Month: September 2010

"The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II" — George Weigel’s sequel to "Witness to Hope"

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”

(Given that Weigel was personally engaged in the Catholic just war debate over the war in Iraq, it will be interesting to see the extent to which he covers this aspect of John Paul II’s pontificate).



"The last thing in the world I’d want is a personal relationship with God."

Question: Christians often describe their faith as a “personal relationship with God.” Is that a useful category for those who are looking on at Christianity and trying to figure out what it’s all about?

Answer: No. The last thing in the world I’d want is a personal relationship with God. Our relationship with God is mediated. Without the church we know not God. No Israel, No God, Know Church, Know Jesus. Our faith is a mediated faith with people formed through word and sacrament. So I’d never trust myself to have a personal relationship with God.

~ Stanley Hauerwas

Hans Kung and Vatican II

In an open letter to the Bishops in April 2010, the Swiss theologian Hans Küng charged that the pontificate of Pope Benedict II failed “to make the spirit of the Second Vatican Council the compass for the whole Catholic Church, including the Vatican itself, and thus to promote the needed reforms in the church.”

In a recent post to the Irish Times, Rev Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath, finds [Küng’s] claim to be the true interpreter of the documents of the Vatican Council that I find most difficult to accept, given the reality of his involvement with it.

Or lack thereof.

Getting Aquainted with John Henry Newman

It goes without saying that the opportunity to personally beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman was a major enticement for the pontiff’s journeying to England at this particular time. What follows is a brief selection of links to get better acquainted with the Cardinal (more of which can be found here).


Articles and Commentary

  • Who was John Henry Newman? – An Interview with Father Carleton Jones, O.P. The Dominican Province of St. Joseph. August 25, 2010. (Father Carleton Jones, O.P., wrote his Doctoral Dissertation on Newman while studying at the Angelicum University in Rome. Fr. Jones is also a graduate of Yale University. After fourteen years in the ministry of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Father Jones became a Roman Catholic in 1982, entered the Dominican Order, and was ordained in 1987).
  • Feast day for Cardinal Newman has ecumenical implications, by John Thavis (Catholic News Service):

    When Pope Benedict XVI beatifies Cardinal John Henry Newman in mid-September, he’ll announce the new blessed’s feast day as Oct. 9 — not the date of his death, which is typical for feast days, but the date of Cardinal Newman’s passage from Anglicanism into the Catholic Church.

  • Cardinal Newman: The Victorian celebrity intellectual who brought Benedict to Britain, by Christopher Howse. The Telegraph September 11, 2010.
  • Beyond the Beatification of Cardinal Newman , by C. John McCloskey III. Wall Street Journal September 10, 2010:

    Newman died in 1890 popularly considered a saint. Over a century later, the Church is vindicating this judgment of the people of the U.K. and the whole English-speaking world. Pope Benedict’s decision to preside over Newman’s beatification reflects his love and respect for a fellow theologian whose work he has studied from his seminary days, and whose influence on the Second Vatican Council made him perhaps the most influential theologian on the council, even though it was meeting more than 70 years after his death.

  • Conrad Black (National Review) on Honoring Cardinal Newman: “… in the 120 years since his death, Newman has carried the British colors in his spheres of endeavor with a brilliance, panache, and durability that has put him in, or close to, the company of history’s most distinguished Englishmen, the exalted realm of Shakespeare and Churchill.” September 7, 2010.
  • Newman on “the danger of accomplishments” Aaron Pidel, SJ (Whosoever Desires) blogs on a single sermon that Newman preached—while still an Anglican—on the Feast of St. Luke: “The Danger of Accomplishments.” (“It might be aptly retitled today, ‘The Danger of Higher Education.'”) September 4, 2010.
  • What could a soon-to-be-beatified 19th century English cardinal and Catholic convert possibly have to say to people living in modern Australia? – Father Rod Strange has the answer. Catholic Leader August 22, 2010.
  • Newmania! – Joseph A. Komonchak (Commonweal): “as a preparation for the beatification of John Henry Newman in September, I might send in from time to time favorite excerpts from his writings, in the hope also of attracting new readers to the man who saved my intellectual soul when I was in college.”
  • James Martin asks “Whose saint is Cardinal Newman?” Boston Globe May 7, 2009:

    Admired by conservatives and liberals, cradle Catholics and converts, as well as anti-clericalists and gays, Cardinal John Henry Newman is destined to be a popular but controverted saint. Who is the “real” Newman? It’s a bit like the popular quest for the “historical Jesus.” Which one you find depends a great deal on which one you’re searching for.

