instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Not my choice

I admit to being surprisingly disappointed by George Weigel's God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church. My disappointment is surprising because I was toying with the idea of buying the book when a review copy was offered me.

The opening chapter, "The Death of a Priest," was great. It covers the final sickness and death of the blessed John Paul II, and those of us who love and miss him will find this chapter a clear exposition of the first few months of 2005, and a good reminder of those experiences.

In Chapter 2, "The Church That John Paul II Left Behind," Weigel lists the "EPIC ACCOMPLISHMENT" and the "FRUSTRATIONS AND AMBIGUITIES" of that papacy. Here things get a little... skewed.

I think I'm reacting to Weigel's reportorial tone, well suited to a recitation of the chronology of the events covered in the book, extending into his opinion and analysis. Certainly one man's epic accomplishment may be another's frustration, but Weigel seems content to simply assert his judgment rather than defend it, as for example when he writes that "the Church and the world will be wrestling with the thought of John Paul II for centuries."

Well, maybe.

Weigel also seems even more reluctant than I to criticize John Paul II. None of the frustrations and ambiguities are the Pope's fault, not even Weigel's dissatisfaction with many of the bishops the Pope appointed. The papacy is interpreted as though it had only a two-part munus, of priest and prophet; to the extent the blessed John Paul II chose to govern as prophet, Weigel gives him a full pass. Which is fine as a personal choice, but it doesn't produce the most insightful analysis.

And then some other oddities creep in, bits of ecclesial flotsam some of which constituted a nine-hours' wonder on St. Blog's, but that seem really out of place in so durable a format as a hardcover book. (I think in particular of the mention of sleazy pictures (sorry, Googlers, you're out of luck here) once posted on a Jesuit website.)

So my initial enthusiasm cooled, and it got to the point where reading the book was a chore, where I'd think, "Oh, I should finish that so I can blog a review." But then, getting to the point where reading the book is a chore is itself suggestive of a review.

I know a lot of other bloggers have commented favorably on God's Choice, and I was expecting to as well. I will say it seems like a good record of the events, and a handy overview of Pope John Paul II's papacy you might be able to hand to your kids in a decade or so when they ask what the big deal with him was anyway. I can't say how the book is on the title character, since I'm not going to force myself to read past Chapter 3 (on the funeral; subsequent chapters cover the conclave, an overview of Pope Benedict XVI's pre-papal career, and the future of the Church).