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A History of the Popes: From Peter to the Present [Hardcover]

John W. O'Malley
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Book Description

16 Nov 2009
A History of the Popes tells the story of the oldest living institution in the Western world-the papacy. From its origins in Saint Peter, Jesus' chief disciple, through Pope Benedict XVI today, the popes have been key players in virtually all of the great dramas of the western world in the last two thousand years. Acclaimed church historian John W. O'Malley's engaging narrative examines the 265 individuals who have claimed to be Peter's successors. Rather than describe each pope one by one, the book focuses on the popes that shaped pivotal moments in both church and world history. The author does not shy away from controversies in the church, and includes legends like Pope Joan and a comprehensive list of popes and antipopes to help readers get a full picture of the papacy. This simultaneously reverent yet critical book will appeal to readers interested in both religion and history as it chronicles the saints and sinners who have led the Roman Catholic Church over the past 2000 years. The author draws from his popular audio CD lecture series on the topic, 2,000 Years of Papal History, available through Now You Know Media (www.nowyouknowmedia.com).

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Sheed & Ward,U.S. (16 Nov 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580512275
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580512275
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.2 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,588,569 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Documenting fifteen hundred years of history in 300 pages is a daunting task, but one that priest and Georgetown University professor O'Malley handles with gusto and a fair hand; considering the level of emotion that the Papacy can inspire, O'Malley reserves his enthusiasm for the unexpected twists of history, rather than any particular character or school of thought. In concise but engaging prose, O'Malley manages to find virtue in popes maligned by history, and a critical approach to the frequently-lauded, while keeping an eye on the world at large... Readers eager for a breezy survey of papal history will be pleased. Publishers Weekly Libraries with significant Catholic collections will certainly want to purchase O'Malley's work... O'Malley's is a finely crafted one-volume history of an institution that has served in a significant capacity in world affairs. Library Journal In serving up this kind of hard-nosed history of so many saints and sinners, O'Malley surely does not disappoint... O'Malley's treatment of the medieval popes is consistently clear and engaging, but he really hits his stride when he reaches the popes of the early modern period, his own area of specialization... A fine example of a successful synthesis of a vast and complicated topic. And its publication is just one more reason O'Malley rightly deserves the title of dean of American Catholic church historians. America The debate will continue about why the institution, one which Protestantism has tried to live without, persists anyway... That question about the institution called papacy persists most of all and its current issues are well presented by John O'Malley's A History of the Popes. It's an excellent addition to any serious theological library but it's also an approachable story for the general reader which most everyone will find as a good and compelling introduction to these important men of Christian history. Crossings In John O'Malley's history of the popes, the accent is on the mischievous - typically highlighting popes flouting their authority or shouldering the burdens of office without the requisite aplomb. The Living Church O'Malley gives a thorough and engaging overview of 'the oldest living institution in the Western world.' He seeks to 'provide a recognizable path through complicated terrain' and help readers to keep their bearings while including 'details that enliven it and at the same time illuminate bigger issues.' ... Father O'Malley has once again written an excellent book. St. Anthony Messenger O'Malley has produced yet another remarkable text and places us all in his debt. To take on such a monumental task as compiling a single-volume historical account of the 266 generally accepted church leaders who have followed in the footsteps of Peter is a truly daunting task...This volume is a gem that will inform, entertain, amuse, and inspire countless readers from widely differing backgrounds...O'M has deliberately written this book for a wider audience, and its prose, as ever, is wonderfully lucid and stylish, peppered with fascinating anecdotes and lesser-known aspects of history that grip the reader's attention throughout...O'M is not afraid to get embroiled in the most contentious historical questions alone the way, including some of the most significant of all in this field of study...His observations on some of the most critical questions pertaining to the papacy and the church in general are consistently thoughtful and measured...Throughout, with characteristic succinctness, wit, and historiographical elegance, O'M. explores the personal and social origins and backgrounds of his subjects and tries to discern their personalities throughout...This book will make a wonderful textbook at various levels, as well as a discussion text for parish groups and perhaps especially for ecumenical discussion groups. It will also be a cherished companion for readers seeking a less dense but nonetheless stimulating immersion into nearly 2000 years of history, regardless of their level of theological and historical training. Above all else, time and again O'M stirs the reader to think about individual popes, historical periods, and ecclesiological questions in a different way[.] Liturgical Press With a twinkle in his eye, eminent church historian John W. O'Malley, S.J., walks the reader through this dizzying roster... In this whirlwind tour of the corridors of church power, O'Malley also takes care to highlight the saintly figures of various eras who had far more influence on the faith than many popes had. U.S. Catholic This is a paperback edition of the highly readable and engaging 2010 book by O'Malley, a Jesuit who teaches theology at Georgetown University. It's far from a simple listing or a series of encyclopedia-like entries. Rather, it's an explanation of the context in which the various popes served, including some of the history that, frankly, the church would much rather forget or at least ignore. O'Malley, though clearly a committed Catholic, is willing to look at the obvious questions surrounding the idea that the Apostle Peter can be considered the first pope -- at a time when there was barely even a Christian church. Despite all the ups and downs, the great men and the knaves who have occupied the Vatican throne, 'the papacy has proved to be a remarkably resilient institution,' the author concludes. In fact, it has undergone many changes over the centuries and today it may be at (or just past) the peak of its power and reach. Whether it can survive in its current form and state is an unanswerable question, though the history O'Malley gives us suggests some kind of change eventually is inevitable. Faith Matters O'Malley provides an interesting and informative overview of the papacy and its ambivalent journey within the history of the church. Verbum Svd .A History of the Popes: From Peter to the Present is a well-written synthesis succeeding in its unpretending aim to be an accessible guide through the immensely complicated terrain of 2000 years of papal history. Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses This is a paperback edition of the highly readable and engaging 2010 book by O'Malley, a Jesuit who teaches theology at Georgetown University. It's far from a simple listing or a series of encyclopedia-like entries. Rather, it's an explanation of the context in which the various popes served, including some of the history that, frankly, the church would much rather forget or at least ignore. O'Malley, though clearly a committed Catholic, is willing to look at the obvious questions surrounding the idea that the Apostle Peter can be considered the first pope -- at a time when there was barely even a Christian church. The Book Corner John W. O'Malley provides a short, clear, direct, and readable but still informative history of popes and the papacy. The Catholic Historical Review A compact, readable, and reliable work on the papacy by one of our very best church historians. Review Of Politics For a fair-minded, lively, easy-to-read account of the oldest surviving institution in the Western world, O'Malley's offering is hard to beat. -- National Catholic Reporter, December 2009 National Catholic Reporter Fr. O'Malley is a gifted writer, and though he must by necessity move fairly quickly through the centuries, he is capable at lingering on these characters enough to give a sense of their personality and place in the historical drama around them. He is also good at showing the movement and growth of the papacy throughout the past two millennia. -- Catholic Sun, November 5, 2009 Catholic Sun O'Malley's offering is simple and straightforward, a perfect introduction to the subject and an easy read. -- The Tablet, November 14, 2009 The American Spectator John W. O'Malley, S.J., is not only the dean of American Catholic historians, he is also one of the church's greatest and most accomplished teachers. In his superb new book, Father O'Malley combines immense learning, sparkling prose, and fascinating insights to introduce readers to the always colorful history of the papacy. There can be no better guide for the educated reader to the story of the popes than Father O'Malley. -- James Martin S.J., author of My Life with the Saints John W. O'Malley's A History of the Popes is a fast-paced narrative crammed with skillful vignettes of a colorful and varied cast of pontiffs from saints to sinners. The underlying theme of the narrative is the emergence of the papacy as a global institution and the development of its modern powers, many surprisingly recent in origin. -- Jill Ker Conway, former president, Smith College; author of The Road from Coorain A History of the Popes has all the characteristic virtues of Father John W. O'Malley's scholarship. It is clear and straightforward, balanced and fair, lively and informative. He is quick to reveal the warts of the popes but equally quick to recognize their virtues. He is alert to demolish many myths that have grown up around papal history, but his approach is never polemical or iconoclastic. This will quickly be recognized as the work of a well-respected historian who has taught this material and reflected upon it over a period of many years, and should attract a wide readership well beyond the confines of the Catholic Church. -- Msgr. Thomas J. Shelley, Fordham University John W. O'Malley has written a fine narrative history of the papacy. Learned but accessible, lively but judicious, this is a story not just of personalities but context, as well-one that speaks to our own time as well as the past. Historical analysis at its best. -- Leslie Woodcock Tentler, The Catholic University of America

