Intrigued by the charismatic presence of Pope John Paul II at a papal audience, the author, a professor of political science, undertook this study to examine the pope's unusual political approach across his long ecclesiastical career. Placing him in his Polish war-time context, and describing the progression from his family background, education, seminary, pastoral work, and episcopal ordination, to his elevation to the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church, the author lays the groundwork for a study concentrating on the phenomenal effect of his style, consistent from the beginning, which she terms "prophetic criticism". She takes full cognizance that the pope is the religious leader of millions of people over the globe, as well as political head of one of the tiniest states in the world. It is this very fact of his dual role that forms the fulcrum of Formicola's study, the basic premise of which is:" that a call to morality based on universal transcendent principles by a charismatic, religious figure has the potential to inject the moral imperative into statecraft and to serve as a guide to questions of diplomacy, politics, and economics." (p.7).
The biographical sketch alone is awe-inspiring, even to our age used to putting the spotlight on "stars" and "persons of the year". The activities of this pope have been phenomenal. His travels alone (more than 100 journeys accomplished or in the planning) already place him astronomically far ahead of any previous papal traveler. But Formicola rightly shows how his journeying has been significantly different from mere religious tourism. She shows him as a man finding his ultimate resources in the spiritual realm, and that what began as charisma affecting and drawing others is what gives him strength to go on, as his mission of preaching human dignity remains as yet accomplished. As long as God gives him strength, he is not about to go into a well-deserved retirement! His travels have also contributed to his placing the papacy in a much more directive, controlling role than it had historically known. He has also internationalized the college of Cardinals to an unprecedented degree. The Roman Church is no longer an Italian church, if it ever was.
Formicola does not neglect the well-developed academic and philosophical background of this pope. He is a cleric who argues for humankind on basis of solid, well-developed philosophical and theological underpinnings. In so doing, he encourages, presents a message that argues for social justice for all, based on human dignity, and he also reprimands friend or foe when necessary. Not only has he presented his message, time after time, and built on it in successive events, but amazing results have resulted from the prophetic challenges he has issued. Many will unhesitatingly attribute to him a key role in the fall of the iron curtain through his insistence on human rights.
In addition to the informative introduction, notes, selected bibliography, and helpful index, Formicola outlines the ecclesiastical career of Pope John Paul II in seven chapters, concluding with his successes and his remaining challenges.
The book will give a new appreciation of the pope's accomplishments, both to those who have lived under the tenure of other popes, and to those who have known no other pope. Formicola presents an original view of the development of the political teachings of modern popes, culminating in John Paul II, with the shifts in church teachings which have resulted.
Repetitions of "prophetic criticism" and "prophetic papacy" recur like sing-song. But she does portray the question of the "new evangelism" in a way that will probably be acceptable to contemporary ecumenical critics who worry about Catholic proselytism. She characterizes that evangelism as essentially a call for basic human rights and human dignity, based on creation in the image of God (imago Dei). However, it does not seem to be quite accurate, either, to Redemptoris missio, John Paul II's encyclical inviting all who believe in Christ to engage in the urgent and renewed mission to preach Christ to those who have heard nothing of him. One gets the impression from Formicola that John Paul II's primary goal is to establish an exclusively Christian society. The establishment of Christian lands is not really the direction he is going, rather the establishment of governmental systems within which believers in Christ can exercise their religious convictions and worship in full freedom. When Vatican II published the Decree on Religious Freedom, it signaled the end of a politics of religious national dominance.
The book is marred by several (far too many) factual and typographical errors: "ad lumina" should read "ad limina." (p.28) "Mediations" (p.28) presumably refers to "meditations." The Cardinal of Austria was König (not "Konig" p.29). The term "clergy" does not include nuns. (p.35) Peter-Hans Kolvenbach was never dismissed as Jesuit superior general. (p. 36) Rather, the sometimes controversial Pedro Arrupe presented his resignation to the Pope, and was replaced by Paolo Dezza. Kolvenbach is the present superior general of the order. The surname of theologian "Jacques Pohler" (p.35) is actually "Pohier." A reference to "the church's social teachings," known as the magisterium" (p.51) will surprise many by this narrow concept of the term "magisterium." "Mitigated" (p. 70) should read "militated." The lending of $29 billion by the World bank to "developed nations" (p.138) evidently refers to "developing nations." The controversial mosque proposed to be built "over a holy site" in Nazareth (p.163) was to have been adjacent to the Basilica of the Annunciation, not over it. John Paul's ostpolitik is defined as "outreach" (p.183). When it applies to Moscow, that's fine. But it is also applied to Cuba! (p. 147)
All in all, Formicola's amassing of documentation on the political side of the current pope is a great service, and provides an intelligent lens through which to view papal objectives today and to admire their consistency and force. The book will particularly interest political scientists, students of economic policy, and indeed, theologians.