A History of the Popes
Email this review


 A sumptuous feast of popes and kings, nimbly prepared by historian Duffy, a fellow at Magdelen College, Cambridge. This book is intended as a tie-in to a six-part British television series on the history of the papacy, scheduled to appear on the History Channel in the spring of 1998. For a companion volume, this history is surprisingly dense and sophisticated. More important, although Duffy certainly remarks on the papacy's more salacious past (like Boniface's comment that sex with boys or women was no more sinful than ``rubbing one hand against another''), he never stoops to a tabloidesque fascination with the all-too-human foibles of the pontiffs. Rather, Duffy uses the evolving institution of the papacy from Peter to John Paul II as a lens through which to view two millennia of Western civilization. He profiles the missionary activity of the early Church, the consolidation of power with the bishop of Rome (who became the acknowledged pope), the emergence of monastic reform, the schism with Constantinople, the ``Babylonian Captivity'' of the papacy in 14th-century Avignon, Luther's protest, and the Catholic Reformation that met his challenge. If the last third of the book seems to lose some of its energy, it might be because, as Duffy subtly observes, the modern papacy is a quite different institution than its predecessor. Shorn of political power and the most obvious signs of avarice, it now commands a holy respect. Duffy claims that the current pope asserts ``a spiritual status . . . greater than at any time since the high Middle Ages.'' With its 150 well-chosen illustrations, 100 of them in color, this is a coffee-table book that transcends its genre. (History Book Club selection)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-300-07332-1
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1997