy and laity alike to lead more integrally Catholic lives. More than just a response to recent failures, The Courage to Be Catholic is a bracing, forward-looking call to action, and a passionate embrace of life lived in faith.

Reviews

George Weigel: "The Truth of Catholicism: Inside the Essential Teachings and Controversies of the Church Today"

The Truth of Catholicism: Inside the Essential Teachings and Controversies of the Church Today (2001)

The Catholic Church may be the most controversial institution in the world. Whether the question is the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the relationship of Catholicism to other religious communities, the meaning of freedom, the use and abuse of sex, the dignity of human life from conception until natural death, or the role of women, the Catholic Church has taken challenging positions that some find inexplicable, even cruel.

In The Truth of Catholicism, George Weigel explores these perennial questions and more, showing Catholicism and its controversies from "inside" the convictions that make those controversies not only possible but necessary. The truths of Catholicism then come into clearer focus as affirmations and celebrations of human life and human love, even as they challenge us to imagine a daring future for humanity and for ourselves.

Reviews

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

Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (2001)

Given unprecedented access to Pope John Paul II and the people who have known and worked with him throughout his life, George Weigel presents a groundbreaking portrait of the Pope as a man, a thinker, and a leader whose religious convictions have defined a new approach to world politics--and changed the course of history.

John Paul II has systematically addressed every major question on the world's agenda at the turn of the millennium: the human yearning for the sacred, the meaning of freedom, the glories and challenges of human sexuality, the promise of the women's movement, the quest for a new world order, the nature of good and evil, the moral challenge of prosperity, and the imperative of human solidarity in the emerging global civilization.By bringing the age-old wisdom of biblical religion into active conversation with contemporary life and thought, the Pope "from a far country" has crafted a challenging proposal for the human future that is without parallel in the modern world.

Weigel explores new information about the Pope's role in some of the recent past's most stirring events, including the fall of communism; the Vatican/Israel negotiation of 1991-92; the collapse of the Philippine, Chilean, Nicaraguan, and Paraguayan dictatorships during the 1980s; and the epic papal visit to Cuba. Weigel also includes previously unpublished papal correspondence with Leonid Brezhnev, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Deng Xiaoping, and draws on hitherto unavailable autobiographical reminiscences by the Pope.

Witness to Hope also discusses the Pope's efforts to build bridges to other Christian communities, and to Judaism, Islam, and other great world religions; presents an analysis of John Paul's proposals for strengthening democratic societies in the twenty-first century; and offers synopses of every major teaching document in the pontificate.

Rounding out the dramatic story of Pope John Paul II are fresh translations of his poetry; detailed personal anecdotes of the Pope as a young man, priest, and friend, sketched by those who knew him best; and in-depth interviews with Catholic leaders throughout the world.

A magisterial biography of one of the most important figures--some might argue, the most important figure--of the twentieth century, Witness to Hope is an extraordinary testimony to the man and his accomplishments, and a papal biography unlike any other.

Reviews

  • Review, by Paul Johnson. Commentary, Dec. 1999.
  • Review by John L. Allen, Jr. National Catholic Reporter. Nov. 5, 1999.
  • Witness to the Witness, by Avery Dulles. First Things 97 (November 1999): 49-57.
  • Wojtyle writ large, and long, by Eamon Duffy. CommonWeal. Oct. 22, 1999.
  • The Pole in Rome, by Jay Nordlinger. National Review. Oct. 11, 1999.
  • Review by Mary Ann Glendon. L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English. 29 September 1999, page 9

George Weigel: "Soul of the World: Notes on the Future of Public Catholicism"

Soul of the World: Notes on the Future of Public Catholicism (1996)

Reviews

    Review, by R. Bruce Douglass. Journal of Church and State, June, 1997.