About the Author

John W. O'Malley, S.J., is a Roman Catholic priest and professor of religion at Georgetown University. He lives in Washington, D.C., and is the author of numerous books, including What Happened at Vatican II and Four Cultures of the West.

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars History or ? 21 Mar 2013
In this otherwise interesting work I was surprised the author did not draw a line between history and fairytales. He speaks of the early popes as if they had really lived.

In his fascinating biography the 33-Day Pope John Paul I in his role as a seminary instructor tells his students:

"Until the third century there was no organized church in Rome; just a few Christians scattered in the catacombs. Christianity had been organized in the Mideast as early as the 2nd century and centered in Antioch by the middle of the 3rd century. The first `bishop of Rome' was Dionysius appointed by the Council of Antioch in 259AD which also declared the theological figures `Peter' and `Linus' to be the 1st and 2nd bishops of Rome. It is both a biblical and historical fact that Peter was never in Rome. In 328AD the members of the Council of Nicea filled in the vacancies between Dionysus back to Linus with more than two dozen `bishops of Rome' of which only seven are known to have ever lived..."

There is a school that holds that according to the weight of the gospels--discounting one-liners--James was intended by Jesus to be the first pope. Yet, even here one must be careful not to confuse theology with history. Seminaries teach theology; they do not teach history.

