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Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy Paperback – 1 Mar 2000
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We all benefit from moral guidance. Sadly, instead of concentrating on doing just that, much of all kinds of religion concentrates on schooling adherents into accepting 'a one size fits all' set of supposedly infallible dogmas. With the increase of our knowledge concerning how everything actually functions more and more of such beliefs are shown, not only to be incorrect, but totally impossible. De Rosa is a voice crying in the wilderness of religious intransigence for us to rise above corruption born of absolutism to adopt a morality independent from that engendered by power hungry male absolutism.
Best of all, De Rosa adopts a balanced viewpoint, such as in his acclaim of 'Good Pope John XXIII' (1958-63), whose necessary reforms were not taken up and developed by his successors. All told, we have here a very readable work which is as relevant today as when it was first compiled. The old adage: 'Power corrupts and absolutely power corrupts absolutely' is as true concerning religion as it is about anything else and the history of the papacy is a supreme example of this sad truth. Trying to pretend otherwise is to adopt an ostrich=style pretence stance that can only contribute to the fostering of dictatorship. Indeed, one might well ask: if secular dictatorship is a bad thing, why should religious dictatorship be any better? De Rosa's compassionate reasoning seeks to guide religion back into the realms of reality. He is a good man trying to steer it into being of greater value simply by being honest with itself, instead of continuing to parrot out the same old tired mantras as they continue to fly in the faces of truth, genuine compassion and understanding. What he has to say is as relevant today as when it was written.
All told, this is a very readable, helpful, 20 chapter work divided into three parts: 1: Power. 2: Truth. 3: Love plus prologue, epilogue, chronology, list of popes, list of ecumenical councils, general councils of the RC Church, note on sources, bibliography and index.
This book is clearly the result of years of research and reflection. It is crammed full of historical facts, and in the sections on subjects such as abortion and divorce it thoroughly presents arguments from both sides with clarity and sympathy, as well as explaining the teaching and actions of the Roman Catholic church on these subjects throughout its history.
The section in chapter 17 on the development of Christian doctrine by St Augustine of Hippo is extremely enlightening. The last pope dealt with is John Paul II, though Cardinal Ratzinger (as he then was) does merit several mentions. There is an excellent résumé of the work of the Inquisition.
De Rosa's book is fascinating, at times unputdownable and occasionally lightened by mild humour. It includes an index and a bibliography, but I would have also welcomed precise references to sources when the author makes use of quotations. (The author explains on p. 458 why he has not done this.)
I disagree with the author's interpretation of Scripture in some places and of who Jesus Christ was (e.g., on p. 265), but one should not only read that which one expects to agree with. This is far outweighed by the value of the overwhelming mass of factual information that is presented in this book and that is hard to find in one place elsewhere.
At points I felt that the book could have been improved by a small amount of editing, to eliminate repetition and thus shorten the book slightly. Those seeking a shorter history of the papacy are recommended to consider "The Conclave", by Michael Walsh, who, as the title indicates, concentrates on papal elections. This aspect of the papacy is not covered in detail by De Rosa's book, so the two books complement each other to some extent.
I would encourage every Catholic to view this book as essential reading, to acquire a rounded picture of the history of the church in general and the papacy in particular.
As mentioned, should be read as a history and not so much a religious book. Hard cover would have been a better choice.
What gives the book its edge is that Peter de Rosa was once in the church and writes with considerable sympathy. It would be easy to write a book of mockery but he doesn't. His point about the development of the hatred of Jews has remained with me since I first read the book many years ago. His predictions/hopes for the incumbent pope at the time of writing are since proven wrong - but that is the benefit of time.
It is fascinating but not a threat for anyone who has a Christian faith and probably uncomfortable for Roman Catholics who think deeply about the claims of their church to infallibility and holy tradition.