"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).

Friday, October 3, 2014

Popes Ancient and Modern

If you've read my Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity (and really: why would you not have read it already, and sent copies to all your friends and family?) you will see in there a discussion of how much the papacy has changed over the years, not least in the last century alone. Think what you want about it, the office has demonstrated remarkable flexibility in various periods, and continues to do so under Pope Francis. That flexibility is very important for those hoping for continued reform of the office so that, as the late Pope John Paul II prayed in 1995, it may again be an instrument of unity for Eastern and Western Christians alike.

There is much of papal history that we are learning about anew, realizing that the received mythologies of both East and West continue to need significant revision. Recent books such as George Demacopoulos' study, The Invention of Peter: Apostolic Discourse and Papal Authority in Late Antiquity and Susan Wessel, Leo the Great and the Spiritual Rebuilding of a Universal Rome have been very helpful and important here.

In December, in time for Christmas presents, two new books will be released devoted to popes in late antiquity and in the twentieth century. The first of these will be John Moorhead, The Popes and the Church of Rome in Late Antiquity (Routledge, 2014), 384pp.

About this book we are told:
In the past few decades there has been an explosion of interest in the period of late antiquity. Rather than being viewed within a paradigm of the fall of the Roman Empire, these centuries have come to be seen as a time of immense creativity and significance in western history. Popes and the Church of Rome in Late Antiquity places the history of the papacy in a broader context, by comparing Rome with other major sees to show how it differed from these, evaluating developments beyond Rome which created openings for the extension of papal authority.
Closer to home, the book considers the ability of the Roman church to gain access to wealth, retain it in difficult times, and disburse it in ways that enhanced its authority. Author John Moorhead evaluates patterns in the recruitment of popes and what these suggest about the background of those who came to papal office. Structured around a narrative of the papacy’s history from the accession of Leo the Great to the death of Zacharias II, the book does more than tell what happened between these years, applying new approaches in intellectual, cultural, and social history to provide a uniquely deep and holistic study of the period.

The second book set for December release is John Pollard,The Papacy in the Age of Totalitarianism, 1914-1958 (Oxford UP, 2014), 576pp.

Pollard is the author of the invaluable (and often amusing) study, Money and the Rise of the Modern Papacy: Financing the Vatican, 1850-1950 (Cambridge, 2008). In this new book of his, we are told:
The Papacy in the Age of Totalitarianism, 1914-1958 examines the most momentous years in papal history. Popes Benedict XV (1914-1922), Pius XI (1922-1939), and Pius XII (1939-1958) faced the challenges of two world wars and the Cold War, and threats posed by totalitarian dictatorships like Italian Fascism, German National Socialism, and Communism in Russia and China. The wars imposed enormous strains upon the unity of Catholics and the hostility of the totalitarian regimes to Catholicism lead to the Church facing persecution and martyrdom on a scale similar to that experienced under the Roman Empire and following the French Revolution.

At the same time, these were years of growth, development, and success for the papacy. Benedict healed the wounds left by the 'modernist' witch hunt of his predecessor and re-established the papacy as an influence in international affairs through his peace diplomacy during the First World War. Pius XI resolved the 'Roman Question' with Italy and put papal finances on a sounder footing. He also helped reconcile the Catholic Church and science by establishing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and took the first steps to move the Church away from entrenched anti-Semitism. Pius XI continued his predecessor's policy of the 'indigenisation' of the missionary churches in preparation for de-colonisation. Pius XII fully embraced the media and other means of publicity, and with his infallible promulgation of the Assumption in 1950, he took papal absolutism and centralism to such heights that he has been called the 'last real pope'. Ironically, he also prepared the way for the Second Vatican Council.

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