Unlike Jesus, Peter, Linus and James who were theological figures the evangelists wrote about long after they were said to have lived; Paul is a historical figure--we know he lived. It is also a biblical and historical fact Paul was in Rome. What's more, history knows Paul was the first historical figure to preach the gospels. If one considers the facts, Paul--not Peter--was the first pope.

It was disappointing there was not some of this kind of dialogue--history vs. theology--in this work.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  22 reviews
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who has the agenda here? 1 Mar 2011
By Paul C. Seishas - Published on Amazon.com
John O'Malley, a distinguished and highly respected scholar, writes a brief history of 2000 years of papal governance and is critisized for being selective and in his selection promoting a liberal agenda? It appears that most critisisms leveled at O'Malley's work, here and in reviews of his other books, are leveled by conservatives, sometimes self-proclaimed. It begs the question, who has the agenda here?

Far from "pope-bashing" O'Malley consistently declares that popes throughout the ages have been men, no more, no less. Some have been saints and others sinners, some great and influential, others small and insignificant, and a few either incompetent or downright evil causing great harm. He also maintains that there is always disagreement as to which monikar any one individual might ascribe to any pope.

O'Malley's mastery of church history is unquestioned. My only criticism is that such a brief treatment of papal history requires a certain shallow presentation. However, if it wets the appetite to learn more of church history, especially the appetite of my Catholic sisters and brothers, then bravo!
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A concise and measured history 11 Aug 2011
By Robert Moore - Published on Amazon.com
There is much to applaud in an attempt to bring the reign of 265 popes to life over the two millennium that mark western civilization and still hold it to just 325 pages. This is a lively journey, objectively reported and for me at least, both an enjoyable and edifying read. Some have criticized its scholarship here. It would be impossible to approach the scholarly level of say Diarmaid MacCulloch's Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years in so brief a book. But given the attempt to cover so much and tell so much so neutrally and still leave the reader time for lunch, Father O'Malley has pulled off a rare achievement. As an Octogenarian, I can still remember Pope Pius XII's many defenses of Fascism which are invariably under reported and John XXIII's saintly aspirations which are all too often ignored in these reactionary times, particularly by that most conservative organization in western history. The author addresses the latter and barely touches on the former and still pulls of a popular history that should satisfy professional historians, the general public and even the church.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine general overview 17 Mar 2013
By Vincent Hevern - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
The excellent Jesuit historian, John W. O'Malley, provides a broad and sympathetic overview of the papacy from its beginnings through the time of Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger). O'Malley keeps the narrative moving along at a pretty fast clip since he is covering so very many figures. Readers will get a balanced sense of the major issues at important junctures in the span of the popes and an often clear sense of the diverse personalities represented across these "Vicars of Christ" (at least those for whom we have good documentation). This is not and does not intend to be a predominantly academic or in depth treatment of the Petrine Office. His treatment of the papacy in the last two hundred years gives readers some very fine and nuanced descriptions of many quite divergent sorts of pontiffs. A satisfying volume for a wide audience.
18 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to encompass 2000 Years in a Short Book 1 July 2010
By LexOrandi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The author is faced with the task of presenting 2000 years of history in approximately 300 pages of which the last 70 concern the period of Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. By necessity the author needs to go through the material very fast. He stops along the way to discuss some of more important popes but even then he needs to move rather fast. He tries to show how the popes interacted with the other important world figures throughout history. The task was a little easier for me as I have studied Church History in a formal setting so I was already familiar with the popes the author discusses and the world situation in which they lived.

I was troubled at times by his viewpoint on Popes Pius XII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. I do not think that the author gave full consideration to the responsibilities that these popes had to maintain orthodoxy during very challenging times. I am not an expert on O'Malley but he seems to have a very liberal perspective and I think he believes that the Church should change more to adapt to his view of the modern world. I am more of a conservative and I would rather look to the "Church of the Fathers" as a guide rather than the latest "Pew Survey" as to what should constitute Christian orthodoxy.

This is a good book but it should only be a start on understanding the history of the popes. It is too short a book to give the total view. Hopefully, people will read this and their curiosity will be stirred and they will go on to read more of the fascinating history of the papacy and the Church. The Church history series by Jaroslav Pelikan and Justo L. Gonzalez, and the book by Thomas S. Bokenkotter are all excellent.
A Concise History of the Catholic ChurchThe Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (Story of Christianity)The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Journey 12 Mar 2013
By Richard A. Root - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
First, I am not a Catholic. I do consider myself to be a historian. The day that Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, I decided that I wanted to read a brief history of the papacy. As I normally do, I looked at Amazon, and the reviews listed there to see what book would best suit my needs. This book appeared to be the best choice. I'm glad that I did choose it. It is easy to follow, and fascinating. Throughout history, there have been quite a few good popes, a few great popes, and many bad, or very bad popes. This book noted that it was not a complete book of all of the popes, and gave several other books to use for that research. As a historian, I am always appalled at the lack of interest by others in history, including the history of the church. Whether or not you are a Catholic, this is the history of Christianity. I found this book to be fascinating. And, not always in a pleasant way.
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