"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Earth-Shaking Popes

I am of course fascinated by the papacy, and have had a few things to say about it in my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity. Others, especially historians, have long been fascinated by the papacy as well. Of the writing of books about the papacy there is no end. Of contemporary historians of the papacy, as I have remarked before, very few are as reliable as Eamon Duffy, especially in his really quite splendid Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes, 3rd ed. (Yale Nota Bene, 2006). In that book, Duffy accomplishes the near-impossible: to write a history of the papacy in one volume that is faithful both to the best of historical scholarship and to the Church of which he is a part. He has a deft hand and maintains the balance promised in his title, seeing the popes neither as uniformly saintly nor uniformly wicked but as human beings, some of whom were indeed saints while others were not, and still others positively iniquitous (The Borgias being the current favored example of the latter).

Now Duffy, who made his mark early on as a really important historian of the English Reformation and its fall-out (see his very critically acclaimed The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 as well as his Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor and Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570) has turned his hand again to the papacy in a new book published only last week: Ten Popes Who Shook the World (Yale University Press, 2011), 166pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
Catholic popes have been powerful spiritual leaders for nearly two millennia, but their influence is not confined exclusively to Church matters. Many popes have played a central role in the history of Europe and the wider world, not only shouldering the spiritual burdens of their office but also contending with the political crises of their times. In an acclaimed series of BBC radio broadcasts, Eamon Duffy enthralled listeners with vivid stories of the ten popes he judges "the most influential in history." With this book, readers may now also enjoy Duffy's portraits of ten exceptional men who shook the world.
The book begins with St. Peter, the Rock upon whom the Catholic Church was built, and follows with Leo the Great (fifth century), Gregory the Great (sixth century), Gregory VII (eleventh century), Innocent III (thirteenth century), Paul III (sixteenth century), and Pius IX (nineteenth century). Among twentieth-century popes, Duffy examines the lives and contributions of Pius XII, who was elected on the eve of the Second World War, the kindly John XXIII, who captured the world's imagination, and John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope in 450 years. Each of these ten, Duffy shows, was an extraordinary individual who helped shape the world we know today.
I look forward to reading this and reviewing it.

1 comment:

  1. Splendid blog. I shall follow it closely from now on.


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