Writing in Policy Review, Mary Eberstadt reviews The End and the Beginning, George Weigel’s new biography of Pope John Paul II and offers a useful short summary of the pope’s long struggle with Communist authorities who knew how dangerous he was.
Intelligence reports to KGB headquarters, writes Weigel, suggest that between 1973 and 1974, Polish prosecutors three times considered arresting Wojtyla and charging him with sedition. Each time they opted instead for greater dedication in reining in his associates (including beating one particular priest). From stalking Wojtyla’s kayaking trips to persecuting or trying to compromise his closest associates, the Polish communists, despite bungling matters here and there, understood what the Soviet and East German communists would later. As one summarized in one Polish report, “Despite his seemingly conciliatory and flexible nature, Wojtyla is a very dangerous ideological opponent.”
And as Eberstadt notes, “In the matter of knowing their enemies, as opposed to most others, the communists were generally right.” Solzhenitsyn knew as well, and she recounts an unexpected but cheering story from the book about his prophetic response to the then-Karol Wojtyla’s election as pope.
“There was indeed much that the communists didn’t understand,” she writes,
— including that men like the pope and Alexander Solzhenitsyn were more right than wrong about what really makes human beings tick. Nonetheless, the masters in Moscow and Krakow and East Berlin and other tragic wastelands of modern history did get a few pretty big things right. They knew, or at any rate were forced to learn, that an otherworldly pauper in a Roman collar could do more to bring them down than any worldly prince seeking business as usual.
They knew that Christian religious belief and practice were on a permanent collision course with totalitarianism, which is why they persecuted it everywhere they could. They understood, in short, that the chief enemies of the state were those who did not believe the state had the authority to call the ultimate moral and political shots.
A review well worth reading of a book well worth reading.