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Lives of The Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to John Paul II Hardcover – October 21, 1997

3.6 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Reviewing 262 popes, McBrien (theology, Univ. of Notre Dame) expands the sketches in his Encyclopedia of Catholicism (LJ 6/1/95) and provides broad historical and theological contexts for each profile, relying on the many-editioned Liber Pontificalis and The Oxford Dictionary of Popes (1986), as well as other scholarly works. McBrien addresses the nonspecialist reader and groups his entries into eight historical periods with distinctive theological and pastoral interpretations. His approach is down to earth and critical, distinguishing pious legend from known fact. The well-written sketches vary from a paragraph to several pages, ranging from Peter to John Paul II. Supplementary appendixes and tables enhance the book for reference as well as circulating use. Recommended for academic and public libraries. [Note: Eamon Duffy's Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes (Yale Univ.) and Peter Maxwell-Stuart's Chronicle of the Popes (Thames & Hudson) are also due in November.]?Anna M. Donnelly, St. John's Univ. Lib., N.Y.
-?Anna M. Donnelly, St. John's Univ. Lib., N.Y.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

“This short encyclopedia... is an indispensable reference.” (Newsweek)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1st edition (October 21, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060653035
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060653033
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #566,705 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeffrey Jotz on January 14, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
McBrien tries to compress almoat 2,000 years of religious, social and political history into one volume and does a pretty solid job. He gives anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few pages on the over 260 popes throughout history, with the bulk of his text spread out over the popes of the 20th century.
For the most part, McBrien looks at the popes with a scholarly and critical eye, describing how most of the popes throughout history were preoccupied with political and military matters rather than spiritual ones.
However, he does drift from a scholarly, critical examination from time to time. For example, I thought that he was improperly airing out his theological complaints against the current pope in his section on John Paul II (McBrien is theology chairman at Notre Dame), but I enjoyed his passage about the much-beloved pope, John XXIII. (can someone out there recommend any good books on this pope?)
McBrien ends this reference work with some papal facts, like "best and worst" and "firsts and lasts" and has a chronological list, as well as an alphabetical list, of the popes. However, my favorite parts of this book were the introductions to each chronological period of papal history. McBrien gives a general picture of the mood of the day and how each pope dealt with military, political (and sometimes spiritual) issues of the day. He also takes a look at internal church politics and stresses that throughout history, popes were sometimes under control of kings, emperors, powerful families and groups of bishops and clergy.
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Format: Hardcover
McBrien, as he states right in the introduction to this book, is the first to admit that it is impossible to adequately cover the lives of all 260+ popes in a single book - other reserchers have written multiple volume works and/or devoted their entire lives to the same task. So, his somewhat sparse treatment of the lives of all of the Popes, even the most historically significant or interesting ones, is understandable - there simply wasn't room (or time) to do so.

Given that qualifier, the book is a good general introduction to the lives of every pope up through the late John Paul II. Its value is primarily as a starting point for learning how the Popes [and Christian thought and institutions in general] have evolved over the centuries, and to help us grasp the papacy's significance and impact on world history.

I would not say that Richard McBrien is a world class wordsmith. Much of the text is repetitive - how many times, for instance, do I need to be told what a Pallium is, or that a newly elected pope is technically not a pope until he is made a Bishop of Rome? One gets the impression that most of these one paragraph to two or three page mini-biographies were written as stand-alone documents, then assembled into a single volume. Even then, you often see the same sentence or parenthetical comment repeated two or three times within the biography of a single Pope.

McBrien presents each Pope in chronological order, and often discusses schisms and controversies of the time, the subject's relationships and connections with other past or future Popes, and their interactions with other European rulers. He segments the 2000 year history of the papacy into several large spans of time, such as the Early Papacy, the Reformation era, and the Modern era.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
McBrien tries to compress almoat 2,000 years of religious, social and political history into one volume and does a pretty solid job. He gives anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few pages on the over 260 popes throughout history, with the bulk of his text spread out over the popes of the 20th century.
For the most part, McBrien looks at the popes with a scholarly and critical eye, describing how most of the popes throughout history were preoccupied with political and military matters rather than spiritual ones.
However, he does drift from a scholarly, critical examination from time to time. For example, I thought that he was improperly airing out his theological complaints against the current pope in his section on John Paul II (McBrien is theology chairman at Notre Dame), but I enjoyed his passage about the much-beloved pope, John XXIII. (can someone out there recommend any good books on this pope?)
McBrien ends this reference work with some papal facts, like "best and worst" and "firsts and lasts" and has a chronological list, as well as an alphabetical list, of the popes. However, my favorite parts of this book were the introductions to each chronological period of papal history. McBrien gives a general picture of the mood of the day and how each pope dealt with military, political (and sometimes spiritual) issues of the day. He also takes a look at internal church politics and stresses that throughout history, popes were sometimes under control of kings, emperors, powerful families and groups of bishops and clergy.
The book is a solid reference if you someone asks you who Pope Eugenius or Sixtus II was, and when they were popes. Since McBrien had 2,000 years of history to cover, it piqued my curiosity to learn more about these fascinating individuals and the times in which they lived.
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