Memory and Identity
Conversations at the Dawn of the Millennium
Pope John Paul II
Rizzoli, $19.95, 172 pp.
Of all the many documents produced by the Second Vatican Council, none systematically takes up the question of God. More precisely, though the documents refer again and again to God, and in Trinitarian terms, none is devoted to rethinking the church’s understanding of God and God’s relation to the world.
Here is what the late John Paul II says in Memory and Identity about the attempt on his life on May 13, 1981: “It was as if ‘someone’ was guiding and deflecting that bullet.” The pope’s secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, remarks about the events of the day: “In all this, the hand of God is visible. Everything points toward it.”
Here is what John Paul says about Nazism: “The Lord God allowed Nazism twelve years of existence, and after twelve years the system collapsed. Evidently this was the limit imposed by divine providence upon that sort of folly. In truth, it was worse than folly-it was ‘bestiality’....Yet the fact is that divine providence allowed that bestial fury to be unleashed for only those twelve years.”
Memory and Identity originated in conversations that John Paul II had with two Polish intellectuals in 1993. An editorial note explains that the pope reworked these conversations, but does not specify either when he did so or to what extent. The book retains the form of a conversation, with questions and answers, but the pope’s answers go on for so long that it is difficult to...