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Truth of Catholicism: Inside the Essential Teachings and Controversies of the Church Today

Truth of Catholicism: Inside the Essential Teachings and Controversies of the Church Today

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by George Weigel

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The Catholic Church may be the most controversial institution in the world. Whether the question is the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the relationship of Catholicism to other religious communities, the meaning of freedom, the use and abuse of sex, the dignity of human life from conception until natural death, or the role of women, the Catholic Church has taken


The Catholic Church may be the most controversial institution in the world. Whether the question is the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the relationship of Catholicism to other religious communities, the meaning of freedom, the use and abuse of sex, the dignity of human life from conception until natural death, or the role of women, the Catholic Church has taken challenging positions that some find inexplicable, even cruel.

In The Truth of Catholicism, George Weigel, author of Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, explores these perennial questions and more, showing Catholicism and its controversies from "inside" the convictions that make those controversies not only possible but necessary. The truths of Catholicism then come into clearer focus as affirmations and celebrations of human life and human love, even as they challenge us to imagine a daring future for humanity and for ourselves.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Because the teachings of the Catholic Church are best known to the general public and to many Catholics through the filter of the secular press, papal biographer Weigel (Witness to Hope) uses this book to clarify 10 issues that have engaged the public's attention in recent years. A theologian and Catholic commentator, Weigel undertook his task after encountering numerous misconceptions about the faith during a 16-month book tour for Witness in 2001 and 2000. Here, he illuminates the church's teachings about Jesus, morality, sexuality, suffering and women's ordination, as well as Catholicism's relationship to democracy, other Christian denominations and other religions. In doing so, he offers much-needed precision about teachings that have often been muddled, as reporters, forced to condense church documents into sound bites and headlines, have missed much of their texture and shading or have tried to interpret them using secular standards. For example, Weigel begins the book by revealing how some news organizations reported on the 2000 Vatican declaration, Dominus Iesus (The Lord Jesus), by claiming the Catholic Church had declared itself "Number One," even though the document did little more than reassert traditional Christian teaching that Jesus Christ is the savior of all. Weigel's approach makes this book an excellent resource for anyone curious enough about Catholicism to look behind the headlines. (Nov.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
A widely published lay Catholic commentator on religion and public life and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Weigel (Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II) describes the basis of his faith in terms of ten focal issues, e.g., Is Jesus the only savior? Does belief in God demean us? How should we live? Why do we suffer? What will become of us? These explorations from the "inside" clarify basic church teachings and reasoning, especially in the face of faulty media interpretations and secular cultural overlays. Weigel emphasizes the positive and freeing aspects of doctrine and moral life today, identifying them as calls to true goodness. While the portion devoted to women is narrow, this book should be useful for discussion groups. Recommended where there is a subject interest in the fundamentals of Catholic beliefs. Anna M. Donnelly, St. John's Univ. Lib., NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A concise catechism of the Catholic faith, with specific reference made to common objections of nonbelievers, by papal biographer Weigel (Witness to Hope, 1999, etc.). Weigel's approach is unusual insofar as it proceeds from ten (often highly skeptical) queries (e.g., "Does Belief in God Demean Us?"), meant to reflect prevailing contemporary views, which the author addresses in the course of portraying the outlines of Catholic belief. The influence of Pope John Paul's thinking on Weigel is evident from the start: He quotes the pope extensively, and he makes use of the pope's distinctive terminology (the result of his philosophical training as a phenomenologist) throughout. The result, in consequence, shares many of the same strengths and weaknesses that keen-eyed observers have credited to the Holy Father himself: original, bold, and erudite, but also frequently obscure, highly analogical, and sometimes downright eccentric in its meaning. And, also like the current papacy, the author is wont to straddle the fence a good deal-arguing, for example, that the exclusion of women from Holy Orders does not entail a repudiation of postwar feminism and that the (vehemently antidemocratic) political doctrines of modern popes were not contradicted by the Second Vatican Council's endorsement of religious freedom. But this is a refreshing account all the same, forthright in its unwillingness to gloss over controversial questions and highly original in its reliance on literary works (e.g., the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the novels of Evelyn Waugh) to illustrate moral or philosophical arguments. In its contrast of the "brave new world" of modern technological man to the "better world" of theChurch, it is very much a continuation of the underlying theme of Weigel's biography of John Paul II. A bit too reverent to withstand scrutiny, this will find a welcome audience among believers but is unlikely to bring many others into their ranks.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial Series
Edition description:
First Perennial Edition
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.52(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Is Jesus the Only Savior?