  • Cardinal Newman: Doctor of the Church? – Father Ian Ker on the Priest’s Cause, Teachings Zenit News. October 22, 2008.
  • Cardinal John Henry Newman Faithfully Celibate Oxford Professor Ian Ker Responds to Media Rumors. Zenit News. September 4, 2008. An article by Ian Ker, an Oxford University professor, regarding rumors circulating in the British press about Cardinal John Henry Newman. The article by the Newman scholar appeared Sept. 3 in L’Osservatore Romano.
John Henry Newman: His Inner Life

Father Zeno O.F.M. Cap. (Author). Ignatius Press; Second edition (January 2010)

This book is a culmination of Father Zeno’s life work. With the cooperation of the Oratorian Fathers, he was given full access to all of Newman’s letters, diaries, and complete published and unpublished sermons. From all this he has drawn together the interior struggles Newman faced from childhood until his death. Zeno allows Newman to speak through his work and writings, an exceedingly rich source. This is a landmark work considered one of the best spiritual biographies of John Henry Newman ever written.

Purchase in the USA | Purchase in the UK

John Henry Newman: A Biography

By Ian Ker. Oxford University Press, USA; Reissue edition (August 2009)

This full-length life of John Henry Newman is the first comprehensive biography of both the man and the thinker and writer. It draws extensively on material from Newman’s letters and papers. Newman’s character is revealed in its complexity and contrasts: the legendary sadness and sensitivity are placed in their proper perspective by being set against his no less striking qualities of exuberance, humour, and toughness.

This book attempts to do justice to the fullness of Newman’s achievement and genius: the Victorian ‘prophet’ or ‘sage’, who ranks among the major English prose writers; the dominating religious figure of the nineteenth century, who can now be recognised as the forerunner of the Second Vatican Council and the modern ecumenical movement; and finally, the universal Christian thinker, whose significance transcends his culture and time.

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The Anniversary of ‘Dominus Iesus’

September 5th marks the anniversary of Dominus Iesus*, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — headed at that time by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI).

In America magazine, Francis X. Clooney, S.J., Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology and Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Fordham University, devotes a three-part post commemorating the anniversary of the document and reflecting on its content:

From its opening meditation on the Creed through its web of Biblical and ecclesial documents, including Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate and the teachings of John Paul II, the point of the declaration was to keep straight, authoritatively, the wholeness of what the Church teaches on its basic truths. Its overall teaching also sought to put dialogue in its proper place, as a movement within the larger work of proclamation. In all of these assertions, it stands up comparatively well alongside the robust faith statements one finds in other religious traditions. This is what religious leaders do. […]

As I look back on the document ten years later, though, my thinking has evolved a bit. First, Dominus Iesus was and is definitely an important document that has served, in many a discussion since 2000, as a fundamental reminder of our basic beliefs on the issues of which it treats. Thus it is good for us to remember that Jesus + Christ + Word + Kingdom + Church + Mission + Dialogue go together, without any option for selective choice of a few of these elements, to the exclusion of others. The Catholic faith, like that of other faith traditions, has its integrity, and certainly the CDF is not alone in pointing to a necessary integrity in what we believe.

In the second post, Clooney asks “what kind of theologizing is possible after Dominus Iesus: how do we think usefully about our faith in a diverse world, if it seems that the answer to or against religious diversity has already been given?”

In his third and final post, Clooney examines the possibility of interreligious dialogue after Dominus Iesus, in the context of “institutional” and “lived” dialogue.

Related Reading

* The “release date” was September 5, 2000, although the document itself indicates that it was approved by John Paul II on June 16, while it is officially dated August 6.