George Weigel: "Idealism Without Illusions/U.S. Foreign Policy in the 1990's"

Idealism Without Illusions/U.S. Foreign Policy in the 1990's (1994)

Reviews

George Weigel: "The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism"

The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism (1992)

The collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe--the Revolution of 1989--was a singularly stunning event in a century already known for the unexpected. How did people divided for two generations by an Iron Curtain come so suddenly to dance together atop the Berlin Wall? Why did people who had once seemed resigned to their fate suddenly take their future into their own hands? Some analysts have explained the Revolution in economic terms, arguing that the Warsaw Pact countries could no longer compete with the West. But as George Weigel argues in this thought-provoking volume, people don't put their lives, and their children's futures, in harm's way simply for better cars, refrigerators, and TVs. Something else--something more--had to happen behind the iron curtain before the Wall came tumbling down.

In The Final Revolution, Weigel argues that that "something" was a revolution of conscience. The human turn to the good, to the truly human, and, ultimately, to God, was the key to the political Revolution of 1989. Weigel provides an in-depth exploration of how the Catholic Church shaped the moral revolution inside the political revolution. Drawing on extensive interviews with key leaders of the human rights and resistance movements, he opens a unique window into the soul of the Revolution and into the hearts and minds of those who shaped this stirring vindication of the human spirit.

Weigel also examines the central role played by Pope John Paul II in confronting what Vaclav Havel called communism's "culture of the lie," and he suggests what the future role of the Church might be in consolidating democracy in the countries of the old Warsaw Pact.

The "final revolution" is not the end of history, Weigel concludes. It is the human quest for a freedom that truly satisfies the deepest yearnings of the human heart. The Final Revolution illustrates how that quest changed the face of the twentieth century and redefined world politics in the year of miracles, 1989.

Reviews

  • Review by Carl Gershman. First Things 31 (March 1993): 42-45.

George Weigel: "Freedom and its Discontents: Catholicism Confronts Modernity"

Freedom and its Discontents: Catholicism Confronts Modernity (1991)

How can an authoritative church avoid authoritarianism? How can a church committed to a dialogue with modern science and the humanities still hold itself accountable to an ancient religious tradition? How can a hierarchied church defend religious freedom and support the democratic revolution in world politics? George Weigel's exploration of these issues of the modern Catholic debate over freedom touches concerns far beyond Catholic circles.

George Weigel: "Catholicism and the Renewal of American Democracy"


Catholicism and the Renewal of American Democracy (1989)

George Weigel: "Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace"


Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace (1987)

n recent years, Roman Catholic bishops and activists have been highly visible in the public debate over issues such as nuclear arms control and U.S. policy in Central America. Until now, however, the evolution of American Catholic thought on these questions has received little attention. This book is the first comprehensive critical analysis of American Catholic thought on war and peace. The author's purpose is to evaluate the post-Vatican II transformation of the Church's approach to war/peace issues and to point a wiser direction for its future development. The book begins with a survey of American Catholicism's rich and sophisticated heritage of moral reasoning on war, peace, and political community. In a major reinterpretation of American Catholic history, Weigel shows how the American Bishops' development of a theology of democracy in the nineteenth and twentieth

centuries enriched the Church's classic understanding of peace as political community. Weigel thus challenges the now-prominent idea that the U.S. Catholic bishops were not seriously involved in the war-peace debate until the last decade. A highlight of the book is its detailed intellectual portrait of John Courtney Murray, S.J., whom Weigel calls the finest political theorist ever produced by the American Church. Weigel then demonstrates how, over the past generation, American Catholic intellectuals and publicists began to abandon their heritage, and thereby impoverished the theological and political argument over war and peace, security and freedom. The book analyzes the ideas of seven key figures in the transformation of the American Catholic war/peace debate--Dorothy Day, Gordon Zahn, Thomas Merton, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, James Douglass, and J. Bryan Hehir--and critically explores the U.S. bishops' recent involvement with nuclear and Central American policy. Recovering and developing the classic American Catholic heritage, Weigel argues, is essential to creating a wiser theology and politics whose concern for both peace and freedom challenges realists and idealists alike.

Reviews