Questions for George Weigel

CWR: One point made in several places is the importance of understanding John Paul II’s philosophical perspective and project. What are some key features of his philosophical work? And how has this been either misunderstood or even misrepresented?
Weigel: John Paul II is persistently misunderstood as some sort of pre-modern mind, when in fact his was a thoroughly modern mind with a distinctive critique of modernity. At the heart of that critique was the conviction that ethics had come unglued from reality; that the moral life was wasting away into subjectivism and sentimentality; and that human beings (and society)  were suffering as a result. The entire philosophical project he and his colleagues at the Catholic University of Lublin launched in the 1950s was an attempt to get the moral life back on a sound footing: not from top down but from bottom up—through a rigorous and compelling theory of the human person, our capacity for responsibility, and the dynamics of our moral decision-making. That’s why his philosophical masterwork was called “Person and Act.”
CWR: How did you first meet John Paul II and how did your friendship develop?
Weigel: Our first real conversation was in September 1992, when I gave him a signed copy of The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism, which he had already read on galley proof. Things snowballed after that, both in terms of personal conversations and correspondence, and both conversation and correspondence continued after the publication of Witness to Hope. The details of how our relationship evolved over the course of my preparing Witness to Hope and afterwards—during the dramas of the Long Lent of 2002, the Iraq War, and his last illness—are described in detail in Lessons in Hope.
CWR: John Paul II strongly encouraged you to meet with many of his friends from his time in university. Why was that so significant to him? How did that period of time shape the rest of his life?
Weigel: It was not so much his friends from his own time in university (although I did meet with the surviving members of his underground wartime theatrical troupe, the Rhapsodic Theater), but the friends he made while he was a university chaplain in the late 1940s and early 1950s. As he was helping form them into mature Catholic adults, they were helping form him into one of the most dynamic and creative priests of his generation. He thought that story was crucial to understanding him “from the inside,” so he encouraged me to talk with these men and women, several of whom are now close friends of mine.