The Popes: A History
Anyone with a passing interest in church history – and that really means European, indeed world history – will be fascinated by this overview of an institution which has played a colossal role on the world stage. More than the institution itself, Lord Norwich focuses on the men (and, legend has it, one woman) who have worn the triple crown, their weaknesses and strengths, and on the ability of the curial machine to administer the Patrimony of St Peter.
While my primary interest is the Renaissance and Counter-Reformation papacy, I confess that it was the earliest and later parts of the book that I found most enthralling. The author makes no claim to offer in-depth analysis of any single pope, although the role of such influential figures as Gregory the Great and Gregory VII is described with superb clarity. Pio IX and his successor Leo XIII – popes during and soon after the Unification of Italy, whose anniversary is now being celebrated – certainly merit further study. In a world where history sadly repeats itself, with cycles of religious fanaticism, war and poverty, the words of Gregory the Great were striking: “To speak of God we need a mind thoroughly at peace and free from care”. From start to finish, the book provides a lucid and eloquent panorama of nearly two millennia of church history.
Absolute Monarchs: The Papacy
505 (UK), 528 (US)