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Ten Popes Who Shook the World

Ten Popes Who Shook the World

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    Ten Popes Who Shook the World
    Book Description:

    The Bishops of Rome have been Christianity's most powerful leaders for nearly two millennia, and their influence has extended far beyond the purely spiritual. The popes have played a central role in the history of Europe and the wider world, not only shouldering the spiritual burdens of their ancient office, but also in contending with - and sometimes precipitating - the cultural and political crises of their times. In an acclaimed series of BBC radio broadcasts Eamon Duffy explored the impact of ten popes he judged to be among '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 extraordinary individuals, Duffy shows, shaped their own worlds, and in the process, helped to create ours.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18427-3
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-7)
  3. [Illustration]
    (pp. 8-8)
    (pp. 9-25)

    The papacy is an institution that matters, whether or not one is a religious believer. The succession of the popes, all 262 of them, is the world’s most ancient dynasty. The Roman Empire was young when the popes first emerged onto the stage of history, and the earliest references to them, in the late second century, already claim for the bishop of Rome a status greater than that of any other Christian leader. Eighteen centuries on, the popes exercise a quasi-monarchic rule over the world’s largest religious organisation. They touch the consciences, or at any rate the opinions, of almost...

  5. 1 ST PETER
    (pp. 27-37)

    In the spring of 1939, as war loomed over Europe, workmen began digging a grave for the recently deceased Pope Pius XI in the crypt of St Peter’s basilica in Rome. Three feet below the ancient floor, their spades struck the top of a substantial pagan burial chamber, which turned out to be just one in a whole street of second-century pagan tombs stretching 300 feet east and west, and disappearing directly under the high altar of the church above.

    Throughout the Second World War a team of archaeologists laboured in secrecy to excavate this extraordinary street of the dead...

  6. 2 LEO THE GREAT 440–461
    (pp. 39-47)

    Rome lies at the heart of Roman Catholicism. Not just the city itself, the ancient capital of the world and the residence of the popes, but the Rome of the imagination, the spiritual centre to which all roads lead. Roman Catholicism is the largest of all Christian churches, and so Rome is in some sense the spiritual home of more than a billion Christians, scattered across the globe.

    Given the origins of Christianity, this religious centrality of Rome is a very surprising development. Not only did Jesus never set foot there, but he was crucified by a Roman imperial army...

  7. 3 GREGORY THE GREAT 590–604
    (pp. 49-57)

    Whenever a new archbishop of Canterbury is enthroned, he makes his solemn vows touching a battered Gospel book, copied somewhere in Italy more than fourteen centuries ago. Its text is handsomely written, though the few surviving illustrations are drawn in a comic-strip style that makesThe Beanolook sophisticated.

    This venerable piece of flotsam from the wreck of the Roman world almost certainly came to England in the luggage of a papal mission sent to the kingdom of Kent in the year 596. Christianity had been widespread in Roman Britain, but it had been swamped by successive waves of heathen...

  8. 4 GREGORY VII 1073–1085
    (pp. 59-69)

    For a hundred years or more, most western countries have worked on the axiom that our common life together ought to be deliberately secular. Religion in a free society may be acceptable as a private activity, like knitting or going to the gym, but it has no proper place in the spheres of politics, economics or citizenship.

    The rise of militant Islam, like the influence of the Christian Right on American foreign policy and, perhaps more encouragingly, the role of the Catholic Church in the overthrow of Polish communism, might suggest that in the real world things are not necessarily...

  9. 5 INNOCENT III 1198–1216
    (pp. 71-79)

    Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. A century after it was first coined, Lord Acton’s gloomy aphorism still speaks to our deep-seated contemporary suspicion of power and the powerful. But is it always true?

    Power and its entanglements have haunted the history of the papacy because for much of the Middle Ages the popes were, quite simply, the most powerful men in the world. And the most powerful pope of the Middle Ages was Lothar of Segni, who became Pope Innocent III in 1198.

    Innocent was born to power: he was the favoured son of an aristocratic Roman family...

  10. 6 PAUL III 1534–1549
    (pp. 81-91)

    By the start of the sixteenth century, the papacy was Europe’s most important institution, the court of final appeal in tens of thousands of lawsuits, a centre of patronage and raw power. Imagine the EU headquarters, the United Nations and the International Court of Human Rights all rolled into one, and you begin to get the idea. And then add the World Bank, because in many ways the Pope and cardinals had become more like the chief executives of a global business corporation than priests of the Christian Gospel. Some of them, of course, were pious and conscientious; more were...

  11. 7 PIO NONO 1846–1878
    (pp. 93-103)

    The papacy is the oldest dynasty in the world. When it was born the Roman Empire was young; since then civilisations have come and gone, but the succession of the popes has endured. The Church has worked with, and survived, whatever political arrangements have come along.

    But the arrival of democracy almost destroyed it. With the coming of the French Revolution in 1789, the fundamental values of western democracy received their decisive expression: in politics, the rule of the people rather than of kings or aristocracies; in religion, freedom of conscience; in civic life, equality before the law regardless of...

  12. 8 PIUS XII 1939–1958
    (pp. 105-113)

    Can the Vicar of Christ be a cautious diplomat? Must the Church always call evil plainly by its proper name, whatever the consequences? Can its priests keep silent in the face of abomination, in the hope of rescuing something positive from chaos, or so that tyranny may bear down a little less cruelly on those who must endure it?

    These were the dilemmas confronting Eugenio Pacelli, Pope during the Second World War, a diplomat who found himself sitting in the seat of prophecy. His reputation has suffered more than that of any pope of modern times because of his answers...

  13. 9 JOHN XXIII 1958–1963
    (pp. 115-125)

    Few popes have been peasants. John XXIII, Angelo Roncalli, was one of the ten surviving children of a subsistence farmer from Bergamo; the family shared their farmhouse with their cattle. As was common in nineteenth-century Italy, Roncalli began studies for the priesthood at the age of twelve. Though interrupted by a spell in the ambulance corps during the First World War (when, to his subsequent embarrassment, he grew a walrus moustache), his career started well. For ten years he was secretary to the local bishop, before becoming professor of church history at the Bergamo seminary, and then he was recruited...

  14. 10 JOHN PAUL II 1978–2005
    (pp. 127-138)

    When Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope John Paul II in 1978 at the age of fifty-eight, he seemed the best hope of reinvigorating a Church divided and adrift after a decade and a half of revolution. The Second Vatican Council had transformed Catholicism: the Latin liturgy had been simplified and translated into common speech; guitars and folk song replaced solemn plainchant; a centuries-old suspicion of secular modernity had given way to a sometimes naïve theological optimism; disdainful isolation from other Christians was replaced by enthusiastic ecumenism. But reform did not deliver the success many had hoped for. In the upheavals...

    (pp. 139-142)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 143-151)