A Short History


A quick study of the world’s largest and oldest Christian church, from a Swiss priest whose unorthodox views on the subject have kept him simmering in hot water for the last quarter-century.

Probably the most famous Catholic theologian of the late 20th century, Küng (Infallible? An Inquiry, not reviewed) lost his license to teach Catholic theology in 1979 precisely as a result of his theories regarding the development of church offices (especially the papacy) and doctrines. Here his aim is much simpler, and he manages to provide a good, readable narrative history of the church from the apostolic age to the present day—although there is a continual background hum from the axes that he keeps grinding throughout. The true miracle of Christianity, as the author points out, was its explosion as a world religion during late antiquity—a development that could not possibly have been imagined by anyone who knew it only in its earliest incarnation as an eccentric Jewish sect competing for adherents in the wake of the Temple’s destruction in a.d. 70. Once Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, however, the situation (and the geography) changed dramatically. Rome became the center of the church, and the pope (as the bishop of Rome) came more and more to be seen as the earthly representative of Christ. Küng admits that the process was gradual and the line of descent far from straight-edged, but he insists on a kind of historical determinism that many Protestants as well as Catholics are bound to find simplistic: theology (beginning with Augustine, we are told) was deformed by Roman jurisprudence, while the various reformers (from Francis of Assisi to Savanarola to Luther) were all thwarted or co-opted by Roman venality. Naturally, the author finds much to dislike in the policies of the present pontiff, and he looks forward to the next conclave—which he hopes will deliver a “John XXIV” to change the course.

A well-told, sweeping, and often incisive portrait that needs to be taken cum grano salis.

Pub Date: April 27th, 2001
ISBN: 0-679-64092-4
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Modern Library
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2001


NonfictionEARTHLY MISSION by Robert Calderisi
by Robert Calderisi