Ten Popes Who Shook the World

Since your Grouchy Historian is Catholic, at least imperfectly, one of my favorite topics is Church history.  This little bite sized volume offers a snapshot of 10 Popes that the author believes changed the history of the Catholic Church and directly or indirectly, the world in which they lived.

Now, getting a group of Catholics to agree on anything is a pretty amazing feat, so choosing 10 Popes for any type of list is fraught with peril.  That of course, assumes you could find a group of Catholics who could even NAME 10 Popes, much less identify what their significant accomplishments or failures were--hmmm, there's my Grouchy Historian side showing.

In any event, this volume makes some not surprising choices, like Peter and John Paul, and mixes them with some lesser known Popes such as Innocent III and Paul III.  Oh, in case you were wondering, Duffy chose Innocent III for his role in the creation of the Dominicans and Franciscans and Paul III for his calling of the Council of Trent and steering of the Church through the Counter-Reformation and the forming of the Jesuits.       

Eamon, who describes himself as a "cradle Catholic" created very short and easy to read chapters for each Pope.  In fact, this book was finished in about 2 hours.  While I don't agree with all of his assessments, this book could and should spark some interest from your average Catholic, who, sadly, does not know much about the history of their Faith or Church.

Interestingly, Eamon, who chose Pius XII as one of his Popes, offers an interesting pseudo-defense of his actions in World War II, which have invited so much vitriol from secular opponents of the Church...Having served under Pope Benedict XV during World War I, Pius was heavily influenced by Benedict's efforts to remain neutral in the conflict in the hope of negotiating a peace between the warring European powers.  Although he was clearly unsuccessful, the Catholic Church emerged from the war with its reputation mostly intact.  Unfortunately, Pius XII tried to steer a similar course in World War II, against a vastly more evil regime in Nazi Germany where reason and negotiation were not effective tools against Hitler.

This issue is likely never to go away, particularly for critics and Monday morning quarterback haters of Catholicism, but Eamon does offer this interesting observation.

Eamon's chapter on JPII is also interesting, where he sorta condemns the Church's stance on condoms, giving AIDS in Africa as an example of the Church being "criminally irresponsible"  for refusing to cave into to modern sexual morality while skipping over the BEHAVIOR that created the "need" for condoms in the first place...but I digress to common sense rather than secular thinking- Hey Baby, if it feels good do it.

Overall, this is a small bite of Church history, but sometimes small bites can lead to bigger feasts.