Christ and the Conquest of Our Fears

In September 2000, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, often described as "the successor to the Inquisition," caused a global uproar by issuing a doctrinal declaration, Dominus Iesus [The Lord Jesus], which vigorously reasserted the classic Christian teaching that Jesus Christ is uniquely the savior of the world, for everyone everywhere. The ensuing controversy had some sharp edges.

One American newspaper displayed a photo of Pope John Paul II, arms outstretched, with the caption "We're Number One!" More soberly but no less inaccurately, another major paper headlined the story "Vatican Declares Catholicism Sole Path to Salvation." According to most of the stories and commentaries that followed, the declaration had done serious and perhaps even fatal damage to thirty years of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. As the common interpretation of Dominus Iesus had it, the Catholic Church was teaching that Catholics had a singular claim on salvation and that non-Catholic Christians were second-class Christians. As for Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and nonbelievers, well...

None of this was, or is, true, but that is not an easy case to make in a climate in which a lot of people are not sure that anything is "true." ("It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is," as a prominent public figure once said.) In fact, Dominus Iesus taught nothing new, substantively. One distinguishedCatholic commentator put the case for the defense succinctly: the declaration reiterated "the Church's faith that Jesus is, as he said of himself, the way, the truth, and the life. He is not one way among other ways or one truth among other truths." That faith in Jesus Christ leads to other convictions, also affirmed once again in Dominus Iesus. Because there is one God, who definitively revealed himself in his Son, Jesus Christ, there is one salvation history, centered on Christ. God gives everyone the grace necessary to be saved, including those who have never heard of Jesus Christ. Yet everyone who is saved is saved because of what God did for the world and for humanity in Jesus Christ.

Before, during, and after the Dominus Iesus controversy, one had to wonder just what else the Catholic Church was supposed to say about itself: that it was another brand-name product in the supermarket of "spirituality"? Yet in a culture that rates tolerance the highest virtue and imagines that tolerance means indifference to questions about the truth of things, the unambiguous claim that this is the truth, and that all other truths incline toward this truth as iron shavings incline to a magnet, is not just controversial. It's an outrage.

The frankness of Dominus Iesus may be applauded one day, when passions have cooled a bit. At a moment in history when ecumenical and interreligious dialogue threatened to dissolve into dull and uninteresting forms of political correctness of the "I'm OK, you're OK" variety, the chief doctrinal agency of the Catholic Church reminded the Church and the world that Christianity stands or falls on the answer the Church and its people give to a single question. The question has been unavoidable for almost two thousand years. It is the question Jesus himself posed to his disciples on the road to Caesarea Philippi: "Who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16.15).

Who does the Catholic Church say that Jesus is?

The Two Things Jesus Reveals

The Second Vatican Council, which met between 1962 and 1965, was the most important event in world Catholicism since the sixteenth-century Reformation. Among many other things, the Council tried to open a two-way dialogue between the Church and contemporary culture. In a lengthy document called the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the bishops of the Catholic Church wrote that Jesus, the Son of God come into the world, reveals the face of God and his love, and the full meaning of our humanity. The two go together. To know the Son is to know the Father; to know the Father and the Son is to know, ultimately, who we are.

Who is the God whom Jesus reveals? He is a God who is linked to us not simply as the source of creation, distant and detached, but as "Father," intimately present to us through the gift of his Son. He is a God who comes in search of us, a God who is not a stranger to history but a participant in the human drama. He is a "God who has gone before us and leads us on, who himself set out on man's path, a God who does not look down on us from on high, but who became our traveling companion."

God's fidelity, powerfully conveyed in Jesus' parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15.11-32), is not remote and austere but passionately affectionate. To believe in this God, the Father of Jesus Christ, is to believe that order and reason, rather than chaos and indifference, are at the root of things. To know this Father, through Jesus Christ, means to know "that love is present in the world, and that this love is more powerful than any kind of evil."

We "cannot live without love," Pope John Paul II writes. We cannot understand ourselves, we cannot make sense of life, unless love comes to us and we "participate intimately" in it. We sense our profound need for love instinctively. The God whom Jesus reveals is the guarantor that this intuition is one of the great truths of the human condition, not a psychological illusion.

And what is the humanity that Jesus reveals? Who are we? We are not congealed stardust, an accidental by-product of cosmic chemistry. We are not just something, we are someone. Moreover, we are "someones" going somewhere. As human beings possessed of an innate, God-given dignity, we have a divine destiny, revealed...

The Truth of Catholicism. Copyright © by George Weigel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

George Weigel is one of the world's foremost authorities on the Catholic Church and the author of the New York Times bestseller Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II. He is a Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and a consultant on Vatican affairs for NBC News.

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