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Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes Hardcover – October 20, 1997
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Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes, by Eamon Duffy, is a wonder of comprehensive compression--a sumptuously illustrated, one-volume history of one of the most influential human institutions in world history. Duffy's lively portraits of the 261 scholars, scoundrels, and spiritual guides who have led the Roman Catholic Church are embedded in six historical essays that proceed chronologically from St. Peter to John Paul II. Duffy, a reader in church history and fellow at Cambridge, writes in the mannered yet affable tone of an avuncular English don. His narrative and arguments convey his own Catholic conviction that "the story of the popes is a crucial dimension of the providential care of God for humankind throughout history." Yet he also offers candid assessments of papal moral failings, including spectacular failures such as the orchestration of the Spanish Inquisition and the willed ignorance of Germany's Third Reich. Duffy's glossary of theological terms ensures that no secular reader will be lost in Christian arcana, and his excellent bibliographical essay will help motivated students zero in on the best resources for learning more about any period of Catholic history. For readers primarily concerned with current events, his analysis of John Paul II's papacy is extraordinarily useful and refreshingly free of cant. "To many people Pope John Paul seems a backward-looking figure, a man attempting to force a champagne cork back into the bottle," Duffy writes. "To others, he points the way towards a recovery of balance, a restoration of order and true faith in the flux of time. Only time, and the next conclave, will reveal which of these directions in their long walk through history the heirs of St. Peter will take." --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
With characteristic flair, the sour Latinist Tertullian called Rome "the happy church on which the Apostles poured forth all their teaching together with their blood." Such emotional extremes, axiomatic of Tertullian, apply equally to papal histories, often given to the heights and depths of spiritual excitement. Duffy (Magdalene Coll., Cambridge) offers this abundantly illustrated, amiably presented history to accompany a multinational television series for Britain, France, and Ireland. Such a pedigree often provokes disdain among bookish sorts, but Duffy's scholarship and enthusiasm overcome the book's populist roots. While not necessarily uncovering anything strikingly new and more akin to a handbook than a treatise, this work merits applause for providing a people's papal retrospective. Those wishing for heavier intellectual discourse should seek out Owen Chadwick's The Popes and European Revolution (1981) or practically anything by Peter Hebblethwaite.?Sandra Collins, Northern Tier Lib., Pittsburgh
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Duffy, a Roman Catholic historian, carefully depicts the strengths and weaknesses of each of the popes and their successes and failures of their pontificates. One is often left amazed how dependent the popes were on secular powers and how they strongly needed them to succeed in their objectives and to maintain their position in the papacy.
Often their personal lives did not reflect the character and integrity of their office as Duffy has pointed out, most of the popes having mistresses from whom they begot illegitimate children, or having committed major crimes against their enemies. Some exploited their office for their own personal gain or that of their families. Many of the popes left the papacy in near bankruptcy with heavy debts acquired to achieve their political objectives or in their attempt to build large cathedrals to their glory.
One theme constantly heard in the various reigns of the popes in the demand for continual reform with some of the popes being obvious sinners bringing the papacy into dispute. Very few of the popes were people of high moral integrity or saints, as we would conceive of them. Some, however, were outstanding and brought the papacy to great heights.
Definitely a five star master production, this book is very readable and structured for most students that would do research on the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Documentation is good with references to key events. This book is clearly a good reliable reference and a must for the library of the student of church history.
Part of the benefit of reading this book is that one not only learns the socio-historical elements of the papacy - and it should be remembered that the papacy is the most administrative and political element of the Roman Catholic church - but the development of the theology behind the papacy. The primacy of the bishop of Rome emerges as the most historically contentious issue. Duffy notes that the 2nd century Church Father Irenaeus gives the Church of Rome a place of primacy in his writings, but that the idea of the pope being successor of St. Peter the apostle is not documented until the 3rd century. The tensions between the bishop of Rome and the bishop of Constantinople begin to develop more after Constantine moves the center of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople, wedding politics to religion in Constantinople in a new way.
Duffy writes that until Charlemagne, the Church of the East was not only the hotbed of the heresy, but also the hotbed of political dissidents; that such political-religious friction should exist in the capital of the Roman Empire, given the new union of religion to politics, is not surprising. Duffy tries to sort through the various political-religious controversies of this time period, but it becomes obvious that splitting religion from politics in the ancient Roman empire is difficult, if not impossible to do. The history of the papacy between 1054 (the Great Schism between the East and the West) through Napoleon is largely corrupt, however. Once the empire split in two, Rome becomes the political-religious center of the West and the papacy's spirituality degenerates as it is continually thrown to the highest bidder. The Reformation and the religious wars of the 17th century appear to be inevitable. The fragmentation of Europe into nation-states, although largely political, was not without theological ramifications.
Interestingly enough, the distance between the spiritual and secular-political elements of the papacy happens with the theological development of papal infallibility during Vatican I. The official teaching steered clear of the radical views of the Ultramontanists, who held that everything the pope taught was infallible - that revelation was "on tap", as Duffy puts it. Vatican I still gave to the papacy (the office, not the pope as an individual) a level of primacy and honor that has long been claimed by the bishop of Rome, but it rendered the pope's "infallibility" only in matters pertaining to faith and morals (therefore, not politics, science, art, etc.), of concern to the whole church and in consultation with other bishops; the pope will be guided by God should he speak "ex cathedra" - from the chair of Peter. Duffy immediately notes that this has only happened one time, on the issue of the assumption of Mary into heaven (which the vast majority of Christians have believed since at least the second century). Despite the controversy that this doctrine has brought about, Duffy's coverage of it causes it to seem rather anti-climactic.
The book may end seeming a bit dated to some, as the last chapter only goes through 1997 (with a passing reference, oddly enough, to 2002). Duffy covers the highly controversial papacy of Pius XII with a good bit of critical sympathy and then proceeds to discuss the period of Vatican II and what a watershed event it was. He notes the theological changes, the political tensions and the changes that occurred between popes John XXIII and Paul VI as the latter continued to convene the council. He concludes with the current pope, John Paul II, noting his philosophical brilliance, his desire for reunion with the Eastern Orthodox Church and his conservativism regarding the theology of the papacy. He notes that John Paul II is a complex figure, at once a humanist and theologically conservative, defying the simple labels of "liberal" or "conservative". Although John Paul II's full history has yet to be written, Duffy provides an excellent trajectory from where he has gone to where he is likely to go by the end of his life.
My only complaint with the book is that Duffy shows something of an ambivalent attachment style to most of the popes after 1054. While a "liberal" such as John XXIII garners heavy praise from him, other popes less conducive to the modern era are denigrated. The question is, "what makes the modern era so great and why should modernizing trends be seen as necessary and/or good?" In many ways, I agree with Duffy, but would also prefer to not have a pope praised at one point and then berated only a few pages later; at points Duffy sounds like a broken record as he oscillates between the two for one pope after another.
In the end, though, this is a very well written book. The appendices - a list of the popes, a glossary and how a pope is made today - are helpful. The history of the papacy is a thick one and Duffy does not make light of this, including at the end of his book a bibliographical essay that details secondary and primary sources that further illuminate each time period he covers. For a fuller understanding of Western political and/or religious history, historical theology and/or Roman Catholicism, this is a find edition to include in one's library.
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